In twelve days time I will walk 33 miles from Horse Hill to Woodlarks with 11 other rogue bloggers to try to raise £40,000 for a charity that really needs that cash. So if you are yet to sponsor me please do so now HERE. Sagturday saw a training walk allowing me to explore the area around my new home, the Welsh Hovel, on the River Dee.
I started at the Hovel. It had been a cold morning so I had three layers on. And for once I did not take my rucksack so had no water with me, a schoolboy error.
The first half a mile or so was on the Welsh side of the Dee before crossing over a 13th century Bridge into England. It is on this bridge every morning and afternoon as I drop my son Joshus off at nursery (in England) or pick him up that he says “Goodbye Wales” and then a minute later “Hello England” or vice versa.
On the far side, I headed towards Chester keeping the Dee close to my left apart from in one place where there was a field full of bulls and I decided to take a rather long detour.
I walked through woods and fields on a path that seems, after a while, to be rarely used. I met few walkers and as I waded through nettles in some places I undersgtood why. Joshua would have loved the deep dark wood and would have started chattering about the Gruffalo. In one wood the smell of wild garlic was almost overpowering.
At about two and a half hours I saw a small village ahead and reckoned that I had done at least seven miles so turned and headed back the way I had come. By this time the sun was hot and I was sweating badly and feeling a tad dehydrated as my schoolboy error came back to haunt me. But my feet were fine and though a fourteen mile walk is no real test, that it was essentially so easy, is a good sign for what is to come. And the scenery was wonderful, the North really is not so grim after all.
I came home to the Welsh Hovel late last night to see cat Quincey sitting outside in the yard. In my absence the Mrs had, for a second time, let him escape his new home. after driving almost 400 miles in a day I let rip with a few choice words and then wasted an hour of my life coaxing the wretched cat back inside where I pounced and recaptured him. He has just rewarded me with another shit on the kitchen floor.
The other sight to greet me on my return was a fridge magnet bought by the Mrs at the insistance of Joshua who is very taken with the Welsh dragon we see every day as we walk back from his nursery in England, over the bridge and back into the rain sodden second world.
As you may remember, my daught Olaf is half Welsh and a fierce patriot. She will no doubt be delighted to see similar tendencies emerging in young Joshua after just three weeks in this welfare addicted land.
Sian was collared on the upstairs landing and returned to her quarters. But Quincey made his way through the house. Until the day before this had technically been two houses. An 18th century wing to the old 17th century house was separated by hardboard and plasterboard. But those separations had been removed and thus Quincey moved on and found the annexe door open and escaped.
Every night since, he has returned but seemed nervous of myself and refused to be captured. I have no idea where he was hiding but by Friday morning he was back again but escaped my pursuit through one of the old barns on the other side of the yard behind the house facing the two doors (kitchen and annexe).
During the week, on the advice of well wishers, notably my friend Richard Jennings, I have tried to entice him further into the main entrance with food, hoping to run round and shut the door behind him but he has proved far too clever for me, grabbing the food and escaping. On Thursday night came a change of tack, putting a food bowl a yard inside the annexe and leaving its door open. My cunning plan was to entice him further into the annexe with a trail of”Dreamies”. Natch he took the food and Dreamies and escaped.
He ate more food from the inside annexe bowl on Friday during the day. Richard Jennings sent messages about using a dead fish as bait and threatened to come and capture the cat himself. A threat indeed. But the great Catfinder General will not be needed.
By 9.30 last night another trap had been laid and suddenly, as my two year old son Joshua and I said good night to Sian in her cat quarters, I heard cat miaows from inside the house. Joshua stayed with Sian, I rushed outside through the porch and raced to slam shut the door to the annexe. Then I returned to the cat quarters, where Sian was locked in, and Joshua and I wandered towards the miaows upstairs, where there is now no dividing door with the annexe. Quincey was indeed on the main landing but seeing us he retreated towards the annexe.
We have not yet rewired the annexe so it is deliberately without power and so Joshua and I had to pursue the cat in the dark eventually cornering it by the front door. How brave we were. I have a scratch along my forearm from where Quincey struggled. Once he escaped and had to be recaptured but he knew the game was up.
Reunited with his sister he is the prodigal son. He has been utterly affectionate, determined to be stroked and to sit on me at all times. Poor Sian has been muscled out. Both have been rewarded with food and a big fire to keep their quarters warm. Joshua, who had been told that Quincey was exploring and had learned the phrase “he might come back or he might not,” is delighted. We are all delighted. The village Facebook Group which had followed this tale is delighted.
Now there are another few days of confined to cat quarters and then they will be both allowed the run of the Welsh hovel as, I hope we start to pick up the pace of restoration. A second industrial size skip has now arrived and I am starting to fill it with old carpet and wallpaper and other junk removed from inside.
Since the sad demise of my once morbidly obese three legged cat Oakley late last summer, my two year old son Joshua has not stopped talking about his friend who used to sleep by his cot, keeping watch every night. Our old house in Bristol is “Oakley’s House” and while you and I know that the old boy lies at rest next to the body of Kitosh and across the yard from that of his long time companion Tara who is under the rhubarb, Joshua and his mother and I have agreed that the three legged one has “gone to the jungle” where he is happy. But there is a gap in all of our lives anmd so yesterday we told Joshua we had a treat.
We headed up to the RSPCA facility in Wallasey where we had identified two four year old rescue cats who looked just like “da King” and so when we arrived we told Joshua we were going to see Oakley’s cousins. The RSPCA don’t normally house cats with families with a child under four but Quincey (playing below) and Sian (keeping watch) are very friendly I told a white lie about how Joshua was almost three and by the time we filled in forms the lady had marked him down as actually being three. The staff saw Joshua and the Mrs playing with Oakley’s cousins and there was no doubt that we were well suited.
The Welsh hovel is pretty cold but compared to their cells at RSPCA Wallasey it is balmy and both cats have settled in well. For a week or so they must stay in two rooms then there will be another two weeks roaming the whole house before they are unleashed on the outside world. As I type Sian is nuzzling my keyboardwhile Quincey is rubbing against my leg. Oakley would be delighted to see how friendly his cousins are.
The only moment of sadness was saying goodbye to the other cats at the RSPCA. There were a couple of adorable young cats, one of whom looked just like Mrs Chav’s pussy, who had been there almost since birth last August. Sian and Quincey have passed through RSPCA Wallasey twice in their lives, poor things. If you can spare a home and live in the Grim North….
And so to the end point of the trip down Booker family memory lane with the Mrs and Joshua - a vist to the gardens at Stourhead just over the Dorset border in Wiltshire. Do you want to save £17 on an adult ticket by joining the National Trust said the lady? Er...
The price is bloody steep. My paternal grandfather Sir John Winnifrith, was Director General of the Trust but, as I have noted before, he must be spinning in his grave at its silly virtue signalling on global warming, LGBT issues and, just last week, on Brexit. So our answer was no.
The gardens were designed around a newly created lake by Capability Brown. Again they are part of my Booker family memory trove. Serena Booker, my Auntie Cly, used to come down from London with friends and they would perfom, in costume, Gilbert & Sullivan on rafts on the lake. The performances would be on summer evenings with the laeside illuminated by torches and with my grandparents and others sitting on blankets on the grass eating and drinking. It is a happy memory of Cly and what a bright spark she was before her early death.
Back to the present, Joshua loved it and was out of his buggy running along the path as you can see below. The Mrs and I have been several times and it is wonderful place to visit. If you do go and fancy lunch, book early as the pub is always packed.
When I say that my mother, who moved to Durweston aged eleven, saw a ghost I exaggerate. There is meant to be a ghost here, that of the grey lady. My mother never claimed to have seen it but said that when riding past here her horse used to shy and behave in a nervous manner in a way it never did at other times. Was it sensing something odd? I have always felt uneasy driving past this old lodge, feeling there was something there but that was almost certainly because of the stories mum had told me.
Anyhow, no ghosts were seen or sensed this weekend at least.
Having shown the Mrs, and a rather disinterested Joshua, the family gravestones I wandered around the Churchyard looking at other stones and saying hello/goodbye to a few other folks: Marjorie Portman, Mr & Mrs Fudge, etc - the great and the good and the ordinary folks from a small village. The reason my family came to Durweston (pronounced Durreston) was that in 1950 my grandparents bought a big old house, Knighton, and turned it into a girl's prep school. It still runs today and we sneaked in as you can see below.
After the death of my mother, my sisters went to school at Knighton ( aged seven and five). They were too young, missed both my mother but also my father, and, I sense, have very mixed memories of it. My memories are of visiting smiling grandparents who spoiled us all, of a staff common room where everyone smoked and the gin flowed and where we enjoyed the real treat of Schloer. It is the first place I played croquet. I remember my father racing Uncle Chris Booker in the pool on the hill with my mother watching. I guess that must have been 1975 when both men were in their thirties, fit and ultra competitive.
I remember being the only boy on the big lawns outside the house as dozens of little girls wearing the uniform red dungarees skipped and played around me. You could roll down the slopes on those lawns it was such fun. Joshua did yesterday. And we explored the giant yew tree next to the house that I used to climb. It is a bit steep for Joshua and it has spread so wide that now as you wandered towards the central trunk Joshua starting talking abiout the Deep Dark Wood and the Gruffalo.
I remember going to a Knighton House carol service with my father and sisters at the church in Durweston. I suppose that must have been after mum but on a cold, dark evening when Christmas was magical and mysterious it was that I thought of, in a happy way, as I went inside the village Church yesterday. And then we were off down the next part of memory lane.
I was chatting to the guys at my local Italian greasy spoon the other day and they 'fessed up that they buy ready made pancake mix. Just how pathetic is that? It takes ten minutes to whip up some batter, just how lazy have we all become?
The Mrs phoned me as I was doing my Woodlarks training walk to say that she and Joshua had been to church and that he had greatly enjoyed seeing pancakes flipped and then eating them and so could I make some more that evening? Given that she has a new job in the Grim North so is not here during the week, it was resolved that we would indeed celebrate Shrove Tuesday two days early.
The first one did not work out so well. I was a bit out of practice on the flipping and screwed up. So Joshua had that one - with some spare minced beef. Using up leftovers before lent we really were getting into the spirit. Thereafter my flipping scored perfect sixes and the one below was served with honey for the Mrs as we watched Endeavour post Joshua bed-time.
Rather losing the Lent spirit, the Mrs suggests we should have pancake day more often than just once a year.
There is a bit of a cycle here. Joshua's hair gets longer and longer. I say "he looks like a girl I thought we had agreed not to raise him in a gender fluid way." The Mrs says "oh but look at his sweet curly locks." I say "you cannot be serious" and in the end I prevail and I take the little lad off to the barbers where we both have a hair cut, he gets a bit of chocolate as a bribe to behave well and we go home. At that point the Mrs coos, says how sweet he looks and admits that I was right which, as you can see below, I was.
When the Mrs has a hair cut I make a point of saying how great it looks as all sensible husband's know to do. Natch the reverse is not true. Anyhow the cycle of denial and acceptance will all be repeated in about three months time.
On May 25 I shall again join the rogue bloggers (now a band of 8) walking 33 miles from Horse Hill to Woodlarks to raise money for this amazing charity. Serious training started today with a 12 mile walk from my front door to the Swan at Swineford with a slight detour to the cashpoint machine in my local high street. Evidence of the second half of that trek is below.
You left me just after the half way mark at Hanhan Weir. From there the track headed through fields alongside the River Avon up to Keynsham and it was not really muddy at all and utterly nettle free. It was a breeze. The lock at Keynsham is, I think, the deepest of this entire waterway but I did not tarry as the Mrs had called to say that Joshua was recovering from his earlier temperature and that they would join me at my journey's end.
Thus I headed on past Keynsham, stopping briefly to admire a fisherman land a young pike as you can see below. By two thirty the Swan at Swineford came into sight. My feet and legs really don't feel bad at all and i am pretty sure that I could have done twenty miles or more without struggling which, with three months to the big walk, is good news indeed. Next weekend I must seek out a fifteen or sixteen mile route to tackle.
You know what fun I have with training walks. Getting wet. Getting lost. Scrambling up nettle infested steep hills as a result of getting lost. It is all part of the build up to May 25 and the 33 mile Rogue Bloggers for Woodlarks Charity walk. Today is the first serious training walk: 12 miles from my front door to a pub in Swineford. I shall carry a camera, my laptop and a phone so will post photos along the way…
The first stretch to Hanham lock is not that tough, paths most of the way although the last mile of that six miles is rather muddy. From memory, the path after that deteriorates badly as I track the river Avon.
The idea is to meet the Mrs and Joshua for lunch but the little fellow is running a bit of a temperature so I might just wan der part of the way back from the Swan at Swineford and call a cab or maybe I shall just call it a day at the Swan. I will see how I feel.
I shall post photos all day over on www.TomWinnifrith.com and I hope that with eight rogue bloggers now signed up for this year’s event in May you might think of me striding through the nettles and make a donation HERE
Having started last night, as I showed here, the snow carried on till well after noon so we woke up to, perhaps, ten inches of global warming in some parts of the garden. The cat belonging to the Chav family next door went for a brief walk, as you can see below but thought better of it and is now back in our kitchen sleeping on the sofa. the little creature almost lives here now, my catnapping has worked. Joshua also enjoyed the snow.
This was his first snowball fight. I gather that snowballing is banned in many state schools on grounds of "elf 'n' safey" but Joshua, his godfather Johnny an d the Mrs and I had good fun this morning. Kids may be safer but they really don't know what they are missing out on. The Mrs and Joshua are pictured below.
I was woken up at 6 AM by the Mrs snoring and peeked out of the window. It was still snowing. Snowballs with Joshua thought I and my heart leapt. This was the scene last night outside our front door here in Bristol with the global warming falling fast. A weekend trip to my father is, I suspect, on hold.
As I reflected in my weekend Tomograph newsletter, our time in the South West is drawing to a close. God willing and with fingers crossed, by mid April, the Mrs, Joshua and I will be in the Grim North. And there is thus a determination to enjoy our last couple of months here revisiting places we know well and going to see a few things which we have never seen before.
On Saturday we enjoyed a short walk around the Victorian cemetery at Arnos Vale which we know well, it was where Joshua’s christening party took place. The Mrs and I have enjoyed some quality time at Stourhead where, back in the seventies, my late Aunt Cly used to be involved in evening performances of Gilbert & Sullivan on the lake, which I remember going to with my grandparents.
Yesterday, for the first time I visited Glastonbury Tor. Joshua was persuaded that we were on a Gruffalo Hunt and was a real trooper climbing up towards the Tor. But the wind blew hard (now it sounds like The Bear Hunt) and I ended up carrying him up the steepest part and then all the way down again. We did consider (as happens in the Bear Hunt) going home at one point but there was a collective determination to reach the tower at the top which, as you can see, offered brief shelter.
The views over the Somerset Levels are spectacular. It was an ordeal getting there but my boy was a trooper, insisting as he held his mother’s hand on the steep climb that he was helping her get to the top. Whatever. Next weekend I think it is Chew Lake, the scene of many happy walks over the years.
I have noted before, how the cat belong to my next door neighbours, the Chav family, has been sitting in the flower bed next to our back door, fleeing her own house where there is now a very bouncy young dog. With the Mrs away, Joshua and I have now re-opened the cat flap used by the late Oakley and are providing food.. our cunning plan is now working well.
The chav's cat enters and leaves at will and when allowed will walk elsewhere in the house. She sits on chairs and, judging by the hairs on my coat which I threw on the sofa last night, our new friend spent the night at our house and is even getting to the stage where she is not afraid of Joshua and allows him to stroke her. It is not as if our neighbousr seem to mind...
My two year old son Joshua has a tendency, these days, to say that everything belongs to him. So it is "my house", "my car" and pictured below is "my goat." Of course it is not.
It is a goat that lives near the woods about half way between our house in Bristol and where my training walks meet up with the River Avon. The old boy seems much loved by the community and so, invariably, when Joshua and I arrive there is someone else talking to him and handing him food. He must be one of the best fed goats in town.
When we move to the Grim North, we hope to have some land and Joshua and I are lobbying hard for the purchase of both goats and chickens, on the basis that we can find someone to tend for them when we are in Greece. The Mrs is not so sure about this cunning plan.
I am not sure who makes me prouder this fine day: daughter Olaf or son Joshua
As you can see below, Joshua has a new coat thanks to Godfather Lucian. He wore it to nursery yesterday and apparently would not take it off and kept on pointing to the badge to all the other two year olds. Like Lucian and his father he is ready to follow West Ham over land and sea.
Daughter Olaf was with Joshua, Lucian and I at the London Stadium on Saturday for the FA Cup game. Her news, just in today, is that she has been accepted by the PC madrassa formerly known as Oxford University.
I have never seen our local church in this unfashionable bit of Bristol look this way. That is to say full. But it was packed with more than a hundred souls last night for carols by candlelight. It was all rather touching. As I belted out some of the old favourites in my own tone deaf way and as Joshua ran around misbehaving it felt like Christmas had actually begun. The story almost came to life. I did feel a sort of bond with my fellow worshippers – ordinary folk, shepherds not kings.
In part the place was packed as we were joined by the flock from the sister church of St Anne’s. In part as this was a service for children, all far better behaved than Joshua.
Lefty vicar Ian started, as you would expect, with an elf n safey warning about candles. He had ensured that buckets of water were placed by the walls lest an accident occur with one of the candles we were each given. Joshua was a bit disappointed that he was not allowed to hold our candle so headed straight for the nearest bucket of water before the Mrs intervened and led him off to make a complete mess of the child’s play area. Discussions about whether we could go with him to Midnight Mass continue.
Ian was on sparkling form. For once in his life he managed to avoid mentioning the poor Palestinians and their oppression by you know who. I did not have to bite my lip this time. Being the CofE there were the usual ritual mumblings by Priest and Parishioners notably the modern version of the Lord’s Prayer which still sounds all wrong to me. Thine is the Kingdom is right. The Kingdom is Yours sounds wrong. There was also the now traditional message from the Pulpit about how Jesus was a refugee and how we should think about other refugees at this time of year, blah, blah, blah.
But it was mostly readings and carols – the Christmas story in full. I came away feeling as if it really was Christmas and almost able to wish joy to my fellow man. For me that is a major step forward on my normal mood, soured as it is by writing all day about the multiple sins that take place in the world of finance.
Today, Joshua and I opened the 14th window on his Advent calendar (the shepherds and a quote from Luke 2 v 15): the countdown continues. Don't tell most folks but there is no Christmas tree in the Gospels but it is now part lof Christmas and this morning my son and I picked up the seven footer below for £35.
When I was a young boy we dressed the tree on Christmas Eve while listening to the carol service from King's College on the wireless. We had real candles, red ones in little golden cups. That was then. Now in dressing our tree even this weekend we will be viewed by most folks as leaving it far too late.
Joshua and I head to see my father in Shipston tomorrow so I guess it will be a Sunday treat as Christmas tree dressing is something the whole family should do together and the Mrs is out at (yet another) University drinks party this evening. An additional Sunday treat, I noticed today, will be the first carols by candelight service at our local church, St Cuthberts.
For what it is worth, the picture behind the tree shows the Christ Church first eight from 1927 (bumped Univ) with my paternal grandfather seated on the right.
For the first time I tasted the oil from the 2018 harvest. It is peppery and just plain fabulous. This stuff is for drinking or eating with bread not for wasting on salads or in frying. The remnants from 2017 will do for that. Joshua and I bought a stack of jars from Dunelm yesterday and today we decanted most of my first, of three, 5 litre cans. As you can see below it is a classic lime green. Perfect in colour as well as taste.
Andrew Bell, the reward for your labours is the big one litre jar which i shall post early next week. The rest are for family and other friends. The best thing about Christmas is giving presents and thus, this afternoon, Joshua will drop off two of the small jars to our friends at the local Italian greasy spoon where we sometimes have lunch and to the man from the Deli, the croissant shop as Joshua terms it. Those folks will really appreciate it. The others will be posted or hand delivered over the coming days as will a few more jars I have yet to fill.
Joshua's part in the decanting? Creating a total mess with the wrapping paper - a task he excelled at.
Yesterday was the day the cheeses arrived all over the country as part of family traditions. First up was a Cheddar, from Cheddar itself supplied by Uncle Chris Booker. This has been part of my life for all of my fifty years.
Even before Uncle Chris moved to Somerset a cheese would arrive from Cheddar for my parents and my father received Uncle Chris's cheese yesterday as did I and, I imagine, many other folks. It is just part of Christmas. Joshua had a taste of what we agreed was "special cheese" and did not complain. The cheddar is on the left.
On the right is a Yarg from Cornwall, a creamier cheese wrapped in nettle leaves. This is my present to me but also to all my relatives. Some, like Aunt Lucy and Cousin Caroline get them delivered to the front door. My siblings and step siblings pick theirs up from a batch left with my father who also gets one. I sit on one here and will deliver others from the Bristol hub to Uncle Chris and to the head of the booker family, great Aunt Rosemary who lives in the same City. It is an excuse to pop in and say hello over Christmas.
I am not sure how long I have been sending out Yargs but it is, I think, now around a decade. So the arrival of Yargs is now part of the Christmas countdown too.
As you may have gathered Paddy Leigh Fermor is a bit of a hero of mine although I am the only member of my family never to have met him. It is because of him that Joshua was given his middle name. His house in Kardamili has been under renovation for a number of years and although entrance is impossible I popped down to see it the other day and peaked over the wall, as you can see below.
I bought a few stocking fillers for others and a few £4 CDs for myself but the main object I sought was an Advent calendar for Joshua. It may come as a terrible shock to the snowflake generation including my Godless Islington dwelling daughter Olaf, but the word Advent is Latin and means “The coming”. And the coming we refer to is the coming of Jesus. It is a countdown to Christmas day.
And so the Mrs and I would like to start Joshua associating what happens in December with being more than just presents and lots of food. We would like him to know the story of the birth of Christ. Is that so utterly unreasonable?
When I was a boy if we did not create home made advent calendars we would be given ones by our Grandparents that related to the Christmas tale. Kings, Shepherds, Angels, a baby in a manger and all that sort of thing. Behind each window was a picture. Surely such simple calendars exist today?
I am sure they do, but not in Clifton, a swamp of godless elitist liberals, the Islington of the South West. I found a calendar with a different organic fairtrade tea behind each window. There were numerous calendars masking chocolate with images on the front designed not to offend folks of religions other than the one folks like Olaf regard it as fashionable to attack or deride. That is to say the calendars had no Mary, Joseph, Jesus, Kings, Angels or Shepherds.
Folks across this land will celebrate Advent as an excuse for an extra penis shaped chocolate every day without any idea of what the Advent really means. In the same way they will celebrate Christmas or “happy holidays” with an orgy of consumerism but with no idea of why they are celebrating at all. And any attempt to remind them of why we celebrate is laughed off as the ramblings of someone looking back to an irrational old world or an offensive gesture towards those of other faiths.
We battle on in this old fashioned household with our ways from the old world, a world that has existed for 2000 years and was alive and kicking just half a century ago but is now under attack as never before.
After a good lunch of fish and chips Joshua and I started to make our way back from snooty Clifton, where we had been Christmas shopping, to our unfashionable Edwardian suburb at the edge of Bristol. The theory was that it would be a good walk for me and that we might find some more Christmas presents on the way back.
As we wandered down the hill an older man came into view, a good friend of the Mrs. He had been round for supper at least twice and is not a completely barking mad commie like most friends of my wonderful wife. I just could not remember his name. And so as he approached, in a stroke of genius, I said very loudly “Now there’s a familiar face” and stretched out my hand. The man looked a bit confused as we shook hands.
For a moment I wondered if I had made some terrible mistake in greeting a complete stranger as he was clearly rather confused as to who we were. So I doubled down and pointing to my son in his pram said “surely you remember Joshua?” Er yes he said .. how are you? I sensed that he was now bluffing. So I said “Its Tom the husband of R”. At that point he sort of remembered, if only by association, and we chatted briefly; he remarked how Joshua had grown so large as to be unrecognisable; and agreed that he must call my wife for a catch up. He was clearly a bit embarrassed so I strode on.
About ten minutes later I finally remembered his name. E. But my bluff had worked. My own failing memory had been hidden. If I can remember this handy hint and stroke of genius it will come in handy next time I bump into someone whose name I cannot remember.
My father’s sister L was visiting him in Shipston today and I mentioned that Joshua and I were going shopping ahead of making Christmas Puddings. Is it Stir Up Sunday she asked. To be honest I had not given it that much thought but unlike, I suspect, most younger readers I do understand the reference.
As it happens today is not Stir Up Sunday. That is the last Sunday before Advent (November 25 this year) and the origin of the day is in the book of common prayer when the collect for the that Sabbath is: "Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people.” But since Victorian times it has been the day when folks make their Christmas Puddings and each family member stirs the mixture at least once and makes a private wish.
How many folks actually make their own puddings these days rather than buying them in the shops? I suspect not that many. But it was something my mother did and something I do e very year. We still have one 2017 pudding left so I made two today, one for the parents of the Mrs who will be hosting my wife’s sister and her family, the “bubbles” on December 25 and one for my second Christmas when Olaf comes to join us.
The older pudding is for our own Christmas day here in Bristol. As you can see Joshua stirred the mixture but I am not sure he made a wish so I made two. That bottle of brandy was full before today so it should be a fairly “robust” pudding when it is served with brandy butter on the big day.
The puddings are now steaming away, the windows of the kitchen are misted up and I shall be keeping the waters topped up for another five hours. The rituals of another Christmas have started.
This is a demonstration of the great political divide in our household. The Mrs drinks her Fair Trade organic ethically sourced tea from her Jeremy Corbyn Strong and Stable mug, I drink my mass produced capitalist coffee from my Iron Lady/Iron Duke mug celebrating two great Prime Ministers. And as you can see below Joshua has today smashed one mug.
That’s my boy!
He also now has a much repeated phrase. As we negotiate on matters like one more bite of supper then bed we reach an agreement at which point I say “The art of the deal”. He replies “As the great man says.” The Mrs is not impressed.
There you go, we leave and finally the veranda outside of the kitchen and over the entrance to the Bat Room is completed with the addition of Joshua proof railings. All it needs now is a table and what better place could you want for a summer lunch. Unless you want shade in which case the table beneath would be ideal...
The walk is uphill all the way for Charon lives on the next hill up from the hovel towards the Taygetos mountains. But the track, as you would imagine, winds and bends. Initially it is stone or concrete but after a while, as is the case in the last 800 yards before the hovel itself, the way forward is earthen. But cars only very rarely venture up here. For most of the time I have known Charon he has been without a motor and I have thus driven him to the village by car or on the back of a bike many times.
And so, sheltered by olive trees, the track turned to thick green grass eventually ending up at two houses. I think, judging by the underpants on the washing line, he lives at the one in the first photo. He is, as it happens an accomplished musician and also a DJ and sometimes you can hear his music blaring out in an otherwise silent evening. As it happens he was not at home and so, with the sun starting to set, Joshua and I beat a retreat.
And so on the final afternoon at the Greek Hovel we invited over the elderly lefties from the village up in the mountains. They were rather scared of the track so I had to go fetch them from Kambos and drive them up.
Almost immediately on arriving they stared into the sky and started shouting "Chrissy, there is Chrissy". I stared up and saw a very large bird of prey. I like the numerous birds of prey that circle the hills above the hovel as they eat snakes and rats. Good job. The more birds the better. But why Chrissy? And the size: this bird was very large indeed, why was that?.
Chrissy was their nickname for a bird based on the Greek word Chrysos (gold). For this magnificent creature was a golden eagle. These birds have large territories so though they may all look the same the odds are this was indeed Chrissy. He or she was truly magnificent.
Later that day as the Mrs said that she had important work to do, preparing a lesson plan to fill the heads of impressionable young folk with left wing nonsense, Joshua and I went for a walk.
Or rather, as you can see below, I walked with my son and heir on my back and we headed up the hill behind the hovel towards the house of my neighbour Charon. It is a jolly steep climb and the track soon turns to grass. The view down to the hovel was a wonderful one as the sun started to set.
Walks with Joshua soon turn into nature lessons. And so we saw a large grasshopper sitting on a wire fence and, real excitement, the skin shed by a snake. I tried to explain that to Joshua but I am not sure he got it, saying "goodbye snake" as we wandered onwards and upwards.
On our last day in Greece, The Mrs, Joshua and I showed the Greek Hovel to an elderly British couple, diehard lefties from a village up in the mountains above Kambos. The highlight of their visit was ornithological of which more later but what I really picked up on was a throw-away comment that the area around the hovel might be one of the “seven Cities.” My father and I discussed this in Shipston on Sunday and have been chatting by phone ever since.
The reference is from the Iliad book nine. Achilles is sulking and refusing to fight in the siege of Troy. Agamemnon, the King of Mycenae, sends an emissary to attempt to persuade him to rejoin the battle and offers him numerous bribes including, from a rough precis “Seven well-populated cities he shall have: Cardamyle, Enope, and grassy Hire; holy Pherae and Antheia with its deep meadows; lovely Aepeia, and vine-rich Pedasus. They are all near the sea, on our far border with sandy Pylos, and the men there own great flocks and herds”
There is evidence of Mycenaean civilization in Kambos. There is a Tholos or tomb which you can see HERE on the outskirts of the village and a gold cup was found at some stage. Between the modern village and the Hovel, at the bottom of the valley by the deserted convent, is a natural spring which would have been a pre-requisite for the establishment of any City – think a large village not London or Athens. It is, of course, all rather sketchy.
But my father’s carer Emma has fetched Iliad ix from his study and some old primers and this will keep him busy for the next day or so, seeing if the original offers up any more clues.
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.
On Wednesday evening with it almost dark I stepped outside of the Bat room to see one of the kittens racing past. A few minutes later as I put Joshua into the car to head down to Kambos I could see the kitten sitting on the drive and miaowing and I could hear its mother answering in the distance. I thought no more of it.
On Thursday afternoon after a day spent in the rain in Kardamili we returned home and at the bottom of the drive saw the kitten as you can see below. Rigor Mortis had set in and with a workman’s spade I flipped the body into the bushes so that Joshua would not see it and be upset. The Mrs was traumatised enough, I could not handle both of them blubbering.
Today I saw the cat. No kittens at all now just herself strolling across the hovel in search of prey as is her wont. All alone. I’m sure she is very sad. I certainly am. The incident has brought back memories of poor Oakley and the Mrs and I are starting to think about a replacement.
A quiet day in Kambos and at the Greek Hovel for both the Mrs and I have deadlines and important work to do. Right now Joshua is watching some moronic rubbish on his mother's smart phone up at the hovel while the Mrs and I tap away like dervishes. This morning the Mrs, whose deadline is more pressing than mine, got to work in lovely Eleni's Kourounis taverna, while Joshua and i went on a tough walk which he deemed to be "exciting" largely as I kept falling down.
One trouble is that the track, stopped a couple of hundred yards shy of the wall. Thus I had to walk along terraces and then clamber between them which with Joshua on my back, and noticeably heavier than in the summer, and the ground slippy after the recent rains, was not easy, Three or four times I slipped. I ensured that each time it was me landing on the ground and Joshua was protected from any harm and as a result my trouser are now stained with the red Maniot earth. Each time I'd ask Joshua if he was alright and he'd day "yes, daddy are you alright?" I said yes and we continued on, eventually heading back down the road, along which we marched up the hill into Stavropigio.
The joy of that climb is that you can look back at Kambos spread before you and then if you peer closely enough you can see the Hovel as the hills behind the village start to turn into mountain. The other joy was a coffee for me and an ice cream for Joshua at the other end. After such a trek we deserved it.
Walking back to Kambos was all downhill. I sang Molly Malone and one man went to mow, Joshua did not seem to mind. One day Joshua and I will make it up that hill and find a way to the castle.
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.
But instead it focussed its report on the several thousand assorted snowflakes, man hating feminazis and other sufferers from full blown #TrumpDerangementSyndrome who protested in DC, doing their best to delay or block democracy in action. Okay 324,996,000 Americans were not protesting but the 4,000 extremists, screaming as loud as they could in DC, spoke for America, according to Britain’s Pravda.
As to the actual proceedings, there was final day admission from the BBC that Kavanaugh would be appointed but with every report this was followed by the words “despite the series of allegations of sexual assault made against him.”
Yes allegations were made. One of the three coming forward to join this circus, claiming Kavanaugh organised gang rapes, had already ‘fessed that she made it up. Accuser two was barely more credible and that left Christine Blasey Ford whose story had changed many times and had more holes in it that a mountain of Swiss Cheese. The FBI had investigated Ford’s fiction and concluded it did not stack up. Yet was the BBC offering any balance in this respect? Of course not. It just showed another placard held up by some work-averse liberal accusing the good Judge of serial sex crimes.
Such has been the unadulterated bias shown by almost the entire British media on this issue that, as I have dared to suggest to folks over the past week, old fashioned idea such as “innocent until proven guilty” or natural justice.” I have been met with almost universal disapproval. It is as if I were suggesting that Hitler had his good points as well as bad, which, for the avoidance of doubt, is not a view that I hold.
It makes me feel that Joshua and I should move to a solid red state well away from the coasts where we might find ourselves among folks who have similar beliefs. I have suggested this to the Mrs but am met with a Paddington stare. She is not convinced of the merits of my idea.
One week down and my every other day visits to the gym continue. Joshua loves it and asks to go every day as kind Perry, the stalwart of the local Tories and the gym manager, allows him to watch Thomas The Tank Engine on the screens while I slog away at the treadmill.
I am making steady progress, yesterday managing a new (middle age) personal best of 3.75 kilometres in half an hour. Predictably my daughter sneers. She says that she can do 1500 metres in five minutes so reckons she would take 15 minutes to run as far as I manage in half an hour. I do not doubt her. Kindly, she concedes that I am quite old and perhaps a little bit passed my sporting peak. Oh how gracious.
I cannot remember how fast I was at my peak which was at the age of 32 when I’d play rugby on a Saturday for London Irish amateurs, train at Sunbury once in the week and work out at the gym three days a week. I know that I could, without collapsing, manage to run six miles in an hour so that works out at 4.8 kilometres in half an hour. I really cannot see myself getting anywhere near that again but, for now, my target is 4 kilometres in half an hour. If I get there we will take it from there.
It is all good for the type 2 diabetes. Today is not a gym day, instead a modest walk in the rain to see the goat at the local fake farm is on the cards.
Cripes how time flies. Joshua turned two on Sunday. His sister came down opn Saturday and as you can see in the first photo Joshua likes wearing women's clothes, well shoes anyway.
Four birthday cards were exactly the same... it was a Thomas The Tank Engine themed day. I sense that a card not featuring Thomas is now not viewed as a proper birthday card.
My father sent Joshua three pairs of socks (Thomas, James & Percy) and some Thomas pyjamas - that was a big hit as you can see below.
The Mrs, pictured below, and I gave him a tricycle which we can push. That is a mega hit with him and good exercise for me. I am afraid at this point I mislaid my camera so have no pictures of a splendid banana cake with two candles in it which I prepared or of some fantastic home-made pizza created by the Mrs.
The lady at the vet called during last week and in a very sweet and sympathetic manner said that the ashes of the King of cats, the late Oakley, were ready for collection. And so on Saturday morning I drove to the cat hospital and said who I was and why I was there. "Would you like to settle your account before collecting?" said a mean faced old shrew. It was not a question.
£286.14 poorer - and that was only a fraction of Oakley's bills from the last two weeks of his life - I was presented with an ornate bag containing an ornate cardboard box containing Oakley's coffin which you can see below. Shake it and you can hear, what I hope are, his ashes inside.
On Saturday evening with my daughter supervising Joshua who was watching Paddington bear the movie for the fifth time in a week, myself, the Mrs, Oakley's biggest fan our friend and neighbour Mu and hipster pro cat-sitter Terry headed to the back garden. The coffin was placed in a hole about a foot away from where the wooden urn of Kitosh's ashes was laid to rest and is, I hope, now rotting away.
We all said a few words, a few tears were shed, we each raised a glass of Metaxa and toasted "the King" and then the urn was covered with earth which we have marked with a stone pro tem. We'd like to plant something there preferably a herb as Oakley really liked smelling mint or lavender. But the earth is underneath our fig tree and the vine in the garden only makes it even more shaded. So dear readers: what pungent herb would prosper in such shade? Answers in the comments section below.
Last night as I climbed into bed was one of those times when I really missed Oakley. Both the Mrs and I thought at the same time, how we wished he was there, launching himself up onto the duvet only to annoy us with a fishy kiss at 4 AM and a demand for his first breakfast. Joshua still refers to this house as Oakley's house but he is mentioning him less and less. He seems to accept that he is not coming back.
I am conscious that I have put on a few pounds during the summer, that my blood sugar is too high – though not off the scale as it once was – and that action is needed to lose weight and to get/keep my type 2 diabetes in check. Thus it is time to visit Perry, the stalwart of the local Tory party, who runs a gym half way between Joshua’s nursery, aka the borstal, and our house here in Bristol.
Actually I headed there on Monday before picking up Joshua in the evening and managed 3.5 kilometres in 30 minutes on a 1 gradient. That is in addition to the 1.5 m ile round trip of a walk gto pick Joshua up. Today Joshua is on a half day and he loves the gym because, as I run, kind Perry fixes up a big screen to show Thomas the Tank Engine or Peppa Pig. I am not sure how this goes down with the other clients, a burly bunch of muscle men, but Joshua loves it.
Anyhow, today I managed 3.7 kilometres on the same gradient in half an hour. I see my daughter tonight who will, I am sure, suggest that this is pathetic and that Joshua would do better on the treadmill and that I should watch Peppa. But I reckon for a 50 year old that is not a total disgrace and I am building up steadily – one run every two days, as my 75 year old walking coach Brian Basham advocates.
Do I have any right to be even vaguely pleased with myself?
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.
Dr Smith has only been in charge for two weeks and so was accompanied by the head of HR who like him took notes as I explained what I wanted and what had happened. I provided the surname of the boy who a fellow OW thinks was the one Eve threw down the stairs and then threw his desk on top of him. Warwick has access to the old “blue books” which recorded the surname, initials, birth date and house of all attendees each term so Dr Smith may be better placed to track him down than I am. It is a rare surname. Not as rare as mine, but far rarer than that of the HM.
I was asked to, but did not, divulge the identify of the different master accused of sexual abuse by an OW who had contacted me. That will be for the victim to do if he wishes.
I was assured that Warwick would take this all very seriously even though it appears to have “lost” all relevant records relating to Eve. I explained that I was a bit sceptical since Warwick had Given Eve time off after his first round of abuse, allowing him back just in time to teach me aged 10 and abuse me. I know that the Headmaster then was aware of that and was not allowed by others to act. Eve therefore abused other boys and Warwick did nothing until the stairs incident at which point it gave him early retirement on a full pension and invited him back to concerts and OW events as an honoured guest. I see the old bastard is even mentioned twice in the official history of Warwick School and not as being a sadistic child abuser.
Someone had enough records of Eve to write him up in the school’s official history, just not the ones that really mattered. How convenient.
So after 50 years of protecting Eve and then covering up his crimes and after the previous HM Gus Lock failed to pursue this matter as he could after I raised it 18 months ago, I expressed my scepticism. And so I promised that I too would take this seriously and that if Warwick failed to act this time I would, if need be, seek legal redress against the school for concealment. I am advised that I have a very strong case.
I was clear to Dr Smith, and let me be clear to all, I am not seeking money. I do not want Warwick’s money. I do not need it. But if I have to flush out the truth by that route because Warwick (again) fails to act so be it. I seek only a full admission of its failings. The way to start that process is by asking other OW’s via the Old Warwickian publication if they suffered abuse at the hands of Eve or other masters and to follow that up with an Independent enquiry, funded by the school. It is not enough to ask the police to investigate as without any medical records to verify damage done they cannot act.
It is far better that Warwick itself steps up to the plate and launches that formal independent enquiry now while the key players are still alive than to leave it to a muck raking investigative journalist with offers of legal assistance to expose the school’s shocking past.
I picked up Joshua, who had explained to Dr Smith’s Executive assistant all about Thomas the Tank Engine for 25 minutes, which I am sure she had enjoyed greatly. Dr Smith and I talked a bit about Greece where he knew I lived for part of the year. He had taken a group of boys there at his previous school. Warwick’s coat of arms was, as it happens, designed by my great grandfather Sir Arthur Cochrane, and we discussed Delphi and Arthur’s unfortunate son David and his death there.
Then Joshua and I went for a wander around a school which has changed beyond all recognition. “That building used to be the Old Gym” I said to Joshua. I stared up at what used to be where 3A had its classroom. Mr Eve smashed my head against the corridor wall outside. I did not mention that to Joshua.
I noticed that the internal doors to the Chapel were open. That building has not changed. I have happy memories of that place as somewhere were you could be safe and also where I looked up at the all too long lists of OW’s who gave their lives in the two world wars. I suppose that as I tried to rationalise the death of my mother, although at the time now knowing how she died, there was some comfort in seeing others who had died young.
I thought of the two Chaplains who had been there in my time. The first was an old man who had been sent to France in 1944 as a bright young thing. The horrors of the Normandy campaign had affected him badly and given him a dreadful stammer. He was obviously a decent man, old school, clinging to a conservative world view and faith. His replacement, David Houghton, was a different kettle of fish altogether. He was very obviously gay. Even as a teenager we knew that. His faith was, I suspect, rather different but it was still very real and he was, I think, a good man. He confirmed me and he is the sort of teacher who made Warwick bearable if you were not a brutish rugger bore of limited intelligence, in other words the sort of fine chap we were all meant to be.
And so I wanted to take Joshua to the Chapel. He likes churches. The external doors were locked. I wandered back to the brand new reception area which is about fifty yards down an internal corridor from the Chapel and asked the woman who had signed m e in an hour previously to meet the HM, if myself and Joshua could go and see the Chapel.
“Oh no” she said sternly “we can’t let just anyone in, I am sure you understand, we’d need to find someone to escort you.” Hmmm so a man with his two year old son signed in to see the HM an hour ago to discuss how he was abused cannot wander 50 yards to see the chapel in a student free zone. This from the school which allowed Geoffrey Eve, a man they knew was an abuser, to smash my head against a wall (twice) and did nothing? Whatever…
Over to you Dr Smith, I appreciate you are new to the job but I do hope that this time Warwick does the right thing for me but also for dozens of other men who as little boys were terrified or abused by Geoffrey Eve. It is time to acknowledge the institutional failings of the past and say sorry.
And thus there will be a small ceremony on Saturday. My daughter will take Joshua for a walk allowing a few of us to bury the urn close to that of Kitosh whose ashes were finally laid to rest here a few years after his demise and to say a few words of farewell. There is not room underneath the rhubarb plant where the body of Oakley’s Companion Tara lies.
Meanwhile, the Mrs is in Belfast on a piss up, I meant serious academic conference. I have been left strict instructions about washing, cleaning and other matters that can wait until Friday afternoon a couple of hours before she gets back. I have also been left a book called Goodbye Mog which I MUST read to Joshua.
Mog is a cat who lives with a ghastly family of tedious do-gooder liberals and my right-on sister has sent a number of Mog books for Joshua to read. I make a few changes as I read them to my lad, to make Mog’s dreary Guardian reading family a bit more entertaining. Your son wants to dress up like a Greenham Common woman? Fine. But allow me to explain to Joshua that this is not normal. Dirty Harry does not dress like that because he is a real man. Comprende? The daughter is a vegan? Whatever – that is why she looks like she has cancer. Eat some of Mog’s food FFS and get healthy you pathetic snowflake.
But this book, borrowed from the library, is about Mog’s demise and what happens next. It is predictably drippy but I will obey orders. I’m a good German. Last night, Joshua and I watched the Paddington Movie but maybe tonight I shall inflict Mog’s demise on the poor boy. And then we can watch an old Clint film to cheer him up.
As I pack my last things at the Greek Hovel, prepare to empty the eco loo, one last time and head to the airport the Mrs sends me a few photos of me walking here in Greece this summer with Joshua on my back, wearing either his hat or hers. Happy, if rather tiring at the time, memories....
Following on from the photos accompanying the obituary earlier this week, the Mrs offers up three more examples of classic Oakley, the King of cats. In the first he is still playful in his final year, in the second he shows his, rightful, contempt for Peppa Pig which engrosses Joshua and Paddington and finally he is simply majestic is he not?
So on Sunday as the Mrs sought a few hours to catch up on her important work, Joshua and I set off exploring with my young son on my back. Part two, the climb to Zarnata castle, I have already recorded HERE. part one was to head off around the back streets of Kambos and the pictures pain a mixed picture as you can see below.
The man from whome Joshua gets his middle name, Paddy Leigh Fermor, was not very kind about Kambos, the nearest village to the Greek Hovel, in his classic book, The Mani. I cannot remember if he described it as dull, dreary or boring but whatever word he used it was not flattering. Of course the village has changed a lot since the early fifties but I think Paddy missed a certain charm.
The first photo is of young Joshua who enjoyed our walk. it started in a back street leading off the square bordered by what was Miranda's and lovely Eleni's Kourounis taverna. Heading past the, thankfully, deserted creperie the street becomes a narrow one - not that deters locals from driving along it. Balconies from houses that were here a hundred years before Leigh Fermor hang over your head.
Heading further along we discovered what, I count, to be the seventh church in this village of 500 odd souls and it is still in occasional use. thereafter we went past houses old, houses new and a couple of quite dreadful combinations of the two. Some of the older houses in Kambos have been restored well, others maintained carefully but sadly others are ab abandoned, a testimony to Greece's insane inheritance laws, There are new houses too, some tasteful and constructed during the "good times". The odd one, cheap, ugly and deserving of a bulldozer.
At the end of our trip we found ourselves at the big new Church at the top of the village and headed back past the Mrs counting cats on the internet, the main task of all public sector workers, and out towards the castle. I include, at the end, two small abandoned shacks on that road. Folks really did live in such houses kin days gone by. and then the final house in Kambos, a ruined tower house once belonging to our most famous son, an obscure nineteenth century Prime Minister of Greece.
I was trying to think of the most obscure British PM of the nineteenth century. Resorting to Wikipedia I offer you Viscount Goderich who lasted 144 days. maybe I am being unfair on our boy here in Kambos he did distinguish himself by sending troops into the Mani to kill his fellow Maniots so he is not a total nobody. Perhaps the earl of Roseberry is a fairer comparator? But can you imagine in the UK the home of any former PM being allowed to disintegrate in this way? Particularly if it sits next to a Mycenaean Tholos (tomb). It is very odd but still a splendid relic as you walk out of the village.
The Mrs wanted to do some important work on Sunday so I put Joshua on my back as you can see below and endeavoured to trek up the whole way from the Kambos side. The photos below give you some idea of what a climb that is and Joshua is not getting any lighter. sadly there are no signs.
Paths forked, ran out and crossed back on each other. Pretty soon, Joshua fell asleep and offered no guidance. In the end I just could not make it to the outer walls but instead cut around the hill to the upper reaches of Stavropiglio where the outlying houses were old but deserted and crumbling. we found a nice old church but as we wandered on met more and more barking dogs. We retreated back into Stavropiglio for a glass of milk for the lad, woken up by the dogs, and a coke for me. Walking home we stuck to the road.
It is thus an adventure uncompleted, a challenge for another day.
Joshua adored Oakley, He calls the Greek Hovel, where I am staying on for a few days, “Joshua’s House,” The house in Bristol is “Oakleys house”. The “King of cats” he called “Oakley da King” and repeated the phrase endlessly. Da King would go to sleep next to Joshua’s cot to keep him company and would head into his room to listen to bedtime tales. He must have known more about the Gruffalo than any other cat.
I first met Oakley seven years ago when my previous companion, Kitosh, died very suddenly having travelled with me from London via Paris to the isle of Man. Grief stricken I headed to the MSPCA where two older cats were sitting unwanted and unloved. There was the very affectionate Tara, who passed away a couple of years ago, and another one who hid in his hutch but was, I was assured, very friendly, if very fat and lazy. That was Oaks.
They travelled with me after my rather hurried departure from the tax dodgers and for a while stayed with the pizza hardman Darren Atwater in Hackney. I know that Darren and his Mrs are devastated by the news. It was during this time that Oakley developed cancer and had his leg amputated. We were told that the big C would probably return within five years but that he was so fat and old that it would not be an issue.
At one point, even with three legs, Oaks tipped the scales at 6.6 kg. So he went on a diet. But in the past year his weight has plunged from 3.7 kg to just 2.7 kg and it was almost certainly the cancer that got him. There is a guilt in that his final days were spent without us. But he was receiving many visits a day from professional cat sitter Terry the hipster plus numerous visits from admirers such as Mu and Godfather Johnny. Perhaps it was a day spent with a junior doctor (Johnny) and being forced by the cruel Shipman to watch the hammers lose on MOTD that proved the final straw, oaks slept loyally in a West Ham blanket.
When Terry the most excellent hipster cat-sitter found him yesterday he had lost all his energy was not eating or drinking and was rushed to the cat hospital. By the time he arrived his eyes were losing colour, jaundice was setting in and there was only one outcome. The Mrs and I both had tearful final conversations with him, well monologues. He did recognise our voices, he really was fading fast. We told him we loved him and said goodbye. I am glad that Terry rather than the Mrs and Joshua had to go through those final hours. Sorry if that sounds selfish.
We will bury the ashes in the garden with a small ceremony as we did when the ashes of Kitosh were interred. Tara’s body was buried rather hastily underneath a rhubarb plant before Joshua could notice.
I think back to five wonderful cats I have owned. There was Big Puss ( aka Jesus) a gift from Uncle Chris when I was young who earned his blasphemous nickname by sleeping in the straw of our crib back at Byfield. He lived to a ripe old age, fathering many children. Poor babysitter, the great, Neil Masuda had to bury him. His replacement had enormous triangular ears and being born in 1982 was named after the bomber with huge triangular wings sending Easter presents to the Argies at that time. Vulcan lived a long life and died peacefully sparing my father a trip to the vets he could not bear to make even though it was the only option so decrepit was “Vulcs”. Then the much travelled east End lad Kitosh and then Oakley and Tara.
In my worst times they would lie in bed with me as I watched old videos and were a great comfort. Oakley was always keen on jumping into bed even when with three legs it involved taking a long lollop up and launching himself like a missile. Not having him launch himself into our bed to offer up big fishy breathed kisses as a reminder that it was time for his first breakfast, will leave a big hole in the life of myself and the Mrs. As for poor Joshua, I just don’t know what the Mrs will say.
I am not sure I can face another pet death. I have had a cat in my life for almost all of my own existence but Oakley really was the king. There could be no substitute.
I take consolation that the King is now at peace with no more suffering. Below he is pictured with his long time companion Tara, with Joshua and alone
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.
The Mrs and I got married five years ago today. I salute her patience, tolerance and good humour in lasting half a decade. I am a lucky man. And, in fact, very lucky for we are today back up at the Greek Hovel and she took me and Joshua for an anniversary lunch at Miranda's in Kambos as you can see below.
Two beers for me, two glasses of wine for her, a plate of spinach and beans ( amazing) to share, chicken and pasta for her (look at the size of that chicken leg!), oven banked pork and spuds for me. We each gave some to Joshua and had more than enough for ourselves. Total cost - 18 Euro. Quite amazing.
Tonight I pay for a rather more expensive meal at a fish restaurant in Kardamili followed by wine tasting at a fine wines bar run by lovely Eleni's brother in law, a kraut living in Kambos. But I bet the food will not be as good as that at Miranda's.
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.
Okay, I am biased, but surely you would agree that my son, two in just over three week's time, is pretty good looking. Natch, it goes without saying that he takes after his mum, who sneaks into the first photo. Here he is borrowing her hat at a posh restaurant in Kardamil,i as we took time out from the Greek Hovel to allow daughter Olaf to go and breathe the same elitist air as her Islington kith and kin who tend to swamp this particular town.
Shall we start with the good news, the bad news or more good news? Well let’s start with Oakley, my once morbidly obese but now painfully think three legged cat who is back in Bristol. While we are away we have a professional cat minder Tim, a bearded young man who sends us photos of him and Oakley nuzzling up together and looking happy, hence his name, the “cat molester.”
The bad news a couple of days ago was that Oakley was again off his food, very lethargic and had been rushed to his £300 a night (with drugs) cat hospital. We waited nervously and there was a message about “managing the pathway”. But old oaks is a resilient chap and after being rehydrated and given anti nausea drugs he has been discharged.
The cat molester is putting in extra, non billable, visits and a small army of Bristol well wishers are popping in to watch TV with the old boy who is now on his food once again, and in high spirits. I fear that, aged 16, his best days are behind him but for now all seems well. But these near collapses are becoming more frequent. The writing is, I suspect, on the wall.
The Mrs decided that evening not to eat her supper in full but to bring back the meat for the kittens and cat. I tried to explain that, like Aslan, they will visit when they wish and that might not be for weeks and you can’t just leave the meat out as that will attract other, unwelcome, members of the wildlife diversity community. But that was to no avail. So the meat lies in our fridge, slowly degenerating as we await another visit which may be tonight or may not be for months…
As you know, young Joshua, is obsessed with Thomas the Tank Engine and friends. The highlight of his year was meeting Thomas on the Watercress Line with godfather Lucian Miers. The Bard of the Boleyn gave him a plastic Percy which makes real noises and that goes everywhere. But for some reason his favourite train is bossy Gordon. He is also very fond of my Mother-in-law.
And so Joshua’s pride and joy is a metal two inch Gordon which comes with a separate tender. Everywhere we go out comes Gordon and Joshua runs him up a surface, my arm, a sofa, whatever saying “Gordon’s Hill”. Occasionally Gordon gets stuck at which point I say loudly, in a Gordon type voice “The Indignity!”
And so as I prepared to hand the Mrs and Joshua over to her brother-in law for a few days away from the building site over at his familial home 50 miles the other side of Kalamata, out came Gordon and the tender as we met up in the lobby of my usual hotel. Joshua played happily, we chatted and it was time to go. We packed up everything but where was the tender? Disaster!
As we go swimming in the sea in the bay of Kalamata Joshua looks over to the land on the other side in the far distance and says “The Mainland!”. That is because we are all on the isle of Sodor. And so, we lied and said that the tender was on the mainland and panicked about how we would replace it.
Yesterday afternoon as I returned to the hovel, the excitement of a day dealing with bureaucrats in Kalamata got to me and I fancied a lie down in the Bat Room. The Mrs will be impressed because before clambering on the bed I did actually take off my walking boots and, praise the lord, from beneath the flap above my ankle, what tumbled out….
The sense of relief as I phone the Mrs with the good news… Gordon’s tender really is on the mainland.
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.
Last week I reported on how the, once morbidly obese, three legged cat Oakley had lost 1 kg since April and was in a bad way. It got worse on Friday when the vet suggested that it might be cancer of the stomach but the only way to find out was to do a biopsy which would require an anaesthetic which may well polish him off. Oakley was only nibbling at titbits of smoked salmon, honey glazed ham and other treats and we had a long discussion about quality of life and er..you know what.
The vet said that I should think about that but gave him an injection to try to stop his nausea, and to stiff me with another bill for £46. Sadly, I wandered home and when the Mrs returned from her mother's with Joshua in tow we talked it through. I suppose that, after a few days with the mother-in-law, talking about having your cat put down counts as light relief.
But then things started to change.
Oakley started to eat again and eat cat food to boot. Now he is eating like a horse. In hobbit fashion he demands three breakfasts and several lunches and supers. He is drinking from his bowl and pissing and shitting on the doorstep. it is just like the good old days. He does appear to be a bit less anorexic and he is moving about a bit more than he was , although he was never the most active of creatures. So thank you for all your kind wishes but "da King" as Joshua calls him is better. Long live da King!
The Watercress Line was established to take cress from the clean chalk rivers of Hampshire up to Covent Garden. Closed by Dr Beeching it is now a steam railway and last weekend it started its annual, two week, Thomas and friends event. My son Joshua lives and breathes Thomas, Percy, Gordon and Henry and so his godfather Lucian who lives near the line arranged for a day out. The first photo of the buggy store shows my boy is not the only Thomas obsessive.
And thereafter Joshua met his hero, had a ride on a mini train as well as on Thomas and on an express to Arlesford where we met Terence the traction engine and Bertie Bus before a visit to a local trout stream to see the fishes, ducks and swans. Finally the view from the car park as we left and the last train of the day pulled out.
The photos below may suggest that Social Services should be called regarding young Joshua. The truth is blackberries. Whenever we walk and he spots one we are off. On the way home from nursery there is an enormous bush on the side path we take. This snap is after a six mile walk on Sunday along the river Avon. hand over five or six blackberries and he does not devour one at a time but just pushes the whole lot towards his mouth and stuffs them in. Then almost at one there is a cry of "More blackberries Daddy! Daddy Blackberries Yes" which is repeated until a fresh source above the dog wee line is located.
It was not that long ago that my three legged cat Oakley tipped the scales at over 6 kg and was, rightly, described as morbidly obese. The vet warned us that he must diet. It is so very different now.
The old boy is now sixteen and has been my almost constant companion – bar a short spell lodging with Darren Atwater – since the death of his predecessor Kitosh in 2010. He, and his partner Tara, now residing underneath the rhubarb in our garden – were rescued from the MSPCA shelter in the isle of Man. No-one wanted them, kittens were picked up at once, the two older cats just sat there. But I was charmed.
Oakley was down to 3.7 kg in April but he has been off his food and also vomiting of late and yesterday we walked up to the vets and he is now just 2.7 kg. we must go again today for yet more b blood tests and Oakley is complaining loudly that he is not being offered breakfast. Right now for him meals are tinned tuna or smoked salmon, he will at least nibble at such treats.
He was never the most active of cats but although he can still hobble upstairs and, with a great running jump, manage to get onto a bed he is doing less and less.
Joshua adores Oakley who sleeps on the floor next to his cot. “Oakley da King” is wonderful with kids. His only problem is with people who use hoovers. But it does not look good. He has reached a ripe old age despite the cancer which saw his leg amputated six years ago. But as the Mrs and I discuss it there is a sense that we will enjoy his company, the bad breath kiss that serves as a wake up call, for not that much longer.
On Saturday myself, Brokerman Dan and Lucian Miers, aka the rogue bloggers, will walk 32 miles from the infamous Horse Hill “Gatwick Gusher” oil well to Woodlarks, aiming to raise £20,000 for that amazing charity. Reminder – Woodlarks needs that cash to up its income from just £126,500 last year, to close its deficit and keep doing its amazing work providing holidays for handicapped folks who would otherwise get none. Yesterday was my last long training walk…
I set off at 5.30 AM from the start of the Bristol bath railway cycle path and in the early morning I made cracking progress. The track passes by a couple of rough looking estates and from one tower block I could hear neighbours having a rather heated exchange and threatening each other. That spurred me to walk a bit faster and I did have a few questions as to whether I should really have departed that early?
As some consolation the early hour meant that I saw both a fox on its own and a mother playing with two cubs. Growing up in the country I know that foxes are smelly , evil, murdering vermin but these urban specimens and their cubs did look rather sweet. Fear not I am not going soft, it is just that I was not “carrying” – I do know that the only good fox is a dead one.
As the light improved the foxes disappeared and were replaced by lycra clad cyclists and fat dogs being walked by even fatter owners. I made cracking progress and before 7.30 was at the converted station turned café where, when Lucian and I had walked this path, we had stopped so that he could have a bacon butty and a fag at 10 AM. Enjoying my first nutri-bar and drink I felt smug and ahead of schedule and was almost tempted to call Lucian and rose him from his slumber by telling him. Instead I pressed on and before eight thirty was at the steam railway station of Bitton for another drink and the rest of the first nutri-bar. Eight and a half miles in three hours – not too bad – with two short breaks.
Before ten I had turned off the path having done c11 miles and was on what was termed the Avon cycle-way to Chew in the Somerset hills. This was meant to be eleven miles too. But the signing was just utterly dreadful and as far as I can see the walk was entirely on roads. Within three miles I had lost the signs, if indeed they exist, and was just navigating village to village by instinct.
At three miles I saw a sign to Chewton. Rather foolishly I hope that the Chews were like Midsomer so that Chewton would be near Chew Magna or Chew lake. A chap said I was about eight miles from the lake. Great. I strode off fortified by another bit of nutri bar and more fluids, confident that I would beat the Mrs to our lunchtime booking at “Salt & Malt” by a good whack. Hmmm.
Two miles after Chewton came a village called something like Susan Dando where I asked about the lake which I was expecting to be just five and a bit miles away. “It’s a long way, at least ten miles” said a lady as she laughed. It was getting very hot and sunny and I was not laughing. The roads were up and down, rather too m any hills for my liking but I strode on, village to village.
The countryside was gorgeous. As my second and final nutri-bar disappeared I picked a few blackberries for comfort and by eleven thirty reached a roundabout which “I knew” was very close to the lake, the turning was just around the corner and in that vein I drank my last water. Natch, the lake was still miles away but I just kept walking and about 400 yards from the lake the Mrs and Joshua pulled up beside m e and gave me a lift for the final stretch.
Bar a bit of dehydration I was fine. Yes. My feet hurt but I coped with the hills fine and know I could easily have done another five or ten miles without collapsing. A few years ago when I was a twenty a day man my lungs would have been burning after just a few miles but today, even on the worst of hills, I am never breathless I might pant a bit as I hit the peak but that is it.
After that walk with Lucian a few weeks ago I was stiff as a board and headed pretty much to bed as soon as I could. Yesterday was just a normal day. Yes I hobbled a bit as my body stiffened up but I made supper, and worked a bit and just got on with it.
So I shall do two more short five mile walks on Tuesday and Thursday with Joshua and then it is the big one. I feel as ready as I will ever be.
The books, tables, wall art and chests of drawers plus four Belfast sinks were transferred from the white van of the wretched Bulgar to my hire car, a jeep and a workman's lorry as you can see in the first photo below.
The sweaty Bulgar did little of the shifting, that was down to myself and two burly Greeks. Up at the hovel we shifted the stuff inside the now completed and secured bat room. The second photo shows a heroic Greek carrying a Belfast sink as if it was a pillow case. The box in which the sink was has strict elf 'n safey wording about how it must be lifted by two men. Maybe it is the overt and shocking sexism of that warning that caused the Greek to ignore it?
And now everything, including a new purpose built mattress for an unusually sized bed, sits in the bat room waiting for my return in a few weeks when I shall be staying up at the hovel awaiting the arrival of the Mrs, Joshua and Olaf.
The first 5-6 miles were along the mountain road up to Kambos. I kid you not, it is uphill all the way. Having started at c10 feet above sea level I reckon that by the time I left this road I was at least 750 feet above sea level, plausibly quite a bit more. The views down to the gulf of Kalamata were spectacular but that was of little consolation. It was a slog.
Now and again, as I passed a blackberry bush where the berries are now starting to ripen I would pick a berry and think of Joshua. On the way home from his nursery we pass an enormous blackberry bush and while English berries are still green I know they will ripen. At that point Joshua will gorge himself at the bush and we will take more home for supper.
I had been dreading this climb, worrying that I would just find it too tough and be forced back but, although I am still a bit too fat, I seem to be surprisingly fit and by the time the Mrs called me and i stopped for a water and a protein bar break the village of Kouris was in sight. Greece being Greece it remained in sight as the road looped and looped again but before I knew it I was at the turn which saw me heading downhill to Megali Mantineia.
This village is prettier than my own, Kambos, and is also far closer to the sea. And it was made famous by "Things Can Only get Feta" and so it has a genteel feel of Northern European money that Kambos lacks. There is a lovely taverna with views out to the sea where the Mrs and I have eaten as we explored this region. I rather wished she was there and called her to say as much as I stopped for a coffee, for lots of water and to top up my water bottles. I chatted to my father and to his delightfully right wing, Trump loving carer Emma and headed onwards, always downwards to the sea.
As the sea started got closer I left the Greece of old stone houses and entered the Greece I'd rather not think about. there was "Harmony Village" a half finished development of four or five fake stone houses to contemplate. The weeds at Harmony grow long and a sign outside "For sale, investment opportunity" will, I suspect, be there for many years. Worse still are the houses thrown up during the "good years" when cheap money was being thrown at Greece by the EU. A ghastly concrete mansion painted bright pink with its own private modern church was the low-point.
At this point readers may wish to avoid the next two paragraphs. As I headed on to the sea with what the maps describe as the "rema mili" (the dry river which nearer Kambos is the murder gorge) to my left, my problems started. I have a stomach bug which can cause an urgent need to visit a lavatory. it is minor affliction which will, I am sure, go away soon, but at this point it struck. I tried to suck it in, I thought of how Paddy Leigh Fermor and Bruce Chatwin would have done a walk like mine in the mountains of the Mani, before an alcohol and nicotine fuelled lunch, and then done another walk afterwards. Somehow I reached the sea.
By now I was really struggling but somehow made it to the next village and to a taverna into which I rushed, found a loo and sat there letting everything go and sweating buckets. After that I felt I deserved another coffee. Frankly i deserved a medal as well. My body was empty and I headed back to Kalamata, stopping now and again to drink water or pour it over my head to cool down. It was with some relief that I made it back to my hotel where, after a quick shower, I feel utterly refreshed.
Could I have done another circuit? The answer is almost certainly "yes." My feet are fine, my legs are okay but in this heat I would have been a wretched specimen by the end of hit. As i write the temperature is well into the mid thirties.
Assuming I shake this bug, I'd like to do one more big walk before heading back to the UK - taking the mountain road another three or four miles onto just before Kambos before heading downhill to the sea and back home. I shall try to fit that walk around the arrival of the van from Bristol.
It is now less than four weeks until myself and Brokerman Dan try to walk from Horse Hill to Woodlarks to raise money for this charity which I have backed for 16 years and which does amazing work as you can see HERE. Dan is far fitter than I am and sent late night texts on Friday saying that he had managed a 21 mile walk but was a wreck and needed a lighter rucksack. I know it is hot up in Manchester what with all those fires on the Moors but I think he is kidding me. It is all psychology. My plan was to do 26 miles on Sunday.
I set an alarm for 4.30 AM and hoped to be walking by 5.15. But the bed was jolly comfortable and when I did rouse myself I looked on my computer to approve Sunday articles for ShareProphets. I procrastinated but, looking at the donations page HERE, I was struck by how generous so many folks had been and determined not to let them down I called a cab. At 6.23 AM I started walking on the Bristol Bath Railway walk – along the old line – from its start near Temple Meads in the City Centre.
It was the route I had taken a week earlier with my friend Lucian Miers but with no-one to talk to as a distraction and almost no cyclo-nazis to dodge I made cracking time. By just after eight I had managed seven miles in record speed and despite being on a gradual climb and I was at the (not yet open) cafe where eight days earlier Lucian and I had stopped for a a 10.30 AM break and, in his case, a bacon sarnie and a fag.
My rucksack was heavier than last week, containing my laptop in case I fancied a spot of blogging, some bread and two litres of water. It was time for my first drink. Despite being double socked my left foot had started to rub and that pain grew as I headed on past Bitton where steam trains were running on the private railway, something Joshua would have loved. I crossed the Avon three times and by 11 AM had reached almost thirteen and a half miles. My foot was hurting and I fear – wrongly as it turned out – that a blister would result. It was – according to my phone 30 degrees and I was my backpack grew steadily lighter as I took on fluids.
I really did think, several times as I headed back from near bath towards Bristol, that I might call the Mrs and get a lift home but I just set myself a target of the next stop to reconsider. It was hard going and my pace slowed such that I was frequently overtaken by 70 year old joggers and three year olds on cycles. But slowly I retraced my route. The three bridges over the Avon, the start of the steam railway tracks, Bitton, the end of the railway tracks and then Lucian’s cafe.
At that point, still seven miles out I did feel a bit feint. As a diabetic I should have hat my testing kit but did not but just to be sure I bought a sugary snack and a coke and refiled one of my two empty water bottles. Like an idiot I then left that full bottle at the cafe; something I realised only as I finished the coke, five miles away from the line. But the snack gave me a whole new lease of life, the pace picked up and the last few miles were, very gently, downhill. I raced ahead and despite missing water in the last stretch finished the course in nine hours and thirty one minutes. If I add in 400 yards at the start from where V cars dropped me off at the wrong place, two detours to answer a call of nature and a wander around Bitton station looking at the trains, I managed, near as damn it, 27 miles.
I could have gone on. I am in no doubt that, given another two hours, I could have made it to 32 miles. But there was no need, doing a marathon in this heat was good enough. By the time the taxi dropped me off at home I was stiff as a board and last night I slept like a log. But today? I am fully recovered. I could walk again but shall not as 75 year old coach Brian Basham says I must rest my muscles. None the less my recovery times are improving as e very week goes by. So my next session is a short mid week walk, six miles on Tuesday, most of it gradient work at the gym.
I cannot help but feel a bit smug. Two weeks ago I struggled badly to do 15 miles. Last week I struggled to do 24. This week 27 was less of a struggle. Slowly but surely I am getting there. But gosh it is painful. The determination is partly one of pride but also not to let down all those folks who have sponsored myself and Dan. We have now raised £9,849.16 ( or £11,740.21 with gift aid) which will make a massive difference to a charity which had an income last year of just £126,000 and does truly amazing work.
If you have sponsored us already we both thank you. If not please would you donate now. Just a tenner from everyone who reads this piece would get us well over our £20,000 target so please take a few minutes and donate now HERE.
PS. Completing this trek and managing type 2 diabetes shows that it can be done and makes me all the more angry when folks like Diane Abbott use the condition as an excuse for their manifest failings.
Not even mentioning Father’s Day, which she will no doubt forget tomorrow, my Islington based daughter Olaf honoured us with a visit to the boonies and Bristol yesterday. She was checking out the University in an open day and has decided that if things don’t go the right way at a proper seat of learning on the M40 she will, like all the other Oxbridge rejects, come here. Having checked out the University and come away really impressed she met up with myself, the Mrs and Joshua for lunch.
I walked to Clifton wheeling Joshua and heading via Go Outdoor to buy some more walking socks. It is all part of my training for July 28. The last half mile is all uphill and pushing an increasingly large Joshua I arrived a few minutes late and sweating. Olaf gave me a Paddington Stare. Quite by chance I was wearing my “Hillary for Prison 2016” T-shirt. Olaf blathers on about glass ceilings and how Donald Trump is the spawn of Satan in a way that you would expect from someone who lives in an area where everyone is an asset multimillionaire and reads the Guardian.
So what if Trump is bringing peace to Korea and record job numbers to America’s poor and working classes, he does not want Transgenders in the military and so is a bad man. I get it.
On the way I had asked directions from a Bristol Student, wearing a University T-shirt and helping out on the open day. He had commented on my T-shirt. He assumed (correctly, but that is not the point) that I was a Trump supporter but I responded that millions of lifelong Democrats did not vote for Crooked Hillary because she was a terrible candidate. The student countered that Hillary Clinton had been cleared of all charges which is, of course, not true. That was Fake News from a liberal – he should go to work for the BBC. I rattled off a list of things she is clearly guilty of including bleaching emails, pay to play and using charity money to fund her daughter’s $3 million wedding. The student said “that is your opinion”. I said, “no those are facts and that is why she should be in prison.”
I should have pointed out that his inability to appreciate fact from opinion is why he is at an Oxford Reject university whereas I did go to Oxford. But I did not. Olaf and the Mrs think that it is a bad line to use on Oxbridge rejects as it might hurt their feelings. No – suck it up buttercups you are just not top drawer, get over it!
Olaf and I discussed how useless Mrs May was and why she should go. But who would replace her my daughter enquired? “Priti Patel of course! said I. I never waiver on that point. Priti is a real instinctive Thatcherite, it is in her DNA. She is the chosen one. Olaf was not so sure. She said she wanted Mayor Khan to be PM.
Is that really a priority for Londoners? Well maybe up in the leafier parts of Islington where there are no stabbings it is seen as a vital issue. It is the sort of thing the Dems campaigned on in 2016 not caring about matters like jobs for folks in the rust belt or poverty in the farm states. And they wonder why Trump swept the flyovers?
There are surely very few people who still think Sadiq Khan is up to the job as Mayor of London, I rather suspect that Olaf is the only person in the whole country who thinks he should be PM. I know it is hard to think of someone who would be more useless than Theresa May but Mayor Khan might just be the one.
I see that Brokerman Dan, who will be walking 32 miles for Woodlarks with me on July 28, has tweeted about completing a 15 mile training walk. In the smug looking selfie that accompanied the tweet the old bastard looks fresh as a daisy, as if he had just strolled to and from the local corner store. If only it were that way for me.
On Saturday or Sunday I shall be doing my weekend long walk. Last Saturday I managed ten miles. The target this weekend is 12-14 miles along the River Avon starting at bath and heading West. Do I stop at the Chequers pub ( 11.5 miles) or can I make it to the Conham River car park (14 miles) and get the Mrs to take me back to the pub by car? Decisions, decisions.
Pro tem it is back to five miles every other day – my weekday training. Yesterday saw me do just over 3.5 miles in an hour on a constant uphill gradient of between 4 and 7 ( whatever that means) at the local gym run by Perry the Tory here in Brislington, Bristol. The body builders who are the gym’s other clients did not giggle but at the end I was sweaty and smelly but not actually that breathless and easily able to walk straight to Joshua’s nursery and wheel him home. That involves a couple of steep hills as well so a good five miles in all and lots of hill work.
I worry that the Woodlarks walk has a lot of hills along the way.
I am not sure that the girls who look after Joshua at his nursery were that impressed by his sweaty and smelly dad. I tried to mumble something about training and a 32 mile walk but decided quickly that the best thing to do was to get him out of there as soon as possible with a promise that we could go visit the snakes and rabbits at Pets at Home over the way.
Today is a day off although I shall do the one and a half mile walk to pick Joshua up just to keep my hand in so to speak. Instead I have sent a few emails to encourage folks to make their donations. After about three weeks of fund raising Dan and I have raised £5718.16 ( with gift aid that is £6,815.210). That is 28% of our £20,000 (without gift aid) target so not bad.
But most of you reading this article have not yet pledged. To those that have I am grateful and will not let you – or myself – down. To those that have not, I am sure that you can spare a tenner. Go on, think of me trying to explain away how smelly I was to Joshua’s carers, think of the muscle men laughing at me, think of my humiliation, laugh and donate a tenner HERE
My Woodlarks charity walk training plan for today was simple. My training path is the 2.5 miles path along the River Avon between Conham Hill car park and the Chequer's pub. It is a splendid walk which on Tuesday I did alone both ways (5 miles) and on Thursday I also did both ways but with Joshua in his buggy. Joshua and I saw ducks, swans, a train on the hill, all sorts of boats, a heron, blossom, a horse, it was great fun.
Today I planned the five mile round circuit at which point cousin Johnny, a godfather to Joshua, would join us for a walk to the pub so leaving me having done a straight 7.5 miles. But Johnny arrived in his car and thus post lunch we had to walk another 2.5 miles back to that car so he could speed back to our house to dump it before heading off to the airport. Being a junior doctor he has vast amounts of time and money for endless holidays.
So thanks to Johnny my training walk today totalled 10 miles which is a bit more than i was expecting. I am feeling rather stiff. But with 49 days left to the 32 mile walk for Woodlarks I am feeling more confident about my ability to complete that trek on the day.
Brokerman Dan and I have now raised 28% of our £20,000 target for this great charity in just over a fortnight. If you have donated already I say thanks. If not think of my aching feet tonight and, I am sure you can spare a tenner to donate HERE
When I am in England I do not think much about snakes. Okay, three times a week I pick Joshua up from his nursery and he says "snakes" so, on the way home, we pop into Pets At Home and go to see the snakes. They are tiny little creatures, corn snakes, which nearly always hide in their houses and only rarely peek out. When they do, Joshua gets very excited. Most of the time we see no snakes so Joshua just says "bye bye snakes" and we head on past the fish where Joshua says "fish," past the hamsters and gerbils where he says "mice", and to the rabbits where he says "By Bye Babbits" and we head home. And I think nothing of it.
But now I am back in Greece and as soon as I started driving out of Kalamata, where there are few snakes, and up into the hills towards Kambos and The Greek Hovel I started thinking of nothing else. Would I see one on the road? Would I swerve and kill it as a Greek driver would? What about up at the hovel? Surely by now the place is crawling with snakes?
And thus I arrived to find snake killer Gregori and his team of ethnic Greek Albanians hard at work. After a brief pleasantry or two "tikanis, cala, etc, etc" I asked the big question. Apparently since they came out of hibernation about eight weeks ago two have been spotted. There was a big one but it was dead. And a smaller one nestling under a T-shirt someone had discarded. After meeting Gregori it was also dead.
Small ones, this year's crop of adders, are the most dangerous since if they bite they have no idea how much venom to inject so just keep on injecting. But this one met its match in the snake killer and he had a photo of the corpse on his phone to prove it.
The workers are making a lot of noise now and have heavy machinery up there. My hope is that the snakes have done the sensible thing and moved away from the house and, I pray, onto the neighbours land. The odds are that as I prune my olive trees over the next ten days in the further reaches of my land, I shall discover otherwise. There were certainly plenty of lizards in evidence and I am sure that my old adage "where there are lizards there are snakes" is not far wrong.
The new words are being learned thick and fast now. I cannot remember from days gone by how much a 19 month old should be speaking but the Mrs and I agree that Joshua is very clever. We disagree from which side he gets the "very clever gene" but you, dear reader, know that it is mine. Not all words sound quite right. Joshua's fave character in his favourite TV show and book, is Gorguan, or as you might say Gordon in Thomas the Tank Engine.
In Sweden words such as goat, fishing and nice appeared as well as "pest" our nickname for our son. Another new word is outdoors which, as you can see below, is an exciting place.
Joshua has his first wellies and so walks don't always involve buggies these days. Although wheeling him in a buggy then offering him milk is a great way to get him to sleep.
Once again no fish were in the slightest effected by my fishing. That is no shock but the Mrs, myself and Joshua enjoyed our week by a lake in sub 10 degree Sweden, about 20 miles from Gothenburg, where the Mrs used to work and knows a lot of folks.
The photos below are in order: our wood house, the marshy land next adjacent to it, the view up the lake from just beyond the marsh and then two views back down from half way up the other side, where Joshua and i went on an near daily walk.
I shall not name the Parish as that would be unfair on a female vicar who was enthusiastic and welcoming and on a large congregation of good folk but the service we attended on Easter Sunday morning was not one for the traditionalists, that is to say me. Dr Johnson would, no doubt, have viewed it as evidence that his famous bon mot on a women preaching was bang on the money.
I suppose I should have been alerted when, upon entry, we were presented with no hymn books or order of service, for everything we had to sing or say appeared on screens throughout the church. Seeing the screens excited Joshua who had immediately said "Peppa" very loudly but was somewhat disappointed when his porcine heroine failed to appear.
When I told my father that the service included a short drama session depicting the resurrection he knew which way this was heading. We had already had the same story relayed to us via the gospel (not KJV but a rather newer version) so why do we need it a second time? It is the way parts of the CofE try to "get down with the kids" and relate to "a younger audience".
In the same vein the vicar's sermon managed to include the theme music from EastEnders and also a cartoon flashed up on our screens of some folks in a swimming pool which the vicar used as a metaphor for faith. In front of us a mother, with kids dressed in the sort of home made wooly jumpers designed to get them beaten up at school but so beloved of the sort of middle class Christians who raise their hands to the Lord during hymns, nodded approvingly.
The folks in the congregation were welcoming and did not mind Joshua running around happily once he realised that Peppa was not appearing on screen. They are far better people than I can hope to be and I am sure far less judgemental, except when it comes to LGBT issues (pro), Brexit ( anti), capitalism (evil) global warming denial (akin to holocaust denial), Israel (the bad guys) and other things on which the CofE tends to be utterly judgemental.
It is just that, like my father, I find the attempts of the CofE to "relate" to a 21st Century audience just a but of a turn-off.
The Mrs says that is because my world view is from the nineteenth, not even the twentieth, century. Heck, I reply, the nineteenth century was not all bad and she gives me a Paddington stare.
In 2000, Dr David Viner, a senior research scientist at the climatic research unit (CRU) of the University of East Anglia, aka arch data fabricators and global warming nutters, noted: that within a few years winter snowfall will become “a very rare and exciting event”. “Children just aren’t going to know what snow is,” he said. My son Joshua is not yet 18 months old yet, even here in Bristol, he has now experienced four periods of snow, three since Christmas. The photos below show a family playing, yet again, in a road just covered with global warming.
Until now my young son has had a rather eccentric hairstyle with plenty of curls and no great pattern - he takes after his paternal grandfather. After some resistance, the Mrs relented at the weekend and took him to the hairdresser. The expression on poor Joshua's face suggests that it was not a total treat but he's now smart enough for a job interview.
I am still a bit confused as to why it was Carnival day all on Sunday but all over Greece folks were celebrating. I watched on TV as in Naxos they paraded through the streets dressed, I think, as ghouls. Somewhere else, a name containing absolutely all those Greek letters I can't pronounce and just give up on - they were dressed as sheep or was it goats, but they had bells on. With the carnival over Lent has now begun which means that the devout will eat no meat although it will still be served everwhere for Godless souls such as me and the Albanians.
In Kambos the kids were all in fancy dress even the two year old daughter of lovely Eleni at the Kourounis taverna. She has a Greek name with lots of confusing letters too and so I simply refer her to her as the future bride of my young son Joshua. The Mrs has a Greek brother in law and says that is enough bubbles in the family and so is not impressed by my little joke. But then she does not struggle, as I do, with the unprounounceable Greek letters.
Anyhow, Joshua's future wife was dressed up as a rather shy little red riding hood as you can see below.
16 year old daughter Olaf believes in Santa Claus as the patron saint of consumerism but like the rest of the metropolitan elite thinks that those of us who think Christmas has anything to do with Jesus are clinging to the "old ways" and are fair game for year round ridicule.
But fair dos to the godless creature she has sent us a bauble for the tree.Natch it has nothing to do with Christ the Lord but..Instead it reminds us that, under her mother's influence, she has become a bit of a die-hard cottage burner. Whereas young Joshua is already wearing Ireland pyjamas Olaf is Welsh and proud of it. The message on the bauble means Merry Christmas in the language of the subsidy junkies to the West of Offa's Dyke.
Meanwhile Joshua has learned two new words: tree and bauble and is very happy taking down the latter and scuttling off to hide them.
There is no doubt that my angelic one year old son Joshua will be blessed with a visit from Santa Claus on the night before Christmas for he has been a good boy. The Mrs will be equally blessed for she has been a good girl. Notwithstanding the fact that he has just vomited in the kitchen, my three legged cat Oakley will also be rewarded with a stocking. Indeed, Santa will be a busy fellow. The mother-in-law is joining us to brighten up my Christmas and I gather that Santa will also be visiting her. to reward her for her good deeds in 2017, The only question is will daughter Olaf, be so lucky? She is a godless creature delighting in liberal delusions who thinks that Christmas is just one great consumerfest and nothing to do with Jesus. Should Santa really reward such heathens? But back to Joshua...
At his nursery a grotto has been established where parents can leave a present for Santa to hand out to their little darlings at the end of a given school day. And thus as I go to pick Joshua up in the evening, a big fat man with a white beard, glasses and a kindly smile sits there in his red suit waiting to greet the little children.
On Monday I was carrying Joshua to the car. He was smiling as he greeted me and in a good mood as I slung him over my shoulder like a small sack of spuds. So when I saw Santa I put him down, facing the old man. Joshua stood, looked and then started screaming and bawling in a way he has never before. After a minute or so of trying to console him and persuade him that Santa was really a well intentioned old geezer I just apologised and carried him away.
Tuesday came and Joshua and I were walking home so he was in a pram. I wheeled him from his classroom towards the exit and he was happy. Then he spotted Santa. Again cue screaming and bawling. I hastily agreed with Santa that he and Joshua were just not meant to be friends and we scuttled away. Today was a noon pick up so no Santa. I think that means no more encounters with the bearded old boy. I am struggling to explain Joshua's hostility. Perhaps he thinks it is Jeremy Corbyn?
I carry some photos of Joshua with me and, having met him in the summer, folks here in Kambos always ask after him. I show the photos from the christening and they agree that he is incredibly handsome and has a lovely smile. Natch he takes after his mother. Anyhow, I miss him terribly and, to console me, the Mrs has sent over three photos. As you can see in the third he is already very keen on books although happy, for now , to read like an Australian, that is to say upside down.
My one year old son Joshua delights with playing with mobile phones and TV controls. Thus poor Sam Antar got a 3 AM call from me in New York when my son managed to press a few buttons in the right order. Just a few minutes ago I got a phone reminder of something important. I do not actually know how to set such a reminder but Joshua has managed it. At least it was not at 2.58 AM like last time.
He has also fiddled with the remote controls for the TV and done something I just cannot unscramble. The net result is that the only channel I can now watch is BBC 1. God, how have I sinned? The Mrs is away until Friday night so until then no Frasier, Midsomer, Lewis, Dalziel & Pascoe, The Sweeney, Morse. Instead it is just fake news and annoying overpaid luvvies preaching at me. It is either a preview of hell or a good excuse to catch up on some work.
I was just looking at a memory stick the Mrs was playing with and up came numerous glorious photos of the Christening of my son Joshua this summer. I know many of you sent us best wishes for that day so I share just three of them
First the group photo. In case you are wondering about the location, it is a Victorian cemetery near us which is a wonderfully relaxing and peaceful spot both for its permanent residents and those, like us, visiting for the day. And yes that is my Dad at the very back on his one excursion from Warwickshire this year.
Below that is Joshua himself with his one of his godparentgs, my good friend the bear raider Lucian Miers. Should I shuffle off this mortal coil before Joshua makes one of his great decisions in life it is Lucian's job to take him to see
West Ham and make sure that he has no funny ideas about supporting Bristol City. Finally the Mrs and I giving a speech. Naturally she had the last word. And the first. And most of the rest. Rightly so.
After I pick up my one year old son Joshua from nursery we allow ourselves a little treat - a vist to Pets at Home. Later on we look at the tanks of fishes and go visit the rabbits and guinea pigs. Joshua knows what they all are and makes appropriate noises at each point of the store.
The staff do not seem to mind our daily visits apart from one rather stern young lady who I made the mistake of telling how I had eaten guinea pig in Ecuador and how good it tasted as we stared at a cage full of the little creatures. The sour faced millennial said that my comments were not appropriate and stares at me in Paddington Bear like fashion whenever I enter the store.
Our first point of call is always the snake tanks of which there are four. In each tank there is a little house and for the six weeks we have been engaging in this routine the snakes have always been hiding. So Joshua looks at the picture on the tank and goes ssssssssssssss as we wave our hands in snake like fashion and laugh. We know all about snakes from reading the Gruffalo.
But yesterday a banana python was out of its house. About a foot and a half long it was sliding around the tank and then up the front pane directly in front of us. Joshua watched intently but was not laughing. The snake stated at us and flicked its tongue and Joshua looked again but was still not laughing. I think he realises that snakes are not nice creatures which will prove useful when we encounter them in the snake fields at the Greek Hovel.
Once he twigged that playing with the wrapping paper was not the real present, Joshua started to get the hang of having a Birthday. This gift is not from me but from the Mrs. For imposing a lifetime of misery on the lad it is she who must be reported to social services.
I have never made banana cake until yesterday but it was a piece of er...cake. The mother in law thought it could have done with ten minutes more in the oven but I thought it was perfectly moist, just right. As you can see, Joshua agreed with me.
I accept that my Frog (O Level grade B 1984) is a tad rusty and when I go to France I am always a tad rusty but can get by. But my poor son can only speak about five words of English, less than your average Jihadi seeking asylum and a life on benefits in this blessed Isle.
So I am not sure that my Frog will improve that much while Joshua's attendance looks to be utterly pointless. But...a) who am I to argue with the Mrs as she heads off for another day of vital work filling empty millennial heads with left wing clap trap and b) there are likely to be some fit young mums sharing in this exercise in total futility.
It is hard to believe but on Saturday my son Joshua turns one. And s a treat for both of us my mother-in-law is coming to stay for four days, a truly long weekend. Yesterday he stood up for 14 seconds without assistance, he says a few words, plays with Oakley and in Greece went sea swimming for the first time. As for the pool, as you can see below, he is a natch...
With a day to kill before flying back from Greece to what the Mrs calls home but I call Britain, there was time for one last lunch in my "home village" of Kambos. First a brief stop off at Joshua's inheritance, the Greek hovel, where a bulldozer had arrived and great progress has been made. I have photos of that, of my olives and also of my prickley pears but they can wait. For the main event, in a village whose great attraction is that nothing ever happens, was lunch in the main square.
Three of the main four tables at Miranda's were occupied. At two sat local Greeks sipping slowly at cool beers. At a third, Gary Sausage held court. He is a Brit but a permanent resident not of Kambos but of these parts. He is not really called Mr Sausage. I have no idea of his real name and I am not sure if anyone else knows either. But since he makes his living importing pork pies, British bangers and the like for those other ex-pats who - for reasons I cannot fathom - have a yearning for British food, he is Mr Gary Sausage.
The name has a naughtier sub text. Gary arrived here with his wife. In these progressive times I suppose I should make it explicitly clear that his wife was a woman. I say was because she appears to have tired of his charms and returned to Blighty. This information would surprise you as Gary Sausage is both rotund and also just extraordinarily camp. My gaydar is clearly very defective because I just assumed that he was one of life's big fat fairies. Think Christopher Biggins in shorts.
What is more, Gary Sausage always holds court when I see him in Kambos. He is always surrounded by a gaggle of British ladies who, like him, are in their sixties and have seen more than their fair share of Mediterranean sunshine and who seem to hang on his every word. Gary Sausage is the only straight man in the West to have this power over women. Anyhow he was holding Court on a large table strewn with rapidly emptying plates and bottles. Gary Sausage knows who I am, though since I have no cravings for pork pies or marmite, we have never talked.And so as the Mrs and I walked, with Joshua in his pushchair, towards the fourth table there was a fleeting acknowledgement from the great man before he refocused his attentions on his gaggle.
Miranda's was thus pretty full for a late lunch period. It was surrounded by empty plastic chairs ans empty plastic tables from the ghastly new creperie. On one of those tables sat the half French half Greek owner and her Greek father - the interlopers. They talked to themselves for they had no-one else to serve or to chat too. If someone passed by they would smile. The old man caught Joshua's eye and smiled. Joshua smiled back. That looks like a rarity.
The plain fact is that the locals are not using the creperie at all. And the last tourists have all gone, not that there was any sign that they were using it either. You do not need to be Richard Branson to see the gaping hole in the business plan going forward. And everyone in Kambos knows that.
There will come a day this Autumn when the creperie will not bother with the charade of opening its doors and laying out tables for customers who will never come. Perhaps the froggy will have another go next summer. I hope not. But pro tem the excruciating embarrassment goes on. The owner and her Dad sit there because they have to pretend they have a business and have tp keep smiling.
We all know that their fate is sealed and many of us look forward to the demise of the creperie and a return to the old order of the square being "owned" by the Kourounis taverna, Miranda's and the shop where I buy poison for frigana and get my strimmer mended. For now, however, we avoid catching a French eye, avoid having to smile back, avoid the sheer embarrassment of it all.
As you may know, I hit the keys on my computer so hard that after a while the figures on them wear off. Then they become so damaged that they stop working altogether or only if you hit them repeatedly very hard. At that point hipster Marxist, the pizza hardman Darren Atwater, says "why don't you get a new Mac costing loads of moolah from the money tree?" and I go buy a new keyboard, which looks like what I have been using all my adult life, and plug it in. Joshua types like his Dad as you can see in the video below...
As it happens my son and heir got so carried away that he smashed the connecting cable. So I could not type anythiong all day until we got to Kalamata where the Mrs popped in to see my pals at Germanos. Now I have a magic new keyboard with both Greek and English letters, to help me learn to speak bubble, with the " symbol creating an @ and vice versa and which connects to my PC by magic rather than cable. So i am back. Meanwhile here is Joshua in action.
No this is not the nation that took over Greece in the 1940s and again via the EU seventy years later, this is the biggest computer accessory chain in Greece. Its Kalamata store is right in the centre of town within yards of my bank and also the office of my lawyer here, the charming Natasha. I am a regular at Germanos and earlier this week wandered in asking for a lead to connect my camera to my PC to bring you photos of Greece.
"Come back on Saturday when I will have one" said the little man to whom I had been directed and who has, in the past, "fixed" my laptop in the same way that dear old Dr Harold Shipman used to "fix" his elderly patients. Thus, this morning, I drove with my son and heir, Joshua, the one hour to Kalamata. Amazingly we found a parking spot within ten minutes of Germanos and off we went.
"Come back in an hour" said the little man who was again on duty. He is the sort of charmless geek who, one imagines, has no social life whatsoever and spends his leisure time as he spends his work time staring at screens. You would not bet the ranch on him scoring terribly highly in the personal hygiene or girlfriend department. But Joshua and I headed off as instructed and went to an internet cafe where used the fast connection to upload tomorrow's bearcast and enjoyed a coffee. Joshua smiled and waved at anyone whose eye he caught. My boy has the patience of a saint.
Ninety minutes later we returned to Germanos where, after queuing for 15 minutes we were asked by the same little man to wait for five minutes. The snivelling little man scuttled off to the store room searched some shelves and did not call us back. After about ten minutes he had no customers to protect him and I wandered over to give him a Paddington Bear type stare. Joshua did the same. Hopelessly he offered up a lead which fitted into my camera at one end but not to my computer at the other. I asked if there was another lead to connect the non camera end to my PC and he said No. I think even he realised that the product he was offering to sell me was therefore of no use whatsoever.
It was at this point that I finally lost my temper. As a crowd of customers elsewhere in the store and the other staff watched I started to shout about how I had travelled an hour in to pick up something he had promised would be here and then how he had jerked us around today. The man stammered, as pathetic little computer geeks do, so that spurred me on to recount the whole tale again in even more animated tones, conscious that the whole store was now staring,
At that point the manager intervened. I was asked to wait a few minutes and I was soon presented with a memory stick which allows me to transfer photos at will. It works and I have already started to use it as you will see shortly. The stick had of course been on the shelves all along. The manager could not have been more apologetic and said he hoped I enjoyed my holiday. I did not have the energy to explain that I semi-lived here and I WILL BE BACK. That surprise for all at Germanos, which is still the best store in town, can wait for another day.
I am conscious of the phenomena of sharenting where folks flood social media with photos of their offspring to the interest of no-one but themselves. So feel free to ignore what follows but after a very trying day in Kalamata where my almost one year old son behaved like a total saint he posed, on his return, for three photos where he looks like an angel. The top photo was taken a week ago as his mother prepared him for his first sea swim. I am biased, I think he looks amazing. But all the other folks here at our hotel dote on him. They all say hello Joshua and he waves back. The two main waitresses blow kisses at him and he blows kisses back. Okay, judge for yourself.
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.
Natch, the same as last year: grief. Of course I jest. The Mrs says that she has a treat lined up for me when we return to the UK. I am more organised and on our fourth anniversary have arranged a real treat for her in Kalamata. It involves olive oil but there is no need to furnish you with the full details. In a way, our bigger celebration, is 15 days later - the first birthday of young Joshua Patrick.
He is developing fast. One of his endearing little tricks is to smile and wave his hand to say goodbye as anyone leaves his presence. Last night the boy would not go to sleep and so for a while he was allowed out of his cot and into his parents' bed. At a certain stage I stood up to attempt to return him to the cot. He sat up smiled and waved goodbye to me from what was now his bed. I had to laugh. Eventually he was persuaded to head back to the cot and for five hours we have all slept peacefully.
But back to the Mrs, a woman who first picked me up at Gatwick airport and on an Easyjet flight that followed. Using the chat up line "have you read this article in the Guardian" she somehow won my heart. Like every marriage there are bumps in the road but come Friday we will both really be celebrating four years of wedded bliss.
One day the Mrs will learn that me and the seaside really don't mix. She has booked us into a pleasant hotel, the Baywatch, which to her annoyance, is nowhere near the sea. It does, however, have a wonderful view of the bay of Kalamata, a pool which Joshua, the Mrs and I like and is relatively quiet. The guests are nearly all young couples so I am the oldest there and find the music at the bar mildly irritating. That is to say it is all post 1995 and thus, by definition, utterly crap. But the internet works so I can relax by tapping away while Joshua crawls around the floor, licks windows, pulls books apart and does all the other things that make him happy. The Mrs is reading a book on the philosophy of marriage and occasionally draws my attention to a passage which highlights one of my rare failings as a husband.
But today here we are by the sea. Why have a Caribbean themed bar with a range of cheap gin, rum and vodka cocktails here in Greece except to cater to tourists with a limited IQ? Oh for the days of old when the charm of a Greek beach-side village was that it might have just a couple of shacks where you could drink ouzo or perhaps a Fix beer with fishermen and locals. Okay the shacks had no internet but then again I can't get the internet to work here either. That always makes my blood pressure soar.
Of course the shack for the fisherman is not the Greece of my lifetime. When I first came here, the Colonels had already been ousted and with an ever plunging drachma the foreigners were already swarming in for a cheap and cheerful holiday by the sun. But away from the sea, back in the 1970s, the Old Greece still existed. Food was rudimentary and based on sheep or goat, drink was almost always local wines not beer, roads in the mountains were either bad or non-existent and so some places really were preserved from the dreaded tourist. You really were enjoying a glass of local red wine for just a drachma with shepherds and other land workers. Conversation was in German as at least some men in every village had been Gastarbeiten at some point to escape the grinding poverty of rural Greece.
But the battle of the Kambos creperie was the dilemma Paddy pondered. For the natives the creperie and toasties might seem to offer them new choices. It might perhaps bring the possibility of new jobs and income to the village. As such it is a seductive siren just as, many years ago, wall to wall Caribbean themed bars must have been where I sit now . But for those with money and a real love of Greece it just forces us further afield to places that are still Greek. With its giant banners advertising Spanish beer or Swiss coffee this bar could be anywhere. How I wish it was somewhere else. Like Spain.
You will be glad that my camera is still unable to upload photos and so sits idle in my bag. For the view here is of human bodies sweating in the sun. I cover my own rolls of flesh with a T-shirt but most folks here wander around in swimsuits. A few of our species, such as my young wife, look wonderful in partial undress. But far too many of us just expose great rolls of blubber. Others wear all in one outfits into which the blubber is poured. As it desperately fills every inch of swimsuit and tries to escape it leaves nothing to the imagination.
And so I sit here surrounded by vile bodies listening to elevator music, dreadful remixes of tunes re-designed so as not to offend seventy year olds. The meze we are offered could have come from Iceland, the store for chavs, not the Country and, as a coup de grace, the Mrs and I are offered a shot of locally produced cough mixture on the house. That is a way of saying "you are tourists so all you want is to get hammered after paying 20 Euro for some third rate junk food now piss off."
Joshua sleeps soundly through all of this.
This time next year the Greek Hovel will, I believe, be finished. We three will sit by our own pool. I shall have no cause to grumble as the only semi-clad adult body on view will be that of the Mrs, there will be quiet all around, the meze will be made by me of local produce. And if the Kambos creperie has gone bust, all will be well.
It is the 50th birthday party of the sister of the Mrs today. The sister in law is married to a bubble and we are staying in their house in his family village about 90 minutes the other side of Kalamata from the Mani. The party is on a boat so Joshua is not invited and I am showing solidarity with my 11 month old son and we are going on a road trip together.
The destination is the Greek Hovel. The workmen are not on site so it will be just myself, Joshua and the snakes up there as we inspect his inheritance. Joshua does know the animal sound for snake. He waves his hand from side to side in a snake like movement and hisses through his teeth. He has seen a picture of a snake in the Gruffalo but yet to meet a real one. I think he knows that they are bad things and not like Oakley ones where you can pinch them and try to push them around.
Then to the nearest village to the hovel, Kambos, to see my friends and for them to see the son and heir. I am charging my camera tonight for a full photoshoot and will bring you the results over the weekend.
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.
Anyone with kids will know the classic tale The Gruffalo. One godfather of my baby son Joshua recently worked in the Shetland Islands so gave him a copy of the book in Shetlandese. I was reading that to Joshua, the other day, when a mining fellow called Paul Johnson rang and Paul said that if I recorded a podcast of the Gruffalo in Shetlandese then he would donate £100 to my favourite charity Woodlarks, which I have been supporting for more than a decade and a half. I know that I will sound like a total prat and my apologies go out to Gruffalo author Julia Donaldson and to the entire population of the Shetland Isles but it is for a good cause. If you appreciate this exercise in self-humiliation and wish to make a small donation to a good cause go to the Woodlarks website HERE
11 month old Joshua and i greatly enjoy doing a Sainsbury's shop together. we discuss what we need to get from the shopping list in my head. Or rather I talk as i wheel him around in the trolley and he sits there gurgling and smiling sweetly at anyone whose eye he can catch. At the checkout, as I tried to fish out my credit card, the lady caught his eye, he smiled and giggled and she said " what a gorgeous little girl".
er..he's a boy said I. She corrected herself and repeated "what a gorgeous little boy " several times just to make sure I realised that she realised that my son and heir is not a girl. The problem, of course, is that the Mrs insisted on dressing him that morning in dungarees with thin red and white stripes. The stripes are so thin that your first impression is that his dungarees are pink. So he's a girl right?
It is not just the pink it is the dungarees. Sure Kevin Rowland from Dexy's wore them as do male folks in the Waltons but I associate them with my sisters and the other little girls at my grandparent's Prep School Knighton House or with Bananarama or with rather butch female protesters at Greenham Common. The Mrs has a pair but they are rather fetching, as of course, were Banaarama. But overall, Dungarees are clearly for girls and so is pink. I am not bringing up my son to have options about whether he wants to identify as a boy or a girl, he is a boy full stop.
And so, on our return from the shops, we played with his soft football while watching a word at war video. And I am trying to explain to the Mrs that I'd rather not have a trans baby with gender confusion issues. Its time to buy him some toy guns and more blue trousers methinks.
As we sat in the waiting room, Joshua lighten the mood of all those in for various scans by smiling and giggling happily. Thomas Winnifrith was called. He had to be recalled. I am Tom to everyone bar the NHS so sometimes fail to respond to its missives. I stood up and followed a pretty young nurse down the corridor and was ushered into a room and told to wait.
On instruction I was wearing loose clothing which for some reason had made me think I was to be scanned without having to undress. So when a pretty young woman walked into the room and asked if I minded her attending to me I said fine". At which point she told me to lie back on the examining table and take my trousers and pants down to me knees. Whatever...
My father is, at this point, suggesting that this article is veering into territory that a Gentlemen certainly does not discuss but being no Gent I continue...
The lady covered my nether regions with a sheet of paper and told me to hold my penis back and then put some really rather cold gel on my right ( normal size) gonad.I winced. "Does it hurt". No! Said I loudly, terrified they would now be chopping both gonads off, it was just cold.
Her scanning machine rolled across the gonad and she occasionally manually intervened and after a very short time she pronounced that it was fine, problem free. I may have known that already but it was a relief anyway. Onto the left gonad, tyhe swollen one. Her fondling and rubbing with the machine seemed to take ages making me more convinced there was a problem. There is.
But the problem is merely a small build up of fluid caused by that diabetes induced condition which, thanks to antibiotics is in full retreat. It will disappear naturally. There is no cancer. Phew. She handed me a tissue and turned her back as I cleaned up and pulled my trousers up. Relief all round. My father was very happy - on this occasion talking openly about a matter which a gentlemen should not discuss at all. The Mrs was happy. Joshua giggled and smiled but he always does anyway. And i felt a massive weight off my shoulders.
Of course the whole experience focuses the mind. My step mother died of cancer just over a year ago. My father is holding his own but fights the same fight. None of us are going to live forever. And so much of what we do on a daily basis is utterly pointless and far from enjoyable.
I really do enjoy writing but, as I have discussed before, in my last years at the old place I was subject to extreme censorship. Twice in the past week external partners have caved into demands from folks who have issues to hide to impose blanket restrictions on what I can or cannot say. If i am to carry on writing that is not going to be sustainable, I do not know - given my type 2 diabetes and years of smoking and drinking too much if I have 5 years left, one or 30. But in what time remains, I'd rather do something else than write or podcast under any form of censorship.
It was off to the cinema today with Joshua for a mother and baby screening at the Watershed cinema in Bristol. This is the uber PC movie theatre which is oft praised by the Guardian and likes to show the sort of utterly shite films that the Guardian loves but which would make any right minded person either puke or fall asleep or both. Remember The Lobster - the worst film of 2015? Watershed audiences loved it.
The Mrs came too and, to be fair, today's offering, The Big Sick was jolly entertaining. It is the story of a mixed race couple in the USA. A fearsome Asian mother-in-law who is keen on arranged marriages and strongly disapproves of her offspring's choice of partner. Hmmmmm, now why does that ring a bell? I really do recommend the Big Sick.
As i wandered back from the screen I spotted a new feature " The inclusive lavatory". We already have men's women's and lavs where you can change a baby nappy. But now we are offered an Inclusive Lavatory. All you have to do to use it is be either disabled or trans-sexual. I am sure both the disabled and the trans community are delighted to be able to exclude the rest of us from their inclusive lavatory but do they feel happy been included in the same tent?
The joys of life in 2017 Britain are never ending.
This is not the sort of matter that my father would consider that a gentleman should discus in public. But, as my critics often point out, I am no gentleman and, in 2017, we should perhaps talk openly about men's health. I have for some weeks had intermittent pains in my private parts and my left testicle now appears to be larger than my right one.
Natch, being a child of my time my first point of call is google where I learn that there are all sorts of things that can cause this but only 4% of such cases turn out to be cancer. But I made an appointment to see my GP anyway. I tested my blood sugars the day before and was delighted to see them come in at 6.4, i.e within normal range, despite not working that hard at my diet over the past few weeks. So my type 2 diabetes is well in check and i was able to report that as I entered the surgery. As it happens I have also lost a few pounds so am now just very overweight not obese! Hip Hip hooray, cream cakes all round!
Call me old fashioned but I really don't like the idea of another man staring at my bollocks even if he is a GP. I was glad that Joshua, who I had brought along to give me moral support, did not see this examination and gonad fondling as we were separated by a screen. I can't imagine that most doctors really enjoy checking out other blokes gonads either. Anyhow I stared straight ahead not looking at the doctor looking at my balls and feeling each testicle in turn. Is the right one a bit tender he asked? Yes, said I, still staring straight ahead.
After what seemed like eons but was less than a minute the quack told me to get my trousers back on and prescribed some tablets. It is probably a condition whose name i cannot remember which is linked to the way type 2 diabetes causes you to piss more often than normal. My pissing is now under control but this is probably a legacy. But just to be on the safe side I have been booked in for a scan. The quack sounded as reassuring as those google statistics and so that scan is for another day - meanwhile that now leaves me taking seven pills a day.
But this swollen gonad makes one think. I am 50 next Birthday. Life is rushing along. I have had big rows with two colleagues this morning and once you accept that your days left on this planet may not be that many, it really does make you question your personal life and business model. Would I rather have spent more time singing songs with my 10 month old son Joshua and less dealing with website shite today, or less? That is not a hard call. Do I want to deal with goats (to milk) or sheep (that is to say Bulletin Board Morons? That is not a hard call either.
In a sense the test results do not matter a jot in the changing way that I view my life going forward.
The resultant crumble is perhaps not ideal for tackling my type 2 diabetes but it prompted the Mrs to say, without any need for encouragement "you are a good cook.". She enjoyed it, as did Joshua and as did I. I shall be good again from tomorrow. Life without the odd treat is just so terribly dull.
Sing & Sign is not to be confused with politically correct poetry. The latter is on a Wednesday at our local library or will be until, that place is shut down. As the Po faced poetry dominatrix explained this week, Bristol City Council is being forced to make big cuts. Well of course there is no cut in its donation to the Pride festival, the City council can afford a fully staffed press office, to fund Chess Tournaments and to make donations to very rich charities such as the Terence Higgins Trust as well as Womankind Bristol Women's Therapy Centre Ltd, Independent Sex Workers against Violence, the Hype Dance Company, the Bristol Zimbabwe Association and a whole raft of other valuable causes. But it must close down our library here in the white working class district of Brislington because of the wicked Tories. Whatever.
At these meetings the babies are given a paper badge with their name on it. Joshua usually eats his before we are too well advanced. We then sit in a circle and sing PC rhymes. So there is no drunken sailor but we now talk of lazy Katie which seems a bit sexist to me but what do I know?. Natch we are not catching anything by its toes. We mums are meant to make signs now and again to represent stars, or bobbins in a sewing machine or whatever. It is harmless enough even if the library gives us pro foxy woxy propaganda on the rates to take home with and to brainwash our offspring.
Afterwards we mums take our children to the cafe next to the Conservative Club for a coffee. I have been doing this for a few weeks now and with the Mrs back at work I really don't mind this aspect of Primary caring. I am on first name terms with a couple of the other mums but not yet having earnest discussions on mothering woes. That will come.
Joshua enjoys eating his badge and we sing rather less politically correct versions of the songs together as we walk home. The word crocodile in row row row your boat becomes feminist in our private version. Joshua's mother has not banned that and, to her credit, laughs along with us.
Sing and sign is several miles away and I attended ny first session yesterday with the Mrs who has - like the other mums there - enjoyed a whole term. Other than the Mrs, there were six mums who were all at least 15 years younger than me and half of whom really could have been a daughter sired after University. But I was not there to oggle but to decide whether to sign up for another term.
The idea is that babies learn the signs for objects. Joshua now has a certificate saying he has learned 176 signs. Dog, cat, tortoise, fox, toothache, stop! The list goes on and on. The mums sing utterly inane songs making a sign to represent key words in them. The babies sit there not having a scoobie what is going on. They are now crawling around looking, I assume, for a way out while the mums sing along with the dull tunes and make daft signs. The truth is that the Mrs and the others now know 176 signs and the babies know sweet FA.
Afterwards I suggested to one of the mums that by the time our offspring had learned the sign for a dog they might actually be saying dog. Might it not be better to focus in on teaching them , you know, er, English as my mother taught me. Of course I was put firmly in my place. Times have moved on and it has been shown that signing stops tantrums and advances your child's learning. Hmmm. In double blind studies with a statistically large sample? I somehow doubted it but have learned not to argue with the mumbo jumbo of the birthing industry.
So come September will I sign up or will I take Joshua elsewhere on a Thursday?. On the one hand a couple of the mums were really pretty acceptable eye candy but on the other hand, I know - like all of the little babies present - exactly zero signs. Do I really want to sit on a mat, take my shoes off and learn from the beginning to chant this vacuous nonsense and make daft signs?
It is sweet that the mums believe this clap trap and I sense they get a social kick out of it, all heading off for lunch afterwards. But they do not even hand out name labels for Joshua to eat so I think we may be passing on this one, in favour of some quiet father and son reading of Ayn Rand instead.
It is the sort of conversation I only really have with my father. We sit here tonight in Shipston. With the Mrs having taken Joshua back to Bristol, I am with the old man for a couple of days. We are killing time ahead of the BBC news. I write the odd article, he reviews old family papers, something that is the focus of his life these days. Have I discussed the Ightham murder of 1908 on these pages? No? Well, maybe another time.
Of course I knew what my father was fishing for. But I could not resist. "Nottingham" I said. "Where is that?" he asked, assuming that it was an obscure hill station established by the Britishers somewhere in the sub-continent. "Near Derby" I replied, "on the river Trent." "But where in India is she from? He persisted. "Nowhere. She was born in Nottingham, she is as British as you and I"
Alright, alright said he "where are her parents from?" I replied truthfully. "!Nottingham." He laughed. Game over. The in-laws have been in the grim North for 50 years so I reckon they are pretty solid Nottingham-ites but the little game was played out. I told him that they were born in Chennai, what he and I might call Madras.
He headed back to his papers, me to answering dull emails.
Until ten minutes ago the the Mrs clearly thought that I am a wimp and that man flu is a made up disease by those trying to evade nappie changing. Au contraire.
I walked home from the Stingrays gig last night. It was about a mile and a half and up hill. By the time I arrived back at the front door it was raining, albeit gently. I climbed the stairs, fell into bed and collapsed.
I think I was up and heading to the loo about four times during the night. On one occassion I returned to bed covered myself with a duvet and a shiver went right up my body. I was shaking. Today I have been useless. Even my three legged cat Oakley looks active in comparison. Just walking up the stairs is hard, my legs ache with every step.
The Mrs smiled but I knew she did not believe me when I suggested that I have picked up a cold from young Joshua. That was until about ten minutes ago when she said she felt all bunged up and her legs were aching and retreated to bed herself with a lemsip. Women can get man flue too. It's all Joshua's fault. We are agreed.
At 7 PM today I switched on my PC for the first time to approve articles by others. Nothing from me today and the laptop will be switched off shortly. It is a day when I really can't be arsed to do anything.
I never thought that I'd be revelling in changing nappies, watching a baby throw his food everywhere and all the other joys of motherhood n the months leading up to my 50th birthday but I am loving it. The Mrs is away for a few days "working" and returns to full time work in ten days, in as much as that is not a contradiction in terms in the public sector and especially on liberal arts campuses. And so, right now I am the sole carer for nine months old Joshua and in ten days time I will become the primary carer. I am such a fucking feminist - I am almost tempted to chuck in work altogether and then go for a divorce taking the Mrs to the cleaners saying that I had to quit my job to look after Joshua. Only kidding.
Of course changing nappies is not really fun. All that stuff about how its okay if it is your kid's shit is just horse. Shit is shit and when he pees on you as you change it makes no odds that it is your kid's pee.
The only thing I really do not like is dropping him off at nursery (where he currently goes two days a week). As I hand the little vermin - as he is known - over to a charming young lady he realises that i am heading off and starts screaming his head off. I remember the same thing happening 15 years ago with my Islington elitist liberal daughter Olaf. Of course when he sees you at the end of the day I know that he will have calmed down about 30 seconds after I left and the reunion is a joyous occasion.
The Mrs has left me a stern three pages of notes on routine, food, drink and other matters. The truth is that I have shown a bit of flexibility on the regime, okay I have ignored her notes almost completely, and Joshua and I have experimented with the food. Sometimes not by design. I tried to follow the instructions making his morning porridge today but the end result looked nothing like what the Mrs serves up. But the little vermin wolfed it all down, disaster became triumph. Maybe I have it right and the Mrs has it wrong? You never know.
Yesterday it was runner beans and cream cheese for the vermin. And he loved it. Tonight its broad beans and pasta for Joshua. Broad beans and salmon for his diabetic dad. All new experiences. And after supper a mad rush to tidy up three days of mess created by the three amigos (myself, Joshua and Oakley the Cat) before the return of the Mrs who will no doubt be expecting her supper to be ready as well.
Women, they just do not understand how hard we exploited house husbands have to work...
PS. As I mix with the "other mothers" and wander round with Joshua I am yet to hear the words I dread but which will come sooner or later - "how nice of you to look after your grandson"
There will be a couple more photos later in the week but for now just one from what has been a great day. I have been hard at work all weekend cooking for folks last night, baking a birthday cake (more on that later in the week) and preparing for what was a lovely and special day for myself, the Mrs and Joshua - his Christening. Hence there has been little in the way of writing.
The vicar was well behaved, managing to avoid mentioning how the poor Palestinians are oppressed by the wicked Israelis for a whole service. There was even a prayer for we long suffering and oppressed business people, For a brief second I thought we were no longer pariahs in this land.
Afterwards folks wandered down to the local Victorian cemetery for a buffet lunch and a few drinks a speech by the Mrs and a few humourous words from myself. Pictured below is Joshua with his four godparents and the Mrs. From Left to Right, my old friend the bear raider Lucian Miers, Little step sister Flea, the Mrs, her cousin Johnny (a junior doctor!) and her friend Jo, another one on the state payroll.
I think the last dripping in sweat, post frigana chopping selfie photo was not very flattering. Apparently some of you think that i have multiple chins. Au contraire. That was just the angle. I have not commented on my trouser size for a while but since we are on the subject...
There has been no change. I shifted down from 36 inches to a 34 inch pair about six weeks ago and they now feel very comfortable indeed. I am conscious as I wander into the swimming pool each evening that I still have a bit of a belly but it is not, as it once was, a vast expanse about which I feel real shame. If I breathe in you can see my ribs.
I have not weighed myself for a long while. That is no longer because id be terrified of the reading but because, as I noted the last time I was back at 32 inches and in Greece there seem to be no scales here. I suspect that my BMI is now mildly overweight but not what is termed obese. My priority has been tackling blood sugars - now back happily in range after yesterday's freak reading - not weight loss. Anyhow I hope the selfie below shows that i do not have multiple chins.
Indeed on yesterday's skype call to the Mrs, Joshua and Oakley, the first post haircut, of which more later, the Mrs - without prompting - said my face looked quite thin. That may be relative to that of Oakley but it is progress of sorts.
Meanwhile my babies are growing. The more I look the more I fear that it will be a poor olive harvest this year. For my neighbours who need the income it is bad news. For me it is a minor frustration but one that I can live with. But those olives that are there are now up from tiny balbearing size to small ballbearing size.
Okay, as a proud father I am biased, but this photo below is rather sweet is it not? You are always warned that cats might react badly to a baby. I had no worries about my, no longer morbidly obese, three legged cat Oakley. There is not an ounce of jealousy in his body.
Indeed he suffers Joshua pulling his fur like a saint. And will lie there snoring gently in Joshua's room as the little monster bawls his head off refusing to go to sleep. The two are, as you can see, great friends with Oakley almost adopting the role of parent, albeit one who will occasionally view Joshua's play mat as a new lavatory.. .
I suggested to the Mrs, a Guardian reading sociology lecturing paid up member of the Labour party, that she should start looking at Irish websites to see where we will flee in the event of a Labour victory on June 8th. She seems unconvinced. Worse still, our household is a democracy and eight month old Joshua will get the casting vote.
I have done my bit. He waves his arms enthusiastically as I chant "lock her up" if we see Hillary Clinton on the TV. He is a quick learner. I have amended certain nursery rhymes so that they give out a powerful message on the virtues of hard work, thrift and self reliance. But the Mrs offsets this by taking him to Politically Correct Nursery Rhyme classes run by the crackpots at Bristol City Council. No more drunken sailors, etc.
And now I discover that Bernie Sanders is in Bristol tomorrow. I have suggested that if it is okay for Bernie to have three houses we should too but I fear that is not what the old fool will be discussing. Joshua will be brainwashed with a lot of nonsense about how Corbyn is the answer to all our problems, global warming, the evil Trump and other matters. How I pray that he will loudly utter his first words "lock her up - drain the swamp" at an opportune moment.
I fear that he will not and the emigration vote is thus looking like 2-1 against me. But I still have hopes that Joshua may see the light with a bit more prepping. The Mrs is beyond redemption
The plants the Mrs and I have planted in our back garden have almost all suffered death by cat defecation. That is to say my fat, though no longer morbidly obese, three legged cat Oakley hads shat them into oblivion. And so during my brief UK visit I have led a drive to re-plant. To complete that task the Mrs, Joshua and I headed to a garden centre here in Bristol today. Before stopping to pick up a few herbs (me0 and some flowers (the Mrs) we sat enjoying an expensive coffee and watched the masses head by.
I could not help but reflect about how in two days time I shall be sitting in the Kourounis Taverna in Kambos, the nearest village to the Greek Hovel, enjoying a coffee at half the price and looking at folks wander in an out of our own garden centre run by Vangelis.
Here in Bristol there is no need for shelves of poison for your frigana or snake repellent or hard tools small farmers use for clearing ground or for some part of the process of caring for, nurturing and harvesting the olives. That is what dominates the shop in Kambos, it is a place for folks doing a real job.
Of course it has plants too which one can buy. But they are mainly vegetables or herbs. There is no money or need in Kambos for vast arrays of colourful weeds, oops I meant flowers. Here in suburbia there were any number of colourful weeds to choose from.
There were even little olive trees for sale at thrice or four times the price of a sapling back in Kambos. Of course the British trees will never generate an economic return, they are mere ornaments. If I told my friends in Kambos that my neighbours in Bristol will pay 30 Euro for an olive tree that would never create oil they would think folks here were very strange indeed. They would be right of course.
The garden centre in Bristol was packed. I guess it is what baby boomers do on a bank holiday weekend in Suburbia. There were probably more folks in that centre during the course of this morning than live in Kambos, and all the British suburbians just buzzed about, picking up things, lining up to hand over more cash than they should really be spending and then crawling home through the traffic with cars laden up with things that are not really needed.
And this is meant to be relaxing? Whatever. I shall be back in Kambos by Tuesday lunchtime.
I am back in Bristol for a few days and was wandering back from lunch with Joshua when we happened to pass the Conservative Club. The door was open and i was conscious that I needed to renew my father's membership. Though not a Tory, or indeed a Bristol resident, he likes the idea of being able to access cheep beer at a place not far from our house.
Thus, while spending £16 on the renewal, delighting in the idea of pinning Dad's membership card up on a wall at Shipston just to annoy my pious left wing public sector employed sisters, I asked if anyone was in the office upstairs which the Conservative Party uses at election time. It seems not. They must have been obeying the election halt called by Mrs May after the Manchester attacks. "Shame" said I, "Joshua and i were hoping to pick up a poster."
Luckily the lady said that they had a selection behind the bar. I eschewed ones celebrating Mrs May, I wanted to have lots of blue and the word Conservative on it, in order to really ensure that the Mrs (Labour voting, Guardian reading sociology lecturer) was annoyed as much as possible.
We on the right believe in freedom of expression but the Mrs points out that she owns the house and I am only a lodger and has thus barred myself and Joshua from displaying our nice new poster. This is regrettable - should I refuse to pay my rent?
Eight month old Joshua appears to want to nibble the poster which I take as a sign that he is a good Tory. Remember my son: greed is good. I want to put it in the window of the spare room which is where myself and Oakley are sent when one or other or both of us are in the doghouse.
It has been agreed with the Mrs that Joshua is to inherit the Greek Hovel on condition that any other family member can use it at no cost. And so the lad was taken to see his inheritance. Unlike his mother, also in the picture, he made no complaints about eco-loos, the lack of a shower, rats or snakes. I feel the place will be in good hands.
Okay you come to Greece to star at the sea. There is no sea up in Kambos, the village closest to the Greek Hovel where I live. As you sit in Miranda's you stare up at the castle, you see cars, lorries or flocks of sheep wind their way along the road, and you see like in Kambos progress at its slow place.
We sit outside on one of the four tables underneath a wooden shelter. On another table the father of Vangelis from the snake repellent shop was holding court. He was chatting for five other older men, I guess not that much older than I am, as they nibbled some cheese and tomatoes and drank merrily. In due course Vangelis wandered over. He can keep an eye on the store and have a beer at the same time. Im not sure what was being discussed but there was no rush to end the lunch, after all it was only four in the afternoon when we left.
As ever, whatever the menu says about a wide selection there was just one selection - it was pork and peppers today. The choice was whether you wanted it with new boiled potatoes in a sauce or okra in sauce. We went for the latter and some tomatoes for Joshua. The total damage for two portions of pork & peppers and okra and the booze and Joshua's tomatoes was 14 Euro - call it £11.
Not only is that much cheaper than by the sea, the food is fantastic and the pace just so slow. I have won her over, the Mrs is a member of the Miranda's fan club too. As for Miranda herself she picked up Joshua and took him round to introduce him to everyone. He did not quite know what was happening but enjoyed his celebrity status.
I have not even bothered to test my blood sugar levels for the past few days. I know they are up. I can feel a couple of the symptoms of type 2 diabetes making a minor comeback. Last night, for instance, I felt the need to piss several times. Net result: no sleep. And it is all so predictable. I could kick myself. Or certain others.
The theory was simple. Come to Greece and shock my body into beating back the diabetes. I have done it before. I know what to do. It means physical workouts every day either in a gym or up at the Greek hovel or both. It means no booze. It means no stress at all. And it means a limited and largely carb free calorie intake with meals at regular times. And it worked gloriously until last Saturday, eight days ago. At that point I was getting blood sugar readings that were in the "normal range" for diabetics. And I was happy. I was on track to end the shock treatment and be able to just "manage my way" to an even better score and that could even happen in the UK.
But eight days ago my wife, eight month old son and the parents of the Mrs arrived. We transferred to a base in Kardamili, a town that I do not really like and the routine went out of the window. I have spent one day and a couple of short sessions up at the hovel in the past eight days but my exercise levels have fallen off a cliff. Other folks just could not be abandoned and no-one other than I wants to spend any real time at the hovel.
Then there is the food. The Mrs, quite rightly, points out that I lambast fat welfare junkies who demand State aid to stop being so fat, because what you put into your own body is your own choice. However, the reason that I have type 2 diabetes is that I do not have great will power when it comes to food or drink. Nobody is perfect and I am far from perfect and this is one of my many weaknesses.
If I had will power I would not be in this mess to start with. Surely she understands that?
Meals are now communal. My mother-in-law, who I should stress has a heart of gold, fusses about ordering, asking for things that are not on the menu and then insulting waiters later on. The end result is that there is invariably too much food on the table but also long delays for the meal proper during which time, like Joshua, I just eat bread. I have it with oil, Joshua likes it plain. Wine is ordered for the table and I end up having just one glass.
The drinking is in fact worse than that. My mother-in-law and my dear father have a few things in common. Their faith ( laudable) but also a staunch political mindset made only possible by living in a post fact era. My mother in law is entitled to state that the pound has fallen by 25% since June 23rd 2016 ( it is down by 2% actually) and that post Brexit the UK will not be allowed to export to anywhere in the world at all. I am sure my father would love to hear it and they could remoan away together. But I do know a bit about economics and happen to know this is not true. But there is an insistence this is fact.
Yesterday evening I hit the ouzo in response. I had three small measures.
That may not sound like a lot but ten days ago I was on one unit of alcohol a week. Now it is 3 or 4 a day. The Mrs says "we are on holiday" as if it does not matter. She does not have type 2 diabetes which was "raging off the scale" just weeks ago. I do. She is not being told by her GP that there is a good chance that she will be dead within five years. I am.
So for me it bloody well does matter as I try to explain. I was doing a great job of shocking my body back into shape and avoiding stress so that I had a better than evens chance of making it to 55 but the past week has seen a dramatic reversal. Forget the mother-in-law (a committed Labour supporter) insisting that, whatever the Mrs and I believe, Joshua must go to a fee paying school, I am not going to be alive to make that decision, the way things are going.
This afternoon we part company for a couple of days. I head back to Kalamata while the others stay here in Koroni. I intend to restart shock therapy and when we all meet again I have asked the Mrs if she minds if I eat alone. That did not go down well.
Next weekend there is the return to Britain. I am there for just a few days but am meant to be seeing my GP to discuss my blood sugar levels, medication and how things are going. He is worried that I do not take my diabetes seriously. I think perhaps the Mrs should come with me so she understands why the past week has been such a total bloody disaster for me. I take the prospect of having a heart attack at 52 all too seriously and am trying my hardest to avoid that in a way that I can achieve.
As we walked out of the restuarant last night here in Kardamili, my eight month old son Joshua made eye contact with two ladies who, I guess, were about a decade younger than I am. He started smiling, they started smiling and soon conversation broke out. Joshua is a great ice-breaker whether you want him to be or not.
It turns out that one of the two, who were British, pops over to Kardamili several times a year for four or five day breaks, long weekends. She just loves the place. She asked about us and why we were here. We mentioned the Greek hovel and our family connections with Greece.
The lady knew Kambos. And shared in our joy that after three years we are finally building. It is exciting. But conscious that Joshua needed to get to bed and we needed to keep an eye on the mother in law before she insulted any more of the locals, I attempted a parting gambit "See you in the Kourounis taverna in Kambos, one day maybe". It worked as a way for us to separate and head home but I'm kicking myself this morning.
One of the joys of Kambos is that there are no other Brits in town. A few pop in from neighbouring villages and a couple of them do live up to the stereotype of the gin sozzled, or beer sozzled, ex pat. Lobster red, Daily Mail reading old bores, bleating about how England has gone to the dogs & how the natives out here cannot organise a piss up in an ouzo factory. But generally that sort of person is rarely seen in Kambos. And it is not me!
I rarely drink anything at lovely Eleni's taverna these days. Its coffee and a Greek salad for me. I avoid hanging out with the Brits instead chatting, if I talk at all, with a few worlds of broken Greek on my part and a few words of broken English on theirs, to my fellow residents of Kambos. I am kicking myself for giving the impression that I behave otherwise.
I already knew who she was. Nicho had pointed her out as the French lady. She rather stands out as her mother was from Cameroon. Non white folks rather stand out here. Until recently the Mrs, has on her visits, been 100% of the non white community.
We spoke in a mixture of French and English. Thanks to the chain smoking WW2 tank hero Harry Owen who taught me at Warwick School my French is not that bad. But her English was better. early on in our conversation she asked if I was German. I think my body language made it clear that I took this as a grave insult. Do I look like a fucking Kraut FFS? Apparently i do. The woman blundered on by saying she only said so because I was tall, like a member of the frigging master race. Whatever.
It turns out that her late husband was a bubble and so her daughter lives in Kambos and is going to start a creperie this summer. She pointed at where it will be... about twenty yards from the Kourounis taverna and just next to Miranda's. Now Miranda's limited menu does not include crepes but in the summer Nicho the Magician gets out a special machine and his crepes are most excellent. Naturally, as a good diabetic, i shall not be indulging but the kids love him.
This new entrant to the scene means that with a population of 536 (539 including myself, the Mrs and Joshua), Kambos has two ouzeries where you can get nibbles, coffee and ouzo. Plus three places to eat ( and get ouzo).
Naturally, lovely Eleni will retain my business. Accusing me of being a Kraut is not the way to win me over.
The Mrs, myself, Joshua and my parents in law are staying about 15 miles South of the Greek Hovel in a nice hotel by the sea. As I mention here, I have very mixed feelings about Kardamili and would really rather be back in Kambos. But this break is not about me. Today, we escaped the in-laws and took Joshua to see his inheritance, that is to say the Greek Hovel. The Mrs has not visited for almost a year and was keen to see how the building was going. I was just delighted to be out of Kardamili and able to do some manual labour.
The half way point as one goes on the long and winding road/dirt track from Kambos to the hovel is the crossing of the dry river which winds its way along the valey underneath the deserted convent. Get over the river and you are soon climbing snake hill and on your way up our side of the valley.
In winter the river is full enough to spill over the road and after especially heavy storms it can be many inches deep as it crosses the track. As we head into May the river has almost entirely disappeared. As one heads towards the hovel there is just one deep-ish pool of water. It is covered in green algae and must be both the temperature and consistency of soup. I have not investigated first hand for reasons that will become clear.
This last remnant of river is about four yards from where my car door would open if I dared to get out. For the past two or three days I have been aware that there were black "shapes" cutting their way through the algae. They were clearly moving. They were long and thin. I stared at them long and hard and was pretty sure what they were. One day I got out to go have a closer look but then heard a nose in the bushes and quickly got back in my car and wound the window up.
As the water level goes down I guess there is less surface area and a moving shape becomes more visible. And thus as we drive past today I peered past the Mrs in the passenger seat and stopped the car quickly. "Look" said I. The shape was very visibly moving as only a snake would do. And it was not alone. It was a veritable snakefest and the Mrs had not even arrived at the Hovel yet. It is a good job her husband is such a brave snake killer. Notwithstanding that I drive on quickly.
It has taken the older generation a few days to get our respective accounts working but tonight the Mrs and I finally managed a skype call, for the rest of the family are not joining me here in Greece for another couple of weeks. And by "rest of the family" I mean it: the mother in law is coming too. But that treat is for another day.
For now Joshua stared at the screen not quite sure what was happening but as I called out his name he twigged and broke out in a massive smile and just kept on smiling. Then it was Oakley's turn. The Mrs put him next to the screen but my, no longer morbidly obese, three legged cat is camera shy. There was a brief recognition as I called his name but then he scuttled off to play with Joshua.
I always have skype calls with Oakley when I am away but Joshua seems keen on playing ball for far longer. I am sure he is desperate to say "Daddy" but can't manage it quite yet. Not long now.
The main purpose of this holiday is for the Mrs to meet up with a series of her friends from her time when she worked as a sociologist here in Gothenburg. Not a lot of people know it, but the Mrs is a fluent speaker of Swedish and is thus, as I write, yakking away in a wine bar in town about the evils of capitalism, Trump, patriarchy etc etc etc. Meanwhile, myself and, almost seven month old, Joshua are in a small rented house on a small, very windy and bloody cold, island somewhere out to sea.
Having had a virtuous porridge of raw oats, skimmed milk and a banana and a virtuous lunch of salad and a fishcake I was hoping that Joshua and I might sample the one restaurant on this island. After an afternoon nap we set out to explore and having found the one shop (closed as it was well after 6.30 PM) we eventually found the restaurant. It was also closed and will remain so until Thursday.
We thus wandered back to the small house where Joshua enjoyed milk, a nappy change and after Molly Malone and the Fields of Athenry sung in his father's most dulcet of tones. He now slumbers soundly. As for his father, I really could do with a bit of Trevelyan's corn as the only food going is more raw oats, skimmed milk and another banana. It may be good for the type 2 diabetes but I feel a bit of a sense of deja vu. Guess what is for breakfast tomorrow?
My blood sugar this morning came in at 10.4 which, I know you will say, is more than twice what it should be but on day 1 it was 15.3 so I feel that things are going my way. And having pushed Joshua's pram for what seems like a half marathon I reckon I am doing okay on the exercise front too.
Tomorrow the Mrs has charge of Joshua as she heads into town for more yakking with her lefty pals and, I suspect, more drinking, I am left free to go fishing for sea trout. I do not expect to catch anything at all other than a cold, but it should be more good exercise as I head to the far side of this island. But if I do hook a plump sea trout... it would make a pleasant change from oats and banana.
Those of us who are hip trendsetters and thus watch Midsomer Murders (think Graham Norton, Mr & Mrs Adam Reynolds and myself) will remember the battle that the second Inspector Barnaby has with his Mrs as to what will be the first word that their baby says. "Mummy" she repeats often as she states at her daughter."Daddy" says the Inspector again and again. Natch, her first word is Dog, for we all know that - until his retirement - the star of the show was Sykes.
And thus the same battle is raging chez Winnifrith with Joshua now aged six months and a few days. But here too there is a third contender and I am doing my bit by repeating the phrase "Oakley is a cat and he says miaow" as my son sit on the sofa with the third amigo.
Joshua and Oakley get on like a house on fire. The morbidly obese three legged cat likes food and sleep and so does Joshua. Indeed the cat will sit next to Joshua's cot when the baby is screaming just saying nothing until Joshua goes to sleep. He is a great babysitter.
And thus this morning the Mrs and I both thought that Joshua's gurglings were actually a word. Yes it was Oakley. Not just once but, with a bit of prompting, several times. Okay it might have just been Oaaaaaaaaaaakkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkeee gurgle gurgle but it might have been Oakley. Debate is raging.
I find myself reading a book called Tales of the Farmyard to my, almost, six month old son Joshua. The lad probably is not following the stories clearly, at this stage he just about knows that a sheep is big, white, fluffy , has four legs and goes baaaa while a cat is like Oakley so is black and white, less big, has only three legs and goes miaow. As I read "The Tale of the naughty sheep" by author Heather Amery, I felt the need to explain a few things to Joshua.
The sheep in question is one of seven owned by the farmer, Mrs Boot. Mrs Boot also grows flowers, has a dog and two kids. She has no ring on her hand and I see no sign of Mr Boot. I can't see many signs of much else on the farm but she employs a labourer to assist her.
As I explained to Joshua this was simply to show that women can be the boss. But a farm with just flowers and seven sheep is, I suggest, not capable of sustaining Mrs Boot and the two little Boots as well as the labourer. How is this farm funded, I asked Joshua. Is it down to massive EU subsidies or is everyone on income support? This was naturally a good discussion to have with the lad to ensure he grows up as a right thinking member of society.
The Mrs suggests that Mr Boot works in the City and Mrs Boot cleaned him out in a divorce settlement and that this is subsidising her farm. So I also flagged up that possibility to Joshua as this will provide a useful entree to the works of Ayn Rand which we will be starting shortly.
In this tale, one sheep is very naughty, eats lots of Mrs Boot's flowers and then escapes. In the end he wins a prize at the local show and comes back to eat more flowers. That is because at Mrs Boot's farm sheep are just ornaments. I changed the ending for Joshua. The naughty sheep came home via an abattoir and appeared on the supper table.
Books like this are not written for folks like Joshua but for parents who have never seen animals killed on a farm. They are for a generation that really does think that meat comes from Sainsbury's and always arrives wrapped in plastic and who think farming is a gentle rural existence where there is no such thing as animal death and where Mr Foxy Woxy, the fluffy sheep, folks like Mrs Boot , the dog and the chickens all live as one great big happy family.
The sooner Joshua and I move onto Atlas Shrugged the better.
The pizza Hard man Darren Atwater says that my pancakes look all wrong. That is because he is from Canada so wants big fat fluffy pancakes drowning in maple syrup which is how the folks of North America aim to take obesity rates all the way up to 100%. Back in the old world we prefer thin crepes which can be tossed in the pan.
As I nipped out to buy a lemon I saw the local shop was selling ready made pancake mix. FFS some folks are so unbelievably lazy. I bet the pack mixture contains stacks of chemicals and sugars and it is just so easy to make batter yourself. Two eggs, 200 ml milk, 75ml water, 4 oz flour, a pinch of salt and 1 oz melted butter and 10 minutes left a batter with a perfect consistency which made six large pancakes for the Mrs and I - three each. The one below is only at the start of cooking before anyone complains
The first four were savoury - the remains of last night's bolognese, avocado and cheese. Then folded.
For the pudding banana with a touch of maple syrup on one bit and sugar and lemon on the other. I prefer our old world ways but tried a bit of both.
It really is so easy and flipping the pancakes in the pan is fun and a chance to show off to the Mrs. Next year my son Joshua - who will start weaning in a few weeks - will get involved in the day. And his old man is a bit of a Master Chef after all.
And now it is Lent. What shall I give up. My daughter's Godfather Joe Levy always said that as part of his Judaism for passover he gave up bacon. How to trump that devotion I wonder?
These days there is a brand spanking new (EU funded) bridge that cross the gorge. For 90% of the year there is a dry river at the bottom, the rest of the time it is a gushing torrent. Right now, since the snow on the Taygetos Mountains has not melted it is dry.
The old bridge was built when the road to Kambos - the village nearest to the Greek Hovel - was first constructed in the 1970s. You can still access it via a road strewn with rocks but it is driveable and a simple detour from the main "highway." Hence you can dump bodies there after you have murdered someone.
For no reason at all I took a detour yesterday to the murder bridge and - for the first time - spotted an even older bridge underneath it. It looks very ancient indeed and can only be wide enough for pedestrians and sheep. It must have been used in the pre-road era and has thus been abandoned for years. I have no idea how old it is or who built it but you can see it below.
With the river dry and the snakes asleep now looks like a good time to investigate. When the heroic Paddy Leigh Fermor walked into the Mani and towards his first stop in Kambos - a village he was jolly rude about - he recounts walking along a river valley and discovering the bones of a man killed in the recently ended civil war. Paddy, like the folks in the Mani, fought with the Royalists and one assumes that the skeleton was that of a dead commie as no-one had paid it any attention.
In April the Mrs and I plan to cross the Bridge that is the real killing fields of European drama, that between Denmark and Sweden, as we take Joshua on a road trip. The Mrs used to work in Sweden so will be yakking to her former colleagues in the world of sociology, I plan to go fishing with Joshua, whose second name, for reasons you can guess, is Patrick, or Paddy. But for now it is an old bridge in the Mani that excites me.
My father's oldest Greek friend Mike the Vlach was due back at three. This being Greece he was bound to be late and so his wife Alega insisted I hang on as the day dragged on. Heck I had travelled by bus for nine hours to get to Metsovo and then walked for an hour and a half to get to Anelion to see Mike, I was not leaving. I could not explain this but I sat there drinking coffee and enjoying a lunch of lamb, rice and a lump of feta, I was going nowhere.
Finally a taxi drew up and out stumbled Mike. He looked shocked for he had somehow got the impression that it was Tom Winnifrith my father who had arrived. Soon he realised it was micro Tom not Megalo Tom and warm embraces and kisses on both cheeks followed. We started to try to talk in German but it was soon clear that Mike's German learned as a 1970's Gastarbeiten was almost as bad as mine, learned in one year with Frau Freeman at Warwick School in 1981. And so I started to use google translate to search for German words. And then it hit me! Why not use the evil google just to translate straight to Greek?
Bingo. Mike asked a question in German and I was now serving up a written answer in Greek! With my steps included my father has 17 grandchildren, Mike was sad he has just two. My wife is younger than me ( by seven years). As a man who was 30 when he married Alega at 16, Mike approves of younger wives and made a sign like a sweet fruit. I am not sure my lefty Mrs would have approved of that. I told him of the sons of my sisters T and N, some kraut politician appeared on the TV and Mike agreed that Greece should follow our lead on Brexit. Mike has always been a right winger. Anelion was a Royalist not a Communist village in the civil war and so even when it was cripplingly poor it turned out solidly for New Democracy, the party of the right.
Mike spoke to my father, with pateras mu replying in Greek, Vlach and German
I mentioned Mike's sister who used to own a taverna at the heart of Anelion. And Alega took me to see her. And she too spoke to my father and there were more smiles and laughing.
Mike was keen that I stay for whiskey, food and that I sleep in Anelion. But I explained, thanks to evil Google, about the hovel and how I must leave early Saturday to travel the length of Greece to Kalamata. And so I left, by taxi, as it was by now very dark. I promised to come back with the Mrs and Joshua in the summer and then more hugs and kisses and all round happinness and I was off. Mission accomplished.
At home with Joshua, the Mrs and i regale our son with the nursery rhymes we knew as children. I guess we both grew up in households that were, in many ways, small c conservative, whatever my mother's views on self sufficiency and other throw offs from the hippy world of the late sixties. To these rhymes we add my own creations. The first verse of yesterday's was:
"I m tapping my hand on Joshua's belly, He also has a bottom which is often very smelly He watches world at war with Daddy on the Telly I'm tapping my hand on Joshua's belly"
And so on...
Joshua also goes to a class at the library which since it is run by the fascist lefties of Bristol City Council is a temple of political correctness. Thus there are new Nursery Rhymes which are so banal that I shall move swiftly on and ignore the eminently forgettable dirges. But there are also changes made to older ditties. The one where a minnow is meant to have a toe, because we can't use the N word so have to tell our kids that fish have feet ,is gone altogether. Rightly so.
But so too is the Drunken Sailor. I am not sure if it is because the sailor is a he and babies need to know that role models are gender neutral or if it is his fondness for the rum that offends. But to the same music Joshua must now listen to "what shall we do with lazy Katie?" Whatever. Back at chez Winnifrith the drunken sailor is still a drunk and still on board.
I must take the blame for turning my daughter into a diehard West Ham supporter and as I inflict a lifetime of relegation battles and cup humiliations on her I accept that I may well be reported to social services for torturing her thus. But I want everyone to know that I am not responsible for young Joshua's new T-shirt which he is wearing below. Oh no...
I found it in my stocking on Christmas Day which means that it is either Santa or the Mrs who needs to be reported to Social Services as my four month old son starts down the path of misery as a member of the claret and blue army.
If you are preparing for a five hour journey to work along snow covered roads or your pipes have just burst you may think that I am talking utter rubbish. But the lack of snow here in Bristol is really starting to annoy me.
Over in Greece there is lots of the white stuff on the mountains above the Greek Hovel and in fact far lower down as well. The Express tells us on a daily basis that Britain is braced for a deluge of global warming. Channel 4 News last night reported - with a straight face - about the threat of global warming ( as in the world getting hotter) but 24 hours earlier was reporting about how unseasonally cold weather ( and snow) across South East Europe and Turkey was hitting poor refugees. That, of course, was climate change.
But while the North is blanketed, here in Bristol we see almost nothing. I realise that I am a bit old to be building a snowman but as I talk to my daughter I share the excitement of what that might entail and exchanging a few snowballs with the Mrs is always fun. Above all I'd love Joshua to see snow for the first time.
So, reverting to childhood: where is the snow? It is so unfair!!!!
The Mrs has a new best friend, the Greek consul in Birmingham. Once again she is trekking her way up to the frozen grim Northern post industrial wastelands in order to get more official forms stamped. Such is life in Greece. There are rules governing everything and always forms to fill in. Native bubbles rarely bother with many of them but some, such as this latest one which allows us to submit a building permit for the Greek Hovel cannot be avoided. Hence the trip to Birmingham.
After the Consul stamps our papers we can apply for the final permit needed to start work. We are told it will take three months so shall we call that six? With its booming economy, officials in Greece are under a lot of pressure don't you know?
Welcome to the first law of Greekeconomics: Unneeded regulation will always be created to provide public sector jobs. These are needed because the regulation kills off enterprise so creating unemployment.
It is the sort of madness that Jeremy Corbyn could well sign up to but the result is the mess that Greece finds itself in today. We can blame the EU and the Euro and the banksters and indeed all are to blame. But the inherent problem of Greece has always been a bloated and corrupt State supported by the entire political class.
While the Mrs heads off to the welfare safaris I find myself looking after baby Joshua and have done as suggested, taking him for a walk to what the Mrs terms her office, the Grounded Cafe. In this sleepy place the full menu does not start until four.
And thus at 2 PM I am on the breakfast menu, enjoying a full English with a glass of wine. Though I am oft accused of being a drunk this is, I think, the first time I have enjoyed alcohol with breakfast and is also my first booze since last week as enjoy an almost dry existence these days. Joshua - as is his wont - after a walk - sleeps soundly. For now.
I thought it was a good name. Unusual and reminiscent of an era when Britain made things, was a truly prosperous nation and before we all demanded shelter from cradle to grave in the safe space underneath the great Money Tree. But the Mrs disagreed. And so our son is called Joshua not Ebenezer.
I saw a production of the Christmas Carol last week and poor old Scrooge got a really hard time. In the first part of the tale he is a hero, a wealth creator, a provider of employment, the sort of man we can all admire. Then those pesky ghosts arrive and in the space of a night they turn him into a Guardian reading liberal with a spine made of Jelly. The play ends with him giving Bob Cratchit a huge pay rise.
What we are not told is that as a result of pushing Bob up to a "living wage" the firm of Scrooge & Marley got into severe financial difficulties and was forced to cease trading. It was okay for for the Cratchits. With seven kids, the welfare state looked after them and Bob signed up for housing benefit and the full works. With food banks providing all the junk food the family needed, Bob was able to spend the vast welfare cheques on fags and a subscription to Sky TV.
As for poor Ebenezer, he was mentioned as a model employer in a column by Owen Jones and was given an MBE after hiking Bob's pay but when the firm went under there was no whip round at the Guardian.
Instead it called for an enquiry into the dividends Scrooge had paid out many years previously, in better times. Ebenezer was stripped of his gong and died in penury and disgrace.
The moral of the tale is that Ebenezer should have told the ghosts (played by Owen Jones, Polly Toynbee and Keith Vaz) where to stick it and carried on creating wealth as a heroic Victorian entrepreneur. Instead his life was ruined and he ends up a pathetic figure who no right thinking individual can do other than pity.
Today is the annual Christmas party held by the Mrs for her mad lefty friends, a Godless bunch who regard Christmas as having nothing to do with Christ. The normal score is that I do the cooking then, to avoid being emboldened by a few glasses of wine into pointing out that whatever they are saying is patent nonsense, I feign illness and go to bed. Let them believe that the world is getting hotter and the polar bears are all drowning and that all those who voted for Brexit are racists and that Donald Trump is the new Hitler and that the money tree exists. It's Christmas I'm not going to argue.
Anyhow, to prepare for this I put up the Christmas tree and decorated it with trinkets picked up around the world , a memory of places I have been. Ad thus there are decorations from: India, Israel, England, Wales, Greece, Dubai, the Isle of Man ( can you spot that one?) Canada, the USA, France and Ecuador (the Galapagos).
There is a special first Christmas for Joshua trinket someone sent and on top, to embarrass my daughter who turns 16 in 2017, is an Angel she created in paper aged 5. It has survived and, I hope always will.
PS. The poster behnd does indeed say Palestine. It belongs to the Mrs and though I find it enormously offensive we Zionists believe in free speech so whatever...
In 2014 we harvested 1.65 metric tonnes (1650 kg) at the Greek hovel which yielded 566 litres of olive oil. Last year was a disaster - 550 kg and I fell and ended up in hospital. So far 2016 has been a triumph. I did not fall. Albeit with a few breaks I lasted the full working day and we have already harvested 550 kg with only a fraction of the trees finished. It is a triumph but I am shattered.
The first thing of note is that we have new technology. No longer are the trees only hit with plastic paddles but there is now an electric device - is it called a twerker? This is a sort of vibrating rake and it is a pleasure watching my colleagues wield it. My colleagues are, of course, George the Albanian and two women who, I think, are his wife and sister in law. After three years I should know but am too embarrassed to ask. Not that I speak Greek or Albanian or they speak English.
George is our leader so his main job is chopping branches off trees with his chainsaw.
These branches are then taken to a threshing machine where they are expertly flailed. This is skilled work so, naturally, I am not allowed to do it either. My first job is to carry the branches from where they fall to where the flailing machine, operated by lady 1, is wheeled to.
All the time we walk across the mats which are laid down by the ladies. This too is quite a skilled job and so naturally I am not party to it. Most of the branches are not cut from the tree but sit there to be attacked by the twerker or, now and again, by George wielding an old style long plastic paddle. But the twerker is king. Naturally it is a skilled job and so I am not allowed anywhere near it although I really do want a go and might ask to use it on the last tree so that if I break anything the harvest is in the bag.
Watching lady 2 or George wield the twerker is watching an artist at work and, as I take an occassional breather, I do just that.
In due course the mats are rolled up and the olives plus small twigs and leaves are poured into another machine. This is a skilled job and so is left to the ladies. But at this point my second job comes into play.
This machine has no moving parts and is very simple to operate. I think that normally it is what the old women do. But in this case I am the old woman and the old women have been promoted. Using the wooden stick one beats the leaves and twigs and the loose olives until all olives are loose and fall through the mesh on this tray and then slide into a sack. Even I cannot screw up on this. It is quite tiring but really satisfying as you see your bags fill up.
At the close of play George summonsed me and we wandered around the half filled bags with me holding one as another was emptied into it by George so making one full 50 kg bag. George can lift them easily. I rather struggled, straining muscles I had forgotten that I had. The bag below is two thirds full. By close of play we had 11 utterly full 50 kg bags.
I now invite you to consider a before and after photo. The first is of a tree dripping with olives and thick with leaves. It is the BEFORE photo
And below is what a tree looks like after it has been twerked. Can you see the difference AFTER? The sun shines through a tree that really has been stripped back, shaved and cleansed.
We started work at 8 AM sharp. That is 6 AM UK time which is the time zone I am still operating on. By 2 PM Greek time I was aching all over and it started to rain. Normally rain stops play and indeed on the neighbouring patch of land a team lead by my neighbour Charon and including the goat-herd and several others did stop for a while. I was at that stage thanking God that I might get an early break but George and his ladies just carried on. These Albanians are made of sterner stuff.
In one of my short breaks I went over to say hello to the heavily moustachioed goat-herd (not to be confused with the Shepherd) who, as ever, spoke to me in Greek knowing that I do not understand a word of it. But he had heard about Joshua and, having four children of his own, the Old Goat, kissed me on both cheeks to say well done before kissing the photo of my baby son on my camera. It seems that the whole village of Kambos knows of Joshua's arrival which is touching.
Now I am back in Kalamata. Tomorrow we start again. 8 AM sharp. No rest for the wicked. A long hot bath is greatly needed.
Anyhow, Oakley bore the ordeal of his photo-shoot in a silly hat with a tremendous dignity. Or perhaps it was just too much of an effort to object.
These days babies are all dressed in silly costumes to make them look like bears, dogs or tigers so Joshua - who at 10 weeks is now almost as heavy as Oakley - also played ball without objection. There were a few who worried how Oakley would react to the new arrival. As you can see, he is utterly relaxed about the situation
Young Joshua will be roughly 14 weeks old on Christmas day. And so he will not know or care what is going on as long as he is fed and has his nappy changed and stays warm. So I could give him all the tea in China or absolutely nothing and it would really make no impact at all on him. As it happens various caring grandparents and others have already ensured that he has been swamped with clothes and presents for which we are grateful.
No doubt in a couple of years Joshua will, like nearly every other kid in Britain, be caught up in the consumerist and materialist spendfest that is Christmas these days. His mother and I both hope that he will appreciate the real meaning of Christmas, that it is not Winterfest that it is about the birth of Jesus and that sort of thing. But in Britain today I know we are battling against a strong tide.
Apparently some watchdog has just ruled that it is acceptable for Company's to have Christmas parties and say "Happy Christmas" without fearing of being accused of committing a hate crime against staff who are of another faith. That such a statement has to be made shows what a godless mess this country has become.
You may well say that Oakley, our morbidly obese three legged cat, probably also does not understand the true meaning of Christmas, yet he will be given a present by the Mrs and I. fair cop. We are sentimental fools when it comes to the cat. On Joshua we will take a firmer line. Are we missing something and likely to be reported to social services for this?.
Some advances in the expensive world of baby gadgets I can get into. Right now baby Joshua - now six weeks - sits on a small chair by the side of my desk. But here's the genius: it has a mechanism which makes it gently vibrate, not rock, just shake a little. And that sends the little darling off to sleep at the drop of a hat. Brilliant. Meanwhile, taking after his father, he is a rather handsome fellow don't you think?
I am not sure what this suit with ears on is meant to represent. I am utterly biased but you have to admit that my five week old son - below - is very handsome is he not? Being a modest man, I can't think where he gets it from
I am the main shopper in this household, spinning down to the local Sainsbury once a week to provide for myself, the Mrs, Joshua and, most importantly of all, my morbidly obese three legged cat Oakley. I work with a mental shopping list and wander around in track suit bottoms to blend in with my fellow shoppers. I plod slowly trying to take in the full horror of life in modern Britain. It is addictive but each week I return to then emerge in ever greater despair.
It is three weeks to Halloween or, for my Manx readers, Hop-tu-Naa. And thus there is a whole aisle stuffed with junk for the festival. 95% of it is either plastic or sugar filled high cal treats to rot the teeth of the nation's young. I wonder what percentage of those celebrating Halloween know of All Soul's Night. I wonder if they can guess from the Manx festival why we, in a (nominally) Christian country, celebrate anything at that time of year at all.
I remember Halloween when I was a child. There was no trick or treating although we might have been making a guy as in "penny for the guy" at this time of year. My mother made toffee apples, we played games with bobbing apples. Perhaps there might be a bit of the fudge and black toffee she was making for November 5th on offer. But there was none of this commercial nonsense.
I note that there are large rows of pumpkins already on sale in Sainsbury's. Buy one now, carve it and watch it go mouldy next week. But still we are urged to buy and carve anyway. I wonder how many of those who do buy and carve will do anything other than throw away what is inside. You can make a cracking pie (it is sweet and so a pudding) or wicked pumpkin soup but how many bother? For my manx readers carving a turnip for Hop-tu-Naa, what you scrape out can be the basis of a fantastic creamy crab soup. But in 2016 Britain we just carve and bin.
Next to the Halloween aisle is the Christmas one. The yuletide started some tiime in early September at Sainsbury's but now, eleven weeks ahead of the event, it is in full swing. The Noel aisle is, like that for Halloween, stuffed with plastic junk or junk snacks. None of it will be anywhere other than clogging arteries or landfill sites by the New Year.
I think back to Christmases in the 1970s to when we decorated a tree brought in from the garden on the 24th and ensured that it was back in the garden by twelfth night to prepare for another year. I remember that Christmas stocking chocolate was such a novelty that we really cherished it, eating it over days to savour the pleasure. I think back forty years when the Church was part of our lives. Do the fat little children of 2016 wandering down the Christmas aisle demanding more sweets from their parents, know why we celebrate Christmas at all? And if they do, do they care?
Eventually I made it to the counter. As a treat for today (for the Mrs, myself and Oakley) I bought a three fresh kippers. The woman at the checkout stared at them and said "I have never seen them like that, they always come in plastic don't they?" Saints preserve us.I thought of trying to explain but my mind was deadened by 45 minutes of shopping and staring so I just stared back blankly
I returned home and want to show the Mrs pictures of a ruined Irish castle with enough fresh water and land to be self sustaining and to urge her to adopt my plans for a Greco-Irish existence away from this appalling modern consumerist existence. I do not. I know that she will stare at me with a look that says "he is barking mad, if I humour him for a while he will calm down: Sainsbury's brings out the worst in him, it will pass."
The madness is in the eye of the beholder. that my anger will pass is another matter. It will not. I shall be back at Sainsbury's in a week and will be annoyed by something else. Last week it was the array of cooking chocolates. It was all so unnecessary and wasteful. Next week I don't know what it will be but it will be something.
Naturally the surname is Winnifrith. None of this double barrelled nonsense in this household. But we have now decided on three Christian names...
The first is Joshua. We always liked Josh in the West Wing. that was the problem with that show. The lead players are all mad tax and spend, deceitful imbeciles who worship the Money tree and follow a range of false religions such as global warming but you still end up liking them. Naturally I was lobbying for Arnie (Vinick) but Joshua it is.
The second name is Patrick. That had been my first choice but the Mrs insists that she links it with Irishmen and drinking. When I get the time I shall report her to the fuzz for that since I take grave offence at this racial slur and this it is a hate crime. So Patrick is the second name.
The third Christian name is Devadason which is the surname of the Mrs. But in the part of India from where her ancestors lived one generation's Christian name can become the next's surname and vice versa. And so that tradition continues.
Joshua Patrick Devadason Winnifrith. With that decided we can now register the birth and start to claim child benefit as suckle at the nipples of the welfare state.
— Tom Winnifrith
Register here for The Tomograph
Tom's newsletter with original articles and a free share tip of the week, not found on this website.