Friday, 10 January 2014

A Result (Well, Two Actually)

Whilst inspecting the garden this week, her indoors and I were remarking on the number of bees which are again making use of our plants in order to produce their tremendously useful and remarkably therapeutic, not to mention simply delicious little side line - honey. Not more than 24 hours ago we were reading the extremely dismaying news about the drastic reduction in the bee population in the UK and Northern Europe, which may yet have catastrophic consequences for plants, including many of those which form staples in the human diet, whilst at the same time listening to the drone of buzzing workers busily seeking pollen in the flowers of our umbrella tree, our Gazanias and the Ku'mara bushes which surround our perimeter fence in abundance.

When I was a teenager I worked voluntarily for several years as a marshall at motor racing meetings, predominantly at Castle Combe in Wiltshire, but also we did a few pilgrimages as a team in Colin and Janet's borrowed Transit van to Silverstone, where we'd arrive the night before a big meeting, sleep in the pits, which were back then nothing more than concrete bunkers, then do our "thang" on the morrow. I'd wake up with full bladder and woodlice strolling across my face, throw on my armbands and walk out across the grid later that day in front of a dozen screaming racing cars holding up the "1 Minute" signal board. I marshalled at a couple of Formula 1 meetings back then - in the days when they'd hold a couple of annual specials [like the Daily Express International Trophy Meeting] in addition to the F1 championship calendar. If you'd been sitting outside one of Towcester's pubs on race day, you'd likely have been sipping your pint of real ale to a backdrop of wining engines, which sound remarkably like the bees I hear buzzing in their hundreds around our umbrella tree today. Every time I walk past the bees, I am transported (apt metaphor there) back to my marshalling days. Aah, nostalgia eh? Not what is used to be (the old ones are the best).

This past few days have been simply perfect for gardening and going for long walks. Last May we had a rather nice little experience whilst out in the garden which was repeated just this very week. How fast the time goes, eh? In the post "What Goes Around" I referred to the honey men in their trucks, which are quite often the only vehicles we see going past our garden gate for days on end. Well, the day before yesterday they did it again. I was out there weeding for all I was worth (which, granted, isn't a great deal at today's exchange rate), as was the better half, when the rumble of the bee keepers in their trucks grew louder. They'd been up in the hills behind us doing their rounds, visiting their hives and doing what beekeepers do. In fact, whilst walking in the olive groves just yesterday, we encountered one of them walking the dirt lane between groups of hives in his full white protective gear. Now, as it happens, me and her indoors had only just watched that new movie, Gravity, which is set entirely in earth orbit where all kinds of rather nasty things happen to Sandra Bullock and George Clooney. To be suddenly confronted by someone in what at first glance looked like a space suit, since he had his headgear on too, there was me getting all excited thinking of Sandra Bullock and my other half likewise - only in her case substitute Sandra Bullock for George Clooney. But then Sandra/George raised a be-gloved hand and called out "Yia Sas!" and we were instantly disillusioned.

Anyway, to return to the weeding and the approaching trucks, of which there were two in convoy. In the cab of each sat three men and, as they drew level with the garden wall, over which I was careful to make myself visible, trowel in hand (remembering last time!), the first truck slowed to a halt and, sure enough, exactly as last time, one of those extremely nice beekeeper chappies jumped down from the truck, trotted over to the garden wall and handed me this...

...along with a "Kali Hronia!" and then he was off.

Yup, a jar of delicious thyme honey, which, as any honey expert will know, is made not just from Thyme, but also a plethora of other flowers too, many of which are found in our garden. As with the previous occasion, we were thinking, as they drove off down the track about how maybe, just maybe, they did this out of appreciation for the fact that their bees regularly visit our garden in huge numbers, which we like to think surely contributes to the quality of their product.

Going back to that alarming statistic about bees in the UK. On the BBC website where we were reading about bee population (here it is), we were rather relieved and excited to see in that piece a map of Europe showing "percentage supply of honey bees relative to demand" where Greece comes out at 90%, the best level in Europe, phew!

On the olive oil front, we also came up with "a result" this week, thankfully. Our old bucolic friend from down South a ways, Gilma, is going to end our dearth of oil. In the post "Polishing Off the Olives" I referred to his explanation for the apparently poor harvest this winter, leading to a shortage of oil all across the South Eastern Aegean by all accounts. Well, we dropped in on him a couple of days ago, our forlorn and empty 35 litre barrel in the back of the car (I wasn't a boy scout for nothing y'know) and we bemoaned to him how we had actually bitten the bullet and bought some oil in the supermarket recently, my wife's purse still suffering from the trauma of being emptied too quickly during the experience.

Well, we ventured to ask him if he perchance has any oil he would be able to sell us. Incidentally, we did insist on paying for it, since he's told us on virtually every occasion that we've talked to him in the past couple of years about how his income has been slashed owing to "austerity" and so on. Anyway, in view of the fact that our friend Mihalis from Kalathos always has oil and yet this year, well - he doesn't, we weren't too hopeful. But, wonder of wonders, as I mentioned in that other post, Gilma did buck the trend and harvest a lot of olives this past December and thus he responded with a yes!!

He always has this habit of leaning into the conversation, as if prickly pears have ears, and doing so again this time he asked us "Do you want old oil, or this year's pressing? This year's is best. I haven't got tons to spare, but for you, I'll make it this year's, would you like that?"

Would we 'eck as like? Anyway, we left him with our barrel, which he heartily disapproved of, being old school and all that. "You don't want to keep it in this!!" he declared, as though describing a forthcoming travesty, whereupon he span open the top and raised the barrel to my wife's nose and told her to sniff. She didn't know what she was sniffing for in a barrel that I'd recently washed out and rinsed in preparation for a hoped-for olive oil "score", but he then placed it back on the ground and said "Plastic barrels? Pah! You need a stainless steel one, with a tap at the bottom. Or if not, large glass demijohns! But you mustn't use this!! It'll transfer the taste of the plastic into your oil. Not good. Not good!"

The fact that most of the Greek population uses these plastic barrels nowadays doesn't wash with Gilma. No, he's old school. We assured him that we'd comply, whilst inwardly wincing, since we knew how expensive the stainless steel barrels were. Still, maybe we'll compromise, we do seem to have rather a lot of 1.5 litre bottles knocking about the place, all dark green glass - best for keeping the light to a minimum.

I knew we drank all that Lidl table wine for a good reason.

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