Friday, 1 April 2016

Not Exactly Sammy Davis Jnr.

The other day we were just over at our friend's house in a nearby village, doing a regular spot of gardening and DIY for her, when it struck me that Spring really is in the air. There I was staining some wooden trellis, listening to all the birdsong, the sun starting to hint at just how strong it's going to become in the next few weeks (prompting me to don the most ridiculous hat you've ever seen, but better that than a sunburnt crown of the head!), when a newborn donkey and its mother began braying in the olive grove just across the road.

There was nothing for it but to trot the thirty or so metres over there and take a peek, but sadly they were at just about the furthest point from where I stood on the lane, the other side of a chainlink fence, so I could only snap these using the digital zoom on the iPad, which tends to lose a lot of definition...

This chap, or perhaps chappesse, tried to get in on the act.

The house where our friend lives also has an olive grove bordering her garden at the rear, thus affording the birds a safe place to sit in an olive tree, the branches of which span to within inches of the climbing roses and jasmine that she has growing on her fence. So we sit and sip coffee in her kitchen and listen to chaffinches, greenfinches, Sardinian Warblers, Jays and a few others besides. It's magical.

Up at our place, where we're fortunate enough to have a valley full of pine trees stretching for almost a kilometre below the garden, we finally heard the call of the hoopoe for the first time just this week. The first time we ever saw a hoopoe in the flesh (or ought that to be "in the feather"? Open to debate...) was many years ago when we took a winter break to Gran Canaria. When you see a hoopoe you cannot mistake it for anything else. It's probably about blackbird sized, but there the similarity ends. We were thrilled some years back when we saw them here, right outside our front door, and have seen them now and again every summer since. This very week, though, was the first time we'd actually heard the hoopoe's call, while working in our own garden. It sounds like this. And in case you'd like a closer look, they look like this.

Anyway, as I slapped the old wood-stain on to the trellis with my brush I got to thinking, you know, like we do in such situations when there's no conversation to be had and the job's taking longer than you'd expected. I got to counting my blessings. Whilst glancing occasionally at the new baby donkey and thinking "the environment here is not half bad when you think about it" the chicken salesman's Dalek-like voice also floated over to me from a couple of streets away. I talked about this particular custom, of someone selling live chickens from the back of a pick-up, in chapter 26 of "A Plethora of Posts"

Wafting through the olive trees came the words (in Greek) "Chickens, ducks, come and take a look. All good egg-layers. Come and see!" the voice was obviously that of a man who'd seen a fair few packs of cigarettes in his life so far and, as it was being transmitted from an old megaphone mounted in a skew-wiff manner on the top of his pick-up's cab, it made me half expect to hear him add, "and if you don't come you will be ex-ter-min-ated!"

When the sun's reminding you that you ought to have slapped on a bit of the old factor 15 before coming out this morning and it's only the end of March, you know you're in Greece. Everywhere you go now too, the place is a hive of intense activity. I've spoken many times about the rhythm of the seasons, something which, apart from darker evenings in winter time, one seldom really noticed in the UK. The expression "rhythm of life" began drifting across my contemplative mind and I found myself making a mental note to look it up on Youtube when I got home. I did too. I've just watched it and y'know, old Sammy Davis Junior could perform all right, couldn't he. Take a look if you like.

Granted, it's a very different life from that which we live here, but it just shows how an overactive mind can take you places you haven't been in a very long time doesn't it.

Drive or walk past a hotel here this month and you'll find yourself wondering how on earth they're ever going to have it all ready for the first coach-load of package holiday people to arrive in a few short weeks from now. Some of the hotel gardens look more like yer proverbial bomb-site (not so funny that expression these days) than a pretty, well-manicured hotel garden, at the moment. There are blokes hacking away at the shrubs and bushes, blokes driving forklifts laden with plasterboard (sheetrock, you guys across the pond) and the sound of power tools emanating from hotel wings where they've been renovating rooms during the winter break. So often we've seen this now that we no longer wonder. We just know that the last sackload of rubble, the last truck laden with green waste, the final licks of paint will all be sorted and heaved away, brushed on or whatever, a mere hour or two before the first coach pulls up outside reception. They always manage it. Pretty impressive really. 

We can only hope that the people will come. Our neighbours up the hill from us have just returned from 3 weeks in the UK and they reported with some degree of anger that the UK press still seems to be perpetually thrusting at the public the idea that Greece is completely buried in refugees, that it's not safe to come here, that the streets and quaysides are all shanty-towns full of potential terrorists. It's all so much distortion, yet looks like threatening the livelyhoods of so many businesses out here this summer. It's sad, but once again it seems that the public love to be duped. Don't listen folks. 

You know something? Greece remains one of the most stable and safe places to spend a vacation - fact. The islands are exquisitely beautiful and a warm welcome awaits you. Do yourself a favour, check this out.

Living here as we have for over a decade, we've seen the trauma that many have had to endure owing to shifty builders and even shiftier bureaucracy. But the fact is that thousands of ex-pats still choose to remain here because the positives outweigh the negatives.

As I climbed the stepladder and offered up a length of newly painted trellis to the house wall for the bougainvillea in the huge pot to call home, I found myself being thankful for the simple things. It's the rhythm of life here that counts, not the fact that the umpteenth civil servant has told you that you need this piece of paper (which last year you didn't need) and it's going to cost you 400 Euros, not the fact that the UK is soon to vote about staying in the Euro-club or asking for their ball back and some ex-pats are panicking needlessly about the possible outcome. No, what counts is the life you can live here on a daily basis, the environment where you can be gardening and glance at a donkey that only came into this world a few hours before, where you can marvel at hoopoes scuttling along dirt lanes and the prospect of a glass of ouzo before your meal, where you can laze away an hour or two people-watching over a coffee any time of the year.

I'm rambling now I know. But, well, isn't that what this blog's all about, eh?  Just doing what it says on the tin.

Just one final thought about the UK vote thing. I've heard so much scaremongering from ex-pats about whether they'd still be able to have residency or work permits if the UK votes out, whether we'd still enjoy the reciprocal healthcare arrangements that are now in place, whether we'd be able to get our pensions (if we're old enough of course) and so on and so forth. I watched an interview the other day on the good old BBC with a Euro-financial expert and he confirmed what I already thought (sorry to boast, but I did, honest!), and he said this:  

If the UK votes to leave, the next day it'll still be a member. The next year it'll still be a member. The process of withdrawal is something that will take many years, maybe even up to a decade, during which time there will need to be lengthy and detailed negotiations, something which all members signed up to when they agreed to join in the first place. There would need to be agreements reached that must be ratified by all of the other 27 member states. Only one of these needs to veto a proposal to stall the whole process and send the lawyers back to the drawing board. "It's like a divorce" he said, "and they are usually messy and take time".

The fact is that many of the ex-pats who worry unduly will probably pop their clogs before any real changes come into force.

That's all to do with the rhythm of life I suppose, eh Sammy?


  1. John, you are doing a great job of 'selling' the Greek islands to all the doubting Thomases who wonder if they should holiday elsewhere.
    I'll be there soon!


  2. Hi, John. Thanks for reminding us that Greece (and it's neighbour, Turkey!) remain inimitably wonderful places to visit and to adopt, as you have. We hope to be doing the same this week on Tilos!