Friday, 22 July 2016

Figs, Foreigners and an Unnecessary Flow (but not necessarily in that order)

It's been a nice couple of days. Maybe excepting the fact that I keep thinking it's Saturday today when it's actually Monday. Her indoors never works Mondays, but this week she's had to. So I suppose I ought to rephrase that. She doesn't work Mondays as a rule. You've got to be so careful how you word things these days.

So today's Monday and I've been pondering over yesterday's excursion whilst also out picking figs in the garden. They're ripening early this year. I can only put that down to the lack of rain last winter. 

On that subject, one of the local newspapers [The Rodiaki] has posted a photograph of the reservoir near Laerma and suggested we're reaching a dangerously low level. The word is going out for people to conserve water where they can, since last winter was exceptionally devoid of rainfall. Of course, it would help if local women washing down their terraces and courtyards would at least have a nozzle or gun on their hosepipes. I've commented many times about how much water is wasted in this way. Gallons (sorry, litres!) could be saved simply by correcting this situation. Even now, if you drive into Pefkos early in the morning from the Eclipse Bar end, there is always a huge wash of water flowing across the road just past the Terpsis Restaurant. I'm not going to get specific, but someone in that area washes down their floor (and it must be a large floor) with a flowing hose and a brush every single morning, sending a huge amount of precious water flowing all across the road. It's a complete waste and is sadly repeated everywhere you go. Someone please post a photo of a mop and bucket on every Greek Facebook page, together with the words - Shock!! [Or in Greek, SOK!! They can't say their "sh's" the Greeks, see] This will work just as well as an uncontrolled hosepipe!!...

But I didn't begin this post with a view to having a gripe again. No, I was thinking nice thoughts about my guests on the boat excursion yesterday. I had a larger than usual number of British, which was nice, a smaller than usual number of Polish, which was odd, and for a change the largest language group was the Germans, who - thankfully - continue to display their love for Greece despite what the politicians get up to.

What I was particularly pondering though, was the one single bloke from the Czech Republic who came with me. He was staying at the Illysion Hotel near Pefkos and was the first guest from his country I'd had with me in quite a while. He was probably in his sixties, with greying hair and some salt and pepper whiskers, plus a straw fedora. He wore a predominantly yellow flowery shirt over his portly torso and exhibited an anxiety over the language difficulties right from the "off". As soon as we arrived at his hotel in the coach he was gesticulating at me with a pen and a piece of paper to write down a phone number for him. Which number he wanted I hadn't the faintest idea. Apart from "hello", "Goodbye" and a few numbers, he had no English at all and I, much to your surprise - not, have no Czech.

So I simply wrote down my mobile number at it seemed to satisfy him. At each stage as we went from coach to quayside to boat he was trying to ask me stuff, without much success. As we stood on the quay I did manage to get that he was wondering what time we'd be back at St. Paul's Bay and was able to show him with my watch the answer to that one. I had begun to understand though, that he wasn't being aggressive or belligerent, he was merely anxious and wouldn't you have been. He was travelling alone and the only person among almost 50 others who spoke his language.

As the morning progressed he could be seen at various locations around the boat, snapping photos with his rather expensive-looking SLR and now and again he'd approach me to ask something, usually with a lot of angst on his face and lots of hand gestures. I managed to deduce usually what he wanted, which was often simply a beer. We went ashore for lunch at Stegna and, owing to my A4 clock-face sign, he at least found it easy to see what time we'd be leaving. When we take lunch at Grigori's Restaurant at Stegna I usually sit with a couple of other reps from both my company and one or two others. These are on the boats that come down from Mandraki and this will be their furthest point south on their day's programme, whereas we, of course, come up from Lindos in the South. On Sunday there was a female rep whom I didn't know, but she was glad to meet me because she was with the company that brings guests here from the Czech Republic and knew about my lone Czech gentleman.

"You have one of my guests on your boat, John. A Mr. Dobrovolski. Is he OK? How are you managing with the language?" she asked me. I assured her that we were managing OK, but it would be good while we were all here at Stegna if she could seek him out and check that he was doing OK. It would be an opportunity to communicate through her as an interpreter if there were any issues. I didn't see either her or Mr. Dobrovolski until it came time to leave, but there she was waiting for me on the beach and she told me that she'd chatted with him and that he was very happy. Phew! I thanked her and with the launch we shuttled our guests back out to our boat and off we set again.

When we got back to St. Paul's Bay at around 4.00pm, my genial Czech gentleman got me to snap a couple of shots of him with that fabulous view behind him and we all climbed aboard the coach. When we reached his hotel and it was time for him to leave the coach and say goodbye he did what one or two of my Russian guests have done in the past, he gave me a genuinely warm bearhug and, even though much of what he said as he crossed the road waving goodbye to me I didn't understand, I certainly caught the spirit of it. He was showing an appreciative gratitude for what little help I'd been to him all day, but was evidently going back to his hotel a happy man.

Why did I share this tale with you? because little experiences like this do wonders for one's belief in the general brotherhood of all humans, in the fact that we are all the same species, despite cultural or linguistic barriers. It leaves me with the abiding feeling that people are, by and large, good. With all that's happening in this world at the moment, little times like this work wonders to redress the balance.

And finally...

Every summer we are astounded at the way our fig tree produces fruit. This photo, taken a couple of days ago, shows just how many figs we pick on a daily basis for several weeks, starting usually in late July. As I mentioned at the top of this post, they're ripening early this year.

I'd recommend anyone to plant a fig tree. There are of course many varieties, so it's worth taking some advice from the garden centre staff, but in our experience they're so trouble-free that they knock oranges, mandarins and soft fruits like peaches and apricots into a cocked hat. Citrus fruit trees, at least our citrus fruit trees, have been in the ground for a decade and still often don't produce well. Of course I "lime" the trunks and hang little bottles of some sweet liquid in them to lure pests away from the fruit, but only with a limited degree of success. Plus, they need watering.

Fig trees, once established never need to be watered. We haven't watered ours for several years, they obviously send their roots very deep. What's great about them is they always produce and year-on-year the crop gets bigger. Plus there don't appear to be any pests that attack them or spoil the fruit. The fruit by and large doesn't drop off and have you ever eaten a fig straight from the tree? Forget those dried things you get in the UK at Christmas, or those abominations that they call "fig rolls" that come in packets, a fresh fig picked seconds before you eat it is one of life's greatest pleasures. 

I shall be taking a load with me next Sunday to offer to my guests on board the Madelena during our Bay to Bay excursion, as I've now done for a number of years. It's great seeing the reaction of people who've never tried them fresh before. Even better seeing the look of delight on the faces of those brave enough to try one.


  1. Hi John, nice tale. On the fig front I posted a fig jam recipe on the old prunings blog that you might like, especially if you have got a surplus.
    Hope you don't mind me putting the link on your comments section. We are trying to grow a small fig tree at the back of our Devon cottage that we sourced from good old Lidl, it is well healthy. Of all the things I miss from France the fruit is in the top three...

    1. We have a fig tree in our garden in Yorkshire. It's now about 5 years old and produces fruit every year ripe in late Sept/early Oct. My wife loves fresh figs.

    2. Yea, I knew someone in my home town of Bath who had one. They'll grow OK in the UK as long as they get enough sun and some protection in the winter. They fruit later though, as you show in your comment. Fresh figs are one of life's greatest pleasures, so well worth having a go in the UK I'd say.

  2. I guess we were about a week early for the figs. I remember the Czec gent on the boat.

    1. Um, er, oops. You probably weren't early, I just forgot to pick some figs to take on the trip. Next year, eh?