As I am not poisoning frigana I leave the big iron gates at the end of the Greek Hovel open to all. It saves time for me, the builders and for any shepherd who wishes to use my land. Not that many do right now so brown is the grass.
And thus yesterday afternoon as the Mrs and I dozed on the bed of the Bat Room we were woken by very load bells and bleats, the unmistakable sound of sheep. We normally hear these sounds from the other side of the valley, up past the abandoned convent but these noises were coming from far closer than that. And so I opened the door and there was a sheep. I stepped outside and there were several dozen sheep just wandering around the house.
Herding them was not a wizened old man or crone, leaning on his or her staff but a brown dog which barked fiercely at me. I beat a quick retreat and closed the door. For another ten minutes or so I could hear sheep wandering around the house. I was encircled. I had a quick look outside the door and there was a sheep but where was the dog?
And then they were gone, the sheep and the terrifying dog had disappeared. Our brief period of having company up at the hovel was over.
I have just enjoyed a cracking lunch of beef in tomato sauce and peas at Miranda's in Kambos. Actually it is not called Miranda's any more as it has a new owner but I stick with the old name. The prices have not changed. That will be 5 Euro.
I have also downed two litres of water after pruning twenty more trees up at the hovel.
Skipping, okay I exaggerate a bit, up and down the terraces to the most snake infested long grass, in the far reaches of the hovel's lands, was tiring work in 30+ degree heat. I am shattered and must return to Kalamata soon to wash my trousers which contain ten days of sweat and blood - from when I cut my hands and arms on saw or frigana. I wipe them on my poor trousers which now feel like cardboard and carry on. Anyhow the Mrs suggests I wash them before returning home. I say suggests but it is not in an optional sort of way.
So I have pruned 240 trees and there are, perhaps, a dozen more in the furthest reaches that are un-pruned. I shall tackle them next month. I have far more trees than I thought. Four years agon on prune one it took three days and Foti the Albanian trousered 210 Euro. There are more trees now thanks to the ones that we discovered as we cleansed the frigana forest. Okay it has taken me ten stints of a couple of hours a day but it has not cost me a cent. I feel good about that.
Now its farewell to the folks in Kambos and back to the bloody UK. Next time I come here the hovel will have a roof, ceilings, more doors and windows and a bed in the snake proof bat room. And I shall therefore be staying here not in Kalamata. It is all very exciting.
I have grossly underestimated the number of olive trees that sit on the land at the Greek Hovel. Yesterday and today I upped my quota to thirty so I have now pruned 160 which is what I thought we had. I was very wrong. But i now enter what I deem the land of the snake.
The top level of the land is almost done. I have pruned almost down to the far end. That is an area which was once a frigana forest. I was blissfully unaware of what lay beyond our land so thick was the accursed thorn bush. Thanks to months of hard sweat and labour in summers gone by it is now all gone and that has unearthed new olive trees which we can now harvest.
In one or two cases the remnants of the taller frigana trees, piles of logs surround an olive tree as you can see in the bottom photo. We Gruffalo readers know what lives in the tree log house and I prune such trees extremely carefully approaching with loud footsteps and trading carefully.
On the flanks of the top land are the terraces and as you head down to the lower terraces the grass gets longer and longer as you can see below. In years gone by I have seen shapes swishing through that grass which can only be one thing. I have done some work on the terraces but more remains - I reckon ten or fifteen trees on the monastery side and thirty or more on the mountain side.
Finally there are is the rocky area on the left of the track as one approaches the hovel. It too was once a frigana forest. I was over this that I clambered with lovely Susan Shimmin of the Real Mani when I first visited the house with the Mrs and it was absolutely crawling with snakes. But again, I have cleared the frigana, it is a bit less snake friendly but I have had encounters there before. I probably holds another 20 or so trees.
The bottom line is that the total is well over 200, I must up my work rate to forty tomorrow but I enter the badlands as I do so.
Yesterday my toils were interrupted by a rather portly young man who wanted me to move my car so he could deliver cement. As he strolled over to see me and explain he said in broken English "you know there are snakes here?" What is the Greek for "Do you know bears shit in the woods?"
I am horrified by how much pruning is needed on some of our olive trees. It is as if they have not been "cleaned, as they say here, for years. But this is just one season's growth. Maybe I have Alzheimer's but I really do not remember it being this hard other than in year one when Foti the Albanian and I tackled trees that had not been pruned in eons.
Below are two "before" shots, one of a floor covered in prunings and two "after" shots of one of the trees I tackled this morning. Phew. I had said that I have 160 trees so a kind reader said "that is 16 a day" but the truth is that I do not know how many trees we have.
For one thing the number is confused by wild olive trees ( no fruit) a handful of big olive trees (used for curing and eating not oil) and a half a dozen old trees that produce nothing. In due course Nicho the Communist and I will replace the old trees and wild olive trees with trees for oil. And we will plant new trees on land now emptied of frigana and so ready to domesticate.
There are also the trees which, until I arrived, were drowning in snake rich frigana and so were ignored. I have butchered the frigana but it is still pretty wild in the far reaches of the hovel's lands and I prune nervously.
So the truth is that I have no idea how many trees there are. But i shall stick to my 20 a day and see where I get to by the time I head home. I shall reveal the results of the olive census then.
You know that I am a feminist. Child care, nappy changing, shopping, washing, cooking, I dxo more than my fair share. But there are some things that only women can do. Breast feeding for example. And there are some things we men do: snake killing, ouzo drinking and.. lighting fires. My repeated failure to burn off the olive branches and frigana I cut down last year at the Greek Hovel has thus been somewhat emasculating. And it got far worse yesterday before it got better.
After meeting George the Architect I tried again to create a bonfire. Sure, lawyers letters from Roger Lawson went up in smoke but nothing caught. I retreated to my nearest village of Kambos disheartened. On my way down snake hill I saw a roaring blaze in a field by the side of the road. That was bad but worse still was that it was being tended by its author, a fair maiden of the olive groves, a woman. FFS that really was a kick in the gonads.
Thus after lunch at Miranda's - an excellent calamari cooked in a sardine based sauce and some mountain greens boiled and doused in lemon for 7 Euro since you ask - I determined to return to the hovel for another go. Running out of Lawson's letters I started to use empty concrete sacks to set the pyre on fire. Occasionally one took but then spluttered and faltered as you can see below.
Almost despairing as the afternoon wore on and the air started to chill, I resorted to the traditional methods of using a handful of long grass to set the fire going. It was still a bit wet but there seemed hope. But hope turned to despair after several more failures. One last try thought I and picking a huge bundle of grass and adding in some twigs I set it alight and plunged it into the heart of an enormous pile of rather damp branches, twigs and dried frigana leaves.
Alleluliah! The Lord rewards those who persevere and something caught. Very soon I had a real blaze going so big that I am sure my neighbours on hills miles away must have seen it. They won't be laughing at me in Kambos anymore thought I.
As you can see below, pretty soon darkness was closing in but I wanted to stay until the fire was done. Flames reached up into the night sky. And before long I turned around to stare into a pitch black sky. I could see nothing at all, not the hovel not even my car fifteen yards away. But I worked on, not leaving until the whole pile was gone and the flames were starting to turn to embers.
I was not back to my hotel until nine O'clock. I spoke to the Mrs about how I felt that my manliness mojo had been restored and she told me that I was talking complete nonsense. But I am sure that if you are a man you know what I am talking about, don't you?
With a day to kill before flying back from Greece to what the Mrs calls home but I call Britain, there was time for one last lunch in my "home village" of Kambos. First a brief stop off at Joshua's inheritance, the Greek hovel, where a bulldozer had arrived and great progress has been made. I have photos of that, of my olives and also of my prickley pears but they can wait. For the main event, in a village whose great attraction is that nothing ever happens, was lunch in the main square.
Three of the main four tables at Miranda's were occupied. At two sat local Greeks sipping slowly at cool beers. At a third, Gary Sausage held court. He is a Brit but a permanent resident not of Kambos but of these parts. He is not really called Mr Sausage. I have no idea of his real name and I am not sure if anyone else knows either. But since he makes his living importing pork pies, British bangers and the like for those other ex-pats who - for reasons I cannot fathom - have a yearning for British food, he is Mr Gary Sausage.
The name has a naughtier sub text. Gary arrived here with his wife. In these progressive times I suppose I should make it explicitly clear that his wife was a woman. I say was because she appears to have tired of his charms and returned to Blighty. This information would surprise you as Gary Sausage is both rotund and also just extraordinarily camp. My gaydar is clearly very defective because I just assumed that he was one of life's big fat fairies. Think Christopher Biggins in shorts.
What is more, Gary Sausage always holds court when I see him in Kambos. He is always surrounded by a gaggle of British ladies who, like him, are in their sixties and have seen more than their fair share of Mediterranean sunshine and who seem to hang on his every word. Gary Sausage is the only straight man in the West to have this power over women. Anyhow he was holding Court on a large table strewn with rapidly emptying plates and bottles. Gary Sausage knows who I am, though since I have no cravings for pork pies or marmite, we have never talked.And so as the Mrs and I walked, with Joshua in his pushchair, towards the fourth table there was a fleeting acknowledgement from the great man before he refocused his attentions on his gaggle.
Miranda's was thus pretty full for a late lunch period. It was surrounded by empty plastic chairs ans empty plastic tables from the ghastly new creperie. On one of those tables sat the half French half Greek owner and her Greek father - the interlopers. They talked to themselves for they had no-one else to serve or to chat too. If someone passed by they would smile. The old man caught Joshua's eye and smiled. Joshua smiled back. That looks like a rarity.
The plain fact is that the locals are not using the creperie at all. And the last tourists have all gone, not that there was any sign that they were using it either. You do not need to be Richard Branson to see the gaping hole in the business plan going forward. And everyone in Kambos knows that.
There will come a day this Autumn when the creperie will not bother with the charade of opening its doors and laying out tables for customers who will never come. Perhaps the froggy will have another go next summer. I hope not. But pro tem the excruciating embarrassment goes on. The owner and her Dad sit there because they have to pretend they have a business and have tp keep smiling.
We all know that their fate is sealed and many of us look forward to the demise of the creperie and a return to the old order of the square being "owned" by the Kourounis taverna, Miranda's and the shop where I buy poison for frigana and get my strimmer mended. For now, however, we avoid catching a French eye, avoid having to smile back, avoid the sheer embarrassment of it all.
Gosh I am brave and show it my devotion to you dear readers. The other day I was working in the fields at the Greek Hovel in an area where the grass is long and the frigana slashing involves wading through that grass. I trod carefully and heavily as I have had wildlife diversity encounters in that area before.
And then I heard it. Well, I did not hear it, that is to say the reptile but I heard the grass moving, a couple of yards to my left. Those who have met me at investor shows will be aware that I am a little hard of hearing but in the silence of the snake-fields your average post can hear almost anything happen. And after a while your ears can, as they sometimes say in Greek, "smell" the different noises.
A lizard makes one noise in the grass as its little legs scuttle rapidly, crushing small stems but brushing very little aside with the swish of its tail. On the other hand as a snakes' body creates great ox-bow lake shapes as it speeds through the grass its powerful muscles push the blades violently this way and the other.
Emboldened by this as I drove back to the village a bit later I stopped off at the dry river and glanced at the last remnants of water in the last pool of water where I had spotted "eels" a few weeks earlier. Bravely I got out of my car and approached the stagnant waters to bring you the photo below. Clearly my reputation as a snake killer proceeded me as once again the vipers had fled. Cowards!
I was driving on the road that heads up into the mountains heading from Kalamata to Kambos. Of course it does not end in Kambos, the nearest village the Greek Hovel. Kambos is just a settlement, of no particular historical significance, beauty or importance, sitting on the road as one heads to Kardamili, the ghastly tourist fleshpot of Stoupa or the regional capital Areopolis. But Kambos is as far as I usually go.
The sun was beating down and 600 yards out of town as the road starts to climb I saw a young woman, laden down with shopping bags and gesticulating wildly. Naturally, being a gent, I stopped and she said she was trying to get back to Stoupa. I said I could take her as far as Kambos and she tried to get into the front seat.
And then she stopped. as you can see lying on my front seat was my axe and 12 inch saw. Worse still I had my frigana chopper sitting there with the shaft running into the back seat. It has a tiny leak in the tank and so the whole car stank of petrol.
In Britain in the current climate that would have seen the girl calling 101 on her cellphone and an armed response unit arriving within minutes. JK Rowling would be on twitter within half an hour, talking about how yet another white supremacist had been nabbed and how Katie Hopkins and Nigel Farage were to blame. But here in the Mani I bet many cars are kitted out thus at this time of year. The young lady clambered into the back and we started chatting.
Looking in my rear view mirror I though she polished up well and that confirmed my prejudices. She was a Greek from Stoupa and my shame is that I leapt to the conclusion that she was just another dippy millennial out shopping and now heading back to Stoupa, a cultural desert, to head out to the bars. Shame on me.
Her passion was botany and we talked flowers. She searched for rare orchids up in the high Mani. She had spent the morning talking online to a world famous Irish botanist about a plant she had discovered. Did I know of him she asked? I had not heard of him. I remarked on the flowers up at the Hovel in spring and how I photographed them,. She asked me what flowers they were.
All that I could say is that I thought they were varied, of many colours and very attractive. Who is the bloody airhead now? C'est moi. I did not dare to mention that, as Nicho the Communist and I had purged the snakefields of frigana with poison, I had wiped out most of the flowers at the same time. An airhead and a vandal to boot, I was shamed.
I think the last dripping in sweat, post frigana chopping selfie photo was not very flattering. Apparently some of you think that i have multiple chins. Au contraire. That was just the angle. I have not commented on my trouser size for a while but since we are on the subject...
There has been no change. I shifted down from 36 inches to a 34 inch pair about six weeks ago and they now feel very comfortable indeed. I am conscious as I wander into the swimming pool each evening that I still have a bit of a belly but it is not, as it once was, a vast expanse about which I feel real shame. If I breathe in you can see my ribs.
I have not weighed myself for a long while. That is no longer because id be terrified of the reading but because, as I noted the last time I was back at 32 inches and in Greece there seem to be no scales here. I suspect that my BMI is now mildly overweight but not what is termed obese. My priority has been tackling blood sugars - now back happily in range after yesterday's freak reading - not weight loss. Anyhow I hope the selfie below shows that i do not have multiple chins.
Indeed on yesterday's skype call to the Mrs, Joshua and Oakley, the first post haircut, of which more later, the Mrs - without prompting - said my face looked quite thin. That may be relative to that of Oakley but it is progress of sorts.
Meanwhile my babies are growing. The more I look the more I fear that it will be a poor olive harvest this year. For my neighbours who need the income it is bad news. For me it is a minor frustration but one that I can live with. But those olives that are there are now up from tiny balbearing size to small ballbearing size.
I am meant to test my blood sugars twice daily and be in a range of 5-7 whatever that means.Almost two months ago I was 15.3 but these days an almost zero carb, almost zero alcohol, low stress and modest daily exercise lifestyle plus five pills a day has seen me happily in "normal" territory for someone tackling type 2 diabetes, for some days. But I just tested myself and it was 9.6. WTF!
I have not has any ouzo, though I deserve it today, and have had no carbs or sugars. But I have done a two hour stint of frigana chopping up at the Greek Hovel. I am drenched in sweat and I could feel my heart beating fast. So natch, I checked on google.
Vigorous exercise can, it seems, cause a short term spike in blood sugars. And this has been my most vigorous exercise since last December's olive harvest.But it should unwind within an hour or so and long term doing exercise will cut my blood sugars. Pondering this over a most excellent lettuce salad and numerous big glasses of water at lovely Eleni's Kourounis taverna in Kambos I am resolved to take it easy this afternoon.
As I butchered the frigana earlier I found several olive trees that I had neglected to prune and a few large bushes of frigana which might be hiding a you know what. They are in an area of my land where I have had unpleasant encounters before. And thus this afternoon an hour of gentle pruning and somewhat less gentle poisoning beckons. The fight goes on.
I really do not understand this type 2 diabetes. There was I celebrating several days within a normal range of 5-7 and I woke up in the sevens. That was bad enough to prompt me into leading a very blameless day with a normal breakfast of a bit of bacon and eggs and a very modest lunch of fried zucchini. I then worked up a great sweat with hard manual labour chopping frigana at the Greek Hovel. And thus by eight PM, pre-swim my blood sugar reading had plunged to ...WTF?
It was 8.6! So I swum hard and had a glass of milk and thought I'd just lie down for ten minutes before going to a light supper. A call from the Mrs woke me up. It was 11.30 and I felt feint and groggy. My blood sugar had plunged to 6.2. At that rate it would be heading back through 5 and on the way to diabetic coma territory by the morning. I really just do not get it at all.
With the restaurants here on the very edge of town now shutting for the night I scrounged a piece of cake off the hotel and enjoyed that with my meds and another glass of milk. I do not have rhe raging thirst one suffers when the diabetes is out of control but I've sweated a lot of liquids today and I do just like milk. Anyhow I now feel really full of beans and absolutely fine. But this diabetes is a jolly confusing enemy.
I see that Diane Abbott has fessed up to being a type 2 diabetic and is using that as an excuse for her shambolic performance during the election. That a lard-bucket like Ms Abbott has developed this condition is no shock. However, I feel she does her fellow sufferers a grave dis-service in saying that the stress of six or seven interviews a day caused her condition to rage out of control so leaving her unable to answer basic questions. That is just a lie.
Her car crash interview with Sky HERE was her only interview of that day She crashed because she is thick and had not read her brief. Like many other diabetics I struggle through big stress times - the run up to Uk Investor Show - coping with this disease. I might end up pissing seven times during the night but I do not let down colleagues by failing to answer basic questions.
That my diabetes was raging out of control at the time of UK Investor was not down to stress, though it cannot have helped, but to persistent abuse of my body: not taking enough exercise, eating too much and eating the wrong things and drink. Ms Abbott needs to be honest with herself and with us in admitting the same.
Diane Abbott should take time off from politics to get her diabetes in check. And then carry on taking time off because she is just not fit for purpose as an MP. Having accused her critics of racism she is now using diabetes as a defence. It is pathetic.
To be struck by lightning at the Greek Hovel once is, perhaps, understandable but twice would look like carelessness. You may remember how, six minutes into THIS PODCAST the hovel was indeed struck but I soldiered on anyway. However, I'd rather not repeat the experience.
As I started my second session of frigana slashing up at the hovel it started to rain. To be fair, the clouds in the Taygetos mountains above me, looked a tad on the ominous side. And the weather has been all over the shop for the past 24 hours. Last night I was unable to sleep and so at 3.30 AM I opened the window in my hotel which faces out over the bay of Kalamata looking towards Koroni. That is to say the part of Greece where I go to milk goats with my wife's sister's in-laws.
I couldn't hear thunder so the lightning must have been 15 miles or more away but it was stunning. Sheet lightning lit up the clouds in the night sky and fork lightning rained down on the poor goats. For a good quarter of an hour the power of God, of nature, had me captivated. As we sit around tweeting and playing on snapchat we humans really are insignificant little creatures.
Anyway, back to the hovel. What is a bit of rain thought I. I am a Brit after all. And it was not exactly cold so I started attacking large frigana bushes with relish. Take that you Cloudtag morons, swoosh. Take that you fucking students who want to hike my taxes so you get to study sociology and basket weaving at no cost, swoosh again.
However, after about fifteen minutes there was a massive flash of lightning and about three seconds later I heard thunder. I did my schoolboy maths and decided that a kilometre away was just a bit too close for comfort. Did I really want to carry on waving the five foot metal pole, that is my frigana cutter, in the air? As a bonus this metal pole has a full tank of two-stroke at its end.
You may think that I am a bit rash now and again but I am not that rash. I retreated to my car as quickly as I could carrying the pole not on my shoulders but as close to the ground as possible. On the way a foot long pea green lizard scuttled across my path seeking shelter for by this time it was tipping it down. A wildlife diversity sighting is normally my cue that God is telling me to stop work in the snake-fields as you never know what the next piece of wildlife diversity you will encounter will be.
As I drove back towards the village the rain really was pelting down. On snake hill there were already rivulets forming. Snake hill got its name for a good reason so I did not leave my car in taking the photo below.
As for the last pond in the dry river? It is filling up happily. Good news for the "eels." Such is the localised nature of weather here that by the time I was back in Kalamata the roads were dry, the sun was shining and there was not a drop of rain. Kambos may be only twenty minutes drive away but as you head up into the mountains things can change very quickly indeed.
Two years ago I would do four or five 45 minute frigana slashing sessions a day at the Greek Hovel. Somehow I forgot how I needed a good break between each one as both myself and my machine cooled down. I also forgot that I built up to that level of work over three months. And so heading up there today I convinced myself that I would do a good two hours before a lettuce salad lunch at the Kourounis taverna. Yeah right.
I was fairly amazed that my machine, which has lain gathering dust for a year worked at all. But I got it started in no time and strode off into the snakefields with the building team trying, not terribly hard, to hide their smiles as I wandered to the far edges of the property. I should be fitter than i was two years ago but I had forgotten just how hard work it is slashing away at the larger bushes and also just how heavy a chopper with a full tank of 2-stroke actually is.
After 25 minutes i was delighted to get a phone call, cut the power and lifted my mobile to my ear. My hand shook like I had some sort of degenerative disease.That was the result of controlling hard vibrations for less than half an hour. Manfully I continued and as you can see below, some big bushes have bitten the dust.
But after three quarters of an hour I was hurting badly. I was also sweating profusely which I hope you can see in the selfie I took. The Olympiakos baseball cap is about the only thing of any use left in the hovel by the previous owner vile Athena. Now enjoying that lettuce salad my right arm which carries the full weight of the chopper is aching. But the day is still young. One more session awaits before I head back to Kalamata and, if the rain holds off, a relaxing swim. This is the life...
As I have noted many times, killing frigana is very therapeutic. To date this year, the weapon of choice has been poison and as you can see below, that has worked in places to very good effect. This is a patch I sprayed about a week ago and it is already on its way out. Leaves that were a shiny green are now visibly browning and pretty soon this whole patch will be a golden brown. But sadly that is not the whole story.
As I continued pruning my olive trees on Saturday I headed to the furthest points of our lands. I would say that it is almost 1,000 yards from the front gate to the point where a wire fence marks a patch that was pure jungle from an isolate place where someone, I know not who, keeps a few chickens and sheep. I did not actually know about this enclosure until a year after we bought the hovel so dense was the frigana at the far end of the land.
I always view the fight against the frigana as some sort of military conflict. The massed ranks of the enemy have largely been destroyed. But as you can see, a few large bushes remain. And in some places it is a bit more than a few. They ave held out against Nicho the Communist's spraying. Maybe some of the upper leaves are now golden brown but most of the square, I guess I now think of a British formation in the Napoleonic wars, has held firm. As Lady Thatcher once said, There Is No Alternative. TINA.
Tomorrow I must try to hope that my frigana cutting machine with its three pointed blade of death is in working order and I must wade in. The plan is to slash the bushes down to and including the roots and to revisit in August. At that point, I move forward from 1815 to 1916 and will, if needed poison again should new small green shoots be coming through.
Tom Winnifrith vs the frigana. This is not a battle this is a war. And we are now into the fourth summer campaign. Victory is in sight, onwards and upwards.
Amid a general feeling of despondenc and uncertainty, the one constant joy is my blood sugar levels as I tackle type 2 diabetes. It is eleven days since I got back to Greece and I continue my regime of moderate exercise and avoiding booze and carbohydrates at all cost. Well almost.
I must admit that as I stayed up on Thursday night to watch the election I had a couple of glasses of white wine. I thought it would be one celebratory drink. It ended up as two to numb the pain. The odd thing was, that having been off the booze for a while, I did not really enjoy them. And as I struggled on Friday with lack of sleep, I was aware that even a modest amount of alcohol had made that feeling worse.
But I am back on the straight and narrow now. As a recap my blood sugars were 15.3 when my GP read the riot act to me. They got down to a stead 8 on my first trip to Greece before the visit of the wife's family. They were high 10s as I started again. I have now had six readings on the trot in the 7s. This is not a rogue poll. It is a steady trend.
Okay i am on heavy medication but the target range of 5-7 is very much in sight. My trousers feel looser and the symptoms, which a Gentleman dos not discuss in public, have almost entirely disappeared.
I know that I have a good few sessions left to complete my olive pruning and frigana poisoning up at the Greek hovel. By the time I head back to the UK in a couple of weeks to see my GP I have every hope that I will be in an acceptable range. The battle then is staying there.
What a delight it was to be among the olive trees yesterday. the first treat was to go an investigate two new trees that no-one has seen for years. They were enclosed in a patch of dense frigana bushes with some large frigana trees there for good measure. Previous owner vile Athena had chucked a stack of wire into this mess meaning that I have never been able to tackle it with my strimmer. It was too dense to poison and anyhow I was convinced it was home to numerous snakes so I gave it a wide berth.
I was a bit nervous of treading over the logs but ventured in anyway and gave both trees their first prune in years. What a treat for them and for me.
The other big news is that my babies, the olives themselves are emerging. as you can see they are tiny right now, about the size of a very small ball-bearing but they are there. I fear that it will not be a great crop but the annual delight of seeing your first olives is a delight none the less. that is it for me for today, it is off to the hovel for more pruning.
The snake patio is not to be confused with the snake veranda. The latter was the flat surface on the (illegally constructed) concrete roof above the rat room. It was surrounded by (illegally constructed) concrete blocks which have now gone. We did meet a snake there on our second visit to the hovel hence the name. It was where i killed an adder a few weeks ago.
The snake patio is in front of the house as you approach it. Laid on a concrete slab the former owner, vile Athena, had laid a series of tiles. But the roots from the oak tree (now cut down) broke through and the surface was thus cracked and uneven. Frigana flourished in the cracks as did the wildlife diversity. I never actually encountered a snake there but it is a slam dunk certainty that they visited. But like the tree and the concrete blocks the snake patio has been demolished. as you can see below
In time there will be a new patio there with a wooden construct above it on which a vine will be trailed. Our patio will be made of rough local stones so it will not be even but it will be in keeping with a 100 year old property. In the shade of the vine I will put up a large wooden table for lunch.
Also disappearing is the stairway up to the front door. In my old unhealthy days I used to sit on those steps enjoying a cigarette and the complete calm and quiet. I rather liked the steps. They too were topped with concrete but it was so old and weathered that it almost blended in. But the steps have had to be partially removed to allow the injection of concrete into the main structure to ensure that it meets the standards required to withstand earthquakes. They happen in this region every few decades and so it seems a sensible enough move.
If you look inside the hole created you can see the old stone-work of the main house which really is very attractive. The new stairs will be built of the same stone with no concrete topping.
The Greek Albanian team of workmen have dug all around the house to expose more original stone and allow the concrete injection. This shot is of the back of the house. For now this is an external wall. But the intent is to add a whole new wing along this side of the house, doubling the overall floor space and making this wall an internal one.
Supper last night was grilled octopus and boiled mountain greens. That dish is, as far as I can work out, a cross between spinach and weeds. But with a drowning of lemon it is actually rather nice. I turned down bread and felt virtuous because my pre-supper reading has been 9.7 and I was not going to let it slip.
As a reminder I started before my first campaign against the diabetes at 15.3 ( off the scale) and my target is sub 7. Back below 10 was a landmark. This morning, pre breakfast, my reading is in at 8.9. yes that is EIGHT point fucking NINE! Today: frigana poisoning and olive pruning at the Greek hovel, a swim - target is sub eight by next weekend.
It may sound silly but I find that killing frigana - the horrid thorn bush in which snakes hide - is really the most relaxing thing that I can do. Whether it be with poison or with my strimmer I become the grim reaper and could not be happier.
Today "Death" was armed with a brand new 16 litre spraying kit. One measure of poison from my 5 litre can (also pictured) for nine of water and off I went. The lever on the side must be flexed in order to build up pressure and then you spray away. Oh what joy.
The strimmer brings the satisfaction of causing instant decapitation but the bloody plants just grow again. Poison takes a while but after ten days what was sprayed today will be a golden brown and on its last legs.
Three years ago I used a strimmer only as the frigana was anywhere between waist height and my height and had to be slashed back carefully because of what might be lurking inside. But three years of slashing, burning and poisoning have left the 16,000 square metres of land at the hovel a very different place. And that in itself brings a sense of fulfilment. I have, with my own hands, turned a wildlife diverse jungle into land which can be farmed for olives and - longer term - for vegetables. It is land across which one can wander with clear sight of whatever wildlife diversity may be ahead of you, the diversity has nowhere to hide.
These days there are whole patches that are frigana free. The plants that have grown back are mostly knee high. The industrial spraying by Nicho the Communist a month ago missed out a few areas entirely and the odd plant or row of plants elsewhere. So I am really just adding the finishing touches. Across our lands most plans are now golden brown, dead or dying.
The only concern I have as I spray away is snakes so I tread carefully. But standing on a snake free spot, wearing an Olympiakos baseball cap left at the Greek hovel by the former owner vile Athena, I can then just spray away in pure joy. As the liquid falls on each plant i think of some Bulletin Board moron or share poltroon who has accused me of theft, tax evasion, child abuse, murder or whatever. I compare the frigana plants to the stockmarket villains I hunt in my day job. Maybe my poison is as weak as UK financial regulators in that just when you think a villain is nailed slam dunk or a frigana plant is drowning in poison and doomed, it goes away for a while but then comes back a year later to annoy you once again.
I am not sure if I am winning the battle against stockmarket fraud but who cares? Two hours of poisoning the frigana sees me dripping in sweat but thoroughly fulfilled. In ten days I will be able to witness the tangible fruits of my labour. And there will be a tangible win. Tomorrow I can tackle a whole new swathe of frigana. I can feel my blood pressure falling already. This is the life.
The plants the Mrs and I have planted in our back garden have almost all suffered death by cat defecation. That is to say my fat, though no longer morbidly obese, three legged cat Oakley hads shat them into oblivion. And so during my brief UK visit I have led a drive to re-plant. To complete that task the Mrs, Joshua and I headed to a garden centre here in Bristol today. Before stopping to pick up a few herbs (me0 and some flowers (the Mrs) we sat enjoying an expensive coffee and watched the masses head by.
I could not help but reflect about how in two days time I shall be sitting in the Kourounis Taverna in Kambos, the nearest village to the Greek Hovel, enjoying a coffee at half the price and looking at folks wander in an out of our own garden centre run by Vangelis.
Here in Bristol there is no need for shelves of poison for your frigana or snake repellent or hard tools small farmers use for clearing ground or for some part of the process of caring for, nurturing and harvesting the olives. That is what dominates the shop in Kambos, it is a place for folks doing a real job.
Of course it has plants too which one can buy. But they are mainly vegetables or herbs. There is no money or need in Kambos for vast arrays of colourful weeds, oops I meant flowers. Here in suburbia there were any number of colourful weeds to choose from.
There were even little olive trees for sale at thrice or four times the price of a sapling back in Kambos. Of course the British trees will never generate an economic return, they are mere ornaments. If I told my friends in Kambos that my neighbours in Bristol will pay 30 Euro for an olive tree that would never create oil they would think folks here were very strange indeed. They would be right of course.
The garden centre in Bristol was packed. I guess it is what baby boomers do on a bank holiday weekend in Suburbia. There were probably more folks in that centre during the course of this morning than live in Kambos, and all the British suburbians just buzzed about, picking up things, lining up to hand over more cash than they should really be spending and then crawling home through the traffic with cars laden up with things that are not really needed.
And this is meant to be relaxing? Whatever. I shall be back in Kambos by Tuesday lunchtime.
At the Greek Hovel, about half way along our land on top of the hill, there is an old ruined house. It was almost entirely covered by frigana but over four years I have cut and poisoned that away. As I have have done that I have repeatedly heard rustlings inside. Last year as I ventured in a snake made a clear exit in the other direction. I saw not the snake but the snake shape curving its way through the long grass. In a way that was more frightening.
But now tthe snake house is being pulled down. The stones are needed to extend and rebuild the main hovel. As you can see, work is progressing well. he backdrop of the Taygetos mountains behind us is, I hope you agree, spectacular
I am back in Kambos and at the Greek Hovel. It is 29 degrees, the world is at peace and I wonder why anyone would choose to be anywhere else on God's planet. Before any more spiritual reflections it was time to inspect the handiwork of Nicho the Communist who has had two sessions poisoning the frigana and anything else which might get in the way of olive oil production.
One session was exactly a week ago. The second four days ago. It takes about two weeks for the poison to kill the plants, to turn them from a bright green to a golden brown. And so below are two sets of frigana bushes. One was sprayed by Nicho a week ago, one four days ago. can you spot the difference? Across the land green is turning brown. Good news.
My friend Nicho did not charge for his labours but as you know he is, like the late Charles Kennedy a "moderate drinker" and thus, as he ambled into the Kourounis taverna I brought him a gift which I am sure he will enjoy.
There was i just dozing off gently as the "Cathedrals Express," which I had caught at Moreton in the Marsh, pulled slowly past Didcot. Then my phone rang. It was a Greek number but not one that I recognised. It was Nicho the Communist on a land line.
So you are in England, he said. I replied that I was. He was calling to say thart he and "The Albanian" were returning to the Greek Hovel this afternoon to finish the frigana poisoning. Thank you very much I said in Greek. We will meet this weekend to sort out a second payment for the Albanian and for me to hand over his favoured currency, whiskey.
The job is done, even without my assistance. In less then ten days what were green fields dotted with green frigana will be a golden brown. And we can start plotting where to plant our new olive trees.
In Kambos, Avrio may not always be tomorrow but it always comes in the end.
I arrived at the Greek Hovel at 9 AM sharp for the delayed day two of the frigana poisoning. I parked outside the gates. I could not be bothered to open them, close them and almost certainly have to open and close them again when my comrade in Labour, Nicho the Communist turned up. For I had a feeling that once again he would not. Yesterday it was God's fault...
Three quarters of an hour spent watching lizards outside the car window was anough for me. I reversed and headed back along the three mile track to Kambos. I passed Nicho's car and his truck parked outside his house and headed to the Kourounis taverna. Lovely Eleni tried calling Nicho but there was no answer.
Lovely Eleni confirmed that Nicho had, as I had suspected, been on the whiskey last night. If there is a a Y in the day it means that it is a "Yamas" day. The suggestion was that he had kept going to 5 AM. In which case his lie in, is understandable. When will we complete our work? Avrio. Avrio.
I arrived at the Greek Hovel bang on time at 9 AM for day two of the frigana poisoning. Not to my great surprise, Nicho the Communist and The Albanian were nowhere to be seen. I sat there watching lizards for three quarters of an hour. I am not sure whether the large number of lizards around the hovel is a good thing or a bad thing. On the one hand, I am pretty sure that my old saying "where there are lizards there are snakes" is valid. The conditions are perfect for all sorts of wildlife diversity. But on the other hand, lizards are not daft.
Lizards eat moths and insects and snakes eat pretty much anything but they are very partial to a spot of lizard. So if the lizards are everywhere around the hovel perhaps that is because my snake repellent cans are working and they have identified it as a safe space? I know what I hope for but I am not sure where the truth lies. Anyhow, they are gorgeous little creatures. Some are a pure pea green, others are a mixture of green, yellow and black. The smallest are a couple of inches long but I have seen peak green monsters of a foot and a half in the past. They all scuttle along always looking around for both things to eat and for er...danger. I like watching lizards.
But there is a limit to my appetite for lizard watching and so in due course I drove out of the hovel, stopping to shut the creaking gates, and headed off to a packed Kourounis taverna in Kambos. The one notable absentee was Nicho the Communist and it soon emerged that he had, last night, been, once again, celebrating International Worker's Day ahead of time. Assisted by the usual suspects it appears that three bottles of whiskey had been downed and it was suggested that Nicho might be having a bit of a lie in. I left my number with lovely Eleni - whose wealth must be boosted materially by Nicho's celebrations - and about an hour later, shortly after I arrived back in Kalamata, I received a call.
I asked if Nicho was feeling a bit tired after last night and he agreed that he was. But that was not the reason for the postponement of the poisoning. "It's the air - the air is wrong - if the air is good we will do it tomorrow" said my Comrade. I accepted him at his word but rather suspected that the whiskey was the real cause of the postponement. I saw nothing wrong with the air, it was a lovely sunny morning.
But, as it happens, I sit here mid afternoon in my hotel looking up at the Taygetos mountains which form the spine of the Mani peninsular and they are clouded in a thick fog. In fact I cannot actually see the mountains at all. It is almost certainly raining heavily up at the Hovel and so Nicho's excuse was valid. There is no point in spraying the frigana if the rain washes it off just a few hours later. You need a clear 24 hours of hot dry weather for all the poison to be sucked down into the roots.
So it was God not the whiskey that postponed the final bit of poisoning.
You may remember that George the Architect is a little nervous about chopping down non olive trees which the forestry survey may have identified at the Greek Hovel. On the other hand Nicho the Communist regards these snake shelters as an obstruction to the basic human right of every Greek to plant as many olive trees as possible on his land. I am with Nicho.
And thus while on day one of the poisoning Nicho started work dealing with the frigana -as you can see here - The Albanian was sent off with a chainsaw to deal with one of the five trees that we have earmarked for removal.
Sod elf n safey, this is Greece. The little chap just set to work clambering up the tree and taking at apart branch by branch as you can see below. In fifteen minutes the tree was an ex tree and Nicho had another place to plant an olive tree this Autumn.
I must take The Albanian, said Nicho. Great he has hired an Albanian. I felt much happier. No offence but Nicho is getting on a bit and when it comes to hard work here in Greece you can't beat an Albanian. Moreover, since my status has been elevated to that of snake killer, I have sensed a diminution of the previous bravado of my friend when it comes to serpents. I rather feared that if we encountered one he would join me in flight. Say what you like about the Albanians but they are as hard as nails. They will kill snakes with their bare hands.
And thus I set off in my car, Nicho followed behind in a battered truck with the young Albanian, who greeted me like an old friend "Hello Thomas", sitting beside him. That, it turned out, was the full extent of his English but in Nicho we had an able translater. He is the best English speaker in Kambos, not that there is much competition for that title. For what it is worth I like it that way. Coastal villages might lose their character. Kambos stays resolutely Greek.
When I go poisoning by myself I use a 5 litre bottle which is jolly heavy. But what i was about to witness was industrial scale poisoning. It was genocide. No other word is appropriate for the slaughter which was set to unfold. Nicho drove his truck past the hovel, past the ruin where a snake lives to the far end of the fields. I have never seen that done before and as he squeezed past rocks and over stones the truck became that bit more battered.
As you can see the truck contained a cylinder into which we added 20 litres of poison to the 380 litres of water it contained. I saw we, of course I mean Nicho and the Albanian. The Albanian started a motor and a long hose was unwound and Nicho started spraying. It was not just the frigana but all sorts of bushes and flowers. Everything in fact. The poison does not harm olives trees and of course the trees were spared but everything else got the treatment.
After a while Nicho handed the hose to the Albanian. "I am old" he said. "The Albanian is young and faster." I thought both were frighteningly efficient. My role was limited to helping pick up the hose when it snagged on a rock or a plant but three hours traipsing around the hovel was enough to leave me feeling pretty drained. I thought about trying to explain about diabetes and blood sugars and the dangers of them falling too low but thought that this might be lost in translation and just be seen as a sign of being pathetic. So i soldiered on but celebrated greatly when the 400 litre tank ran out.
We start again tomorrow at 9 AM. The job is 80% done. Nicho assures me that the snakes hate the smell of poison and will flee. And also that within ten days everything sprayed will be dead. We will have another session to finish off anything we missed in a couple of weeks but the land will then be clear and so we can mark out cleared spots for planting new trees in October. And the snakes can bugger off to plague my neighbours. What's not to like?
I handed the Albanian some Euros but Nicho refused to take payment. I mentioned bottles of whiskey and that seemed to meet with his approval.
I had agreed to meet Nicho the Communist at 9 AM sharp to poison the frigana at the Greek Hovel. Lovely Eleni had promised to keep him sober on the Friday and although I tarried a bit over my breakfast coffee I arrived at the track leading to the Greek Hovel by 9 AM and was at the house by seven minutes past. No Nicho. Perhaps he was celebrating International Labour Day early with some breakfast tsipero? I contented myself with some gentle olive tree pruning.
Two or three years ago that would have exhausted me but i worked at a good pace for half an hour or more, saw no snakes, but at 9.45 AM really did start to wonder where my friend had got to. I had grave fears that lovely Eleni had not managed to keep him under control last night. There was nothing for it, I started to drive along the long and winding track and road back to the village of Kambos.
I passed the village simpleton, well one of a few, who was wandering through the olive groves with no apparent purpose. I waved, he raised his hand weakly. I passed an aged old crone, with an arched back where black from headscarf to toe. She was aged indeed. her face looked like an old olive tree, lined and wrinkled and with boils where the tree has knots. She was wandering up the mountain as 80 year old crones do here collecting herbs. I got stuck as a shepherdess and her flock marched along the road. But after quarter of an hour I was sitting with a coffee in the Kourounis taverna in the heart of Kambos.
Sure enough in wandered Nicho the Communist. to his credit ( or rather that of Eleni) he did not appear in the slightest bit hungover. He explained he has a problem with his car. He is taking it to the petrol station where he and Spiros, the owner of the garage which is also where the post for outlying houses such as mine is left, will mend it. In half an hour he will be pack and the poisoning can begin.
My strips for my English meter should have arrived by Fedex yesterday. They have not. And so i am still on the Greek meter where my readings are all over the shop. Overall the trend seems down and yesterday post run I scored a reading of 106 which I gather is 5.9 in proper money. Okay vigorous exercise really spoofs the meter but three weeks ago I could have run a marathon and still not got anywhere near that level. Okay that is a lie.
Yesterday i managed 3.1 km in 26 minutes. A new post diabetic personal best but still a bit short of a marathon. And i was a sweaty wreck. Today it will be 3.3km in 27 minutes and I am jolly proud of myself. that pride was a bit punctured by a late night call from soon to be 16 year old daughter Olaf who claims to be able to do 5 km in 25 minutes. "But well done daddy you are starting from a different base" she opined. Patronising little witch. I will show her.
That was not the extent of my exercise. I headed up to Kambos to pick up my poison for a weekend of frigana poisoning with Nicho the Communist. 80 Euro saw me get a massive plastic bottle which weighed a tom. well not quite but it was frigging heavy and I had to put it down several times as I walked back to my car. Lovely Eleni and her husband Nicho (not a communist as far as I know) laughed as they saw me and at that point Nicho the Communist wandered up. So you two are poisoning tomorrow said Eleni and laughed even more. There seemed some doubt as to whether Nicho the Communist would be sober enough to do it but he assured me that he would. 9 AM sharp on Saturday. We will be poisoning hard all weekend.
As I lugged the massive container to my car I walked past three little old ladies dressed in black who just sit around all day. I could hear them chatting. The Englishman from Toumbia is a phrase I recognise. A truck went by with two young workers from the village olive press. They shouted out "Hi Tom" and seemed to be laughing as well. Another lady hooted. I sense that the nicho The Communist/Tom frigana poisoning the snake fields story is all round Kambos and is seen as a potential source of merriment for all.
Olaf and I discussed how I know more folks in Kambos than I do in Bristol. It is true. Other than a couple of folks from the Conservative Club and our neighbours on one side I know no-one other than my wife's mad left wing friends in Bristol. I have more conversations in a tiny Greek village with 536 people - of whom three speak some sort of English - in a day than i do in a week in Bristol. and I live a healthier lifestyle. And its 27 degrees. What is not to like?
I ended the day with a spot of olive pruning at the hovel. The trees are now enjoying their fourth prune with me after years of neglect so they need less and less "cleaning". It is so quiet up there. There was a flock of sheep but they wandered away so it was just me. In a way that is wonderful. The downside is that even a deaf old man like me can hear the smallest twig crack or leaf rustle. And as I hear such sounds, a voice in my head immediately shouts out "snake." I look around. There is nothing visible. I tread even more carefully. After a while I decided that was enough snake panicking for the day and headed off. But three bouts of exercise fuelled by a bowl of raw oats and two salads, is not bad for a man with type 2 diabtes is it?
One day I shall go into all the symptoms although a Gentleman probably should not. But suffice to say they are all in retreat if not gone altogether.
I arranged to meet architects George and Sofia at the Greek Hovel at 11 AM. I arrived twenty minutes late but no-one was there. This is Greece so eleven sharp means any time before twelve and at about twenty to twelve my friends arrived. They brought with them the head builder, an ethnic Greek from Albania, so a man my father will approve of big time. I got down to the main point quickly. I showed them the snake I had killed and asked the builder how he felt about snakes. "I kill them with my bare hands" he said. I like him a lot and said that "you can have the next one."
I sense that town dwelling George and Sofia are not, like me and the builder, brave snake killers and they trod carefully and nervously as they inspected the property. The good news is that after three years one permit has come through. That is to say the permit to demolish the illegally added concrete blocks and bricks put up without any permit at all by Athena, the slippery former owner. That permit will also allow us to start digging out the rock floor of the bat room, into which I have not yet dared to venture, to unpick some bad external plastering and to cut down the giant oak tree whose roots threaten the bat room.
There are one or two other trees which the forestry survey may or may not have noted but which might accidentally get cut down by mistake over the next few weeks as well including a clutch of giant friganas which are entangled with wire netting and where, I am sure, many snakes live. We will start work as a crew on May 5 when I return from a brief visit to England but I will work alone until then. Although the giant frigana and wire snake nest is a treat I will leave to my new friend the builder.
The actual building permit is still "in process." It is now expected to arrive in late May. Once again I asked if we might consider bribery but George assured me that he would not know how to do that and he is sure there is no bribery in the building permit department. I was only kidding as I know that this is not a country where such practices occur. Next to arrive was the man who will provide stones and cement. All was going swimmingly until the group of four worked out that one or two of the roads and tracks needed widening to allow big lorries to access the Hovel. This will require lovely Eleni to allow George to chop a few branches off some of her olive trees and my eccentric neighbour Charon - who harvests a neighbouring grove - to allow us to concrete over a few of his rocks. In a normal world this would be easy. But this is Greece. I imagine the conversation:
G: We would like to concrete over five of your useless rocks of no value, is that a problem? C: But these rocks have been in my family for hundreds of years...it would be like selling my mother G: But until last year they were covered in frigana and they have no value whatsoever? C: You are insulting my dead mother...reaches for gun G: Would 500 Euro ease your suffering C: For my dead mother how dare you...shall we say 1000 Euro?
Rather George than me. Lovely Eleni seems a bit more relaxed about losing a few branches. She did ask how many but i said not very many. But then I mentioned that it was to build a swimming pool which she and her family would be free to use at all times. Her eyes lit up. I think that conversation might be rather less challenging for George.
Arriving back at the Greek Hovel I am always terrified as to what forms of wildlife diversity have camped out there while I have been away. I turn up whatever crap music I can pick up on a car radio here in the lower levels of the mountains, open the car windows and try to warn all of God's creations that I am back and they should flee. Of course they know that I am not a hard Greek or Albanian who will kill them all but a total wuss so nothing flees.
The grass is still green and one cannot but be amazed at the flowers that cover our land: yellows, blues, purples, whites, reds - truly it is wonderful way to be greeted. And gazing at the flowers delays the moment when - carrying a big stick I open the doors to see what has entered the hovel since I left.
In the only semi habitable room there appeared to be nothing living. Perhaps my defences, taping up all the holes and then filling them with liquid cement, have actually worked? Or perhaps something was hiding under a mattress. I grabbed my fishing rod and did not bother to investigate. But my hand axe and small saw which I needed for olive pruning were not in the main room. I must have left them in the rat room below. I said "bugger" several times, not that any man was listening.
The rat room is also my wood store and God only knows what has decided to make a pile of dried olive and frigana logs its winter home. Sure it is protected by a ring of snake repelling sulphur but, as I have discovered in the past, some snakes do not know that they should not cross sulphur. As for scorpions or rats it is no deterrent. And so I poked my head around the corner nervously and sadly noted that my tools were hanging on the far side of a room named after its inhabitants when I first cleared it out.
In walked in carefully. Flap! flap! flap! Not rats but bats - as you can see below. FFS don't they know that the bat room is on the other side of the hovel, this is the rat room. Actually bats are good guys. Down here in the Mani they do not carry rabies and they eat mosquitoes so I should like them. But after all those Hammer House of Horrors movies of the 1970s you cannot but help think that they might turn into Lord Howard of Quindell. Despite this I do not fear them.
All God's creatures have a purpose. Even snakes are good, in a way, in that they eat rats which I really do dislike with a passion. I have nightmares about rats entering the Hovel and me waking up with one looking down menacingly at my face. But then I have even worse nightmares about finding a snake slithering up towards me. So it is hard to think of snakes in a positive light. The snake sinned in Eden and thus God decided that it would be hated and despised for eternity and who am I to argue with God?
But back to the bats, I left them in peace. Today I must retrieve my pick axe from the rat room, or the spare bat room as it now is, as I start to knock down the illegally contsructed additions to the snake veranda, the area above the rat room. If the only wildlife diversity I encounter is some more bats I would call that a result.
Finally, since I know all Brits are obsessed by the weather, it is a hot 30 degrees today. But yesterday was far cooler as the storm clouds gathered on the Taygettos mountains above the hovel.
George gathered a bunch of grass a few twigs and then, as you can see, within a few minutes there was a roaring blaze of the olive branches we had cut as part of the harvest before Christmas.
We moved quickly on to one of the terraces on the Mountain side of the hovel. Again within minutes the fire was blazing away.
George's Mrs then arrived and she too was a natural pyromaniac. I having failed so miserably myself I could but watch and throw branches from the terrace above where the fires were running to the fires below.
For George and his Mrs this was about setting fires to burn the branches. My hope with every fire was that it would also "take out" some of the live frigana plants which were once again growing despite three season of cutting and poisoning by myself. I think George sensed this but it was not his agenda.
After a while I decided to start a fire myself, feeling that having watched the master I could do it. I chose a spot where there were a stack of branches nearby and also lost of green frigana poking through the golden leaves of its brethren which I chopped last year. As you can see I too am a pryomaniac. But George wagged his finger. Apparently my blaze was too close to an olive tree and the fact that it was pursuing a scorched earth policy against the frigana was of no interest to me. that fire was left to burn out. But, sod the olives, I reckon that I did some damage against the real enemy!
Later a couple of fires started to move up the slopes away from the original inferno to take out reasonable chunks of young frigana. I thought happy thoughts. George cut a branch off a tree and beat it out. I am just not thinking Greek, thinking of making lift happy for the olive trees. Instead I think of my enemy the frigana.
In two months I shall be back at the hovel near the village of Kambos. My main job is rebuilding it. A secondary job is introducing new trees to the areas I really have cleared of frigana and splicing domestic olives onto wild olive trunks which I shall create with Nicho the Communist. But my third job will be to brave the awakening snakes and wage war for the fourth year with my enemy the accursed frigana. This year it is all out war...the last battle.
Yesterday I served up a picture of the snow capped mountains of the Northern Peloponnese to show that it is not just in the far North of Greece that global warming falls each year. I am now in the Southern Peloponnese, in fact the Mani, where the Greek Hovel is located, is the most southerly part of mainland Greece. And guess what?
Firstly the grass is a gorgeous green. Our house is half way between the village of Kambos and the mountains and it is almost alpine. Sadly it is not only the grass that has grown but also the accursed frigana, the thorn bush that is my sworn enemy. I will have to tackle it once again this summer with my strimmer.
But above the hovel lie the Taygetos mountains and as in December when I was here for the olive harvest they too are covered in snow on the higher peaks. Greece and snow are not the images most folks in Britain have in their minds. But from North to South this country sees global warming falling every year.
The recent rains means that my friend George the Albanian cannot start work until Saturday on our olive harvest but I went up to the Greek Hovel to do a preliminary investigation and it looks as if we have a pretty good crop. It has been a wet years and I like to think that my aggressive pruning and work on fertilising the trees has paid off. As you can see, the trees are just dripping in olives.
Of course olives are not the only things growing up at the hovel. I was amazed to see that there are still some prickly pears on the bushes and apparently edible.
Rather less good is that the frigana has also grown back.
In fact everything has grown. You probably think of Greece in the summer as a country where everything is a burned straw brown. But right now everything is just green. What a wonderful place. And at this time of year the snakes are all asleep. The rats less so although preliminary investigations inside the hovel detected no obvious signs of wildlife diversity.
The Mrs and I bought the Greek Hovel about 28 months ago. Naively we rather assumed that by now it would have been renovated and we could both head over to enjoy the forthcoming olive harvest in comfort. Au contraire. If there was an Olympic gold for bureaucracy then the Hellenic Republic would be winning it every year. But there is good news today.
You may remember that I had to make a few, ahem, adjustments to the land before submitting an application for forestry clearance. that is to say that I had to hack away 2000 square metres of snake infested frigana which I did in the summer of 2014 enabling us to submit a forestry permit after I had burned the evidence in February 2015. That should have taken three months. I think it came through after various misadventures in May 2016. Aha so we can now submit the building permit application said I?
Not so fast said George the Architect. First we need the approval of the architectural council but that will take just 4 weeks. We submitted on June 2nd. It will not surprise you to hear that we have yet to receive clearance. But this morning George says that the Council meets tomorrow and we are on the agenda. Hooray!
If we pass this hurdle then it is just the Building Permit which we will be ready to submit at once and should be given within three months. The Building inspectors are based opposite the office of George so he can harass them and says that he will. I have again raised the issue of bribes but am assured that things like that just do not happen in Greece. Whatever.
Three Greek Months is, about six to nine English months which means that we could well start rebuilding between April - when I fly out anyway - and June next year. Hooray!
It is one of the charms of Greece that if one makes an appointment for 7.30 PM on Friday in really means any time between Wednesday and Sunday afternoon. It was in that spirit that I prepared for my date with the most amazing woman to be shown around the deserted monastery, actually a convent, which sits on the other side of the valley from the Greek Hovel. As the crow flies it is actually my nearest neighbour and, as you can see, it is a pretty impressive building.
It was my last evening at the hovel and so, to show respect to the woman but also ahead of seeing the Mrs for the first time in three weeks, I tried to shave but with no mirror I removed not only three weeks growth but also good chunks of flesh. As I stepped into my shower, that is to say under the hosepipe, I was bleeding profusely and the water stung. Notwithstanding the still bleeding cheek and jawbone, I looked reasonably smart as I drove down my side of the valley across the dry river and up from the valley floor to the top of monastery hill. Instead of carrying on for another mile or so into Kambos I swung right to where one can enter the convent. It was 7 PM and I thought I should be early.
I waited patiently until 8.30 PM at which point I conceded that I had been blown out and untied the string that keeps the front gate closed. Feeling rather nervous ,as I was an intruder, I entered a small courtyard. It is maintained well with neat flowers and on one side of the path there was a gravestone. It was the last resting place of the last nun to live at the convent a woman who must have been fairly old when she died.
Her death was about eight weeks before The Mrs and I first visited the hovel and the village of Kambos. I still do not know whether this little old lady of faith died alone at the convent where she must have lived by herself for many years or whether she was elsewhere at the end or with others. Whatever faith she had to sustain her in her final years out in this isolated place I hope that at the end she also had human company.
The Courtyard was only about six yards long and at the end was another wall and another iron gate. This one was locked with a padlock and chain. As such I could only peer through to another small courtyard. On one side is a small house where perhaps two or three nuns could have lived. On the other side the accommodation building with another 15-18 cells and at the end a small church.
At one stage those cells would have been bustling. This would have been a vibrant community. With water at the spring that lies at the bottom of the valley, into which the dry river flows creating a large pond in winter, and surrounded by fields for the nuns to tend this was once a real self sustaining community. Now the area around the convent grows wild. Only the amazing lady from Kambos keeps nature at bay from the inner sanctuaries of the site and one wonders if there is another generation to act as the convent's defender in this way? I fear there won't be.
The amazing lady has faith that there will be nuns there again one day. If there are I would beg to assist them with their olives or in hacking back the frigana which is advancing upon the buildings. But I do not expect to get that chance for I have no faith that the nuns will return. I suspect that the last nun of Kambos is the one lying in the grave in the courtyard.
After yesterday's encounter with an adder I was not exactly gagging to go frigana cutting today. The only real patches left are thick bushes whrere the shoots can be up to six foot tall and where, one imagines, snakes regard it as an ideal place to sit around waiting for prey. Or me. So I procastinated, swapping emails with David Lenigas, and writing a long piece on Tony Baldry, a loathsome scumbag former Tory MP who makes your avereage adder seem like a nice piece of work.
But I was conscious that I had enjoyed a few ouzos the night before and so needed to spend some time toiling in the heat to burn off those calories and so, in the end, plucked up courage and headed off to the fields.
Full of petrol my frigana cutter is pretty heavy but whereas I carried it two handed at the start of the summer there is now real muscle in my arm and I carry it one handed and can indeed wield it with one hand if needs be. Maybe when I get back to Bristol the Mrs will do a blog post on how muscular my arms have become.
It would be fair to say that I trod more carefully than usual as I waded through the long grass towards the bushes. I attacked from the edges peering carefully in every now and again to see if I could see anything moving. Gradually the bushes thinned and I could see through to the other side. This was a snake free zone. I slashed with renewed vigour.
After forty minutes I was surrounded by cut branches with yet more thrown over the wall to the terrace below.When I approached this small terrace it was surrounded on all sides by a wall of frigana which has now gone. I can now see clearly down from the top terrace all the way to the fence. I still ponder how I managed to miss this little forest two years ago when I thought I had cleansed our land. Frigana simply does not reach six foot in two years we must have missed this little area of the land. But now it is cleansed.
I doubt that I shall entirely clear the land of frigana by the time I return on Saturday. But as I wander around I can see large expanses of leaves turning golden brown which, when I arrived, were bright green frigana.
This may not be the final push into Berlin where i am the Russians and the frigana is the Nazis, but this summer can certainly be seen as the siege of Stalingrad. it is the beginning of the end for the Nazis and with dead Germans lying across the lands of the Greek Hovel, the frigana boys have taken one hell of a beating.
I decided that it was time to tackle the frigana bushes that sit just outside the fence on the mountain side of the land at the Greek Hovel. Access is easy as the fence runs alongside a paved road used by the shepherd and, as far as I can see, nobody else at all.
I approached the first bush which sat on a rock and slashed away the grass in front of it so that nothing mide jump out at me. So far so good. I then started hacking away at what was a ha5rdy old bush with every sprout intertwined with grass and other green things. Fuck!
One of the green things was moving. I could see just a couple of inches of it through the frigana but it was green with black markings which means that it was an adder. Had I been an Albanian I would have said - in Albanian - "sod the frigana" and started slashing away at the snake.
Being a pansy Brit I shouted Fuck! Fuck! Fuck! Fuck! Fuck! and turned tail running as fast as I could up the road and away from the snake, the bush and the scene of my cowardice. After about thirty yards I turned around. The snake was not following me. Who cares? I ran again.
That is it for frigana cutting today. I need an ouzo or five and shall resume tomorrow but there is one area where I think I shall let the frigana grow in peace.
The meeting with the most amazing woman from last week is still something I am thinking about almost daily. Prompted by a couple of let-downs, I almost sent an email firing nearly all of those working with me today. That was a direct result of that meeting.
I have known for a while that my working life was in many ways pointless, rushing round a hamster wheel spending most of my time doing things that bring no happiness to me and do nothing at all for the wider world. What is the point of busting your guts off to try and run a business when you can have a simple life writing what you wish to write about and still make more than enough to get by? Empire building is surely for fools.
I didn't send the email but I am thinking hard about my life. I thought a lot as I spent two hard sessions today slashing frigana in the fields at the Greek hovel. I was in the far reaches of the land here and this is frigana that has not been cut for at least five years. How on earth did we miss it two years ago? So it is woody and the stems are up to six foot tall and where I slash at the base an inch in diameter. It was very hard work but I slashed away, sweating hard and thinking harder. Why go on as I am, in vain pursuit of added wealth but at the expense of personal happiness? Why, why, why? What am I achieving?
At the end of it all I felt I deserved a meal by the sea in Kitries and headed off to enjoy the same meal I always have: octopus, tzatziki and a couple of ouzos while staring out at the waves a few feet in front of me. I did not need to order, the waiter at this small place just brought what he knew I wanted. I chatted to British Airways booking an early flight home and had another ouzo.
With it now dark, I drove home up the steep road towards the neighbouring village to Kambos. On the way up there is a church which is so tiny that it cannot possibly fit more than four people at any one time. I wonder if it too has a mass at any point but it is open all year and I remember well how last summer my step mother and I wandered in after we had enjoyed a meal with my father at Kitries. It was just her, me and some lizards who called the place home.
As I drove through Kambos tonight, I hoped as I had hoped every night since last week to see that amazing woman again. It was around eleven by the time I approached the church and there was light inside. I stopped the car and bounded up the three steps to the Church, I am sure the excitement was written all over my face. Inside was the woman, this time dressed not only in a black head scarf but in a shawl covering her arms and top half.
She beamed widely "hello Tom, how are you?" I did not even bother with Cala ( Greek for good) but in English explained a few matters and asked if, although I was a man, I could gain entry to what I thought was an abandoned monastery but is, in fact, a convent of which she appears to be the guardian. I think it is possible. We have a date on Friday at 7.30 PM. I gather there are two churches inside, one small one hewn from a rock and a larger structure. I look at the buildings looming over the valley, each day as I drive down snake hill on my side. Now I may just gain entrance.
But this is Greece. Nothing always goes according to plan. But I am truly excited.
I was feeling a little weak. It is just so bloody hot and this one meal a day regime is not helping. My pruning is done and my frigana chopper needed a tweak down in Kambos and so I left the Greek Hovel and, being brave, made my first visit to Miranda's, the taverna in between the Kourounis taverna and the snake repellent/frigana chopper ,mending store.
I think that this is Miranda's. I have translated the sign from Greek lettering so I would not bet the ranch on that but henceforth I shall refer to it as Miranda's. The taverna itself is set back 25 yards from the road in a small square. It is dark and dingy inside but no-one eats inside - that is reserved for a few very old men who look as gnarled as the olive trees and are almost fixtures, smoking and drinking. But for the rest of us there are six tables outside under wooden and canvas protection. There is, of course, no internet I just type and save, I shall load this later.
Miranda's has an A Board on the street but that is just for tourists passing through the village in that it offers a wide and varied menu. Once they leave their car they are ushered inside and shown a few pots on the stove. That is the menu. Suckers! We Northern Europeans are, at that point, too polite to leave and so make a choice of goat or goat, for it is often just one dish on offer.
At that point they are happy as this is a great place to sit and watch the world go by. There are two very sweet little cats that pester you for food. In terms of what I watch go by, I admit that not a lot happens here. Right now the renovation of lovely Eleni's Kourounis taverna is THE hot news in Kambos. Oh, and our cash strapped village council ( 4 employees, 538 citizens including me) has invested in painting two zebra crossings on the main road, one by the taverna for old men and one by the fourth taverna, which is a less polished rival to Kourounis and which I am yet to visit.
I did not go for the goat. My healthy living regime continues and its Greek salad and water for me and it is a very fine Greek salad indeed. I am almost tempted to compare it favourably to that of lovely Eleni but that would be disloyal. Even the cats are begging for a bit of it.
A few men loiter by the entrance. I am not sure if they are customers or staff but I am served by the one woman present who, I assume, is Miranda. She is a very friendly old soul but as oil paintings go not perhaps quite as lovely as Eleni. I could be a fecking diplomat, don't you think, for the way I phrased that?
Being two hours ahead of London means that I had much of what i wanted to write today penned before you chaps and Mr stockmarket were awake. So just a couple more things to pen this afternoon and then it is back to frigana chopping.Big time. Tonight it will be Miranda's again. it is a day for the two salad diet
When the Mrs bought the Greek Hovel we were told that there were around 120-150 olive trees here. A few are wild so bear no fruit but still we had a lot of trees. I am now convinced that the number is far greater as I navigate the far reaches of the land. I do so more conscious than ever, after yesterday, that I am not alone as I work.
There is 16,000 square metres of land here. Okay knock off 500 square metres for the house, the ruin and the "drive" but that is still a lot of land. Looking out at the immediate garden which is olive tree rich and, roughly, 100 square metres contains eight trees. Elsewhere on the property the intensity of tress is far less but a bit of basic maths suggests that we must have well over 150 trees here.
What also convinces me that we do have more trees than previously thought is that I have now been pruning at between 8 and 15 trees a day pretty much every day for at least 20 days. And I still have a stack of trees to go. The trees I tackle now appear not to have been pruned for many a year indeed I somewhat doubt that they were harvested in the past given how deep they were buried in frigana bushes. But that frigana was hacked back big time two years ago and poisoned and chopped aggressively last year. Now I am wading into what must be the last redoubts of the frigana, the last bits of this land which it clings to and, in doing so, I am exposing yet more trees.
The problem - as I am sure you have guessed - with a foray into land which has not seen human visits for many a year is that I am very much not alone. I tread heavily, carefully and slowly but the grass, frigana and other bushes are thick and hide many things. I hear creatures moving around me more often than I care to consider and I find myself thinking what happens if I do meet a you know what? How brave will I be? Will I stand my ground, armed with axe, saw or frigana chopping machine or will I run away screaming. And then suddenly it was not exactly a hypothetical question.
There I was yesterday and after about two hours in the fields I was tired, my limbs ached and I was almost ready to call it a day when I heard something. I spun around and the grass and bushes were moving in a clear S-shape pattern. They were at least moving away from me. I stared transfixed at where the snake appeared to have come to rest. I could not see it but was acutely aware that it was blocking my path back to the Greek Hovel. A dilemma indeed.
And thus I found myself swinging right - that happens a lot as one gets older and grows up - and clambering up a wall to take an indirect route home. That saw me discover three more trees that have not felt man's tender love for many a year. They were duly pruned before I heard another noise. Enough is enough, time to head back to the hovel.
However, as I push on to the far reaches of the land here, there will inevitably be other encounters. I am now on the lowest terrace that surrounds the property on both sides, I find trees up against iron fencing that marks our boundary and which are protected by thick bushes.The work must go on. Not only do the olives deserve a prune but the land here must be cleared for only then can myself and George the Albanian undertake the replanting programme we plan for the spring.
My sense is that around 40 of the 200+ trees here are either wild or in such bad nick, for whatever reason, that they need to be replaced as they will never yield us anything. Moreover there are now vast stretches of land which two years ago wre covered with frigana but which are now clear and where olive tree density is perhaps only 1 per 100 square metres or less. I had calculated, from experience, that this property would generate 600 Euro ( bad year) to 1800 Euro (good year) revenues from oil.
I can see that my maths was all wrong.Not only can we almost double the number of yielding trees but with a bit more care of the whole estate, pruning, watering and fertilising it should easily start to yield 1500 Euro (bad year) to 4500 Euro (good year). And then when I buy another field.... Bear in mind that I could live on well under 800 Euro a month out here and I am sure you can see where I am heading. That sort of maths would allow me to spend all my literary time writing not terribly commercial articles about life in Kambos and up here at the hovel. Sod the stockmarket. What fun!
Okay, I am getting ahead of myself. I still have another ten days of olive tree pruning and frigana clearing, perhaps more. But at least I shall have company at all times.
That is it. I have written a stack of articles. I have done two very hard and sweaty sessions of frigana slashing and I shall do a stint on the olive pruning and then I am off. Ive served my time in the fields of the Greek Hovel, I've penned my golden prose and apart from anything else, having been drenched in sweat, I smell less than perfumed.
Because of the wildlife diversity I wear thick black jeans when wading into the frigana bushes. Given that it is 30 degrees plus even up at the hovel that is less than comfortable and I have spent all day dreaming of wading into the sea. All work no play makes Tom a dull - and in this case smelly - boy. Off to the sea I go.
Ten days ago I was, via lovely Eleni, telling the shepherd about the lush green grass up at the hovel and urging him to bring his flock up to graze lest they miss out. When I see him next I shall be begging him to bring his sheep up out of pity. The green grass has almost gone. Almost everything is brown.
Driving up the grass track to the house I was horrified. It was as if the whole area had been affected by a great heat. But as it happens that is exactly what has happened. Down by the sea at Kalamata today it is 33 degrees. Up at the hovel it is over thirty. It is wonderful weather to work in but the grass is burning away.
The purple flowers, a sort of lavender, survive but the dominant colour is now brown. The only green patches are the leaves on the olive trees and, of course, the accursed frigana bushes. I have retrieved my frigana cutter from the farm equipment shop in Kambos and this afternoon waded into the few remaining bushes with gusto. Those bushes are are the very edge of our land, they are thick and I dread to think what might lurk inside. But I wade in anyway.
The more central frigana that has somehow survived tow years of attacks from me was dealt with on the first part of my trip. The bushes I slashes now lie on the ground a golden brown. The odd green stalk I missed pokes through the mass of dead branches in a defiant way. Its defiance is its downfall for as I pass I "take it out""
The Mrs arrives on the afternoon of the seventh. I want to ensure that by then the last 40 olive trees are pruned and the frigana gone. At that point the fields will be even more brown and it will be time to start digging out the earth floor of the bat room in preparation for the eventual rebuilding of the hovel.
I leave Greece for a few days with, I think, almost 80% of the olive trees now pruned. my hands are covered in scratches and cuts and I am not sure that I shall win any prizes for my pruning but I think I am getting there.
The tools of the trade are below. The shaving foam canister is just there to show you how small my axe and saw are. I wield one in each hand. One of the few advantages of my Victorian era primary school teacher forcing me to start writing with my right hand when I was a natural "leftie" is that I can swap hands when olive pruning. I can pull the same trick on a Squash court in extremis.
The idea - I think - is that you cut off any branch, shoot or twig that is not going to yield any olives or will yield so few it is not worth it. There are the small sprouts at the base of the tree which you take out with the axe. Where the tree has not been pruned for years these can be rather big. And then there are shoots and twigs along the branches. You start bending to the floor. You end reaching to the heights. It is tiring.I am sure I cut a few branches in error and maybe missed some I should have hacked but when the Shepherd examined my work he seemed to approve.
At the end of the fields at the Greek Hovel is a large frigana tree. This accursed plant can start as a small shoot. It is mainly a shrub up to a yard high. But left unchecked it can turn into a tree. As a final act of part 1 of this Greek trip I took my saw to it and removed half its branches. This monster knows it is now in retreat...part two to follow!
There is a reason that the Greeks, or rather the Albanians the Greeks hire to do manual labour, start at 8 AM and finish at 3 PM. The reason, I think, is snakes. That is to say the snakes are at their least active in the morning. During the day they sunbathe and so by dusk they are really quite frisky. I have hitherto been working to a different schedule. Silly me.
You see when I awake I start writing articles for you my dear readers. By the time you open up your PC at seven I have already been generating golden prose for at least ninety minutes. As such by the time I had finished generating golden prose and had my lunch (Greek salad) in Kambos today and got back for olive pruning it was 4.40 PM.
And so I headed straight for that part of the property which, when I first arrived, was a thick frigana jungle. I was convinced then that it was the sort of place that snakes really would want to hang out in but two years ago cleared it none the less, wading into the bushes in a fearless manner and, as it happened, encountering not a single snake.
It is not an area where the olive trees yield much. I think that is because for years they have never been pruned or fertlised as they were simply immersed in frigana, in dense jungle. That, I have determined is all to change and so I started work. On one tree a wild olive, non fruit bearing specimen, had attached itself to the trunk and I sawed away, eventually dragging the parasite trunk in three cleanly cut pieces onto what will be a huge bonfire at Christmas but is for now just a huge pile of branches, a sort of sanctuary for the wildlife diversity.
As the evening light started to fade my limbs started to tire. It is hard work olive pruning. One must bend down to remove little shoots of olive at the base of the tree with your axe and also reach up into the highest branches to axe and saw away new growth that cannot yield fruit this year. I was sweating and tired and on my penultimate tree. And then I heard a rustle and looked around to see something shoot off into a bush.
Lizards shoot off in a straight line. Their back legs propel them like a bullet straight to safety. Snakes slither so you can see the S shaped movement as the tail disappears. This was a snake. It must have been a small one which suggests it was poisonous but it headed away from me and must have been sitting in a bush two yards from my feet as I heard no more noise.
"Fuck me" I said rather loudly although the only creature that could hear me was the snake. I chopped a last few branches from the tree and decided that maybe the Greeks were right not to prune as dusk approaches. I decided to walk the "safe" way back to the hovel, that is to say along the goat path that runs between our land and that of our neighbour and onto the main track. It is rarely used but surely safer than walking back through the bushes. It goes without saying that within thirty yards I heard a very loud noise and something slithering off into the bushes.
As I wander I carry my pruning axe in one hand and my pruning hand saw in the other. So the snakes should be aware that I might be a hard Albanian who will go for them, not a Western pansy who is fecking terrified. Anyhow, I shall write late tonight so that I have a clear morning of pruning tomorrow. When in Rome do as the Romans do.
When in Greece do as the Albanians do because the Greeks are too lazy.
You guys think that I am wandering around in a T-shirt and shorts. Boy you could not be more wrong. For starters, when I am up at the hovel I always wear sturdy black jeans and long boots. You never know what is going to slither out of the bushes and bite you. I want some protection.
More importantly, the weather here over the past couple of days makes me think that I am back in the Isle of Man. The Manx folk are protected from bad things by the cloak of the Celtic God Mannanan, in other words the fog. It seems that the old boy is on his travels as a thick fog rolled in yesterday from the mountains. And that was followed by vast amounts of rain.
I suppose it is good for the olives. But also for the frigana. On Friday night the wind was howling and the rain was beating down. The oak tree outside the Greek Hovel thrashed against my roof. I am not sure if the normal wildlife diversity was hiding but its noises were, for once, just drowned out. The hovel is at least dry but it provided little relief from the cold.
This is really not what Greece should be like in late May. I blame Brexit.
I once read a short story but for the life of me cannot remember its title or author but it comes to mind as I toil in the fields at the Greek Hovel, slashing away with my frigana cutter below.
A man is travelling across America in the 1930s with his family in search of work. They drive up to a wonderful farm surrounded by fields of amazing corn but it is abandoned. They cannot believe their luck and just move in. The man cuts corn and his family have all the food they need. One day he hears a cry as his scythe goes through a sheaf of corn. His kid is dead. They bury it. A while later the same thing happens again, another kid is dead. And then it is his wife. He realises the corn is humanity. He is the grim reaper. The only way out is to cut the stalk that is him and he slashes wildly to find it. Folks who drive by see a man crazed, just cutting away all day and all night. The Holocaust, Hiroshima, he thrashes on and on, cutting corn at an unprecedented rate.
Can anyone remind me what this story is?
Meanwhile I slash at the frigana here at the Greek hovel. There appear to be some islands of the vile plant left which have escaped the cutting of 2014 and the poisoning of 2015. They stand there green and defiant challenging me to risk snake attack and to wade in for an assault. I am not sure what i would do if a snake emerged from the frigana. I like to think I'd plunge my cutter, with its whirling blade of death, straight at the serpent. I rather fear that I'd drop the cutter and run like the clappers. I pray that I am not faced with this problem.
But I feel like a man possessed and just wade into the bushes and attack. Yesterday I managed four sessions - one can cut for only so long before the machine over-heats and cuts out. Today it is a cool day and the machine wanted to go on until it ran out of petrol and so did I. Slash, slash, slash. My father, reading this, would have been thinking about his former colleagues at the University of Warwick. The grim reaper was searching for his own straw. I sometimes think of other folk but mainly just want to nail the frigana once and for all.
The frigana when alive is a shiny green. After just three days in the sun the plants that I have slashed have been blanched. By next month they will be brown. Already there are satisfying patches of white next to the brown areas I poisoned last year.
This afternoon it is back to olive pruning. There is only so much death one can hand out. It is time for a bit of nurturing and life.
Since most of us visit Greece only at the height of summer, the pictures we have in our mind are of a country with grass burned brown by days of seemingly endless sunshine. But as we move into mid may the land around the Greek Hovel here in the Mani is almost Alpine, a lush green dotted with the pinks, whites, yellows and purples of a sea of flowers.
And the sun is not shining. As you prepare for summer barbecues back in Britain, pity me here dodging the rain showers. The skies are grey except over the Taegessus mountains where black storm clouds gather. It is not exactly T-shirt weather and the waters in the deeper parts of the dry river that lies between the hovel and the village of Kambos, tell a take of recent storms as well as the melting of the final snows on the mountains behind us.
I am not sure if this means that the snakes are still hibernating. There is no point asking the people in village since they know my fears and delight in them in a friendly sort of way. They will thus be full of tales of how it has been a record snake harvest and how the fields are teeming with them. Whether the snakes are out to play or not, I am taking no chances and shall not be moving in until I have bought and deployed cans of snake repellent as well as rat poison and given them a day or so to take effect.
My preliminary inspection of the hovel today showed little in the way of wildlife diversity but you never know. As I strolled through the olive groves up at the hovel the only brown was the frigana I poisoned last summer. Here and there the accursed plant is making a comeback but not for long. Into battle I go tomorrow on a regime of hard manual labour designed to ready the house and land for rebuilding and to shed a few pounds as well.
It was meant to take three months but took closer to a year but who cares? We now have a forestry permit received for the Greek Hovel. It seems that I failed to (illegally) cut down a few wild olive trees but most of my good works of the summer before last in clearing 2000 square metres of frigana have not been noticed and so we can now.....
Apply for a building permit. Lead by George the architect the team is now looking to submit within the next couple of weeks and the office that handles our application is just across the street from that of George in Kalamata. The process should take 2-3 months but this is Greece.
Once again I am happy to bribe anyone but George insists that Greece does not work that way. I am not quite so sure. I can just imagine the conversation:
Mr Official: I can approve your plans now if you give me 1000 Euro Me: I am sorry but I am a moral man Mr Official: This application could take quite some time, we have a big backlog of work Me: Since you put it that way, have you not heard of austerity - shall we call it 250 Euro and I'll buy you an ouzo Mr Official: make that two ouzos. Me: Done.
Alternatively, George could just wander across the street once a day and kick up a fuss. Anyhow... we are making progress.
As I write there are six customers in the Kourounis taverna in Kambos. Including me four are English. This is a little unusual. Normally Kambos is a haven of Greeks but as summer approaches a few Brits arrive. It is all very middle class. We are all using the wifi and naturally not saying a word to each other. The only noise comes from a couple of noisy children who have wandered in.
Anyhow after a hard day in the fields poisoning frigana I am too tired to talk anyway.
Its just a Greek salad a glass of wine and home I go to the Greek hovel. Okay maybe two glasses. Like the late Charles Kennedy, I describe myself as a moderate drinker.
So how is the sabbatical going? Hmmmm. Not quite so restful. when at the Greek hovel I live on English time so I work late and get up not quite at the crack of dawn. Other than today when my nearest neighbour - he lives a mile and a half away - Charon knocked on my door at 6 am GMT. I answered in my underpants in a rather sleepy fashion but that did not phase him.
As ever Charon speaks a mixture of a little English and a lot of Greek. The former is so bad that I do not understand it. The latter I still do not understand at all. Our common languages are cigarettes and coffee and I provided both.
A text from London's top tech analyst arrived "fuck me, you are on Zero Hedge". Sadly I was not online at the hovel for reasons I cant quite fathom and so I said "sto Kambos" and bundled Charon into my tiny motor to head off to the Kourounis taverna in the village. Lovely Eleni is also not yet up but her husband and mother in law were and yup, my Greek Bank Run story is indeed right up at the top of the front page of the top US website, getting rather a lot of reads. I am flattered.
It is a double flattery day as checking my email I discover that I have been asked to speak at a top conference on financial fraud held eack yeart in London on "market abuse on AIM." I am told that on October 1 I will be speaking at the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners shindig with delegates drawn from the legal profession, forensic accountants, law enforcement and fraud investigators . I wont be short of things to say.
Now that I have fully woken up it is off to the fields. The sun is blazing. It is a bank holiday here in Greece so no-one is doing any work. No cheap jokes now! But I shall be frigana poisoning all day.
I invested in another big can of frigana poison this morning but also in a new boy toy, a 12 Euro olive axe. It is about 18 inches long and used for pruning becuase I must prune all 150 trees before I leave. Cripes it is hard work.
On days like today, when dark clouds hover on the Taegessus mountains above the Greek hovel it is an olive pruning day. The last thing you want is the rain washing the poison off the frigana plants and so your choice is made. In one hand I carry my hand saw in the other my sharp new axe (the blunt old one I found on the property broke yesterday).
Like most of you reading, I am not used to manual labour, still less work that involves you cutting and hacking with your arms above head height. I managed about twenty trees this afternoon and my arms ache. Vangelis - the man in the pink shirt - thinks I should get a power saw and that it is ather funny that I do it the old way.
Though I was taught how to prune by Foti the Albanian last summer, I sense that my work is not quite up to scratch. The axe does not always hit its target. The villagers in Kambos regard their trees as like beautiful women, to be cherished and treasured. They prune with a skill that I shall only learn with time. I rather hope that my handiwork is not inspected as it may be viewed as the olive tree equivalent of wife beating. Anyhow I am on a learning curve, things can only get better. Meanwhile, my arms feel like they are falling off.
In other news, the shepherd who grazes his sheep on snake mountain where the hovel sits has asked lovely Eleni to ask me if he can use my land. I am sort of touched that he asked since he could have wandered in at any time without asking, and have tried to explian that he never need ask again. Right now he cannot graze his flock there for a couple of weeks until the frigana poison has worked its way through the system. Thereafter it is full sheep ahead.
Reason one: the sheep will eat the long grass so meaning that snakes have less scope to hide and spring a nasty surprise on me. Reason two: snakes do not like sheep - and a shepherd - wandering around and will head onto somene else's land. The more sheep the merrier, that is what I say.
Besides which, and please do not think that I am becoming a soft lefty, I am not using the land. Yes the Mrs owns it but why not allow communal grazing right?. The folks in Kambos have been very kind to me, my guest last summer, my wife and my father. It is only right to give back what I can.
After a hard day at the PC and in the field, braving the snakes to poison frigana, I plan to spend a relaxing evening at the Kourounis taverna in my home village of Kambos. Lovely Eleni has made me a Greek salad covered with herbs and drizzled with home produced olive oil and so far it is just coke zeros but I may allow myself an ouzo later. In the village where we have no tourists it is just me and the regulars. They chat. I tap away on my PC and say Yassas and Kale-nichta as required.
But an English couple has just walked in. As I heard them struggling to order a shared baclava and a glass of wine from lovely Eleni it was clear where they came from. Rather older than me they are now siutting on the far side of the room. Being on the road from Kalamata to Kardamili and the hell hole that is Stoupa we get visitors here who just pop in on a daily basis. Sometimes I encounter Brits who live in the various villages around here as they too pop in.
After my solitary existence at the Greek Hovel a bit of me sometimes thinks I would like to chat to my compatriots. But I am not sure Id have much to say. Do they know about poisoning frigana, about pruning olive trees or about dealing with rats and bats? Probably not. Do I want to chat about events "back home?" Certainly not.
One of the joys of being here is that I just do not have to think about all of that nonsense. I chat to folks and scour the internet to write about things on the AIM casino but fill my head with things that really matter such as which patch of frigana I shall clear tomorrow or how on earth I shall manage to prune all the olive trees in just six days.
And so I say "yas" to George the builder, as opposed to George the architect, and sit in my corner tapping away at my computer. I say nothing more lest my countrymen rumble that I am one of them and try to talk to me.
I was meant to pick the Mrs up at Kalamata airport in about thirty minutes but it appears that she is back at Gatwick. Her plane was struck by lightening and so had to turn back. Now her phone battery is dead so what to do? Sit in Kalamata and have an ouzo or two? Sounds like a plan.
Meanwhile it has been a two snake day. I was out poisoning frigana thinking of who the plants represented as I sprayed them with a lethal liquid when all of a sudden I saw it. It must have been two foot long, a light brown and perhaps an inch and a half in diameter. It had seen me too and was slithering away rapidly. But not as rapidly as I sprinted in the opposite direction. I guess at our closest we were less than a yard apart.
I looked on the interweb and assured myself that it was not a poisonous snake that was within 15 yards of the Greek Hovel. But when I asked lovely Eleni and described it in detail she assured me that it was highly poisonous. Hmmm, I look forward to spending a few days with the Mrs in a luxury hotel in Kardamili. That is if she ever arrives.
With snakes rather on my mind as I biked into Kalamata guess what I spotted on the mountain road. Yes, you are correct. My third snake in three days. This one looked pretty mangled and was at the edge of the road but was rather large and an alarming green. My guess is that a car had alreadty dealt with it but I gave it a wide berth and did not hang around to examine it in detail.
Last summer, with a bit of assistance from a man called Vangelis, I chopped down 2000 Square metres of the vile thOrny frigana bushes at the Greek Hovel. In Febuary I came back to burn off the roots and now I am tramping across the property poisoning the fresh shoots that are appearing and some bushes that seem to have suervived the onslaught of 2014.
Frigana can grow to be a 15 foot plus high tree. It is a horrid plant and as I poisoned all the little shoots and bushes I came across what looked like a rather big bush. F**k me how did I miss that? The tree must have been eight fot tall with five distinct trunks the thickest of which was an inch and a half wide. With thorns protecting it, the plant was fearsome but how on earth did I miss that last year?
Death for the tree has only been postponed. On completion of the day's poisoning I fetched the trusty old saw my father had given me for Christmas 2013 and which I had brought out from England. With the thorns to protect the trunks it was hard going but one by one they fell and were carted off to the place where theywill be burned in November when fires are legal once again and where bits of oak tree already sit awaiting the same fate.
But I am still puzzled, how did I miss this monster last year?
It is a lovely old tree. It offers shade both for me and also for various members of the wildlife diversity. But it must come down. Its roots are now getting under the floor of the bat room and have already cracked up most of the pavement on the snake patio so giving accursed frigana plants a footing. And so it must come down and I have been thinking how for a while.
I reckon that I should climb onto the roof with my saw and or axe and start at the top removing it branch by branch. I’d rather that falling timber did not crash out the vine trellis but it will be going anyway during the rebuilding works this fall. For now I just stand and ponder and think about how I do it. But I think that I might try to get onto the roof in the morning to start work.
My mother was a bit of a hippy self-sufficiency nut in the early 1970s. I spent a happy holiday on a commune in Wales not fully taking in why the dreamers who lived there were so doomed to failure. I wonder what she would think of the Greek Hovel?
At one level I am sure she’d support the idea of eco-loos, ultimate plans to be self-supporting with solar energy and to grow or catch more and more of my own food. But would she be proud of me today as I head out to spray lethal chemicals on the land?
You see the frigana (little thorns that can turn into trees) is back. Last year I chopped it all down thinking of Bulletin Board Morons as my strimmer sliced through 2,000 square metres of the stuff. In February I burned whole areas down to the root. But just with BBMs it is back. You think a BBM moron has seen the light as he accepts that Worthington is not the new Hanson and then he pops up insisting that Daniel Stewart is the new Goldman Sachs.
And so across the land I have frigana again. Okay the plants now range from 2 inches (most of them – as above) to a foot whereas last year it was 8 inches to 4 foot and with giants coming in at 12 foot or more. But the bastards are all back. And so I have already started a 28 day programme to kill the lot with chemicals. This is my new backpack and already today I have sprayed a whole load onto the frigana. I shall do another session this afternoon and should have finished the whole property within 12 days. At which point I shall start again. This is war!
I cannot remember if my mother was so green that she did not use chemicals. I shall have to ask my father who arrives here next week. But if she did not, I beg her forgiveness but there really is no alternative.
Those who visited the Greek Hovel last summer will remember the enormous pile of frigana built at the end of the garden. We all rather feared what wildlife diversity lived underneath it. It is no more.
I arrived on Friday with the rain tipping down so there was no George. Vreki = no burning. But sod it, I thought I'd have a go myself. With a small dose of petrol from my frigana cutter and a broken seat from an old chair I got the blaze going. What is that recipe from The Gruffalo? Baked snake? No apparely Nigel Somerville says that it is scrambled snake. Anyhow the great pile is no more and I burned it myself while rain stopped play for the locals. A triumph Indeed.
George the olive picker is back in my life and there is no end to his talents. I tried to set frigana on fire and failed abjectly. George gathers a pile of dried frigana – the stuff I slashed last summer – or olive branches from the harvest and whoosh! We have a bonfire. In fact he must have started about 25 as we moved up and down the terraces.
George starts the fire and then he, his son and I would gather all the detritus from that terrace and the one above and throw it on. With the detritus half cleared George moves on to start another fire and the son and I finish clearing that little area.
It goes without saying that George is the fastest worker. He reaches into a pile of branches and twigs and gathers an enormous bundle which he lobs onto the fire. The son has no gloves and also reaches in in a fearless manner but being a young person appears to get a call or text that he must answer on his cellphone about every ten minutes.
And there is me. I left my cellphone charging in the house but approach a bundle of branches and leaves with some trepidation. I am mindful that the snakes are in hibernation ad I know where they tend to sleep. What would a sleeping snake do if I disturbed it or, god forbid, picked it up? And so I tend to chuck on rather smaller piles.
There is also the fitness issue. George has the stamina of an ox. His son is less used to manual labour but has youth on his side. And there is me. Climbing up and down the terraces and bending down and reaching up for five hours has left me exhausted and I awake this morning with my body aching all over. But there is no rain forecast and so once again I shall be heading up to the Greek Hovel shortly.
There are small shoots of frigana appearing all over the place and the odd stem and branch we missed last year. It is nothing like the jungle I met last summer and hacked away with pleasure with my strimmer thinking bad thoughts about Bulletin Board Morons as I chopped away. As such there is a sort of pleasure when one sees old dead frigana ablaze, with the flames reaching out and burning off some of the new green shoots. It feels almost like poetic justice.
I can see that there will be light frigana cutting this summer or perhaps some poisoning as I treated myself and bought a new heavy duty poisoning backback in the autumn. The war is not over but I feel like we are at early 1945. The enemy is trying to fight back but it is very much on its last legs.
Not only is it freezing cold but it is pissing it down in the Mani today. So in a rather cowardly fashion I have extended my stay in my nice warm hotel in Kalamata rather than catching pneumonia at the Greek Hovel. But I have popped over to make sure that I can work online here as tomorrow I am multi-tasking: writing and burning frigana. But boy is it wet.
Photo one is of a puddle – one of many I drove through – this one is at the bottom of the valley.
The next two photos look upstream and downstream at the dry river. As you can see it is not so dry and is now starting to flow across the track. Heaven knows what it will be like by tomorrow.
Because looking up to the Taygetus mountains behind the hovel it looks wet, wet, wet indeed. The rain that falls there today will be hitting the dry river tomorrow morning just as I try to cross it.
In five days time I shall be landing in mighty Hellas. Within six days I should be back among my friends in the little village of Kambos. The weather forecast says that it will be minus 7 tonight at the Greek Hovel. I imagine that the Taygetus mountains that stetch out behind the Hovel are capped with snow.
On the bright side, I spoke to lovely Eleni from the Kourounis taverna yesterday. I called and said in my best Greek "kale-nichta" at which point she laughed and said "oh, hello Tom." I guess there are not many folks who call who speak Greek as badly as I do. Anyhow plans are underway for frigana burning with George the olive picker.
Also on the bright side, at minus seven the snakes are still going to be very much asleep.
On the minus side I sense that the hovel might be a little on the nippy side. We shall brush over the matter of my Greek lessons, I have promised the Mrs I will do some revision before she returns from the Grim North tomorrow. So don't call me in the morning even if you are Quindell whistleblower. Meanwhile I am doing a spot of revision with Despina.
I have no pictures of Charon. That is because he always pops up by surprise. If you arrange to meet he is never there. He just turns up and then disappears.
His house is the nearest one to the Greek Hovel. The long and winding road from Kambos does not end at the hovel but turns back on itself and up the next hill. I really had no idea where it headed but one day curiosity got the better of me and I turned my bike around and headed on up. After about a mile and a half you arrive at a ramshackle but clearly inhabited set of buildings, the house of Charon. He is one hill higher up than me. The next range of hills behind him leads straight into the mountains.
Charon is not his real name. It is Nikko but since half the village is called Nikko I stick with the name I gave him when we first met. The poor man was returning from a walk into the village to buy cigarettes. It was a blazing hot day and not being the fittest fellow on this planet he was dripping with sweat. His greying hair is longer than mine and with the sweat pouring off him my mind sprang to Virgil’s description of the ferryman to the underworld. Nikko’s rather long face always looks a little sad even when he is smiling.
There is only one thing worse that trying to chat to someone who speaks only Greek when you speak only English. And that is trying to chat to someone who speaks just enough English to think that he can communicate but in fact cannot. And thus when Charon and I chat it is a truly painful experience. He says a few words in English which are in fact the wrong words and intersperses that with Greek which I cannot understand at all.
So for cold Nikko uses the word hot. After a while I figured that out when we drank some “hot” water straight from the fridge. When Charon is around I grab my Greek English dictionary to dull the pain of non-comprehension but our conversations are still monumentally hard going.
The man appears from nowhere for our chats. I am standing there holding my strimmer hacking away at the frigana thinking about Bulletin Board Morons and suddenly I am conscious that there is someone behind me. If I turn too quickly leaving the strimmer on I’d cut his testicles off but I have learned to live with the appearance of the apparition. I am sitting tapping away at my PC with my back to the door and I hear no sound of anyone approaching but there he is standing behind me gazing into my screen.
Charon is a big music fan and tells me that he has four stereo systems at his hovel - that might in facr mean anything between 1 and five. But there is at least one because just occasionally the night time silence is broken by the sound of music blaring from the next range of hills up towards the mountain. It is as if there is a party but while there will be plenty of music and drinking there is only one man partying on all night.
Charon’s catch phrase is “English cigarettes good" at which point I hand over a few of my Greek fags as he appears to have run out. But it is not all one way trade. He brings almonds from a tree near his house and figs, not that the latter is in short supply at our Hovel. And it was he who showed me how to pick and eat prickly pears without taking in a mouthful of prickles. For that I am truly grateful.
How will our relationship develop? I have no idea. Occasionally I give him a lift into Kambos on my bike and we swear to meet up a day later for a drink. Of course he does not turn up although I am always there expecting for some reason that he will be. Perhaps as my Greek improves our conversations might progress a little further.
As I ride towards the deserted monastery/convent on my way back from Kambos to the Greek Hovel I can normally see lights twinkling on the far side of the valley where I live. On my hill there is the hovel. On the hill behind it and one fold higher as you get into the mountains is my neighbour Charon. And there are a few other houses on the next ridge along. But as I rode tonight there were no lights. I rather feared that for once lovely Eleni was wrong and that the electricity had not been fixed.
But at least it was a clear night. There is a full moon and so riding up snake hill and through the olive groves it was far lighter than in recent days when this part of the journey has been managed in pitch darkness with only the light on my bike to guide me.
As I arrived at the hovel I imagined a night stumbling around with only a torch to guide me. Inevitably the battery would have died. But the moonlight lit the path making my torch almost academic and I strode up the steps in a way that I would have not considered this summer when the wildlife diversity was not in hibernation. Flinging open the door, I flicked the switch and…
How could I have ever doubted Eleni? What a fool I was. The lights were on revealing the sort of mess a Mrs free existence generates.
The timing of my ride was fortuitous. For the vreki has started again and is now heavy. The dry river will no doubt be gushing in the morning. Looking up towards the mountains I can see that Charon now has his lights on but so heavy is the rain that they are blurred. Say what you like about the hovel but the roof - touch wood – is solid. Outside I can hear the rain beating down on the snake veranda but inside, it is dry and – with the fire started up – surprisingly warm.
However what this means for a ride into Kalamata tomorrow, for the last day of the olive harvest and for frigana burning is a matter of some concern.
The river bed, at the bottom of the valley between the deserted monastery/convent and the start of the climb up snake hill to the Greek Hovel, sits dry all summer. It is parched and it is hard to think that it ever sees water. Even as I arrived in Kambos two weeks ago it was dry as a bone. Puddles formed on the track but the river bed was like dust. That all changed with the storm.
The ford is a ford for a good reason. The ground had been raised with concrete and across it the water was perhaps only an inch deep. Pas de problem for my magnificent motorbike.
But looking upstream the water was rather deeper, perhaps a foot or two. From nothing in just 24 hours. Even as I rode home last night there was nothing there but I guess that in the mountains the rain was heavier and gathered and the, whoosh, it hurtled towards Kambos. And this is just the sort of winter. I rather wonder if I came here at Christmas might I not get cut off.
The dry river runs into a pond lying at the foot of the land belonging to the deserted monastery/convent. In the summer this sits as a small pool supported by a little spring. The wildlife diversity come here for much needed water. I remember seeing a fox drinking at the edge as I headed off fig gathering in the summer. But now…
The water from the river gushes into what is now an ever larger pond. It may be muddy brown but it is far from stagnant. The green algae of summer has been swept away and it looks alive. It is all change in the Mani.
I now have my power back. The olive harvest is almost done and my thoughts are of returning back to the UK, of burning off the frigana, a last meal with my friends here and of a reunion with the cats and the Mrs. Not in that order.
I am conscious that when I return to the Greek Hovel for the Olive harvest and frigana burning in late November it will be a tad nippy at night. Luckily the main room has an open fire with its own little tripod should I wish to cook my own baked beans rather than trek down to see the lovely Eleni at the Kourounis taverna in Kambos. For when the rains start the track to the hovel will be a tough ride even though I shall be hiring a more powerful motorbike.
As such I spent a happy afternoon collecting firewood and storing it in the rat room. The old owners had left all sorts of trash and the planks, broken tables etc. will burn nicely, There are plenty of old olive branches pruned and discarded years ago that were collected and – as a real treat – some of the thicker frigana branches will give me enormous pleasure to send up in smoke.
Mindful that snakes will be looking for a winter home, you will note the thick yellow ring around the woodpile. That is sulphur which snakes are not meant to cross. Before I go I shall be sprinkling it liberally around the place. It is not my job to provide a winter residence for the wildlife diversity.
As promised I bring you a summer’s work, the destruction of 2,000 square metres of frigana, a bright green holly/thorn bush that scarred the land around the Greek Hovel and was a great home for snakes. It is all gone.
The first picture is some of the first frigana cut, the bushes that covered the wall that surrounds the garden. It is now a deep golden brown, ready for a dose of petrol and a match in November.
It sits in an area which is surrounded by a stone circle. One visitor suggested that it had once been a threshing circle. The stones were covered by frigana but have now emerged blinking into the sunlight.
Moving past the circle here is a 150 yard slope down to the edge of the property. It was thick with frigana but it was chopped last week, the leaves are now a light green and heading for brown. This area I feared to be snake infested as the bushes were once thick. Now old paths have emerged and you can walk down among the rocks.
Frigana grows on the flat, on top of walls and in walls. It is vile and tenacious. Across the land the stone walls which support the olive terraces have now been uncovered. Seeing a wall that has long been covered by bushes is a wonderful sight
About 500 yards from the main hovel there is a ruin. I plan to turn that eventually into a 2.5 bedroom house. The shot below shows the browning frigana on the way from the hovel to the ruin which you can see in the distance. This was an early killing field.
Beyond the ruin the land extends for another 800 yards and it was in the far corners of the land that the most brutal battles were fought, largely – I should say by my Greek assistant Vangelis – not me. For here he frigana had in some cases turned into trees. My little cutter was out of its depth. The bushes were also so thick that only a fearless local would wade in, knowing what might be lurking inside.
The frigana here lies deep and still green. The massacre only happened this week
Come November it will all be dry and golden brown. And with a bit of fuel and a match whoosh it will disappear. Should there be any wildlife diversity hibernating underneath it..that would be a bonus.
I saved the last of the frigana for after lunch. Two sessions in the morning left me with one last patch to clear. But first a major problem: My bike was leaking oil. The man at the garage said “go to Kalamata tomorrow” as I bought my second bottle of the day. But I am a changed man.
Three months ago I would have phoned John the bike man in a panic. Today once back at the hovel I got underneath the bike and diagnosed the problem. Tubing had come loose. And I fixed it. Triumph one.
Triumph two came just before dusk as I finally removed the last frigana bush on the property. 2000 square metres of this appalling plant now lies, dead and browning on the killing fields. The last bushes climbed up a wall but these days I have real muscles in my arms. With just one arm I can now lift and wield with some accuracy a heavy strimmer above my head or to swing below my feet as I stand on a wall. These last two bushes are no more.
I have not had such muscular arms since my London Irish days. And my waist has only been this thin once since those happy times. But enough on my weight, the triumph was the frigana. I retreated from the mass of tangled branches and stood on the road, dripping with sweat but triumphant. I raised the strimmer above my head as a victory salute over the enemy. It has been a tough opponent. But this summer it has been the frigana, not Quindell or its moronic shareholders or other Bulletin Board Morons which I have fought and defeated.
What shall I do tomorrow with no frigana to cut? For starters I shall do a photo shoot around the property so that you can appreciate the scale of what has been achieved. And then ahead of my return to Britain I want to relax for a couple of days, to visit Kitries for a sea swim and last meal of Octopus and to mentally prepare for the adjustment of going home to a UK work routine. Tonight, I celebrate my triumphs with a glass of the excellent local rose at lovely Eleni’s Kourounis taverna in my home village of Kambos.
I had planned to stay sober until my return but I fear that I have been led astray. I blame OTE Telecom. I still cannot get on the interwebby at The Greek Hovel so spent all Sunday working from the Kouronis taverna in Kambos, run by lovely Eleni. At about 10 O’clock Greek Time I was done writing and asked for my bill. But instead I was summoned to the bar and asked to sit with four men.
Either side of me were two Gentlemen who spoke English. The younger (George) was a relative newcomer to the area, the elder (Nikos) is a greying stocky man with a walrus moustache. It was he who had cross words with me on my second day here when I supported the Krauts rather than the Argies in the football. Since then we have exchanged nothing but pleasantries. Behind Nikos was the man in the pink polo shirt (Vangelis) and behind George was another George, a Greek only speaking builder.
I was told “it is not will you have a drink but what are you drinking”. They were on the hard stuff and so I opted for ouzo. Nikos told me that they had decided they needed to know me better as I was now their neighbour.
They refused to let me pay and four hours later I was rather the worse for wear. Nikos was concerned about me biking home. He offered to drive me several times but since he was also a tad unsteady on his feet I declined and made it back to the hovel falling off only once as my bike meandered across the track at five miles an hour.
Poor Niko (husband of Eleni) had to pour round after round, happy in the knowledge that he had to get up at 5.30 AM to go to the fruit market in Kalamata.
The conversation was wide ranging. I told them my father wrote books on Greece, spoke Greek and drank more than me. They said they wanted him to come next summer not me. They asked how they could help and what I did. So I explained about the writing and mentioned the death threats. Not a problem. If any strangers come to Kambos and ask for me “We will shoot them..but only if you want us to.”
We talked olives. Nikos recollected planting trees with his father when he was ten and now they stand at the heart of his fields. Actually he is marketing manager for a Cretan organic food company headquartered in Athens. But since the downturn there is not much demand so he is back in Kambos with his friends and his olives, doing a bit of work by phone and on the web.
The four men will be the winter crew. In the summer all sorts of folks come here to visit friends and relatives. As winter draws in they disappear. And so by the time of the Olive harvest this will be the hard core drinking crew at Eleni’s. Vangelis will cook a celebrator meal of wild birds with his own wine when my harvest is done. I said that I’d bring a Christmas pudding as my contribution and started to try to explain but in the end just said it tastes great and has lots of alcohol in it. That seemed to convince them all.
We talked snakes. Apparently the answer is to get a cat as cats eat snakes. I tried to picture my fat three legged cat Oakley engaged in mortal combat with a snake and found it hard to imagine. Oakley regards having to walk downstairs as strenuous exercise but apparently his Greek cousins are made of sterner stuff. And so maybe the Hovel, when completely renovated will need a cat. Oakley, do you have your passport ready?
I felt dreadful this morning and on arriving at the Kouronis taverna was met with a knowing smile by a laughing Eleni and her mother in law Poppy. “Crazy Greek men” she said as I ordered eggs and toast and started mainlining orange juice.
Three of the e crazy Greek men are again at Kouronis tonight as I write. They are not drinking. Just to show them that I’m not a total pansy I am struggling to down a glass f the local cheeky rose.
Tomorrow I go back on the wagon and will make amends for a poor 24 hours on the diet front with a full day in the fields frigana cutting. Writing will be limited.
My shorts are packed away, the (just 33 inch!) jeans and a fleece are now the daily norm. There is a chill in the air. The skies over the mountains behind the Greek Hovel are now dark with cloud pregnant with rain. There have been spits and spots periodically for two days but no downpour. It is only a matter of time.
The daily shower at the hovel is less of a laugh these days. You may remember that it is simply a hosepipe draped from the frame on which our vine trails. Just a few weeks ago the water arrived heated by the sun burning down on the metal pipes which connect my house to the village. The water is rather less hot these days and though I am drenched in sweat from labouring in the fields the temptation to skip the odd shower is very real. The Mrs is no longer here, no one is going to mind if I am a bit smelly are they?
In the village the preparations for winter are being made. Biking in to Kambos through the olive groves above snake hill the other day I was thinking about nothing in particular and so was rather startled when a woman’s voice shouted out “Hello Tom”. Which nymph of the woods, was calling?
It was lovely Eleni from the Kouronis taverna (pictured above), the only semi-fluent English speaker in Kambos. A few other folk speak enough for me to make a transaction. The chaps at both stores selling snake repellent and frigana poison know me well and we can talk about snakes. But Eleni is the only person with whom I could discuss, for instance, Scottish Independence.
I digress. Eleni was up in the patch of olive grove that she owns with her husband and two boys gathering wood, or as she says “woods.” Even I have started to make a little store of the stuff in the rat room. Part of me fears that this will provide an ideal winter home for a variety of snakes. But another part of me knows that when I come back for the Olive harvest I will need a fire to keep warm and I’d rather not be picking up sticks in November given what may be falling asleep underneath them. And so every day I add to my little store.
As I sit now in the Kouronis taverna, trucks pass by laden with water melons and other fruits of the field, Meanwhile I weigh up the odds of me getting a drenching when I bike home. It does not matter when I leave. The downpour will start just after I leave the main road at the petrol station/post office and start up the winding track to the hovel. Such is life.
In my weekly video postcard HERE I revealed how I obsess about snakes while at the Greek Hovel but had not actually seen one. Bloody hell that was a bit of a jinx. Snakes were very much on my mind today as the section of frigana I am attacking right now is the densest on the property on a rocky hill near the gate on our drive. For drive read mud track. Put it this way, if I was a snake I’d hang out there.
I had mentally preserved this section for my brave Albanian pal Foti who is coming up to assist me next week. Foti is fearless and if he saw a snake would grab whatever was nearest to hand and smash it on the head. But I decided to man up and head into the bushes anyway.
Luckily I encountered no snakes and so, dripping in sweat after an hour’s solid cutting in the midday heat, I ambled back to the house and started to wander up the front steps and – fuck me – there was a snake, slithering over the snake veranda towards my front door. Naturally I retreated rapidly shouting to no-one in particular “it’s a fucking snake”.
Maybe it is my Irish genes? St Patrick rid our blessed land of snakes and so the thought of encountering one fills me with dread. What is more the bloody thing had slithered straight past my snake repellent canister and was inside the yellow sulphur line that surrounds my house because snakes won’t cross sulphur! Did no-one tell this bloody snake about that?
On reflection I thought it better to have another look and by my reckoning the snake was an Aeschylus snake, the same variety that we saw on our first visit here and which lead to the snake veranda getting its name. I may have got this wrong but it was not that long was brown and very thin so I reckon it was a relatively young Aeschylus and having checked it out on the internet last time I know that it might bite me but was not poisonous.
Emboldened by this identification – which may well have been completely wrong and this creature could well have been one of the nine varieties of adder that lives in Greece - I scuttled off to grab a spade and then advanced on the serpent banging the floor loudly. It slithered away rapidly. It was not to know that I was not a brave Albanian who would smash in its head without second thought. Who knows, had I got the chance I might have done just that.
I have now blocked the hole that makes access to the snake veranda that much easier and through which this serpent escaped. I had an early lunch/supper at wonderful Eleni’s taverna in Kambos so ensuring that I got back while it was still light. I very much doubt that I shall be venturing outside to use the eco-loo which sits on the snake veranda tonight. It is legs crossed time. Tomorrow morning I shall be stocking up on sulphur and adding to the outer defences while creating a new inner redoubt.
I told Eleni about the snake. In the village there are no snakes. They know to stay away. Eleni seemed sympathetic and sucked her teeth accordingly. Quite possibly she was thinking “this moron is terrified of snakes so buys a house not in the village but on Snake Mountain. All my other customers kill snakes with their bare hands. This guy is a total wuss.” But she did not let on, she too said that she was not very keen on snakes.
Suddenly the thought of returning to a nice terraced house on the edge of Bristol seems that little bit more attractive.
This is my penultimate video postcard from Greece until I return November for the olive harvest. Forgive my lack of writing, I have been busy preparing for UK Investor Show on April 18 2015 and also obsessing about snakes and frigana.
I discuss both snakes and frigana in great detail.
I then go on to say why I disagree with Paddy Leigh Fermour and have fallen in love with Kambos, the village nearest to the Greek Hovel.
After a morning hacking away frigana at the Greek Hovel, Tom’s message from the Greece of the South is for the Greece of the North – Scotland.
The independence debate is marked by delusion – on both sides. Tom suggests you watch former oil analyst Andrew Bell explain why the SNP oil numbers are all wrong HERE.
The reality is that Scotland has become a welfare addicted big Government economic failure. It is united with a Country with a different value set and approach to life. For its own sake Scotland needs independence so that its people can again learn the idea of self-reliance.
And English taxpayers have no moral obligation to fund a failed system of Government and economics. Speaking as an English taxpayer Tom is praying for a Yes vote.
Firstly the garden is within the outer redoubt, the area protected by two snake repellent cans which emit a smell that snakes are meant to dislike. The locals swear by them and I hope that their faith is well placed.
Secondly I saw a foot long lizard in the garden the other day. It darted off to catch some poor bug and raised its head to digest. Its colour and head were on reflection identical to that of the “snake”. Perhaps most conclusively what I saw in my garden shot off in a straight line as would a lizard. Snakes can move rapidly but do so in S-shapes. I think I was so startled by my encounter with the wildlife diversity that I overlooked that little point.
And so I conclude that I have yet to see a snake but as I wade deeper and deeper into the frigana bushes with my strimmer, slashing madly, I sense that it is only a matter of time. For there are clearly snakes around. How do I now? Well for starters my guest saw one.
She was out running (silly girl) and started down from the hovel past where the track is muddy and flat and winds through olive trees and onto where it is stony - or in a few places concrete - but steep and surrounded by rocks and bushes. It is the steep part of the track as you head towards the spring on the valley floor. And there she almost tripped over the serpent. That was enough for me, I have retired from running.
On what has now been rechristened “snake hill” the adder ( it was short and adder length) seemed more scared of a yuppie storming down the hill listening to nasty young people’s music than the yuppie was of it. Hence it slithered (in S-shape fashion) off into the bushes at a rate of knots.
Secondly it seems that in the village of Kambos the folks find it terribly amusing that a man who keeps buying various snake repellent devices and powders and who is clearly shit scared of snakes is living where I do. For in the village there are no snakes. But up in the hills? The locals make S-shaped patterns with their hands and tell me that the hills are crawling with them. “Why I killed two just last week” said the man from the Garden Centre as helped fix my strimmer.
That news did not make my day.
I fear my snake free run may be about to end any day.
A year ago today at a house owned by the family of the great Hellenophile Lord Byron the woman formerly known as The Deluded Lefty became The Mrs. Right now she is outside tapping away at a paper for her sociology work on why capitalism causes cancer, global warming and is a construct for patriarchal hegemony for white men. Okay I think I might have got the subject a bit wrong but I am probably not far off.
I’m off to chop down some more frigana at The Greek Hovel where we are staying and then it’s switch off time. Unless there is a Quinnovation Group emergency this is a day off. Thank you to the Mrs for 365 wonderful days, it is time to down tools.
I have sent in my latest video postcard and start with my new obsession chopping down the frigana at the Greek Hovel, It is all going very well and golden browning piles of the stuff now litter the property.
I move onto Quindell (QPP) where I make it clear that the evidence of fraudulent accounting in the 2011 accounts is now explicit as I explained HERE. The question is what happens next?
Finally to the Islamofascists of ISIS and I explain why – although it may be appealing to go for the “bomb the shit out of them” option it would be a grave long term error on the part of the West.
For once I combine my financial and non-financial weekly video postcard into one. Recorded at the Greek hovel I am turning into a home I shows off my new toy but do not say whom I thinks of as I slash away at the Frigana (I explain what that is too). But I am sure you can guess.
The subject is free speech. Starting with John Stuart Mill I cover how it is society rather than draconian laws that threaten free speech in the UK.
I relate this both to threats made to the livelihood of an Israel supporting twitter acquaintance (see HERE) but also to my own livelihood and life and why Society rather than that state needs to change to protect free speech in its responsible manner and what responsible free speech is.
And so it has arrived, my new toy for boys as my guest so kindly puts it. It is wicked. You just stick it into the frigana bush and with a pole long enough to keep you out of harm’s way should any wildlife leap out, off it goes. You swing it too and fro and the stalks are cut back to the base with violence and speed.
The next job is for my guest to rake them away and apply poison to the stems to kill the roots. As an added bonus I gather that the poison also works on reducing all sorts of local wildlife diversity.
Mindful of that diversity, for the really big bushes which can be four of five yards cubed we have decided to cut away an opening belt of a yard all round, rake away the detritus and apply poison. Ay wildlife will thus get the message and move on before we eat into another yard the next day and so on until each bush is eliminated.
It is actually quite heavy my new toy and after a fifteen minute scything session in the late afternoon sun – which I should note was preceded by a good run to the spring and back – I was somewhat of a sweaty wreck albeit resplendent in my Mark Steyn T-shirt. Tomorrow afternoon we have pledged to do a long session the fields. The era of the frigana is drawing to a close.
Tomorrow’s excitement at the Greek Hovel is the arrival of a diesel powered machine for dealing with the frigana – the horribly prickly bushes which are dotted across the property. At the edge of the garden are a row of very large bushes which I suspect of being home to a wide selection of unpleasant wildlife diversity. Of course my new thin yellow line prevents them encroaching closer to the house but none the less I want them gone.
The much larger task is clearing the olive groves of this accursed plant. Due to Greek Forest Fire laws all that my guest and I can do is hack the bushes down (they can be anything from 2 inches to ten foot tall) and them cover the stems with a vile poison to kill the roots. When I come back nearer Christmas there will be a good spot of burning to do lest the wildlife diversity things it has a new home.
Pro tem I have been busy clearing the area around the hovel of more than a decade of leaf mulch which the snakes find very pleasant to slither through. My guest has been a bit of star in this process when she is not going on the sort of runs which I would consider a crime against humanity. And so I show you first …the snake patio (as opposed to the snake veranda) which is now clean. There are still some frigana roots but these have had their “medicine” and will wither in due course. But it is a “safe zone” in which to sit or shower.
The second phot is of a curious sort of bird bath which is about a yard away from the patio. I really have no idea what it is for. But you will see that on one side we have not yet dealt with the leaf mulch. On the other side it has been cleared to reveal a paved extension to the snake patio.
The path is clear, the steps to the house are clear, the snake veranda is clear and the area outside the rat room is clear of snake friendly mulch. That area is also paved, a fact of which I was totally unaware of until the other day.
So far about thirty big plastic sacks of leaf mulch have been collected. Around twenty of them now sit outside the garden and just outside the snake exclusion zone. At some stage Foti and his made with a van will come to collect them and they will be gone.
The Greek Hovel becomes more habitable by the day.