Thursday, 31 January 2019

How Will You Find the Time?

We were talking to a few folk in Kalathos the other day. You know how you get into conversation, and it's always of great benefit to listen to what local people tell you. You learn so much, often with the side-effect that it makes you count your blessings too.

There's a lovely older couple who live a little out from the village itself, and we were exchanging views about the weather and the water supply, because the two are connected. I read some years ago about how islands like Rhodes draw their drinking water up from aquifers well down beneath the ground. If the amount of water that's drawn exceeds the rate at which the rains can replace it, the net effect is that seawater seeps further inland deep underground and pollutes the freshwater supplies with salt water. This can have a devastating effect on farming and vegetation in general. And this is exactly what's been happening on Rhodes for the past five or six years of excessively dry winters.

Here on a hillside in Kiotari, we are very lucky to have an unpolluted water supply. A couple of years ago there was a very brief period when our water went brackish, but we learned that the water company had drilled deeper into the ground beneath the village of Asklipio (where our water comes from) and thus had tapped into a still-fresh reserve, and thus our tap-water returned to normal. Unfortunately for the people of Kalathos, it appears that their supply has been more salty than fresh for the past three years now, and the result has meant death for many plants and trees. 

The couple to whom I refer told us that they'd lost a couple of venerable old orange trees, which had produced delicious eating oranges for many years. Plus our friends Petros and Lena, who I talk about quite a lot in the first couple of "Ramblings" books, they have an aloe vera plantation, which has suffered many dead plants from being watered with salt-water. They simply have no alternative.

When we mentioned our gripe that Rhodes ought to have invested in a couple or three desalination plants some years ago, as tourist development was beginning to gather pace and thus, with its insatiable demands, outstrip the water supply, Nikos, the husband of the couple in question, simply replied:

"We're Greeks. We usually wait until it's a disaster before we start fixing a problem. If there's an accident blackspot, for example, once a few people have been killed, then, only then, will the authorities think about erecting barriers, changing the traffic flow priorities, or whatever."

I did mention that we often saw this same tardiness in the UK, just to balance things a little, but he was adamant that it's a Greek trait anyway.

Incidentally, I know I've been there before, but the argument over desalination plants gets on my wick. I've had people tell me, "Oh, no, you can't use water from a desalination plant as drinking water." Well, peeps, try telling that to the people of forward-thinking Halki, where they've now had their own plant for upward of five years, paid back the bank loan, and the water pressure in their taps is brilliant. Plus, most islanders that I know drink the stuff too. It doesn't have the salts that our fresh water has here on Rhodes, either, and thus the kettle doesn't need descaling every flipping week.

On a slightly different, yet partially related tack, our friend Kostas, who has the  sunbeds on a nearby beach (although his son now runs the business, with dad sitting there to keep him company most of the time) has recently spent a few weeks with one of his other sons who lives in Holland. Now, as you'll know if you keep tabs on what's happening here on Rhodes, we're finally having a real winter with rather a lot of rain this year. Yet, even with that being the case, I asked Kosta when he got back from Holland if he'd enjoyed himself over there. 

He replied, "Yes, it was very nice, but I hated the sky."

"You hated the sky?" I asked, already hazarding a fairly accurate guess as to what he was going to say next.

"Yes, because day after day it was grey. It wasn't excessively cold, it wasn't excessively wet, but every day that greyness, I hated it."

See, there you go. We here are (well, some of us) bemoaning the frequency of the rains this winter (even though we desperately need them), yet still the sun peeps through most days, even if we've had a couple of hours of heavy rainfall. Kostas' comment took me right back to those long, grey winter days in the UK which sometimes would go on for weeks. I, for one, am counting my blessings.

Finally, we're in the process of converting our driving licenses to Greek ones. It's not particularly due to fears over Brexit, which, quite frankly I don't fear at all. Life's too short! No, our photos need updating anyway and so we thought it was about time, after more than thirteen years of living here, that we did it. It's the very last piece of the jigsaw when it comes to having all the bureaucracy of living here covered. I'm indebted to James Collins, who unwittingly gave me the impetus to get on with it when he posted a list on his excellent Symi Dream blog some time back. The list showed what was required in order to present the local KEP office with one's application for a Greek license. I printed that out, and we set to with the process.

You have to have a Greek translation of your UK license, stamped by a lawyer (ker-ching! There goes 50 Euros...), plus a photocopy of your passport, also stamped by a lawyer (ker-ching...), plus a couple of other things, including proof of payment of a thirty Euro fee (each, of course), which can be paid either in a bank or a post office.

So, a couple of days ago, we went to Arhangelos to pay our thirty Euros each. We went early, so as to avoid the all-too-regular scenario of waiting for three hundred years to get to the teller in any branch of a Greek bank. We managed to negotiate our way into the Arhangelos branch of the Ethniki Bank, which, of course entails getting through that reinforced glass 'booth' which involves a lot of button-pushing and waiting for little lights to change from green to red. Those booths seem to me to be deliberately designed to make it almost impossible to be in there, between the two doors, and actually be able to open one without becoming a contortionist. Then, just as you notice that the light for opening the next door is green, you go to push the door, only to find that you're supposed to pull that one. So then you start pulling and, since it won't budge, you then become aware that the flaming light has now gone red again because you lost your 'slot', as it were.

We made the basic mistake of trying to get into the booth and through both doors together (as in: us two together, not both doors at the same time). We almost had to make it look as if we were going in for an obscene act in public view in order to make room for the door behind us to close properly. And of course, if you don't have one door closed, the other will never open at all. Then you have to account for a couple of impatient locals also attempting to get in there with you, even though you'd need an adjudicator for the Guinness Book of Records present if you were to let them in.

Anyway, once we'd finally made it into the tiny 'banking hall', we were ecstatic to see that we were the only ones in there. There wasn't any point in tugging out one of those annoying little numbered tickets from the machine. We presented ourselves at the counter and announced that we were there to pay our thirty Euros each to apply for Greek driving licences. This was all going too well.

"Ah, where are your 'Parabola'?" the teller asked us. Now, the word "parabolo" literally means 'fee,' but it seems that the teller was referring to an A4 printout that needs to be presented at the bank (or post office) when attempting to pay this fee.

"Oh, we didn't realise we'd need anything. Where do we get those from then?" we asked, and he answered: 

"You have to go to the KEP office. Do that first, then come back with your 'parabola' and you're in business."

To be fair, he was being helpful, it was just, well, why didn't we realise that it wasn't going to be plain sailing? I mean, nothing ever has been before.

So, smiling as enthusiastically as we could, we thanked him, contorted our way back out through the glass booth from hell (or perhaps borrowed from a particularly sadistic TV game show) into the street, and set off on foot the five minute walk to the local KEP office.

Now, the last time I'd been to the KEP office in Arhangelos, the bloke who'd served me (not an appropriate expression in his case) had been a fat slob who was ignorance and unhelpfulness itself. Thus, I wasn't looking forward to a return visit, but needs must, and all that. Arriving at the office and going in, we were relieved to find that there were no other customers in there. Well, it was still only about 9.00am, so our attempts at being early were paying off to a degree. I've never been so happy in my life to see a total stranger, but sitting behind the desk was a slim man of around forty, with the usual 5 o'clock shadow and a leather jacket on. If he'd just got off a tractor I wouldn't have been surprised. Yet, as soon as he spoke he revealed that he was, in fact, an erudite and intelligent man, who knew a little about people skills and how to treat your fellow citizens in need of assistance.

He complimented us on our Greek, but, in view of the fact that he needed all the usual from us, AFM and AMKA numbers, father's first names and passport details, he quickly asked what part of the UK we came from. He was ecstatic to learn that Bath was our home town. He'd been to university in Bristol and had visited Bath many times and loves the place. Yippee, a pleasant conversation ensued while he processed our 'parabola.' I have our friend Brenda, from Pilona, to thank for the fact that we now don't go anywhere without our trusty vinyl folder. You know, the sort with lots of transparent A4 pockets inside, in which we carry not only our original AFM (Tax Number) documents, but our health cover documents, our AMKA (national insurance) documents, photocopies of our passports and driving licenses, residency permits, you name it, it's all in the one neat folder and we simply grab it and take it with us if we're going out anywhere. It was Brenda who showed us her folder and we were stunned at how simple an idea it was, yet how much more practical it was than having all that stuff loose, or in various different holders, envelopes and folders.

So, a mere fifteen minutes and - amazingly - no depletion of funds later, we were striding back to the bank to get the fees paid. The KEP man had printed out our forms and presented them to us like he was a magician. He almost was, in comparison with how these procedures so often go. 

Now, when we'd been to the bank not more than twenty minutes earlier, it had been empty. When we got back there this time, though, it was crawling with locals. There was a scrum to get in and out through the double-door booth, often coming to a grinding halt while people tried to go both ways at once. Add to that the fact that half the population can't remember which way the doors are supposed to swing, or even that they need to watch the little light change to red before attempting to rip it off its hinges, and you go some way to understanding how crestfallen we were at the sight that greeted us. Once we eventually got inside, and took our little ticket from the machine in the corner, we only just managed to procure ourselves a couple of seats while we sat and waited. the digital signs over the cash desks were reading (both working, a miracle) 96, and our ticket was 106. We nodded to one or two faces that we recognised ( while exchanging those "who the hell is that?" looks between ourselves) and sat there to try and develop the quality of patience.

It's while you're sitting in a bank in a country village that you get to observe the locals without distraction. For starters, everyone knows everyone else. That includes the two staff members behind the desk. This means that everything takes longer than it should because everyone has to greet everyone else, often involving double-cheek kisses and handshakes, plus enquiries after the health of the entire family and expressions of dismay over someone's malady or recent sad loss. Then there are the cheeky chappies, who have that kind of face that tells you that they're always the one with the cheery disposition, which helps them no end in queue-jumping. Several of these came in, grinned at everyone else (and most were seventy if they were a day) before leaning over the shoulder of whoever was already at the desk and butting in to get their nephew (in all probability) to change a fifty note for some smaller ones while this cheeky chappie had a customer waiting for change in his fruit and veg shop.

I found myself side-whispering to my wife about what a sad collection of human specimens they all were. Even the younger ones of the clientele, who were probably only in their forties, were an assortment of shapes and sizes, none of which resembled in even the remotest way a mannequin in a clothes shop window for overall dimensions. I thought, "If I were God and I'd made man in my image, I'd be hard-pressed to find one amongst these to hold up and say, 'Yup, that's it!"

My beloved whispered back, "It's amazing isn't it? I mean, there's no one in here who's much under seventy years of age, and yet every single female has a fine head of thick, black hair." She was right, the only grey heads to be seen were topping male bodies. Small wonder there's a huge section for hair dye in every local supermarket aisle on the island, probably the country.

That struck us as something you don't see as much in the UK. Women of the more mature age groups are far more likely to simply go grey with dignity than they are in Greece. It wouldn't be quite so noticeable, had they not all gone for jet black as their preferred colour. If they'd plunked for auburn, or mousy, they'd have looked a tad more natural. Still, if it makes them feel better, who are we to judge?

Finally, our number came up and we vaulted out of our seats, fearful that someone else would simply amble up to the desk before us if we didn't look sharp. It had taken us so long since the first time we'd been in there that I don't think the teller even remembered who we were. So, we paid our thirty Euros each, watched as he rubber-stamped our forms, signed the dockets and emerged almost unscathed to fight another day.

Next, it was a trip into Rhodes town to see a lawyer, so that he could sign and rubber stamp our passport copies and translate our existing licenses. 

You know how retired people so often say, "I don't know how I found the time to go to work"?


Wednesday, 23 January 2019

That Strange Light in the Sky

When we lived in the UK, when the sun came out we used to joke, owing to all the cloudy days, "What's that strange light in the sky?"

So far this winter, at least from the end of November, it's almost been British weather. But, it's still been redeeming itself now and then. Yesterday was a case in point. Yesterday it was t-shirt weather for most of the day and, as the afternoon wore on, we took a walk up the lane towards Asklipio village.

That's where we took these. The light was just perfect.

The headland in the background is the Pefkos peninsula

I know I said t-shirt weather, but this was as the afternoon was wearing on, of course. Even so, she was too hot in the jacket, but decided it was better to be too hot than actually carry the thing!

Above my head you can just see Asklipio Kastro. Also, there's a part of Mt. Attaviros blending in with the clouds.

A lot of women would kill for a shadow like that.

Again, Attaviros is visible in this one, slightly clearer too.

I just loved the way the light worked with these olive trees. The sharp shadows are lovely, showing too that the humidity was low.

Sunday, 20 January 2019

Arrested Development

I'm packing it in. I'm not working on excursions any more. There are several reasons, but one is the fact that, following developments last summer, I've lost my appetite for the work. I'm not going into all the details here, and I have already referred fleetingly to the situation in older posts, but getting "arrested" by the Tourist police along with the "proedros" (lit: President) of the professional guides union, didn't help.

The excursions I've always worked on have never been the type for which the guests on them wanted to be 'guided' by a professional guide. I've always understood, too, that those holidaymakers wishing to be 'guided', would, of course take an excursion, the description for which clearly explains that the guests will be accompanied by, indeed led by a professional guide.

Thus, whatever I (or any of my fellow escorts in similar situations) said to my guests, it wouldn't have made any difference to the professional guides. In other words, were the excursion to run without an escort, it still wouldn't mean that a professional guide would be employed to do it, and thus, whatever we did, we were most certainly not taking jobs from the professionals. That's apparently though, not how the the professional guides view it. It's tiresome, but I'd heard for years of escorts, like myself, being verbally abused by guides, but it hadn't happened to me. This past summer though, I got a first hand taste of just how intimidating it can be and, to be frank, it was enough. I don't need it. I shall miss it to a degree, but I shall instead be concentrating on more writing.

I must confess to having been quite overwhelmed, though, by the support I received from some Greeks I know here on the island. Several have told me that, if I get called to attend a court case where they will in all probability issue a fine (yes, I know, absurd isn't it), then they, my Greek friends, would turn up at the court to shout in my defence. Quite whether they'll be able to make any difference is debatable, but one good coach driver friend said, and I quote: "They ought to be getting on with putting a stop to those African women who hang around the harbour area grabbing people by the wrist and virtually bullying them into parting with a lot of cash for a pathetic piece of string with a few beads on it. Or simply getting on with hunting down real criminals instead of harassing Grecophiles (like me) who do their utmost to not only promote visits to Greece, and Rhodes in particular, but also to make people's visits here enjoyable and thus incite them to come back again." 

Anyway, forget it, I'm done. I shall simply carry on trying to highlight the delights of this beautiful island from this blog and in my other writings. 

The mention of writings brings me to a proud announcement. My new novel, my sixth work of fiction and my eleventh book overall, when you count my non-fiction memoir books too, has just become 'live' on Amazon in Kindle format. The paperback will follow in spring. Here's the cover artwork...

The Amazon UK page where the book can be purchased is HERE.

If you'd like to read more about it, there's a page on my web site dedicated to the book, here. The action switches between modern-day England and the Athens of the Second World War. I have to confess to having been quite emotionally affected by the writing of this book, owing to the fact that much of the action is inspired by the true-life experience of my mother-in-law, who was the same age as the heroine in the book, Panayiota. It's a work of fiction, but is set against a series of harrowing true events. I hope you'll give it a try.

Just coming around to life here in the south of the island this past couple of weeks. The rains have broken all records for the thirteen-plus years that we've lived here. Everyone agrees that it's been what the island needs, but even me and the better half have been wishing for a couple of dry days strung together of late. The rains have come on nine out of ten days at a time recently, and have significantly curtailed what we can get done in the garden. The plus from all of this, though, is how the landscape has responded.

The anemones are abundant everywhere this year. I haven't photographed any yet, but then I have done so on numerous other occasions in past winters. The landscape this winter is verdant to the extent that some views could almost convince one that they were in the UK.

This is a grove of ancient olive trees in the hills that we regularly walk through behind the house. Never have we seen such lakes of standing water among the trees like this though. Should contribute to a good harvest this coming autumn. This past harvest has been very poor here on Rhodes, after four of five years of drought.

Not since the flash flood of quite a few years back, when our friends Gareth and Vicki (whose house stood along the banks of this river in Lardos) was flooded, have we seen such a beautiful flowing river running through Lardos village. 

If you were to walk the river bank in Pontyclun, South Wales, you could take a photo very similar to this one. yet this (and the one below) was taken from the car park on the edge of Lardos village.

Gorgeous, eh?

Yesterday, when we were out and about and stopped for a coffee in the very swish new coffee shop in Lardos Square, the Aroma I believe it's called, it was a truly gorgeous day. It reached a warm 18ºC at around 1.00pm. It was a much-appreciated respite from the rains, which are due to return again today, and last for a few days more yet. 

Ah, well, must get on with updating the web site now that the new novel's in circulation. 


Wednesday, 9 January 2019

A Record-Breaker?

As I've probably mentioned before, we have a rather nerdy habit of marking on the calendar every time it rains. Now, there's no doubt that this winter's proving to be the wettest for four or five years, and that's good. But right now it's threatening to break a few records, too.

Everybody knows that we have a few months every summer here when it doesn't rain at all. Usually, the first rains as the summer draws to a close come some time during late September, when we may get a storm. In most cases, this means a day or two of rain or showers, followed by business as usual, as in wall-to-wall sunshine again for a few weeks. Occasionally there can be quite a few storms during the last month of the tourist season, October, but of late it's been extraordinarily hot and dry during that month for several years on the trot.

Last year, the first end-of-summer rains came Sept. 27th. Then we had a shower on the 28th and 30th. The only rain we saw during the whole of October was on the 24th and 25th. It began to look like another drought year and even more serious problems with water shortages, which have plagued the island for a number of years now. November seemed to confirm this, staying very warm, with way above average temperatures up until the 17th, when the heavens finally opened. Between then and now, January 9th, we have had 30 days on which it's either rained or showered. That's about 80% up on the previous year for the same period. Folks, it's been wet.

I remember a friend telling us many years ago about how she was driven half-mad one winter before we moved here (in 2005), because it rained once for five days straight. She'd never seen the like of it, she told us. This past 16 days we've had either rain or a shower every single day. Oh, the sun's been out a few times and we've got a walk in, yes, but some time during every 24 hour period there's been precipitation. 

I remember once seeing some fascinating details about quite what the ark would have looked like, from the Biblical description. You know, the one Noah and his family built. For starters, it was not shaped like a boat. Rather, it was, in effect, a football stadium-sized chest. A giant shoe-box, if you like. After all, it didn't need to go anywhere, only simply to stay afloat. Anyway, I was wondering if you'd maybe help with getting the livestock organised, and I'll saw some timber...

To top all that, we've been getting a taste of Northern Europe's medicine temperature-wise this past few days too. The post before last mentioned about how cold it was up on the summit of Mount Attaviros on December 27th. You'd usually need to go up to that kind of altitude to really feel the cold on Rhodes during the winter months. Only occasionally do we get a cold snap that plunges the temperatures way down into single figures here at sea level, or not far above it. But this past couple of days it's been flippin' parky, I can tell you.

Yesterday we had to go into town to do some shopping, and the car temperature reading for outside was around 8 to 9ºC all day. At least it was sunny and bright, but temperatures like that are extremely rare for us during the daylight hours, thank goodness. Why, we even sat indoors for our filter coffee and bougatsa, in the café across the road from the Practiker Centre (where we spent some serious dosh afterwards).

On a positive note, I've also been banging on about a little seasonal stream that we used to cross, when walking in the olive groves and pine forests up in the hills behind the house, during the winter months. In the past it would begin flowing every winter some time in February, and continue into late April, even May. Sadly, though, it hasn't flowed at all for four winters straight, but we did that circuit the day before yesterday and, guess what, even earlier than usual...

A result!
The sun may have shone for an hour or two, but man was it chilly...

Last time I assumed an expression like that while out walking was walking in the spring in the West Country, near where I was brought up in the UK.
Oh, and if you remember the antler that the shepherd gave us, it's now proudly displayed on the front of the wood-store (which is taking a hammering at the moment). Mavkos the cat's not all that impressed with my artistic flair, though...

The cat is distinctly unimpressed with the fact that he keeps getting damp paws too.
Finally, whilst driving home from town yesterday, at around 3.00pm, I pulled over a couple of times to snap these distant shots of the impressive snowcapped Mount Attaviros. Incidentally, the authorities just today issued a travel warning about going up there, owing to the extreme cold and the likelihood of clouds coming up very quickly. A white-out is a possibility, meaning that one could quite easily plunge to one's death while trying to negotiate the three-mile climb/descent in such conditions.

OK, so an iPad isn't quite the best equipment for taking such shots, but if you click for a larger view of this and the two below, you still get some idea of the magnificence of that mountain when it's got its white cap on.

Just as a reminder: If you click for a larger view on the photos, you can then right-click that larger view to open the image in a new tab. If you then go to that image, you should get the magnifying glass curser, and then you can see it in a much more magnified view.

Ah well, I'd better go get some logs in. Don't want to leave it much longer. After all, it looks like rain.

Sunday, 6 January 2019

Staying in to Watch the Rain

A bunch of photos and some comments about them this time...

While John and Wendy were over here, we took a walk along Glystra Beach. They spend a lot of time there during the summer, but hadn't ever been during the winter. Although this winter is indeed proving to be the wettest we can remember, we still get days like this (two photos above) to enjoy the outdoors.

Walking back up the lane from a stroll down to the beach yesterday (Sat 5th), we encountered the shepherd on the lane. He was just getting the sheep into the pen for the night and was having trouble with a group of five recalcitrant lambs that were more intent on having a good time than they were on going in through the gate from the lane into the pen. He finally got them to cooperate and, as we approached, reached into the back of his pickup and drew out the antler you can see above. He knows a lot about the deer, it seems, including the fact that the adult males shed their antlers and grow new ones. He handed it to us and said, "Here, have this from me. Hang it on your wall or fence, it'll bring you luck."

Whilst we don't subscribe to such superstitions, we weren't going to be ungrateful, or indeed ungracious, so we accepted with pleasure. He then explained to us how the antlers become detached when it's time for the stag to shed them, showing us that white patch at the base, where the antler was originally attached to the animal's head.

We took the opportunity to ask him about his flock because, at the moment, they're passing our gate almost daily and the tiny lambs are a delight, especially when they 'gambol', which gives the impression that they're simply over the moon to be alive. He told us that he has about 250 ewes and, when my wife suggested that he must have at least forty baby lambs by now, he replied that no, he has about a hundred, with still more being born daily. 

The antler, by the way, will take pride of place on that slatted wooden panel on the front left of our wood-store, below.

You think we have enough logs? They're now two deep and we have still more piled on the terrace outside the front door (The 'cubbyhole' to the left in the photo is where the cat's bed and food dish reside). This is because while John was here we took off, the two of us, to chainsaw a dead tree that I've been eyeing fora couple of years now. It's a long way from anywhere and only a vehicle like John's Jeep Commander could hope to get near to it. That and the fact that some neighbours along the road wanted to get shot of a load of weathered wood that they'd had stacked in their garden for several years. The thing is, they don't have a log-burner! It took us four trips in the Commander.

This morning I took the photo above, at around 9.00am. That was coming our way! That's also why I called this post "Staying in to watch the rain." If you know the classic rock album/song where that phrase comes from, answers on a postcard please...

..Or rather, in a comment on this post!

One of the good things about the rain is the fact that our lettuce are the best they've ever been. Plus we have a (hopefully) good crop of beetroot and red onions developing too, plus there is spinach in the nearer of the two beds shown as well.