Saturday, 31 March 2018


The garden, this morning March 30th

A couple of weeks ago now we had one of the most violent thunder storms we've ever experienced in twelve and a half years of living here. You wouldn't think it, when you look at the conditions outside today, as the photo above shows. Whenever, though, we get fork lightning, it's time to disconnect the coaxial antenna cable from behind the TV. This is because our TV antenna is positioned high on the cliff behind the house and is a sort of open invitation to lightning to come and give it a strike...

There's the TV aerial/antenna, top of shot.

Having said that, amazingly this time was the first time in all those years that the antenna took a direct hit. Fortunately, we had disconnected the TV, for if we hadn't it would have gone up in smoke. Behind the TV there's a booster box, to strengthen the signal from the antenna before it goes into the TV. During the course of the storm, which would have been late morning, there was a loud 'crack' which was the sort of noise that tells you that 'something's not going to be right after this.' It sounded like someone had fired a gun in our lounge and, pretty soon thereafter we were greeted by that awful smell of electrical equipment burning.

At first I couldn't work out what it was, until I took a peek behind the TV and saw that the TV antenna signal booster was emitting smoke and had changed shape somewhat, owing to its plastic casing having melted. Oh, and the white casing now had a rather unnerving patch of brown on it, just where it had gone concave.

Oh, dear. 'No TV for us tonight, then,' we thought. Once the storm had passed and the lightning had become nothing more than huge pink flashes across the dark sky to the south of us, I decided to plug the cable back into the telly to see if by any chance the booster was still in business, even though, from the smell and the look of it, there was very little chance.

Of course it wasn't, was it. One big 'boom' had put paid to that booster and so we decided to nip up to Arhangelos and see if we could buy a new booster box. That part of it went OK. There are a couple of stores in Arhangelos where one can buy such equipment, so we were full of hope that we'd be able to fix the problem in fairly short order, but the first one we went to was closed at just after 2.00pm. Drat.

Fortunately, the store opposite the Police Station stays open until 4.00pm and the very nice and helpful chap behind the counter was quick to fetch me a new booster. It was a different model from the one that had been melted, but he assured me that it would do the same job. Certainly, from what it said on the box, I was in agreement. 

Rushing back home full of optimism, we were soon back in the lounge and I was ripping the packaging off the new booster and I soon had it installed. Eager with anticipation, we hit the TV button and waited to see what would happen.

Zilch. Now, it's not visible in that photo above, but half-way down the pole on which the antenna is mounted is another, similar box. What if that one was also burnt out? There was nothing else for it but to call Mihali, the TV antenna man who'd fitted the box on the antenna pole together with a new cable a year or so ago. He's based in Arhangelos, and I was calling him at 3.00pm on a Thursday afternoon, all the while watching the skies growing ever darker in preparation for the next band of rain which was heading our way up the coast from Gennadi. The wind was picking up apace too.

Now, in view of the weather conditions, what were the chances that Mihalis would be able to come on the same day, especially as it was getting late in the afternoon? Slim eh? Guess what, just occasionally the synchronicity of the universe works in my favour. Not often, but on this particular day, YAY! A result. Mihalis told me that he was in Gennadi and was just finishing up. He'd be able to drop by on his way back toward Arhangelos and see what he could do. He's a stalwart that guy. He really is. He knew from of old that to get to our antenna involves a touch of mountaineering, since one has to climb a bank beside our perimeter fence, being careful not to be snagged on your way up by all the gorse that, despite my best efforts to keep it cut back, insists on growing quicker than I can cut it, to choke off our narrow pathway to the heights every time.

Then, when you get toward the top you have to scramble up a bank of small pebbles, detritus left over from the house build almost 13 years ago, before jumping over some pretty prickly shrubs and bushes to reach the concrete slab where the antenna pole is tethered by four cables, some ten metres away.

Mihalis grabbed his electronic tester thingameejig and set off with me for the climb. We reached the antenna pole just as the rain arrived for another session. So, with me trying to hold an umbrella over him (not merely to show him a little consideration for all his efforts, but to keep the electronics dry as he opened up the box on the pole to inspect it), he soon declared that, yes, this box too was destined for the gadget graveyard. Just when I was about to lapse into a slough of despondency, he said:

"Hold on, I've got one in the van." 

So, while I stood there trying to keep a collapsible umbrella from turning inside out, he negotiated the path back down the hillside to the drive, rummaged in the back of the van and made the climb back up again. By the time he was finishing off, the rain was running down the inside of my collar and right down my back, making it feel decidedly chilly and damp. But did I care? Nope. This plucky chap had saved the day and within minutes we were back inside and he was flicking channels in triumph.

The whole job, from lightning strike to resolution, took just three hours. And he only charged us €30 all in, including the cost of the new box on the pole. Don't let anyone tell you that Greek workers never turn up on time. That evening we enjoyed 'troxos tis tyhis' and 'Μin Αrhezeis ti Μourmoura' more than we ever had before, an experience made even sweeter by the thought that the call-out fee alone back in the UK would probably have been much higher.


I'm very happy to report that "Help For Health Gennadi", our annual charity event to raise funds for the local medical centre, netted a 'profit' of €670 this year. There were some expenses, but nevertheless that sum is all going to be used to purchase much-needed supplies for Doctor Niko and his team, indeed a chunk of it is going to help decorate a small apartment that the good young doctor himself is going to be able to keep rent-free right in in Gennadi village, to help him avoid making the trip from Rhodes town every working day of his life. Him having a young family and all, this was a result.

Bargain hunters at the event.

The excellent banner was provided at no cost at all by the praiseworthy sign company Hedera, based in Rhodes town.

Despite the rather unsettled weather that we'd experienced during the run-up to the event, on the day the sun shone for us and the redoubtable Dimitri Koronios did his usual stint at the souvlaki stand, aided by ex-pat Tony...

Don't forget to check out Dimitri's really lovely family-run Summer Breeze Hotel in Gennadi village, for a really Greek experience on your hols.
So, the TV booster went boom, and our "Help For Health Gennadi" event went with a bang.

Explosions all round really, which leads me to the current state of Greco-Turkish relations. Next time though, eh?

Thursday, 22 March 2018

Eavesdropping and Clanger-dropping

I was in the local store the other day, queuing patiently at the 'checkout', behind a couple of locals, when the person in front of me reached the till and began a conversation with Vasili, the store owner. It was the kind of chat that reveals a relationship that goes back many years.

At times like these it pays to remember that no one here is in much of a hurry and they don't expect you to be either. It doesn't do to display impatience, after all, does anyone around here have a train to catch?

Ilias, was probably only about five six in height, and I'd say almost as wide as he was tall. I doubt he's seen his toes in many a long year. He didn't have much in his basket, but he did have plenty of time to natter about the government and what a bunch of thieves they are, about how Mr. Ertogan, the Turkish President, was intent on provoking Greece into some kind of aggressive military response to his constant goading so that he could lay the blame on Greece's shoulders when hostilities broke out, about the rainfall situation and the state of the roads. A few other topics were covered too, like who's recently died, who recently got married and who recently had some grave illness that they only just managed to pull through.

All this time I was busy eavesdropping and was rather amused when the conversation turned to the subject of Ilias' state of health. Like I said, he's of no small girth. I mean, try to imagine a medicine ball with a flat cap on, and you're about there. Vasilis asked him:

"You still walking a few kilometres a day?" 

He asked this in response to a statement that Ilias had made about his evidently futile efforts at losing a few Kg. He also asked this, I believe, feeling safe in the knowledge that the answer would be in the negative, since it didn't look like his shape had changed at all.

By now it was reckoning-up time and Ilias took his time about responding while he counted out some readies from his bulging back pocket. It never ceases to fascinate me how all these 'poor' horiates regularly whip out a fat wad of notes whenever necessary, yet at the same time profess that they're about to starve to death due to having to pay their exorbitant electricity bills.

Ilias stuffed his purchases into his ageing, yet still just about serviceable, frayed and faded cotton shopping bag, and began walking out the door. As he exited the store and I cautiously moved to the till, he called back his response over his shoulder, without looking back...

"Walking? Gave it up. It wasn't working."

As Vasili nodded to me and opened his mouth to utter a greeting, before he could actually utter anything, the final words of Ilias wafted in through the door, just before his creaky pick-up door slammed...

"No. These days I'm running!"

Although I'm - in all humility - proud to say that I can hold my own pretty well during a conversation with the locals these days, even though some of them have accents so thick that you could slice them and put them on your toast, I still quite often cause loud outbursts of laughter. It's never with malice (it isn't, is it?), but I'll give you one or two recent examples.

So, there I was, standing at the till while Vasilis rang up my purchases and we heard the rather rotund Ilias' creaky, suffering old pick-up truck pulling away outside in a haze of blue smoke.

"Maria and I used to do a lot of knitting to keep fit." I confidently declared.

Vasili's face revealed a complete mystification about how knitting could be classed as a fitness exercise. 

"You must have used pretty large, heavy needles, then." He replied, a nervous grin gracing his face.

"What?" I said, "Why would I need needles to do some knitting?"

Cutting to the quick here folks, I had good reason to be glad that there weren't more people waiting behind me, because it would have resulted in major embarrassment on my part and general jollity on everyone else's, because the penny dropped for Vasili, who said:

"I think you might mean treximo, yes?" 

See, 'treximo' is the word used for 'jogging' or 'running'. The Greek word for knitting is 'pleximo'

I was getting my words tangled wasn't I. I can't help it if my mind gets all woolly now and then.

One more example: I told someone the other day...

"I'm just desiring you,"

...when I meant to say...

"I'm just reminding you."

Desiring is 'epithimi'es', whereas reminding is 'ipenthimi'es'

Ah, well, many a slip as they say. Anyway, must knit, I need to desire someone about something...

Friday, 16 March 2018

The Flora and the Fauna, ...well, maybe not the Fauna

Jus thought you'd like to see what the countryside around the house is looking like right now. The anemones have just about all gone and these wonderful blood-red flowers I'm reliably informed are actually a kind of poppy, although they closely resemble the anemones in size and form. The poppies always come out as the anemones die off...

Don't forget that all the photos open in a larger view of you click on them.

Pink and white rock roses are also coming into their own right now, as is the bright yellow gorse, which I haven't taken any shots of, sorry. (For the gorse, check out this post from 2012.)

More rock roses in the foreground here.
The cheesecake effect is just coming into its own now with the margaritas.

Looks right pastoral down our lane doesn't it.

Kiotari beach, in expectation of the season's approach.

Ditto. I took the bike out for the first time today since last October. Muscle ache, me? No, entire-body ache more like.

Now to the garden...

Our fig tree looks promising.

Ditto. Looks like come July-August we'll be well-blessed with figs again. I love fig trees, they are very drought-tolerant and there doesn't seem to be any predator or blight that can touch them. 

Who wouldn't want some Gazanias in their garden? They come in a bewildering range of foliage and colour and, even though some say they're a nuisance because they self-seed and can become dominant, all you have to do is pull out the ones you don't want. Even better, give them to someone else! They don't even need a lot of watering either.

We think this is a kind of osteospermum (I've probably said this before). Either way, for just a few weeks every spring it's a joy, a complete joy.

More gorgeous Gazanias

See, remember what I said about the range of colours...

There you go folks, not much rambling, but lots of colour to hopefully brighten your day a little.

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

Not For Those of a Nervous Disposition

The system that actually gets water to the taps in our house is quite an intricate mixture of holding tanks, power cables, float-switches and relays, splayed out across a hundred and fifty metres or so of steep, partly-forested hillside. All this is necessitated by the fact that we are situated higher up the mountain than the "reservoir" [a concrete silo] that feeds us.

So, when we turn on a tap, or step into the shower, the chances of water coming out an an acceptable pressure depends on a lot of components, many of which are exposed to the elements. To be honest, in recent years the system has proved quite reliable, but we do get the occasional hiccup, one of which occurred a week or two ago. 

Just as it was getting dark on the Saturday evening, the water dried up, exactly at the 'right' moment for us not to be able to go out and take a look for the problem. So we had to wait until first light on the Sunday morning before I and my neighbour David, from a hundred metres up the hill from us, went peering into tanks and touching my 'tester' screwdriver to electrical terminals. We found to our dismay that our main holding tank, which is sunk into the ground a little way above the houses, was completely dry, but the power seemed to check out OK wherever we tried it.

Thus we had to call the electrician who'd initially installed the current system. To his credit he arrived an hour and a half after I'd called him (on a Sunday too folks) and soon got to the bottom of the problem. A relay in the switch box down the valley had blown and - what a star - he had a spare one in his van. Fortunately, they're quite a common component, so he always has some with him. Phew.

It didn't take long for water to once again begin flowing from our taps, but, as I stood there thanking the almighty for something as simple as the ability to fill a kettle, my right wrist began to itch. 

Now, you'll have noted that I called this post "Not For Those of a Nervous Disposition" and for good reason. Anyone familiar with my "Ramblings From Rhodes" series of books will have read the chapter "The Elephant Man" in volume two, "Moussaka to My Ears", where I related the story about when we had a plague of caterpillars all over the drive, the patio, the walls - everywhere. We'd just arrived home from a visit with friends in Northern Greece and it was exactly the same week of the year. If you get anywhere near a pine tree about now, you can't fail to spot the silk nests hanging from the extremes of the branches. These are built by the larvae of the Processionary Moth, which, at caterpillar stage, is a serious health hazard both to the host tree and to humans. 

Photo courtesy of:

If you click on that link and read up about them (they are rare in the UK BTW), you get an idea of why my skin, starting with my right wrist, soon began to look like this (sorry folks, as I said, those with a nervous disposition look away now!) ...

As I related in the book, this is no joke folks, and the last time I had it, as a result of blithely sweeping up vast numbers of the caterpillars from our terrace at the house without wearing a top owing to the hot weather, I suffered with this rash all over my face and body for several weeks. Antihistamines help a little, but not much. The only relief I could get from the pain and the itching was the incredibly wonderful Lane's Tea Tree and Witch Hazel Cream (which seems to also be marketed under the name "Teangi" as well these days). I used up several tubes of it the last time I was afflicted.

Without noticing, and due to the fact that I hadn't had the allergic reaction now for ten years or so (you get complacent), I'd brushed past a tree laden with these nests while running up and down the hillside with my tool box, trying to get to the bottom of the water problem.

I tell you, getting that water problem fixed cost me a lot more than the fifty Euros (which was a bargain for a Sunday call-out, don't you agree?), as only now is the rash finally beginning to disappear after over a week, during which our country walks have had to be severely curtailed as well. Hmmph.

On a very much lighter note. Anyone familiar with Greece will know the tendency that locals have to whizz around everywhere on mopeds, scooters and motorbikes without wearing their helmets. Of course, one of the many reasons they do this is so that they can carry on using their mobile phones while riding, making no attempt to pull over to the side of the road. They'll frequently be seen tootling along at quite a brisk clip, with one hand on the handlebar and the other vigorously tapping away on their phone, or perhaps with the phone pressed to one ear, as they have a nice relaxed natter while buses, juggernauts and 4x4s almost wipe their sleeves, they get that close.

Proving just how widely acceptable this is, we were enjoying watching "Deal" the other night on Greek TV [Do watch the trailer on that link, and you'll see just how different it is here from the rather dull "Deal or No Deal" in the UK], when the host, Christos Ferentinos, told the contestant a joke. Well, not so much a joke as an amusing rhetorical question.

This is how it goes...

"At a crossroads or roundabout, who has the priority when one motorcycle comes from one direction and another approaches from his/her right? The one speaking on his mobile or the one sending an SMS?"

I rest my case! Pass me that tube of Lane's cream will you...

Monday, 5 March 2018

Not so Taxing After All

It's amazing how this country can still surprise one, even after more than 12 years of living here. The bureaucracy is, of course, legendary, and no one who reads stuff like this will be ignorant of the fact that a visit to a government office, or indeed one of the utility companies or perhaps a bank, always requires that one take along a dossier containing one's tax number, one's AMKA number, one's residency/work permit, one's passport, one's previous 5 tax returns, maybe half a dozen passport-sized mugshots, one's driving license, one's inside leg measurement etc.

So, when I received these two flimsy NCR-type letters recently (you know the types, they have that perforated strip of holed-paper all along both side edges) from the government, I was filled with foreboding. Ripping the first one open, all I could see at first was a sum of money printed in the right-hand column in that slightly fuzzy computer-printout sort of grey type. It was something in excess of €400 and I immediately thought, "How the hell can I be owing them this? I haven't ever earned enough from working even to reach the tax threshold!"

However, when I took the time to read the whole thing, it only turns out that the Government was rather happy to repay to me this money, plus a further €60+ in the second and similar letter, for the tax years 2014-2015, when the company I'd been doing excursions for had rather irritatingly taken emergency tax from my pay. Sure enough, there it was in grey (slightly fuzzy grey) and white. The message was that if I were able to pass by the Tax Office with the two letters in hand, then I'd be privileged to receive back from the Greek government a rather handy sum of money that they never should have been given from my pay-packet in the first place.

You'll already know, if you've read the previous post "The Good, the Bad and the Broccoli", that I went to the tax office on the first occasion and came away disappointed. The computer system was down. Well, whaddyaknow! Why was I not too surprised, eh?

Thus, with some degree of skepticism, we set out again last Thursday morning for another attempt at getting my rebates sorted. After almost an hour on the road we went into the building with me armed to the teeth with my plastic box file of 'passport, papers, permits and cards' and were at first amazed by the fact that the front doors had evidently been cleaned. In the other post I mentioned that the glass doors of the building's main entrance had been "so dirty that you could be forgiven for thinking that the building had been abandoned". This time it was a complete transformation as the glass of the doors was clean and shiny and they tended to infuse in one a sense of hope that things might just go OK. The foyer area is still rank though.

We ascended to the second floor and soon found ourselves among a small gaggle of people who were evidently all after the same thing, some money back from the tax man. There were signs that clearly told us we were at the right desk, "Επιστροφή Φόρου" they announced, "Tax refund" desk. Contrary to expectations there were three people actually serving the public, plus, of course, one or two others who were seated in front of screens behind the glass partition and seemingly staring into them as though hypnotised. The fact that there were people standing, well, leaning actually, on the desk and apparently being served, was also a positive. It looked like the computers had been wound up and were really ticking away this time. Yeay!

The were about seven people there when we arrived. Seated on those dull-looking metal chairs along the back wall were one or two, one of which was a bloke who looked like he'd just stepped off a pirate ship. He was dressed in denim, top and bottom, and had that much wiry grey hair on his head, including his face, that he put me in mind of the Muppet Show's manic drummer, Animal. He must have been seventy, if he was a day, and he sported a tatty baseball cap and was fiddling with his mobile phone á là contemporary teenager. He didn't appear to have a shred of paperwork with him and yet soon gave us a smile and, along with the other few customers, took part in our little 'pecking order' chat about who was going to be next, after the current desk-leaners had been served and gone away. 

There was a tall chap at one end who would have had trouble getting on a plane, he looked that much like a member of Islamic State, then there was a couple of scrawny looking people, evidently man and wife, who looked very much like the Americans might call 'trailer trash'. Now, I'm not being judgmental, I'm just trying to paint the mental picture here. But the woman (who was 'no youngster' to put it kindly) was in a mini-skirt over dark tights and knee-length black boots and with a shoulder-length bob of hair that was dyed totally black. Her face was a road map of many decades of tobacco, alcohol and sunshine, but her husband was looking almost normal, except for his dress sense. They were having a heated argument through the glass with the woman who was serving them and pieces of paper were being passed back and forth through the thee-inch gap below the glass and above the desk with furious regularity.

The only other person being served was a smart 30-something young chap who sounded like he had a business and had all his paper neatly organised beside his elbows as he talked in hushed tones with the only male employee on the other side of the glass. Half an hour went by like this.

During that half an hour we'd had our confidence securely shaken about whether this visit was going to bear any fruit. The fella that was evidently going to be served before us was a fifty-something middle-class type, with a friendly smile and manner about him. We fell into a fitful conversation with him, during which we established that he believed that, in order to get your money back you'd have to have brought along your bank passbook. My wife Yvonne-Maria (Yvonne to her British friends and family, Maria to her Greek and Rhodean friends, but then you'll probably already know that) was getting into a lather over the fact that we'd brought just about every official piece of paper and document that we'd ever received since moving here in 2005, but the one thing we'd both forgotten to bring along was the bank passbook. Could it be that we'd come this far, only to fall at the last hurdle. It wouldn't be the first time.

When it came time for 'Animal' to be served he had to ask the counter-clerk to hold on while he finished whatever it was he was doing with his mobile phone. I was momentarily distracted by something out the window and, when I looked back he'd sprung up and approached the desk and begun his 'negotiations' with the clerk. All the while that he'd been slouched on one of those chairs (they're just like the ones you see at airport departure gates. You know, three or four grey metal curved affairs with a Formica table built into the who arrangement), all the while he'd been sat there he didn't appear to have a shred of paperwork with him. Now, standing at the desk he had a pile of the stuff, including a file the size of a foot-thick Filofax, which he'd produced from goodness only knows where. I was fascinated at where it had all come from.

After about an hour it was finally our turn, and by now there were a further half a dozen depressed folk queueing up behind us. Fortunately for us we got the chirpiest clerk, a blond woman of probably around 40 who seemed to be nice natured and smily. I passed my two letters through to her and she set about enthusiastically tapping on her keyboard. I had at the ready my official tax number certificate, my AMKA number, my passport and my residency/work permit. I was sure that at some point she would be asking me fore these. After a goods five minutes without any exchange of words, she asked, still staring at the monitor...

"Would you like it paid into the same bank account that we have on record?"

Almost too happy to keep both feet on the ground and not float off into some fluffy clouds somewhere, I replied, whilst casting a sideways glance at my wife with the look of "Oh ye of little faith" about it, "Yes, fine, that would be great."

It still didn't make her indoors too ecstatic though. She'd had visions of us walking out counting a wad of notes and hightailing it into town to visit the last dregs of the winter sales. Nevertheless, it gave us the indication that we would indeed be able to conclude the whole business on this visit, and for that I was exceedingly grateful and not a little amazed.

After a further five minutes of our helper continuing to bang away at the keys while watching her monitor, I ventured to ask her:

"Will you be wanting to see my passport?"

To which her reply was a 'tch' and a slight nod of the head backwards, which is, of course, the Greek for 'no'.

"Residency Permit?"


To cut this part of the story short, all she required of me was the two NCR letters that I'd received through the post. Nothing more. This almost didn't compute. When, in the history of the modern Greek bureaucratic jungle, did we ever visit a government office without having to carry a dossier of papers? Never, that's when. Of course, the fact that our bank details were on the system meant that no one else could receive the rebate apart from me, so I suppose it made no sense for some shyster to turn up with my letters and fiendishly save me a lot of bother.

After probably fifteen minutes of keyboard bashing, she got up and walked a metre to her left where a large printer began whirring and clanking before spewing out a bunch of new papers. Grabbing these, she stapled a few sheet together, gathered them all up with still others (in an assortment of fetching colours) that were laying on the desk in front of her and passed me that much paperwork I could have wallpapered a respectably-sized wall with it.

"Take this to the man behind that counter along the corridor." She said with a warm smile as she pointed toward the man in question. Seeing that I was just a little incredulous, she added: "That's it. All done."

So, collecting this formidable pile of papers from the desk, and having visions of wallpaper tables and paste brushes, I thanked her and the two of us walked along the corridor, through a side door that took us into an area behind yet another counter where there were two desks, one 'manned' by a woman and the other by this chap to whom I had to give my papers. He accepted them from me and said, "Thank you. I'll be keeping these." Then he added, with a helpful smile (could this really be a Greek government office?) "The money will be in your bank within two days."

"Umm, don't I have to take anything away with me? You know, a receipt or something?" I asked. Dolt.

"Nope. I keep all of these, thank you. Kalispera!"

And, would you believe it, out we went.

Now, that was lunchtime on Thursday. Bearing in mind that there would be only one working day before the weekend, I fully expected not to see the cash in the account when I checked in via on-line banking until at the very least the following Monday. As it happened, I had to get up at 4.00am on the Saturday to take our neighbours to the airport, so I decided, since I was well ahead time-wise, to have a quick glance at our account balance on-line.

The cash was in! The refund had been made.

Now, tell me that nothing ever goes right in Greece!

On that very evening, Saturday March 3rd, our water supply dried up just as it was getting dark. There was nothing coming out of our taps. Nothing going into the toilet cistern when we flushed it. Oops.

You might just have an inkling about what the next post will be, eh?