Sunday, 30 April 2017

Megaphone Marketing

I was over in Pilona yesterday, doing some of my regular gardening for a friend there who hasn't got the manpower to keep her garden in the manner to which she'd like. There I was attacking the weeds, that were defiantly thrusting their way up through the gravel, with my trusty old screwdriver, glove on the right hand to help prevent, or at least delay, the inevitable blister that usually forms in the palm of my hand, when a familiar sound began wafting across the olive grove across the lane from the main part of the village a little way up the gently sloping hillside. Even the two donkeys grazing across the lane from me under the shade of an old olive tree perked up their ears.

A few hundred metres away a megaphone was garbling away in Greek. Someone was slowly trawling the narrow village lanes peddling their wares, in this case patio furniture. If you've ever been in a Greek village when one of these enterprising traders comes by, it does have entertainment value. Usually the patio furniture salesmen will be driving a pick-up piled so high with stacked plastic patio chairs that they ought to have a flashing red light on top to warn any passing aircraft.

If anyone actually wants to purchase a few of these chairs, which are often carried in several fetching colours, I have often wondered how the vendor gets up there to take them from the stack. These pickups are usually so laden with the seller's wares that it's difficult to imagine quite how they got it all on there in the first place. I'm quite sure from the ones I've witnessed, that if I were the one trying to load the flatbed, I'd be continually cursing as, while I attempt to load one huge pile, another comes crashing back to the ground.

Not many minutes later another, quite different, megaphone-amplified voice began to declare its presence. This time it was the scrap iron collector. Pretty soon it was interesting to listen as the two scratchy voices could be heard cruising different parts of the village, each evidently trying to keep his distance from the other. They were almost circling each other like two animals checking out the opposition before setting to with a fight. It doesn't do for two vendors/collectors to arrive at the same time after all. They don't want some householder struggling into their avli with their newly acquired shiny plastic patio furniture set while at the same time the old iron collector comes by to collect their old washing machine. That would be too irritating and just too stressful.

In fact, the scrap iron collector so puts me in mind of my childhood. It was as far back as 1957 when Peter Sellers the actor released the song "Any Old Iron" back in the days when it was quite a regular occurrence for the scrap metal collectors to come around the streets collecting old mangles and stuff (Point of interest, Sellers didn't write the song, he took it from the old music hall entertainer Harry Champion. What a mine of useless info I am, eh?). Here in Greece it's still a regular occurrence. 

Other mobile vendors that regularly do a tour of the local villages include those selling freshly caught fish (cue all the local cat population to turn out en masse), Chickens (live ones), Carpets and rugs, clothes, Fruit and veg and plants in pots. 

Yea, that's the kind of thing. Photo courtesy of

The clothes and rug salesmen are more usually to be seen in closed vans, the ones with the sliding side doors, but the others are more often driving pickup trucks. The plant sellers often have such a top-heavy cargo on the back that you do well to keep your distance, especially if they're moving. They'll often be seen on the roads between villages, trundling along with half a dozen fifteen-foot high palm trees swaying in the breeze from their terracotta pots stowed on the flatbed. All kinds of other exotic plants may be on there as well, in fact I wouldn't be at all surprised with some of them if I saw a blowpipe below a nose with a bone through it slide out from between the lush foliage now and then. I've seen huge pots roll off the back of these pickups on more than one occasion. When you consider that the seller may well be asking a hundred Euros for a large palm that weighs so much that it needs two people to lift it, you'd kind of expect them to be slightly better at securing them on their vehicles.

Anyway, the two donkeys soon went back to their lazy grazing and I took that as a cue to carry on weeding. I've got a blister on the palm of my right hand today by the way. Just thought you'd like to know. In case, you know, you may want to express sympathy or something.

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Spring is Sprung

"The spring is sprung, the grass is riz.
I wonder where the boidies is.
They say the boidie’s on the wing.
But that’s absoid. The wing is on the boid."

My mum used to love to repeat that verse. You have to say it with a 'Noo Yoik' accent for it to make sense. My mum was good at accents. She'd have loved to be here now, in our garden in Kiotari, because it would for sure have elicited those words once again from her lips. Why? 'Cos the blossoms are a riot at the moment. We came home just in time to see the flowers at their best. They're never quite as good as they are now all through the summer.

Here, take a look...

We cut all the rose bushes in the garden back really hard every February, usually to something like 10" above the ground. They always reward us a few months later.

That's a bottle-brush hiding behind the yucca leaves.

Don't know what those pink babies are called, except that we theorise that they're of the daisy family. They're soooo flamboyant though.

When we left for the UK on 29th March, the fig tee was bare except for very tiny leaf buds. We came back to this.
The weather last Saturday evening when we landed was not a lot different from what we'd left behind in the UK, but I rather think that now there's quite a difference. It's been 28ºC outside today and, owing to the fact that I've spent a couple of days slaving away in the garden to try and get it into shape after a few weeks of neglect (and done my neck in as a result), I've actually taken my first couple of outdoor showers of the season. OK, so the water was a tad cold, flamin' freezing in fact, but afterward it's worth it for that tingling sensation you get all over your skin as you dry off under the sun.

The new book is currently being proof-read and edited, so there's not a whole lot I can do for a little while longer yet, but I hope to at least have the Kindle version live within the month.

Regarding the new book, "A Jay in the Jacaranda Tree", I hope you'll give it a go. It's got shades of the old "Ramblings" series in it, in that it does contain some anecdotes and experiences of over a decade of living on Rhodes, but it's generally quite different in that it's really a treatise on the Rhodes and the Greece of the past ten years, with all the turmoil that's been going on regarding the economic woes, the political upheaval and the refugee crisis for starters.

Hopefully it'll answer a few questions too, ones that the guests on my excursions ask me so often. Things like whether we'd ever go back to the UK, how the financial crisis affects ex-pats living over here and others. 

It delves into the realms of controversy too and gets pretty frank about animals, ex-pats and their ways, the religion and its effect on the general populace, tourism's good and bad sides, stuff like that. It looks at the Greek health service from the angle of someone living 'on the ground' as it were, as it does the situation in Athens, something that I feel has been grossly distorted by the overseas media, especially in the UK.

Overall I hope that readers will sense my underlying affection for this country and its eccentric people. I'm being provocative here and there and thus the quote that I've chosen to preface the whole thing...

"I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."

- Evelyn Beatrice Hall (under the pseudonym S. G. Tallentyre), reputedly quoting Voltaire.

I fully expect some readers to disagree with my 'findings', but mature folk can think along different lines, completely disagree in fact, without becoming enemies. Mature folk don't fall out, in fact they applaud the rights of others to express their views unhindered (that's covered that then!).

The bee-eaters have arrived early. The swallows, martins and even the odd swift are swooping in the early evening, the deer have retreated to higher altitudes in search of fresher air and the presence of half-naked people down the road near the local cafés and shops indicates that the summer season is once again waking up. I'll soon be welcoming guests aboard my occasional excursions and my wife has already begun work. It is good. It is right. It is nice. As we always say here in spring - "it's nice to see things waking up," after months of the winter's sleepiness. Come late September we'll once again be saying of the tourists, "bugger off home and leave our island to us again please."

But every year at this time we find ourselves glad to see them again. Spring is sprung, the grass is riz ...bring it on.

Friday, 21 April 2017

Once Seen...

I'm all charity shopped out. No, seriously, during the last three weeks we've hit them in Swindon, Barry, Cowbridge, Llantwit Major, Wootton Bassett, Burford, Weston Village, Bath, Bath city centre, Midsomer Norton, Radstock, Marlborough, Calne, Chippenham and Devizes. If we've hit one we've hit at least twenty and probably considerably more.

I shouldn't complain. After all, one thing I quite fancied was finding a pair of blue jeans without paying for them over twelve months by DD (you know what I mean, eh?). I'd all but given up when, just last weekend we entered the British Heart Foundation store in Midsomer Norton High Street and, almost as an afterthought, having found zillions of pairs in any number of other stores but not having found a pair to my size or liking, I stumbled across a pair of Marks and Spencer Blue Harbour jeans that were brand new. They still had the cardboard thingie stapled to the back pocket with those little plastic wotsits and the M&S price label, still attached, showed that they were £19.50 new. I went to the till and told the lady "These are coming home with me" and she looked at me as if I'd spoken a foreign language. Some people just don't have a sense of humour do they.

Actually, she was OK in the end, she'd been preoccupied by the fact that the cash register was fighting back and thus she wasn't able to get it to open.

"Do you have the correct change by any chance?" She asked us, fraught. The prices was a princely £4.49 and the best we could do was garner together from both of our purses the sum of £3.99 in change. She told us that would do. I'm not in the habit of asking for discount in charity stores but, well, you know, what else could one do?

I was wearing these very same jeans just yesterday when we went with my brother-in-law to Calne and Devizes to get out of my sister's hair while she prepared a special anniversary dinner for us, since it was our anniversary yesterday, did I tell you? Can't tell you how many years though, the light of my life would have my guts for garters, since she's now younger than the number of years we've been married.

Calne is a delightful little Wiltshire town that many years ago was dominated by the Harris sausage factory. It used to employ over 2,000 people, but was demolished in the 1980's. The only thing that reminds the current visitor to Calne that it once subsisted on the meat from dead pigs is a rather curious bronze sculpture that can be found at the entrance to a not-very-attractive shopping precinct...

Oddly, the inscription (not visible here) makes no reference to the Harris factory.

Anyway, I digress. There is a charity shop in this precinct run by the Scope organisation, which specialises in helping those with disabilities to integrate into society. I rather admire their efforts.

In the Scope shop I stumbled upon a virtually new pair of Diadora sport shoes that were my size and simply too good to pass up. There was I, telling my wife and brother-in-law that I didn't want to see another charity shop for at least a year and yet, much against my will at the start, I went into this one. I tried the shoes on and that was it, had to have 'em. I took them to the till and the man there was having trouble with the cash register (sound familiar?). As he did what every self-respecting man would do in such circumstances, he called his female colleague to see if she could sort it out, we carried on a lighthearted conversation about trivia. Then he said something that made my ears perk up ike a piggy's.  He said:

"You know, you remind me of someone."

I get this all the time. Pierce Brosnan, Roger Moore (in his younger days!) - in my dreams. 

"Really?" I asked, expectantly. "Who might that be then?"

"Well, a couple of years ago I was in Rhodes, Greece and we went on an excursion. You remind me of the guide on the coach." OK, so he (like every other guest I've ever had) doesn't know the difference between a guide and an escort, but this was strange indeed. Tempted to ask what he thought of the man in question, I resisted and asked where he'd been staying and what tour operator he'd travelled with. Lindos and Olympic Holidays were his replies. Bingo.

"That was me." I replied. There were never two more gobsmacked blokes staring at each other so incredulously in the history of synchronicity I can tell you. "I live in Rhodes, toward the South of the island and I pick up guests from Lindos every week." You may or may not believe this, but I'm not in the habit of telling everyone I interact with in the UK that I live abroad. It's not nice is it? But here was a circumstance that demanded that I own up. Imagine though, here he was volunteering in the local charity shop down the road from where he lives, and in walks this bloke who'd taken him on a day trip whilst on a foreign holiday a couple of years before.

After a little more chat during which we established irrefutably that I had indeed been his escort on the excursion, we shook hands and I exited the store, well pleased both with my purchase and the sheer odds against such a thing happening.

I often say when people say they remember me (when they actually do know it was me that is) "Once seen, never forgotten." Only because it's one of those trite little phrases that we all seem to know, of course.

Oh I dunno, maybe there's an element of truth in it after all.

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Greek Expectations

Ekaterina Botziou is prolific, exuberant and essentially a woman of her Greek roots. Her life tends to leave me breathless just reading about it. Based in Wimbledon with her husband and two young sons, her writing is witty and absorbing and it's hard to keep up with all her projects. Apart from writing she also acts and keeps a blog and a website or two. Her "Greek Wives Club" site is described as a "one stop directory for all things Greek" and is tremendously absorbing. I count myself a member (in this PC non-sexist world) for being a 'Greek husband'!!

To check out her written works, here's the link to her Amazon Author Page.

Ekaterina is the latest to subject herself to my 15 questions so, without further ado, here we go...

1. Where do you live?
In the land of the Wombles - Wimbledon, UK

2. What do you write about?  

Mainly my life! My first book 'Greek Expectations: The Last Moussaka Standing' is essentially a memoir based on my own experiences growing up in a semi-Greek household, and later marrying into a Greek-Cypriot family. It provides a tongue-in-cheek insight into the trials and tribulations of being a modern woman faced with the demands of age-old Greek traditions and shows readers how to survive each stage of life with a Greek man and his family! My second book 'Theseus & the Mother-in-Law' is a parody of all the Greek myths and legends, (with a Greek mother-in-law thrown in for good measure) and I wrote my third completely UNGREEK book ‘Seraphina’ as an experimental short story in verse. 

3. Why Greece?
My father is Greek and we spent many summers there when I was a child. My husband is Greek Cypriot, so I’ve been provided with plenty of material over the years to fill a whole bookshelf with comical tales.

4. How long does it take you to write a book?
My first book took me the longest as I wrote it in stages and initially wasn’t sure whether it should be a story or more of a guide. I also had to wait for feedback from various friends and other authors before I was happy with the final draft. I remember starting it in January 2013 and sending a first draft and notes to the author Eve Makis who I then met in Cyprus that May. She gave me such positive feedback that when I got back to the UK I steamed ahead and within a month or so the book was finished. So all in all it took about 7 months.  

I started my second book in May 2014 and it was finished within 3 months. My short story in verse took me about a month. Usually once I get going on something, there’s no stopping me.

5. What do you enjoy most about writing?
The escapism. I go into a bit of a trance when I write, so much so that a few times when people have asked me about passages in my books I’ve completely forgotten that I even wrote them!  

Ekaterina feels a trance coming on.

 6. What, in your view, is/has been the greatest gift from Greece to the world?

Democracy. And souvlaki.

7. How do you come up with an idea for a book?
I came up with the idea for my first book shortly before I got married. I had already set up my blog and was sharing stories about the horrors of preparing for a Big Fat Greek Wedding when I decided to do some research into self-help books that dealt with how to make a successful marriage. I couldn’t find any information on the topic of traditional Mediterranean relationships, so I decided to pick up my pen and write my own. I have since realised that when you are married to a Greek man, you need more than just a self-help book!

The idea for my second book came about when I was still writing my first. As a child I devoured all the Greek mythological stories and was fascinated by the historical aspect to many of the legends. My grandmother in particular had a deep interest in the mythicism of ancient Greece and I think many people find the combination of history and fictional narrative highly appealing.

After reaching the final shortlist for Australian literary journal Vines Leaves Press with a vignette entitled Stripped Bare, I wrote my third completely UNGREEK book ‘Seraphina’ as an experimental short story in verse. 

8. How do you go about writing, that is to say, are you organised, do your research, disciplined, are are you a messy sort who gets it done one way or another?
As my second book was based on the Greek myths I did a fair bit of research and planned the general structure so that all the stories would be in chronological order. My first book was a bit messier as I wasn’t sure which chapters to put where and I re-wrote a lot of the book in the later stages. As for my short story in verse, I literally just let the pen (or rather the keyboard) lead the way. I really think how you write a book depends on what the book is about. If I were to write something based on historical fact I would definitely plot and plan each section, but when it’s a memoir sometimes you just go with the flow and piece everything together at the end.

9. Which other authors do you read?
I have had the great pleasure of getting to know many of my favourite authors who write about Greece. I was a huge fan of Eve Makis’ work even before I met her and I am very excited that one of her novels ‘Land of the Golden Apple’ is now being made into a film. Sofka Zinovieff is another highly talented writer and I found her debut novel ‘The House on Paradise Street’ deeply moving. I also enjoyed all of Victoria Hislop’s books in particular ‘The Island’ which left me wanting to visit Spinalonga, which I finally did a few years ago!  

10. What's your preferred kind of music?
I have a very eclectic taste in music. I love soundtracks because they can combine every genre from classical to rock, and I also love anything with a good beat to it.

11. Do you like Greek music and if so, which kind?
Greek music has been a huge part of my life since I was in the womb (!). My father is very into his bouzouki music but I prefer more contemporary artists such as Anna Vissi, Elli Kokkinou and Thanos Petrelis. Demis Roussos was a favourite in our household – he will be greatly missed.  

12. Favourite Greek dish?
Pork gyro. I could eat it every day.

13. Favourite place in Greece and the reason(s)?
I really couldn’t say. I love the islands but there is so much of Greece that I haven’t explored yet.

14. What links would you like the readers to explore in connection with your work, including, of course, sites where your work may be purchased?
Ekaterina's Blog and Author Website:



The Greek Wives Club:

15. And finally, reading device or real book?

For a time I was absolutely set against reading devices. I love the smell and feel of a good book in my hand. However, to save on space and money I eventually bought myself a Kindle and I haven’t looked back.

There you go folks. I hope you'll go check out Ekaterina's work if you don't already know about her. I've got a fairly major male author lined next, so I hope you'll tune in for that one, coming up some time soon, but firstly I'll be getting back home to Rhodes imminently, so there'll be a couple of actual Rhodean ramblings first.

Monday, 10 April 2017

Ramblings from UK?

OK, so if you tuned in for another helping of life on Rhodes I am going to have to disappoint you with this post, but rather than wait until we get back home to Greece, I thought it would be a good idea to write a little piece from deepest Barry, in South Wales.

A North Wales reservoir, Saturday April 8th.

The beer garden at the Golden Fleece, Tremadog, a stone's throw from Portmeirion. Too hot with that rugby shirt on.

The beach at Barry Island. Yes, I did say Barry!
We talk about jetlag in terms of long haul flights don't we. I'll tell you what though, the two hour difference still messes you about when you fly back to the UK from Rhodes. At 8.30pm we've been feeling sleepy and all done in and yet at 5.30am the next morning we've been awake and ready to think about that first cup of tea. The trouble is, as you begin to adjust, which we are doing now after a week and a half over here, you realise that once you get home it's going to be tough getting up at the right time again. 

Our hosts here in Wales, good friends of almost 20 years, decided to take us on a mystery tour over the weekend and we ended up in Portmeirion, somewhere we'd never been and always wanted to visit. It was last September, when they came over to see us in Rhodes and were raving about a music festival they'd attended at the eccentric village built by Clough Williams-Ellis on the tidal estuary of the Afon Dwryd, when we'd told them how we'd always wanted to go there but had never actually made it, so they hatched the idea and off we went.

It was a wonderful weekend topped off with some really Mediterranean weather. The only thing was, last night we were well tired after a lot of travelling and so woke up at 9.20am this morning, which, of course, would be 11.20am in Rhodes, hence my concern over what time exactly we're going to wake up on the morning after our return home. Just as well we don't have to rush off anywhere for a couple of days when we get back to Rhodes, eh?

We usually visit the UK during the first few weeks of April and, barring one year (which was probably at least 5 or 6 years ago now) we always seem to have very good and mainly sunny weather. In fact, my sister and her hubby suggested when they collected us from Gatport Airwick on Wednesday March 29th in the drizzle that they'd hoped we'd brought the weather with us. The next morning it dawned sunny and, although we have seen some cloud, it's been lovely weather ever since. They reckon that we did indeed bottle a little Rhodean sunshine and pack it in our cases. Didn't like to tell them that just one week before we came we'd just ended 7 days straight of rain on Rhodes!

If you're bored enough to want to see some more evidence, head over to these photos on Facebook. Maybe these too (although all the while we were at Portmeirion it was mainly cloudy).

Anyway, time to get back to my first read-through of the new book. Some people are so impatient that they've been nagging me to get on with it.

They'll soon be sorry when they read it.