Sunday, 29 July 2018

Size Matters (and other Stuff)

Right, so there I was a couple of weeks ago raving about our grapes. Remember? For the first time ever we had grapes we could eat on our vine beside the patio and we were well pleased and excited. If you didn't see it, check out this post. I suppose we probably had a kilo or two, which at the time I was pretty chuffed with.

Today we dropped by to see our friend Eva, who's the head chef at the Coralli, near Pefkos, by the way. She and her family have a vine which provides lots of shade in front of her parents' house, which is two doors along from her own. As we were leaving, she said, "Take some grapes with you, we can't eat them all."

Now, just as a reminder, here again was our complete harvest (minus a bunch we gave to Wendy, next door) ...

Ever had that feeling that you've been slightly outdone? Ours were about the size of a large fingernail, Eva's? Ahem, well...

Puts our little harvest into perspective, doesn't it? Plus, these are what you'd actually call grapes. Size-wise they're almost too big to pop one into your mouth whole. It's easier to take a bite out of them first. Size matters, even in grape-world.

Time to be thankful if you live in the UK. As you'll know, I was over there a week or so ago and - yes indeed - it was warm. I have to say, though, that overnight is where you feel the difference between there and Rhodes. Whereas from around 11.00am until about 5.00pm the temperature in the UK was indeed touching something like what we get here, it was 28ºC after midnight when I landed back on Rhodes last week, whilst it was a wonderfully cool 18ºC overnight in Bath. Be grateful UK folk. 

Plus, I see that parts of the UK have now had some much-needed rain, which we'd give our eye teeth for here during July. 

I was sitting in the Top Three yesterday when Spiros' and Maria's son Dimitris turned up to start work. As I was busy checking my emails on the iPad at the time, I simply raised my head and called out a greeting to him. Dimitris, though, called to me to look up for some reason, and so I did. He was nodding his head in a sideways direction, as if to say, "Look!"

At first it didn't register, what I was I supposed to be looking at? Then it hit me...

The black Ford is Dimitri's car. I hadn't seen it for three months because he'd had a road accident, which had been entirely the fault of the other driver, who'd hit his car hard in the front left wing, the one nearest to me in the photo above. The windscreen had been shattered and the whole front end made quite a mess of. Now, like in the UK, car insurance in Greece is compulsory, and I'd say the premiums are fairly similar cost-wise. 

There is, however, a whopping difference between car insurance in Greece and that in the UK. Looking at the car in the photo, I have to admit, the body shop did an amazing job. I remarked on the quality of the paint job especially, which truly looked exceptional. But it had taken three months for him to have it back on the road. He told me that there was still a piece that goes under the engine, you know, that kind of guard affair that protects the sump from glancing blows, which was still not fitted as it had to be ordered from Germany and hadn't come yet. 

That's not what I'm on about though. The real difference is this: You have a smash, right? So, if the insurance agrees to cover it, you'd think that would bring you great relief. 

Think again.

In this case Dimitris told me that the cost of this repair had been in the thousands. I'll not be more specific than that. There's no need. What I want to stress is the fact that, even if the insurance company agrees to cover the costs, you have to pay first. Yes, you pay the garage and then submit your claim for reimbursement to the insurance company. Ouch.

This means that, if you haven't got the spare cash, you may even have to borrow it, assuming you can that is, if you want your wheels back on the road. I knew a couple some years ago whose car caught fire while they were driving in Lothiarika, near Lardos. It was only many months after the insurance company had agreed to pay for the write-off (or, as the Americans would say a 'total') that the couple eventually received the money from the company. During all that time they'd had to borrow from friends to get another car. In fact, the whole affair cost them a friendship in the end, owing (no pun!) to how long the whole matter took to be resolved.

Kind of makes you all the more vigilant while driving, especially when, here on Rhodes, there's a major road accident occurring almost daily during the summer season.

I don't think I'll go out in the car right now, I think I'll just eat some grapes and sip a cool drink in the shade on the patio.

Drive carefully.

Tuesday, 24 July 2018


Whilst I was enjoying the lovely weather in the UK, despite the saddest of reasons for having to go there, I was given a few old photos of my mother-in-law from her days in Athens before moving to the UK.

Here they are...

Helena (Lela) Tziortziou (various spellings allowed!), Athens circa 1946

The bloke with the sunglasses is my father-in-law, Kenneth, who was a Warrant Officer in the British Army stationed in Athens at the end of the war. Next to him you'll recognise my mother-in-law. To her left is her brother Theodorakis, who played a mean accordion. I have fond memories of long, warm evenings in the 70's and 80's at a taverna with Theo playing whilst everyone sang along to old traditional songs.

Effie, Lela and Katie. Three sisters in Athens circa 1946.

...and here's one my other half will murder me for posting, but I so love it...

This was taken about 6 months before I met my wife, who's second from right in this photo. To her left is cousin John, who is the son of aunty Katie (seen in the picture above this one, to my mother-in-law's left). On the left in this one is my wife's brother Paul, her mum of course, and little brother Philip, who's now in his fifties!

And this is the same photo after I've 'repaired' it.
These photos were a wonderful gift and, as it happens, some of the information I learned while in the UK will help with the formation of the structure of the next novel. My sister-in-law, who died, was married for a second to time really nice guy whom we all came to love. At the funeral, despite his finding it extremely difficult to continue at times, he gave a moving, personal eulogy to his wife, which contained information about her birth in Athens and other things that I was hearing for the very first time. Why is it that we so often forget to talk about stuff that, once we lose someone, we desperately want to know?

Anyway, not to get too moribund, I just wanted to share the fact that the next novel will have elements of my wife's family history in it. Of course it will be a work of pure fiction, but what my mother-in-law went through in Athens from 1939-45 and how she came to live in the UK will parallel to some degree the main character in the book, which is going to be called (provisionally) Panayiota.

As usual, I plan to build a few twists into the story, hopefully to surprise the reader. It's interesting that in my previous books, I've always built in what I thought were unexpected twists, and the majority of reviewers have expressed surprise and commented that they never expected them. But there's always, it seems, one that will post a review and say: "Predictable. Saw it coming." You know what I think? One can always theorise what's going to happen. Now, just suppose you do that and what you theorise actually does take place. Isn't that going to make you think that it was easy to work out? Of course, chances are you could have got it wrong, but coincidence is bound to happen now and again and, like I said, when it does, someone may think that they're just dead clever to have worked it out. I don't know if I'm explaining myself very well, but I think you get my drift.

Suffice it to say, novel number 6 is beginning to take shape at 'blueprint' stage. My visit to the UK has aided in planting some seeds for the development of the story. Maybe I'll dedicate the book, when it finally sees the light of day, to my late sister-in-law. 

Sunday, 22 July 2018

There and Back Again

On top of Kelston Roundhill, about half a mile from Bath Racecourse, UK.

Well, I've been back in the UK for a week and returned home to Rhodes last Wed-Thursday, touching down at just after midnight Thursday morning, the 19th. As always, I have mixed emotions about this 'flying' visit, as it was primarily to be at the funeral of my dear wife's sister, who sadly died at the early age of 68. She looked much younger too, which makes the whole thing even more tragic.

Seven days staying on the outskirts of my home town (or rather, to be precise - 'city') of Bath meant I was able to do some superb walks along the Cotswold Way, which skirts the area where my brother-in-law lives, known as Upper Weston, and trails up to the Bath Racecourse and beyond (it's actually over a hundred miles long in its entirety). On more than one occasion I was able to take my brother-in-law's oh-so-lovable dog Chico with me...

What I was struck by this time, was the fact that much of the English countryside and the roadside verges were almost the same colour as the Rhodean hills and fields this summer, owing to the lack of rainfall there.

Viewpoint from the far corner of Bath Racecourse, with Kelston Roundhill clearly visible.

The British countryside hasn't looked this "Greek" for many a summer.

The regulation refreshment stop, of course primarily to give Chico a bowl of water. But I had to pass the time while I was waiting somehow. This is the garden of the Blathwayt Arms, situated right beside Bath Racecourse.
During my stay, apart from spending long hours simply talking with my host, I was also able to wander into the city for a few odds and ends that I wanted to bring back with me. Just some small stuff was needed, since I was travelling only with hand luggage, which is so much less stressful if you can do it. But whilst in the city I was faced with a dilemma that reminded me of how uncivilised it still is in cafés and cake shops in the UK. I don't want to knock it unduly, I still love the place of my birth and thoroughly enjoyed the vibrancy of the street scene there. The city centre is brimming with outdoor areas for enjoying a snack or a drink. There are street musicians and fire eaters, human statues that would knock those you see here in Rhodes into a cocked hat and side stalls selling crafts and local produce. There are several excellent music venues, one of which is playing host on August 3rd to the excellent blues-rock band Catfish, who I had the pleasure of watching on the lawn at the Lindos Athena hotel a few weeks ago. If you're in the Bath area during early August, I thoroughly recommend getting along to the Komedia (formerly the Beau Nash cinema) to see them. I was blown away.

No, returning to my comment about what I consider to be 'uncivilised', I'll illustrate. If you're alone and you feel like taking the weight off your feet while you enjoy a cup of coffee at an outdoor table, you are faced with a major problem. Here in Greece, and indeed across most of Europe, you simply find a free table, park your bum and await the table service. The only exception here in Rhodes that I'm aware of to this entirely logical and 'civilised' way of doing things is at the Rhodes branch of Starbucks, and I won't go in there on principle.

In the UK though, you have no choice but to enter the store/café/establishment an queue at the counter to be served your choice of drink or snack. I arrived at the bottom of Burton Street and noted that outside the West Cornwall Pasty Co's premises there were two empty tables. Now, there was no way I could guarantee that I'd be able to sit at one of these because I first had to go inside, order my Americana and then be told once I'd paid (talk about illogical), "We'll bring it out to you."

By the time I'd been through this ritual, one of the free tables already had a couple of people sitting at it, while another of their party had come inside to queue beside me. Exiting the building, having now paid for my coffee, I was relieved beyond belief to just make it to the other table before a couple of other people nabbed it. See, it's OK (in a way) if you're with company, because then one or more of your party can nab the table while someone else goes in to place the order and pay, but if you're on your own, well, I was faced with the real possibility of some young spotty waiter or waitress (not sure if one could really call them that, since they don't actually 'wait' at tables) exiting the building with my coffee on a tray, only to find that I had nowhere to sit. I ask you, in all sincerity, when are the café and bar owners in the UK going to get it? I mean, if they can bring your drink out to you while you hopefully grab a table in expectation, then why the hell can't they simply take your order at the table anyway? 

I 'get' one fear that I'm sure is a factor here -  they fully expect a percentage of people to scarper without paying. But there's a simple remedy to that, and it's the one employed in Cardiff's vibrant 'café quarter', and that's simply to take payment along with the order. It's a sad state of affairs, though, when fear of people clearing off without paying overrides the desire to provide a civilised service. All across the continent, and - of course - here in Rhodes, the system works on an element of trust, and by far the majority of customers deposit the money on the table when they get up to leave. In the UK they'll happily bring your drink out to you, plus clear the table after you've left, but actually wait at table to take your order, well that appears to still be beyond them. Grrr!

So there you are, that's my gripe out of the way. One thing I did love about being in the UK this time was the temperatures. Everyone was complaining about the heat, but it felt to me like I had the air-conditioning on all the time - out of doors. Lots are comparing this summer in the UK to the summer of 1976. Frankly, in my opinion that's a bit too hopeful. I was living in Bath back then and I remember that the skies were cloudless for three months. It was a truly Mediterranean summer in 1976. This year, yes it's not rained all that much, yes it's warm, but the skies are frequently cloudy with sunny intervals. I rarely saw a completely blue sky whilst I was there.

Not that it mattered much, since it was, nevertheless, wonderful to be able to eat breakfast and evening meal out on my brother-n-law's secluded patio.

Next post will probably be back to life on Rhodes...

Wednesday, 11 July 2018

A Quickie (The Grapes of Wrath?)

Just a quick post before I fly to the UK for a very sad occasion involving the loss of a close family member.

It may not seem much to some but, to us, this year's grape harvest has been a triumph after years of the wildlife getting to the fruit before we could! The grapes are small, but wonderfully sweet, and also seedless, so they're very easy to eat. For the first time in our lives we have eaten grapes that we've grown ourselves and it feels awesome. In fact we have figs and grapes on the breakfast table right now, both of which come from our own garden. Here's a shot or two I took of the grapes...

We can only assume, as I mentioned in another post, that the presence of "Mavkos", the black and white cat that likes to hang around the place these days (with some encouragement from us), is a factor in the upturn of our grape-growing fortunes. No longer do we express wrath at the empty, skeletal stems that we used to find on the vines in the mornings, all of which had been stripped of their fruit during the night, just as we were deciding to try them to see if they were ripe. One could argue that we're harvesting the grapes a little early, but we really don't care if it means we actually get to eat them, plus they taste like they're ready to eat, so maybe they're an early variety anyway.

Also, a few days ago we were wondering how a piece of material could end up hanging in the 'reveal' of an outside window of the house as darkness approached. So we went for a closer look and found that it was not a piece of material at all, but a cute little bat...

Apparently, there are 34 species of bats in Greece, so I wouldn't presume to know this one, but he did have large-ish ears!

The next time I post is liable to be toward the end of next week, at the earliest. I do hope you won't go away in the meantime.

Wednesday, 4 July 2018

Picture Postcards Part 2!

Well, July is upon us and the temperature has ratcheted up a notch. My wife always says that the climate seems to know what month it is. Very often it seems that as the month turns, so the weather adjusts itself accordingly. Outside the house today it's crested 40ºC this morning. Ouch!

Even though we've just had the most rainfall for June in living memory, it looks like it's all gone now and the wall-to-wall blue skies are well and truly installed for a couple of months.

Here are a few more shots I took around town a couple of days ago...

This 'walk-thru is just off the Street of the Knights. A welcome area of shade at the current temperatures.

Souvenir stalls on the way down to the Gate D'Amboise.

A jazz band giving it plenty of 'wellie' on the Street of the Knights. They were very good actually.

This little 'cottage' on the Street of the Knights is something I'd never noticed before.

OK, so it may only be convolvulus, or bindweed, but it's still pretty.

That jazz band from a little further away.

The rather elegant 'bandstand' inside the "New Market".

...and the other one on Mandraki harbour-front.

Just a corner I rather liked, just off the Street of the Knights (again!). You can always rely on a cat to find the best shady spot.

The cat's retreat from the other direction.

Finally, I was rather pleased to see this. In the busy tree-shaded area just near the taxi rank at the South end of Mandraki, this former snack-bar was looking decidedly run-down and derelict for quite a long time. It wasn't a particularly attractive sight to see in an area of heavy tourist-footfall. Now it's been renovated and has opened as a souvlaki joint. OK, one could argue that there are now perhaps too many souvlaki joints in a very small area, but I'd rather see it looking like this, than empty and woe-begotten, as it was until recently. I'll probably give it a try soon.
There you go folks. Booked your visit to Rhodes this year yet?