Though they did not know what day of the week it was, they were not so far gone as to be making a deposit. They too wanted their cash out, they just needed help. I was the sole person actually putting money into the bank and for that heroic act, Jim Mellon, rightly, suggested that they should have erected a statue of me in Kalamata next to those of the heroes from 1821.
At some stage I will need 4,000 Euro in that account in order to get Greek residency so I can buy a car and a gun. Please don’t blather on about Brexit. My father’s Canadian friend Peter has had residency for years and Canada is not in the EU. Being a non EU resident just means that you need to pop along to the local cop shop once a year to present your papers. I can handle that.
Pro tem I have not actively deposited cash but the proceeds of the Greek Hovel olive harvest each year are deposited into the account automatically. Wondering how much was in my account and being in Kalamata I wandered into a branch which seemed relatively quiet. I took a tab from the machine and got a number (205) and waited my turn. The big sign showed 193. Though the bank was full of staff shuffling papers there was only one of six counters manned. After 20 minutes the counter showed 194 so I asked a young man if there was a quicker way for me to find out what was in my account. I was shuffled to the special assistance desk and pretty soon was sitting opposite a young lady presenting my account book and passport.
The account book was pushed into a machine and came back with a raft of transactions on it. Blow me down, I have 2057 Euro in the account and will have another 290 shortly. At that point the young lady started suggesting that she’d like to see an electricity bill which I said was not needed, took my passport and account book and left.
The time is coming to risk c1700 Euro of real money, visit the branch again and get my account book to show that I have 4,000 Euro in it. Since the Greek banks are all bust, though we all pretend otherwise, I may well lose the lot but if I act quickly I can secure my residency before that happens. And then, like everyone else in Kambos, I get to own a gun.
Yes I am a rabid Brexiteer. I want the country where, regrettably, I spend most of the year to be free to make its own laws, set its own taxes, control its own waters and chart its own destiny. I have faith that Britain can do that. Yet for sneering metropolitan elitists like the twit who tweeted me last night, as you can see below, that is incompatible with liking your fellow Europeans. Au contraire..
The battle we deplorables, we the 17.4 million, fight is not with other plebs, others outside the rich elites, elsewhere in Europe. The Maillot Jaunes in France, those who voted overwhelmingly Oxi in Greece are those we agree with. Our common enemy are the autocratic elites, the political and media classes, across Europe who take our proud individual nations in a direction which we reject.
I live for part of the year, not enough, in the Mani, a poor but proud region of Greece. My friends and neighbours here know my views on Brexit, for I do not hide them. This was the part of Greece that was the first to raise the flag of revolt 197 years ago against another oppressive empire, that of Turkey. On March 17 1821 the Bishop of Tripoli called for Greeks to rise up and expel the Turks. Four days later the men of the Mani stormed the Turkish garrison at Kalamata and slaughtered every man there. That was the first action of a war for freedom.
The EU has brought misery and poverty to this part of the world. Folks here have a lot more time for someone with my views than with some millionaire ponce from the London liberal elite who insists that everyone who wants freedom for his country must hate folks from other countries.
Such folks should not sneer at me but should try coming to my home village of Kambos and explaining to my hard working, God fearing, gun owning neighbours just why the EU has made their lives better and why anyone who wants out must be a xenophobe. Go on Mr Metropolitan elitist… I dare you.
I rather regretted that third jug of local rose the night before, when my alarm started ringing at 5.20 AM. For Thrasher Bell had to get back to London and that meant getting him to the bust station in Kalamata before 6.30. Feeling a bit groggy I drove him into town and dropped him off. Stopping off at an ATM on the way back to load up with cash to pay my Albanian troops I arrived back in Kambos in time for an early morning coffee at the Kourounis taverna owned by lovely Eleni. The news was bad...
George the Albanian's brother had been hospitalised late last week so he was running half a day behind schedule. I headed back to the hovel with a hot cheese pie for Bernard and as I walked to my car who should I meet but George being driven by his son, an English speaker. I was assured that five Albanians would arrive by one. My next encounter was with the local golden eagle sitting on a fence as I drove down the back track towards the valley floor.
ShareProphets reader Bernard and I laboured manfully all morning. And at two o'clock the Albanians pitched up. As you can see below, they know what they are doing. But we only enjoyed two and a half hours of their work before the dark descended.
My worry is that George reckons he will be done in a day arguing some trees are empty. He has another job to go to. I know that and having walked my land with Bernard I know that there are an awful lot of good trees. That will be a battle for day four. Can we get an extra half day out of the Albanians? So far we have c470kg of olives either down at the press weighed and waiting for pressing or up here bagged at the hovel.
I discussed this with Eleni after supper. This is Greekenomics for you. There is mass youth unemployment in Greece. But as this country;s economy has tanked some Albanians have gone home or to go work in a car wash in Britain. So there is a shortage of Albanians. Thus Eleni has no-one to crop her olives. Everyone is fighting for Albanians meanwhile hundreds of thousands of Greeks sit there not working paid welfare by a country that is bankrupt. Go figure.
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.
I am in a short sleeved short. Tomorrow it will be a T-shirt. I am not trying to make you jealous but though it is mid October it is jolly hot. As I drove along the Kalamata sea front earlier the beaches were well populated. Folks were swimming. It is lovely.
there are lizards everywhere. My old saying is that where there are lizards there are snakes. But from memory, and fingers crossed, the snakes start to hibernate well before the lizards and you do sometimes see lizards even in the winter. Anyhow, here is one chirpy fellow I spotted sun bathing on a wall on the way from the Hovel down towards snake hill.
Penned at Gatwick airport on Saturday as I waited for a train. Some bald Northern prick was blocking the escalator on the walking side. I said “excuse me.” He said “It’s not bloody London.” I suggested that rules about standing/walking up were national. “What’s your hurry you will only get stuck at passport control.” I pointed out it was my choice and rules were rules and as he moved aside I concluded my sentence “and you can fuck off” as I stormed on ahead to passport control where there was almost no queue.
I am not proud of myself for swearing but after four weeks of being left alone and hectored by no-one other than the Mrs exercising her uxorial rights Britain, the British and Britain are getting to me already. It started at Kalamata airport where I sought a seat as I waited to board. I put my bag on an empty seat. “That’s seat’s taken” snapped a sunburned old hag – that one over there is free.
Of course both were empty so neither were taken. The old hag was talking fucking cock. What she means is that she had mentally appropriated the seat for her oafish son. I shuffled off to the “free seat” and a cheap hat was placed on the colonised seat to ward off others until the oafish son lolloped up.
Of course, both incidents are trivial. As is a burning resentment at paying £64 for a one way ticket from Gatwick to Bristol. A London Bristol return is £57. I am being scalped and I know it. The train companies are run by prize bastards. But three encounters with Britain and the Brits in just a few hours has caused more annoyance and blood pressure rises than the entire Greek nation (including the windows man who is now redeeming himself at a rate of knots) managed in four weeks.
The Mrs needs to understand that a failure to emigrate is bad for my health.
This article may cause a bit of upset and I have no solutions to what is a problem for Greece and an unresolved human tragedy for an ancient people, the Roma. I merely observe and report. I remember the Mrs and I giving a lift to two elderly and rather smelly Greeks in the deep countryside a couple of years ago. Their English was more or less non existent but they pointed at her dark skin and said "Roma". They thought she was a gypsy and it is clear they were not big fans. I was glad to drop them off after a few miles.
You meet Roma families at the bus station in Athens. A young girl will come begging making it clear she needs money to eat while older women try to sell fans and tissues and other things you just don't want. Half an hour later the girl is trying to sell fans and the product lines/sob stories have been rotated. It is organised and a hard sell. They target obvious foreigners as we are likely to be softer and more sympathetic than the Greeks.
Here in Kalamata you see Roma families lounging on the odd street corner on the dge of town. They don't seem to be going anywhere as, frankly, they have nothing to do.
On the very edge of town, almost at the airport there is a sign for the "Roma Camp". Before you start thinking of camps built by the Germans in years gone by, the intention here was good. Fifty houses with power and water were built to give the Roma free accomodation. Many locals, not exactly drowning in cash themselves, resented these handouts. They resent them more as these days just a handful of houses remain, the rest have been trashed by the Roma themselves.
The pictures below are of the Courthouse which is a block away from the offices of George the Architect a thoroughly progressive, liberal decent guy. He sees the same scenes every day. A Roma stands accused and his whole family comes for a day out. And Roma are responsible for a disproportionate amount of crime and so keep the Courts busy. Those are just hard facts. George, like many Greeks, resents them.
I have no idea what the solution is. The Roma appear to have no desire to integrate. But even with the handout of that free housing the Greeks were making it clear that the Roma were unloved and unwanted. The area it is in is covered in rushes and wet ground. I imagine it is buzzing with mosquitos in the summer and crawling with snakes. The other prominent building there is the licensed brothel. You get the message, you can have a free house in a bad place miles from facilities and work, with your only neighbours being other folk we'd rather pretend did not exist.
But were the Roma to be given free housing in a more central location, among Greeks, the locals would riot. No Greek politician is going to be vilified by making that suggestion. I can see no end to the marginalisation of the Roma or hope that they might be accepted as part of wider society. I just cannot see a way out. Saying that I feel rather sorry for the Roma is not something I dared say to George but there is an issue for Greece and one that will just not get tackled, especially while the country remains an impoverished debt slave.
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.
For the past few days I have been sitting at the Greek Hovel on a large box of books as I tap away at my laptop in the Bat Room. What's wrong with that? Why can't everyone make do thus? It seems as if the Mrs and daughter Olaf have different ideas and have demanded chairs and as you can see...
Rejecting a modern urban twist on the traditional wooden chair ( at 180 Euro a pop) which the Mrs was rooting for, I opted for a more traditional design at half the price. Hand made in Kalamata by the same fellows who are making a bed for Olaf - to arrive on the day my daughter lands in Greece - I am more than happy.
There should have been six chairs but it appears that one of those packed speedily away into the car of George the Architect, my shopping guide, has a defect. I told George we should beware Greeks bearing gifts which, I think, went over his head. He is returning the chair - as he knows the fellows at the factory - to get a replacement. Anyhow I now sit in more comfort as I work, the chairs pro tem rest on the veranda outside the Bat Room which will - next month - be covered in terracotta tiles.
Like a true imbecile I left the cable i use to connect my camera to my PC back in England so I head back from Kambos into Kalamata in a few minutes to buy a replacement. For I have spent a wonderful hour up at the hovel with George the Architect and it looks magnificent. That is not to say that it actually has any doors and windows bar those in the Bat Room where I shall sleep tonight but...
The good news is that they are almost ready. Tomorrow is a bank holiday here, allowing hard working Greeks to celebrate the Assumption of the Virgin Mary by eating and drinking in excess. On Thursday or Friday the doors, windows and floorboards arrive at the hovel and will be installed. They are almost ready...here they are at the factory earlier this week being treated and painted.
Fear not daughter Olaf and the Mrs by the time you get here the eco palace, formerly known as the Greek Hovel, will be fully habitable. Okay, no cooker and just one bed and a few other things missing but habitable and secure. George says he is proud of his work and so he should be, the place looks magnificent.
I started today at 4.30 AM GMT in Bristol. I did not have the rub of the green with logistics in Athens and thus I did not arrive at my posh Kalamata hotel until 6 PM GMT, 8 PM local time. I have checked my emails , enjoyed a Greek salad and am just about to order an ouzo. But the really good news comes from George the Architect…the Bat Room at the Greek Hovel is wildlife diversity secure, the power and water is still working and so tomorrow I move in….
Of course, three years ago, I used to stay at the hovel in the one room which was then, at least partially, wildlife diversity secured. But it was only partially secure and as I lay there at night I could hear rats running outside the window and I found sleep almost impossible as I pondered what else might be trying to get inside.
George did not relay progress on doors and windows elsewhere at the hovel which is rather important to the Mrs and daughter Olaf who will arrive, with Joshua, over the coming week. All will become clear as I head up to Kambos and the hovel at just after noon.
The Bat Room may indeed be secure but, unlike here in Central Kalamata, all will be quiet outside apart from the screeches, rustling, squawks and other noises of the wildlife diversity community. It will take me a while to adjust to that and I admit that I feel rather nervous. But I have booked only one night at my hotel. The die is cast after four years of hard work it is time to move in. Fingers crossed.
You wonder why the Greek economy is such a trainwreck? Of course there are all sorts of reasons: the scorched earth policies imposed on Greece by Germany, the EU and IMF banksters; the debt Greece should never have been allowed to take on, the bloated public sector, corruption, they all play a part. But, as I discover again today as I try to rebuild the Greek Hovel, it is the smothering bureaucracy that kills enterprise. Take my marble, stuck at Kalamata.
The shipment to go on windowsills etc passed through customs on the Greek Kosovo border with no problems at all yesterday morning. Last night it arrived at Kalamata where it needs a second customs check at the port. Why?
Simple: two customs checks means two employees, probably more, have something to do. More rules mean the bloated State can hire more folks which it thinks is creating jobs. But they are jobs paid for by a State drowning in debt. And the regulations created to keep the state employees busy just kill enterprise.
I am not in Greece to sign for my marble. And so although George the Architect has produced my tax number and documents at Kalamata customs that is not enough. He needs a piece of paper saying he is authorised to act for me. He has one from my Mrs and he has a Greek version of our wedding certificate but that is not enough, he needs a paper from me.
But not just any paper, not a normal lawyers letter. I need an official paper stamped by the Greek consulate in Birmingham or the embassy in London – more work is thus created for State employees to help them fill their day. And until I produce the paperwork, the Marble will be impounded which means that workers who were planning to install windows and doors next week will be stood down.
This is one little episode. I can resolve it by wasting a day trekking to London on Tuesday. But this sort of thing happens countless times every day in every part of Greece. In giving all those state employees something to do it helps to strangle the private sector. Here end eth the lesson in Greekenomics
Today was the day that my books, a few pieces of furniture and wall hangings as well as four Belfast sinks were meant to arrive at the Greek Hovel after a van journey from Bristol, via Bulgaria. Much to my surprise the Bulgarian chap in London called yesterday and said to expect delivery this afternoon.
It got better still. At 11.30 AM he called and said that the van would be at the Petrol Station in Kambos to meet me in 45 minutes. I got in my car sped up here and waited. And waited.
Eventually I called to be told that the driver was indeed at the petrol station. I assured the chap in London that this was not the case as I was at the petrol station and was alone. It took a while before it was established that the van was waiting at a petrol station back in Kalamata. I gave instructions and killed time by wandering into the hardware store to buy some snake repellent canisters. The man who knows me well, said “do you have snakes?” He smiled. He knows I do and that I am shit scared. It was his little joke and he fetched two canisters which, at 28 Euro, is the best investment I will ever make.
I killed some more time by heading up to the hovel and explaining, via one worker who speaks English, to a crew working incredibly hard, that I might need a bit of help unloading my van. I headed back to the petrol station.
Eventually the van arrived and I explained to a sweaty little Bulgarian who spoke no English that he should follow me up the road to the hovel. He drove slowly along the first half of the track which ends with the slope down past the deserted convent to the valley floor. I made to turn on to the track up towards the hovel but he stopped. He refused to go on.
He insisted that his van – which is exactly the same size as one used by the builders this very day and smaller than some of the heavy machinery we have taken up to the hovel – could not go on. He tried to insist that he was only meant to take the goods to Kalamata even though the docket clearly stated my house name and Toumbia, the widely scattered group of houses. At this point I really started to think of a four letter word beginning with c to describe this sweaty Bulgar who wanted payment for dumping my goods in a deserted valley floor.
I told him to wait, headed back to the hovel and brought down two Greek labourers one driving a jeep the other a truck with a flat bottom. With little help from the tardy and cowardly Bulgar we loaded my possessions into the jeep, my car and the lorry. One chest of drawers belonging to my grandmother appeared to have become slightly damaged. I repaired it up at the hovel but as it was handed over I looked at the sweaty Bulgar who just shrugged his shoulders, it was not his fault. I thought the c word again.
Up at the hovel we unloaded the goods. The sinks have strict elf ‘n safey instructions in English about how they must be lifted by two men. They are very heavy indeed. Greek workers picked them up, slung them on their shoulders and carried them single handedly to the bat room where everything is now stored. I’ll put up pictures later.
The Greeks were heroic. I did my bit. The Bulgar is a pathetic wretch. Over at Kardamili there is a monument to Greek military successes. Suffice to say that nearly all of them were two thousand years ago. The few in modern times were largely against the Bulgarians in the Balkan wars of the early 20th century.
I suggest that most Bulgars who have anything about them are now gainfully employed driving Ubers or selling the Big issue in London. Those left in Bulgaria are clearly a dishonest, feckless, inbred and pathetic bunch. Perhaps to distract the good folk of the Hellenic Republic from his own treachery and incompetence, our loathsome Prime Minister Mr Alex Tspiras might consider invading Bulgaria as a distraction. Judging by today, it would be a walkover for mighty Greece.
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.
I have not kept up to date with my training for about a week and am conscious that my 32 mile charity walk for Woodlarks is now not that far away – July 28. I meant to have a quick six mile practice stroll along the coastal road out of Kalamata yesterday afternoon but IT snags caused a postponement. And so I headed off at noon today in the mid-day sun. I think it was about 34 degrees.
The road is not as flat as you might imagine, it bends inland and uphill, for reasons I can’t quite explain, more than once. But in terms of legs and feet I was fine. I arrived back in just under two hours with my shirt soaked in sweat and with sweat dripping off my nose. I smelled bad and the world is a better place for me having had a shower but overall it was a doddle.
Tomorrow will be less easy. The road forks just past the hotel where I am staying. Today I took the right fork to the sea. Tomorrow I head straight on up the hill. And boy is it a hill. Essentially I just keep heading up and up for what, I calculate to be five and a half miles. At which point I take a left towards the village of Megali Mantineia – the place where the authors of “Things can only get Feta” stayed and caused something of a stink with their book. There I shall allow myself a bit of a break before continuing down to the coastal road at Akrogiala before heading back into Kalamata. I reckon that all in all it is about 12-14 miles.
My belief is that the hard yards are those up to the Kouris turning for Megali Mantineia. That is the uphill section. If I can make that without collapsing the rest will be much less painful. Fingers crossed.
I have just enjoyed a cracking lunch of beef in tomato sauce and peas at Miranda's in Kambos. Actually it is not called Miranda's any more as it has a new owner but I stick with the old name. The prices have not changed. That will be 5 Euro.
I have also downed two litres of water after pruning twenty more trees up at the hovel.
Skipping, okay I exaggerate a bit, up and down the terraces to the most snake infested long grass, in the far reaches of the hovel's lands, was tiring work in 30+ degree heat. I am shattered and must return to Kalamata soon to wash my trousers which contain ten days of sweat and blood - from when I cut my hands and arms on saw or frigana. I wipe them on my poor trousers which now feel like cardboard and carry on. Anyhow the Mrs suggests I wash them before returning home. I say suggests but it is not in an optional sort of way.
So I have pruned 240 trees and there are, perhaps, a dozen more in the furthest reaches that are un-pruned. I shall tackle them next month. I have far more trees than I thought. Four years agon on prune one it took three days and Foti the Albanian trousered 210 Euro. There are more trees now thanks to the ones that we discovered as we cleansed the frigana forest. Okay it has taken me ten stints of a couple of hours a day but it has not cost me a cent. I feel good about that.
Now its farewell to the folks in Kambos and back to the bloody UK. Next time I come here the hovel will have a roof, ceilings, more doors and windows and a bed in the snake proof bat room. And I shall therefore be staying here not in Kalamata. It is all very exciting.
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.
My father has been watching the rugby like a hawk. Here in Greece I have been unable to watch but have kept in touch via the internet and calling my father after each game. Now this may not go down well with England supporters but in an Irish supporting family it was a perfect team as both our favourite teams won.
The "Old Country" defeated Wales. That has been a bad fixture for us for a while and in recent years my father and I have found ourselves exchanging the comment "at least that will make Olaf happy" after the final whistle. My daughter has a Welsh speaking mother, Big Nose, and is a strong nationalist. But this year we had no need for that consoling thought. Incidentally I loved this tweet from BBC Sport
Get Involved - There seems to be glowing sunshine in every part of the United Kingdom today, apart from Dublin. So where are you watching from? Send me your pictures on #bbcsixnations
You don't need to be a lifelong supporter of Irish Republicanism to see the flaw in that tweet but perhaps some basic history lessons might be helpful at the State funded fake news channel.
As for the other team whose victory we cheer? Our second team is, of course, anyone playing the Old Enemy. So there were cheers in both Shipston and Kalamata as Scotland put England to the sword. The win is all the more pleasant becuase of the pre-match swagger and arraogance olf the England team, manager and supporters. Pride, as they say,...
Next up for the men in Green it is Scotland in Dublin. Win that and the championship is almost in sight...
I was woken this morning by the most almighty explosion of noise. For a moment I wondered if a ship had crashed into the quayside for my hotel in Kalamata is right on the harbourside. It had not. It was thunder. Yet again it was sheeting it down, making three days of torrential rain on the trot. Now the sun is shining but the effects of the downpour were evident as I made my way up to the Greek Hovel.
The first three photos below are of the dry river that heads across the valley underneath the deserted convent on the way to snake hill and on to the hovel. As you can see it is anything but dry and now runs several inches deep across the track.
Indeed the rains have been so heavy that another stream has appeared at the bottom of the hill by the side of the convent, which I incorrectly labelled deserted monastery hill when I first pitched up here almost four years ago. What is in summer, a muddy ditch, no doubt home to numerous snakes, is now a stream so swollen with rainwater that it spills out onto the road.
There are at least five churches in the village of Kambos, the closest settlement to the Greek Hovel and a place with a population of 537. There might be more small churches hidden away somewhere that I have yet to find or have found but forgotten about. But the largest of the lot is the most modern and without a shadow of doubt the least pleasing to the eye.
Situated on top of the hill on which the village sprawls, this is the first thing you see of Kambos as you drive up into the mountains from Kalamata.I can say little in its defence as a building except that it is functional and unlike some of the smaller churches which can hold no more than a dozen and open just twice a year, it could hold most of the village which is a good thing as even the Godless in this part of the world go to Church a few times a year.
The other point in is favour is the view. Man builds ugly buildings which will one day crumble but the Taygetos mountains in the distance will be there forever and, the high reaches, are now fully draped in global warming. What a view...
I turned up as agreed with George the Architect at 11 AM to discuss progress at the Greek Hovel. Twenty four hours of solid rain with more coming down today has left the site a bit of a mudbath and I was not greatly surprised that there were no workers present. But I was rather expecting George. He was not answering his phone so I kicked my heels and tried to start the process of burning off the branches cut down from last year's olive harvest.
In my defence the whole place is sodden. But I noted on other hills nearby that fires were burning away happily. If my neighbours could do it...
With some lawyers letters from Roger Lawson to use to start the blaze I set to work. I knew old Lawson would come in useful one day. But let me tell you that there can be smoke without fire. I managed it several times before giving up and heading back to the village of Kambos.
Sitting in the Kourounis taverna an old man approached me and started babbling away in Greek. He seemed friendly enough and after a while managed to grasp what everyone else in Kambos knows, that is to say my Greek is rudimentary at best. But I did gather two words: spiti (house) and fire (demonstrated by him producing flame from a lighter). He was laughing.
Given that there is no-one for miles around the hovel I do not understand how news of my pyromaniac failings have reached the village already, but it seems to be the way. At last I got hold of George the Architect who was sitting in his nice warm office in Kalamata. Apparently work on making the bat room habitable starts first thing tomorrow. I shall be there. I will not be betting the ranch on anyone else being there too.
This being a family website, and since I am such a fecking feminist, I decline to bring you photos of the ladies in bikinis. but as I drove along the Kalamata seafront today they were there, on the beach and heading in to the water for a swim. Not many brave the sea at this time of year and, I grant you, those that do may be out on day release, but it is just about do-able. Down by the shore it is again in the high teens and I wander around in a T-shirt.
As you drive up into the mountains of the Mani it gets a bit colder but I sit now in my office away from home, that is to say the Kourounis taverna in Kambos owned by lovely Eleni and I still wear a T-shirt.
It is a pleasant day. But if one looks up to the high Taygetos behind the village and above the Greek hovel ( photo 3 is looking down the "drive" of the hovel) , the global warming, as you can see, lies thickly.
I think that I have published articles similar to this before but it is a point worth making again and again, there is a hidden Greece that so few of we Northern Europeans never see. for most of us Greece is a place we only visit in the stifling hot summers. If we bother to leave the coastal strip we see grass burned brown by a constant sun, if not scorched black by the forest fires that happen all too often. But there is another Greece, the Greece of winter and spring.
The fields all around me are, as you can see below, green. This could be England or Switzerland in the summer. And the flowers are everywhere: reds, yellow, whites, purples. It is a glorious view.
But all too soon it will be gone. By May the sun will have started to have its effect. as the snakes come out to play after their winter sleep, green turns to brown and those flowers disappear. Right now it is T-shirt weather both down in Kalamata and up here at the Greek Hovel in the lower reaches of the Taygetos mountains. there are no snakes around and the view is wonderful. It is, in many ways, the best time to be here.
The first shot was today. The olive harvest ended, the sun promptly re-appeared, the sky was blue, the rocks of the Taygetos that dominate this City, reflected the light and it was 21 degrees. Two days ago I was harvesting, the mountains were draped in dark clouds, the rain was falling and it was barely into double figures.
I realise that it is colder in the UK than here in this part of Greece, the Mani is the most Southern part of the mainland. But to those who keep saying that I hope I am enjoying the sun here are a few photos from Kalamata this afternoon.
The first is of a river flowing into the sea. Nothing odd about that you say. Except that in summer the bed is drry and folks park their cars on it. Now it is in full flow. The photos that follow are of that placid sea, the Med and looking up into the Taygetos mountains that dominate Kalamata and then run into and along the centre of the Mani. Though I saw a few folks swimming earlier this week they were obviously prize loons. Suffice to say no-one is swimming today as the rain starts to get heavier and with a very strong wind whipping up the waves and making it feel a lot colder than the nominal 10 degrees.
If I was Byron, seperated from Hobhouse at Zitsa, i would be dashing off some verse after last night. But I'm not. i sit alone in my Kalamta hotel looking out at roads that look like the infamous Japanese Grand Prix where Lauda retired gifting James Hunt the world championship. It all started last night with loud bangs which I worried might be a bomb or a ship crashing into the harbour next to the hotel.
It was just thunder but the noise was deafening. Then the rain started and five sleepless hours later it continues. There is now a river running down the main road outside into a sea which is grey and boiling as the rain continues to tip down. Normally from here I can see the spine of the Mani, the giant Taygetos mountains standing tall and imposing at a right angle to the seafront. Today the odd mountain peers out from the mist and the cloud but even it is blurred.
There will be no harvesting for anyone today. Working in such rain is not pleasant and the danger of slipping down a terrace is very real. So I have an excuse to just sit and write. But where to write? I know that to get to Kambos will be less than pleasant. On the edge of Kalamata at Verga there will by now be a lake in the road. That is passable but with the fear that my small hire car may be stuck in its midst. After that there is the mountain road where rivers will be flowing down the sleep slopes onto and along my intended path.
It is quite fun sitting in the Kourounis taverna when it rains as - with no work to do in the fields - the whole village seems to stop by. The place gets crowded, the smell of aniseed (from ouzo) is all pervasive. Getting to the Greek Hovel itself maybe a bit trickier. The dry river will not be dry by now but the read perror is the mud for once you get to the top of snake hill, the last half a mile of "road" is just a mud track winding through the olive groves. Right now it will be filling up with deep puddles and as each car, truck or flock of goats passes by it will become more like the Somme becoming ever more slippery.
It is, perhaps, my favourite "office." Sitting in the Kourounis taverna in Kambos I tap away happily. Lovely Eleni keeps the coffee coming and every now and again I look up to watch the world go by, oh so slowly, on the main street in Kambos,, the village closest to the Greek Hovel.
The main street through Kambos is, of course also the road from Kalamata down into the Mani and in summer it can get busy with tourists heading off to Kardamili, if they are middle class Brits or Norwegians heading to the Jazz festival, or to Stoupa if they are the sort of folks who like to wear football shirts when on holiday in case a game breaks out. In winter the traffic is thin.
But occasionally there was a jam. A tractor pulls a cart full of kit or produce. A horse pulls something else. Or, as yesterday, a flock of sheep or goats is walked along the road with no great urgency with an ever longer line of cars following on behind. But what is there to rish for. Sit back, look up at the mountains on one side or Zarnata castle on the other. Enjoy. This is Greece. You can always wait until "avrio" to do what needs to be done.
And thus as I sat yesterday the sheep were in town...
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.
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.
I am afraid that I have lost a lead and so cannot upload photos just yet so you will have to bear with me as I describe the scene in the main square of Kambos, my home village here in Greece. I have returned after three months to discover that the creperie run by a French Greek woman has opened. Quelle horreur!
Kambos is on the main road from Kardamili and the lower Mani up to Kalamata at about the half way point. As you drive into Kambos from Kardamili with the ruins of Zarnata castle on the hill behind you, the road turns sharply left at an angle of 90 degrees. Take that turn and you will head to Kalamata. Fail to take that turn and you would head into the small main square of the village which would be regrettable as it is entirely pedestrianised.
In the far right hand corner of the square is the new "creperie." I do not know where to start with my objections. Firstly the menu chalked up in poor English on a board stuck in front of Miranda's shade does not mention crepes but instead has a list of the sort of shite food you get at a Greek seaside resort. Food for pot bellied Brits wearing football tops. It is the sort of think I hoped I'd never see in Kambos.
Worse still the creperie not only has ghastly plastic tables and chairs outside its walls but has put up two rows of tightly packed plastic tables in front of Miranda's tables. You must try to navigate around them to get to Miranda's and the clear intent is to steal any passing trade.
This has all happened in the three months since I was last in Kambos. The creperie was, I am delighted to say, deserted apart from one table of foreigners - that is to say Brits. Mirandas was packed as was the Kourounis taverna. I would hope that as the tourists disappears so too will the creperie. Maybe other folks in Kambos are more tolerant but I wish the place a speedy demise.
PS. If you happen to be passing through Kambos and actually want a crepe, in the summer Eleni gets out a machine and her crepes are just awesome so head straight for the Kourounis taverna and go no further.
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.
There is a snag. We have all the demolition permits but the building permit iss er. delayed. Yes that is the one we were promised by June 30. Now it is August so after eleven months of toil and endeavour the Greek State bureaucracy grinds to a halt. So the builders can do nothing until September. I head to Greece shortly and will be popping into the Kalamata planning department for words... However there is good news as you can see below.
The stonework on the existing hovel has been replaced and window spaces made perfect. it looks a bit grey but that is only because the cement used to seal the stone is grey. It will now be scraped out and replaced with a yellower cement which with the light yellow, brown, red and grey stones means the Hovel will be the same colour after completion as it was before. It will just be a place not a hovel.
The roof is off and from September, before the winter rains start , a new pitched wooden roof to be tiled, will start to go up. The end of the rat room has been taken off so that it can be extended out by another two yards to make a great bedroom for Joshua. All in all there is real progress. I shall be back in the Taygetos mountains seeing my friends in Kambos and checking out the hovel in a couple of weeks time but it is heading the right way.
The rat room, at least, should be habitable by the time I head over for the olive harvest in December.
In Greece the summer rains are violent. Dark clouds gather above the Taygetos Mountains above the Greek hovel or sometimes out to see in the bay of Kalamata. The wind starts to pick up and you can hear it unsettling the trees, after a while the rustling of the leaves is so loud it sends a clear warning of what is to come. Thunder booms loudly, you start to see lightning and before you know it the rain is pouring down. You can be drenched, a dripping rat, within a minute or so as the skies empty.
And then it is over. vast puddles lie across the mud track that leads up to the hovel. The mud is slippy and your car or motorbike slides its way up and down the hill but the sun is beating. Soon the land is steaming and within a day or so the puddles are gone.
If you are lucky the thunderstorm whips up at night, breaking the oppressive summer heat and allowing you one night of contented sleep. But whenever the rains break it is a violent affair. If you doubt me, listen six minutes into this podcast when - as I recorded - the hovel was struck by lightning.
By contrast, in England the heat is less intense. The rain arrives more often and is not the warm rain of Greece but a colder if less violent downpour. Such were my thoughts as I picked dessert gooseberries in my father's garden at Shipston.
Almost thirty years ago when my father and late stepmother, who died a year ago yesterday, moved to Shipston their four hundred year old house was in an awful state and the garden was just a total mess. They worked hard to create a wonderful central lawn, sprawling flower beds and a fruit and vegetable patch which year in year out has yielded potatoes, lettuces, broad beans, tomatoes, raspberries,m strawberries, red currants, black currants and both dessert and normal gooseberries.
Gardeners still pop in once a fortnight to keep the place in order. But my father rarely ventures into the garden and the soul has gone from the place this last year. The six of us (my two sisters and three steps) all visit and do our best to harvest what is there. It is a duty to my step mother and father not to let it go to waste. And so I sent the last of the raspberries back with the Mrs and Joshua on Sunday and as I waited for a lift to the station I picked half of the dessert gooseberries. Normal green gooseberries are just too bitter for my palate. I can't see why everyone does not use the purple dessert variety.
If I end up spending more and more time in Greece I shall miss the English summer rains, thought I, as I slowly got wetter and wetter, dutifully cleaning the bush.
I was driving on the road that heads up into the mountains heading from Kalamata to Kambos. Of course it does not end in Kambos, the nearest village the Greek Hovel. Kambos is just a settlement, of no particular historical significance, beauty or importance, sitting on the road as one heads to Kardamili, the ghastly tourist fleshpot of Stoupa or the regional capital Areopolis. But Kambos is as far as I usually go.
The sun was beating down and 600 yards out of town as the road starts to climb I saw a young woman, laden down with shopping bags and gesticulating wildly. Naturally, being a gent, I stopped and she said she was trying to get back to Stoupa. I said I could take her as far as Kambos and she tried to get into the front seat.
And then she stopped. as you can see lying on my front seat was my axe and 12 inch saw. Worse still I had my frigana chopper sitting there with the shaft running into the back seat. It has a tiny leak in the tank and so the whole car stank of petrol.
In Britain in the current climate that would have seen the girl calling 101 on her cellphone and an armed response unit arriving within minutes. JK Rowling would be on twitter within half an hour, talking about how yet another white supremacist had been nabbed and how Katie Hopkins and Nigel Farage were to blame. But here in the Mani I bet many cars are kitted out thus at this time of year. The young lady clambered into the back and we started chatting.
Looking in my rear view mirror I though she polished up well and that confirmed my prejudices. She was a Greek from Stoupa and my shame is that I leapt to the conclusion that she was just another dippy millennial out shopping and now heading back to Stoupa, a cultural desert, to head out to the bars. Shame on me.
Her passion was botany and we talked flowers. She searched for rare orchids up in the high Mani. She had spent the morning talking online to a world famous Irish botanist about a plant she had discovered. Did I know of him she asked? I had not heard of him. I remarked on the flowers up at the Hovel in spring and how I photographed them,. She asked me what flowers they were.
All that I could say is that I thought they were varied, of many colours and very attractive. Who is the bloody airhead now? C'est moi. I did not dare to mention that, as Nicho the Communist and I had purged the snakefields of frigana with poison, I had wiped out most of the flowers at the same time. An airhead and a vandal to boot, I was shamed.
To be struck by lightning at the Greek Hovel once is, perhaps, understandable but twice would look like carelessness. You may remember how, six minutes into THIS PODCAST the hovel was indeed struck but I soldiered on anyway. However, I'd rather not repeat the experience.
As I started my second session of frigana slashing up at the hovel it started to rain. To be fair, the clouds in the Taygetos mountains above me, looked a tad on the ominous side. And the weather has been all over the shop for the past 24 hours. Last night I was unable to sleep and so at 3.30 AM I opened the window in my hotel which faces out over the bay of Kalamata looking towards Koroni. That is to say the part of Greece where I go to milk goats with my wife's sister's in-laws.
I couldn't hear thunder so the lightning must have been 15 miles or more away but it was stunning. Sheet lightning lit up the clouds in the night sky and fork lightning rained down on the poor goats. For a good quarter of an hour the power of God, of nature, had me captivated. As we sit around tweeting and playing on snapchat we humans really are insignificant little creatures.
Anyway, back to the hovel. What is a bit of rain thought I. I am a Brit after all. And it was not exactly cold so I started attacking large frigana bushes with relish. Take that you Cloudtag morons, swoosh. Take that you fucking students who want to hike my taxes so you get to study sociology and basket weaving at no cost, swoosh again.
However, after about fifteen minutes there was a massive flash of lightning and about three seconds later I heard thunder. I did my schoolboy maths and decided that a kilometre away was just a bit too close for comfort. Did I really want to carry on waving the five foot metal pole, that is my frigana cutter, in the air? As a bonus this metal pole has a full tank of two-stroke at its end.
You may think that I am a bit rash now and again but I am not that rash. I retreated to my car as quickly as I could carrying the pole not on my shoulders but as close to the ground as possible. On the way a foot long pea green lizard scuttled across my path seeking shelter for by this time it was tipping it down. A wildlife diversity sighting is normally my cue that God is telling me to stop work in the snake-fields as you never know what the next piece of wildlife diversity you will encounter will be.
As I drove back towards the village the rain really was pelting down. On snake hill there were already rivulets forming. Snake hill got its name for a good reason so I did not leave my car in taking the photo below.
As for the last pond in the dry river? It is filling up happily. Good news for the "eels." Such is the localised nature of weather here that by the time I was back in Kalamata the roads were dry, the sun was shining and there was not a drop of rain. Kambos may be only twenty minutes drive away but as you head up into the mountains things can change very quickly indeed.
There was I sitting at breakfast at the excellent Messinian Bay hotel here in Kalamata. The tourist season has not yet started so there are few other guests. As ever, I grabbed a corner table well away from the herd so that I could tap away at my keyboard without disturbing folks. I checked my twitter feed and an Australian columnist who I admire greatly tweeted her shock at news that doctors had felt the need to warn millennial women that the new craze for putting a wasps nest in their underpants posed severe vaginal health risks.
Could this really be true? I realise that vast numbers of the snowflake generation are daft as a brush in a pathetic and decadent sort of way but could they really be this silly? The Aussie columnist is a sane woman and not prone to tweeting fake news so I hit the link.
I am not sure which paper I landed on but at once a women blurted out from my screen in loud estuary English "I want to shape my perfect vagina". I closed the page at once, conscious that those sitting behind my back may well have heard and now be under the impression that the man in the West Ham T-shirt was some porn chasing perv who was prepared to indulge in his filthy habit at the breakfast table.
I thought briefly about turning to explain that I was a journalist investigating whether millennials birds really did stuff wasp nests into their underpants but decided that this might be lost in translation. Anyhow hopefully most folks had not heard or were from Norway. What is the Norwegian for vagina?
I sat there staring at the screen for a good twenty five minutes, not even bothering to stand up to refill my coffee cup. All those who might possibly have heard this particular Vagina Monologue had, by then, left the room. They will all be gone from Kalamata within days and they, hopefully, do not know who I am. I am not going to pursue this particular tale which could just be an urban myth. But in this crazy world where I feel increasingly old I would not be that surprised if it was true.
I headed pretty much straight from Kalamata airport up to Kambos for a Greek salad at the Korounis taverna. As i wandered in a couple of old men whose names I do not know raised their hands and said "Yas." Everyone in the village knows about the snake-phobic Englishman who lives surrounded by snakes up in the hills at Toumbia. After that it was up to the snakefields and the Greek Hovel where Gregori and his gang of Greek Albanians have really started to transform the place as you can see below.
The first photo is of the house as you approach it up the garden path. The old tree which used to tower above the hovel and whose roots were gradually undermining it has gone. that exposes the ugly metals windows and the breeze blocks below them to full view but they will be gone too within the next week or so. Imagine that view with old style wooden windows and shutters painted a Greek blue and you can start to see this 100 year old house for the beauty she was once and will be again.
Further along this side of the house all the metal railings have been removed on the stairs up to the front door and the area above the old bread oven. Gregori, who kills snakes with his bare hands, has cleaned out that oven and declared it fit for use. That is a bonus. I must admit that in three years i have not even dared look inside for fear of what members of the wildlife diversity community I might find.
On the other side of the house, an old door which had been replaced with breeze blocks by the vile former owner Athena has been re-opened giving a second entrance to the rat room. That door will in time be filled with a wooden door linking the rat room to the new part of the house which we will add on to double its floor space. The rat room is for Joshua and will link to what will be the master bedroom.
At the back of the house I found Gregori's co-workers. The older guy is actually his father in law. The work they are doing is turning boulders extracted from the digging out of the floor of the bat room into stones that can be used to build the extension. This is done by hand, the old way. It is how the stones were formed when the house was first built more than a century ago. And also when it was rebuilt after the civil war which saw the Commie burn down this place as punishment for its owners supporting, as did nearly all of Mani, the Royalist cause.
The bad news is that yet again planning permission for building as opposed to demolition has not arrived. I was told that it really would come through within four weeks. But i was told the same thing four weeks ago and four weeks before that. I arranged with architect Sofia that we would go to see the planning department in Kalamata first thing tomorrow so find out what is happening. The other bad news is that the timescale for completion has er... lengthened. There is no cost implication, although I brace myself, but instead of being ready by Christmas I am told that it will be ready within a year. I hope that is a British year not a Greek one.
In my absence my gang of Greek Albanian workmen have been busy at the Greek Hovel as you can see HERE. Arriving almost straight from the airport we discussed how work was going, what was next and then came to the main point of my visit, an update on the snake situation. As you may remember this gang got hired after its leader Gregori, pictured below, boasted that he killed snakes with his bare hands.
"So have you killed many snakes?" asked I. Gregori beckoned and showed me a small one that he had killed just the other day. Do not be fooled into thinking this is a harmless little serpent. This was a junior adder which is more dangerous than a mature viper since it does not know how much venom to inject, it just bites and poisons away.
I looked at the small snake and asked if Gregori had met any others. Rather like a fisherman he opened up his arms to indicate the length of the two others he had sent to snake heaven. Bother were adders and more than two foot long. One made the mistake of slithering across the door of the bat room as the gang dug out the floor. The door offers the only light into the room and thus it was all too visible and Gregori had pounced. Three kills in a week, yikes. Gregory cheerfully pointed out that if he had killed three it indicated that there were many more out there in the land around the hovel. We agreed that we need to get hold of some cats as a matter of urgency.
Worryingly all three kills had been within a yard of the hovel which indicates that the snakes do not seem to have noticed that I have snake repellent canisters up to ensure that there is a snake free zone. At this point I was beginning to think twice about my plan to stay up at the hovel on this trip.
If I was in any doubt as to my intentions, that was resolved as Gregori explained that among the next jobs was removing all the ghastly metal windows and shutters so that the stonework could be improved to encompass new old style wooden windows and shutters. My friend seemed worried that this would allow humans to enter and steal what is inside. There is little of value inside the hovel other than my strimmer, which I can store in the village, and my concern was about what non human animals would be heading into the hovel. My decision has been made. I have extended my booking at my hotel in Kalamata.
Living in a hovel surrounded by snakes but with every hole and window securely sealed is bad enough. Call me a wimp if you wish but living in a hovel with no windows surrounded by snakes is sheer madness.
I have two great fears when travelling. The first is that I will miss my train or plane. This is hereditary. My grandmother Lesbia Winnifrith never missed a train in her life apart from once when she arrived so early that she caught the previous one in error. I like to travel with plenty of room for error.
My second fear is of a terror attack. This has been a long running fear.But recent events have only made it worse. I try to offset this by spending as little time as possible in airports. Today it is scylla or chayibdis.
I left it late booking a bus to Gatwick and so found that the late evening coaches were fully booked. Thus the only one avaialble was a 12.40 PM coach arriving at Gatwick at 4.05 AM. Last boarding for the Kalamata flight is 5.05 AM. What if the bus got held up? I tried to do the maths and started to panic.
So what about a train? The last train out of Bristol to get me to Gatwicjk was 9.50 PM Monday. I am writing this on the train bracing myself to arrive at Gatwick at 1 AM. there is no chance of missing the plane but I must somehow endure 4 hours at Gatwick. Right now I suspect the place is crawling with armed cops so I should be reassured.But I am not. And so I prepare for charybdis.
My third fear is of flying. I am a pretty nervous passenger. But, fingers crossed, I shall cross that bridge if and when I come to it.
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.
The main road from Kalamata to Kardamili and on into the Mani winds its way through the heart of my local village of Kambos. Once you go past the turning up to the Greek hovel there is a long straight stretch of around 400 yards which takes you to the Kourounis taverna owned by Lovely Eleni and the square in front of Miranda's. At that point the road makes a 90 degree right turn and then heads past the main shop in the village and out on towards the Mycenaean tombs, the Frankish castle and the road to Kardamili.
For as long as I have lived here cars have parked on the kerb in front of Eleni's taverna and the square of Miranda's. Traffic coming in from Kardamili can see such cars very clearly and there is no reason not to park there. And no signs indicating that it is illegal to do so.
And thus, as per normal, I parked my car there yesterday afternoon and headed inside to answer an email or two and have a coffee. All was well for 45 minutes until a man at the par said "police, Police, your car". I looked up and indeed a cop had parked his car next to mine and was starting to write out a ticket. I rushed out. He said something in Greek. I said "I will move it now" in English. He said in English "don't you realise how dangerous this is?" I nodded obediently, moved my car and, I think, dodged a ticket.
Of course it was not dangerous. Cars have been parked in that spot 365 days a year for forty years and there has never been a crash. Traffic hits this bend in the road at sub 30 km/h and anyone travelling on the same side as my car was parked (that is from Kardamili) could have seen my parked car for at least 200 metres. But I am not a man to argue with Greek cops.
As I write there are cars parked where mine was, on the other side of the road, just around the corner. The cop is back in Kalamata or Kardamili. Life in Kambos goes on.
I left Heathrow at midnight Greek time. Having picked up a stomach bug in London the flight and the bus journey from Athens that followed were less than comfortable. Wearing a jacket and winter coat from London I was feeling pretty awful by the time I arrived in 29 degree Kalamata at 10 AM.Thank heavens my hotel had a room ready for me to wash and dump my coat in. I headed straight to the Greek Hovel feeling extremely tired.
The good news is that after three years of planning woes work is now finally able to start. If there was an Olympic event in Government inefficiency, Greece would win gold, silver and bronze.
Gregori the Greek Albanian foreman and two assistants had already demolished most of the illegally added structures on top of the snake veranda. By the close of play tomorrow they will all be gone as will the, illegally added, platform on the other side of the house facing the deserted convent and the, illegally constructed lavatory, that does not work.
Tomorrow is a big day. For starters I join the work team. It is agreed, Gregori will kill any snakes we find with his bare hands. But with all the noise he and his two assistants are making the snakes will be in full flight to my neighbour's land. They will be working an eight hour day. My plan is to start at a couple of hours and build that up over the summer.
The other big news is that the Mrs, Joshua and the parents in law are arriving in the evening. We switch hotels to one in Kardamili. My commitments at the hovel might mean a bit less time with the mother-in law but we must all make sacrifices in life.
Anyhow, for the past three weeks I have been able to do a bit of financial writing as I do just a spot of manual labour. It is now full on work with a target of having one habitable room by late summer and the rebuild complete by the time of the Olive harvest in December. As such, that means less writing, I shall just keep my hand in with photo articles from the building site. You cannot get more exciting than that can you? That is what I call page bait!
I was wandering towards passport control from where my Easyjet flight from Kalamata had landed, that is to say bloody miles from anywhere, when I heard a woman's voice behind me. "Welcome to bloody Brexit land" she said sneeringly and loudly. Quick as a flash, I said equally loudly "Or as we call it these days, the newly free and independent United Kingdom."
She scoffed and expressed surprise that she had met someone who supported Brexit. I pointed out that we had voted for Brexit in a referendum last year so there were an awful lot of people like me. She scoffed again, and displaying a grasp of arithmetic of which Diane Abbott would be proud said "Only 51% voted for it, it was a minority".
As one of the 52%, which is like 51% a majority, it was hard to know how to counter that remark but I had no need to, as the woman was keen not to let me interrupt her monologue and continued "I know how you people think as I worked here for several years." I did not question her deep understanding of the British national psyche but decided that I would virtue signal and so said "and how much we enjoy folks like you coming from Europe to work hard in Britain. You are so welcome." I said this in a genuine way and I meant it. I was enjoying being welcoming and also showing how bloody virtuous I was.
The woman snapped back "well enjoy being an isolated island cut off from Europe." I countered with "we will be great global citizens ( bonus marks for that PC phraseology) and trade with the growing economies around the world, India, China , the USA not just the ageing economic zombie that is Europe" Ouch. The woman's partner butted in "you will sell weapons to Turkey so it can attack Greece where we come from."
I am pretty sure that supplying weapons to Turkey is not a mainstay of Britain's manufacturing base and there is no evidence that Turkey is about to attack its fellow NATO member in Greece. But I was not sure that countering untruths with facts was working so I told the chap "I have a house in Greece, I live there, Britain is not going to arm an invasion."
By this time we were almost at passport control and the queue was bunching up. The woman snapped "We don't want you in Greece, we want you to get out." She did not quite say "Go back where you came from" but she had more or less said it. I could not resist.
"Racist!" I shouted. "You are a racist". I repeated this several times loudly enough for all the folks around us to hear. The boyfriend tried to butt in "what she said was not racist it was xenophobic." I think that he might technically be accurate but we virtue signallers do not care about minor details. I was on a roll. I shouted "you are a racist" at her and, as I very loudly said the words "hate crime," I turned my back, visibly shaking my head. She went quiet.
By this time the fuzz at the UK border were just yards away. I did think about reporting the poor bubble for hate crime there and then. London's Mayor says we must report all incidents and since I had been offended by her comments this was clearly a hate crime as defined in Orwellian 2017 Airstrip One. But I was in a rush to head off to see my father so I contented myself with turning round a couple of times and staring at her shaking my head and engaging in a spot more virtue signalling.
I told the Mrs that I had been a victim of hate crime at Gatwick Airport. She seemed unconvinced. Guardianistas like the Mrs think that straight, white, affluent, able bodied, middle aged men cannot be a victim of hate crime. She does not understand. If I was thirty years younger I would go light a candle and add a twibbon to my twitter account as I tweet to myself and I rush to a counsellor who will help me cope with this most traumatic of incidents.
The key point here as a virtue signaller is to point out that this story is all about me and that I am a real victim. Now, where do I get a counsellor?
This is all great news if a tad embarrassing. Very healthy eating, lots of exercise and no booze is definitely helping me shed the pounds. As i wandered back into the hotel elevator yesterday evening I looked and with my trousers slipping down my boxers were clearly visible. However much I hitch up my 36 inch trousers they keep on falling down. What good news.
This is not the weight loss you can suffer while eating like a horse as a result of type 2 diabetes. This is weight loss caused by burning more calories than you take in. No booze helps. But other than a few portions of grilled octopus I have not eaten meat for ten days. I am existing largely on raw oats in the morning and Greek Salads for the rest of the day.
Here in Kalamata as I prepare for my morning session in the hotel gym the sun is shining and wearing a pair shorts, which are also starting to slip, is okay. Up at the Greek Hovel sturdy boots and long trousers are needed in case i step on a member of the wildlife diversity community. Luckily I have two spare pairs of black jeans with me, bought at various points of my weight gain/loss cycle so I hope to find something that fits. I don't want you thinking that i am anorexic. far from it.
My stomach is too large but the trends are positive. And yesterday's gym run was up to 2.47 km in 22 minutes. Today's target is 2.6 km in 23 minutes. Things are heading the right way and all the symptoms of diabetes, which a Gentleman does not discuss, are in full scale retreat.
What is my blood sugar level? God only knows. The Greek machine I bought the other week has given me results from 120 to 236. I am getting more than the odd result saying that I am in a "healthy range." But then I get a result starting 2 with a 2. I am just plain confused. The Mrs will - I hope - fedex me some good old British testing strips today and so I have a clear idea where I am. But given the weight loss, healthy living and retreating symptoms surely the trends are good?
Having explained to the nice lady who runs my favourite restaurant here in Kalamata why I had to turn down a free ouzo she expressed great sympathy about the plight of a man with type 2 diabetes. And thus, having finished my grilled octopus and black eyed peas and mountain greens, I was presented with a bowl of soup.
Next to the bowl, which contained small bits of asparagus, was a slice of lemon. It was on the house and I was assured that it would cure diabetes. If I had a quid for every time I had been told that something would cure my condition I'd be retiring for good already. But I tried the soup and it was fantastic. Heck, I really like this "cure."
The lady returned. Oh no! She exclaimed it only works if you add the lemon. It changes the colour and will cure you. This is the sort of thing I'd expect to happen in Asterix the Gaul but she brought more soup to which I added the lenon juice. Suddenly my soup turned pink. I tried again, keen to be cured, but it now tasted absolutely awful. Under a bedy eye I managed to finish and was assured that the cure was underway.
In Victorian times they believed that spa waters in places like Leamington or Harrogate must be good for you becuase the water tasted so nasty. That was, of course, hocus pocus. And I have grave doubts about this cure for diabetes. I have not asked for another portion.
My blood sugar goes all over the place. On the new scale it was 232 this morning which is alarmingly high for a reason I cannot fathom as I have been virtue incarnate. Yesterday, after doing a gym session for thirty minutes in my hotel I hit 120 ( six point something on the old scale). God knows what it is now after a breakfast of raw oats.
In my prime when I worked out or played rugby at London Irish five days a week, I could do an hour at 7.5 km an hour on a treadmill and still do some weights and then jog home. Yesterday I managed just over 2km in 20 minutes and felt wrecked. But I like this gym as a) there is no-one else in it to laugh at you and b) the lady on the front desk is not one of those fitness freaks who looks at you with a mixture of sympathy and derision but a total blubber mountain who could almost certainly do with testing her own blood sugars. Her kindly and welcoming smile will see me go again. It s not quite a hovel workout but there are no snakes to panic about.
Today... gym, a light hovel workout and - at last an olive inspection with Niccho the communist - and another stab at fishing. I have bought more hooks and a float and solen some bread from the Hotel breakfast buffet. a new day, new tactics as I try to break my 41 year duck when it comes to actually catching anything.
After my sedentary Easter Sunday I was determined to make amends with a perfect display of type 2 diabetes virtue on Bank Holiday Monday and thus having skipped breakfast I picked up my car and headed out to the Greek Hovel. There were wildlife encounters as I explain here and that must have seen me sweat off a few pounds. Indeed my 36 inch trousers are not very obviously starting to fall down. I must, every now and again, hitch them up to spare my blushes.
A spot of olive tree pruning followed and then after a no bread Greek salad care of lovely Eleni at the Kourounis Taverna I headed off for a spot of fishing at a spot recommended by one of my fellow part time residents here. He assured me that it is where all the locals who are in the know head to.
I need not have feared. Within 40 minutes the sea had seized two spinners and a line of hooks and I was heading back along the old Kardamili road towards civilization. My 40 year record of not harming a single fish was, unlike my kit box, completely intact.
By the time I reached Kalamata I was feeling really rather feint. I tested my blood sugar at my hotel and they were just 6.8. That is at one level far too high - 5 is my target. At another level it was alarmingly low - they had fallen by more than 4 points since the morning. I read all the warnings about bloods heading too low and the threat of diabetic coma.
I am advised to keep a chocolate bar handy just in case but ignore that as I know I'd at it in a non emergency.
Thinking on my feet, I delayed taking my evening sugar busting medication and other delightful pills and headed to my favourite restaurant which I had noted was finally open once again. As is nearly always the case it was empty. I really do fear for its future and urge all folks who ever visit this place to head straight to 23 Navarino Street to save the Katelanos. After a delightful portion of grilled octopus and a small black eyed pea salad with a small amount of rough bread, lightly toasted and drizzled with olive oil and herbs I felt so much better and wandered back to my hotel.
My bloods this morning are 9.5. That is of course far too high for the long term but it is where I should be right now. This afternoon there will be more manual labour at the hovel and the trend is heading the right way once more.
When my Uncle Chris went on his first of his many honeymoons it was to the Mani where the Greek Hovel stands. Back in the early swinging sixties it took him more than a day to get here from Athens. That has all changed. There is a super fast Motorway linking the capital to this part of the world. But for as long as I can remember it has stopped just short of Kalamata adding another 20% to your travel time as you are forced to wind your way through suburbs and back streets. Yesterday I discovered that this has all changed.
The bus swept straight along the final stretch of highway right to the heart of town. The end of the main road is now just 200 yards from the bus station which lies underneath the old fort, the scene of the first heroics of 1821 when on March 21 the heroic Maniots answered the call of the Bishop of Triploli and stormed the hill to slaughter every Turk inside the citadel.
In a way this new road makes my life easier. Flights direct to Kalamata are infrequent and seasonal and so my journey time from Athens is greatly reduced. I think I can now even get to the Mani without going through Kalamata. So my life is that much simpler. But there is a downside.
There are increasing numbers of flights landing at the airport here. British Airways now flies twice a week in summer as an alternative to Easyjet. It is only a matter of time before my favourite airline, Aegean, joins the party. And with the road also that much faster more folks will come to this region to holiday and, also to buy second homes. More bloody foreigners.
I love my nearest village of Kambos in large part because nearly everyone who lives there is Greek or Albanian. Since it is a good half an hour from the sea it is never going to be fashionable. I suspect it will remain resolutely Greek, or rather Maniot, until long after I have my final encounter with St Peter. But the area will change.
For me this is a delight. I am in my favourite restaurant in Kalamata and I am the only customer. I have chatted to Amelia the owner and am half way through my first ouzo. Grilled octopus has just arrived with some greens, Amelia insists that I try some. I am not normally a rabbit food sort of person but they are splendid.
My heart goes out to the folks here as they are honest about when they have fresh octopus and the food really is magnificent, As is the ouzo. But they sit here just hoping that customers will turn up. It is off season and the economy is again shrinking thanks to the Nazis of the IMF and EU.
Cripes, other plates have just arrived. Amelia is rightly very proud of her food. Rightly so. It is superb. I remember turning around a restaurant in London and in the dark days before that was complete just sitting there praying that customers would arrive. It was just so dispiriting. I know exactly how she must feel.
And so if you are passing through Kalamata at any stage do yourself a favour and make your way to the Katalanos restaurant on Navarino Street. You will be made very welcome, the food is wonderful.
Cripes a plate of gigantes (giant white beans) has just arrived. Wonderful
The location is my favourite little restaurant here in Kalamata which is located on the main sea road opposite one entrance to the industrial harbour. Okay not the greatst of views but the food is fantastic. On offer today, as you can see below, was freshly caught octopus ( you can tell that it is not frozen) grilled and laid out on a bed of lettuce with a light vinegarette dressing. On the side is a dash of home made taramasalata. Accompanying this is toasted sour bread witha drizzling of local olive oil, fresh sea salt and mountain herbs.
This place has an extensive wine list so perhaps the old wine snob might now be tempted. I washed this all down with freshly squeezed orange juice. The orange trees are everywhere here. Pure heaven.
The conclusion is that it was built around 1850 but why then and not earlier? Here my father and I are in agreement: it is all down to the accursed Turks. When Greece was under Turkish rule the Mani peninsula was almost autonomous. The war like folks here engaged in protracted blood feuds as they had always done and the Turks saw little reason to unite the Maniots by pulling their beard with a military invasion.
As long as they were not too naughty on the piratical front they were best left alone. They had no great wealth to plunder and the towns and villages were remote and connected by paths and tracks with no roads. The Maniots were happy with this arrangement and thus why bother to construct a bridge across the natural defence of this deep gorge separating the Mani from lands under Turkish rule. When the river flowed it would have been impassable. When it did not defending the Mani rom the steep valley on the Kambos side would still have been a sinch.
The Maniots had no need to head up to Kalamata. They were self sufficient and there were more important things to do like killing your neighbours. Besides which if you really wanted to get to Turkish lands you could always go to a coastal port such as Kitries and sail up the shoreline.
Things changed in 1821 when on March 17 the Bishop of Tripoli in the heart of the Peloponnese called for an uprising across Greece. The first to answer this call to arms were, naturally, the Maniots who decided that it would be better to slaughter Turks than each other. Thus on March 21 the Maniots arrived at Kalamata and slaughtered the Turkish garrison there, without suffering a single casualty themselves.
The Maniots fought bravely in that war including the famous incident, recounted in full by Paddy Leigh Fermour in his book The Mani, when their women slaughtered a Turkish army. The men folk were being beseiged at Verga on the outskirts of Kalamata, defending heroically they repulsed wave after wave of attacks from a much larger Turkish force. So the Turks had a cunning plan: sending a largely Egyptian force down by sea to capture the Maniot capital of Aeropolis which is way down the peninsular and a couple of miles in land. This force arrived and only the very old men and the women working in the fields with their scythes were around. Naturally the women set upon the Turks and beat them back into the sea. As other men arrived with guns and swords the slaughter was complete with Turkish forces drowning and butchered with scythe and bullets en masse. When you view lovely Eleni in the Kourounis taverna remember that she is descended from such women.
When Greece became independent and gained a new king from Bavaria there were attempts, including the use of military force, to include the Maniots in the new order but they met an inevitable conclusion.
The Mani became part of the new Greece but with a certain degree of autonomy agreed. And it is only at that point that there was any point in making the gorge passable at all points. Only then would the Maniots feel any interest in heading off to the fleshpots of Kalamata to trade their sheep and olives for more useful things such as gunpowder and bullets for the blood feuding and other matters that could now continue as normal. Hence the bridge was built and until the 1970s, when the bigger bridge above it was constructed as part of the first road heading into Kambos, it was the link across the gorge.
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.
As I drove up the mountain road to Kambos and the Greek Hovel I could see smoke rising all around me. It is the season when you burn the branches you chopped down in the olive harvest, start pruning your trees and give them a bit of fertilizer. I bought a lighter in Kalamata and, having been trained by George the Albanian on how to start a fire with a few bits of dried grass I was determined to match my neighbours.
As you can see their fires roar away. I must report that I tried for 30 minutes and failed. The piles of branches are the sort of places that snakes might hibernate so I have two reasons to want them to blaze away. But my repeated attempts to set fires going ended in abject failure. Reluctantly I have asked lovely Eleni at the Kourounis taverna in Kambos - my conduit to Greek speakers - to call George for assistance. Until he is ready I must content myself with a few days of aggressive pruning.
The hovel is changed little. I pray that we start rebuilding it in April and it will be transformed and so for the record here it is as it stands today with one shot from each side. I opted not to venture inside either the main room - which is sort of wildlife diversity proof - or the rat room or bat room which are not. God only knows what is living inside and so I shall save that treat for when George arrives. Fearless George will tackle whatever lies inside.
I had this really cunning plan. And the Mrs thought it was cunning too. What could possibly go wrong? God punished me for my conceit.
The plan was to get off the bus from Ioannina not at its final destination of Athens but some 70 kilometres early at the Corinth canal service station and to catch a Kalamata bus - coming from Athens - there. 140 kilometres and maybe three hours on the road saved. Genius.
And so I got off only to be told that the next bus was in four hours. Worse still, this was the only service station in Greece with no internet. Fuck! And fuck again!
But I am a determined fellow and so started to walk towards the bridge over the canal. There will be no pictures of the 2000 metre drop down to the canal itself as I suffer severe height sickness. I have peered over that bridge once before and that is enough for one lifetime. But I did stumble upon a Goody's which is a hamburger chain whose offerings make those of MacDonalds seem like the best dish at the Ivy. What you see below is described as a 3 Euro cheeseburger and, not having eaten all day, I managed to eat it all but it was utterly disgusting. It was, however, the price for free internet.
But then two things happened. Firstly it appears that the total and utter bastard Bill Gates wanted to give me another upgrade. The result you can see below. I watched that screen for three hours.
Meanwhile some bastard decided to hold his kid's birthday party at the Goody's. FFS inflicting that on your offspring is the sort of thing that should get you reported to social services. Thus I sat there at a screen that did not change, in the one warm place going as dozens of kids screamed, blew whistles and had a great old time. When St Peter finds me wanting he will send me back to Goody's for an eternity of my PC never restarting as I am surrounded by screaming brats and am forced to eat the worst burgers on this planet.
Thank the Lord, the clock turned 8.15. The computer failed to restart but at least I could seek refuge in a warm and crowded bus to Kalamata. Needless to say it has managed to cleanse itself in minutes now that I sit in my hotel room by the sea. Damn you Bill Gates once again, my loathing for you knows no bounds.
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.
I have mentioned elsewhere that there are oranges growing everywhere here in Greece. The trees do need watering every day so we could not, for instance, have them at the Greek Hovel as we are not there all summer. But there are so many other trees that you can just pick your own as you walk along the street. The tree below is just along the side street where the Pharae Palace hotel in Kalamata is situated and where I am staying.
Each year I take 16 kg of the olive oil from the Greek Hovel back to the UK with me in a big can and sell the rest. But the can is just too big for my rucksack so means I have to pay both to put it in a special box (30 Euro) and also for an extra piece of hold luggage ( 25 Euro). It is still cheap oil but that rankles. But I have a cunning plan.
Exhibit A is one 16 kg can of olive oil.
Exhibit B is three 5kg cans bought last night from lovely Eleni as I said goodbye to the Kourounis taverna and to Kambos. I have borrowed a funnel from my fave restaurant in Kalamata, the Katalenos on Navarino Street where you will taste the best Octopus of your life. And I then achieved a transfer.
What happens to the excess 1 kg of oil you say? Well there was a bit of, er, leakage on the transfer. Holding a 15 kg can and pouring gently into a small funnel is not easy. So I guess there is 0.5 kg left. Tonight I meet George the Architect and it may be coals to Newcastle but I don't think he farms so he can have an early Christmas present.
And I have tested already. All three 5kg cans fit into my rucksack leaving plenty of room for the few books and clothes I brought with me. Cunning eh?
Lunch on Thursday at the Greek Hovel was provided by the wife of George the Albanian. At least I think it was his wife, it was one of his two female assistants. I pondered how much an Islington bistro would have stung me for, offering similar fare.
The lunch was, I admit, simple. A slice of bread, from a freshly baked loaf at the Kambos artisanal bakery, dripping in locally produced virgin olive oil, half a fresh organic tomato from George's garden and a lump of home made feta. The cheese was a tad salty for my liking but genuine artisanal fare. And an orange picked from one of the many trees that are dripping with the fruit right now. The cost to George, with labour, must have been about 20 Eurocents.
But imagine how this appetiser would be dressed up in London. Artisanal, organic, fresh, etc, etc, etc. I cannot imagine getting any change at all from a fiver and suspect it would be more.
Life here in Kambos is cheap but that does not diminish the quality of the food and of one's existence. I know it is a bit of a pipe dream to live here full time and so be able to keep my own goats. But as you may remember, my wife's brother in law comes from a village the other side of Kalamata and there I have learned how to milk the goats belonging to his mother - as you can see in this video.
I reckon I could live here on a couple of Euros a day. Should the world financial system collapse I guess it is always an option.
For the past week I have been getting up at 5 AM Greek time ( 3 AM GMT) to do a couple of hours writing before heading off to the olive harvest at the Greek Hovel for an 8 AM start. Yesterday's harvest finished at 5 PM and I was shattered. I arrived back at my hotel at eight and after one glass of milk went straight to bed. I was vaguely aware that someone called (it was the Mrs) but I was oblivious to it. I dreamed of little olives of all colours falling through my seperating machine.
I normally sleep for only six or seven hours and so I awoke at 1.30 AM. But after a few emails and a bit more milk I was back in bed and only woke up again at nine. A day without alarm calls and twelve hours glorious sleep. I feel like a new man.
Outside the sun is shining, it is T-shirt weather and I can see small fishing boats heading out from Kalamata into the bay. It is a day for doing nothing other than a catch up on my writing inspired by my muses here in Greece.
Myself and the two women who work with George the Albanian finished work at 5 PM today, having started at 8 AM. It was dark at the end. I could not see what was an olive and what was a leaf as I worked the separating machine. I just bashed the twigs and leaves hard with a plastic paddle and pushed anything that felt like a olive through the grill. My hands are stained with olives and feel raw from pushing those twigs and olives across that grill all day.
George was off to see a bloke about another job. But the ladies and I did high fives at the end. It is all over.
The weigh in at the Kambos press is complete. 2.681 tonnes. Had George not bunked off early we could have tackled a few more marginal trees. But what do I care? It is over and I survived without bunking off early once. That is an achievement and I feel rather proud of myself.
I have photos of the press and of olives from the hovel but will put them up in the morning before returning to Kambos for pressing. For now I have bought Nicho and the shepherd a drink and myself my first ouzo for many days. A quick coffee and then it is back to Kalamata and bed without having to set an alarm in the morning. Bliss.
I am so tired. As soon as I press "publish" on this article i am off to bed. Today there was no break other than 20 minutes for lunch and so I did a solid six and a half hours. It is not that I am spectacularly unfit (cue jokes from health guru Paul Scott), it is just that I have to try to keep pace with hardened professionals, viz George the Albanian and his two female assistants. Boris Johnson likes riding bicycles but he would be some way off the pace in the Tour de France. It is similar here.
But I am proud to say that although I thought about bunking off early I stuck it out to the end. And I am getting quicker at my given tasks, the ones normally allocated to the old ladies, they having been promoted ahead of me.
The progress was rapid today. I reckon we might just be finished in two days time and we must have lifted at least 550 kg of olives once again today. If not more. What is surprising me is that the trees the other side of the ruined cottage on the property which yielded very little, even in the bumper year of 2014 and almost nothing last year are also dripping with olives. Naturally I put this down to my skilled pruning in the summer. It is just possible that we will need another three days to finish so great is the harvest.
Today saw us tackle the tree that lies inside the ruin. It is a not a tree that I think about with anything other than fear as I have often observed a snake slithering into the bushes around it. I have not actually seen the snake because as soon as I see a slithering motion in the grass I run as fast as I can in the opposite direction shouting "fuck it is a snake." Not that is ever anyone around to hear me. But the number of times I have seen the slither makes me certain that it is the lair of the snake.
And so my pruning of this tree has not been as diligent as on other trees. I did some hacking but trod gingerly and the prune was not complete. Of course the snakes are all hibernating or, as they say here, asleep. But where do they sleep? I think of the Gruffalo and look nervously at fallen logs. Maybe it is underneath stones or in holes? I do not know but there are plenty of places around the ruin for Mr Snake to sleep. So what if I tread on him or kick over the log or stone by accident? Will he wake up in time to bite me before I scarper, screaming as I go?
George went for the tree and chopped off lots of branches. One of his ladies pointed at the fallen branches and pointed to me and said something in Greek or Albanian. I knew what she meant. Gingerly I picked up each branch and threw it onto the pile that I was assembling for flailing. I think I lost about a stone and a half of nervous energy during that task. But no snake was seen. None the less I have been thinking about snakes ever since.
At the end I was so tired I considered just crashing out with the rats at the hovel. But then I thought of my nice warm bath, nice warm bed and snake and rat free hotel in Kalamata. It was no choice.
It is too cold to stay up at the Greek Hovel so I am in my bolt hole of choice, the most excellent Pharae Palace hotel in Kalamata. It is far from packed but there is some activity as the British Council is organising exams for bubbles who have been learning English.
Over a healthy muesli breakfast, I chatted briefly to the two other people present, ladies a bit older than myself who were there to invigilate the exams. One complained that whenever the windows of her room opened she could smell olives and she did not like the smell. Hint Madam - don't come to Kalamata as you do know what it is famous for don't you?.
The obviously middle class lady, who struck me as one of life's utterly joyless Guardian readers, asked if it was an all year round smell and I assured that it was to do with the olive harvest and the processing of olives into oil which involves a lot of heat. I should say that, maybe it is because I am living the olive harvest, I cannot smell anything amiss in Kalamata. But she was insistent and suggested that it was all wrong.
I pointed out that olives were how many folks here earned enough to live. She said that that is all very well but surely they should think about the environment. Yeah peasants you go starve so that middle class ladies from Guardian la la land can open the windows of their seafront hotel rooms, thought I. But being a diplomat I said nothing..
Before she left she asked me what I was doing here? I cannot tell a lie and so with some pleasure I answered truthfully: "I am here to harvest my olives" I sense that we will not be chatting at breakfast tomorrow.
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.
I noted yesterday that the rain clouds were so thick that from the Kalamata sea front I could not see the start of the taygetus mountain range which winds its way down the Mani peninsula. Later in the day as I drove east towards the mountains the cloud had lifted and I could see clearly that there was already a good covering of global warming directly ahead of me in the higher reaches. It got better.
The Greek hovel lies in the lower reaches of the mountains up from the village of Kambos which is itself pretty high up. As you can see the view from the hovel is of snow clad mountains. I sense that it has fallen earlier this year and in greater quantities which is, of course, all down to global warming.
Up in Kambos there was a definite chill in the air and everyone was wrapped up warm.
I should say that today in Kalamata the sun shines, I have seen a few brave souls swimming in the sea and I am wearing a T-shirt and feel quite warm. But up in the mountains the snow is not melting - the dry river in between Kambos and the Hovel is still dry. The snow in the mountains merely waits for more to fall.
I landed at the airport at one in the morning and was aware that the bus from the Athens coach station to Kalamata did not leave until 6.30 AM. And I remembered that the bus station was cold and among the grottiest places in town. And thus I settled in a comfortable arm chair in a coffee shop at the airport, got online and produced three articles and started to feel quite productive. But then share blogger Paul Scott started tweeting me.
Pretty soon he was blathering on about mosquitos in Greece and for some reason that goaded me into leaving the nice warm airport and heading out into the cold night. It is about 5 above zero right now. A quick taxi ride saw me at the coach station which was even more grotty than I remembered. All its shops and the ticket office were locked up and on some of the benches slept members of the homeless community. In a few places some rather dodgy looking men gathered. It was bloody cold. I pulled my hoodie tight over my head but it made little difference.
I guess I remembered it from last summer when - even at 4 AM - it was quite warm. I had forgotten how bloody cold this place was this time last year. Remind me in twelve months time that Athens bus station is fecking freezing and not a place to spend any part of the night.
After a while I moved to a set of chairs where a little old lady sat chatting to two men in their forties. The presence of the little old lady was reassuring. Pretty soon we were talking. A Cypriot who had lived in London for 53 years she spoke great English and was very keen to lert me know that she was a strong supporter of Brexit. We chatted away until just after 5 AM, 3 AM your time, when the ticket office finally opened.
Hooray. Warmth. I have now defrosted and, as a bonus, the bus station has finally moved into the 21st century and got wifi. Perfect.
At this rate I shall be in Kalamata trying to get into a hotel by 9.30 and up visiting the Greek Hovel this afternoon. But for now, I just want it on record that if I go down with pneumonia it is all the fault of Paul Scott.
Sorry it is a poor quality video and yes that is Abba in the background. I shot it on the penepenultimate evening at the Greek Hovel. I was travelling down from Kambos to the sea at Kitries for a last meal of octopus. About two miles from where, just outside my home village, one leaves the main Kambos to Kalamata road, there is a small hamlet.
I stood above this hamlet looking down on its church in the sunset. Then I panned the camera around. I hope you can make out the 180 degree view starting at the Frankish castle above Kambos, moving down to the bay at Kitries and onwards to the church. And so why would one live anywhere else?
The charming woman next to me on the plane back from Kalamata was a Greek living in Cardiff. She said that she was frightened. So were her friends: Italians, Poles and other bubbles living in Britain. How could they plan for the future when it looked as if they would be booted out post Brexit?
I asked: Who said this was going to happen? Which of the leaders of the vote leave campaign: Boris, Gove, Priti Patel, Nigel Farage, Carswell, Gisela Stuart, who? She did not know but she said that on social media it was everywhere. My wife reports that our Greek friends in Bristol have the same worry and their fears are intensified every time they meet the lefty friends of the Mrs who insist, incorrectly, that Brexit was driven purely by Xenophobia and racism.
The truth is that no Brexit campaigner, not even nasty Nigel Farage, said anything about repatriating EU migrants who were already resident in Britain. They arrived legally and that is the end of the matter. Indeed Brexit campaigners stressed that there would be not a single expulsion of such folk.
But that does not matter to those in Project Fear. They lied ahead of June 23 and they continue to lie. At every chance the smear the 52% of us who voted for Independence day as racist little Englanders and they smear our leaders as bigots as they try to thwart democracy by making us all vote again by pretending the last vote was somehow dirty.
Those folks on the liberal left who claim the moral high ground need to realise that what they are doing is spreading fear and panic amongst those they claim to support, EU Nationals who are residents in this country, immigrants. The sanctimonious left are telling lies as part of a cynical campaign and causing misery and fear among, often vulnerable folks, as a result.
They should be ashamed and desist. But they will not because they are always correct and holier than now and anyone who disagrees with them is simply a wicked right wing neanderthal. As such there can be no discussion of facts. Here endeth the lesson from the book of Toynbee.
You want photos of Mistras? You really should for it is truly an amazing place but patience dear friends, let me first tell you about our journey there. The Mrs was in charge of logistics....yes, I know, but I am a feminist so I did not kick up a fuss.
And so it was decided that we would take the older road from Kalamata to Mistras which is about 60 kilometres door to door. The Mrs informed me that it would take an hour and a half.
You are 'avin' a bubble I proclaimed it is me driving not my father. Thankfully my father was some years ago told very firmly by his offsprng that his driving days were over. Folks who drive at 15 miles and hour, mostly on the correct side of the road may not have accidents but they cause them. The Mrs insisted she was correct.
Ninety minutes later after about fifteen thousand million hairpin bends through the mountains I had to concede that she had been right all along. As a vertigo sufferer I don't always find these roads the most pleasant to drive but I guess with all my trips in the area around the Greek Hovel I am getting used to it. Next time we might perhaps take the newer road.
British Airways staff were again brilliant today. On Saturday I arrived at Kalamata airport with a barely mobile father and weak step mother. Within minutes a cute airline lady had helped me get a wheelchair for my father and i was told my job was over. The lady put them at the front of the line and I had nothing more to do. Today it was the turn of the Mrs. We arrived and the small departure lounge was again heaving with lobster pink Northern Europeans forming long lines to check in for flights to London and Paris.
I found a different cute airline lady and said that my wife was heavily pregnant, as she is, and within minutes she was again at the head of the queue leaving dozens of the lobster pink Brits and froggies fuming behind her. Then she was through passport control and was off and I headed back to town to face another three to four weeks at the Greek Hovel with just the snakes and rats for company.
When the Mrs is here I am on holiday so I only work 3-4 hours a day at my PC and I do no manual labour at all. I enjoy three meals a day and more than the odd drink. "After all we are on holiday" say I as I order another ouzo. I get to sleep on clean sheet in an air conditioned hotel and enjoy swims in luxury pools. The Mrs is paying and it is a treat. I enjoy my hols with the Mrs. We talk, we plan, we discuss. Life without the Mrs is very different.
Aware that I will have gained a few pounds while she has been here I want to lose weight badly, as I did do in my first stint here this summer. So it will be down to one or two meals a day and by meal I mean a greek salad. There will be virtually no boozing. And there will be hard labour in the fields every day. Greece with the Mrs is perhaps not very good for my figure but it is a holiday. You may think that I remain on holiday just because I am here and not in the Bristol house. But I made that mental leap two years ago. The Greek Hovel is as much my home as Bristol is and it is where I work hardest and most effectively. I stopped off in Kalamata to watch the footie and made it back to the hovel at six. So guilty was I about my waistline that I abandoned writing work for the day and headed out to the fields. I know that late evening olive pruning risks encounters with the wildlife diversity but I could not wait to work up a good sweat and feel like I'd done something really productive. I thought I'd just do one tree but then I did another and another. All in all I was just into double figures on trees when I cut my finger on something and took that as a sign to call it a day. I wandered in and Nigel Wray called. It turns out that he has two massive olive trees outside a house he owns....maybe I could become a full time itinerant professional olive tree pruner. It is just so relaxing. It is almost addictive.
Ten days ago I was, via lovely Eleni, telling the shepherd about the lush green grass up at the hovel and urging him to bring his flock up to graze lest they miss out. When I see him next I shall be begging him to bring his sheep up out of pity. The green grass has almost gone. Almost everything is brown.
Driving up the grass track to the house I was horrified. It was as if the whole area had been affected by a great heat. But as it happens that is exactly what has happened. Down by the sea at Kalamata today it is 33 degrees. Up at the hovel it is over thirty. It is wonderful weather to work in but the grass is burning away.
The purple flowers, a sort of lavender, survive but the dominant colour is now brown. The only green patches are the leaves on the olive trees and, of course, the accursed frigana bushes. I have retrieved my frigana cutter from the farm equipment shop in Kambos and this afternoon waded into the few remaining bushes with gusto. Those bushes are are the very edge of our land, they are thick and I dread to think what might lurk inside. But I wade in anyway.
The more central frigana that has somehow survived tow years of attacks from me was dealt with on the first part of my trip. The bushes I slashes now lie on the ground a golden brown. The odd green stalk I missed pokes through the mass of dead branches in a defiant way. Its defiance is its downfall for as I pass I "take it out""
The Mrs arrives on the afternoon of the seventh. I want to ensure that by then the last 40 olive trees are pruned and the frigana gone. At that point the fields will be even more brown and it will be time to start digging out the earth floor of the bat room in preparation for the eventual rebuilding of the hovel.
We were sitting, as you might expect, in the Kourounis taverna. I told him what had happened and he looked straight into my eyes and asked earnestly "Did you kill it?"
You and I know that as the snake slithered away from me into a bush I moved in the opposite direction and regarded it as a good thing that we part company. But that is not the Maniot way. Someone from the Mani would see it as their duty to dive into the bush and club the serpent to death with whatever lay to hand. Should I fess up to Nicho that I ran away or would that be seen as almost as bad as supporting Turkey in the Euros? "It escaped" I said. He grunted, suspecting I think, that I was not really that keen on snake killing unless it was from the safety of a car or a motorbike.
It is not just the Maniot men who have the killing gene. During the Greek war of Independence from the accursed Turk, the rebellion started in the Mani. The men took time off from fighting each other in blood feuds to march on Kalamata and slaughter the Ottoman garrison on March 23rd 1821 just six days after the Mani led Greece in declaring war.
Later on in the campaign the Turks thought that since the Maniot fighters were engaged in hostilities in the Kalamata area they would send 1500 Egyptian soldiers by ship, forty miles down the coast to land at Diros and then seize the Maniot capital Areopoli which is a couple of miles inland. The Turks landed their men but 300 Maniot women and some old men were working in the fields, harvesting crops with scythe and sickle. The maniot women fell upon the accursed invaders and catching them by surprise drove them back them back. As another 300 Maniot old men and women arrived the panicking Egyptians had to swim to their ships or die. Very few made it home.
There are other tales of heroic Maniot women fighting the accursed turk through the ages. And as such when anyone from this region sees a snake they will pursue it and destroy it in a fearless fashion. For snake read Turk. I am afraid that I just do not possess this fighting gene and though I am now more relaxed about snakes, the idea of pursuing one into the bushes is just a step too far.
I have two sets of keys with me and both lie on the table here at the Greek Hovel. One is my English keys, my house and the restaurant. The other a set of Greek keys, one of which opens the hovel's door the rest of which are there for decoration - God only knows what they open.
For once I left my laptop in the hovel last night having worked solidly all day. I took just a bit of cash, my phone, my passport and credit card down to the village for supper. Really that is all I need to get anywhere in the world so I always carry those things with me. I grabbed a set of keys, locked up and headed off for a Greek salad.
There was an almost full moon but on my return it was still very dark. I hope that the snake repellent canisters make the area around the hovel a safe zone but I always flash my torch nervously as I walk, slowly and with a deliberately heavy step, up the path. I reached in my pocket and all I could find were my English keys. Feck. I must have dropped the Greek keys somewhere.
I headed back to Kambos to the Kourounis taverna and checked where I had been sitting. Nothing. It was by now almost eleven and I was panicking. I established that I had not - as I thought I had - given lovely Eleni a spare key. Where the feck was that spare key?
There is a way into the hovel clambering up a back wall and through a window. But at night. the snakes.... perhaps not
And so I gave up. I drove to Kalamata to the most excellent Messenian Bay hotel where they recognised me from 15 months ago when - for 10 days - I was their only guest and i was greeted like a long lost friend. An ouzo on the house and a luxury suite at a single room rate was provided. Luxury. Sleeping in clean sheets. Having a proper shower.It was almost worth the hassle.
This morning I returned to the hovel. You know what? A thought crossed my mind. Maybe somehow a Greek key has slipped onto my English ring? Indeed it has. Inside on the table lay my Greek keys. I feel a little foolish and am not sure how I shall explain my stupidity to lovely Eleni later today. I have already been out for one session of frigana slashing to punish myself for my stupidity.
I was hoping that the canisters which are meant to keep the snakes away would have arrived in Kambos today. I was told they would. Naturally they have not. This is Greece. "They will be here on Wednesday" means "There is no chance at all that they will be here on Wednesday". I am bloody well not moving up to the hovel without them.
My friend Nicho the communist asked why I was not yet resident in the the village and I explained. "You really are frightened of them aren't you" he said while laughing loudly. Fecking hell isn't everybody? Nicho then explained to a gaggle of Greek old men sipping ouzos what was happening and they all laughed too. Ha bloody ha. They all live in the village where there are no snakes, I dare them to wander up snake hill in the dark to see me.
Tonight I head to a store in Kalamata which is meant to sell the magical canisters. If I install tomorrow I might move in later that day or perhaps Friday. It is not that the hovel is uninhabited. I was up there today laying down rat poison, just in case a new colony had arrived to replace the ones I killed last summer, when I heard a noise on the window sill behind my bed. I jumped. I really do not like hearing noises whether in the house or from the bushes as I wander through the fields.
Upon closer examination it was two mice. They were quite sweet and being a pansy Westerner I delayed going after them with my small spade just long enough for them to escape through a small hole in the window frame. I have left them some poison too and taped up that window. I really do not mind mice. Yes, like PR people they are filthy little vermin but they harmless enough. They are not rats. Rats fill me with dread. As of course do snakes.
So far I have yet to encounter one of the 29 species of snake resident in Greece on this trip, but it is only a matter of time. I am now working hard in the fields every day and I know what is out there. There are plenty of lizards already evident. The biggest one I saw was nine inches long and a stunning fluorescent green. It just stood there in the road at the bottom of the hill beneath the deserted, and I am convinced haunted, monastery, seemingly daring me to drive over it. Again, I was a Western pansy and so got out of the car and ushered it into the bushes. A Greek would just have driven over it. The other lizards are less beautiful but they are everywhere. And where there are lizards there are always snakes.
I carry a camera at all times so when I do meet a snake I will do my best to capture that moment for you all, dear readers, before I run as fast as I can away from the serpent, shouting "fucking hell its a snake" forgetting that there will be nobody listening.
It was meant to take three months but took closer to a year but who cares? We now have a forestry permit received for the Greek Hovel. It seems that I failed to (illegally) cut down a few wild olive trees but most of my good works of the summer before last in clearing 2000 square metres of frigana have not been noticed and so we can now.....
Apply for a building permit. Lead by George the architect the team is now looking to submit within the next couple of weeks and the office that handles our application is just across the street from that of George in Kalamata. The process should take 2-3 months but this is Greece.
Once again I am happy to bribe anyone but George insists that Greece does not work that way. I am not quite so sure. I can just imagine the conversation:
Mr Official: I can approve your plans now if you give me 1000 Euro Me: I am sorry but I am a moral man Mr Official: This application could take quite some time, we have a big backlog of work Me: Since you put it that way, have you not heard of austerity - shall we call it 250 Euro and I'll buy you an ouzo Mr Official: make that two ouzos. Me: Done.
Alternatively, George could just wander across the street once a day and kick up a fuss. Anyhow... we are making progress.
For most of my early December stay in Greece I was wearing a T-shirt all day although at night I needed a sweat shirt and coat as the temperatures plunged towards zero. But on the penultimate day it started to rain heavily both in Kalamata, where I was staying, and up in the village of Kambos in the foothills of the Taegessus Mountains. The photos below show what happened next.
Photo one is of an orange tree just off the main street in Kambos. As we worked in the fields picking olives in quite warm weather oranges were handed out by my friend George. They are just ripening for picking now.
The next two photos are from the Greek Hovel another 50 metres or so higher up into the Teagessus and three miles away from Kambos. Those who have seen the hovel in the summer will associate it with grass burned brown by hot sun. But, as you can see, it is now a lush green - this is the view looking back along the drive. The rains of October and November have left the place looking very much alive. The second photo shows a front lawn strewn with olive branches post harvest. Come February I shall return to burn them off.
But now look up into the mountains, into the Taegessus. What fell as rain in Kambos fell as snow higher up. Those peaks will remain snow covered until March or even into April.
Elsewhere in Greece in places such as Metsovo in the Pindus or in Pelion folks go skiing. I described driving through the snow in between Athens and the Mani in the snow last Febuary. But the Taegessus are wild and rugged. There will be no skiing.
My Uncle Chris (Booker) who turns 79 next year says that we must climb these mountains together. In the summer that means incredible heat and snakes. From now until April that means treacherous snow. I think, dear Uncle that it must be October. The heat will have lessened but it will still be warm anough. The snakes will be asleep. And there will be no snow.
In the summer, notwithstanding the little issues that Greece faces, Kalamata is bustling. Getting a hotel by the seafront can be something of a challenge. The beaches are packed and the restaurants bustling. God knows why. The regional capital is not exactly what you'd call pretty. For me it is where the Airport is before I head out to the joys of the Mani.
In winter it all changes in Kalamata. There is still the odd hardy soul who one sees venturing into the sea. I suppose its probably warmer than Whitby in summer but rather them than me. The hotels are mostly empty and I am paying less than 40 quid a night including breakfast to stay at one of the best places in town.
The seafront restaurants are shut for the winter. I dont particularly like them in summer as they are relatively expensive but at least they serve - sort of Greek - food. And so the choice now is the ubiquitous fast food chain Goody's, numerous places serving either pizza or burgers and er...that is it. There is a Chinese place on a back street but it never seems to be open and there is the little gaffe I frequent where the food is Greek and where the smoking policy is somewhat confused. The little gaffe wins by a country mile.
After a whole day spent at the Kourounis taverna in Kambos I have finally met up with George, the sprightly 60+ Albanian who leads our olive harvest. I called lovely Eleni at the hospital to see if she had any idea how to track him down. She gave birth to a baby girl yesterday and admitted to being a bit tired but knows she will be back in the kitchen by Sunday and so is gearing herself up. She offered up an idea of where to find George's number.
Lovely Eleni's younger sister, who is really very, very lovely too, called and at about seven tonight in wandered George. In great relief I hugged the man for I was starting to panic. As ever, I bought him a Tsipero and myself an ouzo. And we sat in silence as he speaks not a word of English and my Greek is er...rather weak. But lovely Eleni's very, very lovely younger sister stepped into the breach. We start harvesting at 8 AM Monday. With that arranged, George and I sat in silence once more.
So on Sunday I move up to the Greek hovel. The power works, the internet does not. It will be bloody cold at night and with no shower - the hosepipe option does not appeal at this time of year - it will be fairly tough and I may be rather smelly by this time next week. I guess it gives me an insight into hiow life is in the grim Northern welfare safaris back in England.
Others will have to lead the effort on ShareProphets next week for I am committed to playing a full part in the harvest and so completing it in less than five days this time so that I can get back to the Mrs and the cats as soon as possible. Of course vreki can stop play. But at last I feel we are ready to go.
With that to celebrate I am back in Kalamata at a nice little restaurant for some tzatziki followed by calamari washed down with a large ouzo or three. The place is the best little eating house on the winter seafront even if it does not allow smoking. Perhaps that rather un-Greek health fascism explains why last night I was 100% of the customers and on a Friday night am 33% of the clientele.
I take it all back. The waiter has just rushed outside to tell me that, notwithstanding the no smoking signs everywhere, I can smoke inside. Okay the restaurant Katalenos on Navarino Street is perfect.
I fly tomorrow morning and will arrive in Kalamata so late that I shall enjoy one night of luxury in a hotel before heading off to the Greek Hovel for the olive harvest. George the sprightly 60 year old Albanian and his Mrs are ready to lead the harvest from Wednesday or Thursday and we are off. But there is a bit of a problem. I still speak no Greek and have hitherto relied on the lovely Eleni from the Kourounis taverana to assist. It is either her or Nikko the commie, no-one else speaks more English than I speak Greek in the village of Kambos.
In May I wondered if Eleni had put on a couple of pounds but did not like to say anything. By the time I arrived in August I was fairly sure that she was with child but being a gentleman and not wishing to offend I dared not ask. Aha. I speak to Eleni tonight and she is going into hospital tomorrow. Don't worry she says, she will be back at work by Sunday.
Well that is very good, none of this maternity leave nonsense of the West, back in the kitchen with you young lady. But pro tem I must now work out how to communicate with George - who speaks not a word of English - as well as to the rest of the village.
Nikko the commie will be hard at work on his own olives and so his presence cannot be guaranteed. This could be an uncomfortable few days as I struggle to heat the hovel, deal with the rats and communicate with absolutely anybody.
In March 1821 the Greek war of independence began as the folk in the Mani launched an uprising against the accursed Turks. The Mani, where the Greek Hovel is situated, was always quasi independent anyway but its warlike folk started a fire that could not be supressed. The first major triumph was the storming of the Turk held fortress at Kalamata. No Maniots died but the entire Turkish garrison was slaughtered.
Right now I sit opposite that fortress, in Kalamata bus station having just purchased one more ouzo for the road, to Athens. Tomorrow Greece will formally not pay monies owed to the IMF claiming that it will bundle the payment due then with another due on June 30th. It is now 24 hours away from being technically in default and on June 30 when it has not got a cat in hell's chance of meeting either June payment the can will have been kicked to the end of the cul de sac.
There are some that hope that Greece will compromise. I am not one of them. There are huge debt repayments due in July and August and indeed right up to 2057. Agreeing to draconian cuts in all sorts of things in returning for leaving the kids and grandkids an unsupportable level of debt repayments is no way to behave.
Greece should think of the heroic Maniots of 1821 and tell the EU and IMF where to stick it, default on its debts and leave the problems with other country's banks. Hellas can start again just as it did in the 1820s free from foreign tyranny. It will be painful just as it was in 1821 but it is the only way.
The Mrs wants me back in Bristol by tomorrow afternoon and it is nice to be wanted. And so I embark on the journey back from the Greek hovel with a cunning plan given that there are only intermittent flights from Kalamata at this time of year.
First up, I have already booked a seat on the 9.45 bus from Kalamata to Athens. But that gives me four hours to kill and, being on sabbatical, I really do not have any work to do. And so I sit in a bar by the sea in Kalamata knocking back a few ouzos. Certainly enough to ensure that I fall asleep on the bus to Athens.
I arrive at c1.30 in the morning at Athens bus station which is a dump in the worst part of town and so will quickly hop into a cab to the airport where I know that I can access the internet and keep myself occupied from 2.15 AM until I check in at 7.15 AM Greek time.
Once onboard the plane I should be so shattered that I fall asleep at once, waking up at 11.15 AM GMT at Heathrow. If I am still tired then the coach to Bristol will be my next bedroom and by early afternoon I shall be back with the Mrs and the cats.
I sit with my back to the door at the Kourounis taverna typing away, writing almost anything to avoid the torture of completing the subbing of Zak Mir's book. Is it too early for an ouzo to stiffen my resolve to face the torture that awaits?
But I am trying to get Greek residency so that I can buy a car, a motorbike and a gun for the Greek Hovel. And that means that I had to go to Kardamili police station to present my papers. I took my Greek speaking wife with me for protection. Would I meet the bent cop who incarcerated me last year? Would I meet his goon of an assistant who looks like the nasty gay character in Coronation Street? I was rather nervous.
But as luck would have it it was the cop from Kambos who was in charge. He greeted me with a very friendly "yas, Tom!" The downside to him being in charge is that he does not speak a word of English. But eventually a younger policeman arrived and the Kambos cop explained that I lived in Toumbia - the area in the hills above Kambos and that he knew me well - I understood what he was saying. Between the English of the younger cop and the Greek of the Mrs we established that this time I had all the documentation bar one minor item.
In order to show that I will not be a drain on the Greek state I need a bank account with a bank in Greece showing that I have 4,000 Euro in it. As every single person in the whole of Greece rushes to empty their bak account I have to open one and put cash in. Jim Mellon says that if I do this they should build a statue in my honour. Hmmm. And so on Friday I headed to the bank in Kalamata to do my duty...
But we left the Kadamili Police station with handshakes all round. I have noted before the observation of Paddy Leigh Fermor that 99 in 100 Greeks are the most generous, kindest and welcoming folk you can meet. The other one is a complete prize shit who will screw you at every opportunity. Our time in Kardamili last year was marred by meeting two of those prize shits - the bent cop and the hotelier. But that wound has now healed. Even the Kardamili Police station is now somewhere I can view in a positive light.
I was meant to pick the Mrs up at Kalamata airport in about thirty minutes but it appears that she is back at Gatwick. Her plane was struck by lightening and so had to turn back. Now her phone battery is dead so what to do? Sit in Kalamata and have an ouzo or two? Sounds like a plan.
Meanwhile it has been a two snake day. I was out poisoning frigana thinking of who the plants represented as I sprayed them with a lethal liquid when all of a sudden I saw it. It must have been two foot long, a light brown and perhaps an inch and a half in diameter. It had seen me too and was slithering away rapidly. But not as rapidly as I sprinted in the opposite direction. I guess at our closest we were less than a yard apart.
I looked on the interweb and assured myself that it was not a poisonous snake that was within 15 yards of the Greek Hovel. But when I asked lovely Eleni and described it in detail she assured me that it was highly poisonous. Hmmm, I look forward to spending a few days with the Mrs in a luxury hotel in Kardamili. That is if she ever arrives.
With snakes rather on my mind as I biked into Kalamata guess what I spotted on the mountain road. Yes, you are correct. My third snake in three days. This one looked pretty mangled and was at the edge of the road but was rather large and an alarming green. My guess is that a car had alreadty dealt with it but I gave it a wide berth and did not hang around to examine it in detail.
In the end I could not get my head around a 200 cc bike with gears and so chickened out and hired another 150 cc automatic. But it felt great being on two wheels again as I whizzed up the mountain road from Kalamata to my home village of Kambos. It was warm but the wind was in my hair and as I swept down towards Kambos with the ruined castle looming in the background I just felt content and happy.
After dealing with the rat at the Greek hovel I headed into Kambos to do some work at my office, aka the Kourounis tavern. But for some reason they key in the bike was jammed and then broke. I could start the machine but not turn it off so I knew it had to be fixed or I’d have a dead battery by morning. Feeling really pissed off I headed back to Kalamata. I was so pissed off that I drove on the left hand side of the road.
Prang! At the corner by the petrol station I hit a van head on at about 20 km an hour. It all happened terribly fast but I sort of protected myself and ended up sprawling on the floor with my bike several yards down the road.
The driver was initially jolly good about it but the citizens of Kambos rushed out. The man from the snake repellent/hardware store, a chap whose name I cannot remember who drinks at Kourounis a little old lady were all at my side. I was told to sit down, given water to drink and the folks could not have been kinder.
After a while the the man whose name I cannot remember stick various bits of bike back on with sellotape I called the bike shop in Kalamata and John the bike man said he’d be there with a new bike in 30 minutes. I headed back to the Kourounis tavern where once again all sorts of folks fretted over me and waited with the driver of the van and his girlfriend. John was late. The chap got a bit testy and said we should head to see the Police at Kardamili police station, a building of which I do not have the happiest memories. I refused to budge knowing full well that the Kardamili Sergeant who lives in Kambos would be along soon. I’d rather play with a home referee.
After about ninety minutes the Police arrived. Despite all my neighbours saying that I was good to pay the 100-150 Euro it will need to mend the small issue his van has with its bumper, the van driver had called in the filth. Luckily at that point John the bike man turned up and showing diplomatic skills worthy of Kofi Annan managed to get the Police to leave and the van man to put a sock in it. By this time I was not exactly feeling warm feelings towards him given that the deal he agreed with John was the same as agreed with my neighbours ninety minutes previously.
I feel daft for driving on the wrong side. My father had a prang in Greece 35 years ago and ended up in Court where the Judge said “the professor was driving beautifully but just on the wrong side” as he let him off. I guess it runs in the family.
My leg is a bit bruised as is my arm. I imagine both will be stiff as a rod in the morning. But above all I just feel a bit stupid but also very much at home with the folks of Kambos who were again so kind and who have all shouted “Yass Tom” as they have wandered into the Kourounis taverna tonight. Thanks also to the kind folks who have wteeted their best wishes.
PS Before you ask. No I have not had a drink for two days!
By the end of the summer we were firm friends. He speaks English and is the life and soul of the Kourounis tavern run by the lovely Eleni. The young men call him Papou (grandfather) but respect him as a chap who can drink them under the table, happily do a Greek dance – after half a bottle of whisky – but also be deadly serious.
As the only English speaker bar Eleni he is a conduit for me to wider world. His main job is with an organic food form headquartered in Athens. But he can work remotely and one imagines that business is not exactly booming and so he has plenty of time for more important things such as growing olives.
You will remember that an olive tree is viewed as a being like a beautiful woman who must be treasured and cared for. And Nicho owns a 500 year old specimen which in Kambos terms is like saying that you have Cheryl Cole waiting for you at home lying in a state of undress on your bed.
The Mani has always been staunchly Royalist and so will vote heavily for New Democracy in the forthcoming election although I am sad to say that Golden Dawn – the Nazis - has prominent headquarters in the centre of Kalamata and will attract some support. But Nicho is a communist. He knows that I am not.
Greek communists, supporters of KKE, are not quite like the Marxists of Islington we might know. I’d say on the left of the UK Labour party but with a heavy dose of loathing the Americans thrown in. And the Germans of Course. The British are not to be trusted. Being Greek they obviously hate the Turks as well. In fact Greek Communists mistrust or hare pretty much everybody except other Greek Communists. But generally in a fairly charming manner.
And as Nicho knows well there are far more important things in life such as …olives. And as such meet papou beaming with pride at the olive factory as he brings in the first part of his harvest – his crop will be at least five times the size of mine, including the yield from the Cheryl Cole tree.
Nicho says that it is vital that I am back in February for the manuring of the trees as well as frigana burning. The departure date has now been agreed with the Mrs…seven weeks to go. And I have a mental note: take some Irish whiskey with me… a belated 59th Birthday present for the old leftie.
I arrived at Bristol Temple Meads for the 4.47 AM in good time but a bad mood. My driver at V cars had attempted to sting me with a £1.80 penalty for getting into his cab at 4.26 AM – six minutes after it was booked for. By the clock in his cab – which tallied with the clock on my phone - that meant he had managed the journey door to door in five minutes which is impossible. I queried him – as a V-Cars regular - and he relented at once. He was trying it on and knew that I knew that he was trying it on.
Instead of handing over a tenner and not asking for change as is my wont I dutifully counted out the now agreed £8.50 exactly and handed him a pocket full of change. He was grumpy and so was I.
Inside Temple Meads the ticket machines were today both not functioning properly. That is to say they were not taking cash. Since my battered old cashpoint card is not accepted by FGW ticket machines although it works in ATMs from Cork to Kalamata, I always use cash on the train. I wandered onto the concourse, explained and a big burly man said that it would be okay to pay on the train.
Sitting comfortable at 4.42 AM the “train manager” announces that this is a penalty fare zone” and that if any passenger does not have a ticket they must return to the machines in the ticket hall to buy one. The message is repeated in threatening tones.
But there’s a hole in my bucket dear Liza, dear Liza, there’s a hole in my fucking bucket why is it that the ticket machines at Bristol Temple Meads never ever work properly you bastards. And so I sit here tapping away awaiting my fate.
Postscript: The Ticket collector was most understanding and I seem to have escaped the “penalty fare zone.” FGW is not all bad.
I posted videos earlier showing the dreadful weather here in Kambos. That delayed the completion of the olive harvest as did the very Greek way we settle up accounts and so my return from the Greek hovel to England has been postponed. I should now be flying first thing Wednesday which means leaving Kambos tomorrow. Taking a bus from Kalamata to Athens and sleeping at a hotel by the airport for a crack of dawn flight.
I will leave Kambos with a cheque for 1779 Euro in my pocket thanks to the olive harvest. Obtaining the cheque was a bit of a kerfuffle. I fished out my Greek tax number – I am a loyal supporter of the Greek state in its hour of need – and wandered into the olive factory. Easy…
Hmmm. There then followed a long debate about how you spell my third Christian name – Zaccheus – in Greek. I had to fetch lovely Eleni and within minutes the click of her fingers saw the problem solved: Zaxios. Hmmm. Then to Kalamata to drop off my bike with John the bike man and to Olive pressing central HQ to pick up my cheque. Tomorrow I present it at the National Bank in Kalamata and I will head back to the UK with my pockets stuffed full of Euros.
And so there is one more night in Kambos. In need of a power source I find myself sitting at the bar next to the man in the pinkpolo shirt Vangelis. His name is actually Vagelis but I cannot go back and alter all my historic errors so he remains Vangelis.
On Saturday he showed me his hands, horny handed son of toil hands, brushed tough by years of tending to olives. “An olive tree is like a beautiful woman” he said in Greek and Nikko translated. Vangelis is concerned that my olive trees might get lonely and neglected in my absence. The Mrs says that I am neglecting her and the cats looking at my olive trees. Given that she works in the public sector I am sure that there is a compromise.
Pro tem the man in the pink shirt, now wearing his olive harvesting fatigues, and I work on. And then, sans bike, I walk home one last time in the dark, preparing to wade the, now not dry, river and clamber up snake hill for the last time until....
As I ride towards the deserted monastery/convent on my way back from Kambos to the Greek Hovel I can normally see lights twinkling on the far side of the valley where I live. On my hill there is the hovel. On the hill behind it and one fold higher as you get into the mountains is my neighbour Charon. And there are a few other houses on the next ridge along. But as I rode tonight there were no lights. I rather feared that for once lovely Eleni was wrong and that the electricity had not been fixed.
But at least it was a clear night. There is a full moon and so riding up snake hill and through the olive groves it was far lighter than in recent days when this part of the journey has been managed in pitch darkness with only the light on my bike to guide me.
As I arrived at the hovel I imagined a night stumbling around with only a torch to guide me. Inevitably the battery would have died. But the moonlight lit the path making my torch almost academic and I strode up the steps in a way that I would have not considered this summer when the wildlife diversity was not in hibernation. Flinging open the door, I flicked the switch and…
How could I have ever doubted Eleni? What a fool I was. The lights were on revealing the sort of mess a Mrs free existence generates.
The timing of my ride was fortuitous. For the vreki has started again and is now heavy. The dry river will no doubt be gushing in the morning. Looking up towards the mountains I can see that Charon now has his lights on but so heavy is the rain that they are blurred. Say what you like about the hovel but the roof - touch wood – is solid. Outside I can hear the rain beating down on the snake veranda but inside, it is dry and – with the fire started up – surprisingly warm.
However what this means for a ride into Kalamata tomorrow, for the last day of the olive harvest and for frigana burning is a matter of some concern.
I preface this all with some comments of Paddy Leigh Fermor in his book the Mani. Paddy has just been ripped off by a mule owner who had acted like a total bastard. Paddy reflects that this happens just now and again in Greece but is made all the more memorable because 99% of the time the hospitality of the people of Greece, their honesty and generosity is unmatched. Paddy puts it rather more eloquently but is correct. And with that preface…
The Mrs decided that during her stay with me this summer we should take some time out from the Greek hovel and enjoy a bit of luxury in Kardamili. We could not leave my guest alone at the hovel with the snakes and so she was booked into one hotel in the centre of town while the Mrs and I stayed at a wonderful place the Meletsina Village at the far end of the beach road which leads away north from the town
I cannot speak too highly of the Canadian Greek family who ran our place. It was there that Julie Despy and Ethan Hawke had stayed while filming “Before Midnight” in the town and it gets a thumbs up on all counts.
My guest was not so lucky. On the first night in town she took her laptop out to work in a restaurant and was promptly followed back to where she was staying, the Papanestoras Apartments run by the loathsome Valia Papanestoros.
After waiting for her to start snoring (which she does), those who had followed her entered her room – she had unwisely not locked her door – and stole her computer and wallet (later retrieved minus 70 euro in cash).
By 5 AM my guest was reporting this to Kardamili police who at once pointed the finger at their usual suspects…Albanians. Whilst this might seem a bit unfair I am afraid that 99% of burglaries in the Mani happen in the tourist towns and are indeed perpetrated by Albanian criminal gangs. In the non-tourist villages, burglaries are less common as the Maniots have less to steal and will have guns with which they will shoot you.
In the days that followed my guest, understandably felt angry – having lost much of the book she was writing – and violated. I wish I could say that the Old Bill bust a gut for her but I cannot.
At first the owner of the hotel was sympathetic and said that my guest could leave early and pay only for the days she had stayed. My guest took her up on that and flew back to London but because the hotel had no working credit card machine had to assure her that I would pay her in cash.
And so just a few hours after my guest left, I heard a loud knock and opened the door of my hotel room. The Mrs was sunning herself on the beach. Standing in front of me was the hotelier and an enormous and menacing looking man. She instantly demanded the full week’s payment in cash. I explained that she was not entitled to that, that she had agreed to accept 5 days payment and that I would pay later. The man stepped forward a bit. “Alright I shall come up to town later and pay, said I”
That evening I went to the Police and reported her for demanding money to which she was not entitled. They called her and she came in. She admitted that the booking had only been for six days but insisted that my guest was lying in saying she only had to pay for five. Let us not forget this woman ran an establishment where burglars can just walk around stealing and shows no contrition for that.
I agreed – simply for the sake of a quiet life – to pay the six days and said I would pay tomorrow evening. The Policeman told her to agree and she did.
As I was preparing to head into town the next evening to go to an ATM and collect the cash to pay this woman a policeman arrived at our hotel. Before I knew what was happening I was being bundled into a Police car and taken to the Station. I was not allowed to go collect my cigarettes or phone but the Mrs ran and got them and passed them to me as the Policeman pushed me into the car.
While my wife managed to get lift into town to get cash, I was driven off in the Police car. On the way the Sergeant stopped for a chat with his mate. He then passed the vile hotelier Valia who was stuffing her over-tanned face at a restaurant with her old crone of a mother and two kids. The policeman pulled the car over and they joked and laughed with her in Greek. I sat in the back feeling rather despondent and a bit humiliated as folks walked past looking at the “criminal” being led away.
I was bundled out of the car and pushed into the station. There was one other cop here, a man looking a bit like the nasty gay character on Corrie (Tod), who looked hugely embarrassed as the Sergeant interrogated me and demanded I get documentation to him to prove who I was,. My passport was with John the bike man in Kalamata but he faxed over a copy and the Mrs arrived with 360 Euro. At that point the vile Valia was phoned on her mobile by her pal the Sergeant. She trotted up took her money and said “have a nice trip home”
“Oh no, I’m not a tourist, I am a Greek resident” I piped up. “You will be seeing me again.” That did not seem to make her terribly happy at all and she stormed off. She wants to rip off tourists, demanding cash to which she is not entitle, with menace, and to use her pal in the Police to enforce her actions in the knowledge that she will never see her victims again and there are always new folks to rip off next year. I guess that I don’t fit the bill.
Eventually the Sergeant said to me “Get out!! And so the Mrs and I walked the one mile back to our hotel contemplating how events had unfolded. Paddy Leigh Fermor was right about the Greeks. This one bad experience of the summer only served as a reminder of how wonderful everyone else is.
For my guest and I, this experience has tainted our feelings towards Kardamili. I now effectively boycott the town, preferring to go to the ATM in Kalamata and everything else I can do in Kambos. I know this is a bit unfair and also self-destructive. For Kardamili is a lovely town as tourist towns go.. The buildings are wonderful. As you head up the hill towards Stoupa the first restaurant on your right is the best “ordinary fish restaurant” in the region and has amazing views over the sea and a little harbour.
The Mrs, who is nicer and more forgiving than I, insists that we must visit again to purge our bad memories. I have no gripe with the people of the town who are overwhelmingly great folk. Even the Police station is staffed largely by good men, notably the chap who looks like the nasty gay in Corrie and also another Sergeant who is a Kambos resident, a regular at the Kourounis taverna and a good man. Had he been around that evening I am in no doubt that stern words would have been had with his colleague. Bullying tourists is one thing, but your neighbours? That is a whole different ball game.
Go to Kardamili. Have a wonderful time. However be warned, do not under any circumstances do business with Valia or stay at the Papanestoras Apartments. The Mani has a tradition of blood feuds, quarrels that can go on for generations. Valia you have started such a feud. You will regret it as your infamy spreads across the internet.
Back in the 1960s my uncle visited the Mani on his first honeymoon. Oddly he and his wife were joined by another couple and within months his wife had run off with the other man. That is an aside. It took my uncle more than two days to get from Athens to the Mani so remote and cut off was the region.
Here in Kambos the dirt track to Kardamili became a road back in 1965 (two years after that fateful honeymoon), roads south from there were built later. The man who brought this peninsular to the attention of the wider world was Paddy Leigh Fermor, a truly amazing man once described as a mixture of Indiana Jones, James Bond and Gerald Durrell.
Though incredibly clever, Paddy was no academic and so after being expelled from school (issues with a young lady) in 1933 he walked through Europe to Greece. Along the way he noticed that something was not quite right in Germany. When war broken out he signed up immediately and was sent into Greece since he spoke the language fluently. His most heroic exploit was in Crete where – with the partisans – he captured a German general on the North of the island and transported him across Crete to the South where he was lifted off by British Destroyer. The film, based on the episode, has Leigh Fermor played by Dirk Bogarde
In the war Paddy’s code name was Michalis. After the war he stayed on in Greece fighting with the Royalists in the Civil war. He refers to this in his two classic books on Greece The Mani and Roumeli. The latter is about Northern Greece, the area about which my father writes and so on the only Winnifrith family holiday to Greece which I did not go on, there was a long visit to Paddy’s house.
The Mani is part history but draws on a walk that Paddy and his wife undertook through the peninsular in the early 1950s. At that stage walking was what you did. There were no roads. To get down the peninsular it was simpler to travel by boat.
Paddy was rather rude about Kambos, the second village on his trek. He cannot hide how dull he finds it and how glad he is to leave. On the other hand he cannot hide how he falls in love with Kardamili the moment he spots it and it was there that he built a house. The locals all knew him as Michalis. A social fellow he smoked 80 a day, drank more than his fair share of ouzo and though married retained a lifelong interest in les femmes.
The Mrs and I fell in love with Kardamili too, as we arrived there one late summer evening. Having no real beach it has been spared the tourist plague and ribbon development of Stoupa a few miles down the coast. But it is a town and for reasons that I will discuss later our experience there was not entirely happy. Its buildings, Venetian and onwards are stunning and it has a charm of its own. If I had to live in a town here it would be Kardamili.
But it has tourists and that changes the nature of any place. Kambos has no tourists. We are just a village in the road between Kalamata and Kardamili. There are some charming old stone houses on the back streets but no-one could say that Kambos is picturesque. But it is Greek. Or rather it is Maniot. Life here has not changed in the way that it has in the towns and villages by the sea. There is no crime – other than the murders – folks all own olives and will be working at least some of the time on the land. There is no need to learn English and they look after their own. In the hills around Kambos there are wonderful places to visit, to walk to for there is no other way to get there.
The Mrs and I first met lovely Susan Shimmin from the Real Mani in Kambos – at Eleni’s taverna – as it was a half-way point between Kalamata and Kardamili. Susan lives one village away in Stavrapoula. Whilst we were charmed from the first moment by the friendliness of Eleni and her husband Nikos, we were simply passing through as Paddy did back in 1952. Kambos did not grab us. We did not fall in love with it on sight.
We fell in love with the Greek Hovel, notwithstanding meeting a snake on our first visit. But Kambos has grown on the Mrs. It entranced my guest this summer who is keen to return to a place where she is remembered fondly. And I feel at home here. It took a while. Falling off my bike at 3 MPH in front of the Korounis taverna helped. Struggling, but publicly succeeding in tackling the frigana has demonstrated that I am not just a tourist. My commitment to come back for the Olive harvest and to work on it rather than just supervise Foti is clear.
Next Spring, work starts on formally rebuilding the Greek hovel. I had a good meeting with Eleni (that is Eleni the architect daughter of lovely Susan and a woman who has to be the biggest snake coward in the whole of Greece, not lovely Eleni from Kambos) on Monday. By next summer there should be at least one room that the Mrs deems habitable and she too has fallen in love with this place. So as soon as UK-Investor show is out of the way….
For any number of reasons I have to regard Paddy Leigh Fermor as a total superstar. But I wonder if he was around today might he take a rather more charitable view of my home village of Kambos.
I had planned to stay sober until my return but I fear that I have been led astray. I blame OTE Telecom. I still cannot get on the interwebby at The Greek Hovel so spent all Sunday working from the Kouronis taverna in Kambos, run by lovely Eleni. At about 10 O’clock Greek Time I was done writing and asked for my bill. But instead I was summoned to the bar and asked to sit with four men.
Either side of me were two Gentlemen who spoke English. The younger (George) was a relative newcomer to the area, the elder (Nikos) is a greying stocky man with a walrus moustache. It was he who had cross words with me on my second day here when I supported the Krauts rather than the Argies in the football. Since then we have exchanged nothing but pleasantries. Behind Nikos was the man in the pink polo shirt (Vangelis) and behind George was another George, a Greek only speaking builder.
I was told “it is not will you have a drink but what are you drinking”. They were on the hard stuff and so I opted for ouzo. Nikos told me that they had decided they needed to know me better as I was now their neighbour.
They refused to let me pay and four hours later I was rather the worse for wear. Nikos was concerned about me biking home. He offered to drive me several times but since he was also a tad unsteady on his feet I declined and made it back to the hovel falling off only once as my bike meandered across the track at five miles an hour.
Poor Niko (husband of Eleni) had to pour round after round, happy in the knowledge that he had to get up at 5.30 AM to go to the fruit market in Kalamata.
The conversation was wide ranging. I told them my father wrote books on Greece, spoke Greek and drank more than me. They said they wanted him to come next summer not me. They asked how they could help and what I did. So I explained about the writing and mentioned the death threats. Not a problem. If any strangers come to Kambos and ask for me “We will shoot them..but only if you want us to.”
We talked olives. Nikos recollected planting trees with his father when he was ten and now they stand at the heart of his fields. Actually he is marketing manager for a Cretan organic food company headquartered in Athens. But since the downturn there is not much demand so he is back in Kambos with his friends and his olives, doing a bit of work by phone and on the web.
The four men will be the winter crew. In the summer all sorts of folks come here to visit friends and relatives. As winter draws in they disappear. And so by the time of the Olive harvest this will be the hard core drinking crew at Eleni’s. Vangelis will cook a celebrator meal of wild birds with his own wine when my harvest is done. I said that I’d bring a Christmas pudding as my contribution and started to try to explain but in the end just said it tastes great and has lots of alcohol in it. That seemed to convince them all.
We talked snakes. Apparently the answer is to get a cat as cats eat snakes. I tried to picture my fat three legged cat Oakley engaged in mortal combat with a snake and found it hard to imagine. Oakley regards having to walk downstairs as strenuous exercise but apparently his Greek cousins are made of sterner stuff. And so maybe the Hovel, when completely renovated will need a cat. Oakley, do you have your passport ready?
I felt dreadful this morning and on arriving at the Kouronis taverna was met with a knowing smile by a laughing Eleni and her mother in law Poppy. “Crazy Greek men” she said as I ordered eggs and toast and started mainlining orange juice.
Three of the e crazy Greek men are again at Kouronis tonight as I write. They are not drinking. Just to show them that I’m not a total pansy I am struggling to down a glass f the local cheeky rose.
Tomorrow I go back on the wagon and will make amends for a poor 24 hours on the diet front with a full day in the fields frigana cutting. Writing will be limited.
It is a twenty five minute walk from the Greek Hovel down snake hill to the spring and up past the deserted monastery and a stretch of olive groves to the village of Kambos. But it is where my nearest neighbours live and I now know enough folks to say yassas to many of them as I bike in, although no-one other than wonderful Eleni, the taverna owner speaks any English. One of the joys of Kambos is that absolutely nothing ever happens there. Me falling off my motorbike at 3 MPH in front of Eleni’s taverna was the big news of the summer. That was until we had the murders.
The first I heard about was when I was walking back from Kambos one day having carried my strimmer into town to get it mended. Eight foot long and weighing more than a bit I was unusually sweaty when I arrived. And a bit irked as well as embarrassed when the nice man at the Garden shop – where I buy my snake repellent kit - fixed what I had thought was a terminal problem in about ten seconds.
And so I started to wander home towards the monastery, shifting the strimmer from side to side as it bit into my shoulders. I felt a bit like the fat guy in WW2 movies who is always made to carry the heavy machine gun. Why me? And then suddenly a car pulled up sharply alongside my heaving sweating body. The window rolled down and a woman with too much make up on who looked like she drank and smoke too much gabbled at me in Greek. Her driver, an unshaven man, who also looked as if he had been out on the lash the night before, stared at me. “I am sorry I do not speak Greek” I said, hoping that they understood.
The woman answered in good English “we are journalists from Athens do you know where the bodies are?” My mind flashed back to the 50th Birthday Party of Paul Raymond’s son Howard when a thoroughly hammered tabloid hackette who Howard had shagged many years previously told me with enormous pride her greatest tales of door stepping the relatives of those who had just died. She was Glenda Slag of Private Eye fame. And now I was meeting her Greek equivalent.
I directed her to wonderful Eleni who knows everything and wandered on pondering who these bodies were.
That evening I was naturally enough sitting in Eleni’s tavern and oddly enough the news (in Greek) was showing pictures of Kambos. I seems that two body builders from Kalamata had been lured into the mountains for failing to deliver 800 Euro of steroids and shot. Their bodies had been dumped over an old bridge across a ravine a few miles outside of town.
The murderers were a young man from Kalamata and his mate from Kambos. Indeed the mate lived two doors down from Eleni’s and no doubt I had brushed past him on many occasions.
Since you need to show your passport to get a mobile phone in Greece and since the Government shows an efficiency not normally associated with Greece in tracking all calls it had taken the Police only a few hours to check the last texts received by the dead men and to arrest the assailants. The murderers were generally agreed not to be the brightest sparks in the Universe had left their bloodied clothes in the garbage waiting for the dustmen. They did not cover their tracks well and had quickly ‘fessed up to their crimes.
In the old days of the Mani a boy when born was known as “ a gun” because by the time he was 12 he was able to fight in the blood feuds that dominated this region. The only time blood feuds were halted was when the Maniots joined together to fight someone they hated even more than their neighbours, that is to say the evil Turks.
In a sense the gun culture survives but only for hunting and just in case the Turks try it on again. I am considered a little eccentric in that I do not own one. Yet. More or less everybody else has one and often two in case of emergencies. That is normal. But the murderer from Kambos appeared to own twenty guns. It is generally agreed that this was a sign that he was not quite “all there.”
Guns do not kill people. People kill people. Here in the Mani murders are incredibly rare. Until a few weeks ago, Kambos has not seen a violent death since the Civil war in the 1940s. Robberies are also very rare in truly Greek villages since if you break into a house owned by a Greek you might get shot. If you are a member of the burgling community – or as they call them here, an Albanian – you rob a summer home owned by a Northern European in somewhere like Stoupa as they will be richer than a Greek and will not own a gun.
After about a day the excitement died down. We do not speak about the incident in Kambos. For all the bloody history of this region the folks here are rather embarrassed that one of their own has gone so badly off the rails, has got mixed up in drugs and murder and will not be leaving prison until he is an old man. I suppose when the trial happens folks will talk again but generally it is something the people want to forget.
Snakes aside, I have never felt safer or more secure than I do here. Kambos is a haven where folks look after each other and look out for each other. The double murder does not change that.
I am a nervous traveller at the best of times. But right now the thought of flying into London really scares me. The Mrs left today. I had to drive her half way across the Peloponnese so that she could catch a ferry to Zakynthos to get a direct flight to Bristol. But it was cheaper than a flight from Kalamata, my local airport here in the Mani, and her plane did not land at Gatwick.
Bristol gets mostly domestic, Western European and holiday flights. The Mrs can pick me up from the airport and the passport line is not three hours long.
Gatwick is a schlepp of a bus/train trek away from Bristol and I am convinced that my flight will land just between one directly in from Sierra Leone and another from Turkey packed with British born men with beards who have just spent a few months in Syria and Northern Iraq. I thus face being stuck in the passport queue with a mixture of returning Jihadists - just looking for a chap with an Israeli army T-shirt on to behead - and highly contagious Ebola virus carriers.
It is s 35 minute cab ride from The Greek Hovel to Kalamata. It is an additional five hour bus, taxi, ferry, taxi ride to Zakynthos. But the idea is growing on me.
PS The Mrs suggests that just in case there are any Quindell Moron type jihadists reading this I should not publicise my final travel plans until I have landed. As ever she is a wise woman.
You might think if you read Quindell Bulletin Boards that I have no admirers at all. But I can reveal that without doubt I now have one really great fan. There may be more but there is one at least.
I bought it in Kalamata today and it’s now blowing cool air over me as I write. Having to seal every last crack in the Greek hovel to keep out the wildlife had made it stiflingly hot at night. But no more…
I know that it is not very environmentally friendly. This place is now powering four devices at once. But it is blissful.
I had planned to be the owner of a 24 year old jeep today. I thought I had my paperwork in order as I trotted along to Kardimili police station to get my residents permit. Sadly not. I did not have that blue card which means that I am entitled to go into the execution rooms – that is to say Greek hospitals – should I fall sick.
If I do fall sick I am heading back to London. I may be ill but I do not want a minor sickness o turn into automatic death – I will take my chances with the NHS thank you. And as such I saw no reason to have this EI imposed commie state health care civil liberties infringing ID card. But now I do. One has been ordered in the UK and will be fedexed out.
And that left me sans transport. Being stuck in the hovel three miles from the nearest human being without transport struck me as imprudent but horror of all horrors there was not one car to rent in the whole of Kalamata. Hmmmm. Aged 46 ½ I have never ridden a motorbike in my life. But what better place to learn than here.
Hairpin bends, mountain roads, every driver either insane (Greek) or drunk (Northern European). What could be better?
And so I have rented a 100 cc machine (above) and my first ride was from Kalamata back to the hovel. You think of the wind blowing through your hair in beating sun. Think again. I am the only person in Greece wearing a helmet. And as it happened about three miles outside Kalamata a thunderstorm started.
By the time I reached the long and winding road to the hovel it was almost a river. Luckily it seems that I am Steve McQueen from The Great Escape and I managed it almost perfectly.
This three months was meant to be about challenging myself to do things I have never done before. To refresh and recharge and stretch myself. As such I regard today as a bit of a frigging triumph. I may not be the greatest cyclist in the world but I shall get better.
As I head off to Kambos for a celebratory Greek salad and diet coke I am after two weeks, two inches thinner around the waste, I have made the hovel habitable and I have done something I never planned on doing.
Tomorrow, I finish the eco-loo, start on creating the humanure system and catch up on some writing. After a bit of a down day yesterday, it is game on!
Below pictures of the snake veranda and the Mountains behind showing, I hope, how hard it was raining. It is now bright and sunny and the roads will be drying ready for me to venture out once more.
Easter Sunday was spent with the in-laws of the Mrs who live in a tiny village south of Kalamata and naturally for lunch (for 16 of us) it was goat. With vegetables aplenty and an amazing lentil and feta salad it was a true feast. But at the centre of it all was goat.
So here is a before shot….all say aaaaaaagh.
Then some Albanians are called in to “do the deed” and the next step is…
Yes those are, if you look closely, its teeth.
And after it has been hacked into six or seven chunks it is ready to serve.
Having been kept moist throughout the roasting with the juice from lemons the size of croquet balls, it was fantastic.
— Tom Winnifrith
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