Monday, 6 June 2016

Tree Talk and Living With Livestock

We spot apricots on not one but TWO trees in the orchard! Only took nearly 10 years...

We live on a high hillside, exposed on one side to the winds, sheltered against the hillside on the other. Come August it will be eleven years since we drove up that lane for the first time in our fifteen-year-old van, all we possessed in the world stacked to the roof behind our heads.

There's the van, pictured outside the front of the house only a couple of months after we got here in August 2005. It was the first rains in October. Tidy garden, eh? We kept the van for a further three months.

It took 18 months for the fence to be completed, during which time there wasn't a lot of point in planting much because the local livestock would have it for lunch as soon as look at you. We did attempt a few things, onions and lettuce being the first, and surrounded them with a makeshift fortification of steel re-bars and rope, bamboo canes and bits of wire. It didn't work. Not only the local goat population, but also the pigs from the local butcher's pen further down the valley below would make regular sorties through their immensely inadequate fence of wooden pallets and make a bee-line up the hill for our place. Once here they made short shrift of our defences. 

Fortress Manuel ready for planting up, January 2006. The yellow van belonged to the builders and was a fetching feature in the "garden/orchard" for about a year or so. It served as a toolshed.

Some lettuce and a few geraniums gingerly attempting to survive the onslaught of the local livestock. The apricot tree photo at the top of this post is now at the far end of that area to the right of the van, which eventually (miraculously!) became the orchard. 
The apricot tree is probably right about where that bucket is that I'm standing in. (this shot Sept. 2005)

Every time we went out we spent the entire duration of our absence worrying about whether the livestock would get in while we were away. They often did and with devastating consequences. So many times we'd sit outside trying to envision what the place might one day look like, when the local "neighbours" [4-legged variety of course. See shot below] would drop by to see what was on the menu. Occasionally it included our washing.

What do you reckon? Shabby chic?

Looking at those photos above it's almost impossible to recognise the place as it is now. When the fence finally got completed around spring of 2007, our landlords John and Wendy had a local landscaper plant the trees in the orchard, which is where you see the rather attractive (!?!) earth-mover parked above. Some of them died, but most survived and year after year we've been watching them grow painstakingly slowly and annually devoid of any fruit. Quite a lot of the story is recounted in the first two "Ramblings" books. If you haven't had the dubious privilege of reading them, here's the page on my website where they're described in more detail.

Today, the area shown above looks like this:

This series of shots were all taken at sunrise on Sunday June 5th 2016

It's amazing to think that the photo a little further back up, the one showing three goats, was taken at about this very spot.

So, having finally, after the best part of a decade of patience, begun to harvest some fruit from the trees in the orchard, it's led us to reflect on just how we've become accustomed to the rhythm of the seasons apropos our diet. I've mentioned this before, but it's really quite wonderful to have a different fruit or vegetable to look forward to with each passing month of the year. You know what month it is by which fruits or vegetables you're eating. Even if we don't grow it ourselves, what we purchase down the local store, (or even better what we get given!) is all grown on the island or, failing that, in the country. There are a couple of exceptions, like bananas for example, but certainly not more than I could count on the fingers of one hand.

Right now, as the top photo shows, the apricots are just approaching their peak. In April it was strawberries and last month cherries. The grapes on our vines, after several years of making fun of our expectations, are finally looking like they're going to give us a yield - and this time more than the pests that come out at night can nick from us.

The grapes wont be ready for a couple more months yet, but the figs are shaping up to be a bumper crop again, and they'll be turning a wonderful deep aubergine purple colour in time for us to start picking them at the end of July...

See, I reckon that it's the right way to eat. Think about it. Oranges and mandarins for example are all harvested here during the winter months, at a time when the weather is cooler and the dampness can be high, making the air feel damp and your body needs a boost of vitamin C. I haven't any idea of what all the other fruits (and veg of course) may contain, but I'm sure a botanist or nutritionist could shed light on it.

In the UK you can eat strawberries in December and oranges in May. The sense of what time of year it is can only be measured by the number of daylight hours and, hopefully, the temperature. I'm sure that the pace and rhythm of life here, is better for us. Maybe I'm just being fanciful.

Today's fallers! I wonder if there's a recipe for apricot brandy on the internet...

On a slightly "glass-half-empty" rather than "half-full" note, the thing that really irritates me about living here is the livestock. Not the sheep, goat and cattle variety, no. Rather the six or eight-legged ones, including those with wings. We always know when summer has truly arrived because, once the sun's gone down, if we keep the windows open when indoors, even with the mozzie nets closed, I start getting eaten again. In one of the books I mention the "flying full stops," those really irksome little buggers that fly straight through the mozzie screen because they're that small.

You can't even see the little gits, but they're there all right. I always know because, when the evenings are warming up, as they are at the moment, we'll sit around watching TV after about 9.00pm in our undies, or even the altogether [don't let your imagination run riot too much here], and then it'll start. First I'll be scratching an itch on my leg, then another one halfway up my back, one or two on my arms, ...on it goes. Each and every one is a little nip from one of these "flying full stops" and each will come up in a weal that resembles a mini Ayers Rock, or to give it its aboriginal name, Uluru. You know, this place down-under in 'Stra'i'ya. The only relief I get is when I apply copious quantities of Lanes' Tea Tree and Witch Hazel Cream (ideal for nappy rash) as anyone who's read the books will already know.

It does seem to us that if you live here you're constantly having to deal with the mini-livestock that's indigenous to this country. Back in the UK we had the occasional spider, maybe a moth or a wasp in the house. Houseflies were a bit of a nuisance, yea. Here, there is a veritable plethora of small beasts all wanting to share your home with you. So often I've been picking something up off the tiles on the floor and noticed a slight movement. Sure enough, there's a little beast not much bigger than a speck of dust merrily trotting across the floor. There are praying mantises, crickets and grasshoppers of an astonishing variety of shapes, colours and sizes everywhere. How often I've been deadheading in the garden when I've almost dropped my secateurs when coming face-to-mandibles with one of these that's maybe as long as my hand. Its camouflaged to match the exact green of the stem or leaf that it's sitting on and I'll swear I hear a chuckle as I start backwards and fall on a geranium, only to get up covered in a cobweb that's as strong as a fishing line. The arachnids that weave such webs are OK when you know where they are, but there's nothing worse than seeing one of these wonder-webs and not being sure whether the resident has hitched a ride in your hair or something.

We do a lot of walks along the dust lanes among the hills here and frequently come across one of those "ant-highways". You know what I mean, sometimes they go on for tens of metres and you see ants going one way carrying seed husks and stuff and others on their way back for more. Eventually you see a hole in the ground, surrounded by a huge pile of dust and other detritus that the colony has decided it doesn't want downstairs. Some of these are populated by ants of such a size that look like they could give you a seriously big bite. Usually, of course they're far too busy to be bothered by the likes of a couple of humans and no doubt a South American would say anyway, "Call those ants? You wanna see ours, ours are as big as a brick," or something. The fact is, though, that occasionally when we come across one of these 'highways" I get the urge to stop and look both ways before crossing.

Every time we're reading in bed before turning the light off for the night there'll be something flicking itself around inside the bedside lampshade. I go outside after dark to change the taps on our irrigation system around and always feel 'things' flying into me or alighting on my skin somewhere. There are those really annoying "bendy beetles" that hover around at a certain time of the year when you're just trying to have half an hour outside with your gin and tonic of an evening, catching the last rays of the sun before it sets. Maybe you want to eat breakfast outdoors and they'll wait until you're all settled and appear out of nowhere, hovering in that non-directional way of theirs and settling on you with regularity. When they're in the air they look a bit like their body is curved in the middle, but when they land you can see that they're a slim beetle with a rusty colour on their wing-covers and they're about a centimetre long. It's like they don't have a rudder (or should that be ailerons?) since they just go where the breeze takes them. It doesn't seem as though they bite, but they can be out in such numbers that you're soon grabbing your glass of fruit juice or your bowl of muesli and running for the door to get back inside away from them.

Then, as suddenly as they appeared, one day in May you'll venture gingerly outside and they're gone. 

I'm probably making it sound like anyone who's not too keen on creepy crawlies would be unwise to come here. It's not that bad really. I'm a very environmentally conscious, wholefood-eating vegetarian and we're also both avid recyclers, even though that's a huge challenge here on Rhodes as the Greeks by and large still think that re-cycling means chucking stuff out of the car window. But I do make a concession when it comes to insect repellent. I do try and use the citronella variety wherever I can, plus if I'm gardening I'll pluck a few leaves off of the lemon geranium which we grew for largely that very purpose...

Go on, tell me it has another name. Locals even make a lemon-flavoured iced drink from the leaves, which has the added benefit that once you've drunk it, the mozzies and other insect pests give you a wide berth.
If you pluck a few leaves from this plant and bruise them, you then rub them against your skin to keep biting insects at bay. It really works. I've done it whilst gardening loads of times and within minutes I'm left alone, brill!

So, each evening as the sun sets for the next few months you'll find me nipping outside with my trusty can of repellent to give myself a quick all-over spray, thus enabling me to loll about for a while and later go to bed safe in the knowledge that I probably won't get eaten before I awake in the morning.

One species of livestock that I really rate is the lizards and the geckos. Wait, is that two species? Last year we had a little gecko (they're the kind that look like they're made of a translucent play doh) living behind the sofa and we were well pleased. Every evening as it got dark he'd start his wanderings. Often I'd get up in the night and have to be careful not to step on him as he went about his nightly patrols. You'd think to look at him (or maybe he was a her?) that he'd never be able to survive living inside someone's home, but he not only survived but appeared to thrive, I assume on a diet of just about anything that crept or crawled across our floors or up our walls in the darkness.

So, there we are. We're approaching our eleventh anniversary living up a hillside on Rhodes and what would we say to people who ask us "How is the situation affecting you?" or maybe "Would you consider moving back to the UK?"

Answer no. 1 - "By and large, apart from a few prices having gone up, it doesn't."

Answer no. 2 - "Not voluntarily."

And, in conclusion, what if the UK votes to leave the EU? Thousands of ex-pats happily lived here before Greece was ever in the EU anyway. Plus, even if the vote is to leave, it'll take many (and I mean many) years for any real changes to occur. 

You know what they say about crossing bridges. I can't even see the next one yet.


  1. Interesting funny cool the lot, I do like reading what you

    1. You should get out more sis. Cheque's in the post as usual by the way!

  2. Nice before and after pics. Can't imagine anyone would ask if you would consider returning to UK if they'd seen the photos! Talking of bridges and crossing them or not, I'm sending you a little story which might amuse, about bridges in Greece.