Monday, 24 August 2015

"I Have No Thought of Leaving"

Further reflections on the first ten years of living on Rhodes...

Can't get "Who Knows Where the Time Goes?" out of my head at the moment. It's not such a bad thing anyway, since it is, as I mentioned in the previous post, a very beautiful and dare I say haunting song. If by any odd chance you are not familiar with it, please do take four or five minutes to listen to it here. It's arguably one of the best vocal performances of Sandy Denny's all-too-brief career.

In July 2005, this was the scene outside our house in South Wales. One newly acquired 15-year old van and one soon-to-be-sold (boo hoo) Mini. There's plenty about the van in "Feta Compli!" so I won't go into that here. Fact is though, it got us to Rhodes without complaint. Apart from one fairly unimportant exhaust bracket, there were no mechanical calamities during the whole four days of the trip.

Of course, while we were busy preparing the van for the journey, this was what the house was looking like...

Tell you something though, this house is that tough, if we had an earthquake of even a massive 12 on the Richter scale, I reckon the house would still be intact, granted it maybe a half a mile or so further down the valley, but we'd still be able to carry on with our breakfast while enjoying the trip down.

Of course, not long after arriving we had to sort out a car and ended up with a nippy little Suzuki Swift...

Third week of October 2005, we became the proud owners of Stelios. We always give our cars a male name, dunno why really.

...and thus had to learn all about the legalities of running a vehicle here. I remember that we'd had the car a couple of months when we sort of noticed the little stickers in car windscreens with the year printed on them. Little blue squares with 04, 05, etc. adorned most front windows. Not all though, it has to be said (ahem!). Ours did have an 05 on it and we hadn't given it much thought until, toward the end of December I finally remembered to ask someone about renewing the "Road Tax". In the UK the system was based on whatever month the car was first registered, thus there was never any bureaucratic logjam, since every month of the year there were owners renewing their tax disc. Routine and easy.

Of course, I had absolutely no idea how the system worked here, until I asked Adonis, the mechanic who'd looked over the car before we'd parted with the cash for it. I had, however sorted out the legalities of ownership, which in itself is a rigmarole far more complicated and much more antiquated than the system in Britain. If they tried to run the "log book" (or, to give it its correct name, "Registration Document") system in the UK that prevails here, it would be complete and utter chaos, which is almost what it is here really.

Try to imagine it. In Britain, you have the Registration Document, over a nice friendly cup of tea in your own kitchen you and the new/previous owner both fill out the relevant details in the space provided, tear off the appropriate section, pop it in the post to DVLC Swansea and a week or two later your new document drops through your letter box. Job done.

Here? Well, both you and the previous owner have to pay a visit to the KTEO office, where you are led along a paper trail of various desks and documents until you finally arrive at the last desk in the series, where some bloke or woman will take a long sip from the straw of their frappé before their hand flies around with the ubiquitous rubber stamp and you're finally ready to leave with a couple of dozen (well, it felt like that!) photocopied sheets of A4 paper in your sweaty palm and a promise that the new "Log Book" would arrive one day before you die. When I say "arrive", let me qualify that. you have to ring the office until they eventually tell you it's come and you then go and collect it. I'm not kidding. Imagine every time a car changed hands in the UK both the seller and the buyer having to visit some government office or other to get the paperwork organised. No don't, it's too much of a nightmare.

If you have an accountant, which anyone who owns a car or a house in Greece is required to employ (it's THE business to be in folks), regardless of whether they pay tax or not, you have to add to the equation the "Solemn Statement" which the local KEP (Sort of "Citizens' Advice") office has to issue, and which both parties are required by law to sign and which the local Police also have to endorse with yet another rubber stamp and a dated signature. Yes, you've guessed it, it's another photocopied A4 sheet and - once it's signed and rubber stamped - you have to give it to your accountant, who'll probably mount it in a glass case and throw sugar at it. If that last statement makes no sense to you then you obviously don't live in the UK and have never heard of Terry Wogan. I've no idea why he used to say that, but it always sounded sort of appropriate.

Oh, and of course, both the seller and the buyer need their own versions of the "Solemn Statement" thus requiring four signatures and two Police rubber stamps. Small wonder that a lot of Greek islands are running low on trees these days.

Now, all the above having finally been sorted, we now received the answer from Adonis that we needed to renew the road tax before the end of December, and the chance of doing it at a post office had now gone begging since it was Christmas Eve and only about three working days remained until January 1st. Oh joy, another visit to the tax office in Rhodes town loomed large. Another round of queues up stairwells, along corridors and around in circles in stuffy offices until we eventually reached a glass screen with a hole in it where a very bored-looking woman took some money off us and handed us the coveted little sticker. I have to confess to stifling with great difficulty the urge to skip and dance out of that office waving my little blue sticker in the faces of the woebegotten folk who still had a mere two hours or so to wait until they finally got to the front of the queue.

If you don't get your road tax sorted in time, there are fines which crank up with the passing of time until you get it done. Of course, with all the austerity and the government having to find ways of saving cash, for the past couple of years the system has been different. They've done away with the screen stickers entirely. Now you just go to the government website, download a PDF, print it out and trot off to the National Bank of Greece or a Post Office some time during early December, hand over the cash and walk out with half of the document (the other having been retained by the clerk), now rubber stamped (you just knew I was going to say that, didn't you) which you must keep in the vehicle for potential Police inspection should you get stopped, which we have been ...twice.

The fact still remains though that every single vehicle registered in Greece has to renew its Road Tax at the turning of the year, thus placing a huge logistic burden on the system for just two or three weeks and that in the run-up to Christmas, when no one's very busy are they? (insert ironic laugh there).

Am I complaining? Well, oddly enough, no, not really. See, here's the thing: you get into the swing of it. You get used to the amount of time you have to spend pursuing the annual photocopied bits of paper and the annual this, thats and the others. You kind of accept that this is how it is. In Greek civil service offices all over this wonderful land there are civil servants staring at computer screens wondering exactly when they're going to be able to use them to the extent that is truly possible and thus cut down on the sheer volume of A4 photocopies that this country produces regularly. Mind you, they'd all need a wealth of extra training to get any new streamlining up and running I suppose, but then, hasn't that happened the world over?

I would have it any other way, sure. But I wouldn't let all the foregoing make me want to leave either. It's kind of quaint in a niggling sort of way. It gives you something to talk about when you're sat in the café of a morning sipping your frappé, so there's a silver lining right there eh?

Plus, yesterday, a day that I passed most of on a boat doing the Bay to Bay excursion again, we celebrated our anniversary, having arrived on Rhodes on August 23rd 2005. I took these...

...and you know what? I was asked for the umpteenth time, "Why did you make the move?" and "Would you ever consider going back to the UK?" I never, ever tire of holidaymakers asking me these things. Why? 'Cos it makes me count my blessings.

The better half and I stopped off at Afandou beach for a cold drink on the way home with our shopping on Friday too...

I'll be honest, I can think of much worse places to sit when we have half an hour to spare. All that stuff, the sea, the sun, the people, the food, the lifestyle, the learning all about how to live at a completely different pace from that which we'd lived in our previous life - all that confirms that, as I said before, "I have no thought of leaving."

Next time I'll post a whole bunch more captioned photos from the first 10 years.

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

And then one day you find...

Sandy Denny once sang "Who knows where the time goes?" in what is one of my favourite songs of all time. It's a song of great beauty and melancholy, tracing the migration of "your fickle friends" the birds, as they become so familiar to someone observing them, only to see them leave come "time for them to go". She goes on, "But I will still be here, I have no thought of leaving, I do not count the time, for who knows where the time goes?" In the last verse she again refers to the birds when singing "So come the storms of winter and then the birds in spring again, I have no fear of time."

Yet the underlying current of the song hints that she does actually fear time, because she is musing over the fact that it slips through our fingers to who knows where.

And here we are. It was August 23rd, in 2005, when we first drove up a dusty track in south Rhodes in our trusty old Mitsubishi L300 van and arrived to find this...

Yea, I know. Doesn't look much like a home does it? To say we were apprehensive when we first clapped eyes on it would be a huge understatement. The original plan was to move out here in May, but eventually that was postponed to August and even then John and Wendy, our close friends and soon-to-be landlords had been leaning on the builder to get the job done, since we'd had to book our ferry crossings and hotels along the route. Plans had to be made, a 2,000 mile journey accomplished and - for our part at least - a new life begun. John and Wendy were driving over with us, and they had a boat in tow for the entire journey too.

Here we are, just about to commence our eleventh year living here and every August we are reminded of just how primitive our original living conditions were. There was no electricity, we had to rely on a generator, two in fact, the first of which was an old noisy thing that only ran for two or three hours before needing more fuel. The second of which would at least run all day, but eventually blew up and needed major repairs before, four months after we'd moved in, the electricity company finally completed the job of running poles and cables the one kilometre up the valley from the road below and enabling us to pass a night without having to use oil lamps or torches to make a successful visit to the loo.

This was generator no.2, on its last legs. It would only work at all towards the end with a battery charger permanently attached. The charger eventually caught fire. Happy times. The panels round it were a feeble attempt to reduce the noise level while the thing was chugging away from dawn until after dark every day.
Looking at that photo, you notice how the designers of this generator, in their practical wisdom, placed the fuel filler cap right slap bang in the middle of the top panel, instead of near the edge or on the side. I was paying a visit to the local filling station every few days to fill a plastic drum which was about the same size as the generator itself, which meant that to fill the fuel tank I had to lift a very heavy weight and direct the flow from its opened top through a funnel and into that flipping hole. Of course, you had no idea how full the tank was and so, usually, the way I knew to stop pouring was when diesel fuel was running all over the casing and soaking my Marks and Spencer's slippers. Had I been able to telephone the device's manufacturers at the time, the conversation would probably have been a lively one.

Look at the garden now, though, ten years on...

The water supply when we arrived consisted of a translucent tank on the bank behind the house, barely higher than the house's eaves, which was situated under a sunshade of sorts. The pressure in the taps was meager to be charitable and we got quite used to moving around in the shower to ensure even coverage. Of course, since sunlight penetrated the tank, the colour of the tank's internal surfaces soon began to take on a greenish hue and we asked the builder, who was still working around us with his gang of two for a further 18 months after we arrived, if he would consider fitting a filter so that the water coming out of our taps might not kill us. A fairly serious intestinal disorder seemed quite acceptable when one considers the alternative. 

Eventually a decent sized opaque tank was installed underground on the hilltop fifty metres higher than the house and we were finally provided with the kind of pressure that we'd become accustomed to in the first world, ie: back in the UK. Not to mention the fact the the quality of the water was improved a hundredfold. In fact, since our water supply originates in Asklipio, the village about 4km up the mountain from where we live, we can now be thankful for the fact that our tapwater is eminently drinkable, something which cannot be said of the mains water in quite a few villages not that far from us. History reveals that Asklipians have a longer life expectancy than the rest of the island and some experts put this down to the springwater that originates in the village. 

Of course, much of the ups and downs that we experienced in the first couple of years of living here are well documented in the "Ramblings From Rhodes" series of books, so I'm not going to relate too many anecdotes in this series of posts. But when we muse now on the difficulties that we encountered, we do give thanks for the fact that we are both still just about sane. Well, close enough so as for it not to be too noticeable. 

I mean, when you first get here you have to get yourselves a tax number. That involves, for someone living where we do, an hours' drive up to the tax office on the edge of town and then a rather pleasant (full irony engaged here) few hours queueing on stairs, in corridors, along walls and then back along the opposite walls until you eventually got into the room where it all happens. When you do reach the glass screen over the desk behind which sits the clerk who you hope is going to sort it for you, woe betide you if one document is missing from your arsenal. You must have your passport with you of course, but also a few other things that I won't go into now. Fact is, I can't rightly remember all of them, but you'd be fairly safe if you included your inside leg measurement.

If you were missing one element, you weren't going to get your tax number during that visit, nope, no way, not at all. We witnessed one poor soul losing it completely when she was told that her papers weren't complete. Oh yea, there was something needed from your Greek bank too, I remember now. Anyway, whatever it was this poor woman just ahead of us hadn't brought with her, the prospect of another few hours in the queue during a subsequent visit evidently didn't fill her with delight and so she erupted and had to be escorted away in a fit of apoplexy so that the now very trepidatious couple behind her - us that is - could approach the counter like lambs to the slaughter. It was only a few weeks after we'd by some miracle accomplished this particular mission that we were back there again, enduring a similar queueing experience while we attempted to get our car tax sorted out for the following year. More on that in the next post.

For the time being, here are few photos from our 10 year archive...

Our first meal in our new home. August 23rd 2005. Fetching furniture, eh? You can just see the sheets (and towel) on the right hand side, under which were hiding all our goods and chattel, still in boxes. The only thing's we'd placed in the room were the cricket table and lamp in the other corner. That was because when we finally opened the back door of the van, those were the things that almost fell out on top of us.

November 15th 2005. The better half gets stuck in to help the lads who were laying the driveway. Anything to speed things along a bit. You'll notice the homely atmosphere developing within, with one of my bass guitars now on its stand and a repro-pine clock now hanging on the wall, to remind us that 'who knows where the time goes?'

The "garden" and "orchard" on Sept. 9th 2005. Goats were our constant companions for months.

Sept. 11th 2005. Three weeks after our arrival we had to vacate the place and stay out while the screed on which the tiles were eventually going to be laid was drying. The polythene sheeting on the roof did an excellent job of cranking up the temperature in the house. Remember, no mains power meant no air-con. Temperatures in the 30's C and full sunlight beating down all day long. Hot? There are no words...

Tiles now laid, November 7th 2005 and a neighbour comes a calling.

...and this was how the place was looking in January of 2005.
Just a few shots taken more recently, lots more will follow of course...

July 25th 2008. No, this is not doctored, that was how the sky looked during the terrifiying fires of that summer. They reached within 1km of the property. Had the winds changed direction, the house would have been history. This is taken at John and Wendy's end.

July 22nd 2007. The garden takes shape. Note the fig tree to my right and to the left from this perspective. It's the one you can see in the third photo counting from the top, which I took this week. That fig tree now produces all those gorgeous figs I've photographed numerous times. There's even a shot of a bowlful from this past week in this post.

April 17 2006. Work on the garden under way in earnest. Still didn't have a complete perimeter fence though, thus you'll notice that most of the plants are oleander, poisonous to goats!
Sandy Denny asked "who knows where the time goes?" David Gilmour sang something that kind of harmonises with that too. He sings the words of another of my all-time favourite songs, "Time" from Pink Floyd's 1973 album "Dark Side of the Moon". The lyric goes like this: "And then one day you find ten years have got behind you, no one told you when to run. You missed the starting gun."

People do ask us, as I've said before on a number of occasions, "Would you ever leave? perhaps go back to the UK?" The truthful answer is, as Sandy Denny also sang in that wonderful song...
"I will still be here, I have no thought of leaving. I do not count the time."

More to follow. 

Saturday, 1 August 2015

Point and Click

Well, it's a bunch of photos again this time, starting off with a few from the Old Town taken last Tuesday. Here are a few more corners that took my fancy, like the one above, which I came across while navigating my way to check out the location of the Hotel Andreas, which is run by Constance Rivemale, who's originally from the San Francisco Bay area in the US. Having checked out the location with the hotel's website, I found it easily enough. Here's the front entrance...

 Having been in touch with Constance and agreed to drop by some time, I simply made a reccy on this occasion after finding that I didn't have enough time to make my presence known. Constance, if you are reading this, I shall ring the bell next time! Frankly, I loved the hotel's location, situated as it is in the elevated part of the Old Town a little away from the hubbub and thus the perfect place to unwind with a splendid view over the rooftops of the World Heritage Site that is Rhodes Old Town.

Having established that I'd now know my way to reach the Andreas, I wandered about snapping this and that. Turning a corner I ran into a very personable American lady who introduced herself by telling me that she was quite lost. She wanted to find her way back to the harbour and so I was only too pleased to walk with her whilst showing her the way. Turned out that she runs a very special bookshop in Santa Barbara, California. It's called Chaucer's and that's the link to its website right there, you just passed it.

As we walked we talked about a lot of stuff, predominantly our love of books, of course. She told me that they'd decided on using a "dirty old man's" name for the store as a laugh. If I remember correctly, it was also because Chaucer had been considered too risque for the students when she'd been at school, so it was a spot of revenge too. I rather like it though, don't you? As we approached the main square we parted company, but not before I'd given her a card about "Ramblings From Rhodes" [ever the opportunist] and promised to take a look at her website.

Back home and this photo below, taken in our kitchen just yesterday, shows you just how many figs we're picking on a daily basis at the moment. It seems that ours here in Kiotari are a good two weeks ahead of most trees in the area this year. We walked past a few in Pefkos yesterday morning and they were only just beginning to turn. Dont' forget though that, if you're out here any time soon, there are some varieties of figs that remain green even when ripe. You just have to test them for softness. If they're soft, a gentle twist will separate them from the tree and you can then shove the whole thing greedily between your jaws and sample the absolute delight of the sweetness that is a fresh fig from the tree.

Ok, right. So where's this then? I'm referring to the next two photos below. Rhodes residents need not answer. I'd be interested to hear if anyone living elsewhere in the world who visits the South of the island can identify the place though. It's surprisingly close to quite a lot of development, yet an amazingly photogenic spot, don't you agree?

And, finally, last night was the August "blue" moon. The moon is full still as I type and the last few photos below were taken just a few hours ago on our local beach. We decided to go down there at around 6.30pm and stay until dark, while watching the moon rise over the ocean. It was quite magical.

We'd decided to take a picnic, but my better half really surprised me by pulling out all the stops and producing a wonderful potato salad, along with a Greek salad and some mini cheese pies. Also in the cool bag was a chilled bottle of white wine and thus we enjoyed a perfect al fresco meal, on a beach that was gradually becoming deserted as the light faded.

Is my better half a wizard or what?

Once the moon had cleared the horizon, we packed up our stuff and wended our weary way home. All in all, it had been a blast of an evening. Good craic as they say in Ireland. 

I dunno, living out here is a bind, eh? Can't quite believe it, but as we move into August, we approach our tenth anniversary on Rhodes. Yea, I know of some who gripe, but it's all about your attitude both to life and to people. I'm the first to admit that I can put my foot in my mouth rather too often for my own liking. But I usually try and right the wrong if at all possible. Generally though, if you look at life with a smile, people smile back at you. 

Haven't you found that?