Thursday, 26 September 2013

The Aliens Have Landed

In Wales, if someone's small of stature, they say that they're a mere "dut" of a girl (or woman, man, whatever). That's "dut" as it "put" and not as in "but" (See English Language Logic). Why am telling you this? I dunno really, apart from the fact that when a newly acquired friend told me the story that I'm about to relate, it's the word that came to mind when he mentioned the little old ya ya in the general store.

Some twenty years ago and more, a Scottish couple arrived in the remote village of Kattavia, in Southern Rhodes, population a mere two or three hundred, if you're lucky. Kattavia, for those who may not be aware, is the furthest village on the island from Rhodes Town and back in the 1980's it was even further, owing to the state of the roads on Rhodes (did you notice that deft play on words there, eh?) at the time. Ross and Elaine had decided to have a go at living in Greece for a while and had somehow arrived at a deal to rent the old priest's house in the village.

They hadn't been there very long when Ross, ever the practical kind of guy, decided that he needed some turpentine and a couple of bits and pieces for some job or other that needed doing, so he walked the few metres to the local village store, which in those days sold everything. You needed a few nails, you went there, a bottle of Ouzo, same establishment, a chat with the locals, no better place.

Entering the twilight of the store's interior he was greeted by a diminutive (here it comes folks…) dut of woman, probably in her seventies, but of indeterminable age really. This is true of so many Greek agro'tes [people of the land, farmers] who spend their entire lives under the sun and never come to within so much of a mile of sun tan cream. Plus they'd all be smokers from a very young age, something which is always sure to wither your skin earlier than it ought to be withered.

So, Here was our hero, Ross the Scotsman, standing in the small, but chock-full store, mustering up the courage to ask for a few DIY essentials, …oh, and a bottle of turps. The little ya ya behind the counter deftly shinned up and down a rickety old wooden ladder, reaching for various items, which Ross hoped vainly were actually what he wanted, and ferrying them down to ground level in order to measure out a few of this, a couple of that …and so on. In view of the language difficulties, things weren't going so badly. Despite Ross' remonstrations that perhaps he ought to tackle the ladder, she wouldn't hear of it, waving him away with her arm as if to say, "it's OK, it's nothing. I've been going up and down this old thing since I was a little girl".

While he was still in the process of negotiation with his ancient Greek hostess, two agro'tes wandered in, both of them weary from many hours out in the countryside tending their goats and both needing a refreshing drink before wending their weary ways homeward. They removed their battered caps and used them to wipe the dust from their sweat-soaked brows and then spotted the customer before them. Their expressions immediately went from "none at all" to "surprise" to "amazement" to "wow, have the aliens finally landed in Kattavia?" as they took in the sight before them. It registered with Ross that these two guys had probably never in their lives been more than a few kilometres from the village and almost certainly had never seen a foreigner. The colour of his hair, his complexion, his dress sense (still dodgy actually) all shouted "alien" to them. That's "alien" purely in the sense of "unknown" of course, not in the sense of "shoot first and ask questions afterwards".

They parked themselves at a small square table, wiped a few crumbs and cigarette ash from the oilcloth cover with the backs of their calloused hands and called for Ross to come and sit with them. He, of course, knew that it would be rude not to comply and so obeyed, whereupon they called to the ya ya for a bottle and some glasses, plus a few nibbles of one sort or another. This called for an interrogation.

Notwithstanding the language difficulties, which were compounded by the fact that, though Ross had a little rudimentary Greek, their accents were so thick you could turn them on their sides and use them to sit on, they got along famously and ever more so as the contents of the bottle grew less and less. Ross tells me that they plied him with whatever it was that was in that bottle (possibly even turps, he wasn't sure), as well as olives, feta and chunks of village bread for quite some time. Oh, alright then, hours. He only realised how much time had passed when he came to attempt a standing position, which for some reason he found unable to succeed in, thus necessitating that his two new friends take him by each shoulder for support, insist that they pay the ya ya for the few items that he'd left all this time laying on the counter, and "walk" him home.

Evidently he had been able to communicate the fact that it was the old priest's house that he was living in, and so they cheerfully deposited him at his front door under a bright moon at some time around midnight, where he promptly fell down and also asleep without delay. His worried wife Elaine, upon opening the door for the umpteenth time that day to see if he was coming back, found a crumpled mass of husband on the doorstep, dragged him inside and went back to bed.

Next morning, she asked him in a voice that almost made his head explode, it sounded so loud, did he get the turps?

"Turps? Turps? Oh, yes, well, um, I'll pop back along there now…"

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Comings and Goings

The turning of the season has never been more apparent to me anywhere I've lived than since moving out here to Rhodes. We're now so used to the different fruits and vegetables that we'll find in the local stores with each passing month, that it's really strange to us when someone who's leaving after a vacation here hands us a couple of oranges in July. We don't eat oranges in July since they're all over the trees here from November through March. If you buy them in July then they're bound to be imported, plus they don't taste anything like as good! Probably only half the vitamin C in them too.

The natural rhythm of the environment is also something we now know well. Well, I say "well" in the relative sense, of course. A botanist or naturalist would probably take issue. Everything's relative. To illustrate what I mean though, this past couple of weeks I've been noticing again the number of Wheatears that have appeared in the valley. They're not particularly apparent during the high summer, so I assume from that they must either live further north still, or perhaps simply at a slightly higher altitude to escape the searing heat. But during what would be termed in northern Europe the spring and autumn months, they're everywhere. I love them because they're so handsome, often putting one in mind of a smaller shrike. They are migrants, spending their winters in Africa, as do the Bee Eaters, so they're probably fattening themselves up for their flight across the Mediterranean Sea. When they're in flight you can ID them easily by their strikingly bright white rump. I always remember Bill Oddie telling us on one of his "Birding" programmes some years back in the UK, that their name is a cleaned-up version of the vernacular "White-arse", if you don't believe me, click here!!

Anyway, the Wheatears, the Bee Eaters, the Swallows and Martins, they're all swooping and circling around as they feed up for their flight South. Of course, those species that we have in common with the UK will stay around here for much longer, owing to our longer summer, but go they will just the same.

Other migrants that are here in huge numbers and have perhaps a greater interraction with the local inhabitants are the tourists. they tend to stay for much shorter periods than the migrating bird species, but they do arrive and depart, come and go, in great numbers to some extent in concert with our feathered visitors. With the end of September now approaching fast, the locals' conversations tend to reflect this fact.

Said George, in our local café, recently: "Aah, Gianni, I'm tired. Only about six weeks to go and I'll be able to get a normal night's sleep. I'll have some time to myself." He's not complaining mind you, it's just a fact. During the summer he lives and breathes work, it's that simple.

Panagiotis, who runs the local "giros" joint, when I asked him how the season had been this year, hunched his shoulders, flicked back a strand of damp-looking hair with an elbow and replied, "Halia [awful], Gianni.

Now, whilst it is true that a Greek will traditionally always say things are bad (just in case a tax office worker is within earshot), in this case I believed him. He's a good man and he's trying to make a modest living from selling excellent quality fast food. His vegetarian pittas, stuffed as they are with lettuce, onion, tomato, cucumber, Tzatziki and a few chips (read this if you're in any doubt!) are spectacular value at €1.50. Quite often if we're returning home mid-evening we'll call him in advance, pick up three of the aforementioned culinary delights, get home, cut the third one into two and wolf them down whilst watching the news on TV. That's a filling meal for €4.50. Can't go wrong. Yet he reckons that his takings are down 30% on last year. 

"The reason?" I asked, already confident that I knew what he'd say in answer.
"All inclusive hotels. The people may go out for an evening promenade Gianni, but they don't spend."

Last Tuesday we had to go into town, with the usual list of things to do, but we were at least able to drop into our favourite taverna in the old town, The Odyssey, for a spot of lunch. Babis was effusive in his welcome, since I hadn't seen him in a long while and we settled into a meal consisting of hummus, courgette rissoles (koloki'thokeftedes), Haloumi on a salad bed and pittas. Yummy to the power of three (come on, remember your school maths lesson)...

More about the Odyssey in this post too.

Just for you, hope you appreciate it, I also snapped these...

Every inch of the Old Town is photogenic though, isn't it. So just occasionally, when something takes my fancy or catches my eye, I'll whip out the iPad and click it, whilst trying hard not to look like a tourist. There's one more shot from the same day here too.

Talking to Babis, the subject came around to his business cards, which had on their reverse side a map, but it was a bit diagrammatical and not that easy to follow. So, he was rather pleased to show me that he now had a new card in circulation, one which makes use of the good old Google Earth aerial shot to show the taverna's location. So, since I heartily recommend the Odyssey, I scanned it...

On the way home, we arrived at Kiotari at around 5.30pm. Now I still had a half an hour to wait until I could meet Trianda'filo, one of my TUI drivers, at the Princess Adriana Hotel, since I'd rather stupidly left my house and car keys on the coach on my return from the previous day's Lazy Day Cruise, so we wondered what to do to kill the time.

The better (and wiser, dare I add) half suggested that we repair to a quiet piece of beach, which turned out to be just below the Boutique 5 Hotel where one can drive right down to the edge, strip to our undies and go for a dip. So we did. Right here, as it happens...

Dead busy, eh? No I didn't take any shots of me or her!! No sense putting you off your dinner (that's in reference only to me of course).

Anyway, feeling quite a lot cooler and fresher, I turned up to meet Trianda'filo, who, bless him, arrived with my keys jangling in his hand and a huge smile on his lips. I'd sent Maria on home since she had a car-full of shopping, so as I set out to walk it myself, Trianda'filo drew up alongside, told me to hop on and drove me all the way to the bottom of our lane, leaving me just ten minutes walk instead of twentyfive. Such a good chap.

So, a few comings and goings have crossed my mind this week. Oh, and I nearly forgot, the Sardinian Warblers are back with abundance in the garden too, busily feasting on the green berries left after the flowers have died on the Lantana bushes.

Life is sweet.

Monday, 16 September 2013

A Bit of a Knees-Up

My other, nay better half (best not get that wrong, eh?) is always on the lookout for an opportunity to strut her stuff on the dance floor. Not your modern rubbish of course. No, she wants to dance Greek steps to traditional Greek music. But the fact is, we don't often actually get to an event, for all kinds of reasons.

But last night, just for a change, it worked out OK. There was a Greek Festival being held slap bang in the centre of Pefkos and it was primarily in aid of the fairly new and still developing website It was due to kick off at around 9.30pm and, when we arrived at around a quarter to ten it was already in full swing.

As is the usual sequence at such soirées, the first hour or so consists of a dance troup or two doing various dances from various islands in their full traditional regalia. This bit is frustrating for the likes of my wife, since she's itching to get up there. She's not a show off. She just has it in her blood and wild horses wouldn't keep her in her seat if and when the appropriate opportunity arises, which it did a little later. But at this time the floor's surrounded by a thick layer of tourists all busily clicking away with their iPads, phones and cameras. Standing room only for the meantime.

After all the formal stuff is out of the way, the profile of the audience can be seen to change. The tourists drift away, ever enticed by the lure of a bar with a big TV screen showing the current sporting event, or simply the desire to flop down in a comfy chair with another drink. But, as the evening wears on the locals emerge from the woodwork - often in their best bib and tucker and, although the numbers are a little less, the dance floor grows ever busier with people who were brought up on this stuff deftly stepping around the floor in ever-lengthening lines, exhibiting very clearly the fact that in all likelyhood they were doing these steps before they could talk.

By 11.30pm or so the crowd around the periphery had noticeably thinned, it was much easier to get a seat at a table, but the audience had become 80% Greeks of all ages. Men and women would approach their group's table laden with souvlaki for everyone and staff were prowling the audience with cardboard boxes full of chilled beer in cans. The numbers stabilize now and even begin to increase as midnight passes and the band is really cooking. Had I not had to get up on Monday morning to do another Lazy Day Cruise, we'd have stayed to the end, which would have been around 4.00am I'd guess.

So, here's a pictorial record of the proceedings. My better half is clearly visible in a number of these, oddly enough...

That's my girl, with her back to me!

I'm ready with the water bottle as she passes...

The fella with the shorts blows my comment about "best bib and tucker" out of the water doesn't he.

Who needs gyms when you can have a workout like this? Yup, she's still out there.

The most I've seen of her all night.
Mind you, I did get up a few times myself. No chance you're gonna see any photos of THAT though!

Saturday, 14 September 2013

Of Moussaka and Men

Yesterday's trip to Halki went really well folks. 

Firstly, the sea was mercifully calm, resulting in one of the most pleasant crossings in a long while. 

Secondly, our good friends Kevin (a music freak like me) and Judy turned up at Levkosia's Taverna, having deduced that I'd probably forgotten all about the fact that we'd arranged to meet on the quay-side as the boat came in and so intuitively followed the sign of the bright yellow polo shirt. They also had in tow a really personable and instantly likeable couple called Graham and Wendy, both of whom have been coming to Halki for years, as have Kevin and Judy. Graham is an artist of some stature and has produced (and published in book form) some really marvellous illustrations, including one of Halki harbour which he presented to the Mayor some years ago. I am awaiting much more info about his work via e-mail and, when it comes, will be making a bit of a splash about him here. Keep tuned in folks. He and Wendy also have a much-sought-after pad down in Cornwall, right on the coastal path and overlooking the sea, which had me longing for an opportunity to take a break there. Take note Cath and Griff - you may be reaching for your mouse to book a stay down there once I reveal the details!!

Graham & Kevin

Some bloke fixing his nets, but nevertheless affording me the opportunity of taking the archetypal Greek harbour photo...

Wendy and Judy (he's not REALLY going to put this on the blog. he?)

Yes folks, it's almost impossible to cruise into Halki without whipping the camera out...
And, thirdly - Levkosia, bless her, after having chided me mildy for the fact that our paths hadn't crossed in weeks, instantly asked me if I'd like a vegetarian Moussaka to take home with me. Now, once I'd got it home and safely ensconced it in the freezer, that was fine...

...but, can you imagine the difficulty presented to someone with a rucksack, a clipboard and 48 guests to shepherd aboard the ferry and subsequently aboard the coach on our arrival back at Kamiros Skala, by having also to carry a "tapsi" full of still hot, fresh-from-the-oven moussaka as well? Imagine too that, as the coach journey back to Kiotari progresses, how the aroma of fresh Moussaka floating past one's nasal passages tortures one, as one's hunger grows with each passing kilometre.

Of course, Levkosia's son Mihali, ever the gent, managed to find a cardboard box to lodge it in, so, there I was strolling nonchalantly back to the ship, rucksack over one shoulder, clipboard in one hand and cardboard box full of a huge Moussaka teetering in the other. As you can see from the above piccie, I made it.

What can you say about such kindness though? I've now lost count of how many Moussakas Levkosia's made just for Maria and I. Fortunately, yesterday a lot of my guests followed me to the taverna and quite a few (from the UK, Scandinavia and Germany) sampled the regular mince-containing Moussaka. They all confirmed that it was indeed something special. Regular readers of my stuff will already know that it's the best Moussaka in Greece. If you want to know why I can say that, unequivocally (phew, that one even surprized ME!), you'll have to find where I told the story in one of the RFR books. I can't remember which one now, oh, just read 'em all. (What a PLUG, eh?)

Anyway, why did that delicious fresh Moussaka go into the freezer? Well, see, they don't know it yet, but since Kevin and Judy are coming over for a nice lazy meal out on the patio next Saturday evening - guess what we'll be serving up...

Saturday, 7 September 2013

When the Wind is Not a Wind

Alexandros is what I'd call the "Deck Manager" on board the Nissos Halki, the boat that plies the waters between Halki island and the tiny port of Kamiros Skala on the West coast of Rhodes in perpuity. Winter or summer, that boat makes the crossing, making an exception only when the weather's so rough that they have to stay tied up at one end or the other.

Alex is a thin rake of a man, probably sixty-something and no doubt has many decades of experience with all things nautical in the Aegean Sea. He has a shock of grey hair which rather puts me in mind of the old sixties rock and roller from the UK, Joe Brown [excuse for a link there. Much overlooked and very talented musician who nowadays sounds like a cross between Eric Clapton and J.J. Cale,so can't be bad eh?], although his face is considerably thinner around the jaw line. Of course, Joe probably dyes his these days, but Alexandros most certainly doesn't. 

His standard dress code is the ubiquitous horizontally striped polo shirt that no Greek male of a certain age would be seen dead without (if you don't get that, just you cast your eyes about next time you're in a Greek street!) along with a pair of faded and slightly too large blue jeans, even in the height of summer when the thermometer is groaning under a showing of around 40ºc. Alex always has a three-quarters-smoked cigarette which usually is also three-quarters ash hanging off his bottom lip and has you on tenterhooks waiting for that ashy bit to drop off at any moment. Much stress is caused for anyone talking to him who is distracted by this regular phenomenon.

He cracks a well-wrinkled smile born of a face that's never seen sun cream and has always been exposed to the torrid Greek sun. He's always on the ship's gangway to welcome us aboard and usually we exchange slaps on the back during our weekly greeting as I lead my band of excursionists aboard for the Halki crossing.

Alexandros is a no-nonsense Greek. So, as we plied our way across to Halki yesterday, on mercifully much calmer waters than we'd endured the preceding week, I decided that he'd be the man to answer a burning question that was preoccupying my mind. See, as regular readers will know, I've stated on a few occasions that local Greeks tell me all the time about how the Meltemi [that strong wind which blows North to South across the Aegean during the high summer weeks] stops around the middle of August. In fact, more than one has said "August 15th", to my incredulous ears. But last week we had some very high winds for several days, and this around the end of August/beginning of September. So strong were they, that I was staggering around the decks waving a liberal supply of plastic bags for the hapless landlubbers to throw up into! 

"Alexeh," I asked, "I thought that the Meltemi was meant to have stopped by now. What was all that about then, last week?"

"You mean the winds? Yes, they were pretty wild. We had to stay in port one time early last week, it was so rough."

"But," I pressed, "How come the Meltemi hasn't stopped by now?"

"Ah, yes, well," he countered, "It has. The Meltemi only blows during the afternoon or early evening. That what we had last week wasn't the Meltemi, it was just the wind."

Yea, I know. Greek logic eh?

Monday, 2 September 2013

Some Natural History, a Flat Tyre and Some Water Melon

We often take for granted that we know a little about the wildlife here, including the "livestock" with six or more legs. Just the other day on the Seven Springs trip, I asked someone if they knew what was making that noise they could hear as we walked along the path to the glade where the restaurant in the forest, the tunnel and all the rest of the stuff people come to see are located.

"They're crickets," was the reply I received. Using the most tactful tone that my voice could muster, I replied, "Well, actually, they're not." I then offered the info that crickets make that chirp-chirp noise with a short pause in between, whereas this noise was more of a single rasping note repeated, well, like this really...

Yes folks, what you hear predominantly during the daylight hours here during high summer is the humble cicada. There's some stuff about cicadas in this post from 2012. They don't start to make their distinctive rasping noise until the temperature crests 28-29ºC, which is why they're extremely rare in Northern Europe and very common throughout the Mediterranean. If a cicada flies at you it can be a fraught moment, but it needn't be. Notwithstanding their size, which can rival that of a small bird, at least that's the impression they'll give you if they're flying towards you, they are harmless and it's very unlikely you'll see one flying anyway. Usually they'll cling to a branch and emit their powerful sound for hours on end when the temperatures are sizzling. The photo on the post referred to and linked above was one I found on line, but finally, the other day, I managed to shoot a couple (camera-wise of course) in the garden. That's one of them in the video above, and here are a couple of stills for good measure...

Mean-looking they may be, but harmful they ain't. I'm rather fond of them truth be told. They always herald high summer and, in view of their penchant for sounding off when the temperature's over 28 or so, they tend to switch off in unison as the temperature descends during the evening. In a valley like the one where we live, their sound can be deafening until dusk; when, as if one had switched of a radio, they stop all at once, leaving an incredible stillness right across the valley, soon to be filled when the darkness advances by the tree frogs and crickets, who'll do their bit all night.

Another creature that looks like it means business is the Oriental Hornet. I'm grateful to my neighbour up the hill for holding out that they are in fact hornets, since I'd mistakenly concluded a while back that they were a kind of wasp. Having accepted that she was right I Googled "hornet" and came up with this link. Yea, I know, the page is headed "Bees, Wasps and ants", but the info relates primarily to the Oriental Hornet, a bunch of whom I snapped in our garden yesterday as they were busy crawling all over a nozzle on our watering system in their relentless search for moisture...

The page which I've linked above is from Cyprus, which is the island referred to in the first paragraph. But the info holds good for most of the Eastern Med. Now I regularly see people in a deep state of aggravation when they're approached by these feisty-looking creatures, but I'd draw your attention to the second paragraph in the piece on that page, where it says in part:

"It is not normally aggressive and if a hornet alights on you (rare), just let it fly away in its own time. If it senses it is being attacked, it may emit a pheromone which could warn others which could [only could, mark you] become aggressive. ...The best advice is to leave the Oriental Hornet alone and it will do the same."

You know something? this holds true of so many creatures doesn't it. We've been living at close quarters with these babies for years now and to date have never had any issues with them. Yes, they'll come and investigate, but they're not really interested in humans and if you sit still for a moment they'll soon tire of you and move on. They're big it's true, which is probably why so many people are freaked by them, yet we regularly shower outdoors and they'll even fly through the spray while we're doing so without having a go at us in any way. 

I first began to see them in a new light some years ago on holiday in Skiathos. Whilst I was in a near-comatose state on my sun-bed with Chris Rea's "On The Beach" album filling up my eardrums from the Walkman, I began to see these fierce-looking beasts zigzagging along the beach just above body height from the sand. First reaction, had I been more awake, would have been to flail my arms around like the rest of the world, or maybe spring up and run for my life. The fact that I was seriously chilled out helped me to remain still and I soon began to notice that not a single human was being pestered by the Hornets. They were simply going about their business, which necessarily brought them into close proximity to us humans.

I feel quite sorry for them. I mean, fat chance they have looking like they do, don't you think? While sitting at a table at the Seven Springs restaurant just last week, I had my back to a family of three American Greeks. They were evidently on vacation here. Amongst themselves they talked in American English, yet were able to converse in fluent Greek with the waiter. I couldn't see what was going on without actually turning around, but the party consisted of a woman with probably her grown-up son and daughter. The daughter I'd have guessed, was around twenty years old or so. Before long she was up and out of her chair and running a good twenty feet away, from where she emitted all kinds of cries of anguish about something or other and made it perfectly clear that she was not going back to the table at all costs. It seems they'd ordered souvlaki and chips (at least, that was what it looked like when I stole a surreptitious glance) and no sooner had their food been placed in front of them than a few oriental Hornets had dropped by to investigate.

You know, even when they have been a little tardy in making their retreat, I've found that a gentle wave of the hand will soon get them to give it up as a bad job and zoom off somewhere else. Nature dealt them a tricky hand. It's just the same with some hairy, tattooed bikers isn't it? They look really mean, but are really just regular guys. Witness the important lesson in this brill lager ad. Really, don't you think we're conditioned somehow by our upbringing or something, to react violently and over-defensively when coming into close contact with a lot of the livestock with which we share this planet?

On Friday I did the Butterfly Valley and Halki trip as usual. It's the only day in the week when I have to get up at an indecent hour and be at the first hotel stop to meet my coach usually at something like ten to seven in the morning. This particular day I went outside at 6.40am or so to get into the car for the brief drive down to the Rodos Princess, where I was to meet my first guests and the coach at one and the same time, when I noticed that the front drivers-side tyre on the car was only half-inflated. Oh joy, I had a puncture didn't I. There was no time to do anything about it, apart from hope that it would be OK enough to get me the mile or so from the house, down the dirt lane and along the road to the hotel. If I'd stopped to change the wheel at home first, there was no way I'd get to the coach in time.

Driving down the lane and along the road I could hear the wheel making that flopping sound that tells you that the tyre is well down on pressure. Mercifully, I got to the hotel, parked up and went to meet my driver and first guests of the day. So, as you can imagine, I spent all day thinking of how great it would be to have to change a wheel (which would almost certainly be completely flat by 7.00pm or later that evening, when I expected to arrive back at the first hotel for the last drop-off of guests) before I could make the short drive home to a shower and a gin and tonic.

As a rule I carry a small dish in my rucksack when on an excursion. I do this because I like to encourage my guests, if they're willing, to perhaps leave a small tip for the driver. In the UK we have a kind of tradition anyway of having a "whip-round" for a coach driver. It's a unwritten law. Thus, with a small piece of blue tack I'll afix the dish to the coach's dashboard and announce to my guests as we approach our first drop-off of the return journey that should they agree that our driver has done a good job for us, they may wish to leave something small in the dish. I make no apology for this for a good reason. These guys deserve our respect for the long hours that they work, seven days a week for the entire season. They'll often drop me off at the end of an excursion, only to tell me that they then have to begin an "αναχώρηση" [anaho'risi = departure], and so they'll be off to start another run of pickups en route to the airport. By the time I'm home, had a refreshing cool outdoor shower and am swishing the slice of lemon in my G&T, my driver is often halfway back to the airport and not sure exactly when he'll be getting home.

Couple the above with the fact that they don't earn a huge amount and you see why I like to help them out a bit. A driver will often thank me effusively when we reach then end of our route for the day, when I'll un-stick the dish and pour a load of change into his hand before saying goodnight. 

Well, anyway, last Friday, just to make conversation really, I told Kyriako the driver about my puncture and how peeved I was that I'd not be able to drive home right away, but rather have to get my hands covered in road dust as I'd be changing a tyre first. I thought no more of it. Twilight was beginning as we drove up the gentle rise toward the Rodos Princess near my home in Kiotari, where we were to drop off a Belgian family who'd been with me all day and I'd then be saying goodnight to Kyriako. The car was evident as we turned the coach into the hotel's reception area, flat tyre and all.

Our guests climbed down, after first adding to the nice jingle of change now sitting in the dish, and I handed Kyriako his "earnings". He couldn't thank me enough and I was (as always really) well pleased that I'd made his day as I also climbed down from the coach, wished him "kalo dromo" and walked off toward the car. My wife was waiting there too, since she'd walked down to the beach for a swim and was going to hitch a lift back home with me. Kyriako waved to her as we turned into the hotel.

No sooner had I reached the car, thrown my rucksack onto the back seat and begun to empty the boot (trunk guys, OK?) of all the paraphernalia we keep in there in order to get to the spare wheel, jack and wheelbrace, that we felt the presence of a huge vehicle drawing up right behind the car. Looking up as I heaved the spare out of the boot, I was amazed and surprised to see that it was the coach I'd been on for the excursion, and Kyriakos was behind the wheel, gesticulating at me to leave things be. He cut the engine, leapt down from the coach and shooed me away, at the same time wresting the car's jack from my hands. In order to do this he'd had to turn the coach around again from the direction in which he needed to go and then drive up past us, turn again and finally draw up behind us. We're talking about a 59-seat triple-axle bus here too, so long you could put a bowling alley in it.

Both my better half and I almost cried as this humble guy, evidently simply wanting to show me how much he appreciated the few extra Euro I'd dropped into his lap just minutes earlier, set to and changed my wheel while in his driver's uniform. When he'd done the task and stashed the wheel and tools in the car, his hands were black. I offered him a towel from the car, the one I use to lay over the dashboard when it's left in the sun, which he refused, telling me, "I have some water in the bus Gianni."

Kyriakos did all this although he'd told me earlier that, once he got home he'd have to clean the coach before starting work at seven the next morning. How long would it take him to clean the coach properly? About two hours. He stood to get home at around 8.00pm, after which he'd begin the job of cleaning. I drove us both home with the pair of us wet-eyed over this man's kindness. Kyriakos is from Athens and his wife and two young children won't see him until the season ends, so that make's it early November at best.

 Finally, a heads-up for a humble little taverna way down in the remote and sleepy village of Lahania. I have mentioned it before, in a post now to be found in chapter 39 of book four in the "Ramblings" series, A Plethora of Posts.

Chrissy's is owned by an Orthodox Priest, one Papa Giorgo, who is the only man (whom I've met) of the Greek cloth I have time for, sorry to say. Regular readers will know that I don't have much "truck" with pomposity, but this guy's anything but. Sadly, most Orthodox priests seem to me to be the very epitomy of that characteristic, but Papa Giorgos is a really nice, smiley friendly bloke with no side to him whatsoever.

Walking through the village the other evening we saw him standing by the door and so hailed him with a "kalispera sas". He responded with his usual huge grin and bade us sit a while and take some "karpouzi" [water melon]. You know what, he puts me in mind just a little of the American actor and comedian Robin Williams. I don't even know precisely why, but it's who springs to mind when I talk to Papa Giorgo.

I suppose it's true to say that he's ever on the lookout for opportunities to spread the word about his little traditional establishment, but then, oughtn't everybody to be? I can highly recommend the place anyway and if you visit you'll be sure of a hearty welcome and a huge grin from the place's proprietor.Yes he gave us a few cards, but he also gave us a plate of delicious water melon entirely for free.