Friday, 26 July 2013


We've had a great many messages of condolence regarding the recent death of my mum, some of them by direct e-mail and others through the Facebook page for "The View From Kleoboulos" and a few as comments on my previous post. I'm afraid that it wouldn't be possible to respond to every individual message, so I just wanted to use this brief post to express our deep thanks to everyone who's been in touch with messages of support and commiseration.

We hope to be back home and I hope to be writing more ramblings before too much longer.

Sincere thanks to everyone.

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Bomp, Bomp ...Bomp

I ought to have known. I should have guessed. It was never going to be that easy. In the post "Counting Down" from October 2012 I referred to some of the brain-numbing bureaucracy involved in legally buying or selling a car privately in Greece. Just to recap...

To buy or sell a car in a manner which satisfies the legal requirements, the buyer and seller for each transaction have to go together to the KEP office (Citizens' Service Centre) where a number of forms are filled out and - bomp, bomp - rubber stamped by the clerk who's sitting behind the desk. Then the purchaser is assured that in a couple of weeks or so the new Registration Document for the car they've just bought will be available, for collection of course, ...none of this "coming through the mail" malarkey. If you're the purchaser, you'll already have gone to the National Bank of Greece, where you'll have told them the make, year and model of the car you're purchasing and they'll have relieved you of over a hundred Euro in cash and given you in exchange a green docket, which you'll bring with you to the KEP office to prove that you've paid the required tax. Once the seller and the purchaser have signed a half a dozen or so pieces of paper they go their weary way safe in the knowledge that they've carried out the transfer of ownership in a way that ensures that they won't get their collar felt some time in the future.

End of story? Nope. As mentioned above, it was October of 2012 when we finally parted with the Suzuki Swift that we'd been running around in ever since moving out here in 2005. We became the proud owners of a splendid Skoda Fabia after I'd made two visits to the KEP office, one with the seller of the car we were buying, the other with the bloke who bought the Swift. On both occasions I'd watched in great bemusement as the pile of papers the clerk was dealing with grew ever larger. Now, here we were in early summer of 2013 and it was time once again to go see our accountant, get him to complete a totally useless tax return and give him around €50 for the privilege, and hopefully forget all about that kind of thing until next year.

After sitting down with the accountant for a few minutes, we were just about to leave his office when I shot a parting comment to him.

"Does it have any relevance the fact that we changed the car?"

I ought to have known. I should have seen it coming, for at this the accountant's facial expression changed as he replied, "Ah, yes, well, you'll need to have filled out this 'Υπευθηνή Δήλωση' [or 'Solemn Statement']." He then bade me hang on whilst he clicked his mouse a couple of times and two sheets of paper spat out of his lazer printer. Snatching them up he thrust them at me, at the same time saying, I couldn't help thinking with a degree of amusement, "One is for you to fill out as the seller of your old car. The other has to be filled out by the person who bought it. They'll both need to be rubber stamped by either the KEP or at a local Police Station."

Right about this moment I could feel a depression coming on. "And what about the car we bought?" I asked, rather unwisely in the circumstances. See, the thing is, the seller of the Fabia had moved back to the UK last Autumn. 

"We'll cross that bridge when we come to it." Was his helpful reply, which, of course, implied that more shenanigans would be sure to follow. I was now faced with the task of seeing if I still had a phone number for a bloke I only met a couple of times some seven months previously, then calling him in the hope that, assuming he still liked me if the Swift was behaving itself, he'd be happy to meet up and once again go visit the KEP office together in order to get these "Solemn Statements" filled out and rubber stamped. Oh joy.

After fingering through my contacts on the old mobile phone I was at least relieved to find that the buyer's name was still in there. I called him. Now, put yourself in my place here. Have you ever sold an eleven year old car and wondered what may be just waiting to go wrong with it just minutes after the new owner had driven off into the sunset? Can you imagine what kind of feeling the person in question may have towards you if they answer their phone and find it's that git who sold them the shed that's cost them a packet on the other end; and not only that, he's asking a favour that's going to cost time and effort from which the only reward forthcoming for that buyer would be the satisfaction of knowing that they'd helped that seller (the swine!) to provide his accountant with some vital piece of paper?

To say I was a little nervous calling this bloke would be the understatement of the century. I dialled his number and awaited his answer. Soon a voice spoke, "Yes? ------ here, who is this please?"

I swallowed hard and said, "It's John. I sold you the Swift last Autumn. How're things going then?"

"Ah, ya sou John. OK thanks," at which point I managed to avoid changing the colour of my trousers. Inside I was yelling 'YES! YES! YES!' while outside I continued, pushing my luck, "And the car? Good yeh?"

"Very good John, my friend. Hey, a pipe burst in the engine bay, ...needed a few Euros spent on fixing that. But hey, it's twelve years old now. I'm not complaining. Anyway, what can I do for you?"

'You mean apart from just having relieved me of an immense amount of mental anguish' I was tempted to reply. I went on to explain how he'd need to meet me so that we could fill out these forms and get them rubber stamped at the KEP office. It wouldn't be easy, as it transpired. After all, he worked full time and I worked a few days each week. To agree a time to meet and drop by the KEP would pose a bit of a challenge.

To try and cut a "War and Peace" down to a "Mills and Boon" here, we eventually met up and tried to get the job done at the KEP office in Arhangelos, where the bloke behind the counter is marginally less helpful than a traffic warden on an off day. We failed. These "Solemn Statements" have a section where you write in all kinds of stuff like your passport number, date of birth, parents' first and second names, including your mother's maiden name, dental records (OK, so that last one is a joke, but only just) etc.. Then a little further down one has to write, in Greek, something like: "I hereby declare that I John Philip Manuel, did sell the car Suzuki Swift, registration number ------, year of manufacturer 2000 for €xxx to Mr..." ...and so it goes on.

We retired to a nearby cafe, where we both filled in all the stuff at the top, as listed above, but since we didn't have any time left as the other guy was already late for work, I promised I'd get the statements written out and then take the forms to the KEP office near me in Gennadi. My buyer had written all the relevant details in and even signed his version. Hopefully I could get them both rubber stamped (bomp, bomp) at the Gennadi Office - job done, Fait accompli as it were. The following day I strode into the Gennadi KEP office, where the young woman (I've dealt with her before) was very helpful. She even told me that it was a waste of time trying to get any help from the bloke in the Arhangelos office, since he never wants to know. Once she'd satisfied herself that the forms were in order, out came the ink pad and rubber stamp and she bomped away on my version of the form and passed it to me saying, "There you are, yours is done."

"And the other one? You couldn't just stamp that for me too?" I gingerly requested.

"Aah, no sorry. The signatory has to be present I'm afraid." Seeing my face drop about a metre or so, she added, "...but you can go with him into the Police Station. They'll do it in minutes. It's all ready, just needs the person to be present."

I did venture the question too, as to why didn't they tell us at the KEP office when we'd done the transfer of the vehicle, that we were going to need these "Solemn Statements" too. The answer, rather unsurprisingly was, "Well, you didn't ask. Anyway, we don't require them, it's the accountants who do."

So, here I was last week, trying once again to get the Swift's buyer to meet me, this time outside the Police station, to get this wretched piece of paper rubber stamped. So far we haven't been able to arrange a time to suit us both. 

Meantime, I've had an email from the Fabia's seller, who's now living back in South Wales, UK. In it, apart from asking us both how we are, she told us, "I've been in touch with my Greek accountant [she still has a house out here] and he tells me that because I sold the Skoda, I need to furnish him with two Solemn Statements..."

Sunday, 7 July 2013

Not Having a Blast

Apparently in Indonesia it is still carried on. Here in Greece and nearby Turkey the practice was widespread up until about fifty years ago, when it was finally stopped. What am I talking about? Fishing with explosives.

Seems an absolutely crazy idea, but it was hugely popular until the 1960s and was responsible for a considerable number of deaths (not only at sea either, as this story will illustrate), no to mention having a devastating affect on the ocean's delicate ecology and environment too. It's blamed by many experts in all things oceanological for the fact that fish stocks in Aegean waters are much, much lower than they were fifty years ago and beyond. It's not simply down to over-fishing, it's down to the fact that using explosives destroyed vast areas of marine habitat whilst the practice was still being carried on. In Indonesia it's still popular and none other than Sir Richard Branson has issued a statement on his Virgin Blog about the situation out there.

The explosives used here in Greece were many and varied, some using dynamite, others homemade explosives made from potassium permanganate, easily available as a fertiliser, whilst others used old hand grenades from the Second World War. Some fishermen would literally light the fuse on a stick of dynamite and toss it overboard from a small caique. Needless to say, if the thing wasn't thrown far enough, or went off early...

This practice was brought to my attention just yesterday my my friend Lena, an elderly Greek lady living in a village nearby. She was telling me how she'd bumped into a woman she'd not seen for many decades and asked how she'd been. Needless to say, she was interested in how the woman's family had turned out. For many Greeks it's still a huge feather in your cap if one of your children becomes a doctor or a lawyer, so few old women will hold back from extracting information about their long-lost friends' progeny. Here, they go for the jugular.

Lena was shocked, however, to learn what had happened to this old friend's family. Apparently the poor woman had lost her husband and three children all at the same time in a tragic "accident" decades ago which took place at her house. The woman had left the house in the village to go out to the family's "horafia" [fields] to pick some vegetables for the family's evening meal. This would have involved a trek on foot of several hours, taking the woman into some hills from which the village would not even still be visible. She returned to the village after the best part of a day to see a huge plume of smoke rising from the area where her own house was situated. The dreadful truth soon emerged that it was, in fact, her home that was burning. Fire fighters were on the scene and she was taken aside and made to sit down before she could be told what had occurred.

Her husband and all of her children had been inside the house when an explosion had ripped through it, killing two of the children instantly and seriously injuring her husband and the third child. The survivors of the explosion later died in hospital, but not before having helped others to piece together what had happened.

It seems that the woman's husband was a fisherman, one of those who would frequently use explosives to kill schools of fish, usually going out at night. Many such men had lost fingers, hands, arms or even lives when mis-timing their detonations, yet still the practice went on. For this unfortunate family, however, their method of catching their prey led to a tragic end of four lives all at once - and right in their own home.

What had happened? It seems that the seven-year old son had watched his father using a supply of old hand grenades to catch his fish. His father would pull the pin and throw the missile into the water a few yards from his caique. Following the blast, he would row closer to the spot to collect whatever fish had been either killed or stunned and were now floating on the surface. On the day in question, the son had found his father's stash of grenades, pulled the pin and thrown the grenade on to the floor inside the house. Sadly, it was the last prank he would ever play.

The woman explained to my friend Lena that the only silver lining to this tragedy was the fact that it led to a general abandoning of such fishing practices in the area, but what a tragedy it had taken to bring these locals to their senses.

I remember having read about such fishing methods in a book I'd borrowed a few years ago about sponge fishing in Kalymnos. I'd been shocked at the time to learn of such foolhardy men and their ways, who so often sustained terrible injuries in the pursuit of their trade. This tale from my local friend here in Rhodes brought home to me the harsh reality of that bygone life in a most vivid way.

What I was alarmed to learn, having done a little research about the subject, was the fact that in some parts of the earth this fishing method is still employed. Check out that link above to Richard Branson's blog post. There's also a piece of video there too.

I hesitate to use the expression, but this practice is really not about having the kind of blast that we'd all like to experience.

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

In "Train-ing"

Some time ago I'd have been the first person to pooh-pooh the upsurge in the "little train" phenomenon which is sweeping tourist destinations it seems just about everywhere. But it seems that one has to admit that these vehicles do afford the passenger a rather fun experience, often proving invaluable to families or those with walking difficulties, enabling them to see places which they may otherwise may have had to forgo.

So, I'm rather happy to make known the fact that there is now a "Little Train" running in Butterfly Valley. Called the "Butterfly Train" (do please click the link. They have posted some exquisite photos on their site) it's managed by a very nice chap called Panagiotis and his Scottish wife, the indefatigable Maggie...

Kyr. Panagiotis at his ticket booth
The train runs from the coach park at the South end of the valley all the way up to the Monastery, from where passengers can either ride the train back down, in which case they'll miss the butterflies, or they can enter the valley from the top end and only walk it in a downhill direction (much easier for those not so fleet of foot), arriving back at the lower entrance from where they started out. If you're going up there, Panagiotis and Maggie have a very good colour brochure which you can avail yourself of explaining all about the train in 6 languages.

I particularly took to Maggie and her husband for another most important reason. Anyone who's read my ramblings for a while will know how dedicated my wife and I are to recycling, something which has been a long time getting off the ground here in Rhodes. Well, finally things are moving for the better.

Maggie and Panagiotis were the first to establish a complete recycling centre in the area just off Kanada Street to the South and East of Rhodes Town. I'm going to make a visit there this very week, along with several sacks of plastic bottles, cans, glass and paper/card, for all of which the centre has the machinery installed to crush and process.

Maggie has given me directions about how to get there, so once I've made my first visit I'll post the exact location, using a map, on the News and Stuff page for any Rhodean residents who may be ecologically aware enough to want to make use of the place. They have passed the running of the centre on to a local businessman, after the local authority had shown themselves rather slow to see its potential for profit. 

All in all, some good news, eh?

Once again, I've been snapping away this past week, so here are some more photos hot from my iPad Mini...

More Halki magic, Ftenagia Bay with Rhodes in the background

The taverna on Ftenagia Beach

Ftenagia, ...again!!

...and again!!

This is Giannis and his fishing boat. Giannis is a Halki native and he used to work on the Nissos Halki boat, which was where I got to know him. I've yet to run into him and not be greeted by a huge smile. He can frequently be seen entering one of the tavernas on the front with a supply of freshly-caught fish.

One end of Halki harbour front, where we reps often go for a dip
As per usual, don't forget to click on any photo to see a larger view.