PERSONAL, UNDILUTED VIEWS FROM TOM WINNIFRITH
239 days ago
267 days ago
Right now I am in a luxury hotel organised by the Mrs for daughter Olaf's last night in Greece and for me to recover in after a ten hour road trip to drop Miss W off at Athens airport."Baywatch" has a great view, a lovely pool, ouzo is on tap, the internet works allowing Joshua to sit like a moron watching Thomas the Tank Engine without interruption and the Mrs is lolling happily. And there is no wildlife diversity to report. Not so back at the Greek Hovel. Let us start with the scorpion.
It seems to have got into the house before the windows were installed but the noise of workmen roused it and led it to its death as it tried to crawl on a rapidly drying polished concrete surface. It got stuck and mist have died an unpleasant death. George the Architect whose foot also appears in the picture has only fessed up to this incident a few dates later having removed the corpse when it was found.
Of course I knew there were loads of scorpions up in the area around the Greek Hovel. A bite would not be fatal but would be painful until treated, especially for Joshua. However, in the five years that I have been up here I have not seen a single scorpion. Until now. I guess I shall be “seeing them” everywhere now as I already “see” snakes everywhere. It is not that there are snakes everywhere but as I see shapes dancing in the shadows or in the gleam of a car headlight my imagination races away.
Next up was what caused the Mrs and Olaf to scream. we were driving back late at night from Kambos to the hovel. we had just come down Monastery Hill, the steep slope thick with wood on one side and with the abandoned convent on the other and must have been doing 20 kilometres an hour. just as we reached the bottom out it shot from the field on my left, bursting through a fence, and cantering up the back track into Kambos... a wild boar.
The Mrs screamed as it rocketed across our headlights, not more than a yard or so from the car. Olaf screamed. Joshua was just burbling on about steep hill, Gordon's Hill and carried on burbling. I braked and then drive hurriedly on. I think I was rather brave for not screaming, my father says I was a chicken for not putting my foot to the floor and bagging a week's worth of supper. Yeah dad, like you would have done that? Really?
The boar was not fully grown but it was large enough. a fully grown boar charging at your car as opposed to across it, would cause real damage. I muttered about this was why I should be allowed a gun. Olaf made some elitist comment about Trump supporters and morons. Anyhow that was also the first boar I have seen although I am sure I heard one crashing through the undergrowth around the hovel three years ago but it was at night and I declined to investigate.
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I will today book my ticket to Greece next week.I am not yet decided whether to fly direct to Kalamata and the hovel or go via Athens to shoot some videos outside Folli Follie HQ and at some of its bogus shops. I have not doorsteppoed a Greek fraud for a while. It has been too long. Back to the hovel and you can see we have two doors in the bat room: one for the eco loo and an external one. We have a window, so the room is snake proof, and a wooden ceiling. This week power points and the floor are being installed!
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My father's mother Lesbia Winnifrith (nee Cochrane) was noted for many things, not least foir me being - as are all Cochranes - a great Hellenophile. Playing rugby with the boys at the Dragon School, being pretty useful at cricket and also the undisputedly best player of mass family games of Racing Demon were some of those things I remember. There is a story from the war, involving travel from when my father, aged three, returned from evacuation in Westmoreland.
The Blitz was over and my grandparents wanted their kids back with them in London although they seem to have enjoyed their time up with the family of the cook in the far North. My father got off the train with his elder brother Charles and was met by my grandmother who was, in the reserved way of the upper classes, delighted to see them.
My father spoke by then with a clear Northern accent and is reputed to have asked "so who are you" of his mother.
Sticking with the train theme my grandmother was noted for being the most punctual woman on this planet. She never missed a train in her life apart from when she once arrived so early that she caught the train before. And that brings me to my journey from Bristol to Kalamata.
I had worried that with a flight landing at Athens at 6.50 PM and the last bust to Kalamata going from the main bus station at 9 I might just struggle to make it and would face a night in Athens. I worried needlessly. Easyjet had the plane, thanks to a strong following wind, on the stand at 6.30. I raced through passport control in minutes and my rucksack arrived after just a few minutes of waiting. The traffic was thin and my taxi got me to the bus station in time to answer a call of nature and still catch the 7.30 bus (an express not a local like the 9 O'Clock.) By 10 PM I was in Kalamata and on my way to the hotel.
Aged 49 at last I match my grandmother.
768 days ago
I have remarked many times before on Paddy Leigh Fermor's good Greek bad Greek thesis. 99% of Greeks are generous, honest, good folks. The other 1% are such complete and utter bastards that their actions serve as a stark reminder of how incredibly good their fellow countrymen are. The lying traitor of a PM, Alex Tsipras is firmly among the 1%. So too, are more than a few taxi drivers in Athens.
The Aegean flight to Athens was staffed by 99%-ers. All passengers were given a candle with a ribbon as we boarded. This was to celebrate Easter. The hostesses smiled. Not the fixed, forced and robotic grimace of a Ryanair staffer but a warm smile like they really were happy to see us and share some Easter joy with their fellow human beings. After a lovely lady handed me a pre-ordered diabetic meal as she whispered "here is your special meal," as if my condition need be kept hidden, the crew were even more kind to an ailing old man. Actually I feel greatly improved.
At Athens airport I met a 1% man.
The meter showed 50 Euro as my cab from the airport pulled up at the bus station. So I handed over a note. 5 more Euro for the toll said the driver. I have done that ride many times so know full well that tolls are not "on top". So I waved my finger and told him in "Greeklish" where to sling it. But many first time visitors to Athens will fall for what is just blatant theft. It is a bad first impression to give a visitor. It is the sort of thing that discourages a return visit. But the 1% do not care about that. They are just bastards to the core who will steal and cheat whenever they can.
But if you happen to meet such a Greek, please just smile, think of Paddy and think of the 99% who, in spite of the unforgivable misery heaped on this country by the EU, the banksters, Tsipras et al, remain the most hospitable and warmest folk on this planet.
Angela Merkel arrived at Athens the other day. At passport control she was asked "Nationality". She replied "German". The Officer continued "Occupation?" "Not this time" she replied.
Boom boom...hat tip David Scott for that one.
769 days ago
I always travel as cheaply as possible searching out the best bargains online although for Greece I try hard to fly Aegean as its service is fantastic even for we peasants in cattle class. For this flight from Copenhagen I briefly considered a real bargain from Air Serbia but an eight hour stop over at Belgrade did not appeal. Likewise even a mere 90 minutes in Istanbul as part of a dirt cheap Air Turkey offer was not something that grabbed me for a host of reasons. And so I went back to Aegean.
Oddly I found that its business class seat was 50 Euro cheaper than cattle class. Who was I to refuse. I had forgotten all about this but when printing out my boarding pass at the airport - having resisted the nickel and diming of Wake Up Hotels - the words business class jumped out at me. Wow!.
I strolled to the front of a non queue to check in my rucksack. The lady looked at a scruffy man in walking boots with a rucksack and backpack and I appreciate that I don't look like most business class passengers but she reminded me about the Aviator lounge where I now sit in comfort enjoying free coffees and rye bread for breakfast, away from the great unwashed on the concourse below.
Priority boarding awaits, Free whatever i want on the plane and my rucksack will be unloaded first. This is the life and I am saving money. Thanks be to the Lord for Greekenomics.
823 days ago
I arrived in good time at Athens bus station, aka the biggest shit hole this side of Mosul. and grabbed a cab for the airport. Within 100 yards the car was stuttering as if it was out of gas. The driver seemed unphased and just played with the gear stick as` if this was par for the course. On a dusty side street I was not too bothered but then we went onto the 4 lane motorway to the airport. He sensed my unease and asked "are you scared?" I lied and said no.
But as we kept losing speed as he tried to pull out to overtake even slower rust buckets and then stuttered as huge lorries found themselves heading up our tail my unease grew. I peered over at his fuel gauge and pointed out that it was showing empty. He said "no no its a mechanical problem" pointing to a flashing yellow light on his dashboard. That was not exactly reassuring. As I closed my eyes and held on tight to the door he asked again, several times, if I was afraid. I kept on lying.
After about thirty minutes of this hell he said "right we will get some gas" as if this would reassure me given the stated mechanical problem. So we pulled in, he got 20 Euro of gas and guess what? The gauge still showed empty.
After what seemed like a lifetime we approached the airport. There is a fixed fare for this ride which is 43 Euro. The driver asked if he could ask me a favour? Sure. He pointed at an Ikea and said "can we agree that this journey was from the Ikea to the airport?" I am aware that tax evasion is wrong but I was just so glad to arrive safely at the airport that I agreed meekly. I now discover that my flight is so late that I might as well have saved 43 Euro and a near breakdown and walked.
If the EU and IMF think they will get Greeks to give up a lifetime of tax dodging they are fooling only themselves.
831 days ago
I had this really cunning plan. And the Mrs thought it was cunning too. What could possibly go wrong? God punished me for my conceit.
The plan was to get off the bus from Ioannina not at its final destination of Athens but some 70 kilometres early at the Corinth canal service station and to catch a Kalamata bus - coming from Athens - there. 140 kilometres and maybe three hours on the road saved. Genius.
And so I got off only to be told that the next bus was in four hours. Worse still, this was the only service station in Greece with no internet. Fuck! And fuck again!
But I am a determined fellow and so started to walk towards the bridge over the canal. There will be no pictures of the 2000 metre drop down to the canal itself as I suffer severe height sickness. I have peered over that bridge once before and that is enough for one lifetime. But I did stumble upon a Goody's which is a hamburger chain whose offerings make those of MacDonalds seem like the best dish at the Ivy. What you see below is described as a 3 Euro cheeseburger and, not having eaten all day, I managed to eat it all but it was utterly disgusting. It was, however, the price for free internet.
But then two things happened. Firstly it appears that the total and utter bastard Bill Gates wanted to give me another upgrade. The result you can see below. I watched that screen for three hours.
Meanwhile some bastard decided to hold his kid's birthday party at the Goody's. FFS inflicting that on your offspring is the sort of thing that should get you reported to social services. Thus I sat there at a screen that did not change, in the one warm place going as dozens of kids screamed, blew whistles and had a great old time. When St Peter finds me wanting he will send me back to Goody's for an eternity of my PC never restarting as I am surrounded by screaming brats and am forced to eat the worst burgers on this planet.
Thank the Lord, the clock turned 8.15. The computer failed to restart but at least I could seek refuge in a warm and crowded bus to Kalamata. Needless to say it has managed to cleanse itself in minutes now that I sit in my hotel room by the sea. Damn you Bill Gates once again, my loathing for you knows no bounds.
834 days ago
Whenever I say to folks that I am off to Greece they always say "lucky you the weather will be so much nicer than in the UK". Au contraire. True, when I got to Athens airport at 4 AM (2 AM GMT) it was a balmy 9 degrees. I was so hot that i removed oone of my four layers of clothing. But as I headed North things started to change.
There was clearly snow on the mountains north of the bay of Corinth where poor Great Uncle David Cochrane fell to his death. And as we arrived at Arta I could see snow on the mountains above the plane.
When Uncle Chris called as I sat waiting at Ioannina for a change of bus, I had to explain to him about the Bridge at Arta. Poor form Mr Booker, it is famous and you call yourself a Hellenophile? Regular readers will know all about it and the emuring of the builder's daughter from this photo article here. I called the Mrs to remind her of the lunch we ate that sunny day by the bridge a few years ago when she was known as the Deluded Lefty not the Mrs.
At Ioannina there was snow on all the surrounding mountains as you can see in the photo below.
In Metsovo there is a bit of snow on the ground but not a lot as you can see.
But on the other side of the valley in the village of Anelion (without sun) where I head tomorrow there is quite a bit of snow and the fog is closing in as I hope this final photo makes clear.
In my bearcast today HERE I recount how my father was in a bus near Metsovo and the snow was so deep that it covered the poles. Did it carry on? Of course it did. My father insisted in his best Greek, Vlach and German.
849 days ago
2017 starts off, following the theme of the second half of 2016. It is another related party obituary from the rapidly thinning ranks of my father's generation. They are now the front line. I stand in the second. There is still one Great Aunt who stands in front of my father's peers but she stands alone, her line has all gone.
The gaps in the front line seem to grow larger by the day which is rather disconcerting for those in my row. It can't be too long before we too are called to head over the top and to start to charge towards the grim reaper in our final assault.
Today's obit in The Times is that of the writer Emma Tennant who was the first wife of my uncle Chris Booker. It was not a long marriage and is described in Tennant's biography in the chapter "I married a satirist" for at that time Chris was co-founding Private Eye. They honeymooned with another couple in the Mani, taking almost a day to travel from Athens to the the area where I now live, in the Greek Hovel.It now takes less than three hours if you beat the early morning traffic in Athens.
A reminder to Uncle Chris if he is reading this. I know that you turn 80 this October but we are set to climb the mountains behind the hovel this year. How about mid November?
I am lead to believe that Tennant ditched Chris for the bloke who joined them on that trip. That was the swinging sixties after all. Back in the day, folks who are, now almost in their eighties were enjoying the sexual revolution to the full. We all move on. The front row thins again. I contemplate the gaps once more.
PS My father will I am sure want it noted that he managed to avoid taking part in the swinging sixties almost completely.
905 days ago
I landed at the airport at one in the morning and was aware that the bus from the Athens coach station to Kalamata did not leave until 6.30 AM. And I remembered that the bus station was cold and among the grottiest places in town. And thus I settled in a comfortable arm chair in a coffee shop at the airport, got online and produced three articles and started to feel quite productive. But then share blogger Paul Scott started tweeting me.
Pretty soon he was blathering on about mosquitos in Greece and for some reason that goaded me into leaving the nice warm airport and heading out into the cold night. It is about 5 above zero right now. A quick taxi ride saw me at the coach station which was even more grotty than I remembered. All its shops and the ticket office were locked up and on some of the benches slept members of the homeless community. In a few places some rather dodgy looking men gathered. It was bloody cold. I pulled my hoodie tight over my head but it made little difference.
I guess I remembered it from last summer when - even at 4 AM - it was quite warm. I had forgotten how bloody cold this place was this time last year. Remind me in twelve months time that Athens bus station is fecking freezing and not a place to spend any part of the night.
After a while I moved to a set of chairs where a little old lady sat chatting to two men in their forties. The presence of the little old lady was reassuring. Pretty soon we were talking. A Cypriot who had lived in London for 53 years she spoke great English and was very keen to lert me know that she was a strong supporter of Brexit. We chatted away until just after 5 AM, 3 AM your time, when the ticket office finally opened.
Hooray. Warmth. I have now defrosted and, as a bonus, the bus station has finally moved into the 21st century and got wifi. Perfect.
At this rate I shall be in Kalamata trying to get into a hotel by 9.30 and up visiting the Greek Hovel this afternoon. But for now, I just want it on record that if I go down with pneumonia it is all the fault of Paul Scott.
991 days ago
The fifth film in this series, with the simple title Jason Bourne, has won mixed reviews but the Mrs and I really enjoyed an afternoon showing yesterday. For us, naturally, the early part of the movie shot in Greece was a hoot.
For those who do not know Bourne, he is a CIA agent from a top secret programme - Treadstone - who went off the rails and pops up every few years to find more corrupt bastards inside the CIA who want to kill him but who he kills first. Ching ching, more money for Matt Damon and come back in a few years for another installment.
Anyhow, Jason (Mr Damon) is in Greece and the film is set at the time of all the anti austerity riots in 2015. Boy those were the days with great riot porn at Syntagma Square almost 24/7. So I was enjoying that bit and recognising familiar streets and places I know well when suddenly the CIA realise that Bourne is there and start tracking him by hacking into cameras operated by the Greek rozzers across Athens. What? You have to be kidding me right?
I am sure the CIA has the technology to hack into a working surveillance network anywhere in the world. But in Greece? The idea that the Greek Rozzers would have a system that actually works is crazy. They might have bought the kit in the good times with EU cash but no-one has had the cash to replace batteries, supply power, mend broken parts for years.
Back in the 70s were were in a remote Greek village called Anelion in the Pindus mountains, with my dad trying hard to make a phone call to sort out some travel matter. My poor father just could not get through. "Dad, dad are you sure you know how the phone works" asked three annoying children. "I know full well...it doesn't" said an increasingly exasperated father. That was Greece then and now. Mr Damon should have done his homework better.
1009 days ago
I was waiting this to happen just at it did four years ago as I reported HERE. The EU has claimed that it sits at the top of the Olympic medals table with Team GB, currently second behind the US, submerged into team Evil Empire.
The EU table shows that the Evil Empire has won 223 medals at this year's Games – including 78 golds – compared to the United States' 84 and China's 51. Team GB - on 50 medals and 19 golds - disappears.
Remember that it is your taxes that funds such a pointless exercise. Do you think that in the streets of Athens they are cheering every time Team Germany gets a gold? Or that the folks in Dublin really give a flying wotsit that some chaps from Portugal have won bronze medals in the underwater synchronised volleyball?
Across Europe hard working folks pay taxes so that empty headed and overpaid wasters sitting in an office in Brussels or on a jolly in Rio can come up with this nonsense. Is it any wonder that those hard workers hate the institution in every greater numbers as each day goes by?
1156 days ago
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For most of my early December stay in Greece I was wearing a T-shirt all day although at night I needed a sweat shirt and coat as the temperatures plunged towards zero. But on the penultimate day it started to rain heavily both in Kalamata, where I was staying, and up in the village of Kambos in the foothills of the Taegessus Mountains. The photos below show what happened next.
Photo one is of an orange tree just off the main street in Kambos. As we worked in the fields picking olives in quite warm weather oranges were handed out by my friend George. They are just ripening for picking now.
The next two photos are from the Greek Hovel another 50 metres or so higher up into the Teagessus and three miles away from Kambos. Those who have seen the hovel in the summer will associate it with grass burned brown by hot sun. But, as you can see, it is now a lush green - this is the view looking back along the drive. The rains of October and November have left the place looking very much alive. The second photo shows a front lawn strewn with olive branches post harvest. Come February I shall return to burn them off.
But now look up into the mountains, into the Taegessus. What fell as rain in Kambos fell as snow higher up. Those peaks will remain snow covered until March or even into April.
Elsewhere in Greece in places such as Metsovo in the Pindus or in Pelion folks go skiing. I described driving through the snow in between Athens and the Mani in the snow last Febuary. But the Taegessus are wild and rugged. There will be no skiing.
My Uncle Chris (Booker) who turns 79 next year says that we must climb these mountains together. In the summer that means incredible heat and snakes. From now until April that means treacherous snow. I think, dear Uncle that it must be October. The heat will have lessened but it will still be warm anough. The snakes will be asleep. And there will be no snow.
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As I posted a last few photos on line I started chatting to three chaps on the table next to me in the café. Like half the folks in Athens these days they were reporters, photo journalists actually, here for the referendum. They have deadlines. They have to get up at 6 AM (4 AM your time) to capture the polls opening at 7 AM.
Me? I have no such deadlines. I comment. So I have no deadlines. You can get the photos and bland coverage anywhere. I can’t hope to trump that. I comment and observe. I don’t report.
So I can have another beer. Then snore soundly tonight and wander along to a polling station whenever I want. Whose life seems more attractive?
Signomi, ena beera
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The Mrs is to join me in Greece on Monday morning but made a bit of a boo boo when booking her outward flight. That is to say she booked it for the day after we return rather than for late Sunday night. Belatedly she realised the error and called the airline having already coughed up £380.
Luckily she had booked with the charming Greek airline Aegean who – for a small admin fee – switched the flight and wished her well.
Just imagine that she had flown with Ryanair:
Ryanair: “Hellow this is Europe’s top low cost airline how can we help you?
The Mrs: I booked a flight for £380 but I was a bit silly and booked my outward leg for the day after my return instead of for Sunday can I switch it?
Ryanair ( in a thick Polish/Lithuanian or Bulgarian accent): Of course that has is no problem. Would you like travel insurance for an extra 15 Euro?
The Mrs: No, can I just change my ticket?
Ryanair: Mat I interest you in complimentary car hire with our preferred partners?
The Mrs: No I’d just like to change my ticket
Ryanair: Europe’s lowest cost arline would be delighted to assist you, okay we have made the change, that will require an administrative charge of £370, we have debited your card automatically.
The Mrs: But…that is outrageous
Ryanair: Look, in the words of Michael O’Leary, either go fuck yourself or stay in England what do you want?
The Mrs: Okay if you can email me the new boarding card?
Ryanair: Thank you for travelling with Europe’s lowest cost airline. Your new boarding card has been emailed to you for an additional administrative charge of 5 Euro. Enjoy your Ryanair flight to Athens airport ( Volos)
The Mrs: I have never heard of Athens airport Volos, where is it in Athens?
Ryanair: It is in Volos 300 kilometres from Athens. Enjoy your flight.
1421 days ago
1423 days ago
Well that is it. The referendum in Greece is now certain to go ahead on Sunday says PM Alex Tsipras. If Greece of all nations can organise a campaign and vote in a week why can't we do the same in Briatin and spare us all the misery of a 4 week liefest that is the General Election?
But with the vote a certainty and Tsipras campaigning hard for Greeks to show pride and vote Oxi (no) I have booked all my tickets and will land at Athens airport by 9.30 AM in Friday and should be set up to start blogging by noon. I plan to spend Saturday shooting some poverty porn and polling day in and around Syntagma Square looking for riot porn and - I hope - a massive Oxi victory party.
So over the weekend there should be non stop blogging - as I promised earlier here - on ShareProphets.com
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1438 days ago
I now that this is an automatically generated email based on my past travel experiences but telling me that there are more than a few vacancies at the inns in Athens is just a bit of a statement of the bleeding obvious right now. Do you think that the folks at Booking.com actually watch the news?
1450 days ago
In March 1821 the Greek war of independence began as the folk in the Mani launched an uprising against the accursed Turks. The Mani, where the Greek Hovel is situated, was always quasi independent anyway but its warlike folk started a fire that could not be supressed. The first major triumph was the storming of the Turk held fortress at Kalamata. No Maniots died but the entire Turkish garrison was slaughtered.
Right now I sit opposite that fortress, in Kalamata bus station having just purchased one more ouzo for the road, to Athens. Tomorrow Greece will formally not pay monies owed to the IMF claiming that it will bundle the payment due then with another due on June 30th. It is now 24 hours away from being technically in default and on June 30 when it has not got a cat in hell's chance of meeting either June payment the can will have been kicked to the end of the cul de sac.
There are some that hope that Greece will compromise. I am not one of them. There are huge debt repayments due in July and August and indeed right up to 2057. Agreeing to draconian cuts in all sorts of things in returning for leaving the kids and grandkids an unsupportable level of debt repayments is no way to behave.
Greece should think of the heroic Maniots of 1821 and tell the EU and IMF where to stick it, default on its debts and leave the problems with other country's banks. Hellas can start again just as it did in the 1820s free from foreign tyranny. It will be painful just as it was in 1821 but it is the only way.
1450 days ago
The Mrs wants me back in Bristol by tomorrow afternoon and it is nice to be wanted. And so I embark on the journey back from the Greek hovel with a cunning plan given that there are only intermittent flights from Kalamata at this time of year.
First up, I have already booked a seat on the 9.45 bus from Kalamata to Athens. But that gives me four hours to kill and, being on sabbatical, I really do not have any work to do. And so I sit in a bar by the sea in Kalamata knocking back a few ouzos. Certainly enough to ensure that I fall asleep on the bus to Athens.
I arrive at c1.30 in the morning at Athens bus station which is a dump in the worst part of town and so will quickly hop into a cab to the airport where I know that I can access the internet and keep myself occupied from 2.15 AM until I check in at 7.15 AM Greek time.
Once onboard the plane I should be so shattered that I fall asleep at once, waking up at 11.15 AM GMT at Heathrow. If I am still tired then the coach to Bristol will be my next bedroom and by early afternoon I shall be back with the Mrs and the cats.
Simple eh? Ouzo is the answer to any problem.
1555 days ago
In my snowcast earlier I described my journey today to the Greek hovel. At Athens airport there were small flakes of snow but as I drove up into the mountains of the Peloponnese the snow thickened. The short video below was shot at 6 AM my time (four yours) in the dark of a service station 10 miles shy of Tripoli and only 60 miles North of Kalamata where I crashed into a hotel bed at 7.30 AM my time.
When I woke the scene below is from my window. It was cold but sunny and I worked with the window open. It was chilly enough to keep me awake but not too cold.
But as darkness fell it started getting colder. There is a howling wind and it s now just about 0 degrees outside. Up in Kambos it is a three degrees colder as it is half way to the Taygetus mountains. The sun set over the other side of the gulf is pretty spectacular.
1628 days ago
I posted videos earlier showing the dreadful weather here in Kambos. That delayed the completion of the olive harvest as did the very Greek way we settle up accounts and so my return from the Greek hovel to England has been postponed. I should now be flying first thing Wednesday which means leaving Kambos tomorrow. Taking a bus from Kalamata to Athens and sleeping at a hotel by the airport for a crack of dawn flight.
I will leave Kambos with a cheque for 1779 Euro in my pocket thanks to the olive harvest. Obtaining the cheque was a bit of a kerfuffle. I fished out my Greek tax number – I am a loyal supporter of the Greek state in its hour of need – and wandered into the olive factory. Easy…
Hmmm. There then followed a long debate about how you spell my third Christian name – Zaccheus – in Greek. I had to fetch lovely Eleni and within minutes the click of her fingers saw the problem solved: Zaxios. Hmmm. Then to Kalamata to drop off my bike with John the bike man and to Olive pressing central HQ to pick up my cheque. Tomorrow I present it at the National Bank in Kalamata and I will head back to the UK with my pockets stuffed full of Euros.
And so there is one more night in Kambos. In need of a power source I find myself sitting at the bar next to the man in the pinkpolo shirt Vangelis. His name is actually Vagelis but I cannot go back and alter all my historic errors so he remains Vangelis.
On Saturday he showed me his hands, horny handed son of toil hands, brushed tough by years of tending to olives. “An olive tree is like a beautiful woman” he said in Greek and Nikko translated. Vangelis is concerned that my olive trees might get lonely and neglected in my absence. The Mrs says that I am neglecting her and the cats looking at my olive trees. Given that she works in the public sector I am sure that there is a compromise.
Pro tem the man in the pink shirt, now wearing his olive harvesting fatigues, and I work on. And then, sans bike, I walk home one last time in the dark, preparing to wade the, now not dry, river and clamber up snake hill for the last time until....
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The Mrs has been to the Peloponnese many times to visit her in-laws but, as far as I can see, has never visited a single site of antiquity. That all changed this holiday and so on her final day we stopped off at Epidavros on the way back to Athens.
As I am sure you are aware Epidavros is an ancient Greek theatre capable of holding thousands of folk which is remarkable because wherever you sit you can hear almost a whisper on stage. The Greeks built this amazing structure when back in the UK we were still living in caves and swinging from trees. It is amazing.
To show her how it worked, the Mrs climbed up high into the upper tiers and I stood centre stage and – in what have must confused a party of Korean tourists – launched into song.
In Dublin’s fair City,
where the Girls are so Pretty
I first set my eyes on Sweet Molly Malone
As she wheeled her wheelbarrow
through streets broad and narrow
Crying Cockles and Muscles, Alive, Alive-oh
Did you hear me? I asked the Mrs as she clambered down. Yes perfectly she said. I got that bit about cockles and muscles but what town is it about and who is Molly Malone?
Saints preserve me. Such crass cultural ignorance shown by an Englishwoman to a man of Irish descent. I read that the Merseyside Police are to massively expand their hate crime units to help folks like me who feel hurt and upset by words they feel show insensitivity on matters of race and ethnicity. I guess it is my civic duty to report the Mrs at once.
1850 days ago
1850 days ago
Wandering through the streets of Athens today I happened upon a book stall set up by the side of the road. Pride of place at the top of the heap was the Greek version of one of Jamie Oliver’s works.
Youth unemployment at 65%, unemployment at 30%, massive cuts in the standard of living, corrupt politicians, German imposed austerity, the music of Nana Mouskori, Nazi Occupation in World War Two, a bitter Civil war afterwards and now Jamie. Surely it is time to say that poor Greece has suffered enough and that it does not need this one last misery heaped upon its suffering people?
1850 days ago
1850 days ago
Unless I am very much mistaken the poster below advertisers a worker’s day demonstration in Syntagma Square Athens, opposite the Parliament of Greece on May 1st. As you know I want to help the workers at every opportunity and so shall be there to show solidarity.
Of course workers would be far better off and have far more opportunity for material advancement ( i.e. higher take-home pay) if employers were encouraged to take them on by abolishing the minimum wage, scrapping employers NI, abolishing all “employment rights” laws, taking anyone on under £20,000 out of the tax system etc. But I am not sure that I will share my thoughts of anarcho-capitalism with the comrades tomorrow.
Will it be a peaceful demo? Hmmm, I sense that rioting can become a bit addictive. Once you have hurled a few smoke canisters at the old bill, it is hard to say no should the opportunity arise again. And while workers of the world may be united in their hatred of wicked capitalists (aka those who risk their own cash to create jobs) the workers in Greece also hate their own corrupt politicians, the EU, the Euro, Angela Merkel etc. with a passion and a justified one to boot. I have more than a little sympathy with them.
As such the Greek Riot Police are ready for anything. The photo below shows a stash of riot shields next to a van just around the corner from the Square.
I shall be wandering down after breakfast camera in hand to catch all the action. Roll on the riot pornography…
1851 days ago
The Mrs dropped off at the airport I venture into Athens alone for a few days of peaceful work, doorstepping Globo (GBO) and relaxation. I always stay at the same hotel but cannot for the life of me remember its name or what street it is on.
However the taxi driver dropped me off somewhere in Placa, the ghastly tourist district next to the Acropolis and I trot along streets that seem vaguely familiar, resisting the urge to buy assorted tourist tat which is sold in every shop. Like a homing pigeon it takes me just a few minutes to arrive at the hotel Adonis, a modest three star establishment but it has a hidden gem.
I haggle on price with the man and get a room for two nights for 80 Euro, a 20% discount and then just about squeeze myself and my rucksack into its tiny life. This is the first bad news for Evil Knievil, the son of a distinguished classical scholar who has himself never been to Greece. I am urging him to make a trip but fear that the lift in the hotel Adonis is er….too small for him.
The internet works, my room is quiet and cool. And so to the highlight of a day at the hotel Adonis…breakfast. Bad news again for Evil, there is no “Dublin fry up” it is all healthy rabbit food or bread, cheese and ham. And worse still the old boy would have to walk up 12 steps to the roof terrace for breakfast. But it is worth it….
As you munched your cornflakes this morning what was your view? This was mine. For the utterly ignorant among you it is the Acropolis which stands tall and proud directly ahead of me as I ate, drank coffee and – as one can do here – had a cigarette with my caffeine. This is my perfect way to start the day.
1868 days ago
In a couple of days I shall be on the road again, picking up the Mrs at Athens airport and heading off to the Mani. It is three hours to Athens, an hour to get lost in the City and then five more to the Mani. The Mrs will, no doubt bring CDs so for the last five hours it will be a mix of Nashville with the odd George Michael track (her choice not mine). But until we meet up I will listen to the radio as I love Greek pop.
The beat and some of the strains clearly have a Turkish influence (I hope no-one here is reading this) but there are also very European themes and so I am a big fan. Perhaps that is in part because I do not understand very much of what is being sung.
With English pop I know that 99% of the lyrics are inane piffle. With Greek pop I am sure that the same is true but I can kid myself that the pained lyrics are about the struggles of the War of Independence, the misery of 58% youth unemployment or the tragedy that has been joining the Euro. I know I kid myself but it makes for great listening. Sadly as I start to learn Greek the cost will be that I can no longer kid myself.
The track below from the High Queen of Greek pop Despina Vandi was one that the Mrs and I had on our wedding play list last year.
1913 days ago
2146 days ago
You may remember that last summer I spent a long while as the sole guest of a hotelier in Corfu called Spiros. I am back. He greeted me like an old friend and there was good news and bad.
The bad news is that I do not have his undivided attention. There seem to be two other rooms occupied this year. The good news concerns money. My rate per night has fallen from 35 Euro a year ago to 25 Euro this time. And as a bonus, Spiros has given up trying to quit smoking and so now buys his own rather than smoking all of mine. That is worth another Euro and a half a day.
Sitting in the pool this afternoon (all alone) I pondered the suggestions from our correspondents in the GNSH that is Stoke on Trent that after my experiences in Athens I should abandon Greece and book a holiday in the Potteries. I am assured that Stoke has a brand new bus station, is 30 degrees in the shade and has much else to commend itself. Truly it sounds like the new Athens of the North… well at least in terms of youth unemployment it probably is.
Hmmmm, shall I swap lounging the pool in 34 degree heat with an almost personal service of café frappes from Spiros for an afternoon trekking round the pottery heritage trail? It is a hard call. I promise that one day I shall go visit David and Chris in Stoke for a bit of welfare scrounger porn, but on balance for a summer break, I have to conclude that Greece more than edges it.
2146 days ago
I am now in Corfu preparing for five days of rest and writing before my deluded lefty partner arrives to whisk me off to the former socialist paradise that is Albania. I travelled here by bust from Athens – a 10 hour trip and so feel a little on the tired said as we arrived at 5 AM. Athens Bus station is a total shit hole. It is what I imagine that Stoke on Trent is like. Only hotter.
I arrived early (fleeing the clip joint) to buy my ticket and wandered into a ticket hall with a desk for each location. At that point there were four of us trying to buy tickets and I counted 11 staff manning the desks.
The Corfu counter had no-one behind it but a full ashtray (in a non-smoking building) and cup of coffee suggested that there was life somewhere. But fear not, the adjacent desk/counter marked Ioanina was manned by a fellow reading a book. After staring at the empty Corfu desk for a minute or so I asked if he could help. The man motioned that I should wait and so carried on reading his book.
After about five minutes even he got embarrassed and walked along a counter and took my booking. Fab. I presented my credit card. Big mistake. It appears that while he could help out his pal by taking a cash payment, a credit card payment was a step too far. And so I waited another ten minutes while bloke one read his book, I managed a new high score on word mole and eventually, fag in hand, the Corfu man strolled in.
He has a tough life taking bookings for three buses a day. And of course he only works one of the three daily shifts as the National Bus ticket office is open at all times as opposed to the local bus ticket office which is never open meaning you cannot catch a local bus from the bus station). So a maximum of 120 bookings divided by three equals 40 bookings (maximum) in an eight hour shift – that works out at 5 an hour (call it 15 minutes work). That is if all the buses are full ( mine was half empty).
You and I might think that a bankrupt Government would install a row of multi destination ticket machines and leave three desks ( that would be 3 by 3 staff rather than 3 by 11) manned for those too stupid to use the machines. But then we are not thinking Greek are we?
Having bought my ticket I wanted to write an article. The one power socket I found in a café did not work. So I ran down the battery and created this week’s Tomograph as the café said that it had wi-fi so I knew I could send it off to Darren to lay out. “How do I get wi-fi?” Buy a card at the shop said the lady. Off I trotted.
“But the internet here is broken” said the Lady in the shop and threw up her hands. It has been broken for ages. Who gives a damn? This is Greece. And Greece does not work.
PS The Tomograph has now been sent to Darren from Corfu and will be with you soon.
2146 days ago
One of my ideas of purgatory is spending eternity driving around the centre of Athens trying to drop a hire car off on time. Amazingly I managed just that today with no problems. With a few hours to kill I asked the nice lady at Hertz where the British war graves were and she answered in a confident fashion. My father thinks his Uncle Francis is buried here although he was killed in North Africa and so off I wandered. It goes without saying that there were no War Graves at all where she sent me but that is another matter.
About half a mile along, in a decent part of Athens a man asked me for the time. I am a nice fellow so fished out my phone and said 4.01. He seemed terribly grateful and happy to meet an Englishman. His brother runs a Greek restaurant in London and please could he give me his address for a free meal.
I did not really want a free Greek meal in London and was rather more interested in the War Grave but he was insistent so I went along ruck sack over my shoulder and entered a small bar where there was one waitress, one young lady sitting reading a book and an Old Man. My old Man said “have a beer” and promptly disappeared. Have a seat said the waitress.
I reluctantly perched on a bar stool but assured her that I did not drink. At her insistence I agreed to have a diet Pepsi. At this point the young lady wandered over and in broken English tried to engage me in conversation. Rather impatient to see the first old man again I answered in monosyllabic fashion but after less than a couple of minutes of her gazing into my eyes she asked if I would like to buy her a drink?
Even before I spotted the menu showing a diet coke at 8 Euro and anything else at 15 Euro plus I had knew that I did not want to as
a) I have a lovely partner who I am looking forward to seeing in a few days’ time (even if she is a deluded lefty)
b) I had more interest in seeing the grave of my Great Uncle
c) Whilst I am pretty confident that I could pull a 20 something bird if I wanted to I am not arrogant enough to think that I could do as things stood, given that I am dressed like a tramp, have not shaved in two days, was making no effort whatsoever and that I had only met this bird two minutes previously. I may be a tad naïve but even I smelled a rat.
d) The young lady (unlike my Bird who joins me on Friday) certainly did not pass the John Inverdale test.
e) The young lady had far too much make-up on which made me think of George Orwell's cheap hooker in 1984 although this young lady was slim and had her own teeth unlike that character. Perhaps this might not be an entirely inaccurate call when I come to think of it. But it was most unappealing.
Sensing my hesitation the waitress pushed the drinks menu towards me at which point I saw the prices and said very loudly “this is a con.” Picking up my bags I retreated rapidly repeating loudly “this is a con” several times. I am not sure if they understood my meaning but let’s face it, it was a con.
I emerged and scuttled down the road as rapidly as I could manage with a heavy rucksack on my shoulders but with my honour and my wallet intact.
It is all very well Greeks bleating on about how all the Africans and Asian immigrants have made Athens a nasty crime ridden place to live but it strikes me that Old Hellas has plenty of home grown talent in that department too.
I realise that such establishments exist everywhere but it was a rather shocking experience none the less.