Sunday, 11 February 2018

Four Candles

Anyone from the UK who's old enough will well remember a classic comedy sketch from the 1970's by the Two Ronnies, where Ronnie Barker walks into a very old-fashioned ironmongers/hardware/general store and proceeds to inadvertently wind up the shopkeeper (played by Ronnie Corbett) whilst all the time looking bemused at the fact that his requests are persistently confusing and hence misunderstood. If you've never seen this sketch, you can remedy that right now by clicking HERE.

Now, having acquainted yourself with that kind of store, you can imagine to some degree what it's like to go shopping at the DIY store in the village of Gennadi, four km south of us. The store is run by a couple who must be approaching retirement age, or else they look a lot older than they are. Maria and Pandelis are both what I would describe as 'portly' in shape and both would slot more seamlessly into a kafeneion scene, maybe a bakery, rather than a DIY/building materials store that's attempting to supply the locals with all the latest in u-bends, electrical appliances, paints, varnishes, brushes, saws and a whole host of other stuff in similar vein.

When you enter the store from the slightly bumpy, gravelled parking area out front you are immediately struck by how abundantly stocked it is. I have often remarked to Pandeli, as he's trotted off along one of the narrow aisles between very high racks of screws, locks, hinges and electrical fittings, in search of a specific varnish that I've requested, that I am always amazed that he can find his way around in there. I keep expecting to find customers with several days' growth of beard still wandering around in the bowels of the place, wondering if they'll ever see the light of day again.

Everywhere you look there is chaos, although exhibiting just enough order to enable Pandelis to find that specific can of paint, or size of wood-screw that I've asked him for. He'll often be serving three or four people at once, because, if there's one thing the Greeks don't do, it's wait patiently for the customer before them to be leaving the store contentedly before they declare what they've come in for. I've lost count of the number of times I've been half-way through my modest little list, with Pandelis all the while trotting off in this direction or that, soon to become invisible behind rack after rack of dusty packaging and cardboard boxes, frequently with their contents spilling out either on the floor or the shelf next to them, when some local farmer or builder has walked in, bellowed Pandeli's name and caused him to return to the desk and greet this newly arrived client.

Many of these folk seem to have the idea that, since perhaps they only want a few fittings for the plumbing job they're doing, or a few metres of green curtain screening for the protection of some fruit trees, I won't mind in the least waiting while Pandelis breaks off from serving me and sorts out their requirements first.

Despite the huge amount of stock he has in there, he invariably can't find exactly what I'm asking for either. Over the years that we've lived here, I've needed to varnish our wooden garden furniture, or the gable-ends of the car ports (both ours and the landlords' on their side of the property) on lots of occasions. Each time I've run out of varnish, I've gone to see Pandeli with the now empty old tin, so as to be sure to get the same brand and finish, maybe tint, again, only to come away with an entirely different brand name that he's assured me is much better that the one I bought (from him) before, and will without doubt do the same job.

He'll bid me follow him as he strides down a congested aisle to the racks that contain wood varnish, where he'll start picking up tin after tin, reading the lids or labels to see if it's gloss or matt, tinted or clear, water-based or the kind that requires the use of white spirit or even thinners to clean the brushes after the job's done. He'll swear blind that he has the right stuff in stock, and in all fairness, sometimes does, but often I'll end up saying, "OK we'll leave that and go to the next item on my list", after he's promised to order some in, and assured me that it would be there in a day or two. 

The last time I visited was to obtain a selection of fittings for the irrigation system in the garden. He keeps all the plastic compression fittings down in the basement, where these days he doesn't generally suggest that his clients follow. He'll listen while I tell him, for example, that I want six straight fittings with shut-off taps in them, six simple straights for joining lengths of plastic pipe together and a few right-angled elbows. I listen as he patters off down the stairs, after throwing a switch on the wall at ground level to turn on the lights down below. Then, as I peruse the selection of fishing accessories and long-life lightbulbs that adorn the area around the desk where he keeps the till, I'll hear his voice as he curses and rattles cardboard box after cardboard box in his search for the fittings I've asked for. I'll hear him declare with excitement, "Ah see? There you are! I knew you were here somewhere." Then he'll count out the number I need and eventually re-emerge at the top of the stairs, just about managing to hold on to a clutch of black and blue PVC fittings that are slightly too bulky for even his large hands to keep a hold of.

I often walk into the store to see no one around anywhere. Maria is not behind the till and Pandeli doesn't answer when I call. The till (cash register) is three or four metres from the permanently-open sliding front door and yet there is never any worry about security. On occasions like this I'll drift through the store to the second 'showroom' area to the far right, which is piled high with 40 litre tubs of emulsion paint, and the pair of them will be seated at the table they keep in there, chomping on their macaroni lunch, their small scrubbing brush of a dog keeping them company.

"Ach, kalos to!" They'll exclaim, making no attempt to get up from the modest table, but rather will ask after my wife and how things are going generally, fully expecting that I'll of course want to wait until they finish their meal before getting up to serve me.

What is really good about their store, is the fact that they continually surprise me with what odd items I can get in there. My chainsaw, for example, is now over a decade old and I've been through a few chains in that time. Now, though, the guide-bar needs replacing and I was fretting over the possible need to drive to the chainsaw specialists at Malona, some 20 k north, where in all probability they'd have to order one the right size for my saw, thus necessitating a couple of trips. So, the other day, while I was in Pandeli's, I thought I may as well ask. "No problem," he replied, and off he went whistling an old bouzouki tune, only to return five minutes later with two different sized bars, to see which one would hopefully fit the saw, which I'd taken with me just in case.

As it happened, he had several sizes, but not the one I needed.

"I'll order it this afternoon," he told me. This was a week ago last Friday. "Couple of days, it'll be here." 

"Great," I told him, and left, intending to return the following Wednesday, to be sure that the bar would had arrived. So I returned as promised, waited fifteen minutes while Maria, seated at the counter as she was this time, called out on several occasions, "Pandeli!! Exei cosmos!!" [Pandeli! There are people! The word 'cosmos' can mean a crowd, crowded, people, customers, in fact any time when a group of people from just two or three to maybe hundreds needs describing]. 

By the time he appeared from the darkest depths of the basement, with an old codger in tow, there were three of us all standing around studying the pond-pumps, electrical extension leads and secateurs while we waited. Eventually he beamed his disarming smile at me and I asked, "Has my part arrived?"

"Oh, no," he replied, "Not yet. I ordered it yesterday though, Should only be a day or two."

It was there and then that I realised for the first time that I'd never had his telephone number. Working hard to conceal my frustration, I asked if I could have one of his business cards, so that I could call before possibly making a wasted trip next time. By this time his wife Maria had waddled off somewhere and he began rummaging around behind the counter.

"Where did she put those cards? I saw them, I know I did!" he grumbled. Eventually, I suggested that he simply write the number on a scrap of paper for me, since I'd now been there for approaching half an hour.

"Right, good idea," he replied. "Got a pen?"

The thing is, despite the occasional frustration, the both of them are such nice people. They invariably suggest I pay them another time if we have a problem over change. They always tot up my purchases in their heads, or on a scrap of paper and invariably round it down. They do, I must point out though (walls have ears, after all) give me a printed till receipt.

Anyway, better get my next list written out. Now then, what do I need? Oh yes, fork handles...

[Incidentally, although the sketch to which I supplied the link at the top of this piece has often been voted the UK's favourite comedy sketch, my personal favourite from the Two Ronnies is this one.]


  1. John--we've been in that shop--it IS as you describe. My husband thought he was in Fairyland! Ay time you are passing Tilos, may I recommend the village shop in Megalo Chorio. They have EVERYTHING--you can even buy ONE bootlace! And they got commemorative mugs from the Athens Olympics! Some stuff is still priced in drachmas

    1. There must be a few one-legged people about who'll rejoice at the news!!