As you may have gathered Paddy Leigh Fermor is a bit of a hero of mine although I am the only member of my family never to have met him. It is because of him that Joshua was given his middle name. His house in Kardamili has been under renovation for a number of years and although entrance is impossible I popped down to see it the other day and peaked over the wall, as you can see below.
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.
This is just to make my pal Evil Knievil jealous. I found myself in Kardamili, Islington on Sea, to use an ATM and to buy Evil a very superior bottle of Greek red wine, to show the old wine snob that not everything produced here tastes of mouth-wash. far from it.
With a child unfiendly beach Kardamili does not attract families but older punters nearly all of them impeccably middle class. As such, the start of school has made not that much difference, it was still fairly busy as I arrived at nine. Cash and wine secured I headed to one of the cheaper, less ornate establishments just off the main square.
As ever. my poison is ouzo but as a real contrast to Miranda's up here in Kambos my food was a delightful salmon salad. Note the cracking presentation. This is not how one imagines food in Greece but this is Islington-sur-Mer after all.
George Cawkwell is the greatest living scholar on the subject of ancient Greece. His son, my friend, the philistine Simon, aka Evil Knievil. refuses to come to the Hellenic Republic on the grounds that the wine is all awful. He is wrong and I intend to prove it to him and lure him out here to open up his mind. My father attended George's lectures so it is my duty to educate Simon.
Thus I headed down to Kardamili, Islington-sur-mer, where a German married to the sister-in-law of lovely Eleni and who lives in Kambos, runs a shop selling fine wines and olive oils. The fellow spends a good amount of time in places such as London, which he loves, promoting his wares and thinks I am very peculiar in saying how much I loathe the English capital and also in preferring a simple Kambos life to the elegance of Kardamili. I try to say of the world he craves "been there done it" but he still regards me as odd.
Anyhow I popped in and said that I have a friend who is a total wine snob and thinks all Greek wines taste of piss and what could I buy to start to educate this poor chap. Evil had expressed a preference for a red and so I will, somehow, get to him this full bodied Syrah from the Corinth area. Right now it resides in the Greek Hovel.
The Mrs and I got married five years ago today. I salute her patience, tolerance and good humour in lasting half a decade. I am a lucky man. And, in fact, very lucky for we are today back up at the Greek Hovel and she took me and Joshua for an anniversary lunch at Miranda's in Kambos as you can see below.
Two beers for me, two glasses of wine for her, a plate of spinach and beans ( amazing) to share, chicken and pasta for her (look at the size of that chicken leg!), oven banked pork and spuds for me. We each gave some to Joshua and had more than enough for ourselves. Total cost - 18 Euro. Quite amazing.
Tonight I pay for a rather more expensive meal at a fish restaurant in Kardamili followed by wine tasting at a fine wines bar run by lovely Eleni's brother in law, a kraut living in Kambos. But I bet the food will not be as good as that at Miranda's.
As you may know, the house my hero, Paddy Leigh Fermor, built in Kardamili is being renovated as some sort of writer's retreat. The area is taped off with do not enter signs and others warning of "danger" but would paddy have been put off? Of course not. I nipped up the path at the side of the house and snapped a few photos as you can see below.
The ruined Frankish castle of Zarnata sits on top of the hill overlooking Kambos and on its nearer side the village of Stavropiglio. I often sit staring up at it, in awe at the largely still standing outer wall which threads its way around the hill, when enjoying an ouzo in Miranda's or from the tables outside the Kourounis taverna run by lovely Eleni. In an attempt to inject a bit of culture to the holiday of Godless daughter Olaf, I led the family on a trek up that hill yesterday, with young Joshua on my back.
If you approach from the Stavropiglio side you are much of the way up already. But the final climb is a rough one with the steep track littered with loose stones. With my son and heir on my back, as you can see below, it was a bit of a slog. The castle is very much a ruin but the small church next door is well preserved but locked so, sadly for Olaf, we could not go inside. Heaven only knows which saint it is dedicated to, I could not make out the sign - perhaps a reader can assist?
As you can see, the views down to Kambos are spectacular. In the second panoramic shot you can just about make out the Greek Hovel if you look closely.
As we left the property and headed back to Stavropiglio I noted the prickly pear bush pictured. I did not notice that i had brushed a pear but by the time we were back at the car a cluster of tiny needles had started to press through my shirt and was causing real pain to my right arm. We drove onto Kardamili with me half wearing a shirt and half Stoupa (topless) where the Mrs bought me a replacement T-shirt before I headed out in public.
Okay, I am biased, but surely you would agree that my son, two in just over three week's time, is pretty good looking. Natch, it goes without saying that he takes after his mum, who sneaks into the first photo. Here he is borrowing her hat at a posh restaurant in Kardamil,i as we took time out from the Greek Hovel to allow daughter Olaf to go and breathe the same elitist air as her Islington kith and kin who tend to swamp this particular town.
If you head to a seaside settlement in the Mani right now whether it be Islington-sur-Mer (kardamili) or the Costa-del-Stoupa they will be packed with people. Head there in the winter and they are semi-deserted. Up here in the lower reaches of the Taygetos mountains, in unfashionable old Kambos, the population barely changes throughout the year. The faces I see when harvesting olives in November are, essentially, those I see now in the burning heat of August.
But most of the folks in Kambos are all year rounders. My first stop in the village was naturally at one of the two hardware stores to stock up on snake repellent canisters and to teat myself to a new saw and axe as my old ones appear to have been lost in the building works.
My olive trees are pretty clean having been thoroughly pruned in May and re-pruned in June but the rain of July has seen new sprouts emerging and so a re-cleaning exercise is called for and is now underway. 250 trees – almost for weeks so ten a day will do me fine. Yesterday I did twelve but even early in the morning it is jolly hot and so I’m not planning to spend that long each day in the snake-fields.
The second person I met was the ageing mother-in-law of lovely Eleni. I was wandering down the back street that leads from the Church and where I park my car, down towards the main street and there was the old lady painting white the pavement outside her house and the kerb.
In Ulster if you are a loyalist you paint the kerb red white and blue, a Fenian paints the kerb orange, white and green and you make a statement. In Greece all kerbs are painted white making the statement “We Greeks may have buggered it all up over the pat decade but we are calm and at peace and by the way we invented democracy, literature and philosophy three thousand years ago when you were all living in trees and caves. PS Glad to see Turkey buggering it up too.”
And so I greeted her and she greeted me. Tikanis, Cala, etc. She asked how old Joshua was and I replied “Theo”. I thought of trying to explain that he and the Mrs would arrive soon but given that my Greek is as non existent as her English thought better of it. Anyhow it was a warm greeting. And so I wandered on. The village square is packed in the evening with families as well as the normal old men chatting, drinking and eating at either Kourounis or at Miranda’s. trade is roaring. They are all familiar faces: the shepherds, the goat herder, Vangelis in his pink shirts, all the other m en who will all be called George, Nicho or Vangelis but whose names I cannot quite remember. It will be one of the three. Tikanis, Cala, Yas, Tom. I shake hands with many of them.
As ever I reflect on how few folks in Bristol I know well enough to greet them with a warm handshake. Come the weekend the Mrs who speaks some Greek pitches up. I’m not sure that will aid the conversation greatly but, of course, Joshua melts all hearts and builds bridges at once.
Up at the hovel after midnight there was another familiar face spotted. You may remember that three or four years ago I befriended a small black and white kitten up here by giving it milk. It has been a periodic pleasure in subsequent years to see my old friend, now a large cat, striding purposefully across the land. Cats eat rats and snakes and as such he, or she, is most welcome here.
My room being a tad stuffy I ventured outside shining my torch ahead of me to ensure that I had no unexpected encounters. There is a slightly cooling breeze and I wanted to catch a bit of it before heading off to sleep. If I hear a noise anywhere I shine my torch in the right direction hoping to spot what approaches. I saw a brief bit of black and white but the cat darted behind a tree. I kept the torch on that tree some 30 yards away and after a short while my friend broke cover and walked, with no sense of panic, off towards the snake fields. Happy hunting comrade cat.
When building his house at Kardamili, 20 miles down the road from the Greek Hovel, all round superhero Paddy Leigh Fermor decided that he needed to go back to England for some literary business. On his return, some months later, he decided that the builders, though following plans, were building his house the wrong way round. Thus he instructed them to tear it down and start again.
I arrived at the Greek Hovel this morning to meet George the Architect and to inspect work on the bat room. The builders had been hard at work creating a bathroom space. Quelle horreur! I suppose it is what was in the plans but it was not what I wanted. Bricks rather than stone had been used and the walled off area was enormous devouring far too much space in what will be my residence this summer while the rest of the eco-palace is completed.
All change. George got out his tape measure and we have agreed that there will be a small room for the eco-loo with a sliding wooden door. Next to it will be a semi-open plan shower with an external wall just five foot high to keep the water in but and spare the modesty of whoever is using it. Outside that there will be a sink with storage space. The footprint of the bathroom area has been slashed by almost a half and my bolt-hole will feel all the bigger at the end of it.
The builders were, naturally, delighted as they started to tear down their work. There is an extra day and a half of labouring in it for them. Once again I am doing my little bit for the Greek economy.
The good news is that we are still under budget even with this minor hiccup since the old house was in marginally better shape than George had feared. The even better news is that the bat room will be finished and snake secured by mid April. The rest of the hovel will be finished and ready for fit out by August or September which I take to mean Christmas.
Perhaps 2018 guests might have to think about 2019 now but as I wandered around with George we started to discus where beds will go and where power switches will be situated. We have redesigned the rat room bathroom on the hoof to take out a shower and create more space, and additional bookshelves. I can, at last, really feel my retirement home starting to take shape.
George the architect is a modernist. I am a traditionalist. And thus at every stage of the design and reconstruction of the Greek Hovel he has an idea, my heart sinks, we discuss it and we reach my conclusion. And so last week we took a trip to a windows, shutters and door factory in the neighbouring village. I say factory, it was a big shed with - as far as I could see - the boss and just one employee.
The matter of shutters was not up for dispute. The Mrs had sent over a photo of her favoured - traditional - design. George tried to suggest we look at newer ways which...I cut him off. The Mrs has decreed, we don't argue. So that was settled. Doors were also settled in that we had sent photos of the big external door at Paddy Leigh Fermor's house down the road in Kardamili. Take away the grill and we are there. Again. Don't argue with the Mrs.
So we entered the factory and George and the boss took us over to a demonstration window frame which was clearly of the modern style. Complex machinery allowed the windows to tilt open as well as be flung open to let in the snakes. I let George and the boss gabble away for a while. I was distracted by the two factory cats and a small kitten which was playing happily.
After a few minutes George and the boss looked at me. I know that the window is expensive, modern and that when the complex joints and bolts break it will cost an arm and a leg to get a little man out from Kalamata to mend it, especially as he will have to order in new parts from Germany which will take weeks. Besides which our house was first built in 1924 not 2014. So I said no and looked at the windows of the factory itself, old style and simple. The message got through.
So we moved on to discuss which wood we should use and after that I looked at the big bags of sawdust piling up and asked "what do you do with that - can I buy it from you?" The man looked puzzled, he just gives the dust away to shepherds for winter bedding for their flocks. Of course he'd be delighted to help but he still looked confused.
George had to explain to him about how you use sawdust with an eco-loo. Not speaking Greek I'm not sure into how much detail he went. But the man nodded and understood. Another problem resolved.
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...
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.
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.
The shock is for any google pervs out there who have alighted on this page and though the photos are wonderful will be rather disappointed by their nature, The Miranda's I refer to is, of course, the restaurant next to the Kourounis taverna on the square where the road through Kambos makes a sharp right angle as it heads off to Kardamili.
Miranda's boasts a wide menu but in fact normally has one dish a day. But the food is awesome and so cheap. And thus for 8 Euro I enjoyed a sort of beef burger containing some cheese and also very sharp and spicy peppers. Okay, that is high on calories but I had done several hours of manual labour up at the Greek Hovel. The point for a type 2 diabetic like myself is that it was carb free. Moreover I shared this with a cat which does not really belong to Miranda's but just wanders around begging as Greek cats do. Aaaah what a sweet pussy.
To accompany that there was a vegetable side dish: peppers, zucchini and a few slices of potato which I ignored all topped with local feta. Just wonderful.
I have not even bothered to test my blood sugar levels for the past few days. I know they are up. I can feel a couple of the symptoms of type 2 diabetes making a minor comeback. Last night, for instance, I felt the need to piss several times. Net result: no sleep. And it is all so predictable. I could kick myself. Or certain others.
The theory was simple. Come to Greece and shock my body into beating back the diabetes. I have done it before. I know what to do. It means physical workouts every day either in a gym or up at the Greek hovel or both. It means no booze. It means no stress at all. And it means a limited and largely carb free calorie intake with meals at regular times. And it worked gloriously until last Saturday, eight days ago. At that point I was getting blood sugar readings that were in the "normal range" for diabetics. And I was happy. I was on track to end the shock treatment and be able to just "manage my way" to an even better score and that could even happen in the UK.
But eight days ago my wife, eight month old son and the parents of the Mrs arrived. We transferred to a base in Kardamili, a town that I do not really like and the routine went out of the window. I have spent one day and a couple of short sessions up at the hovel in the past eight days but my exercise levels have fallen off a cliff. Other folks just could not be abandoned and no-one other than I wants to spend any real time at the hovel.
Then there is the food. The Mrs, quite rightly, points out that I lambast fat welfare junkies who demand State aid to stop being so fat, because what you put into your own body is your own choice. However, the reason that I have type 2 diabetes is that I do not have great will power when it comes to food or drink. Nobody is perfect and I am far from perfect and this is one of my many weaknesses.
If I had will power I would not be in this mess to start with. Surely she understands that?
Meals are now communal. My mother-in-law, who I should stress has a heart of gold, fusses about ordering, asking for things that are not on the menu and then insulting waiters later on. The end result is that there is invariably too much food on the table but also long delays for the meal proper during which time, like Joshua, I just eat bread. I have it with oil, Joshua likes it plain. Wine is ordered for the table and I end up having just one glass.
The drinking is in fact worse than that. My mother-in-law and my dear father have a few things in common. Their faith ( laudable) but also a staunch political mindset made only possible by living in a post fact era. My mother in law is entitled to state that the pound has fallen by 25% since June 23rd 2016 ( it is down by 2% actually) and that post Brexit the UK will not be allowed to export to anywhere in the world at all. I am sure my father would love to hear it and they could remoan away together. But I do know a bit about economics and happen to know this is not true. But there is an insistence this is fact.
Yesterday evening I hit the ouzo in response. I had three small measures.
That may not sound like a lot but ten days ago I was on one unit of alcohol a week. Now it is 3 or 4 a day. The Mrs says "we are on holiday" as if it does not matter. She does not have type 2 diabetes which was "raging off the scale" just weeks ago. I do. She is not being told by her GP that there is a good chance that she will be dead within five years. I am.
So for me it bloody well does matter as I try to explain. I was doing a great job of shocking my body back into shape and avoiding stress so that I had a better than evens chance of making it to 55 but the past week has seen a dramatic reversal. Forget the mother-in-law (a committed Labour supporter) insisting that, whatever the Mrs and I believe, Joshua must go to a fee paying school, I am not going to be alive to make that decision, the way things are going.
This afternoon we part company for a couple of days. I head back to Kalamata while the others stay here in Koroni. I intend to restart shock therapy and when we all meet again I have asked the Mrs if she minds if I eat alone. That did not go down well.
Next weekend there is the return to Britain. I am there for just a few days but am meant to be seeing my GP to discuss my blood sugar levels, medication and how things are going. He is worried that I do not take my diabetes seriously. I think perhaps the Mrs should come with me so she understands why the past week has been such a total bloody disaster for me. I take the prospect of having a heart attack at 52 all too seriously and am trying my hardest to avoid that in a way that I can achieve.
As we walked out of the restuarant last night here in Kardamili, my eight month old son Joshua made eye contact with two ladies who, I guess, were about a decade younger than I am. He started smiling, they started smiling and soon conversation broke out. Joshua is a great ice-breaker whether you want him to be or not.
It turns out that one of the two, who were British, pops over to Kardamili several times a year for four or five day breaks, long weekends. She just loves the place. She asked about us and why we were here. We mentioned the Greek hovel and our family connections with Greece.
The lady knew Kambos. And shared in our joy that after three years we are finally building. It is exciting. But conscious that Joshua needed to get to bed and we needed to keep an eye on the mother in law before she insulted any more of the locals, I attempted a parting gambit "See you in the Kourounis taverna in Kambos, one day maybe". It worked as a way for us to separate and head home but I'm kicking myself this morning.
One of the joys of Kambos is that there are no other Brits in town. A few pop in from neighbouring villages and a couple of them do live up to the stereotype of the gin sozzled, or beer sozzled, ex pat. Lobster red, Daily Mail reading old bores, bleating about how England has gone to the dogs & how the natives out here cannot organise a piss up in an ouzo factory. But generally that sort of person is rarely seen in Kambos. And it is not me!
I rarely drink anything at lovely Eleni's taverna these days. Its coffee and a Greek salad for me. I avoid hanging out with the Brits instead chatting, if I talk at all, with a few worlds of broken Greek on my part and a few words of broken English on theirs, to my fellow residents of Kambos. I am kicking myself for giving the impression that I behave otherwise.
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.
As one heads down the Mani towards Kardamili, the village one on from Kambos is Stavropigio. It has just a few more Brits than Kambos as it is, objectively, a bit prettier. I am thus happy to stay in plain old Kambos. As one leaves our neighbouring village a small turning off the main road to the right is the old road to Kardamili. There is now no practical reason at all to use this road and more or less no-one does.
There will be a few souls like me who drive along to go fishing. It is a steep and winding descent as we start our journey at c350 metres above sea level. The road, in its early stages, is littered with shotgun cases so I guess that in the season the locals head here to blast away little birds, a pointless activity I find hard to understand. There are almost no houses on the road after the first half a mile and those that are there lie abandoned. There is evidence that the olive trees here were harvested, last year's branch cuttings and the leaves abandoned after twigs were threshed, lie by the side of the road. But it is hard to see how anyone uses it more than once a week.
It is the sort of place that can be left to the snakes and to nature. But this is Greece which is, as you know, bankrupt. So the photos below offer a lesson in Greekenomics. For most the the five or so miles I travelled my car rode along the old concrete from the days when this was the road to Kardamili, the 1960s. In some places that concrete had disappeared or was never laid down in the first place and I was on the sort of mud and stone track I wind my way up to on the way to the Greek hovel.
But for various stretches I travelled on pristine tarmac. This is not old tarmac but a road that has enjoyed recent investment. For what? For whom? Greece is bankrupt. Our pensioners now live on 9 Euro a day. The hospitals are short of medicines. Yet to "create jobs" or rather maintain the bloated public sector, the Government is spending money it does not have upgrading a road that almost no-one uses. Welcome once again to the world of Greekenomics.
And so we entered what George the Albanian said would be the final day of the 2016 olive harvest at the Greek Hovel. The final trees were those around the house which had received special care from me in the summer and so I hoped for a good day. But it started badly with George, his women and me trooping off to the far corners of the hovel to collect sacks full of olives.
They were not full at 50 kg but almost full so must have been 40 kg each. Carrying those things slung over your shoulder over 300 yards of rocky terrain was no bundle of laughs. It reminded me of that exercise in rugby training when you used to have to fireman's lift a team mate for half the pitch before he lifted you for half a pitch. Being a forward I always got paired with another hefty fellow. But that was 50 flat yards and then you got carried before doing a gentle 100 yard sprint. And I was 30 then. I am 48 now. Four of five of these runs and even the women were breathing heavily. I was in a bad state and it was not yet 9 AM.
Mid morning came light relief. George had loaded up his truck with 25 bags. And we headed off to Kambos where strapping young men unloaded the truck. as you can see the Kambos press was buzzing with activity. The Cop from Kardamili nick, the shepherd, the whole world was there.
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.
You find me sitting in the Kourounis taverna of lovely Eleni in my Greek "home village" of Kambos. Idle bastard, I hear you say, it is only 9.30 AM Greek time why isn't the slacker off harvesting olives. Au contraire mes amis, I have completed my second day of harvesting without injuries and honour intact. The truth is that rain (vreki) has stopped play for all of us hardworking labourers.
Almost from the moment I arrived I could hear the thunder claps. They were loud but, having survived a lightning strike direct on my roof while recording a bearcast in the summer (it is about six minutes in HERE) I know the score. George the Albanian said vreki but as it started to tip down we carried on working for a while.
But the thunder grew louder and the rain grew heavier and at about nine George started packing up. as we are on top of a hill we are, I guess, a bit lightning exposed.I can see the logic of not wishing to hold onto a long metal twerker or paddle and stick it up into the trees. we will try again tomorrow (avrio). Since my body aches all over I must admit that my disappointment at not adding to yesterday's triumph was slightly mitigated by the thought of spending a day in a warm room relaxing and catching up on my other work.
The thunder clouds are rolling in not from the mountains above but from South, the road down the Mani towards Kardamili. The photo is the view from the front of the hovel towards the Frankish castle of Zarnata which overlooks Kambos.
Meanwhile the Kourounis taverna is filling up as my fellow labourers also retire from the front line until avrio. At least one has already started on the ouzo. Even for me, I reckon that it is a little bit early for that,
And so our party finally made it through the large blue door which marks the entrance to the house that Paddy built in Kardamili. Turning right along a terrace open on one side we found ourselves with the rest of the group in the library. This was all rather different from the Greek Hovel.
Have I mentioned how the two men met? My father was lecturing at the spectacular fortress of Monemvasia on the vlachs - a Nomadic tribe in Northern Greece. There is no connection at all between the Vlachs and Monemvasia here in the far South so I assume it was some sort of academic junket. Amazingly, thirty folks turned up and one of them - driving three hours to get there - was Paddy. There the friendship started.
My dear wife says that I have too many books. She points out, correctly, that I do not read that much and argues that she should be allowed to give them all to a Charity shop. I say that I will read more when I re-balance my life and become the primary carer for our son. Bedtime reading little one: have we finished that Ayn Rand yet? Okay time for a bit of Mark Steyn. Between Bristol and Greece we have more than enough room, in fact we need more books!
Paddy certainly had books. There are those in neat bookshelves as below and then just piles and piles of books in every room. My stepmother and I started to hunt for what would really please Dad, sight of a copy of his book on the Vlachs which he gave to Paddy. It was like hunting for a needle in a haystack and eventually we gave up. But my father was still in the library with folks hanging on his every word. Or at least that was what he said was happening as we collected him and started the trek down the long path.
At this point he was propped against me for support as we edged down the hill. On the other side was a middle aged American lady who appeared to think that she had just met the real thing. My father told an old joke about his bad greek once leaving him boasting that he had 25 penises ( he meant chickens) and the lady roared with laughter. Maybe I did too the first time I heard it but that was many incantations ago. Eventually we reached the car and the lady departed sadly.
We Winnifrith men, like Paddy himself, we know how to pull the birds in Greece.
Sadly here in the most excellent Melitsina Village hotel here in Kardamili the only English language channel we can get is the BBC World News Channel. It is Pravda at its best. The agenda is clear: Trump = evil racist, Brexit - evil supported by racists, Tories - evil racists who hate the NHS, all of the NHS, EU, crooked Hillary = perfect. Once you understand that all reporting has to fit that narrative watching becomes easy and your anger at having to pay for this crap with your taxes sort of subsides.
And thus we flicked channels and saw a BBC chappie called Sean with a panel of four folks discussing Brexit. As far as I could make out it was two yanks and two Europeans. It did not long for me to realise what this panel debate was about. It was not about whether Brexit was good or bad. All four guests and the host agreed that Brexit would be a disaster.
I think it is actually a game called BBC Bingo/ two minutes without hesitation. The idea is to see which of the guests or indeed the host, can use the most words like Trump, racists and Boris Johnson in a negative sense and immigration, Clinton and the Labour Party in a positive sense all in one sentence.
Once you understand that it is a sort of game show your anger as a taxpayer and license fee payer subsides. Surely after the fall of the iron curtain no country in Europe would consider extracting money from its citizens to fund such blatant propaganda while pretending it was news would it?
A member of the English upper middle classes was quizzing the Greek lady in charge on how they were to fund the restoration of Paddy's place. Frankly it seems in far better nick than the houses that 99% of Greeks live in but that is not the point. This is a place where predominantly British folks can go to pay their respects to a great master of the English language who opted to make his life here in Greece. In due course the house is to be rented out for three months of the year at commercial rates as Paddy instructed. Thus the rent from loaded investment banksters will allow poor writers (me?) to use it as a retreat for the rest of the year. But what of the repairs?
The member of the British upper middle classes said loudly "have you asked the Greek Government for money?" The woman looked back amazed that she appeared to have met the one person on this planet who was unaware that the Greek Government is not exactly awash with cash. In response to her silence, the pompous member of the British Establishment asked "well what about the EU then?"
Let me translate for your benefit what this posh twit believes. Poor people across Europe but especially here in Greece should pay more taxes because as we know taxes are for little people, that is to say most are regressive. That will allow Governments which have no money of their own, or in the case of Greece no money at all, to refurbish a house built and lived in by an Englishman who wrote books that are overwhelmingly read by middle and upper class Brits so that the same rich Brits can have a more pleasant summer holiday as they visit his house. Jolly good show.
It is, of course, the way the UK National Lottery works. Overwhelmingly it is played by the poor and stupid. They put the money in and a good chunk goes to subsidise activities such as the theatre and opera which are overwhelmingly enjoyed by the upper classes.
Rather foolishly no-one took exact directions to the house of Paddy Leigh Fermor which is about three quarters of a mile outside the main area of Kardamili. My father sat in the other front seat and my step mother and wife sat in the back as I drove along the main road reliant on the fact that the Old Man had been there before. That was an error, Not for nothing does my father make regular donations to the Alzheimer's society.
Indeed, on occasion he manages a real triumph by sending a cheque to the society in an envelope addressed to one of my siblings while sending to the Alzheimer's folks a long, rambling and illegible letter in which he makes rude observations about a range of family members exempting - on this occasion only - the intended recipient.
As such the satnav skills of my father were rather lacking. He being almost totally immobile, my very pregnant wife not much better, it was thus down to my step mother and I to find a native and get directions. I take my hat off to my step mum who took directions in Greek and thanks to here we, somehow, arrived albeit rather rather late.
The house is open at certain hours and you have to get on the list to visit as part of a large group. Chez Leigh Fermor is up a rather steep track which I drove up by car to deposit the almost totally immobile and nearly immobile before somehow reversing down to secure a parking spot. A walk along a leafy path from the top of the track found the advance party of my step mother and I facing a long wall which encircles the property. Where the wall turned lower I peered over and saw a very well dressed middle class Brit and asked him how we might secure entrance.
Paddy Leigh Fermor attracts disproportionate admiration from elitist British snobs and this well bred member of the elite peered down his patrician nose to find himself staring at a man who has not shaved for two weeks and who was wearing a shirt without a collar, that is to say an Indian shirt, black jeans and sneakers. Clearly I was not the right sort of fellow and with great pleasure he answered my question "by arrangement only". I responded - we have made arrangements I just wanted to know how we get in?
But at that point the man turned on his upper class heels having spent far too long engaging with a member of the lower classes. Thinking that a man such as Leigh Fermor would have happily have sat at the Greek Hovel drinking ouzo unlike this upper class twit, I said "patrician tosser" in a voice loud enough for all to hear. The chap strode off to distance himself from the peasantry while my step mother, the daughter and sister of a Baronet and someone noted for being really rather posh, looked at me a little disapprovingly.
We headed back to the door to the compound which had been locked and somehow managed to attract the attention of a Greek. He had no reservations about speaking to a man in a beard who was wearing an ethnic shirt and entrance was secured.
Winnifrith males have loud voices and we like to tease each other and also anyone unfortunate enough to join us, in the case of supper last night that meant my dear wife. And thus as the wine flowed we found ourselves discussing the output of our various universities.
My father is, of course, a full on elitist but knowing that his deluded lefty wife who forces him to read the Guardian may disapprove sometimes finds himself having to pretend otherwise. And thus as we discuss the Brexit vote, I note that John Stuart Mill raised in "On Democracy" the idea that more intelligent folks should get more votes. Why not, I suggest give 10 votes to those of us who went to Oxbridge (my father and I), 5 to Russell Group graduates, 2 to those who attended other old universities, 1 to those with no degree and minus 1 to those who attended the former Polytechnics. Thus my wife would get 5 votes and her students would all get minus 1 votes. On reflection having lectured to them, make that minus five votes.
I am joking but with this wheeze get a double tease. My wife is naturally appalled at every level but after a while twigs that I am joking and her indignation about posh white male Tories subsides. My father secretly agrees with my absurd proposition but cant bring himself to admit it so must counter that University degrees are not a very good way to test intelligence. He asks " who is to say that he is more intelligent than, er...."
I helpfully complete the sentence with, Sam, the ex husband of my youngest step sister Flea who is almost certainly the stupidest and most feckless individual known to us both. My father - who has never defended this hopeless worm before thus finds himself having to suggest that he has hidden talents and depths. As I ask my father how this man - who makes the students of my wife seem like Einstein and Socrates combined - would have fared when studying for my father's Oxford degree he rather gives up on this one.
I note that the couple at the next table are smirking. They appear to have encountered two Brits who hold rather extreme views. Well one in me - they are not sure about my father. Of course they actually have it the wrong way round, it is my father who is the closet elitist, I just enjoy seeing him squirming in an ever straightjacket created by his refusal to "come out" as an elitist, while annoying the Mrs for a few seconds until she realises that I am joking.
Kardamili is the Mani destination of choice for middle class Brits without kids and so I'm sure that on may tables here there are intense discussions based on the works of John Stuart Mill. It is that sort of place. Tonight we done in Kambos after visiting the Greek Hovel. John Stuart Mill is rarely discussed there.
I have written before about the war hero and writer Paddy Leigh Fermor. He was an all round superhero and also Mr Mani, not just for writing the book "Mani" but because he built his house here in Kardamili. There are plans to turn it into some sort of writers retreat. Those who have seen the Before Sunset trilogy with the lovely Julie Delpy will know Paddy's house well from the final film set here in Kardamili, Before Midnight. The scene below sees Paddy ( played by an actor not the man himself) holding court.
Paddy's walk to Greece which started his remarkable life was prompted by him being booted out of King's Canterbury for seducing the daughter of a local greengrocer. My sister was at that lunch and had been head girl at Kings. Paddy told her "if there had been girls like you at Kings in my time, I should never have encountered the greengrocer's daughter". What a charmer he was. The comparisons made with James Bond were not only prompted by his heroic war record.
Getting access to the house required me to engage in some negotiations with Greek officialdom. Such is life, as our existence at the Greek Hovel teaches us on a daily basis. I am sure it will be worth it and will report back later.
I am not actually living the hovel yet. I move in tomorrow for reasons I shall explain later. But I am driving out there each day to work on pruning the olive trees and cutting the frigana. After the mice yesterday today's wildlife diversity included a couple of lizards and...a snake. And how brave am I? I felt nervous as I approached but, just for you dear readers, I have a photo.
Okay, it was on the road and was dead but I still felt pretty scared as I walked up to it. It could like some horror from Greek mythology suddenly come alive again and then grow 99 heads and attack me. I am not sure what sort of snake it was but it is now the only variety of snake I really like, that is to say deadus deadus.
In Greece the etiquette if one sees a snake while driving is to swerve. That is to say to ignore anyone else who might be on the road and to swerve to kill the serpent. My own road kill tally is two. Well I am claiming two. Last summer I ran over a viper on my motorbike but I am prepared to concede that it might have been dead already. Anyhow I rekilled it. At least I can claim an assist, surely?
The other serpent was on the other side of the mountain road down to Kardamili. I swerved violently and took it out. The Mrs, who was with me at the time, muttered something about patriarchy, machismo, hormonal mid-life crisis issues and the possibility that a large truck might have been coming the other way. I could tell that she was not impressed.
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.
Kardamili has no sandy beaches and so is not a family resort. It has no bars and cafes serving fish and chips, burgers and cheap lager. Folks seeking sun, sea, sand and burgers and a pint of Fosters head to Stoupa down the road. Kardamili is an oasis of gentility which the Mrs rather prefers - for reasons I cannot understand - to The Greek Hovel and life in Kambos. And so last week I swapped the hovel for six days in a luxury hotel. It's a hard life.
A fortnight ago Kardamili hosted a Norwegian jazz festival. All year round it attracts Paddly Leigh Fermor pilgrims. The tourists it sucks in are generally very middle class, generally a bit older than me and largely English. As a journalist I am always nosily eavesdropping in on conversations at neighbouring tables and so I bring you these delightful snippets from a few days in Kardamili:
"of course it was just a construct of New Labour triangulation."
No I am not sure what that means either.
"I am not sure that the olive oil is as good that that we enjoyed in Tuscany last summer"
Whatever. By now you should have twigged that with its Venetian and quiet charm, Kardamili in the early summer becomes Islington abroad, Tuscany by the Greek Med. I guess they are not really my sort of people but I'd raher be there than with the soccer shirt wearing Brits at Stoupa.Folks who are, let;s face it, simply Non-U. Does that make me a snob? Ok. I plead guilty as charged.
After a hard day at the PC and in the field, braving the snakes to poison frigana, I plan to spend a relaxing evening at the Kourounis taverna in my home village of Kambos. Lovely Eleni has made me a Greek salad covered with herbs and drizzled with home produced olive oil and so far it is just coke zeros but I may allow myself an ouzo later. In the village where we have no tourists it is just me and the regulars. They chat. I tap away on my PC and say Yassas and Kale-nichta as required.
But an English couple has just walked in. As I heard them struggling to order a shared baclava and a glass of wine from lovely Eleni it was clear where they came from. Rather older than me they are now siutting on the far side of the room. Being on the road from Kalamata to Kardamili and the hell hole that is Stoupa we get visitors here who just pop in on a daily basis. Sometimes I encounter Brits who live in the various villages around here as they too pop in.
After my solitary existence at the Greek Hovel a bit of me sometimes thinks I would like to chat to my compatriots. But I am not sure Id have much to say. Do they know about poisoning frigana, about pruning olive trees or about dealing with rats and bats? Probably not. Do I want to chat about events "back home?" Certainly not.
One of the joys of being here is that I just do not have to think about all of that nonsense. I chat to folks and scour the internet to write about things on the AIM casino but fill my head with things that really matter such as which patch of frigana I shall clear tomorrow or how on earth I shall manage to prune all the olive trees in just six days.
And so I say "yas" to George the builder, as opposed to George the architect, and sit in my corner tapping away at my computer. I say nothing more lest my countrymen rumble that I am one of them and try to talk to me.
A morning at the Greek Hovel working on frigana poisoning, lunch by the sea at Kitries and then a leisurely drive over the mountain roads back to Kardamili. That was the order of the day for the Mrs and myself. I write from the bar of the wonderful Meletsina Village hotel - my top tip for staying in Karadmili - with a Gin & Tonic looking out over the sea in the late afternoon sun. But I am frustrated.
As we drove over the mountains, the Mrs cried "there's a snake". Sure enough there was indeed a snake slithering towards safety on the other side of the road. These days I think Greek so without hesitating I swerved sharply, not thinking of what might be heading the other way around the next bend, and drove over the middle of the snake. Kill! Thought I.
But much to my dismay I looked in my rear view mirror and the creature - about three foot in length - was still slithering into the undergrowth. It may be wounded but it will live to fight another day. My pal Vangelis says you have to make sure you go over the head and neck to ensure a kill. Next time if I miss I shall do the real Greek and reverse back to ensure it is a kill.
I am sorry of there are any wildlife lovers who are offended by this but there is wildlife and there is wildlife. Snakes, rats and scorpions are not the good guys of the natural world. It always amazes me when folks bleat about how species such as the British adder face threats to their habitat. Good! I shed no tears.
But today my attempt to reduce wildlife diversity was foiled. I feel frustrated.
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.
On the way back through the olive groves at the top of snake hill tonight I found myself tracking a fox. It did not seem too scared and eventually trotted off into the bushes. But that was not the real wildlife diversity news today - I met a snake.
I was travelling into the village in the early evening for a salad. Roadworks yesterday on abandoned monastery hill meant that I have been forced to discover a new way to get from the bottom of the valley into Kambos. It is a side track, not in that bad a condition, which winds its way all the way up to the top of the village past a little abandoned church coming out above our new big church. So from the top of that track you actually go downhill again to the Kourounis taverna. One day I shall draw a map for you all.
I was biking along thinking about nothing in particular when I heard a crunch under the wheels. I pulled up and looked back and about five yards behind me was a small snake. It is the small snakes that are the dangerous ones, the nine poisonous types of adder here in Greece.
There were three scenarios. It was dead before I crunched it. It was alive before I crunched it but now dead. Or it was alive before I crunched it but not yet dead. I thought about it and took one step towards the viper and could see enough to know that I did not wish to conduct a post mortem in case it turned out to be a pre-mortem.
Instead I got back on the bike and sped off as fast as possible to the village. At the taveran they all thought it rather funny. The bloke who is terrified of snakes now actually meeting one as well as the rats, bats, tortoise and crab. Lovely Eleni suggests that the hovel is now officially the Kambos zoo. Very funny.
It goes without saying that I took the other route home but each time I saw a strange line in the road you know what was going through my mind. Twigs, breaks in the concrete, they all suddenly became - in my mind at least - snakes.
Two more nights here and then the Mrs arrives She has one or two issues with the hovel as it stands and so it is off to a luxury hote in Kardamili, funded by the greatful taxpayer (that is to say my public sector employed wife) we go. After tonight I think I can manage to suffer a few nights of wildlife diversity free luxury.
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!
As you may remember my experiences of the Police Station at Kardamili have not been universally enjoyable. But there is one friendly face, the Sergeant who lives here in Kambos the village closest to the Greek hovel. He sits in the Kourounis taverna with the rest of us. He enjoys a drink like the rest of us and he does not bat an eyelid as I drive off sans helmet or as folks reach for their car keys having had one, two or twelve too many. Rules are for tourists. Otherwise this is a libertarian paradise.
He is our policeman. He bought me a drink the other day and it is now a regular Yassas Tom.
Apart from the odd double murder there is not much going on to concern the law here in Kambos. It is the foreigners who get burgled (as they have possessions worth stealing and don’t have guns). Up here – other than the murders - life is crime free.
It is a Saturday night and the Mrs is out on the lash in Bristol and I am here in lovely Eleni’s Kourounis taverna in Kambos. My neighbour Charon popped up at the Greek Hovel earlier and so with him sitting behind me we drove slowly into the village on my new bike. Charon is not his real name but we will come to that another time.
The place is buzzing. My friend Nikko – who has promised to kill anyone who comes to the village asking for me – is 59. And so the drinking has started. Vangelis, the Police Sergeant from Kardamili who lives in Kambos and all the others are here. We have already exchanged a “round of drinks”. I think you all know what happens next and it will not be the Sergeant warning us all about the dangers of drink driving.
A lot has happened since I came back to what I increasingly view as my home. More on that tomorrow..perhaps not right at the crack of dawn
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.
I write this on the train from Reading to Bristol. A journey of bike, car, plane, train, train is almost over. I am back in the UK. I am back in a land of folks with horrible tattoos, of fat people swilling beer in concreted pub gardens, of nasty, smelly and expensive takeaway food. I am back in a land of surveillance cameras where there are far too many people jostling each other to get ahead. I am back in a Country that is just emerging on another illegal war, where jingoism and English or Scottish patriotism combine for a poisonous mix.
On the other hand I cannot wait to see the Mrs who will pick me up at Temple Meads, to give the cats an enormous hug and to catch up on last week’s Downton Abbey. I am really looking forward to a mug of tea, to sitting in my back garden looking at the grapes which we will harvest tomorrow to turn into wine. The Mrs has videod the start of the new season of Dallas and the episode of Corrie when Ken returned to the Street. I am sure the Mrs will cook me a wonderful supper. But I can’t but help think about my friends in Kambos who will be gathering right now at the Korounis taverna, run by lovely Eleni, to chat, watch the football and look out on the stars in a clear sky.
As I rode into Kambos on Friday night it was one of those splendid Greek evenings. The sun was going down but it was warm and as I headed down snake hill the valley opened up before me. The – I think – deserted monastery or convent stood solid in front of me, up the hill above the spring. Further along the valley is a small house where the village baker lives. Why would anyone leave?
To Eleni’s to load videos and upload articles and to enjoy one last portion of her meatballs. Knowing that it was my last night Vangelis (the man in the pink short, not the man from the frigana chopper/snake repellent shop or the Vangelis who will win an Olympic gold in frigana chopping) bought me an ouzo. Naturally I reciprocated and I was soon sitting there with both George’s, Nikos (the football man) and a new pal Dimitris.
I showed a reasonable amount of common sense and left by midnight wishing them all, and Nikos the magician, a fond farewell.
Up at the crack of dawn I readied the Greek hovel for my departure. The eco-loo was emptied one last time, sulphur applied on all doorsteps and window ledges to keep the snakes away and all doors were locked. The gate on the drive/track was closed so that the shepherd can allow his sheep to graze at will on my land and then I somehow managed to drive down to the bottom of the valley on my bike while gripping a rucksack between my feet and with a bag on my back.
John the bike man, of whom more later, was happy to get me to the airport but reluctant to drive past the spring in his car so bad is the road. And so at the spring he took my bags and my helmet which I have kept all summer but never worn. He headed off for Kalamata in his car I headed into Kambos one last time.
I shook hands and said goodbye to the man from the other snake poison/rat poison shop and then to the Kourounis taverna to see lovely Eleni who I had missed on my last night. It was not yet nine but Nikos the football man was on his first coffee of the day and Nikos the Magician, his mother Poppy an Eleni were sitting around. Poppy wished me a safe journey in Greek and I understood. “Catalvemo?” “Ne. Efharisto”.
To Eleni I offered my thanks for all her help this summer and she said thank you for being there smiling and laughing. It was a bit of an awkward how do you say goodbye moment all round. If she was a man I know it would have been acceptable to kiss her on the cheek. But a young woman? I stuck out my hand to break the deadlock and we shook hands. And then scuttled off to my bike quickly. It promptly failed to start. “Okay I am staying” I said to the assembled group and the English speakers among them, Eleni and Nikos (the football man), laughed before I kick-started the bike and headed off not allowing myself to look back.
There are a few more tales from my summer at the Greek Hovel I aim to write them up this week. My time with John the bike man, Charon (my neighbour (not his real name), the three shepherds and the tiny village behind Kambos all deserve a mention.
There is one episode that I have felt unable to write until my return to England, the tale of Kardamili, of how I was dragged to the Police Station by the filth and of the nastiest woman in the Mani. It would have been disloyal to the wonderful folks of my home village to recount that story while living there. But now, as we head towards Chippenham I can begin.
Dominating Kambos on the other side of the Village from the Greek Hovel, is a once great fortress. As you head towards Stavropoula (home to the lovely Susan Shimmin of Real Mani) it is at the top of a steep climb to your right. Naturally I am too lazy to climb up that hill so I take the easy road to Zarnata Castle, by heading through the village of Stavropoula.
As with Kambos, the tourist passing through will see modern buildings on a main road and probably speed on towards Kardamili. But as with Kambos the back streets contain some gorgeous old stone Mani houses. There are also a couple of old churches of note. At this point I got totally lost and found myself way down a dusty track but an old man gave me directions in Greek in response to the question “pu eni castro?”
Having asked the question in Greek I then tried to explain that I did not speak any Greek at all. And so he waved his hands and “catalaveno” – I understood. A few minutes later I found myself by the sort of truly hideous modern house that only the Greeks could contemplate building next to an architectural treasure. Beside it was the sort of path where you watch rather carefully where you tread. There were no signs and so I was soon off the official path and just scrambling up a hill of rocks and frigana.
But it was worth it. Zarnata was a Frankish castle during the period before the Turks failed to dominate the Mani. It would have dominated the donkey path out of Kambos towards Kardamili. Next to the castle ruins is tiny church of the same period. The views, not least of my home village of Kambos (which is included below), are splendid. This must have been a powerful fortress five hundred years ago. Today it rather resembles the Greek economy.
But as I say there it is easy to imagine what it once was. On the ground you can pick up pieces of stone, tiles and pottery. This place has not been combed by archaeologists. Nor is it troubled by tourists. It is a place to sit, touch the past and just imagine. A few shots of the castle and of the view follow…
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.
The Mrs is back in Bristol already sending me photos of our cats Oakley (three legs) and Tara (four) who she is no doubt hugging to death and spoiling quite outrageously. I am sure that I shall do the same when I head back in a few weeks’ time.
I was delighted when the Mrs was here but it had two drawbacks. Without her I have slipped once again into my no alcohol and one or two Greek salads a day diet. With her I was drinking and eating rather more. And so my weight loss was arrested, in fact reversed a bit. Now I am in overdrive as I have just over three weeks to finish the frigana cutting and so am upping my manual labour rate accordingly.
The other drawback is that whilst my commercial writings (shares) continued almost every day, with the Mrs here I have no time for my personal writings. I enjoy my musings on life at The Greek Hovel far more than financial writing but know that those articles don’t pay the bills. And so I have an awful lot to catch up including two murders in our village of Kambos and my own detention at Kardimili police station. And much more. It is all in my head and so I pledge three articles every two days on that catch up until my flight home on the 27th or 28th - I still have not decided how to get home yet in light of my concerns about Jihadis and Ebola).
The catch up starts tomorrow with the murders.
Meanwhile the Mrs will be delighted to know that the Greek Hovel seems to have suffered an invasion of giant millipedes in her absence. Some seem to be two inches long. Being a nice guy I am not killing them but do not fancy them crawling up the sheets as I try to sleep tonight so one by one they are being scooped up onto an increasingly battered copy of The Mani by Paddy Leigh Fermour and deposited outside with the rest of the wildlife diversity.
As one leaves the small Mani town of Kardamili the road starts to climb steeply. On the edge of town there are a couple of fish restaurants, some slightly newer housing including the house that Paddy Leigh Fermor built for himself. My family stayed there once as my father knew Paddy – it just happened that this was the one family break to Greece that I did not go on.
Paddy left his house to the Greek State to turn into some sort of writing school. You would have thought that after a lifetime here he would have known better. It is slowly decaying, neglected by a State that although bankrupt can still afford to give anyone with a couple of olive trees an annual grant of 500 Euro.
The first of the fish restaurants as one heads up the hill is the favourite of the Mrs and I. The food is great, the wine flows, the waiters are friendly and efficient and the view over the cove below is magnificent.
On one side of the cove is a small working harbour used by fisherman. At night you can see the lights on the boats as they chug slowly home. A jetty provides a breakwater for the waves although nothing much happens o it other than bridal parties posing for photos. At the far end of the cove is a concrete jetty which is totally empty. If you have seen the film Before Midnight the final scene was filmed there as it became a seaside bar for just one night.
And so the other day we wandered down to the cove along a small road with not a human in sight. At the bottom we were greeted by a white goose, a white duck and a rather fat mallard male. The goose stared at us rather stupidly. The white duck ignored us. But the mallard started to follow me in a gentle ambling sort of fashion.
The Mrs thought this rather sweet and cried out “pudding” which is her pet name for my cat Oakley whom she adores. But while Oakley is sweet the duck was not. Encouraged by the thought that it might be, I leant over to touch it at which point t moved swiftly forward and bit my leg. The Mrs thought this very funny. I moved off at a swift pace but the duck pursued me keen to have another go.
“Bloody hell I am six foot tall and eat duck. You are a duck” I said to myself, turned, faced the enemy and kicked the air in front of it. The duck beat a hasty retreat, the Mrs was still laughing. The duck should consider itself lucky to have escaped so lightly – seven weeks of Greek salads might make a man think of suitable accompaniments to Orange sauce.
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.
I am trying to buy a motor in Greece. I think that I have found a second hand jeep which can handle to road up to the Greek Hovel as well as taking me on longer trips. Sadly it’s not open top but it has plenty of space n the back for taking junk away. All I need now is the documents that allow me to buy in Greece.
First stop is getting a tax number. I have no intention of paying tax here. You know, when in Rome etc. etc. Well actually I am not going to be channelling any income out here as the tax rates are a joke. Lessons for lefties: if you have high tax rates people cheat the system and the take goes down.
So I took my documents to an accountant. Sadly because my Wedding Certificate is not translated she said “So you are not married in the eyes of Greece and the tax man”. Great: “what are you doing this evening I asked her?” She pretended not to understand and we tootled off to the tax office which was – oddly enough – not crowded. I counted about ten staff and three folks trying to pay tax. I think you can say that sums up Greek Government finances in a nutshell.
After a bit of chit chat I now have a tax number. Now I need a residency permit which involves a trip to see the Old Bill in Kardamili tomorrow and I am off. Mr Toad on the Road in his jeep. Toot Toot.
— Tom Winnifrith
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