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. 


  1. Wonderful - I sense the beginnings of a saga... :) 10 years, a time for reflection on what you've achieved - and a time to look forward to the next 10+ years :) Val x

  2. Thankyou John. We're too old now, but during 33 years of visiting Greece, we often wondered "what if...". Keep writing!

  3. Oh,happy memoires of generator chugging away,though that was 14 years ago it still has to be used during frequent power cut here on Tilos..Happy days !!!

  4. This looks set to be a delightful post. More soon please! Thanks for reminding me of Sandy Denny and her haunting voice, where, indeed, does the time go?
    On a lighter note, your queueing experience(s) reminded me that my son wanted me to share something with you, he's convinced that Asterix was actually set in Greece.


    Watch from 41 minutes onwards..............................and laugh

  5. That's a great post John, interesting to see how it began for both of you on the island. A brave move and you deserve the success you have achieved with it. You would have moved out two years before we went to France.
    I like the Sandy Denny comments. I used to be in a clay pigeon club for 12 years that shot every Sunday at the back of the Brasenose Inn in Cropredy, the so called Fairport Home as we lived nearby.
    Much earlier as kids we would go to the Inn for a drink and see Sandy playing darts with the lads. She not only enjoyed her darts but her beer too. What a brilliant talent and terrible sad loss. Who knows where time goes indeed?

    1. Fascinating comment Andy. Yes, despite the fact that her singing always projected a very 'earnest" persona, I knew she was a party animal behind the scenes. There's a great video on Youtube of Robert Plant doing "The battle of Evermore" at Cropredy and his pre-song comments kind of indicate this too!! Dead jealous of the Cropredy proximity!