Saturday, 20 September 2014

Peace and Quiet

In times past we've lived in places where one could hear aeroplanes, busy roads, railways and passing traffic. So, at the outset, I ought to say that I'm grateful. I'm grateful to be living now somewhere where the house is far from any of those things. The only time we hear aircraft is the very occasional military jet, or more often, yet still mercifully rarely, the Canadair planes that carry seawater to be dropped on the forest fires that are a hazard of every summer here in Greece.

Very often, and I'm conscious of the privilege, we can sit outside on the terrace and hear nothing. Nothing except perhaps the breeze in the palm fronds or the click-clacking of the huge blousy, glossy leaves of the rubber tree in the front garden. In high summer there are birds here, but not nearly as many as during the cooler winter months. At the moment we are hearing the European Bee Eaters "whirl-whirl-ing" as they flock to prepare for their trip across the Mediterranean whilst they soar once or twice a day in their aerobatic display, snatching insects on the wing to fatten themselves up for the trip. There are Whetears aplenty and Stonechats just further down the valley, along with Crested Larks and the occasional Grey Wagtail. But sitting on the terrace one often doesn't hear very much birdsong during the hotter months of the year. The jays make their rasping cry now and again too, but basically peace and quiet reigns.

We're busy-busy much of the time. Not always in labour and toil maybe, but with stuff to be getting on with nonetheless. So the other afternoon was a bit of a luxury for this time of the year since we were both at home all day with nowhere to go. Having sweated for a few hours during the morning in the garden, we'd eaten a light lunch of "pitta-pizzas" - one of my better half's specialities, and poured a nice cup of tea and the time was approaching 3 of the clock. Siesta time.

At this time of year, after some months of zero rainfall, the landscape is decidedly parched. Such vegetation as there is is brittle with dehydration and almost colourless. The dust on our lane is of the consistency of fine flour, making it an impossibility to keep the car clean. From the main road below to our front gate is almost exactly one kilometre of dusty tyre tracks. About one third of the way up there is an old cast iron bath perched on a slope about twenty metres from the lane and the local goatherd and his wife (Manolis and Felitsia - see chapter 1: "High on a Hill" in "Moussaka to My Ears"), use it to supply needed drinking water to their herd of over 400 goats. As the summer trudges onward toward the hoped-for first rains, these goats spend more and more time in our valley, primarly to be near that old bath, where they can slake their thirst at will.

The goats will chomp away at almost anything, but they get less and less moisture from what they eat by the time we're into September and so far here in Kiotari rain is still a distant dream. Thus we get used to seeing them daily and hearing their bells clinking and clanking, dingling and dangling all acoss the partially wooded hillsides each side of us. Since we regulary empty wheelbarrowloads of green waste from the garden just across the lane, we equally regularly see some goats right outside the gate as they forage among the slightly more moist clippings that we've deposited over there. As a rule they don't bother us, but we still now and then nervously check around the perimeter fence to see if there has been an incursion. 

On the occasion when they do get in they can cause a lot of devastation in minutes. Since this did occur last summer and we were taking our siesta at the time, we only woke up when one of the males with a particularly resonant bell was right beside the kitchen window of the house, we always get a bit jittery when they're out there. They'll rub their flanks along the chainlink fence as if they're hoping to find a weakness in it, which indeed they did last time. Once the fence is breached, the cavalry arrive and last time we awoke to the sound of the bell right beside the house, we leapt from our bed starkers and were soon charging all over the garden and orchard trying to round up twenty or thirty of the fiends, which by then had already severly 'pruned' our fruit trees, hibiscus, geraniums, lantanas and the rest, though not with the precision of a pair of secateurs.

Had anyone been driving past the garden at the time (which is also a rare occurrence, but we do occasionally get those extremely annoying dune buggy horrors speeding up and down the lane, with a couple of Ray-Ban toting dayglo shorts-wearing idiots astride them, who've decided that it would be a great idea to zip dangerously up through narrow lanes creating a dustcloud that Lawrence of Arabia would have been proud of in the process) they'd have wondered if a local am-dram society was practicing for a play about Adam and Eve.

Anyway, returning to the other day, when we'd rather deliciously found ourselves with a whole afternoon to take a nap, we'd carried our hot cuppas into the bedroom, along with a glass each of nice chilled water and placed these on our bedside cabinets, we'd nipped outside for a quick al-fresco shower and towelled ourselves off and were luxuriating in that slip-into-bed-and-drop-the-blinds feeling that's just not quite guilty enough to bother us. You know what I mean. After about fifteen minutes reading our novels, we were both revelling in that drowsy feeling that creeps over you at such times and which induces one to throw the book aside and bury one's head in the pillow and allow sleep to drag one down into unconsciousness when the two dogs which our neighbour a hundred yards up the hill keeps in her garden began yapping at the tops of their voices.

There are only two other houses within a kilometre of ours and they are both a little further up the hill from us. The upper of these two is the one in question. Since our bedroom window was open to allow a through-flow of air, two yappy dogs just up the hill will easily "carry" to us and their sound dragged us back to the real world in no time. Something, evidently some goats, had spooked them and they were giving it all they could volume-wise. If this wasn't enough, the fact that it was goats was borne out by the bells around their necks banging, clanging and clunking non-stop in unison with the two yappy dogs. 

Just when we were about to give our doze up as a bad job, it finally went quiet again as the goats receded a little further over the hill and the two pooches resumed their silent vigil just inside their perimeter fence, evidently satisfied in the thought that they'd fulfilled their job as sentries yet again. Dropping the blind further still and sliding the window along a little in order to close it a little more, we once again threw ourselves into the business of trying to take an afternoon nap.

I was a hair's-breadth away from starting a really nice dream when we were once again awoken, this time by an entirely different sound from within the house. Anyone who lives here and knows us (as well as any Greeks of course) will know that you don't call someone between 3pm and 5pm. It's "mesi-meri" [literally: Midday] and time to sleep. There's an unwritten law to be followed here. There are three phones in the house, two mobiles and a house phone. I usually switch the mobiles to silent whilst we take a nap, but had forgotten to do so on this particular afternoon, much to my wife's annoyance and thus, when mine began pumping out its tinny Greek song in response to a call coming in from somewhere, it was me who took the flack for our second disturbance of the afternoon.

Of course, both phones were on the telephone shelf near our front door, weren't they. So muggins here had to get up for a second time to reject the call, which was coming in on my UK SIM card and I could tell by reading it that it was another one of those sales calls that seem to be getting far too frequent these days. Both phones now silenced for the duration, I once again returned to bed to see that my better half's head was now under her pillow instead of atop it.

Right then. Now let's see if we can grab a half an hour's shut-eye. Yup, you guessed it. This time the house phone trilled loudly and once again it timed it to perfection. Just as I was finding those eyelids closing of their own accord (I'd elected to read again just long enough to drop off) off it went. My wife was a hair's breadth away from a rather uncharacteristic expletive when I marched out to the phone and answered the call from a friend who asked, "I didn't wake you, did I?" totally insincerely I might add. Finally closing the call I tore the cable out from the back of the phone's cradle.

"RIGHT!" I cried, "it won't flaming well ring again now until I plug it back in!" I exclaimed as I strode determinedly back to the bed. I dropped the blind all the way down to plunge the room into almost total darkness and threw myself back onto the sheets. It's at times like this when I well earn the epithet that my wife sometimes gives me, Victor, since I was probably muttering "I simply DON'T BELIEVE IT!" in the process.

By now more than half an hour had passed from the first minutes when we'd attempted to sleep, so the afternoon was beginning to slip from our grasp. But there still was hope of an hour before we'd have to think about getting up. Nothing else could possibly go wrong, could it?

Next it was the turn of our other neighbour, who, having seen the goats return and draw up to a gnat's whisker of her garden's perimeter, was out there in her garden clapping her hands and making threatening noises with her mouth in an attempt to get the goats to recede from such close proximity. Since there is no industry, no road, no railway, airport, school or shopping centre within several kilometres of our three houses, such a sound easily penetrated our blind and still partly open window and thus was able to disturb our miserable attempt at a siesta for a fourth time. Now I don't blame the neighbour. Had we been able to actually get to sleep some time earlier I doubt she'd have woken us with her clapping, but in the circumstances, well...

I don't know about you, but I'm one of those poor souls who, if disturbed at that precise moment when I'm dropping off, finds it a near impossibilty to then get to sleep at all.

By about 4.30pm we were both laying there wide awake, talking in irritated voices to eachother and postulating on what else could disturb our afternoon of peace and quiet.

Guess what. Just as we were thinking about having one last go, the irritating noise of a couple of dune buggies racing up our lane hit our ears. These gits (sorry, but they are!!) are so stupid. I mean, if they were to encounter any other vehicle, and it could well have been ours, or even some goats, going around some of the blind corners in our lane like bats out of hell, there would at the very least have been severe injuries, if not fatalities.

Of course, by the time I'd leapt from the bed, wrestled with the front door lock and run  out on to the drive to stare menacingly at these passing numbskulls, who probably wouldn't have seen me anyway, the only visual evidence of their passing was the fact that an impenetrable dustcloud hung over the lane right outside our gate.

Had they of course come by and actually looked in my direction whilst I was standing there, they could have been forgiven for thinking that a bunch of nudists lived in this house. Still, looking on the bright side, owing to what they might have witnessed and the possible distraction that it may have caused, there may have yet been serious injury or fatalities ...with any luck.

Thus came to an end a beautiful, bucolic afternoon of peace and quiet. Almost made me long for suburbia. Not quite though.

1 comment:

  1. I was so enjoying your beautiful, lulling description of your rural idyll, peace indeed. But I can empathise with your 'rant', being another light sleeper and I have been referred to as 'Victoria Meldrew' on many occasions.