Friday May 24, 2019
Photo Article - a Woodlarks training walk up the River Dee
Photo Article from the Welsh Hovel - this is what I do when not writing or walking
Photo Article update from the Welsh Hovel - a sight to delight daughter Olaf


Photo report from the Olive harvest at the Greek Hovel Day 3: the Albanian cavalry arrive

173 days ago

I rather regretted that third jug of local rose the night before, when my alarm started ringing at 5.20 AM. For Thrasher Bell had to get back to London and that meant getting him to the bust station in Kalamata before 6.30. Feeling a bit groggy I drove him into town and dropped him off. Stopping off at an ATM on the way back to load up with cash to pay my Albanian troops I arrived back in Kambos in time for an early morning coffee at the Kourounis taverna owned by lovely Eleni. The news was bad...

George the Albanian's brother had been hospitalised late last week so he was running half a day behind schedule. I headed back to the hovel with a hot cheese pie for Bernard and as I walked to my car who should I meet but George being driven by his son, an English speaker. I was assured that five Albanians would arrive by one.  My next encounter was with the local golden eagle sitting on a fence as I drove down the back track towards the valley floor.

ShareProphets reader Bernard and I laboured manfully all morning. And at two o'clock the Albanians pitched up. As you can see below, they know what they are doing. But we only enjoyed two and a half hours of their work before the dark descended.

My worry is that George reckons he will be done in a day arguing some trees are empty. He has another job to go to. I know that and having walked my land with Bernard I know that there are an awful lot of good trees. That will be a battle for day four. Can we get an extra half day out of the Albanians? So far we have c470kg of olives either down at the press weighed and waiting for pressing or up here bagged at the hovel.

I discussed this with Eleni after supper. This is Greekenomics for you. There is mass youth unemployment in Greece. But as this country;s economy has tanked some Albanians have gone home or to go work in a car wash in Britain. So there is a shortage of Albanians.  Thus Eleni has no-one to crop her olives. Everyone is fighting for Albanians meanwhile hundreds of thousands of Greeks sit there not working paid welfare by a country that is bankrupt. Go figure.




Waiting for Godot, aka a Bulgarian xxxx at the Greek Hovel.

312 days ago

Today was the day that my books, a few pieces of furniture and wall hangings as well as four Belfast sinks were meant to arrive at the Greek Hovel after a van journey from Bristol, via Bulgaria.  Much to my surprise the Bulgarian chap in London called yesterday and said to expect delivery this afternoon.

It got better still. At 11.30 AM he called and said that the van would be at the Petrol Station in Kambos to meet me in 45 minutes. I got in my car sped up here and waited. And waited.

Eventually I called to be told that the driver was indeed at the petrol station. I assured the chap in London that this was not the case as I was at the petrol station and was alone. It took a while before it was established that the van was waiting at a petrol station back in Kalamata. I gave instructions and killed time by wandering into the hardware store to buy some snake repellent canisters.  The man who knows me well, said “do you have snakes?” He smiled. He knows I do and that I am shit scared. It was his little joke and he fetched two canisters which, at 28 Euro, is the best investment I will ever make.

I killed some more time by heading up to the hovel and explaining, via one worker who speaks English, to a crew working incredibly hard, that I might need a bit of help unloading my van.  I headed back to the petrol station.

Eventually the van arrived and I explained to a sweaty little Bulgarian who spoke no English that he should follow me up the road to the hovel.  He drove slowly along the first half of the track which ends with the slope down past the deserted convent to the valley floor. I made to turn on to the track up towards the hovel but he stopped. He refused to go on.

He insisted that his van – which is exactly the same size as one used by the builders this very day and smaller than some of the heavy machinery we have taken up to the hovel – could not go on.  He tried to insist that he was only meant to take the goods to Kalamata even though the docket clearly stated my house name and Toumbia, the widely scattered group of houses. At this point I really started to think of a four letter word beginning with c to describe this sweaty Bulgar who wanted payment for dumping my goods in a deserted valley floor.

I told him to wait, headed back to the hovel and brought down two Greek labourers one driving a jeep the other a truck with a flat bottom. With little help from the tardy and cowardly Bulgar we loaded my possessions into the jeep, my car and the lorry. One chest of drawers belonging to my grandmother appeared to have become slightly damaged. I repaired it up at the hovel but as it was handed over I looked at the sweaty Bulgar who just shrugged his shoulders, it was not his fault. I thought the c word again.

Up at the hovel we unloaded the goods. The sinks have strict elf ‘n safey instructions in English about how they must be lifted by two men. They are very heavy indeed. Greek workers picked them up, slung them on their shoulders and carried them single handedly to the bat room where everything is now stored. I’ll put up pictures later.

The Greeks were heroic. I did my bit. The Bulgar is a pathetic wretch. Over at Kardamili there is a monument to Greek military successes. Suffice to say that nearly all of them were two thousand years ago. The few in modern times were largely against the Bulgarians in the Balkan wars of the early 20th century. 

I suggest that most Bulgars who have anything about them are now gainfully employed driving Ubers or selling the Big issue in London.  Those left in Bulgaria are clearly a dishonest, feckless, inbred and pathetic bunch. Perhaps to distract the good folk of the Hellenic Republic from his own treachery and incompetence, our loathsome Prime Minister Mr Alex Tspiras might consider invading Bulgaria as a distraction. Judging by today, it would be a walkover for mighty Greece.

Tom Winnifrith



Photo Article: I take it all back, Greeks hard at work at the Hovel - major progress

460 days ago

I headed back to the Greek Hovel expecting to find an empty building site and no signs of progress. I take it all back. It may be Sunday but three hard working Greeks were on site with a mini bulldozer, hard at work. How could I have ever doubted the work ethic of the citizens of the mighty Hellenic Republic?

As you can see, the foundations of the extension which - with the new room above the rat room - will more that double the size of the Hovel are now laid. Because this is an earthquake zone they must be concrete and sturdy and they look fit for purpose. Today's work was on filling in earth between the foundations so that - after a bank holiday tomorrow - the team can start laying the floors.

You may think that the final two photos of the bat room and the old house indicate little progress since December and that might indeed be the case. But George the Architect confirmed by phone that work restarts on the bat room this week and that we are still on track for it to be completed with power, a shower, water, lighting and snake proof doors and windows by Easter. Yes, Easter 2018 and that is our Easter not the Greek Easter two weeks later!.

That means that when I come back next time, in early May, I can live up at the hovel in a room with a double bed, water, lighting, the internet and full snake defences. By the early summer the rat room should also be fit for habitation and by late summer the ground floor of the new wing, the master bedroom, will be in use while work on the upper floor and the roof should be finished in the Autumn before the olive harvest.

So that means that all those invited over this summer can now start booking their flights and that Joshua and I can, indeed, spend the Autumn here fitting the place out for a family Christmas in Greece. Yes that is Christmas 2018!

PS It also means that those who volunteered to come over for the olive harvest 2018 can stay at the hovel so I shall be taking you up on your kind offer of working unpaid to do our bit for the Greek economic recovery.




Searching google for an article I wrote on cats - a great passage about my father & the vlachs: proud son time

732 days ago

I was trying to find an article I had written on how Greek kids torture cats but instead came upon a piece about Western study of the Vlachs, the Nomads of the Pindus Mountains. I have written (in Greeks Lesbians & Vlachs, HERE) about how this is one of my father's specialist subjects and who the vlachs are.  Anyhow, I stumbled upon this lengthy article "Aromanian Vlachs - The Vanishing Tribes" which included a section on my father which he will enjoy as it is very supportive of his work. This is the sort of thing to make a son very proud. It also, rightly, makes him seem a touch eccentric:

From Bronte Sisters to the Vlach Brotherhood..f rom muleteers' trains to Akropolis Express

I sometimes wonder what madeTom Winnifrith leave the chintzy universe of the Bronte Sisters and commute to the harsh,tangly and unrewarding Balkan Vlach topic...For nothing seems more conceivable unrelated than the rough sheepskin waistcoat clad Vlach as against the suavecrinoline of the English shires where professor Winnifrith seemed perennially and so securely stranded. Apart from these pure "sartorial" incompatibilities, it could be after all, I thought, that post-modern penchant for obscure lost causes (thathaunts some of us) and which determined the English professor to embracing a species facing perilous extinction.

It was the Daunt Books in London's Marylebone where I first spotted Winnifrith's book ambiguously titled "The Vlachs -History of a Balkan People"and I thought, instantly, at a book dealing with Romanians, since "Vlach" is just another -if slight obsolete- name for "Romanian" and Balkan Romance (as the last edition of Encyclopedia Britannica to the pointreveals)... Still, it was not the history of the Romanians Winnifrith was focusing upon but that of their close kinsmen, the Vlach populace of the Balkan Peninsula... Risky as it is to extract it from a larger Romanian context to which it organically belongs and try to clone and further present it as a distinct development, the history of the scattered Vlachdom is not the easiest thing to compile.

Yet it has to be said from the start that the Warwick based scholar's book has obvious merits notin the last for his stating of the identity of a people whose very existence is object of a careful camouflage. Winnifrith's The Vlachs soon was to become a ubiquitously quoted work (though not in Greece) and the author himself was paid anunctuous reverence, due to his presumed impartiality.When Winnifrith discovers them in 1975, the Vlachs of Greece were at the end of a traumatizing and torturous process of identity er asure. Roughly one year before, in 1974, with the Colonels’ Junta still in power in Athens, Vlach speakers stillrisked im prisonmentfor casually chatting in their language. The context was grim not only for vulnerable ethnicalminoritiesbut for anyliberal minded person: thousands, including women, were tortured and elementary if frivolous liberties like wearing long hair or mini-skirtwere liable to puritanical punishment

Tom Winnifrith



A snake encounter at the Greek Hovel, silly me: do as the Greeks go

1095 days ago

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.

Tom Winnifrith



Alex Tsipras Prime Minister of Greece – you are a traitor to your country, Grexit postponed?

1413 days ago

Tom Winnifrith



The Isles of Greece by Lord Byron

1438 days ago

What would the good Lord Byron - a man who died in Greece during the war of Independence -  say of Greece today, a country once again not its own master? To walk away from the Euro and to simply default on its debts, to stand on its own two feet and build again with pride? Or to accept further shame and humiliation and the impoverishment of its people in return for taking on yet more debts to enslave the children and grandchildren of todays Greeks?

Greece should default and walk away from the banksters of the EU and IMF with pride leaving its unpaid debts as their problem not ours.

The isles of Greece ! the isles of Greece
     Where burning Sappho loved and sung,
Where grew the arts of war and peace,
     Where Delos rose, and Phœbus sprung !
Eternal summer gilds them yet,
But all, except their sun, is set.
The Scian and the Teian muse,
     The hero’s harp, the lover’s lute,
Have found the fame your shores refuse :
     Their place of birth alone is mute
To sounds which echo further west
Than your sires’ ‘Islands of the Blest.’
The mountains look on Marathon—
     And Marathon looks on the sea ;
And musing there an hour alone,
     I dreamed that Greece might still be free ;
For standing on the Persians’ grave,
I could not deem myself a slave.
A king sate on the rocky brow
     Which looks o’er sea-born Salamis ;
And ships, by thousands, lay below,
     And men in nations;—all were his !
He counted them at break of day—
And when the sun set, where were they ?
And where are they ? and where art thou,
     My country ? On thy voiceless shore
The heroic lay is tuneless now—
     The heroic bosom beats no more !
And must thy lyre, so long divine,
Degenerate into hands like mine ?
’Tis something in the dearth of fame,
     Though linked among a fettered race,
To feel at least a patriot’s shame,
     Even as I sing, suffuse my face ;
For what is left the poet here ?
For Greeks a blush—for Greece a tear.
Must we but weep o’er days more blest ?
     Must we but blush ?—Our fathers bled.
Earth ! render back from out thy breast
     A remnant of our Spartan dead !
Of the three hundred grant but three,
To make a new Thermopylæ !
What, silent still ? and silent all ?
     Ah ! no ;—the voices of the dead
Sound like a distant torrent’s fall,
     And answer, ‘Let one living head,
But one, arise,—we come, we come !’
’Tis but the living who are dumb.
In vain—in vain : strike other chords ;
     Fill high the cup with Samian wine !
Leave battles to the Turkish hordes,
     And shed the blood of Scio’s vine !
Hark ! rising to the ignoble call—
How answers each bold Bacchanal !
You have the Pyrrhic dance as yet ;
     Where is the Pyrrhic phalanx gone ?
Of two such lessons, why forget
     The nobler and the manlier one ?
You have the letters Cadmus gave—
Think ye he meant them for a slave ?
Fill high the bowl with Samian wine !
     We will not think of themes like these !
It made Anacreon’s song divine :
     He served—but served Polycrates—
A tyrant ; but our masters then
Were still, at least, our countrymen.
The tyrant of the Chersonese
     Was freedom’s best and bravest friend ;
That tyrant was Miltiades !
      O that the present hour would lend
Another despot of the kind !
Such chains as his were sure to bind.
Fill high the bowl with Samian wine !
     On Suli’s rock, and Parga’s shore,
Exists the remnant of a line
     Such as the Doric mothers bore ;
And there, perhaps, some seed is sown,
The Heracleidan blood might own.
Trust not for freedom to the Franks—
     They have a king who buys and sells ;
In native swords and native ranks
     The only hope of courage dwells :
But Turkish force and Latin fraud
Would break your shield, however broad.
Fill high the bowl with Samian wine !
     Our virgins dance beneath the shade—
I see their glorious black eyes shine ;
     But gazing on each glowing maid,
My own the burning tear-drop laves,
To think such breasts must suckle slaves.
Place me on Sunium’s marbled steep,
     Where nothing, save the waves and I,
May hear our mutual murmurs sweep ;
     There, swan-like, let me sing and die :
A land of slaves shall ne’er be mine—
Dash down yon cup of Samian wine !
Tom Winnifrith



At the Greek Hovel the Olive harvest Really Does Start Tomorrow and Kambos a hive of activity

1636 days ago

You think Greeks are lazy. That is because all you see is folks in Athens sipping coffees all day. Out here in the Mani life is hard and folks do both a main job but also work the land. So my pal Vangelis is a delivery driver for Dixons but has – I think – 600 olive trees. Nikko and Eleni at the Kourounis taverna also own trees up near the Greek Hovel – they start their harvest tomorrow. And so do I!

The lovely Eleni has put me in touch with a new group of workers. Another chap called Foti, George and his son. I met up again with George today and we start on the olive harvest at 8 AM. So no ouzo for me tonight. To give you an idea of what lies in store for me here are some photos I took last week of a man harvesting trees on the road/track up to the Greek Hovel, just above snake hill. It seems to me that it looks like rather hard work.

Indeed Kambos is a hive of activity as folks gather in what they can ahead of the winter. The other day I heard voices on the land at the edge of the hovel. Given that I am in the middle of nowhere I wandered down to see what was going on. There was an old man and an even older woman picking what looked like weeds from the hillside. I asked if I could look and it seemed that the leaves looked a bit like rocket. The two pickers must have had a combined age of 150 but they were clambering up and down the rocks like young goats. They are a hardy lot here in the Mani, knowing how to extract all that they can from the land.

Remember that even 60 years ago you reached Kambos only by Donkey path up from the sea or by donkey path across the mountains. The road through here is a recent development. The folks here have been surviving for 3000 years (there is, you may remember, a Mycenaean tomb in the village) by living off what they can extract from the land.  Greece can go bust (well it is bust) but Kambos will go on. There is no tourist trade here – this remains a working village. And tomorrow I start work.

Olives are my first challenge. In time I plan to grow vegetables here but also to learn about what nature offers us all. I see plants that look like rocket and mushrooms growing on my land but I dare not touch. I guess I have to learn Greek and to learn from the old folk what to look for. There’s plenty of time for that.

Tom Winnifrith



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