Wednesday, 14 February 2018

The Good, the Bad, and the Broccoli

Not so long ago I wrote a post about how sometimes it all goes right. It had to do with the fact that every time we need to make an expedition to Rhodes Town, we go there with a list of things that we need to get done and usually return home with half of them unaccomplished, for various reasons. I've just been trawling through the posts for the past year or so and do you think I can find that post? 

Ah, well, there you go. I do remember, though, waxing lyrical about how we'd returned home on that occasion floating on air with the fact that we'd been able to tick off everything on the list and could hardly believe the fact that we'd had a successful sortie.

Thus, it was with a degree of optimism that we set out on Tuesday, February 13th, once again with a formidable list of things to do, thinking that it ought to be a successful day, ...didn't it?

I had received recently a couple of letters from the Greek Tax Authorities informing me of a fairly substantial rebate to which I was due, from tax that had been taken a few years ago. I'd given up all hope of ever seeing that cash again, when, well - whaddayah know - these flimsy NCR letters turned up bearing the good tidings. At the bottom of each letter it informed me that all I needed to do was to drop by the Tax Office in town and they'd be happy to send me packing with a wad of cash in my palm. Great!

I also wanted to drop into the Skoda dealership and see if I could order a new set of floor mats for the car. See, I'm that irritating kind of bloke who likes to try and keep his car in pristine condition. Thus, when one of the round, plastic, popper-type-doobries that anchors the mat to its fixed position on the floor and prevents it riding up under the pedals (yeah, see, you've been there, haven't you?) breaks apart and bits come off it, I don't sit comfortably with that. Plus, the driver's side mat that features a rigid plastic rectangle, you know, the bit that gets all the wear from your heels while you're working the pedals, is now cracked and curled and catches on my heel while I'm driving. Can't be doing with that. And I'm afraid I just don't do that whole "buy a set of mats anywhere, the 'universal' type that fits all models" philosophy. Once you get a set of those in the car it's frustration city, plus it makes you feel that your car's getting on a bit. Mine may be a 2011 model, but it's still shiny and new-looking, and me and the better half work long and hard to put up a strong defence against the rigours of the one-kilometre-long dusty and occasionally muddy lane that we have to drive up and down every time we go out.

Going on a bit there wasn't I? Sorry, but anyway, on our list was this quick visit to the dealership to see about the mats. Also on the list was the need to visit the main Post office in Mandraki Harbour to send off two packages, one to Ohio, USA and the other to Melbourne, Australia. Plus I had a letter containing a boring form about tax numbers and the like that needed returning to my UK Bank as well. There were a couple of other items too, and the compulsory visit to a café for a coffee and a serious people-watching session.

Our accountant's office is in Kalathos and we drive right past it about 15 km after leaving home. There was just this outside chance that he'd be in there at 10 o'clock of a morning and, if he had been, it would have been worth our dropping in and asking him about the tax rebate. After all, in years past he'd arranged for tax that had been taken wrongly to be paid back directly into our Greek bank account. If he'd been there on Tuesday morning and agreed to do that again, it would of course have eliminated the need for me to go to the Tax Office in town. He wasn't. All the vertical blinds across his posh glass door were closed. Should have realised, that was a sign that all would not go according to plan.

Never mind, we proceeded north towards town, a cheery mood prevailing. First stop, forty minutes up the road would be the Skoda dealership's parts department. 

Now, I'm sure I'll strike a chord with anyone on the planet who's ever gone to the parts department of a car dealership when I say that one very quickly loses the will to live after entering such a place. I know exactly how Dante felt, I can assure you. As I pulled up outside and stepped out of the car, the beloved having decided to wait there, a smart young chap with a black polo shirt bearing the Skoda logo on his right breast was just seeing someone off and he followed me inside. I approached the desk, kind of expecting this chap to catch my eye and offer to help me with my requirements. No such luck. As I took in the familiar organised (and, of course, dusty) chaos that now surrounded me, I saw that there was one chap already leaning on the chest-high counter, mobile phone and bank debit card in his hands as he tapped them absently on the counter surface, and one older guy behind the counter, doing his best to stare at a monitor to avoid eye contact with anyone who may be considered a customer.

The bloke before me remained like that for a good fifteen minutes, during which time the older fella behind the counter never once acknowledged his existence. The younger chap I'd entered with soon disappeared at the back of the store behind racks of shelving stacked with all kinds of boxes presumably containing stuff that had been ordered back in the day when they actually served customers, and was soon lost in the bowels of the building. I never saw him again and began to consider him as a figment of my over-enthusiastic imagination.

All the while I stood there nothing happened, except for one stocky, middle-aged Greek fella who pulled up outside in a tired looking Octavia, strode in and exchanged a joke or two with the fella at the monitor, looked at me with a huge "Aren't we all having fun" kind of grin and promptly left again, just before I was ready to interject with an "Excuse me, but we were here first". After twenty minutes of this I turned and walked out, having decided that the other apparent 'customer' might well have been a waxwork placed there to make it look like someone needed serving before me and thus persuade me that there was no point in actually expecting to be served any time during the next week or so.

As I slid back behind the steering wheel, the beloved looked my way anxiously, and asked, "Everything OK? You took long enough. Did they have to order them?" My response took the form of a facial expression that she interpreted perfectly. We have been married for quite a few decades, after all.

Right, then. Now, at this point let me say - I am not in the least superstitious. I don't believe in luck or fate and I wouldn't think that my box if I were a contestant on "Deal, or No Deal" [and why on earth would I be?] must contain the €60,000 merely because it was my favourite number, or the date of the cat's birthday or anything like that.

Yet we did drive away from the Skoda garage and off in the direction of the Tax Office with a degree of pessimism, I must admit. 

Across the road from the Tax Office there is a store that my sweetie loves. It's even called "Joy", would you believe? It sells all kinds of lifestyle things at very attractive prices. Thus, as we parked up by the kerb and I got out clutching my file containing every legal paper that I've ever been handed since first coming the Greece in 2005 (you can't go into a Government Office here without all of it. You can guarantee that the one A4 photocopy you left at home will be the one they need from you), she made for the front door of Joy with a "You'll  manage OK, won't you darling?"

Seems like I'd have to. The front doors of the Tax Office block, south of the new marina in Rhodes, are all glass and so dirty that you could be forgiven for thinking that the building had been abandoned. If it weren't for the steady stream of people going in and out, up and down the front steps, you'd conclude that you'd come to the wrong place. Once inside the dimly lit foyer, that sense of the place being an unused remnant from a bygone age is further intensified. There are roller blinds tightly closed over counters that haven't been used in decades it seems. But, over in one corner was this obese bloke, sitting at a small table with the most important piece of equipment any Greek needs, a half-consumed frappé, resting on it, and little else. He looked my way and so I thought I'd ask him where I needed to go to see about a tax rebate.

"Second floor," he told me, pointing towards the corridor that led to the stairs. Oh well then, maybe this would be a tick in the 'plus' column by the time we were heading home later in the day after all. I bounded up the stairs, passing people who all looked like they'd experienced a bereavement coming in the other direction, confident that whatever piece of paper, document or permit that they asked me for I'd be able to whip out and place triumphantly before them, and arrived at the floor I needed. There was the familiar gaggle of forlorn local residents, all clutching wads of papers and looking terminally resigned to having to spend most of their day in this place.

So I asked a helpful looking lady, "Excuse me, which counter deals with tax rebates, please?"

Wait for it, wait for it! Yes, you've guessed it, her reply was: "Oh they aren't issuing rebates today. In fact looks like not for the whole week. the computer system's down."

So much for an unexpected windfall resulting a a session of gay abandon in the sales in town a little later on. I won't even go down the road of discussing what my better half said when I caught up with her between the fake oil paintings and the multi-coloured scatter cushions inside 'Joy".

You know what, though? Despite the setbacks described above, the day didn't turn out all bad. For instance, I didn't have to wait longer than ten minutes in the Post Office and we were able to stroll through a very quiet Old Town for a while...

Looks beautiful doesn't it? Actually it is, or rather would be, were it not for the fact that at this time of the year you can't walk the Old Town without a flaming scooter, moped or motorbike zipping past you literally every thirty seconds. You almost need a face mask to deal with the two-stroke exhaust. I had to work fast to snap those two shots without a scooter being in one of them. You even get residents bringing their cars along some of these streets, their door mirrors missing the side walls by millimetres. When that happens you have to find a doorway to step into to avoid involuntarily hitching a lift on someone's bonnet (hood, guys, hood).

I think the general tenor of the day was wearing off on me.

We eventually got home in the late afternoon, unloaded all the shopping and got the kettle on for a good cup of Earl Grey and the day took a turn for the better in two ways. Firstly, The missus said to me, "Look, you're always banging on about how you can get anything on line. How come you haven't Googled 'car accessories' for a Greek company that sells Skoda Fabia car mats?"

I was soon sipping my tea and dunking my digestive while typing "Patakia Skoda Fabia 2011" into 'Patakia' is what they call car mats here in Greece, but then you'd worked that out hadn't you? You have to be careful though, insert an extra a or t and you end up with 'patatakia', which means potato crisps (OK, chips guys). Within minutes I'd messaged a company that had a huge range of accessories, including some very attractive and competitively priced bespoke mats for our car. By the time darkness fell I 'd heard back from them, ordered a set of mats and been told that they'd be arriving in a few days, when I could pay the courier. What a result! Her indoors always loves it when I don't pay in advance, 'More peace of mind' she says. All in all - perfect.

Plus, I'd emailed my accountant about the tax rebate issue. I asked him if he'd be able to get the rebate paid back into the bank, as I mentioned earlier. I'll call him to follow that up in a day or two, since he rarely replies to my emails. I know he gets them, because he always tells me so when he sees me. He just can't bring himself to write back, that's all.

The icing on the cake of a day that had been in part both good and bad, was that my wife made her very own wholemeal-base organic vegetarian pizza (with vegan cheese!) for tea. It was scrumptiousness personified. One of the vegetables she used on it was our very own broccoli that I'd picked early that morning...

Now THAT my friends is a huge success story for me. I've tried growing broccoli on several occasions in the past and each time failed spectacularly. No sooner had they grown to around two or three inches, they were eaten to death by caterpillars or covered in a silky web, full of little black things, no bigger than a full stop, that moved. This time I made up my mind to go and inspect the plants every couple of days and to follow the advice given by the excellent Monty Don on the UK TV series "Gardener's World", who says 'pinch the caterpillars off by hand whenever you see them.' They're horribly gooey when you crush them between your fingers, but you can wash your hand afterward after all.

Plus, when I saw that silky-web-like stuff making a start at covering the tiny flowerheads, I literally ran my fingers all over them to rub it all off. The rewards though? Look at that photo. I've never been so over the moon about anything I've grown* in my entire life!

Yup, a lot went wrong yesterday. But all in all, some things went very right too. So, well, can't complain, can I?

(*Well, maybe excepting my beard, rather than bumfluff I mean)

Finally, last Saturday we were in Pefkos, so I took these to show just how spectacular the anemones have been this year (Plus one shot of a view that Pefkos regulars may recognise)...


  1. I like the valuable information you provide in your
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  2. Impressive broccoli.

  3. Loved this blog John. Your description of each event was great and had me laughing a few times. Broccoli looks fab, clever you. Hope you get your tax rebate soon and the spending of it goes a bit more smoothly ;)