George the Architect sends over photos from the Greek Hovel where there is good news and bad.
The good news, as you can see below, is that progress on the swimming pool continues apace. Now I know it does not look very deep but walls will be built around it so, fear not daughter Olaf, at the deep end the water will be 1.9 metres deep.
The bad news is that the water connection to the hovel and indeed neighbouring houses has broken so we are without water to fill the pool, in due course, or to water the olive trees we moved to make room for the pool. Greece being Greece, no-one has any idea when this will be fixed.
The good news is that God has been watering the trees - it has been raining heavily for days. The bad news is that heavy rains stop any further work on the pool.
For now my attention is on our house move in the UK to the Welsh hovel but, fingers crossed, the Greek hovel will be utterly completed by mid May.
Don't the skies look glorious above the Greek Hovel? How I wish I was there to see the little snakes emerge after their winter sleep. The weather is improving and thus a digger has made it up the track and so work on the swimming pool for daughter Olaf is, as you can see, accelerating. George the Architect assures me that the olive trees we had to move, about seven, are being watered every day and are recovering well. All is good...
George the architect has made it up to the Greek Hovel for the start of the spring campaign to completion. He will take a few days out in March to come to England/Wales to help draw up plans for the Welsh hovel. But for now it is full steam ahead in Greece. Or rather not.
As you can see below, the skies are now blue but it has been raining solidly for almost two months. Some of the dry stone walls that stand next tol the mud track, as it wends through the olive groves at the top of snake hill and Slater slope, have fallen down. Cars can get through, lorries cannot and so that will delay work on the swimming pool that daughter Olaf demands as a condition of her honourings us with her presence.
The house itself has survived the winter relatively unscathed. The chimneypot was blown off and will be replaced and there are still a few small jobs for the carpenter and the electrician to complete but they are on the case. Next week George will start to transplant seven olive trees and then work can start on the pool.
In a couple of days time I head back to the Mrs, in Bristol, and so I thought it prudent to start washing my clothes and that it might earn me major brownie points if I washed the bed linen as well. And we now have a washing machine up at the hovel. Prudently I handwashed a pair of underpants and a pair of jeans and put them outside to dry. But all of my socks and much else besides was put into the washing machine with some detergent in the right place. Problemo.
As you can see the washing machine and the instructions are all in Greek. I selected a wash at random and switched it on. The machine started beeping. A timer came on and after two minutes and nineteen seconds it went off to be replaced by a sign saying 4 degrees. The machine carried on beeping. It was locked. My socks are trapped and nothing has happened. After about an hour of beeping I could stand it no more and turned the wretched machine off. No more beeping but it has stayed locked. I am without socks.
Thankfully George the architect is here later today. He can translate and I might just be able to retrieve my socks or maybe even wash them.
As we headed to Kardamili on Thursday we got a call saying that workmen were arriving with bunk beds for the Rat room and would assemble them. I gave instructions. The Mrs insisted they needed no supervision. My heart sank. Natch I was right as you can see below.
The very expensive beds from a posh shop in Kalamata are designed to be assembled however you want. So natch the workmen assembled them in a way that won't allow folks to open the window. The upper bunk should be on the other end of the lower bed and so slotting nicely into the wall which I had measured carefully. Any fool could see that. Except , of course, the workmen assembling the bunks. George the architect will now have to ensure the beds are reassembled before I return.
Joshua naturally loves them - as you can see and has proclaimed them his beds! Maybe next year.
The carpenter and his assistant were hard at it again today. This time, as you can see below, building steps from the second floor kitchen up to the living area. They asked what I thought. Cala said I, lying.
I did not have the heart to tell them that a couple of the small panels were ill fitting and need to be replaced. I could not face another one of those hang-dog expressions of gloom. But before you think I am going soft, George the Architect pitched up and I have asked him to relay the good news. He has also laid down the law with regard to work that must take place PDQ, i.e before the Mrs and Joshua arrive via Athens on Monday afternoon.
Inspired by a comment from a reader as to how to motivate the workers I have asked George to let it be known that we have planning permission on a second house further down the snake fields, where the ruin used to stand before it was pulled down to provide stone for the main house. This is true and George will imply that there could be work for all of next year for builders who deliver this year.
That is not exactly true, I am minded to defer this work for a while and enjoy furnishing and living in house one without guests or relatives dropping in. But it seems like a good carrot.
I am now braced for my personal Bulletin Board troll Wildes to lambast me for creating more jobs and wealth in Greece by building another house in an area where no Greek actually wants to live. No doubt he will explain why this is an act of evil and exploitative capitalism.
I left here six weeks ago and was promised that the workmen would remain on the case. Guess what?
I arrived to find my old pal the windows man hard at work. At last. The first two photos are of the living area above the new wing and the Rat Room, the next two of the kitchen which leads into the area above the Rat Room; the last is of the ground floor of the new wing, the master bedroom. To be fair we do now have floorboards throughout the second floor. But they need staining and that will not happen until the weekend. The Mrs and Joshua arrive on Monday afternoon at the same time as a huge sofa for the living area.
Where there is a min ladder in photo four there will, by tomorrow afternoon, be a step leading from the kitchen to the living area.
The final photo shows the staircase which I climbed without too much problem. When it gets a rail it will be very manageable, steep though it is. But the master bedroom is a store room for timber for the a veranda and for much else. I was stern and instructed George the Architect to read the riot act which he has done. It will be tight but we might be ready for the Mrs and Joshua. Pro tem I shall again sleep in the Bat Room where, to their credit, they have fixed the flooring beneath the shower so it no longer floods the whole room.
At least a fridge and washing machine have arrived and the Range Cooker is in transit from Austria. We are getting there.
I am beginning to think that God is not pleased with my restoration work at the Greek Hovel and is punishing me with an annual plague of my poor olives. Last year it was the hail storm ten days before harvest that destroyed the crop almost entirely, leaving my field carpeted with rotting berries and my neighbours crying into their ouzo and facing economic misery.
This year it started with the flies which destroyed, maybe, 20% of the crop. Then last week storm Zorba hit southern Greece. Winds of up to 100 kmh were reported. Waves on the seafront hit five metres and the rains caused flash floods. Up at the hovel the sea is ten miles away and so not an issue but e wind and the rain?
I called George the Architect this morning to check on progress and to warn him that I’d be there in less than three weeks. Such warnings tend to accelerate work. I was assured that the planks for the second floor would arrive avrio, that is to say tomorrow. Most things in Greece are scheduled to happen avrio. But George insists that the flooring will be completed by the start of next week. We discussed the Range Cooker on its way from Austria, fridges, wood burning stoves, balconies and sofas and then it was the olives.
George had headed up to the hovel specifically to inspect them. That will have been some trek. From the top of snake hill as one winds through other folks trees up to the hovel the mud track will, thanks to Zorba, be reminiscent of the Somme battlefield 102 years ago. But he made it and as he has his own trees he knows his olives and reckons that the storm has taken another 10% of the berries the flies did not get.
However, before God intervened twice, this was set to be a bumper harvest so – assuming no further interventions from the Almighty – it will still be a pretty decent year. I am negotiating with the Mrs as to when I head out, treat myself to a new electric machine for harvesting and start what will be my fifth harvest. I am already excited by the prospect. To those who have volunteered to join me as replacement Albanians I should have dates soon for the great undertaking.
George the Architect has been in touch and has sent more photos of the progress being made in turning the Greek Hovel into an eco palace. Boy I wish I was there rather than in Bristol. I bet Joshua does too. All we need is for Priti Patel to sweep to power, shut down the "university" where the Mrs teaches and another 50 odd joke left wing madrassas for future Tesco shelf stackers, and we could all move right away. Pro tem I can just dream.
As you can see below, the ceiling on the big new wing is now in place. This is the master bedroom. You can access it via the Rat Room or from outside via two floor to ceiling door/windows at either end. But what to do if you are upstairs in the huge new living area and do not fancy a wander in the dark? Simple, there is a trap door and beneath it a ladder running along the wall of the bathroom.
Next up the floors on the new wing and then some shelving, the cooker, freezer, wood-burning stove, washing machine, sofa and bunk beds for the Rat Room have all been ordered and should arrive soon. It is all happening out in Kambos.
This article may cause a bit of upset and I have no solutions to what is a problem for Greece and an unresolved human tragedy for an ancient people, the Roma. I merely observe and report. I remember the Mrs and I giving a lift to two elderly and rather smelly Greeks in the deep countryside a couple of years ago. Their English was more or less non existent but they pointed at her dark skin and said "Roma". They thought she was a gypsy and it is clear they were not big fans. I was glad to drop them off after a few miles.
You meet Roma families at the bus station in Athens. A young girl will come begging making it clear she needs money to eat while older women try to sell fans and tissues and other things you just don't want. Half an hour later the girl is trying to sell fans and the product lines/sob stories have been rotated. It is organised and a hard sell. They target obvious foreigners as we are likely to be softer and more sympathetic than the Greeks.
Here in Kalamata you see Roma families lounging on the odd street corner on the dge of town. They don't seem to be going anywhere as, frankly, they have nothing to do.
On the very edge of town, almost at the airport there is a sign for the "Roma Camp". Before you start thinking of camps built by the Germans in years gone by, the intention here was good. Fifty houses with power and water were built to give the Roma free accomodation. Many locals, not exactly drowning in cash themselves, resented these handouts. They resent them more as these days just a handful of houses remain, the rest have been trashed by the Roma themselves.
The pictures below are of the Courthouse which is a block away from the offices of George the Architect a thoroughly progressive, liberal decent guy. He sees the same scenes every day. A Roma stands accused and his whole family comes for a day out. And Roma are responsible for a disproportionate amount of crime and so keep the Courts busy. Those are just hard facts. George, like many Greeks, resents them.
I have no idea what the solution is. The Roma appear to have no desire to integrate. But even with the handout of that free housing the Greeks were making it clear that the Roma were unloved and unwanted. The area it is in is covered in rushes and wet ground. I imagine it is buzzing with mosquitos in the summer and crawling with snakes. The other prominent building there is the licensed brothel. You get the message, you can have a free house in a bad place miles from facilities and work, with your only neighbours being other folk we'd rather pretend did not exist.
But were the Roma to be given free housing in a more central location, among Greeks, the locals would riot. No Greek politician is going to be vilified by making that suggestion. I can see no end to the marginalisation of the Roma or hope that they might be accepted as part of wider society. I just cannot see a way out. Saying that I feel rather sorry for the Roma is not something I dared say to George but there is an issue for Greece and one that will just not get tackled, especially while the country remains an impoverished debt slave.
It is Sunday and our shutters were left open so we were a bit surprised and alarmed that about 8.30 there were sounds outside the Greek Hovel. Surely even the hard working tilers would not be labouring on the Lord’s day? We left the tilers to it and started to prepare Joshua for a day of walking with his father.
After about an hour there was a polite knock on the door. It was not the tilers but the unreliable windows man who had come to start laying the floors on the second floor. But sadly the tilers had hidden the keys to the main door and he and his apprentice were locked out. We looked and looked and then decided that the best way forward was for the apprentice to climb up through the rafters of the new wing which has no ceiling or floorboards thanks to you know who and to let us all in. Great. It worked.
Then she showed me the proposed floorboards made of real oak he said proudly. Uggh interlocking shiny things about 40 centimetres long, I could not believe it. Who has ordered these things which might look great in a mock Tudor house in Esher but are not what is wanted for an old style farmhouse in the Mani.
Heated phone conversations with George the Architect followed. I am not paying for these suburban bits of wood. I have always made it clear that I want long planks of darkened oak, 20 centimetres wide and two meres long, rough creations that look like they came from a tree not a factory. I am warned that I shall have no floorboards for weeks. So be it. The windows man can at least put up a ceiling in the new wing.
He looked dejected. He slumped, his tummy spreading over his shorts and gasping on a fag as he contemplated trying to get the money back on the Esher floor boards. And I almost felt sorry for him.
Right now I am in a luxury hotel organised by the Mrs for daughter Olaf's last night in Greece and for me to recover in after a ten hour road trip to drop Miss W off at Athens airport."Baywatch" has a great view, a lovely pool, ouzo is on tap, the internet works allowing Joshua to sit like a moron watching Thomas the Tank Engine without interruption and the Mrs is lolling happily. And there is no wildlife diversity to report. Not so back at the Greek Hovel. Let us start with the scorpion.
It seems to have got into the house before the windows were installed but the noise of workmen roused it and led it to its death as it tried to crawl on a rapidly drying polished concrete surface. It got stuck and mist have died an unpleasant death. George the Architect whose foot also appears in the picture has only fessed up to this incident a few dates later having removed the corpse when it was found.
Of course I knew there were loads of scorpions up in the area around the Greek Hovel. A bite would not be fatal but would be painful until treated, especially for Joshua. However, in the five years that I have been up here I have not seen a single scorpion. Until now. I guess I shall be “seeing them” everywhere now as I already “see” snakes everywhere. It is not that there are snakes everywhere but as I see shapes dancing in the shadows or in the gleam of a car headlight my imagination races away.
Next up was what caused the Mrs and Olaf to scream. we were driving back late at night from Kambos to the hovel. we had just come down Monastery Hill, the steep slope thick with wood on one side and with the abandoned convent on the other and must have been doing 20 kilometres an hour. just as we reached the bottom out it shot from the field on my left, bursting through a fence, and cantering up the back track into Kambos... a wild boar.
The Mrs screamed as it rocketed across our headlights, not more than a yard or so from the car. Olaf screamed. Joshua was just burbling on about steep hill, Gordon's Hill and carried on burbling. I braked and then drive hurriedly on. I think I was rather brave for not screaming, my father says I was a chicken for not putting my foot to the floor and bagging a week's worth of supper. Yeah dad, like you would have done that? Really?
The boar was not fully grown but it was large enough. a fully grown boar charging at your car as opposed to across it, would cause real damage. I muttered about this was why I should be allowed a gun. Olaf made some elitist comment about Trump supporters and morons. Anyhow that was also the first boar I have seen although I am sure I heard one crashing through the undergrowth around the hovel three years ago but it was at night and I declined to investigate.
For the past few days I have been sitting at the Greek Hovel on a large box of books as I tap away at my laptop in the Bat Room. What's wrong with that? Why can't everyone make do thus? It seems as if the Mrs and daughter Olaf have different ideas and have demanded chairs and as you can see...
Rejecting a modern urban twist on the traditional wooden chair ( at 180 Euro a pop) which the Mrs was rooting for, I opted for a more traditional design at half the price. Hand made in Kalamata by the same fellows who are making a bed for Olaf - to arrive on the day my daughter lands in Greece - I am more than happy.
There should have been six chairs but it appears that one of those packed speedily away into the car of George the Architect, my shopping guide, has a defect. I told George we should beware Greeks bearing gifts which, I think, went over his head. He is returning the chair - as he knows the fellows at the factory - to get a replacement. Anyhow I now sit in more comfort as I work, the chairs pro tem rest on the veranda outside the Bat Room which will - next month - be covered in terracotta tiles.
I suspect George the Architect is still a bit cross about me using marble from Fox Marble (FOX) in Kosovo rather than local marble at the Greek Hovel. But I am a shareholder, get a discount, and want to show my support.
Anyhow it is now in place. This window sill is - as you might have guessed by "the rock" at the end of the now elongated Rat Room. When the windows go in, later this week, its true splendour will be apparent. But here is a taster.
On the steps up to the front door of the Greek Hovel in the side of the bread oven there is a small hole in which a curious, rusting, metal object, pictured below, has always sat. I have always wondered what it is. George the Architect says it is a World War One bomb which would have been dropped from planes, minus of course the fuse and the head. Well maybe, but that begs other questions...
Firstly the hovel was built in 1924. that is after WW1 and was there much use of planes over Greece in the first global war? I doubt it, certainly not in this part of the world. Perhaps this bomb might have been a relic of the Greco-Turkish war of 1919-22, a conflict which did not cover the Hellenes in glory and is thus perhaps not one that George would care to mention? If there are any military historians out there who can shed more light on this, feel free to get in touch. Meanwhile the bomb stays in situe in its resting place at the side of the bread oven.
George the Architect says he is proud of his work at the hovel. And so he should be. For four years we have worked on plans, tweaked, re-tweaked, waded through layers of Greek bureaucracy and now we are almost there as the photos below show. I am proud too. I know I am not an easy client and so I have had walls pulled down and rebuilt and made big changes as we went along but they have worked.
the biggest change was in insisting that the old flat roof be removed from the former kitchen'living room on the second floor. Now you stand there and gaze up into the timbers of the wooden roof above you.
As you walk out of the kitchen, there will soon be wooden steps but for now you just haul yourself onto a brick wall and if you are brave enough walk across the beams to the balcony which runs outside the room above the rat room and the upper floor of the new wing looking up into the Taygetos Mountains. Suffering a bit from vertigo George had to offer a helping hand but gingerly i made my way to that balcony and the view is spectacular.
Ignore all the wires hanging from various parts, they will soon be boxed in and tidied up. Try to imagine it without the wires and with floorboards. In a few days you will not have to imagine! One photo below shows the tiles, old style in colour and texture and laid the old way, interlocking. We are now so close. Close enough to discuss with George matters such as the humanure pit, where to put solar panels and PV cells, the type of freezer we want and how to get our chosen cooker from Austria. There is the choosing of terracotta tiles to surround the house ( better wait for the Mrs on that front) and the buying of beds and the insertion of book shelves. These are but little details, in the overall scheme of things we are almost there!
Like a true imbecile I left the cable i use to connect my camera to my PC back in England so I head back from Kambos into Kalamata in a few minutes to buy a replacement. For I have spent a wonderful hour up at the hovel with George the Architect and it looks magnificent. That is not to say that it actually has any doors and windows bar those in the Bat Room where I shall sleep tonight but...
The good news is that they are almost ready. Tomorrow is a bank holiday here, allowing hard working Greeks to celebrate the Assumption of the Virgin Mary by eating and drinking in excess. On Thursday or Friday the doors, windows and floorboards arrive at the hovel and will be installed. They are almost ready...here they are at the factory earlier this week being treated and painted.
Fear not daughter Olaf and the Mrs by the time you get here the eco palace, formerly known as the Greek Hovel, will be fully habitable. Okay, no cooker and just one bed and a few other things missing but habitable and secure. George says he is proud of his work and so he should be, the place looks magnificent.
I started today at 4.30 AM GMT in Bristol. I did not have the rub of the green with logistics in Athens and thus I did not arrive at my posh Kalamata hotel until 6 PM GMT, 8 PM local time. I have checked my emails , enjoyed a Greek salad and am just about to order an ouzo. But the really good news comes from George the Architect…the Bat Room at the Greek Hovel is wildlife diversity secure, the power and water is still working and so tomorrow I move in….
Of course, three years ago, I used to stay at the hovel in the one room which was then, at least partially, wildlife diversity secured. But it was only partially secure and as I lay there at night I could hear rats running outside the window and I found sleep almost impossible as I pondered what else might be trying to get inside.
George did not relay progress on doors and windows elsewhere at the hovel which is rather important to the Mrs and daughter Olaf who will arrive, with Joshua, over the coming week. All will become clear as I head up to Kambos and the hovel at just after noon.
The Bat Room may indeed be secure but, unlike here in Central Kalamata, all will be quiet outside apart from the screeches, rustling, squawks and other noises of the wildlife diversity community. It will take me a while to adjust to that and I admit that I feel rather nervous. But I have booked only one night at my hotel. The die is cast after four years of hard work it is time to move in. Fingers crossed.
You wonder why the Greek economy is such a trainwreck? Of course there are all sorts of reasons: the scorched earth policies imposed on Greece by Germany, the EU and IMF banksters; the debt Greece should never have been allowed to take on, the bloated public sector, corruption, they all play a part. But, as I discover again today as I try to rebuild the Greek Hovel, it is the smothering bureaucracy that kills enterprise. Take my marble, stuck at Kalamata.
The shipment to go on windowsills etc passed through customs on the Greek Kosovo border with no problems at all yesterday morning. Last night it arrived at Kalamata where it needs a second customs check at the port. Why?
Simple: two customs checks means two employees, probably more, have something to do. More rules mean the bloated State can hire more folks which it thinks is creating jobs. But they are jobs paid for by a State drowning in debt. And the regulations created to keep the state employees busy just kill enterprise.
I am not in Greece to sign for my marble. And so although George the Architect has produced my tax number and documents at Kalamata customs that is not enough. He needs a piece of paper saying he is authorised to act for me. He has one from my Mrs and he has a Greek version of our wedding certificate but that is not enough, he needs a paper from me.
But not just any paper, not a normal lawyers letter. I need an official paper stamped by the Greek consulate in Birmingham or the embassy in London – more work is thus created for State employees to help them fill their day. And until I produce the paperwork, the Marble will be impounded which means that workers who were planning to install windows and doors next week will be stood down.
This is one little episode. I can resolve it by wasting a day trekking to London on Tuesday. But this sort of thing happens countless times every day in every part of Greece. In giving all those state employees something to do it helps to strangle the private sector. Here end eth the lesson in Greekenomics
Six more photos have arrived of the work cracking on apace at the Greek Hovel, c/o George the Architect. The first three are of the kitchen, formerly the only habitable room - if you did not mind the rats - in the whole house. It used to have a flat concrete roof but now enjoys an arched wooden roof and the stone walls have been plastered.
Photo four is of the master bedroom now with its stone walled bathroom area - looking down away from the Taygetos mountains. Number five is of the balcony which runs outside the room above the master bedroom and the room above the rat room - there is in fact no wall between these two rooms. It looks up to the Taygetos.
Finally with Gregori the snake killer sitting in the foreground another scene of men hard at work. The stonework on the bread oven next to the stars has been repointed, the tiles are almost all on... we are getting there.
A few more photos of the new roof at the Greek Hovel have arrived from George the Architect. The first three are internal and in the new wing. The third giving an idea of how the second floor of that wing will lead seemlessly into the new area above the rat room. The final one show that on the area above the kitchen the tiles are now actually going on!
Once before I arrived at the Greek Hovel to find workmen proudly admiring a construction made of brand new shiny bricks. Much to their pleasure I had it torn down, an extra days work for them. I rather assumed that the message had got through. You can imagine my horror when arriving at the hovel yesterday to find piles of shiny new bricks in the new wing and the rat room. Cripes!
George the Architect is not around, for family reasons, but his business partner Sofia and a young trainee who acts as translator soon arrived and a heated discussion with a gaggle of workmen ensued. It is the way of the Greek language that a discussion on the most trivial matters becomes so animated that it appears as if all parties are trying to solve some major international crisis. I stood my ground.
In the rat room, the walls are the old ones and are, frankly, not that beautiful. So they will be plastered with a smooth white finish. As such I showed that I can compromise and accepted that in that room, a narrow room, bricks can be used to house the eco-loo and then plastered. They will fit in.
But in the new wing the stonework is magnificent. A brick and plaster enclosure for the eco-loo and shower would simply be wrong. One of the workmen who spoke reasonable English agreed with me and it was agreed that stones would be used. There was a rear-guard action in some quarters. Do I not realise that this will make the bathroom that bit narrower as the walls will be thicker. We worked out the maths and it was agreed that my net loss would be 24 centimetres. I do not see that as a problem. Eventually folks conceded.
Sofia, the trainee and I wandered around the house ironing out numerous other little points as we waited for the doors and windows man to arrive. He, I gather, is also the man who will build the floors/ceilings in the new wing and above the rat room. Eventually a rather large and unshaven chain smoking individual toddled up. Now for the bad news.
The roof, which was meant to have gone on three weeks ago will start to be erected early next week and will be finished by the end of July. But the windows, doors and floors? Er.. September said the man. What the fuck? I was wielding my olive pruning axe and started waving it angrily, as would a Greek, to show that I was cross. I had made it quite clear to George that in late August the Mrs, Joshua and Olaf arrive for a holiday and that while I had no problem with a lack of windows and doors the women of the household would do. The man said he would do his best and started measuring up the windows and doors. FFS why did he not do this weeks ago?
It has been agreed that at least some windows and doors will be installed by the time the Mrs arrives with an aim of getting everything done. Pro tem, at least the bat room has a door, a window, a shower and an eco-loo. It might be cramped but we could all stay in that one room but surely we could at least get the rat room made wildlife diversity proof? Amid talk of how ferocious Olaf can be (what do they know about my charming daughter?) it has been agreed that they will work all hours to hit our targets.
I needed to calm down as the all parties meetings continued, without the windows man who was measuring away. So though in shorts and sneakers, not the jeans and sturdy boots one should wear in the snake fields, I headed off to prune my beloved olive trees. Now and then I was called back to settle another minor point. In the end I gave up as pruning, especially when you are being extra careful as to where you tread, requires concentration and some semblance of tranquility.
Notwithstanding my concerns about snakes and other members of the wildlife diversity community I cannot stress how much I feel at home working in the fields. I accept that I am perhaps not the most efficient of workers and it is also very possible that I may not be the greatest of olive tree pruners or harvesters but as I work, amid the almost deafening but soothing noise of cicadas, there is a real sense being at peace. One can forget about work back home, indeed it helps you to realise that it really is not that important or, at many levels, enjoyable. The frustrations I feel almost every day as I stare at my computer just disappear.
The view, BTW, is of the new wing ground floor looking away from the mountains.
The headline really does reflect the photos so if you are squeamish do not look any further. This trio of pictorial horrors arrived this morning in an email from George the Architect. Chief builder Gregori the snake killer has been at work.
Most snakes of this type of adder, the most poisonous of the nine Greek species that are poisonous, are 20-30 centimetres long. This one was forty centimetres in length. You may wonder what it is hanging out of its mouth…
That is the tail of a large rat which it had just killed and was digesting. The act of digestion slowed it up greatly so allowing Gregori – who came across this on the building site – to act. The snake killer needed no invitation.
That the serpent was hanging around in the vicinity of the Greek Hovel is a bit of a shock. I was rather hoping that all the noise made by Gregori and his crew of Albanians had persuaded the wildlife diversity to head elsewhere, preferably to land owned by other folks but at least to the further reaches of the hovel’s fields. I was mistaken. As I plan my next trip to the Mani in three weeks: Yikes!
As you can see below, the main job of Gregori the snake killer and his team, the building of the walls at the Greek Hovel is now done. The last bit was the balcony with views up into the Taygetos mountains and it is done. Next up is grouting, pointing, or whatever it is called. In the second photo you can see that the stone of the hovel are held together with concrete. But that is now to be scraped out and replaced with a coloured mortar. I was offered a choice of colours and went for the one you can see, a very pale yellow.
So now as the roofers and floorboard team prepare to move in, Gregori and his men will work on all the internal and external walls in the newer part of the house (the new wing and the room above the rat room) regrouting or whatever it is called. In the old part, the walls will be plastered and painted white as they are in the bat room.
A final meeting before I head back was held with George the Architect today. we are now discussing things like installing a Range cooker, what tiling to use outside and pretty minor details. We really are getting there...
It may have escaped your attention in the photo below but the external and internal walls are almost complete. Assuming the weather holds - and that is a safe enough bet - snake killer Gregori and his team will have the job done by the end of next week. And thus George the Architect tells me that it is time to install a roof. Cripes, we are ahead of schedule.
Daughter Olaf, who is due to make her debut visit in late August, says that a roof is a good thing to have. She is also keen on toilets and showers. Girly Girly. But she shall have her wish. George reckons that within four weeks we will have not only a roof but also the wooden floors above the master bedroom (new wing) and rat room in place.
At that point Gregori and team will return to take the concrete out from between the stones and regrout the traditional way to bring out the real colour of the hovel/eco palace. When that is complete the polished concrete white floors will go down in the rat room and master bedroom
But first things first. The roof. George had a funny idea that we would keep the old concrete flat roof in the kitchen. I disabused him and it was removed. Instead there will be a vaulted wooden roof across the whole second floor, so giving a feeling of more room as you star up at the timbers. On top of the wood will be tiles.
Below are two photos from Kambos. The first are the newer brighter tiles. The second the older duller tiles. We will, naturally, be using the latter. But it is not just the colour. These days the modern mass produced tiles stick together being laid side by side. Think of a row of Cs facing down. In the old days they interlocked a C facing down links into a C facing up, etc, etc. I hope the pictures make it clearer than my words. Natch we go for the old way. God willing you will see a finished roof within a month.
George the Architect sends more photos. You can see that the bat room now has a polished concrete floor and the dividing walls for the eco-loo and the shower are up with a stand waiting for a sink to arrive from Bristol. The door into the rat room is bricked up pro tem to allow me to sleep there in a wildlife free zone when I head over in a few weeks time. Elsewhere progress is rapid with the rat room now appearing to be semi roofed and progress on the upper floor rapid.
George the Architect has been in touch with an update on progress at the Greek Hovel and, as you can below, see there really has been progress. The rat room extension walls are underway and the new wing of the house which will double the floor space is now also starting to take shape. George says the door to the bat room is on its way and it will be habitable within two weeks. The rest of the hovel is still on track to be finished by September, after just 51 months!
The skies over the Hovel and Kambos look dark in these photos but I see that today it is 17 degrees and sunny in Kambos and tomorrow it hits 19 degrees. Later in the week there will be rain and it will dip to 14 degrees but still why on earth am I sitting here in Bristol at my laptop when I could be pruning olive trees in the Mani?
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?
When building his house at Kardamili, 20 miles down the road from the Greek Hovel, all round superhero Paddy Leigh Fermor decided that he needed to go back to England for some literary business. On his return, some months later, he decided that the builders, though following plans, were building his house the wrong way round. Thus he instructed them to tear it down and start again.
I arrived at the Greek Hovel this morning to meet George the Architect and to inspect work on the bat room. The builders had been hard at work creating a bathroom space. Quelle horreur! I suppose it is what was in the plans but it was not what I wanted. Bricks rather than stone had been used and the walled off area was enormous devouring far too much space in what will be my residence this summer while the rest of the eco-palace is completed.
All change. George got out his tape measure and we have agreed that there will be a small room for the eco-loo with a sliding wooden door. Next to it will be a semi-open plan shower with an external wall just five foot high to keep the water in but and spare the modesty of whoever is using it. Outside that there will be a sink with storage space. The footprint of the bathroom area has been slashed by almost a half and my bolt-hole will feel all the bigger at the end of it.
The builders were, naturally, delighted as they started to tear down their work. There is an extra day and a half of labouring in it for them. Once again I am doing my little bit for the Greek economy.
The good news is that we are still under budget even with this minor hiccup since the old house was in marginally better shape than George had feared. The even better news is that the bat room will be finished and snake secured by mid April. The rest of the hovel will be finished and ready for fit out by August or September which I take to mean Christmas.
Perhaps 2018 guests might have to think about 2019 now but as I wandered around with George we started to discus where beds will go and where power switches will be situated. We have redesigned the rat room bathroom on the hoof to take out a shower and create more space, and additional bookshelves. I can, at last, really feel my retirement home starting to take shape.
I turned up as agreed with George the Architect at 11 AM to discuss progress at the Greek Hovel. Twenty four hours of solid rain with more coming down today has left the site a bit of a mudbath and I was not greatly surprised that there were no workers present. But I was rather expecting George. He was not answering his phone so I kicked my heels and tried to start the process of burning off the branches cut down from last year's olive harvest.
In my defence the whole place is sodden. But I noted on other hills nearby that fires were burning away happily. If my neighbours could do it...
With some lawyers letters from Roger Lawson to use to start the blaze I set to work. I knew old Lawson would come in useful one day. But let me tell you that there can be smoke without fire. I managed it several times before giving up and heading back to the village of Kambos.
Sitting in the Kourounis taverna an old man approached me and started babbling away in Greek. He seemed friendly enough and after a while managed to grasp what everyone else in Kambos knows, that is to say my Greek is rudimentary at best. But I did gather two words: spiti (house) and fire (demonstrated by him producing flame from a lighter). He was laughing.
Given that there is no-one for miles around the hovel I do not understand how news of my pyromaniac failings have reached the village already, but it seems to be the way. At last I got hold of George the Architect who was sitting in his nice warm office in Kalamata. Apparently work on making the bat room habitable starts first thing tomorrow. I shall be there. I will not be betting the ranch on anyone else being there too.
I accept that we hacked branches off about 30 olive trees that stood by the side of the track up to the Greek Hovel in order to allow the builders to get their bigger trucks up. We also appear to have damaged the dry stone walls in places. Its a given. My bonkers neighbour ( he lives two miles away but is my closest neighbour) Charon has not asked for any compensation. He is a good guy. But then there are two cousins who want more. I met with them in my hotel this week with George the Architect there to translate.
Old men they appeared friendly. The reasonable cousin has seen about 20 trees damaged but he knows that the branches will have regrown by next year's harvest and his main concern are the walls which we have promised to restore when the hovel is rebuilt. He said you compensate me what you think fair.
The unreasonable cousin has seen just eight trees damaged. He wants 300 Euro. I pointed out that as a result of the storm the economic loss this year was exactly zero and both men agreed. We also agreed that the branches would be back by next year. So the unreasonable cousin has lost exactly nothing. His harvest this year will be so bad that he probably won't even bother doing it at all. So having accepted that his economic loss was exactly nil I was hoping for some movement. After all you can buy land with five trees on it for 300 Euro!
George confirmed that he still wanted 300 Euro.
I paid for our drinks and said George would let them know my decision tomorrow as it was not good to discuss money in this way. My decision is to give them 400 Euro. If the unreasonable cousin still demands 300 he will clearly be stealing from his reasonable relative and that is not the done thing. My offer is more than fair and - as they squabble among themselves to divide the spoils they will know that.
George the architect is a modernist. I am a traditionalist. And thus at every stage of the design and reconstruction of the Greek Hovel he has an idea, my heart sinks, we discuss it and we reach my conclusion. And so last week we took a trip to a windows, shutters and door factory in the neighbouring village. I say factory, it was a big shed with - as far as I could see - the boss and just one employee.
The matter of shutters was not up for dispute. The Mrs had sent over a photo of her favoured - traditional - design. George tried to suggest we look at newer ways which...I cut him off. The Mrs has decreed, we don't argue. So that was settled. Doors were also settled in that we had sent photos of the big external door at Paddy Leigh Fermor's house down the road in Kardamili. Take away the grill and we are there. Again. Don't argue with the Mrs.
So we entered the factory and George and the boss took us over to a demonstration window frame which was clearly of the modern style. Complex machinery allowed the windows to tilt open as well as be flung open to let in the snakes. I let George and the boss gabble away for a while. I was distracted by the two factory cats and a small kitten which was playing happily.
After a few minutes George and the boss looked at me. I know that the window is expensive, modern and that when the complex joints and bolts break it will cost an arm and a leg to get a little man out from Kalamata to mend it, especially as he will have to order in new parts from Germany which will take weeks. Besides which our house was first built in 1924 not 2014. So I said no and looked at the windows of the factory itself, old style and simple. The message got through.
So we moved on to discuss which wood we should use and after that I looked at the big bags of sawdust piling up and asked "what do you do with that - can I buy it from you?" The man looked puzzled, he just gives the dust away to shepherds for winter bedding for their flocks. Of course he'd be delighted to help but he still looked confused.
George had to explain to him about how you use sawdust with an eco-loo. Not speaking Greek I'm not sure into how much detail he went. But the man nodded and understood. Another problem resolved.
I cannot say that I expected dramatic progress in the rebuilding of the Greek Hovel. And my expectations were matched. No. They were exceeded. Eventually I extracted from George the architect the admission that the builders had enjoyed a long break as they awaited permits and then as the weather turned against them In fact they had only restarted work again 24 hours before my arrival. But now they are hard at it.
As you can see there are now giant piles of earth as they have dug out the excavations for the expansion of the hovel. Its floorspace is set to more than double by the time we have finished. And thus there has been limited progress on what was the old hovel: the bat room, the rat room (now demolished) and the small living space on the second floor.
The big excavation is for the new wing which will on its own have the same floor space (over two floors) as all the existing rooms. The other additions will be a lengthening of the rat room and the building of a new room above it which will link without a wall into the extension making it just an additional part of that room, and via a door to the old living area which will become the kitchen.
Finally there are foundations being laid outside the bat room as you look out towards the monastery. That is partly to reinforce the external wall there so that it can withstand earthquakes and partly as a base for a wooden platform to sit outside the kitchen which will become an external dining area.
It all seems a long way off right now. We had been hoping for a June 2018 completion. George now concedes that will not happen although the bat room should be habitable by Easter. Overall completion? This time next year? 2019? Who knows. In Greece "avrio" is, as ever, the default timetable.
It has only taken three and a bit years but the final planning consent has now arrived. We can now start putting a roof on the Greek Hovel and extending it to more than double its original size. George the architect has been in touch and it is all systems go. However, there are, Greece being Greece, a few minor issues.
But there is nothing to stop the trusty band of Greek Albanians from re-starting work on the house itself. Fingers crossed it will be completed by next June although, since that is George's prediction, I am thinking that next September is more likely. But at that point the Greek hovel will become a green palace, generating all of its own power from PV cells and recycling all the waste from the eco-loos and other waters into improving the yield on my olive crop.
I was intrigued to see on a Bulletin Board the other day that one particular knave was still pushing the idea that I had fled to Greece to evade justice as I was afraid of charges of market abuse. I cannot remember when this myth started but it was many years ago. Suffice to say, all the regulators know exactly where I am in England for most of the year and it goes without saying that calling out a fraud or a daft stockmarket promotion as such is not market abuse.
How I wish that I lived in Greece all year round even if it did encourage stockmarket halfwits to push this myth even more. I suppose when obvious scoundrels promoting fraudulent shares spread lies like this, one should take it as an endorsement of your work.
Bring on the closure of sociology departments across Britain and an unemployed Mrs might just be persuaded to agree to a move. But until then I fear that I must remain in old Blighty for the bulk of the year.
Maybe when the Palace takes shape I can persuade the Mrs to join me in early retirement in the Hellenic Republic? Fingers crossed.
We were told, when we bought the Greek Hovel in 2014, that it was 100 years old and had been substantially rebuilt after the commies burned down in the Civil War of the late forties. Perhaps we might date it a bit more accurately now.
The workmen who are turning the hovel into a palace have uncovered a stone as you can see below. We can't make out the exact date but the year is 1924. Was the hovel built then or extended then? We don't know. But the snake killers (aka the workmen), George the Architect and I are all chuffed by the discovery. The stone will be preserved and will remain on the external wall of the new enlarged ex-hovel as it takes shape.
A meeting with George the Architect at the Greek Hovel went well. Joshua inspected his inheritance. The Mrs fretted about where to put the washing machine. For a house that is half built with no doors windows, roof and, in the case of two and a half rooms, walls, I reckon she may be getting ahead of herself.
After that a visit to our local village of Kambos and for 12 Euros we share two courses and a quarter litre of Rose at Miranda's. Miranda herself has retired but the food is, as ever excellent. Chicken in a lemon sauce with potatoes (not chips) and a Greek salad all made with fresh local ingredients. Perfect. Miranda's was packed out - that is to say all six tables were occupied.
Afterwards coffees at the Kourounis taverna run by lovely Eleni. It is agreed that her two year old daughter will marry Joshua in due course. The dowry, free Greek salads for life. well actually I have not negotiated that bit yet but the wedding has been agreed. The Kourounis taverna is pretty busy and conversation turns to the ghastly creperie which had absolutely zero customers during our time in town.
Eleni is ever the diplomat but she is no fan of the bossy French woman who has parked her tables across the square and intruded on life in a village where nothing is meant to change and rarely does. But the lack of customers has not gone un-noticed and there is a small smile noticeable as she notes that the business plan keeps changing. First it was crepes, then pizzas and now coffee and toasties. And now the summer is over, the tourists who might have stopped in as they drive from Kardamili to Kalamata or vice versa are all gone. And the locals will stay in the four of five long established watering holes of Kambos.
The creperie is, methinks, toast. Eleni's smile tells you it certainly is not hurting her trade though it is an annoying eyesore. I reckon by the time I return for the olive harvest in November the creperie will be shuttered up. Good.
Work continues on remodelling the existing structures at the Greek Hovel as we await final planning permission for adding new structures, including a roof. And so I bring you the new main doorway which is now almost complete as the photos below show.
You may remember that the old door was a rectangular green metal and glass object which was not going to win any prizes in a beauty contest. It kept out the snakes but small lizards could manage to wriggle in around the frame. as the hovel becomes a palace I have grand designs.
George the architect says that the stones used around the door and the arch above will lighten over the next few weeks so blending in with the existing stonework.The white plastic you see below the arch is temporary and there will be another ring of stones on top. The doorway will thus look like one in an old building in the centre of the nearest village, Kambos which is the last photo in the selection.
As for the door, here my pinching of ideas moves down the coast to the house that Paddy Leigh Fermor built just outside Kardimili. A thick wooden door painted a light blue has been ordered. But doors and windows are for the future. For now the wildlife diversity is free to enter at will.
I leave for Greece early next week with the Mrs and Joshua. Sadly, for most of the trip we are booked in to stay with her sister and her husband, the bubble, whose family live about an hour and a half the other side of Kalamata. It is my friends in Kambos who I want to see and the hovel that I wish to photo and admire. Sitting near the sea at the height of the tourist season in the midst of a madding crowd is not MY Greece. That is sitting with the snakes and the quiet up in the foothills of the Taygetos.
I shall try to escape as much as I can and bring you more photos on my rare snatches of freedom.
It has been troubling me deeply that in the plans for the Greek Hovel, the room known as the bat room will not be connected to any other part of the house. Since this bedroom will be for daughter Olaf, who will be 16 in exactly one week's time, I worry what happens if she gets scared by a noise at night or sees a snake? Heading out through her front door into the dark is hardly practicable. So I have changed the plans.
As you can see, from this picture taken in the rat room, a hole has been knocked between the bat room and the rat room which will be connected via the big new extension to the rest of the house. George the architect was worried that the wooden door, which we will install, might not be very high but I assured him that it would only be used in emergency and that Olaf is not very tall anyway.
But she is sixteen said George whose own daughters are not yet one years old. I nodded. "Pretty soon she will be bringing a boyfriend here and so you won't have to worry". He laughed. George, my friend, you will not treat these matters with such levity in a decade and a half's time. I was not laughing and explained what lay ahead to him. Some subjects are better not discussed or even contemplated.
The olive trees are owned by a father and son. The young man reckons 500 to 600 Euros is about right. It is his father who wanted more - 1500 Euro. So they settled in the middle. It is the father who goes to show that, as ever, Paddy Leigh Fermor has the Greeks nailed. 99% of Greeks are the nicest, most fair and generous folks you can meet. My neighbour Charon wants no compensation and neither does the sister in law of lovely Eleni. But, as Paddy noted in his classic book The Mani, just now and again you meet a Greek who is just such a complete and utter bastard that he will serve as a reminder of how great everyone else is.
I have inspected the thirty trees which we have "pruned". In some cases the branches cut are the sort you would cut at harvest time to flail across a machine to clean off olives. They are that small and they will have regrown by the time of the 2019 harvest. So it is one year's harvest lost. In other cases the branches are bigger and it will take three years for them to re-grow.
George and I did our maths and we cannot see how the loss of income over three years is anything more than 400 Euro and that is generous. So I said I would pay 500 Euro and if the old bastard does not accept he can take me to court. Moreover I shall tell the entire village what a bastard he has been and shame him in public. It is his call and I am very relaxed either way.
Meanwhile at the hovel work continues apace. I cut frigana and the Greek Albanians work on the building and on killing snakes. As you can see the ugly concrete blocks beneath the old ugly windows have now gone as well and the one window into the bat room has been extended so that it will get more natural light. The upstairs room will be flooded with light as the windows will be be almost floor to the current ceiling. Of course when it is finished that room - which will lead into the new room above the rat room and the new wing, will have a pitched wooden roof so it should feel very spacious indeed.
You will remember that back in early April my blood sugars measured 15.3 and I was told that my type 2 diabetes was raging out of control. It has been a long slog since then as I have aimed to get into a target range of 5 to 7. Whatever that means.
But I can now say that for three days both in the morning and evening my bloods have come in at between 5.5 and 7.2 with most tests in the 6's. This is normal range. This is where I should be. No booze, no sugars in anything and no carbs is the key with some gentle exercise thrown in. Oh, and no stress.
There is bad news on that front to report from the Greek Hovel. We had to chop a few branches off trees leading up to the hovel to allow heavy machinery in. The neighbours happily agreed. They have now, post chopping, asked for 900 Euro compensation. I am spitting nails. You can buy a new sapling for 8 Euro. You can buy land here planted with trees for 65 Euro a tree and even that is more than the Net Present Value of the olives you will harvest. And we have cut off a few branches.
I know that they are taking the piss. They know they are taking the piss. And I have told George the architect that they are taking the piss. As I say when some crook sues me for libel in the UK "See you in Court bitchez." There are three neighbours involved. I have told George I will see them in Kambos and face them down in front of their fellow villagers so exposing their greed to all. Their assumption must be that I am a rich Brit who will roll over. They are wrong and we have the photos, before and after, to prove it. If needs be I shall go to Court.
I am sure that I will calm down by tomorrow, but stress is not good. maybe I need to just fly back to the UK and calm down. Probably not. I need to stay here and sort this out.
The diabetes is not beaten yet. I am on heavy meds and I am sure that my GP will want me to get back into normal range with ever lower doses. But so far so good. My first goal has been reached and I am starting to think about a return to work in September.
I drove us up to the Greek hovel. We discussed snakes which are all now out of hibernation. "It is their time" he said in a way that reminded me of the Lord of the Rings. Now starts the fourth age of man. Or in Kambos, Gandolph, or Papou, announces Now is the age of snakes. But conversation was a little hard when your companion obviously just wants to go back to bed. He did however note that the Hovel is a lovely place but, as we crawled along the long and winding and very bumpy track looking for snakes to run over, just a bit far from the village. "I like it that way" I assured him. "No-one can find me."
Arriving at the hovel we immediately met a herd of goats. Whose are they asked Nicho. I did not have a clue but said that I did not mind. Nicho was less certain pointing out that they will eat my olives. And indeed that is the case. Sheep walk on the grass and tend to eat only things that lie on the floor. Goats jump on rocks and will eat anything, frigana included, but do have a penchant for olive tree leaves. Nicho went up to an enormous billy goat and told it to bugger off. Which it did. I assured him not to worry. I do not mind losing a few olives if I also lose some frigana. More importantly, snakes do not like goats.
The purpose of our trip was to check out my wild olive trees - trees whose fruit cannot be processed into oil. I seem to have been a little confused on this matter. The two trees I had identified as wild as they produced big black olives which George the Albanian shuns when we harvest, are in fact not wild olives. Those are olives which you need to cure to eat as opposed to pressing for oil. Aha. I told the Mrs later that this was women's work and a job for her. She seemed unconvinced.
But as we wandered to the far reaches of the property, at either end, we did indeed discover at least 20 wild olive trees. Nicho says that he will monitor them this harvest and we will splice on domestic olives for next year so upping my yield. But it gets better still. As we wandered across the land we identified spaces for at least another sixty new trees to be planted this October at a cost of 8 Euro a pop. The net result of this all would be to increase my harvest, ceteris paribus, by at least 50%.
George the architect looks at a non olive tree and says "the Foresty Commision has said we must not chop it down.". I look at these trees and the undergrowth that surrounds them and say "that looks the sort of place snakes like". Nicho looks at that tree and says "I will chop it down so we can plant more olives." I like Nicho's attitude.
So this weekend we are are to poison the frigana which has made a resurgence in certain of the further reaches of the property and will chop down some trees. Nicho has ordered the poison already and he assures me that the areas we deal with will be brown and weed and frigana free within a month. And that the poison will also drive the snakes onto my neighbours' lands. I like the sound of that. We start at 9 AM on Saturday. I cannot wait.
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.
Each year I take 16 kg of the olive oil from the Greek Hovel back to the UK with me in a big can and sell the rest. But the can is just too big for my rucksack so means I have to pay both to put it in a special box (30 Euro) and also for an extra piece of hold luggage ( 25 Euro). It is still cheap oil but that rankles. But I have a cunning plan.
Exhibit A is one 16 kg can of olive oil.
Exhibit B is three 5kg cans bought last night from lovely Eleni as I said goodbye to the Kourounis taverna and to Kambos. I have borrowed a funnel from my fave restaurant in Kalamata, the Katalenos on Navarino Street where you will taste the best Octopus of your life. And I then achieved a transfer.
What happens to the excess 1 kg of oil you say? Well there was a bit of, er, leakage on the transfer. Holding a 15 kg can and pouring gently into a small funnel is not easy. So I guess there is 0.5 kg left. Tonight I meet George the Architect and it may be coals to Newcastle but I don't think he farms so he can have an early Christmas present.
And I have tested already. All three 5kg cans fit into my rucksack leaving plenty of room for the few books and clothes I brought with me. Cunning eh?
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!
Slightly gingerly I got on my new bike and rode back to the Greek Hovel tonight. I encountered no wildlife diversity on the way home and, even better, none inside the hovel. Things are actually working quite well here. For starters the electricity has not been cut off despite there being an outstanding bill of 900 Euro. We think this is a bit of a misunderstanding and George the architect has played a blinder in keeping us in power. I sense we are not the only household in Greece not paying the bills. But we will do once the little misunderstanding is cleared up.
The water is also flowing. My guest last summer described the hosepipe shower as better than sex. That of course depends on who you are having sex with and, from a personal perspective, I would not be making such claims. But the water is great. It comes up the hill in a metal pipe and so by the time it gets here it is warm, shower-perfect. It is seriously the best shower you will ever enjoy. And so I flushed through the last winter water and pretty quickly I had warm water flowing strongly.
I have also managed to rig up by internet device and the coffee maker and so am online and now sipping my first mug of coffee. If the wildlife diversity gets too noisy at least I now have music to keep me company.
Already I can see moths gathering outside the glass of the front door. Okay the only door. They are drawn by the light. Pretty soon that door will become a killing field as the lizards start to feast. Occasionally you hear the lunge of a lizard as it thrashes its head gripping a soon to be ex-moth. If that is the only wildlife I hear tonight I shall count myself blessed.
For now Jon Bon Jovi is keeping me company and scaring off the wildlife diversity.
— Tom Winnifrith
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