Thursday, 1 January 2015

No "Trouble at Mill"

I often wonder what some of my transatlantic readers, of perhaps those from non-English speaking countries make of some of the expressions I use when I'm composing this stuff. I mean, I just take for granted the fact that if I use an expression, like in the title of the previous post "Wood anemonies - anemonies wood, a huh huh huh, just like that", then my UK readers will think "Tommy Cooper" right? Well, hopefully anyway. Thus the same applies with the title of this one. I dunno know why we Brits all know the Yorkshire expression "Trouble at Mill". After all, why should there be trouble at the mill anyway? workers' strife, industrial accident maybe? And why the mill, I mean why not the blacksmith's or the canning factory? Well, I suppose it's just one of those unfathomables, but I still do sympathise if you read this and think "what the hell's he on about now?" Mind you, that's probably a fairly sensible reaction to most of what I write, come to think of it.

Anyway, this tale relates to, in fact could be termed a sequel to, the one from November 29th (was it really that far back?) about our friend's visit to the olive mill. The post entitled "O-live to Tell the Tale" it was. What follows was all rather unexpected, really. Rather fortuitous though. I'll explain (I say that often enough too, don't I?)...

December 17th was a Wednesday. That particular week we'd planned to have a couple of unbroken days at home, getting on with stuff around the garden, maybe me writing some more of the next novel, that kind of stuff. As per usual, though, things didn't go according to plan. On the previous Sunday evening we'd been with a few friends in Kalathos when Kostas, one of their number, asked me, "Do you have oil John?"

Now, of course, that question is a chestnut in conversations that take place any time from November through January out here. Everyone's concerned about whether they've enough olive oil in reserve for the next twelve months, well, twenty-four sometimes, since most olive trees are only harvested every second year. Every Greek home has a canister or a drum, sometimes those red plastic ones with the huge screw-on black top, although the purists have the stainless steel ones with a lttle tap at the bottom, you can see both types in the photos at the top of this story. The purists will tell you never to keep your oil in the plastic ones for any length of time, ...well, you can read all that in the post to which I've just linked if you like.

To return to Kostas. I responded by asking him, "Why, do you have some to sell?"

"No" he replied, "But if you don't mind taking them to the mill, I've got four crates of olives going begging. I've already got well over a hundred kilos of oil and I don't want any more, but rather than throw these away, I wondered whether you might like them. I reckon they'll probably net you around 16-18 kilos of oil. That's not bad for free, if you want them. Well?"

"Well?!" That offer was like, does a cat want a piece of fish? I told him that of course I'll have them. After all, the mill's probably past its busiest by now I reasoned. Be no problem to just whizz up there on Wednesday morning, stopping off at Kostas' storage shed on the way to collect the crates, saunter along to the coffee shop while they're processing and drive home with a can full of oil. I wish.

Mind you, after all that advice I'd dispensed to our poor retired British ladyfriend I could hardly balk at doing the same trip myself, could I? I mean, I speak the lingo pretty well now, so there shouldn't be much of a problem.

I was soon zipping along the road to Kalathos, slightly bothered by how many pickups laden to the stops with crates and sacks of olives that I was passing along the way, on my way to the mill. I arrived at around 9.40am, fully expecting to breeze in with my modest little load. Here's what I took along...

Now, to the untrained eye, that might look like a respectable amount of olives. But as soon as I pulled up at the main entrance where they take them in to tip them into the hopper at the beginning of the process, I was confronted by a forklift shifting tons of sacks from a pickup. Beside it there were two men conversing in shouts over the noise of the machinery, so I jumped out of the car and walked over to ask them what the situation was, what the waiting list was looking like. One of them, evidently the one who actually works there, simply shooed me away and made it very clear from a few hand signals that I was to shift my car pretty sharpish.

I shouted, "I only wanted to ask you something!!"

No joy. He simply repeated the same hand signals and turned to face the other other way. I suppose I shouldn't blame him. Taking one look at me, he probably thought, "another xenos who can't speak Greek. I haven't got time for that now." But, before I rather angrily jumped in and moved the car, I spotted the white board inside and was plunged into a huge depression. My flying visit to the mill looked like becoming a marathon endurance session, the list was that long. Gazing about outside, I supose I ought not to have been surprized, for there were olives awaiting processing in every direction. Sitting still on vehicles, stacked on palletts, in sacks, in crates, everywhere...

Past its busiest the mill was not!

...and, as you can tell from the photos, my little stack was rather pathetic by comparison. Echoes of what I'd put our friend through a couple of weeks earlier. What was I going to do? Then I remembered what our friend had done, in fact, what I'd advised her to do. So I took my own advice.

I drove around to the exit side of the building, where the "controller" (not quite the 'fat controller', but certainly stocky) has his little office. He was sitting in there behind the glass partition, just inside the rather basic makeshift coffee shop, which hadn't even been there the last time I'd been to this mill, gazing at his computer monitor. I tapped on his door and opened it.

"Can I help you?" He asked, already displaying a distinctly different attitude from grumpy guts the other end of the building. 

"Well, hopefully," I replied, a sweetness and light smile on my chops. "See the thing is, I only have four crates and I was wondering if there was any way we could get them through. I don't want to jump the queue, or anything." Which is exactly what I did want to do.

"Let's have a look then," he replied and we strolled out of the building and over to the car, where I opened the tailgate and showed him my problem. "Right. Hold on. Can you wait a bit?"

Like, I had a choice? "Sure," I answered and off he strode into the business part of the building, where it all happens.

Five minutes later he was back, "Right. The next man in the queue has agreed that we can pour yours into the hopper after we weigh his, then we can work out how much of the load will be yours and give you the right amount of oil. I mean, it might not exactly be the oil from your trees, but you get the idea. Would that be all right?"

I didn't have the heart to tell him that they weren't from my trees anyway. I agreed without hesitation. I'd brought along a square metal tin which I thought held around 20 litres, so I reckoned from what Kostas had said that it ought to be filled to about two thirds capacity or so. Plenty of room in it for what I was expecting to receive anyway.

He asked me if I wouldn't mind waiting for around half an hour. That to me was a result, since at first I had visions of driving home with my lights on when I met that first bloke. I decided to hang around rather than take a walk along the road and so I asked the girl at the counter for a frappé, which she quickly rustled up for me. When I offered to pay she told me, "You don't pay for coffee. Only if you want a can or a croissant." Things were really looking up now. The room was very plain, concrete walls and concrete floor, a couple of old kitchen chairs and Formica tables, but what else does one need when one has a frappé and one's iPad with a really good snooker app on it...

OK, so the frappé was in a polystyrene cup, but it was FREE. I won the match by the way.

After what was more like three quarters of an hour, my friend the stocky controller emerged from his office and beckoned me over. "OK, you have a drum?" I replied that I sure did and trotted over to the car to get my can. bringing it back to the place where the oil comes out and is weighed, then pumped through a flexible pipe into your receptacle, I handed it to him and he said, pointing to the digital readout that gave the weight of the oil, "This is yours now."

I watched as he stuck the gun into my can and began pumping ..and pumping ...and pumping. When he stopped the oil was at the very brim and he turned to me and said, "That all right for you?"

I could hardly contain my delight, but replied as calmly as I could, "Yes, good, thanks." I'm sure he gave me more than my olives would have produced, but I wasn't about to complain, was I.

"Chuck that in your car then and we'll do the paperwork," he said.

At that precise moment I was beginning to think, 'how could things have gone any better?' But they were about to get worse.

Once back in his office, he pulled a form up on his computer screen and started vigorously typing away. After hitting the "Enter" key a few times he asked for my name, which I gave him, along of course with my father's name, par for the course here. Then my address, "Oh, Kiotari, nice area," he quipped. I smiled, I was just thinking about all that gorgeous oil, courtesy of Kosta, sitting in the can in the back of the car.

"Ah-fee-mee?" he asked. That's ΑΦΜ [AFM] - which is one's tax number. The Greek government records all oil processed because people who have lots of trees get concessions and that kind of stuff. Producing oil is to be encouraged, of course. It's owing to this that everyone going to the mill has to supply their tax number. In fact, you need your ID (in our case, our passports), your tax number, your National Insurance (AMKA) number, for so many things here - even paying an assortment of bills - that we've usually got a file with all our official paperwork in it with us whenever we go anywhere. But today? Umm, well, no, I didn't have it with me. Dammit.

"Ah, yes. Umm, ...oh dear." was the best I could muster.

"Ah, yes. Umm, ...oh dear." was pretty much what he said in reply. "What are we going to do now?" He added. I had lightning mental visions of driving all the way home (half an hour each way) just for this wretched number. After we'd both stared at his screen for a while, hoping for inspiration, it came.

"WAIT!! YES!! I've paid my road tax!!" I shouted and before he could respond I was running out to the car. 

Here, when you pay the annual road tax for your vehicle, which has to be done before December 31st for everyone, thus ensuring long queues on the last few days of December at an assortment of tax offices, post offices and banks nationwide as people rush to pay it in time and avoid the fine that you get if you don't, you can do it by downloading a form from the government website. To be fair, I hate to say you'll be amazed, but you'll be amazed that this particular system works well and is quite modernised, what with it being done on line and all that. You simply put in your car registration number and your AFM, and you get a certificate in PDF form to download, which you take to the tax office, a bank or a post office to pay. They keep one part, you get the other, which you have to keep in your vehicle for the next 12 months. It may have only been December 17th, but I'm afraid I'm one of those types that does everything early, thus I remembered that the Road Tax Certificate has one's tax number printed on it. Yeah!!!

I tore back into his office and with a flourish threw my road tax certificate on to his desk. His face broke into a huge grin of relief and he was soon printing out my A4 statement/receipt for the oil I was taking home with me. I asked him how much I owed him.

"Two Euro," he said. Now come on people, two Euros for around 20 litres of extra virgin olive oil is a result, right? needless to say I thanked him profusely, totally forgot to show that appreciation by slipping him a couple more (a situation I do intend to rectify when I can) and drove home eager to pat my friend Kosta on the back and kiss him on both cheeks. Purely in a manly way you understand.

Sometimes, life does chuck you a bunch of flowers, eh?


  1. Trouble at mill eh?? thad better mack sure tha guz back wit 2 euros,else thal bi branded wi "muck t' midding, (roughly translated means, money to where money is already) ,on the other side of the coin though, "many a mickle macks a muckle," (careful budgeting pays off), Enjoy your free oil haha!!!

    Happy new Year 2015

    Regards "Porridge Oats"

    1. Ee by 'eck Porridge, I did say reet there that I paid the man!! It was a bit extra that I forgot!! Thee dawnt haf display a command o the Yorksheer brogue tho', ah'l gee yah that! (Hmm, sorry, I seem to have gone a bit Tyne and Weir in their too).

    2. Note, ..."a couple MORE" it says!!!

  2. Aye!!!! A no lad!!!! Its the couple "MORE" am on abart, am nuan blinned tha nos

  3. Come on John, Tyne and WEAR...................!

  4. Hi John, as a literary man, could you confirm that “Trouble at t’mill” comes from Elizabeth Gaskell: “North and South”? Popularity due to The Pythons: “Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition”. Anyway my mind was drawn by the thought of olives and the questions; Why? How? Take a fresh olive from the tree and try to eat it. The bitterness of the oleuropein in the fruit will draw your ars* up to your elbows. Wild olives probably had little flesh covering the stone, yet someone figured out that you could get oil from them and, possibly later, that with fairly complex treatment the oleuropein could be removed and the fruit could be eaten. Move from hunter gatherer to agrarian and cultivation makes the olives juicier and it makes a little more sense. Anyhow at this place do they mill and then press the pulp? Do you know what happens to the stones and the pomace? There must be loads of both.

    What a bargain you got. Well done!

    Kind regards