10 AM Greek Time: We merry band of three are now sitting in the Kourounis taverna in Kambos having a late breakfast but the harvest, is as you can see below, underway. So far two trees have been harvested but we will pick up the pace shortly.
As promised I have a new toy, that is to say an electric twerker (I think that is the right word) and first into action is AIM CEO Andrew Bell who handled it like an expert. While in Kambos I have bought a bit more equipment and when Shareprophets reader B has finished his morning session of trading like a dervish, harvesting will resume.
I have just booked my next flight back to Greece. It was cheaper than a super off peak train ticket to London. By late on 26th November I should be in Kalamata and the next day I shall pick up a car and head up to the Greek Hovel where I sincerely hope all will be ready. For I have a guest, a volunteer to assist myself and George the Albanian with this year’s olive harvest. Step forward a Woodlarks walker, Mr Andrew Bell, chairman of AIM listed Red Rock Resources. I am not sure how skilled Mr Bell is at olive harvesting but we will soon find out.
Bell is due to arrive in Athens later that week and any other volunteer wishing to join us should get in touch right now, there is room for more helpers.
When the olive harvest actually begins is, of course, a bit uncertain. I have to contact lovely Eleni at the Kourounis taverna in Kambos and she will have to try to pin down George the Albanian and his wife and sister in law on dates. Then there is the rain. Rain does stop play and it rains quite a bit. So maybe, with Comrade Bell pitching in we will be done ion three days. Or maybe it will take ten. Who knows?
But the excitement is mounting… the clock is ticking…I am on my way home.
A quiet day in Kambos and at the Greek Hovel for both the Mrs and I have deadlines and important work to do. Right now Joshua is watching some moronic rubbish on his mother's smart phone up at the hovel while the Mrs and I tap away like dervishes. This morning the Mrs, whose deadline is more pressing than mine, got to work in lovely Eleni's Kourounis taverna, while Joshua and i went on a tough walk which he deemed to be "exciting" largely as I kept falling down.
One trouble is that the track, stopped a couple of hundred yards shy of the wall. Thus I had to walk along terraces and then clamber between them which with Joshua on my back, and noticeably heavier than in the summer, and the ground slippy after the recent rains, was not easy, Three or four times I slipped. I ensured that each time it was me landing on the ground and Joshua was protected from any harm and as a result my trouser are now stained with the red Maniot earth. Each time I'd ask Joshua if he was alright and he'd day "yes, daddy are you alright?" I said yes and we continued on, eventually heading back down the road, along which we marched up the hill into Stavropigio.
The joy of that climb is that you can look back at Kambos spread before you and then if you peer closely enough you can see the Hovel as the hills behind the village start to turn into mountain. The other joy was a coffee for me and an ice cream for Joshua at the other end. After such a trek we deserved it.
Walking back to Kambos was all downhill. I sang Molly Malone and one man went to mow, Joshua did not seem to mind. One day Joshua and I will make it up that hill and find a way to the castle.
Nicho the Communist is sitting with me in the Kourounis taverna in Kambos and says that his harvest this year will be so so. Pride comes before a fall but I think mine is, all things considered, looking good. Nicho says he will come and inspect this weekend which may be a reality check.
On the ground there is a good sprinkling of rotten berries killed either by the flies in the summer or knocked off by storm Zorba a few weeks ago. Notwithstanding that, the trees I have inspected so far are pretty laden with berries. Some are turning from green to purple and brown. Others stay green. That means nothing, all get chucked into the same press at the end. But they look big and the trees are fairly heavy with olives as you can see below.
Of course God could still throw in a hailstorm as he did last year or there could be another disaster before the harvest in early December but as things stand it looks good, to my untrained eye at least.
Lovely Eleni was the first person the Mrs and I met in Kambos, the village closest, bit not close, to the Greek Hovel. We had landed at Athens at 4 AM and were driving to the Mani before we had even seen the Greek Hovel or thought of the idea. We stopped off at this taverna in a village whose name we did not know and asked if there was anything they could create for breakfast.
The woman was lovely Eleni, the village was Kambos, that was late 2013 or early 2014 and the breakfast was an omelette. The rest is history. Since we bought the hovel Eleni, as a speaker of some English, has been a God send, negotiating with Albanian helpers, advising on everything from snakes to deal with power cuts and just being someone to talk to.
But now I have argued with her and her husband Nicho. My lunchtime bill came to 6.50 Euro. I handed over seven or eight and said keep the change. I always do that at Eleni’s or at Miranda’s next door. I just do not want lots of Euro coins to weigh down my trousers and so just hand over coins to get rid of them.
A few minutes later I realised I needed some milk so headed back in as the taverna is also a general store. I don’t know what a small carton costs. Greek milk is expensive for reasons of Greekenomics that we can cover at another time but I guess the pice is 1-1.5 Euro. No don’t pay said Eleni and her husband. They insisted. So did I. After a bit of too and fro I put a 2 Euro coin on the counter waved and walked out.
Too often I am gifted a free coffee or some other titbit in Kambos. Don’t get me wrong, it is charming and not something you tend to experience in the tourist villages by the sea . But I am aware of my relative wealth and that Kambos is not a rich village, in financial terms anyway. And so I find such generosity, which I cannot imagine enjoying in Britain, a little hard to take in.
Anyhow, that’s the closest I’ve come to an argument with Eleni in more than four years.
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.
In Asterix the Gaul there are bouts of frenzied activity, hostilities and then, after the Romans are sent packing, the little Gallic village gets back to normal with everyone eating, drinking and doing nothing much in the way of work. I am reminded of this as I stare out of the restaurant formerly known as Miranda's where I will soon pay six Euro for a superb home cooked lunch. In case you wonder: park in a wine sauce with Okra.
As I stare out at the small square in front of Miranda's with the Kourounis tavern, run by lovely Eleni, on the right, all is quiet. A few men sit around having a drink. The world goes by with folks speeding by on the road to Kardamili. But nothing changes here in Kambos, the village closest to the Greek Hovel. Last summer, of course, it was all different.
Damn. It was a near miss but I failed to kill it. The serpent was not in the olive groves where I trod carefully today as, armed with my new axe pruned 20 trees. I start with the highest yielders, the ones nearest the house which have always enjoyed my tender care. Those in the long grass on the further reaches of our land I save to the end as I know what will be lurking in that grass.
But as I headed back to Kambos, to lovely Eleni's Kourounis taverna for a diet coke and a most excellent Greek salad, I saw it. I was on the stretch of road leading up from the deserted convent to the village about 1000 yards out of the village outskirts and there on the road ahead of me was a snake which must have been at least two foot long.
I should say that i was in my car but feeling Greek I did as the locals do and put my foot on the accelerator and swerved violently to the edge of the road. sadly the snake was an adult and knew the score so just managed to slither into the long grass and escaped me. I heard no crunch under the wheels. I looked in my rear view mirror - there was no snake, dead or alive. I missed.
I think I am a bit out of practice. Next time my reactions will be faster.I am, after all, a proven snake killer.
I turned up as agreed with George the Architect at 11 AM to discuss progress at the Greek Hovel. Twenty four hours of solid rain with more coming down today has left the site a bit of a mudbath and I was not greatly surprised that there were no workers present. But I was rather expecting George. He was not answering his phone so I kicked my heels and tried to start the process of burning off the branches cut down from last year's olive harvest.
In my defence the whole place is sodden. But I noted on other hills nearby that fires were burning away happily. If my neighbours could do it...
With some lawyers letters from Roger Lawson to use to start the blaze I set to work. I knew old Lawson would come in useful one day. But let me tell you that there can be smoke without fire. I managed it several times before giving up and heading back to the village of Kambos.
Sitting in the Kourounis taverna an old man approached me and started babbling away in Greek. He seemed friendly enough and after a while managed to grasp what everyone else in Kambos knows, that is to say my Greek is rudimentary at best. But I did gather two words: spiti (house) and fire (demonstrated by him producing flame from a lighter). He was laughing.
Given that there is no-one for miles around the hovel I do not understand how news of my pyromaniac failings have reached the village already, but it seems to be the way. At last I got hold of George the Architect who was sitting in his nice warm office in Kalamata. Apparently work on making the bat room habitable starts first thing tomorrow. I shall be there. I will not be betting the ranch on anyone else being there too.
If I was Byron, seperated from Hobhouse at Zitsa, i would be dashing off some verse after last night. But I'm not. i sit alone in my Kalamta hotel looking out at roads that look like the infamous Japanese Grand Prix where Lauda retired gifting James Hunt the world championship. It all started last night with loud bangs which I worried might be a bomb or a ship crashing into the harbour next to the hotel.
It was just thunder but the noise was deafening. Then the rain started and five sleepless hours later it continues. There is now a river running down the main road outside into a sea which is grey and boiling as the rain continues to tip down. Normally from here I can see the spine of the Mani, the giant Taygetos mountains standing tall and imposing at a right angle to the seafront. Today the odd mountain peers out from the mist and the cloud but even it is blurred.
There will be no harvesting for anyone today. Working in such rain is not pleasant and the danger of slipping down a terrace is very real. So I have an excuse to just sit and write. But where to write? I know that to get to Kambos will be less than pleasant. On the edge of Kalamata at Verga there will by now be a lake in the road. That is passable but with the fear that my small hire car may be stuck in its midst. After that there is the mountain road where rivers will be flowing down the sleep slopes onto and along my intended path.
It is quite fun sitting in the Kourounis taverna when it rains as - with no work to do in the fields - the whole village seems to stop by. The place gets crowded, the smell of aniseed (from ouzo) is all pervasive. Getting to the Greek Hovel itself maybe a bit trickier. The dry river will not be dry by now but the read perror is the mud for once you get to the top of snake hill, the last half a mile of "road" is just a mud track winding through the olive groves. Right now it will be filling up with deep puddles and as each car, truck or flock of goats passes by it will become more like the Somme becoming ever more slippery.
My best friend in Kambos said it in the nicest possible way and I should admit that i am beginning to doubt my own sanity. After day three of my harvest i now have just over half a 50kg sack of olives. As i wandered into the Kourounis taverna in Kambos, Nicho had asked how I was and i replied that i was a bit tired after harvesting. He said "you are working with the Albanians?"
I replied no. I am doing it alone. There are too few olives to make it worthwhile hiring Albanians. His verdict on me is, I think, fair. At the start of this adventure, as George the Albanian lent me four sacks to fill, I thought "I will show him, I will fill six!". By yesterday I had scaled that back to four. Now my goal is to get to two which will give me 15 litres of oil to take home. But as i try to fill those bags I am starting to question my own sanity as this is back breaking work.
Many of the trees have no or very few olives as a result of the storm. Those which still bear fruit do not have enough to justify moving the mat and beating the olives down with my paddle and so I have a new strategy. The mat stays stationary. Instead I use my trusty hacksaw to chop off any branches with a half decent amount of olives. George the Albanian uses an electric saw for this but I am reliant on the old ways. I then drag the branches to the mat to give them a damn good thrashing. That can be quite therapeutic. The piles of branches are, as you can see, getting bigger.
By the time I finished today it was starting to get dark, it was getting colder and my limbs were starting to ache. As i kneeled to scoop my weedy pile of olives from my mat into the sack I felt just a little pathetic. This is not how a harvest is meant to be. A sane man would call it a day and buy some oil from his neighbours to take home. But as CJ from the Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin would have said" I did not get where I am today by being sane."
A sane man would not have bought an uninhabitable hovel half way up a mountain in Greece and a sane man would not be working to renovate it. In that vein I battle on tomorrow...
I wandered up to the Greek Hovel this morning and saw, at once, that something was not quite right. Yes there were olives on the trees as you can see below but not vast numbers.
Instead the floor around each tree was carpeted with leaves and olives. Disaster! What had I done wrong? Heading back to the village of Kambos it was soon clear. It is not just me. The whole village is in mourning for here the trees are like a beautiful woman, they are to be nurtured, protected and loved. In return they give generously. That is the theory. But the Gods have not been kind to us this year.
A few days ago there was a terrible storm. I kind of guessed as much as, in places, the track up to the hovel is reminiscent of the Somme in 1916. And the dry river at the bottom of the valley which one must cross to start the ascent up snake hill and to the hovel is getting fuller by the day.
The storm smashed into the trees hard. Gloomily my neighbours suggest that 60% of the harvest has been lost. Others say it is 80%. What on earth have they done in Kambos to suffer such a fate. Have the Gods not punished this country enough?
For me it is a pain but nothing more. My olive income might, in a good year, pay for a flight and a holiday here. I still hope to do a brief harvest for a day or two to bring back some oil to Britain and perhaps sell a few litres to get enough to pay George the Albanian for his help. But for my neighbours who really do need that olive money this is truly disastrous.
There is a glimmer of light. Lovely Eleni from the Kourounis taverna says that the Government is there to help. Welcome to Greekenomics. The Greek state is, as you know, bankrupt and only exists by borrowing more money from the ECB, the EU and others in return for taking measures to screw its poorest folks even more - real austerity. But the bankrupt Government may, it seems, be prepared to hand out cash to we poor farmers to cushion our losses - can Mrs May agree to up the Brexit divorce bill by a bit more, Kambos needs her to be weak.
All I need to do is head to the Town Hall ( workforce 4 for a population of 637) and ask for my cash? Suddenly a bare and broken olive tree becomes a money tree. What's not to like.
It seems that Easyjet has started direct flights from Bristol to Athens and I am booked in. It is now just over three weeks to D-Day and a trip to the mighty Hellenic Republic. I can't wait.
The Mrs was unaware of this new service and asks if she can come too? Only if you are prepared to work on the olive harvest up at the Greek Hovel say I and that shuts her up. So it is all booked. A return flight with baggage for just £110. Bargain.
All that is needed now is a few calls to lovely Eleni to make sure that my comrade in olive harvesting, George the Albanian, is free and I am set. By the 21st November I shall be sitting in the Kourounis taverna in Kambos relaxing over a morning coffee and all will be well in my world.
I am no particular admirer of my Oxford contemporary, the pompous MP for somewhere in Somerset, Jacob Rees Mogg. But my fellow residents of the Hellenic Republic should at once establish a committee to erect statues of the pin stripe suited buffoon in every town square in our great land. The heroes of 1821 should stand shoulder to shoulder with the man who has arrived at a solution to our economic misery and enslavement by the fucking Germans, sorry I meant the EU, and banksters. Jacob Rees Mogg is the new Byron.
This may come as a surprise to Jacob but he raised a very valid point this week on the matter of Brexit which, to his credit, he supports unreservedly. Jacob notes that if the UK as a large net contributor is expected tp pay vast sums as the price of leaving then should a big net gainer wish to leave surely the EU would have to pay it a vast sum as compensation. His logic is impeccable.
The amount that the UK gave the EU in 2016 net of automatic rebate and the amount spent in the UK by the Evil Empire, spent not always wisely it should be said, was £8.6 billion (call it 9.4 billion Euro) and the EU is demanding 100 billion Euro as our exit bill so that is 10.64 times historic net contributions.
In 2015 - the last year for which we have figures - Greece paid E1.206 billion to the Evil Empire but the EU spent E6.210 billion in Greece making a net inflow of E5.004 billion to the Hellenes. As Rees Mogg points out, a consistent and logical EU would force Greece to accept -a cheque if it left the EU which on the UK multiplier formula would be E53.23 billion. There could be no talks about trade or the rights of Germans to relive the joys of the 1940s and move to Greece until the Greeks agreed to receive a cheque for 53 billion Euro.
That works out at a one off windfall equivalent to a 31% boost to GDP or put another way a one off gift of E4,936.51 for every man woman and child resident in Greece. Hmm I make that the cost of 897 meals of a Greek salad and an ouzo at lovely Eleni's Kouronis taverna in my home village of Kambos. Each time I raise my glass I would think of Jacob, the man who made this possible for Greece.
I am sure that my fellow residents would each happily donate 1 Euro of their windfalls towards the committee to erect a statue of Jacob Rees Mogg in every town square in this land.
The way forward is clear. leave the logical EU, pick up a cheque for 53 billion Euro, go straight to Go at which point revert to the drachma and say that all our external debts will be repaid in nice new drachmas. We all know that the drachma will plunge in value every year so the banksters take it up the arse, Greece has solved its debt problems at a stroke and with 53 billion Euros to spend from the EU as our "price of Grexit" it is ouzos all round as we toast the new Bryron, Jacob Rees Mogg.
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.
In England life is so clinical and clean and removed from nature. Our food is covered in plastic. Seeing your cat wander through the cat flap counts as a wildlife encounter. How different life is for me in Kambos, Greece.
I wandered out out of Eleni's Kourounis taverna and round the corner to my car which was parked on the road whicfh heads up past the big new Church on top of the Kambos hill and then out through the olive groves and off up into the Taygetos mountains. There is a small right turning one hundred yards past the church. If you did not know it was there you would miss it.
It looks like someone's drive but is the way to another small road which winds its way past yet another tiny old church which can hold a dozen folks no more and on through the olive trees, eventually tumbling down the hill to meet the road to the Greek Hovel just at the bottom of abandoned monastery hill. It was on this road that I killed an adder with my motorbike two years ago.
I digress. I got in my car and there on the windscreen was a cricket. I drive off and it stayed there seemingly enjoying the ride, only departing as we headed down the sharp slope towards monastery hill. The greens and yellows and intricate patterns on its body are not really captured in this photo but, once again, I was left to marvel at how God's design work really is pretty special
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 am meant to test my blood sugars twice daily and be in a range of 5-7 whatever that means.Almost two months ago I was 15.3 but these days an almost zero carb, almost zero alcohol, low stress and modest daily exercise lifestyle plus five pills a day has seen me happily in "normal" territory for someone tackling type 2 diabetes, for some days. But I just tested myself and it was 9.6. WTF!
I have not has any ouzo, though I deserve it today, and have had no carbs or sugars. But I have done a two hour stint of frigana chopping up at the Greek Hovel. I am drenched in sweat and I could feel my heart beating fast. So natch, I checked on google.
Vigorous exercise can, it seems, cause a short term spike in blood sugars. And this has been my most vigorous exercise since last December's olive harvest.But it should unwind within an hour or so and long term doing exercise will cut my blood sugars. Pondering this over a most excellent lettuce salad and numerous big glasses of water at lovely Eleni's Kourounis taverna in Kambos I am resolved to take it easy this afternoon.
As I butchered the frigana earlier I found several olive trees that I had neglected to prune and a few large bushes of frigana which might be hiding a you know what. They are in an area of my land where I have had unpleasant encounters before. And thus this afternoon an hour of gentle pruning and somewhat less gentle poisoning beckons. The fight goes on.
On the morning of day 5 I am now into a routine of doing enough exercise out at the Greek hovel each day which sees me break into a sweat. Today it was an hour and a half of olive tree pruning. Boy my little babies are vigorous. the ones I prune a month ago have sprouted new shoots to lop off, the ones I have yet to tackle are really hard work. In 30 plus degree heat I have worked up a good sweat and climbing up and down the terraces left me almost breathless by the end. Good news. And I did not see one snake. Even better news.
My hotel has a pool and at 32 degrees down by the sea i am sorely tempted to have a swim. I am taking my medication religiously. I have not had a drink since Sunday nor do I imbibe fruit juice or diet coke. My diet is largely based on Greek salads, although I am allowing myself bacon and eggs for breakfast, and is almost entirely carbohydrate free. I am now enjoying a late lunch of soda water and a salad with no bread at the Kourounis taverna in Kambos.
By blood sugar measurements were 15.3 before I headed to Greece the first time. They were down in the 6, 7 8 range before the mother in law arrived but back in the low mid teens by the time she left. Stress free and back in a routine I tested 10.3 this morning having been 10.5 the day before. That is, of course, far too high. I should be sub 7. But I am heading the right way.
The good thing is that the symptoms of type 2 diabetes, most of which a gentleman does not discuss on the internet, have almost all gone. I feel more alive, more energetic and really looking at new challenges. I did my first podcast for two months today. It is not going to be a daily thing for a good while yet but it was a fun diversion. I have three work projects which I am mulling over. They will not take much time but will be fun and I feel up for a challenge.
There is no plan of going back to normal work any time soon. 10.3 is still shockingly high and unless I get that down to sub 8 by the time I next see my GP in three weeks I shall be getting a right old rollocking. But the trend is my friend and I feel pretty good about the way things are going.
The plants the Mrs and I have planted in our back garden have almost all suffered death by cat defecation. That is to say my fat, though no longer morbidly obese, three legged cat Oakley hads shat them into oblivion. And so during my brief UK visit I have led a drive to re-plant. To complete that task the Mrs, Joshua and I headed to a garden centre here in Bristol today. Before stopping to pick up a few herbs (me0 and some flowers (the Mrs) we sat enjoying an expensive coffee and watched the masses head by.
I could not help but reflect about how in two days time I shall be sitting in the Kourounis Taverna in Kambos, the nearest village to the Greek Hovel, enjoying a coffee at half the price and looking at folks wander in an out of our own garden centre run by Vangelis.
Here in Bristol there is no need for shelves of poison for your frigana or snake repellent or hard tools small farmers use for clearing ground or for some part of the process of caring for, nurturing and harvesting the olives. That is what dominates the shop in Kambos, it is a place for folks doing a real job.
Of course it has plants too which one can buy. But they are mainly vegetables or herbs. There is no money or need in Kambos for vast arrays of colourful weeds, oops I meant flowers. Here in suburbia there were any number of colourful weeds to choose from.
There were even little olive trees for sale at thrice or four times the price of a sapling back in Kambos. Of course the British trees will never generate an economic return, they are mere ornaments. If I told my friends in Kambos that my neighbours in Bristol will pay 30 Euro for an olive tree that would never create oil they would think folks here were very strange indeed. They would be right of course.
The garden centre in Bristol was packed. I guess it is what baby boomers do on a bank holiday weekend in Suburbia. There were probably more folks in that centre during the course of this morning than live in Kambos, and all the British suburbians just buzzed about, picking up things, lining up to hand over more cash than they should really be spending and then crawling home through the traffic with cars laden up with things that are not really needed.
And this is meant to be relaxing? Whatever. I shall be back in Kambos by Tuesday lunchtime.
There are two hardware stores in the village of Kambos (pop 537 including me) providing everything that we peasant farmers need: poisons, fertilisers, tools, plants. You name it we can buy it here. There is one store on the Square where Miranda's and lovely Eleni's Kourounis taverna provide two of the other borders. It has suffered a grave misfortune.
Run by a nice chap called Vangelis it was where I bought my frigana strimmer. My man toy. That was poor Vangelis' misfortune since he now finds me trouping in every few weeks having broken something or other. He patiently fixes it and I go away for a few more weeks. I also buy Sulphur, to deter snakes, from Vangelis.
But i spread my patronage by buying snake repellent canisters and rat poison from the other store from a man whose name I do not know but who seems to be the greatest living expert on the snakes of the Mani, especially the flocks of vipers that inhabit the fields around the Greek Hovel.
My plan is to move into the hovel in about twelve days time and thus I popped in today to buy some rat sweeties. Men of a certain age might think that they are extra large viagra tablets but I assure you that they are lethal rat killers. And so I bought a bag for two Euros.
Wearing plastic gloves I placed sweeties all around the one habitable room at the hovel where i shall be moving in a bunk bed and sleeping bag very shortly. I shall keep you posted on how the rat killing goes although I am braced for the usual bleatings from mad liberals about what a bastard I am for harming the wildlife diversity. Hmmmmm. If any such folks are reading this page, please imagine you are lying there in the dark, two miles from the nearest human being hearing all sorts of noises in the night-time air. Imagine a nightmare of waking up to find a rat staring down at you.
Hey fucking liberals, are you still on the side of Mr Rat?
While in the shop as the snake expert weighted out 2 Euros' of rat sweeties, the conversation turned, as it usually does, to snakes. I said that I had the repellents he had sold me up and working and that Nicho the Communist had helped me poison the land which the snakes did not like. I explained how the workmen were making big vibrations with their power drills which will drive away the snakes. And I reminded him that I was now part of the brotherhood of proven snake killers. My mixture of English and demonstrating with actions seemed to work and the man nodded but said "still you need a cat, or lots of cats."
For, as lovely Eleni has repeatedly said, cats kill snakes. But I explained that i was not always there to feed the cats. that did not matter, I was assured, just get cats there and when you go if they can find no food they will go too. But where to get such cats I asked?
At this point the snake expert chatted with an old man who sits in his shop doing nothing all day. They were laughing. I think they were laughing at my naivete. Mr snake expert said: "The cats are everywhere, you just pick them up and take them." Well this is indeed true. There are cats everywhere but I sort of assumed that the vaguely belonged to someone. I gather some do but most are just fed by whoever feeds them or by God if they happen upon a nice juicy snake.
Owning a cat in Kambos is a bit like owning a bike used to be when I was a student at Oxford. there is no point getting a pedigree Persian in the Mani or a top of the range mountain bike in the City of Lost Causes. Just accept that your cat/bike will disappear and that you will then "find" another one. It seems that cat-napping is thus perfectly legal.
Maybe this is a project for the summer. I think I need an Albanian to help me but we must go and find some cats in Kambos to relocate to the hovel to deal with the snakes once and for all. What could possibly go wrong with this cunning plan?
The bravery I show on your behalf, dear readers, knows no bounds. I wrote an article the other day about how the last pond in the rapidly drying out, and now almost dry, river that crosses the road up to the Greek Hovel, contained certain shapes. I maintained that they were snakes. One reader suggested that they were in fact eels, that I should wade in and capture a few for lovely Eleni to cook for me for my supper at the Kourounis taverna. I can only conclude that this reader wishes me ill. Today I ventured closer to the rapidly shrinking pond and bring you two new photos.
The shape was moving but I think that you can clearly make out that it is not an eel. I have showed the photos to lovely Eleni who says that the snakes I see are not that poisonous but that I should try not to tread on them. Fear not, I got within five yards of the pool, it moved and I retreated rapidly. But not before I captured the two images below.
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 I tap out a few words on my laptop next to the bright blue sea it is about 27 degrees. It is T-shirt weather and the Mrs is forcing myself and Joshua to go for a swim in an unheated pool a bit later. It is hot here in Kardamili. But as you can see in the two photos below, in the higher points of the taygetos mountains behind us, the last remnants of the winter snow still cling on. These are not the highest points of the range but Al Gore would be mortified to see global warming still on the ground in the sourthnmost part of Europe in May. The computer models, global warming nutjobs like George Monbiot and the entire population of Canada, plus 99% of peer group approved scientists all predicted desertification not this.
It is also Islington by the Sea. Partly because it was home to Paddy Leigh Fermor and partly becuase it is just incredibly pretty, this place is swamped with middle class Brits. You might say "like you" but they are not. Next year they will be in Tuscany. Perhaps Provence thereafter. Or maybe a summer in the Hamptons. I have overheard dinner conversations here about "the Triangulation of New Labour" and comparing the olive oil to that from our place in Tuscany."
Kardamili has only a pebble beach and it is away from the heart of town. So it is not a place for families. And so my fellow visitors tend to be older then me and guardian reading tossers from Islington. Right now, most folks here are actually Norwegian as next week is the Norwegian jazz festival, but, if anything they are even older than the Guardianistas.
Having all these affluent tourists without any kids means that this town has some nice restaurants. But you pay for that through the nose. Yes we can afford it but I am happer with the simpler and much cheaper food up at the Kourounis taverna or Miranda's in Kambos. Kambos is a Greek village with no tourists. Its population is pretty much unchanged at 536 all year round. Kardamili might have three or four times that many people here in July or August but in December it has fewer folks than my home village. It lives for those Guardinista tourists.
Its beauty, the Leigh Fermor link, the food and the views make me happy enough but I'm sure that by the weekend I shall be going stir crazy. I have been given a day release tomorrow to go work up at the Greek Hovel which will be a treat. But my longing is to be back in Kambos full time. Indeed, as the Mrs plans two days with her sister's in laws, the folks who taught me goat milking, I am threatening to stay up at the hovel for a couple of nights just to see what it is like.
I am back in Kambos and at the Greek Hovel. It is 29 degrees, the world is at peace and I wonder why anyone would choose to be anywhere else on God's planet. Before any more spiritual reflections it was time to inspect the handiwork of Nicho the Communist who has had two sessions poisoning the frigana and anything else which might get in the way of olive oil production.
One session was exactly a week ago. The second four days ago. It takes about two weeks for the poison to kill the plants, to turn them from a bright green to a golden brown. And so below are two sets of frigana bushes. One was sprayed by Nicho a week ago, one four days ago. can you spot the difference? Across the land green is turning brown. Good news.
My friend Nicho did not charge for his labours but as you know he is, like the late Charles Kennedy a "moderate drinker" and thus, as he ambled into the Kourounis taverna I brought him a gift which I am sure he will enjoy.
I arrived at the Greek Hovel bang on time at 9 AM for day two of the frigana poisoning. Not to my great surprise, Nicho the Communist and The Albanian were nowhere to be seen. I sat there watching lizards for three quarters of an hour. I am not sure whether the large number of lizards around the hovel is a good thing or a bad thing. On the one hand, I am pretty sure that my old saying "where there are lizards there are snakes" is valid. The conditions are perfect for all sorts of wildlife diversity. But on the other hand, lizards are not daft.
Lizards eat moths and insects and snakes eat pretty much anything but they are very partial to a spot of lizard. So if the lizards are everywhere around the hovel perhaps that is because my snake repellent cans are working and they have identified it as a safe space? I know what I hope for but I am not sure where the truth lies. Anyhow, they are gorgeous little creatures. Some are a pure pea green, others are a mixture of green, yellow and black. The smallest are a couple of inches long but I have seen peak green monsters of a foot and a half in the past. They all scuttle along always looking around for both things to eat and for er...danger. I like watching lizards.
But there is a limit to my appetite for lizard watching and so in due course I drove out of the hovel, stopping to shut the creaking gates, and headed off to a packed Kourounis taverna in Kambos. The one notable absentee was Nicho the Communist and it soon emerged that he had, last night, been, once again, celebrating International Worker's Day ahead of time. Assisted by the usual suspects it appears that three bottles of whiskey had been downed and it was suggested that Nicho might be having a bit of a lie in. I left my number with lovely Eleni - whose wealth must be boosted materially by Nicho's celebrations - and about an hour later, shortly after I arrived back in Kalamata, I received a call.
I asked if Nicho was feeling a bit tired after last night and he agreed that he was. But that was not the reason for the postponement of the poisoning. "It's the air - the air is wrong - if the air is good we will do it tomorrow" said my Comrade. I accepted him at his word but rather suspected that the whiskey was the real cause of the postponement. I saw nothing wrong with the air, it was a lovely sunny morning.
But, as it happens, I sit here mid afternoon in my hotel looking up at the Taygetos mountains which form the spine of the Mani peninsular and they are clouded in a thick fog. In fact I cannot actually see the mountains at all. It is almost certainly raining heavily up at the Hovel and so Nicho's excuse was valid. There is no point in spraying the frigana if the rain washes it off just a few hours later. You need a clear 24 hours of hot dry weather for all the poison to be sucked down into the roots.
So it was God not the whiskey that postponed the final bit of poisoning.
I must take The Albanian, said Nicho. Great he has hired an Albanian. I felt much happier. No offence but Nicho is getting on a bit and when it comes to hard work here in Greece you can't beat an Albanian. Moreover, since my status has been elevated to that of snake killer, I have sensed a diminution of the previous bravado of my friend when it comes to serpents. I rather feared that if we encountered one he would join me in flight. Say what you like about the Albanians but they are as hard as nails. They will kill snakes with their bare hands.
And thus I set off in my car, Nicho followed behind in a battered truck with the young Albanian, who greeted me like an old friend "Hello Thomas", sitting beside him. That, it turned out, was the full extent of his English but in Nicho we had an able translater. He is the best English speaker in Kambos, not that there is much competition for that title. For what it is worth I like it that way. Coastal villages might lose their character. Kambos stays resolutely Greek.
When I go poisoning by myself I use a 5 litre bottle which is jolly heavy. But what i was about to witness was industrial scale poisoning. It was genocide. No other word is appropriate for the slaughter which was set to unfold. Nicho drove his truck past the hovel, past the ruin where a snake lives to the far end of the fields. I have never seen that done before and as he squeezed past rocks and over stones the truck became that bit more battered.
As you can see the truck contained a cylinder into which we added 20 litres of poison to the 380 litres of water it contained. I saw we, of course I mean Nicho and the Albanian. The Albanian started a motor and a long hose was unwound and Nicho started spraying. It was not just the frigana but all sorts of bushes and flowers. Everything in fact. The poison does not harm olives trees and of course the trees were spared but everything else got the treatment.
After a while Nicho handed the hose to the Albanian. "I am old" he said. "The Albanian is young and faster." I thought both were frighteningly efficient. My role was limited to helping pick up the hose when it snagged on a rock or a plant but three hours traipsing around the hovel was enough to leave me feeling pretty drained. I thought about trying to explain about diabetes and blood sugars and the dangers of them falling too low but thought that this might be lost in translation and just be seen as a sign of being pathetic. So i soldiered on but celebrated greatly when the 400 litre tank ran out.
We start again tomorrow at 9 AM. The job is 80% done. Nicho assures me that the snakes hate the smell of poison and will flee. And also that within ten days everything sprayed will be dead. We will have another session to finish off anything we missed in a couple of weeks but the land will then be clear and so we can mark out cleared spots for planting new trees in October. And the snakes can bugger off to plague my neighbours. What's not to like?
I handed the Albanian some Euros but Nicho refused to take payment. I mentioned bottles of whiskey and that seemed to meet with his approval.
I had agreed to meet Nicho the Communist at 9 AM sharp to poison the frigana at the Greek Hovel. Lovely Eleni had promised to keep him sober on the Friday and although I tarried a bit over my breakfast coffee I arrived at the track leading to the Greek Hovel by 9 AM and was at the house by seven minutes past. No Nicho. Perhaps he was celebrating International Labour Day early with some breakfast tsipero? I contented myself with some gentle olive tree pruning.
Two or three years ago that would have exhausted me but i worked at a good pace for half an hour or more, saw no snakes, but at 9.45 AM really did start to wonder where my friend had got to. I had grave fears that lovely Eleni had not managed to keep him under control last night. There was nothing for it, I started to drive along the long and winding track and road back to the village of Kambos.
I passed the village simpleton, well one of a few, who was wandering through the olive groves with no apparent purpose. I waved, he raised his hand weakly. I passed an aged old crone, with an arched back where black from headscarf to toe. She was aged indeed. her face looked like an old olive tree, lined and wrinkled and with boils where the tree has knots. She was wandering up the mountain as 80 year old crones do here collecting herbs. I got stuck as a shepherdess and her flock marched along the road. But after quarter of an hour I was sitting with a coffee in the Kourounis taverna in the heart of Kambos.
Sure enough in wandered Nicho the Communist. to his credit ( or rather that of Eleni) he did not appear in the slightest bit hungover. He explained he has a problem with his car. He is taking it to the petrol station where he and Spiros, the owner of the garage which is also where the post for outlying houses such as mine is left, will mend it. In half an hour he will be pack and the poisoning can begin.
I drove us up to the Greek hovel. We discussed snakes which are all now out of hibernation. "It is their time" he said in a way that reminded me of the Lord of the Rings. Now starts the fourth age of man. Or in Kambos, Gandolph, or Papou, announces Now is the age of snakes. But conversation was a little hard when your companion obviously just wants to go back to bed. He did however note that the Hovel is a lovely place but, as we crawled along the long and winding and very bumpy track looking for snakes to run over, just a bit far from the village. "I like it that way" I assured him. "No-one can find me."
Arriving at the hovel we immediately met a herd of goats. Whose are they asked Nicho. I did not have a clue but said that I did not mind. Nicho was less certain pointing out that they will eat my olives. And indeed that is the case. Sheep walk on the grass and tend to eat only things that lie on the floor. Goats jump on rocks and will eat anything, frigana included, but do have a penchant for olive tree leaves. Nicho went up to an enormous billy goat and told it to bugger off. Which it did. I assured him not to worry. I do not mind losing a few olives if I also lose some frigana. More importantly, snakes do not like goats.
The purpose of our trip was to check out my wild olive trees - trees whose fruit cannot be processed into oil. I seem to have been a little confused on this matter. The two trees I had identified as wild as they produced big black olives which George the Albanian shuns when we harvest, are in fact not wild olives. Those are olives which you need to cure to eat as opposed to pressing for oil. Aha. I told the Mrs later that this was women's work and a job for her. She seemed unconvinced.
But as we wandered to the far reaches of the property, at either end, we did indeed discover at least 20 wild olive trees. Nicho says that he will monitor them this harvest and we will splice on domestic olives for next year so upping my yield. But it gets better still. As we wandered across the land we identified spaces for at least another sixty new trees to be planted this October at a cost of 8 Euro a pop. The net result of this all would be to increase my harvest, ceteris paribus, by at least 50%.
George the architect looks at a non olive tree and says "the Foresty Commision has said we must not chop it down.". I look at these trees and the undergrowth that surrounds them and say "that looks the sort of place snakes like". Nicho looks at that tree and says "I will chop it down so we can plant more olives." I like Nicho's attitude.
So this weekend we are are to poison the frigana which has made a resurgence in certain of the further reaches of the property and will chop down some trees. Nicho has ordered the poison already and he assures me that the areas we deal with will be brown and weed and frigana free within a month. And that the poison will also drive the snakes onto my neighbours' lands. I like the sound of that. We start at 9 AM on Saturday. I cannot wait.
On the first day that Nicho the Communist and I were due to inspect the wild olives at the Greek Hovel to see about turning them into yielding trees he forgot our appointment. Yesterday it was raining so we postponed until 3 PM today. After a morning scribbling away and a good session at the hotel gym, I arrived on time to find my friend, rather worse for wear, at Miranda's the establishment next to the Kourounis taverna of lovely Eleni.
He apologised but explained that he had been drinking with his cousin George and a friend since 10.30. He was, he confessed, rather tired. I asked what had brought this on. Simple. It is St George's Day and his cousin is called George. The man in charge of Miranda's today is also called George. In fact almost every man in Kambos is called either George or Nicho with the odd Vangelis thrown in. It seems that George is an important saint not only in England.
George (the person in charge, not the cousin) offered me a coffee on the house as it was his Saint's Day. And, as Nicho poured himself another glass of wine and more Tsipero arrived, we sat there discussing olive trees and who owns the trees around the hovel. It turns out that some are owned by the brother of the third man at the table who was the cousin of the previous owner of the hovel, the loathsome Athena. Others are, as we already knew, owned by my eccentric neighbour Charon.
We sat there in the sun a bit longer and discussed planting new trees on the land I had cleared of frigana. And we agreed to meet up tomorrow at 4.30 for a site visit. Avrio. As is so often the case in Kambos.
This day goes down in history. I am terrified of snakes. Everyone in the village of Kambos knows it and laughs at the idea of the weird Englishman from Toumbia living in a hovel in the snake fields at the top of snake hill. But I need to do manual labour and so this afternoon headed to the hovel. Retrieving my pick axe from the rat room, or spare bat room as it is now known, I went onto the illegally constructed level above it, the snake veranda.
It was there we met a, non poisonous but still terrifying, snake on our first trip to the hovel. And the name stuck. And so I peered nervously over the wall and established that it was snake free zone.
In the middle of the snake veranda is a two sided brick wall. It serves no purpose at all other than being ugly and so I started to attack it with my pick axe. Bang. Bang. Bang it slowly came down and after twenty minutes I had worked up quite a sweat. Some of the bricks have are constructed, for a reason that I fail to understand, with hollowed out tubes running through them.
And from one such tube there emerged... a snake. It was an adder albeit a juvenile one about a foot long. But as you may know, juvenile adders are more dangerous than their parents as they are yet to learn how much poison to deploy when biting. They just bit, hang on and inject their venom. I stood and stared for what seemed like a long time but cannot have been more than twenty seconds as it started to slither. And then I acted. Whack when the pick axe on the long sided blade end. I missed.
The snake had little time to respond because whack went the pick axe again and I scored a direct hit. And then another. The snake was now in two halves but the front end was still moving on a pile of rubble the other side of the now half demolished, so just two foot high, wall. Whack, whack whack I hit it again and again first with the edge and then just clubbing it with the end of the axe. It stopped moving.
I, on the other hand, was shaking like a leaf. I may now be a snake killer but I rather worried that where there was one there may be others. And so leaving the pick axe inside the rat/spare bat room I retreated hastily to my car to phone my father and the Mrs with news of my heroics.
Retreating, again, to Kambos I stopped first at the snake repellent store where my friend the owner had two canisters in stock which I bought eagerly. I told him that I had killed one and, knowing my reputation, he seemed surprised but in a good way. He offered other advice for repelling the snakes. Apparently they do not like the poison one uses to spray frigana. I need to get clearance from the shepherd as I have no desire to poison his sheep but I think some spraying is on the agenda.
After my sedentary Easter Sunday I was determined to make amends with a perfect display of type 2 diabetes virtue on Bank Holiday Monday and thus having skipped breakfast I picked up my car and headed out to the Greek Hovel. There were wildlife encounters as I explain here and that must have seen me sweat off a few pounds. Indeed my 36 inch trousers are not very obviously starting to fall down. I must, every now and again, hitch them up to spare my blushes.
A spot of olive tree pruning followed and then after a no bread Greek salad care of lovely Eleni at the Kourounis Taverna I headed off for a spot of fishing at a spot recommended by one of my fellow part time residents here. He assured me that it is where all the locals who are in the know head to.
I need not have feared. Within 40 minutes the sea had seized two spinners and a line of hooks and I was heading back along the old Kardamili road towards civilization. My 40 year record of not harming a single fish was, unlike my kit box, completely intact.
By the time I reached Kalamata I was feeling really rather feint. I tested my blood sugar at my hotel and they were just 6.8. That is at one level far too high - 5 is my target. At another level it was alarmingly low - they had fallen by more than 4 points since the morning. I read all the warnings about bloods heading too low and the threat of diabetic coma.
I am advised to keep a chocolate bar handy just in case but ignore that as I know I'd at it in a non emergency.
Thinking on my feet, I delayed taking my evening sugar busting medication and other delightful pills and headed to my favourite restaurant which I had noted was finally open once again. As is nearly always the case it was empty. I really do fear for its future and urge all folks who ever visit this place to head straight to 23 Navarino Street to save the Katelanos. After a delightful portion of grilled octopus and a small black eyed pea salad with a small amount of rough bread, lightly toasted and drizzled with olive oil and herbs I felt so much better and wandered back to my hotel.
My bloods this morning are 9.5. That is of course far too high for the long term but it is where I should be right now. This afternoon there will be more manual labour at the hovel and the trend is heading the right way once more.
My blood sugar levels s have remained pretty good over the past few days. After my 9.3 on Friday I came in at 9.5 on Saturday and 9.9 on Sunday morning. I am running low on the little sticks you put in the machine so am on morning only tests pro tem. But Easter Sunday saw me hammering away at my laptop and drinking coffee. I had no car at that point and the cafe kept on giving me a little biscuit with my coffees. My day was almost all sedentary. It was a day that was just so typical of my poisonous lifestyle that saw blood sugar levels at 15.3 two weeks ago and me battling severe type 2 diabetes.
I am kicking myself and have resolved to do far better. As such the manual labour has now started. Notwithstanding the fact that I have yet to put up any snake repellent at the Greek Hovel I ventured out to start pruning the trees. You make think of pruning as being what an elderly vicar played by Richard Briers does to his rose bushes in an Agatha Christie - a gentle exercise which burns so few calories that the wicked clergyman has plenty left in the tank to go off murdering his neighbours.
But olive tree pruning is a different kettle of fish. In one hand I have my small axe in the other my small saw. I must bend down to axe away any new growths at the base of the tree and then work my way up until I stand on tiptoe taking away growths or whole branches that are set to yield little or nothing in the way of olives. There is the constant nervous energy of watching out to make sure that you do not tread on any member of the wildlife diversity community or indeed that there is nothing lurking in the branches. It is all jolly tiring, something i forget after each year's pruning and remember afresh once again after about two trees of the next season.
Start gently says my doctor. I did just that. Nine trees are now "cleaned." My arm aches. And up in the Taygettos mountains above the hovel the storm clouds are gathering. That was my cue to head to the Kourounis taverna where lovely Eleni rustled up a magnificent Greek salad which , in a good diabetic way, I devoured without any bread. Having retrieved my rod from the hovel, an afternoon of fishing in the rain now beckons.
As you can see below I started with Dakos. That is a Cretan dish which they also serve quite often here in the Mani. On top of a dried barley rusk is placed generous helpings of a soft sort of creamy feta, chopped tomatoes and the odd olive. At this place there is a generous drizzling of balsamic vinegar and that and the tomato juice drain into the crispy rusk - magnificent.
To follow, for I felt that after a hard day of manual labour I deserved more, I went for a small plate of calamari. In many places here you get large chunks of frozen squid in a clumsy rather fatty batter. It all tastes, pardon the pun, just a bit greasy. That is your cheap and cheerful seaside dish. But I enjoyed small pieces of fresh squid in a ,well made, light batter onto which I squeezed fresh lemon juice. Truly it was wonderful. Natch that called for another celebratory ouzo.
I know that the wine snob Evil is concerned about the quality of booze issue when travelling to the Hellenic Republic but these pictures will again have him salivating badly. I grow confident that I can persuade him to bring a case of Burgundy white inside a large suitcase and come join me here next summer when the Greek Hovel is ready. I shall continue to torture him with photos until then.
I do not normally pay much attention to what folks on neighbouring tables say when watching the world go by in the Kourounis taverna in Kambos, the village closest to the Greek Hovel where I hope to spend most of the rest of my life. I just tap away at my keyboard or think about olives. But today I exploded as a fat and smug German explained to a couple of timorous Brits why hard Brexit would screw England and thus why we should "obey orders" and fall into line with what Germany, sorry the EU, wanted. I exploded.
Seventy years ago folks like him were shooting villagers around here, raping the women and setting fire to the houses. They too were just doing what Germany ordered. They too just thought that there was no other way to behave and that it was all part of creating a united Europe under German leadership. This guy had already opined on all the good stuff the EU had done for Greece to make it the happy place it is today and then he started on Brexit.
If we have a hard Brexit, this man said that the first thing that would happen would be that Scotland would vote for independence and that would really mess up England. Already riled by his comments about Greece I turned round and said " Since the Act of Union in only one year has Scotland subsidised England not the other way round. Do you not know that 88% of Scots are net takers from the State - if the welfare junkies wish to leave England good riddance. Maybe Germany can pay their benefits?"
There was a bit of a stoney silence before the Kraut started blathering on about how Germany was putting Trump in his place, etc, etc ,etc. On every issue he stated opinion as fact. He was always right. Smug bastard.
My friend George the Architect, who was sitting opposite me, was a little surprised as - even when dealing with delay after delay on our planning permit - he had not seen me this angry. But like most Greeks he is not wild about the krauts either and this man's comments on Greece had not impressed him much.
The location is my favourite little restaurant here in Kalamata which is located on the main sea road opposite one entrance to the industrial harbour. Okay not the greatst of views but the food is fantastic. On offer today, as you can see below, was freshly caught octopus ( you can tell that it is not frozen) grilled and laid out on a bed of lettuce with a light vinegarette dressing. On the side is a dash of home made taramasalata. Accompanying this is toasted sour bread witha drizzling of local olive oil, fresh sea salt and mountain herbs.
This place has an extensive wine list so perhaps the old wine snob might now be tempted. I washed this all down with freshly squeezed orange juice. The orange trees are everywhere here. Pure heaven.
The conclusion is that it was built around 1850 but why then and not earlier? Here my father and I are in agreement: it is all down to the accursed Turks. When Greece was under Turkish rule the Mani peninsula was almost autonomous. The war like folks here engaged in protracted blood feuds as they had always done and the Turks saw little reason to unite the Maniots by pulling their beard with a military invasion.
As long as they were not too naughty on the piratical front they were best left alone. They had no great wealth to plunder and the towns and villages were remote and connected by paths and tracks with no roads. The Maniots were happy with this arrangement and thus why bother to construct a bridge across the natural defence of this deep gorge separating the Mani from lands under Turkish rule. When the river flowed it would have been impassable. When it did not defending the Mani rom the steep valley on the Kambos side would still have been a sinch.
The Maniots had no need to head up to Kalamata. They were self sufficient and there were more important things to do like killing your neighbours. Besides which if you really wanted to get to Turkish lands you could always go to a coastal port such as Kitries and sail up the shoreline.
Things changed in 1821 when on March 17 the Bishop of Tripoli in the heart of the Peloponnese called for an uprising across Greece. The first to answer this call to arms were, naturally, the Maniots who decided that it would be better to slaughter Turks than each other. Thus on March 21 the Maniots arrived at Kalamata and slaughtered the Turkish garrison there, without suffering a single casualty themselves.
The Maniots fought bravely in that war including the famous incident, recounted in full by Paddy Leigh Fermour in his book The Mani, when their women slaughtered a Turkish army. The men folk were being beseiged at Verga on the outskirts of Kalamata, defending heroically they repulsed wave after wave of attacks from a much larger Turkish force. So the Turks had a cunning plan: sending a largely Egyptian force down by sea to capture the Maniot capital of Aeropolis which is way down the peninsular and a couple of miles in land. This force arrived and only the very old men and the women working in the fields with their scythes were around. Naturally the women set upon the Turks and beat them back into the sea. As other men arrived with guns and swords the slaughter was complete with Turkish forces drowning and butchered with scythe and bullets en masse. When you view lovely Eleni in the Kourounis taverna remember that she is descended from such women.
When Greece became independent and gained a new king from Bavaria there were attempts, including the use of military force, to include the Maniots in the new order but they met an inevitable conclusion.
The Mani became part of the new Greece but with a certain degree of autonomy agreed. And it is only at that point that there was any point in making the gorge passable at all points. Only then would the Maniots feel any interest in heading off to the fleshpots of Kalamata to trade their sheep and olives for more useful things such as gunpowder and bullets for the blood feuding and other matters that could now continue as normal. Hence the bridge was built and until the 1970s, when the bigger bridge above it was constructed as part of the first road heading into Kambos, it was the link across the gorge.
I hope the picture below conveys the sheer beauty of the taygetos mountains which tower above the Greek Hovel. I caught this shot of the snow capped peaks as I headed up for a spot of olive tree pruning earlier this afternoon.
On the land next to ours the trees have been pruned aggressively with whole branches lopped off. They look naked but ready for action. I am always a touch nervous about what to hack away but armed with my trusty axe and saw below I set to work.
There are two massive advantages of pruning now. The first is that the snakes are asleep and so you just do not hear rustling in the bushes causing you to turn sharply and breathe heavily. I walk across the property with gay abandon. The only sounds one hears are the bells and bleating of the shepherd's sheep and the sound of gunfire. For it is now the time of year when men line the roadside to blast away at little birds.
This is not for food just for the pleasure of killing little birds. Spent shotgun cartridges litter the ground everywhere. It is all so utterly mindless but I guess it is better than shooting each other which is what used to happen in days of old in the Mani when the culture of blood culture held sway.
The second advantage is that the shoots and branches one cuts back are that much smaller than they will be in May when I normally start pruning. I will prune again in the summer but I hope that this work eases that burden. And in theory, this early additional prune, will mean that more of the tree's energy will go towards productive branches so invceasing the yield. We shall see.
More important in terms of increasing my output is going to be planyting new trees on land I have purged of frigana and also splicing domesticated olive shoots onto wild olive trunks of which I have a few so that those trees come into production. Nikko the Communist (Papou) who is to assist me in that task has just wandered into lovely Eleni's Kourounis taverna hrere in Kambos and we are agreed that we will do that work in April when I come back to start rebuilding the hovel.
Whenever I head to Greece I take delight in calling the larger than life bear raider Evil Knievil to tell him what I am eating and how good it is. You can hear the old bear salivating down the line and he says he is jealous. But then he adds that although his father, George Cawkwell, is the greatest living scholar on the subject of Ancient Greece, Cawky jnr will not come here because the wine is just not up to scratch. Arguing with him on this matter is pointless.
So for lunch today I enjoyed a maginificant Greek salad with herbs, local feta and fresh peppers, cucumbers and tomatoes from the local fields. For about £4 at lovely Eleni's Kourounis taverna in Kambos a bargain.
Lovely Eleni also does a nice line in honey based puddings. But trying to take my diabetes seriously I abstained but thought Evil would enjoy a photo of what he, and sadly not only he, is missing.
As I drove up the mountain road to Kambos and the Greek Hovel I could see smoke rising all around me. It is the season when you burn the branches you chopped down in the olive harvest, start pruning your trees and give them a bit of fertilizer. I bought a lighter in Kalamata and, having been trained by George the Albanian on how to start a fire with a few bits of dried grass I was determined to match my neighbours.
As you can see their fires roar away. I must report that I tried for 30 minutes and failed. The piles of branches are the sort of places that snakes might hibernate so I have two reasons to want them to blaze away. But my repeated attempts to set fires going ended in abject failure. Reluctantly I have asked lovely Eleni at the Kourounis taverna in Kambos - my conduit to Greek speakers - to call George for assistance. Until he is ready I must content myself with a few days of aggressive pruning.
The hovel is changed little. I pray that we start rebuilding it in April and it will be transformed and so for the record here it is as it stands today with one shot from each side. I opted not to venture inside either the main room - which is sort of wildlife diversity proof - or the rat room or bat room which are not. God only knows what is living inside and so I shall save that treat for when George arrives. Fearless George will tackle whatever lies inside.
This may all be Greek to you but this is the Christmas message from myself and my father and my son Joshua to the folks in Kambos in the Mani near which our little house is located. Happy Christmas to everyone in Kambos especially those in the Kourounis taverna
Each year I take 16 kg of the olive oil from the Greek Hovel back to the UK with me in a big can and sell the rest. But the can is just too big for my rucksack so means I have to pay both to put it in a special box (30 Euro) and also for an extra piece of hold luggage ( 25 Euro). It is still cheap oil but that rankles. But I have a cunning plan.
Exhibit A is one 16 kg can of olive oil.
Exhibit B is three 5kg cans bought last night from lovely Eleni as I said goodbye to the Kourounis taverna and to Kambos. I have borrowed a funnel from my fave restaurant in Kalamata, the Katalenos on Navarino Street where you will taste the best Octopus of your life. And I then achieved a transfer.
What happens to the excess 1 kg of oil you say? Well there was a bit of, er, leakage on the transfer. Holding a 15 kg can and pouring gently into a small funnel is not easy. So I guess there is 0.5 kg left. Tonight I meet George the Architect and it may be coals to Newcastle but I don't think he farms so he can have an early Christmas present.
And I have tested already. All three 5kg cans fit into my rucksack leaving plenty of room for the few books and clothes I brought with me. Cunning eh?
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,
I know the area at the bottom end of Fleet Street, where it turns into Ludgate Hill and you wander up to St Pauls, like the back of my hand. Twenty years ago I worked around there at the Chronic Investor and used to walk home Eastwards. For two decades, at Christmas I would go to midnight mass at the journalists' church, St Brides. The area has changed a lot over the twenty five years that we have been acquainted. Unlike me, it has smartened itself up. But it is still familiar territory.
Eleni would have been sitting in her taverna in the heart of the village ( population 538) with the place packed with the regulars, all local folks. At this time of year, very few foreigners venture to the Mani. Indeed in Kambos, since it is more than half an hour from the sea, tourists only ever pass through even in summer. They don't stay.
In London folks earn far more, rushing between meetings and shuffling bits of paper. Is there really any point to it or are most folks just playing a game and making money? But everyone bustles hither and thither from meetings to smart restaurants and back again. The cost of a meal for two where I was last night would keep me in food and drink in the tavernas of Kambos for a week.
The buildings as Ludgate Hill heads towards St Pauls are a mixture of old and new. A Wren church nestles next to a 1960s block. But then pretty soon you are at Paternoster Square a modern and impressive construct. They all sit side by side but the district is smart and contains many impressive buildings. There is a buzz and excitement as folks rush around London like the ants in our fields back at the hovel on a day when they are set to swarm. In Kambos there is no such buzz, no drive to make money and no vast choice of over-priced and pointless goods and services on which to waste your cash. There are no new buildings and in fact very little of note.
I am perhaps a bit hard on London in saying that I loathe it. I can see the point in visiting twice a year to see the ants rushing around. But it is not my world any more. More than a few days in London leaves me drained, exhausted and vaguely angry at the pointlessness and crass consumerism of the place. Bring on Kambos.
Last year the olive harvest at the Greek Hovel was dire and I fell and ended up in hospital. I am hoping that things got far better on both counts in 2016. And thus yesterday I found myself calling the Kourounis Taverna, owned by lovely Eleni one of the two English speakers in Kambos, the nearest village to our place. Sadly it was her husband Nicko who answered and thus I struggled in Greek. Is it calinichta or calispera? God only knows. I tried both and then said "Its Tom". Aha cala? he said. Cala said I. And he called Eleni for our conversation had just about reached its limits.
I told her about Joshua and she said that she was chatting about me to George the Albanian only that day. She will make sure George is ready for my arrival to assist with the harvest. By assist I mean that George and his family will do it and I will try to assist without falling over or collapsing in a heap. But we are underway. Two weeks to Greece to file our planning application and to pick the olives: surely this year it will be more than two tonnes.
Lovely Eleni's Kourounis taverna has still not reopened. But the hardcore clientele led by Nicho the communist and Vangelis in his pink shirt still sit resolutely on its outside tables, using its internet link and chatting with the wider Eleni family. Rather naughtily I have discovered that I can use the Kourounis wi-fi while sitting in Miranda's next door and did that as i tucked into a last meal of Mani sausage and courgettes.
And then I said farewell to Miranda explaining, in Greek, that I was going to England tomorrow. Yes you heard that correctly I spoke a few words of fucking Greek. And then back to Elenis where I explained why I was leaving. I showed them all the picture of the Mrs at Mistras and they understood...
Vangelis talked of drinking. Yes we shall all drink together again my friend. And you can again drive me back to the hovel at 3 AM 15 ouzos later.
Elias! I shall be back at the Greek Hovel for the olive harvest in December. Nicho can try out his wild olive experiments on my land and we can talk together of snakes and other matters. And yes my friends, we shall all drink some ouzo.
I shall be back in December to harvest with my friend George the Albanian, but also to look out on olive groves and towering mountains and to hear nothing for most of the day bar the bells on the sheep. To speak to no-one except the Shepherd unless I make a conscious decision to do so. To write with a sense of freedom and to think thoughts one dares not think back in Airstrip One.
Oh well, its now time to start packing, to clean the eco-loo I built with wood I found at the hovel; to slash frigana one last time and to head back to a grey Bristol suburb.
I know I must return to bloody England for all sorts of reasons but to say that I am heading "home" would be an untruth. The population of Bristol is 428,100 and I can't say that I have a single friend in the City. I like some of the friends of the Mrs but they are her friends and my personal social circle is zero.
In Kambos there are 538 people including me. For some reason, everyone here knows who I am - the English guy from Toumbia up in the snake infested mountains who is terrified of snakes, who writes all day and falls off his bike and who wants to be an olive pruner. And though very few folks speak English I have more conversations with people I like and respect here in a week than I do in a season of Bristol life. The shepherd speaks Greek to me. I speak English to him. Neither of us understands a word but we become better friends as every day goes by.
As I drive back from the village down monastery hill, across the dry river, up snake hill and through the olive groves the car bumps from side to side and the songs playing on local radio Live FM are two songs I hear out here all the time but rarely back in England. In my mind they are summer songs. Winter starts tomorrow night.
It was eight days ago that my father and I popped over to Kambos to visit the Greek Hovel and to meet a friend of mine from the neighbouring village. We will come to him and his village, the Feta village, in due course. He did not show up. Perhaps, as we had both had vast amounts of ouzo when we made this plan, he had forghotten. Worse was to come, we arrived to see that the Kourounis taverna was shut. Eleni's husband Nicho said "ten days, no coffee, no Greek Salad, no ouzo" And with that Dad & I sloped off to the ouzerie opposite, a place frequented only by very old men.
It was my first visit there and we had a couple of ouzos. The owner - with whom I crossed swords regarding parking a couple of years ago - brought tiny plates of cheese, bread and olives with each round. It is the real deal old style ouzerie. My father left a good tip and the owner now waves at me like a long lost friend. My presence will reduce the average age of the clientele materially and now that I am "in" I may go again.
Last night I popped into Kambos after some good olive pruning and there was lovely Eleni sitting outside the taverna with Vangelis, wearing his trademark pink shirt. She explained to me why she was upgrading the taverna which joins her general store which is not changing. I am not sure I see the point as Kourounis is already the smartest gaffe in town by a long chalk. I should say that the competition is poor but it is Eleni's place so she can do as she wishes. I shall remain a loyal customer. But when will it be ready?
Eleni says 7 days. Vangelis smiled and though he speaks not a word of English he knew what was being discussed and so said a few words of Greek which I understood "August, September, October" and laughed. I laughed. Eleni laughed but rather less convincingly. Doing renovations at a time when tourists pass through the village every day on their way to Kardamili or Stoupa seems a bit daft to me but heck I'm not in the restaurant business anymore.
But I do like a Greek salad. There is a place next door to Kourounis which is rumoured to sell them but I am not sure of the etiquette. Will they mind that I am a sweaty smelly wreck after a day in the fields? Do they sell diet coke? Or, more importantly, ouzo? I am nervous. And so I bought four fresh oranges from Eleni for my supper and headed back to the hovel. The Mrs says this is not a balanced diet. She has a point.
And so I am moving to a one meal a day set up. That should help with the weight loss and justifies a trip tonight down to Kitries by the sea for my salad and maybe a bit of Octopus. As for Eleni, seven days, er...if I had to bet on how many English days seven Greek days would be I think I'd be looking at ten or more.
A final farewell to Kambos...well for a week only. Having escorted my father back to Kalamata next Thursday I shall be back at the Greek Hovel in a week's time. A final farewell means popping into the Kourounis taverna for an ouzo with the owner Nicho, the husband of lovely Eleni. Farewell, say I to Eleni who wishes me "good travels." I remind you that she is the best English speaker in the village. In her arms, as you can see below, the only person in Kambos whose Greek is worse than mine.
I had seen them earlier as I had driven in. They were dressed in walking clothes so I knew they were westerners and were, for some reason, trekking along the road from Kambos to the Greek hovel, a road to pretty much nowhere. Whatever.
I guess I have picked up a bit of a tan since I arrived but the Brits wandered up to me and speaking very slowly in English tried to order a fanta from me. Nicho the owner stood a couple of yards away looking a little confused but smiling. His English is somewhere between pretty dire when he likes you to non existent when he does not.
There was a temptation to accept their order and help out but instead I shrugged my shoulders in a "I don't speak English" sort of way and gestured towards Nicho who took their order.
The couple has just left. As she paid her bill, the lady tried to explain to Nicho that doing all this walking was hot work. He said "yes" which in translation means "I have no idea what you are on about lady, FFS I am Greek why do you assume I speak English?"
As she wanderted out, she smiled at me in a sort of "poor foreigner, if only you spoke English" way.
I was on the phone to the Mrs who had some good news to relay when I heard the unmistakable voice of my neighbour Charon outside. Then he banged on the door saying "Tom, Tom." I had no choice. He knew I was there. I could not hide. I opened the door.
When I say neighbour it is not as if he is just round the corner. As the crow flies his place is about another mile up the mountain. By road it is a two mile trek and Charon had walked over and was there on my doorstep topless and sweating.
It is not that I don't like him, it is just that he insists on speaking English to me. His English is better than my Greek but not a lot better. And so we have long exchanges of words which really cant be described as conversations. Sometimes I get out my Greek English dictionary and try speaking Greek words. However we go about it it is painful.
The one bond we used to have was the common language of cigarettes. The poor man was out of fags and so asked me if I had one. He was clearly in great need of a fix. I said "stopped" and waved my arms to express finality. He asked "why?" Trying to explain about playing soccer with my nephews and nieces on St Valentine's day and feeling like shit after five minutes would have been tough so I made a coughing noise.
"Oh no!" he cried and looked alarmed. I tried to say just to stop me coughing but I think he now worries that I have been diagnosed with cancer. Looking a bit shaken by my bad news he trudged off in the direction of Kambos. Another two mile walk for him to pick up fags at 4 Euro a packet.
Cheap fags have not tempted me back. Nor has the fact that everyone in the Kourounis taverna smokes away like there is no tomorrow. If I can quit smoking I can do anything..maybe even learn Greek.
Having checked out the hovel on Sunday I drove back into the village of Kambos. There have been a few more potholes mended on the two or three mile track from the house into the village. But for every one mended another has appeared including a quite giant crater at the base of snake hill. Somehow I manage to wiggle past it and am soon sitting in on a quiet lunchtime in the Kourounis taverna owned by lovely Eleni.
I wander in with my laptop and sit in my normal seat. At the bar are Vangelis, the man in the pink shirt, and Nicho the communist, the chap with whom I had a bit of a disagreement over football on my first night in Kambos but who is now my firm friend. The two men sit in the same seats they were in the day I left last time, next to the bar tapping away at their PCs. The only change is that one of them, Nicho, has swapped fags for vaping. Or so I thought. On my next visit on the Monday he was back on the fags leaving me feeling extremely smug as I now approach my three month anniversary of being clean.
Cala? Vangelis asks. I reply Ne and that one word seems to encourage him in the idea that I have learned Greek and off he goes. I stare blankly and Nicho, one of the rare English speakers in Kambos wades in to assist. We are back where we left off. Lovely Eleni is there, holding the daughter that was born when I was here for the olive harvest in December. I shake her hand but she leans over for the European kiss on both cheeks. I know men do that here, a reason I very firmly push out my arm when meeting anyone male. But a man and a woman? I thought that was not what happened. I really do not understand the etiquette here at all. Eleni explains the Greek name for her baby which is one of those names that is so long and so Greek that I have not got a hope of remembering or pronouncing it but I smile at the infant and it smiles back. I tell Eleni that I am glad to meet someone in Kambos who speaks less Greek than me.
The baby is named after the mother in law of lovely Eleni who potters over and as ever opens with Cala? Ne I reply. It is groundhog day as she too seems to think that I have learned Greek. Now there is no-one to rescue me and I just smile like an idiot and shrug my shoulders. As I tap away various other folks wander in and greet me warmly. They arrivals include the man who helps harvest my olives, George the Albanian, and his English speaking son. I now make that three English speakers in the village plus half a speaker for Vangelis in the snake repellent store.
On the subject of which, I ask Nicho if the snakes are awake yet. Rather predictably he responds that they are and says that he has seen many snakes already. It is apparently a very good snake season on the mountains behind Kambos where the Greek Hovel lies. I can tell that he is taking great pleasure in relaying this to me. My fear of snakes is well known to all and the fact that I live in a snake infested patch of the countryside is seen as a bit of a local joke.
The snake repellent shop is out of the canisters which I use to protect the hovel. I am told that new stock will arrive on Wednesday. Hmmmm. That means that if I install Wednesday I can move in on Thursday. Until then I can enjoy the luxury of Kalamata where there seem to be no snakes.
After a whole day spent at the Kourounis taverna in Kambos I have finally met up with George, the sprightly 60+ Albanian who leads our olive harvest. I called lovely Eleni at the hospital to see if she had any idea how to track him down. She gave birth to a baby girl yesterday and admitted to being a bit tired but knows she will be back in the kitchen by Sunday and so is gearing herself up. She offered up an idea of where to find George's number.
Lovely Eleni's younger sister, who is really very, very lovely too, called and at about seven tonight in wandered George. In great relief I hugged the man for I was starting to panic. As ever, I bought him a Tsipero and myself an ouzo. And we sat in silence as he speaks not a word of English and my Greek is er...rather weak. But lovely Eleni's very, very lovely younger sister stepped into the breach. We start harvesting at 8 AM Monday. With that arranged, George and I sat in silence once more.
So on Sunday I move up to the Greek hovel. The power works, the internet does not. It will be bloody cold at night and with no shower - the hosepipe option does not appeal at this time of year - it will be fairly tough and I may be rather smelly by this time next week. I guess it gives me an insight into hiow life is in the grim Northern welfare safaris back in England.
Others will have to lead the effort on ShareProphets next week for I am committed to playing a full part in the harvest and so completing it in less than five days this time so that I can get back to the Mrs and the cats as soon as possible. Of course vreki can stop play. But at last I feel we are ready to go.
With that to celebrate I am back in Kalamata at a nice little restaurant for some tzatziki followed by calamari washed down with a large ouzo or three. The place is the best little eating house on the winter seafront even if it does not allow smoking. Perhaps that rather un-Greek health fascism explains why last night I was 100% of the customers and on a Friday night am 33% of the clientele.
I take it all back. The waiter has just rushed outside to tell me that, notwithstanding the no smoking signs everywhere, I can smoke inside. Okay the restaurant Katalenos on Navarino Street is perfect.
I fly tomorrow morning and will arrive in Kalamata so late that I shall enjoy one night of luxury in a hotel before heading off to the Greek Hovel for the olive harvest. George the sprightly 60 year old Albanian and his Mrs are ready to lead the harvest from Wednesday or Thursday and we are off. But there is a bit of a problem. I still speak no Greek and have hitherto relied on the lovely Eleni from the Kourounis taverana to assist. It is either her or Nikko the commie, no-one else speaks more English than I speak Greek in the village of Kambos.
In May I wondered if Eleni had put on a couple of pounds but did not like to say anything. By the time I arrived in August I was fairly sure that she was with child but being a gentleman and not wishing to offend I dared not ask. Aha. I speak to Eleni tonight and she is going into hospital tomorrow. Don't worry she says, she will be back at work by Sunday.
Well that is very good, none of this maternity leave nonsense of the West, back in the kitchen with you young lady. But pro tem I must now work out how to communicate with George - who speaks not a word of English - as well as to the rest of the village.
Nikko the commie will be hard at work on his own olives and so his presence cannot be guaranteed. This could be an uncomfortable few days as I struggle to heat the hovel, deal with the rats and communicate with absolutely anybody.
As I write there are six customers in the Kourounis taverna in Kambos. Including me four are English. This is a little unusual. Normally Kambos is a haven of Greeks but as summer approaches a few Brits arrive. It is all very middle class. We are all using the wifi and naturally not saying a word to each other. The only noise comes from a couple of noisy children who have wandered in.
Anyhow after a hard day in the fields poisoning frigana I am too tired to talk anyway.
Its just a Greek salad a glass of wine and home I go to the Greek hovel. Okay maybe two glasses. Like the late Charles Kennedy, I describe myself as a moderate drinker.
So how is the sabbatical going? Hmmmm. Not quite so restful. when at the Greek hovel I live on English time so I work late and get up not quite at the crack of dawn. Other than today when my nearest neighbour - he lives a mile and a half away - Charon knocked on my door at 6 am GMT. I answered in my underpants in a rather sleepy fashion but that did not phase him.
As ever Charon speaks a mixture of a little English and a lot of Greek. The former is so bad that I do not understand it. The latter I still do not understand at all. Our common languages are cigarettes and coffee and I provided both.
A text from London's top tech analyst arrived "fuck me, you are on Zero Hedge". Sadly I was not online at the hovel for reasons I cant quite fathom and so I said "sto Kambos" and bundled Charon into my tiny motor to head off to the Kourounis taverna in the village. Lovely Eleni is also not yet up but her husband and mother in law were and yup, my Greek Bank Run story is indeed right up at the top of the front page of the top US website, getting rather a lot of reads. I am flattered.
It is a double flattery day as checking my email I discover that I have been asked to speak at a top conference on financial fraud held eack yeart in London on "market abuse on AIM." I am told that on October 1 I will be speaking at the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners shindig with delegates drawn from the legal profession, forensic accountants, law enforcement and fraud investigators . I wont be short of things to say.
Now that I have fully woken up it is off to the fields. The sun is blazing. It is a bank holiday here in Greece so no-one is doing any work. No cheap jokes now! But I shall be frigana poisoning all day.
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.
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.
I am sitting happily tapping away at my computer loading a bit of blockbusting copy for ShareProphets in the morning. The Kourounis taverna in Kambos is pretty full with little groups here and there chatting away happily. The doors are flung wide open as it is a warm night. Outside at one of the tables my friend Nicho the Communist is holding Court. Behind me I can hear lovely Eleni chatting and laughing loudly. How do I know it is her? Well there are only four women in the taverna and the other three are sitting in front of me.
As I tapped away an old man reminding me of the Asterix character Geriatrix hobbled over propped up by a stick and stared at my screen. He looked hard for a couple of minutes. I am not sure of he has ever seen a content management system before, I know he can't read or speak English. Indeed it is far from certain that he can read Greek.
But it clearly fascinated him and he peered intensely for a good two minutes before muttering something in Greek and tottering off. Perhaps like my father he refers to all PCs as Beelzebub and that is what he said.
Around me the smell of ouzo is everywhere. It is what all the older men drink. I have resisted the lure for almost two weeks now but, what the heck, one for the road before heading back to the wildlife diversity at the Greek Hovel.
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.
When I left in February I tried to buy two cans of snake repellent to keep the 27 varieties of Greek serpent away from the Greek hovel. The man at the hardware store said “there is no point as they are asleep, when are you back?” I said May. He said, do not worry they do not wake up till June. What he meant was “I have none in stock.”
And so I wandered in yesterday and bought two of the cans which you position 10 yards away from two corners of the house and which emit a scent which scares away snakes. Except when like the one I met on my front doorstep last summer they do not scare them away. I asked if the snakes were awake yet, rather fearing that I knew the answer.
“Yes, the sun is bright they are everywhere” said my friend cheerfully. Great. As I drive up the long and winding road and track to the hovel I saw no snakes but stacks of very large and very small lizards. Winnifrith’s Rule No 1 of reptiles “when you see lizards on the road, snakes are lurking in the long grass”. My heart sank.
I approached the hovel nervously. I made load noises as I approached. The grass is now turning from green to brown but is long enough to be an ideal hiding ground for snakes. I will not be wandering barefoot across the lawn until I have put the strimmer to work. But there were no snakes. As I unlocked the door a lizard scuttle across my feet but as I looked inside nothing moved.
A dead rat lay on the floor. The vast amounts of poison I had left in February had worked although I cannot figure how the critter got in to start with. I tossed the rodent into the bushes hoping that a snake would gobble its poison filled body up greedily and grabbed some masking tape to attach the snake repellent to two trees. I sprinkled sulphur all around the house – my inner snake free redoubt and left. Give it 24 hours, thought I and I shall have a wildlife diversity free hovel.
Returning today I checked the bedding and disturbed a live rat. Seriously, Brokerman Dan you must come over to catch some treats for your kids in the Manchester slums. I do not fear rats during the day it is just the thought of them crawling close to my face at night that freaks me out. I wondered why it had resisted the temptation of the rat sweeties but chased it into a crack in the chimney. I quickly lit a fire and he/she is now roasted or well smoked or has wriggled to freedom. I kind of sense that he/she will not be coming back.
And now I sit in lovely Eleni’s Kourounis taverna in Kambos contemplating my first night in the hovel with darkness all around and the wildlife diversity making strange noises at all times. I think I shall “sleep” with the light on and a heavy spade next to the bed tonight.
By the end of the summer we were firm friends. He speaks English and is the life and soul of the Kourounis tavern run by the lovely Eleni. The young men call him Papou (grandfather) but respect him as a chap who can drink them under the table, happily do a Greek dance – after half a bottle of whisky – but also be deadly serious.
As the only English speaker bar Eleni he is a conduit for me to wider world. His main job is with an organic food form headquartered in Athens. But he can work remotely and one imagines that business is not exactly booming and so he has plenty of time for more important things such as growing olives.
You will remember that an olive tree is viewed as a being like a beautiful woman who must be treasured and cared for. And Nicho owns a 500 year old specimen which in Kambos terms is like saying that you have Cheryl Cole waiting for you at home lying in a state of undress on your bed.
The Mani has always been staunchly Royalist and so will vote heavily for New Democracy in the forthcoming election although I am sad to say that Golden Dawn – the Nazis - has prominent headquarters in the centre of Kalamata and will attract some support. But Nicho is a communist. He knows that I am not.
Greek communists, supporters of KKE, are not quite like the Marxists of Islington we might know. I’d say on the left of the UK Labour party but with a heavy dose of loathing the Americans thrown in. And the Germans of Course. The British are not to be trusted. Being Greek they obviously hate the Turks as well. In fact Greek Communists mistrust or hare pretty much everybody except other Greek Communists. But generally in a fairly charming manner.
And as Nicho knows well there are far more important things in life such as …olives. And as such meet papou beaming with pride at the olive factory as he brings in the first part of his harvest – his crop will be at least five times the size of mine, including the yield from the Cheryl Cole tree.
Nicho says that it is vital that I am back in February for the manuring of the trees as well as frigana burning. The departure date has now been agreed with the Mrs…seven weeks to go. And I have a mental note: take some Irish whiskey with me… a belated 59th Birthday present for the old leftie.
There was a certain confusion about what to do with it. Do I put it in the oven said lovely Eleni? But with help from a truly bilingual member of the community we are underway. One of the Christmas puddings brought from Real Man Pizza in Clerkenwell is now steaming away in the private kitchen of the lovely Eleni at Kourounis taverna. In about an hour it will be ready. I hope. My friend Nikko finished his harvest and pressed his oil today. I now have 2.1 tonnes of olives at the factory. The last bags will come down tomorrow morning and then we press.
I shall take home a couple of cans to rebottle and use as Christmas presents for the chosen few as The Greek Hovel olive oil. The rest we sell and Eleni will pick up the cheque and repay me in the summer. So we celebrate the (almost) end of the harvest with something no-one else here in Kambos has ever tasted before. Fingers crossed.
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.
I am rather dreading heading back to the Greek Hovel tonight. I left at 3 PM as the electricity had gone again. I fled naturally to the Kourounis taverna where lovely Eleni assured me at 4 that it was back on. I sha;l find out shortly but have my torch ready just in case. But I postpone the trip back with another ouzo.
I hung around in Kambos because at 5 PM George the head olive picker arrived with the first 25 sacks from the Greek Hovel. We deposited them at the Olive Oil factory in the centre of the village and I now have a yellow slip saying that I have deposited 1033 kg ( just over a tonne) of olives. There is at least another half a tonne to arrive tomorrow as we finish up the harvest. Bags are stacked at the hovel and the only trees left to harvest are on the flat area next to the house. We are almost done.
So tomorrow we finish. It is Christmas pudding with Nikko, Vangelis and the others, steamed by Eleni. And we are done. And I had a Quindell whistleblower on the phone as a bonus. That job is almost done too. More on that tomorrow.
As I biked home last night the puddles on the mud track were alarmingly deep. Somehow I ploughed through. At least it was not that dark thanks to a constant backdrop of sheet lightening. As I reached the hovel I was greeted by a thunderclap which made me think that a massive bomb had just gone off in the olive groves. I gathered some firewood and was jolly glad to light a fire lock the door and go to sleep. Now it is the morning after….
The sky is a clear blue and it is almost hot. My olive pickers are making good progress but …I have no power. No light. No coffee. My phone is dead and cannot recharge. And so naturally I have to abandon the harvest and head off to Kambos to seek the assistance of the lovely Eleni.
The ground is so wet that my bike has slipped over but it works. Thank heavens for small mercies and I head off down the track. Now the puddles are ginormous but the heroic machine ploughs through them. By the time I reach snake hill which is gravel and concrete the sun is doing its best to dry the slope and I speed off towards the bottom of the valley. Cripes!
The dry river is not dry anymore. At the ford it is about an inch deep but that is why it is a ford. Either sire we now have a full river several foot deep. On the other side I turn right up the valley rather than left past the deserted monastery/convent and into Kambos to go have a look at the spring. In the summer this is a small stagnant pool providing at least some water for the wildlife diversity. Now a waterfall from the river gushes forth and the pool is large and vibrant. The spring is now a large pond.
Sadly my camera battery is dead and so no photos for now. I’ll oblige you all later as I have headed to the Kourounis taverna where all machines are now recharging. Lovely Eleni (pictured) holds court and makes a couple of phone calls for me. The whole village lost power as I slumbered but men are now working on it and Eleni assures me that my power will be reconnected shortly. And as it happens I shall be heading up to the hovel soon with a new (rather braver than the wuss Jamie) architect who is coming to visit.
Occasionally I have fallen off the motorbikes I use when in Kambos as a result of Nikko and Vangelis leading me astray at the Kourounis taverna owned by lovely Eleni. It is hard enough getting back up the track from the village to the hovel in the dark when sober but after a refreshing evening it is very hard. But today I had a bit of a tumble at a bit of speed (15 kmh) and when stone cold sober.
This time around I have moved up from a 50 cc machine to a 150 cc bike. It is not a lust for speed or a desire to impress the birds, simply the knowledge that in winter getting up the track to the Greek hovel was always going to be tough. This machine has power and normally I feel pretty much in control.
But it rained heavily overnight and the mud track section of the track once you have climbed snake hill and meander through the olive groves belonging to lovely Eleni on the way to the hovel, is ridden with puddles. The puddles are not so bad it is the mud around them that causes you to slip and slide. I was in a bit of a hurry as I had an appointment with Susan Shimmin of the Real Mani in Kambos. I was perhaps going a little bit too fast and I slid onto the grass between the trees.
It happened so quickly that I just did not have time to think about it. I just found myself with mud across my trousers and coat and my foot trapped underneath a heavy bike with the engine still turning. And of course there was no-one around. I managed to extricate my foot dusted myself down and carried on rather gingerly.
Tonight there was a monumental thunderstorm. It felt as if the thunder was on the snake veranda. The lights flickered. I waited for it to pass and headed down the track once again at a sensible, pedestrian pace. No thrills, no spills. You live and learn.
First up or rather not up, Foti. Despite all the promises my Albanian olive harvesters did not show up yet again. The lovely Eleni has a replacement team and we start work Monday, possibly Sunday. I am assured that they are reliable. Fingers crossed.
Second up my Internet is down. And third up my motorbike has a flat battery as well as a punctured tyre. And so at 9 AM I strolled from the Greek hovel into Kambos to spend the day working at the Kourounis taverna run by the lovely Eleni. So far not so bad.
Mid-morning I called John the bike man to see if he could pop over to assist. “I am in Athens my friend – I will come over on Saturday morning.” Yikes. In case this happened I brought a torch but now face a 30 minute down dale up dale walk back to the hovel in pitch darkness. It is not a prospect that I relish greatly and am putting off the grim moment as long as I can. But that only makes it worse.
My main Albanian Foti is playing cards in the taverna across the street from that of the lovely Eleni. It is a bit of an old man’s dive unlike the Kourounis taverna where women and young folks are welcome and which has wi-fi. Anyhow I wandered across and was told that today’s no show was down to the vreki (rain) and that he’d come on a rain free day, perhaps Saturday. Hmmmm.
I went back to Eleni’s and together we checked the 10 day weather forecast. Yikes tomorrow is rain free. So I pick up the laptop and stormed across the road. I think that it is the first time that the Old man’s taverna of Kambos has seen a laptop. I might as well have wandered in wearing a space suit. But I showed Foti and his friends the weather forecast and we agreed “Ohki vreki avrio – elias octo ore! (excuse the phonetic Greek). He nodded. Maybe the great harvest will finally get underway at the Greek hovel!
Watch this space.
PS. My Greek is improving. I now must know at least 25 words although avrio (tomorrow) seems to be the one I find myself using and hearing most often
It was Nikko who was celebrating his Birthday in lovely Eleni's Kourounis taverna in Kambos on Saturday. That led to an interesting ride back to the Greek Hovel. My harvest may not have started but my friend is already well progressed and what you see if some of the first oil off the press. It will be heading back to Bristol for the Mrs along with rather larger volumes of my own oil after we start harvesting later this week.
The Albanians led by Foti did not show up at 8 AM as promised. Bad news for me and bad news for Quindell, Fitbug, etc as I had more time to write and record a sizzling Bearcast (sense the anger). Actually it is jolly cold up on the mountain at the Greek Hovel so a bit of me is relieved to have postponed the outdoor manual labour – I plan to work alongside my team as part of my learning curve.
And so I find myself sitting in lovely Eleni’s Kourounis taverna which is a bit warmer than the hovel, catching up on work. We have racked down Foti and the harvest now starts on Thursday. By when it is bound to be even colder. But for now, warmth, writing and Eleni’s home cooking beckon here in Kambos.
As I was wandering in a semi sober manner out of the Kourouni's taverna owned by the lovely Eleni in Kambos tonight this song came on to play. I sort of view this as the song of The Greek Hovel. Even though it is French.
Indila hit No 2 in Frogland with this amazing track. In the UK it was off the radar but in Greece 2013 it went straight to No 1. Greeks have taste. I spent happy times in Paris a few years ago and so the video brings back memories but for me this song is Greece 2013. Enjoy
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
The Bristol vine harvest was completed last weekend. About enough liquid for ten to fifteen bottles now sits fermenting in a bucket. We have added sugar and yeast and must just wait for a week before straining and decanting into a demi-john. I may try to make grappa with what’s left as an experiment.
Our Bristol grapes were red but small and of varying degrees of sweetness. They were not the lush bunches of grapes you’d expect at a Roman orgy. Nor the lush bunches of sweet grapes that hang around the Greek Hovel.
My guest this summer gave me firm instructions as to how I must assist the vine for next year by pissing against it. As a woman she was not able to assist but urine is a great source of nitrogen and so I followed her instructions every day. I am not sure that I saw any immediate response from the gnarled trunk. But I guess we will find out next summer.
It is the end of my first working week back in the UK. Right now my friends in Kambos are gathering at lovely Eleni’s Kourounis taverna. It is starting to get dark. I would at this point be tapping away for another couple of hours before Vangelis – the man in the pink polo shirt – said in Greek, it is not if you are drinking but what are you drinking. And we’d be off. Back in Bristol I prepare to cook supper for the Mrs instead and to learn more about life in the Grim North by catching up on this week’s episodes of Coronation Street. It is a life of contrasts.
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.
Why do I trek down from the Greek Hovel to the Kourounis taverna in Kambos? Cheap and well prepared food? Cheap booze or diet coke of café frappes? The folks here? It’s a combination of all three. The clientele is overwhelmingly male as Greek women know that their place is in the home - please note The Mrs, none of your strident feminism here. So maybe it is the charm of lovely Eleni that draws us here. This place is known as “Eleni’s.”
But this is the evening, during the day there is a different clientele and for some of them it is not Eleni but the magician of Kambos they come to visit. I refer to Eleni’s husband Nicho. For while Eleni (or her mother-in-law Poppy) make the four dishes one chooses from as a main course, Nicho is the crepes man.
As he pours the batter on a circular cooker in an even and thin way that you and I could not manage in a month of Sundays, the kids just stare in amazement. They sit at stools watching the magician at work. The gaze up in awe.
And then he adds on chocolate (not Nutella) or ice cream or both. As a diabetic it is sheer torture to watch but the kids love it and adore Nicho who then adds to his popularity by watching the mind-rot cartoons that the kids love on the TV set. To hell with the news let’s watch Captain America. In Greek.
His command of English is marginally better than my Greek that is to say pretty much non-existent. We can get by on a routine basis: me ordering meatballs or Greek salad but if it gets complicated (adding back in last night’s bill which I forgot to pay) then he shouts “Eleni” and his lovely Mrs arrives, grabs a calculator and all is sorted.
Back in the 1960s my uncle visited the Mani on his first honeymoon. Oddly he and his wife were joined by another couple and within months his wife had run off with the other man. That is an aside. It took my uncle more than two days to get from Athens to the Mani so remote and cut off was the region.
Here in Kambos the dirt track to Kardamili became a road back in 1965 (two years after that fateful honeymoon), roads south from there were built later. The man who brought this peninsular to the attention of the wider world was Paddy Leigh Fermor, a truly amazing man once described as a mixture of Indiana Jones, James Bond and Gerald Durrell.
Though incredibly clever, Paddy was no academic and so after being expelled from school (issues with a young lady) in 1933 he walked through Europe to Greece. Along the way he noticed that something was not quite right in Germany. When war broken out he signed up immediately and was sent into Greece since he spoke the language fluently. His most heroic exploit was in Crete where – with the partisans – he captured a German general on the North of the island and transported him across Crete to the South where he was lifted off by British Destroyer. The film, based on the episode, has Leigh Fermor played by Dirk Bogarde
In the war Paddy’s code name was Michalis. After the war he stayed on in Greece fighting with the Royalists in the Civil war. He refers to this in his two classic books on Greece The Mani and Roumeli. The latter is about Northern Greece, the area about which my father writes and so on the only Winnifrith family holiday to Greece which I did not go on, there was a long visit to Paddy’s house.
The Mani is part history but draws on a walk that Paddy and his wife undertook through the peninsular in the early 1950s. At that stage walking was what you did. There were no roads. To get down the peninsular it was simpler to travel by boat.
Paddy was rather rude about Kambos, the second village on his trek. He cannot hide how dull he finds it and how glad he is to leave. On the other hand he cannot hide how he falls in love with Kardamili the moment he spots it and it was there that he built a house. The locals all knew him as Michalis. A social fellow he smoked 80 a day, drank more than his fair share of ouzo and though married retained a lifelong interest in les femmes.
The Mrs and I fell in love with Kardamili too, as we arrived there one late summer evening. Having no real beach it has been spared the tourist plague and ribbon development of Stoupa a few miles down the coast. But it is a town and for reasons that I will discuss later our experience there was not entirely happy. Its buildings, Venetian and onwards are stunning and it has a charm of its own. If I had to live in a town here it would be Kardamili.
But it has tourists and that changes the nature of any place. Kambos has no tourists. We are just a village in the road between Kalamata and Kardamili. There are some charming old stone houses on the back streets but no-one could say that Kambos is picturesque. But it is Greek. Or rather it is Maniot. Life here has not changed in the way that it has in the towns and villages by the sea. There is no crime – other than the murders – folks all own olives and will be working at least some of the time on the land. There is no need to learn English and they look after their own. In the hills around Kambos there are wonderful places to visit, to walk to for there is no other way to get there.
The Mrs and I first met lovely Susan Shimmin from the Real Mani in Kambos – at Eleni’s taverna – as it was a half-way point between Kalamata and Kardamili. Susan lives one village away in Stavrapoula. Whilst we were charmed from the first moment by the friendliness of Eleni and her husband Nikos, we were simply passing through as Paddy did back in 1952. Kambos did not grab us. We did not fall in love with it on sight.
We fell in love with the Greek Hovel, notwithstanding meeting a snake on our first visit. But Kambos has grown on the Mrs. It entranced my guest this summer who is keen to return to a place where she is remembered fondly. And I feel at home here. It took a while. Falling off my bike at 3 MPH in front of the Korounis taverna helped. Struggling, but publicly succeeding in tackling the frigana has demonstrated that I am not just a tourist. My commitment to come back for the Olive harvest and to work on it rather than just supervise Foti is clear.
Next Spring, work starts on formally rebuilding the Greek hovel. I had a good meeting with Eleni (that is Eleni the architect daughter of lovely Susan and a woman who has to be the biggest snake coward in the whole of Greece, not lovely Eleni from Kambos) on Monday. By next summer there should be at least one room that the Mrs deems habitable and she too has fallen in love with this place. So as soon as UK-Investor show is out of the way….
For any number of reasons I have to regard Paddy Leigh Fermor as a total superstar. But I wonder if he was around today might he take a rather more charitable view of my home village of Kambos.
I saved the last of the frigana for after lunch. Two sessions in the morning left me with one last patch to clear. But first a major problem: My bike was leaking oil. The man at the garage said “go to Kalamata tomorrow” as I bought my second bottle of the day. But I am a changed man.
Three months ago I would have phoned John the bike man in a panic. Today once back at the hovel I got underneath the bike and diagnosed the problem. Tubing had come loose. And I fixed it. Triumph one.
Triumph two came just before dusk as I finally removed the last frigana bush on the property. 2000 square metres of this appalling plant now lies, dead and browning on the killing fields. The last bushes climbed up a wall but these days I have real muscles in my arms. With just one arm I can now lift and wield with some accuracy a heavy strimmer above my head or to swing below my feet as I stand on a wall. These last two bushes are no more.
I have not had such muscular arms since my London Irish days. And my waist has only been this thin once since those happy times. But enough on my weight, the triumph was the frigana. I retreated from the mass of tangled branches and stood on the road, dripping with sweat but triumphant. I raised the strimmer above my head as a victory salute over the enemy. It has been a tough opponent. But this summer it has been the frigana, not Quindell or its moronic shareholders or other Bulletin Board Morons which I have fought and defeated.
What shall I do tomorrow with no frigana to cut? For starters I shall do a photo shoot around the property so that you can appreciate the scale of what has been achieved. And then ahead of my return to Britain I want to relax for a couple of days, to visit Kitries for a sea swim and last meal of Octopus and to mentally prepare for the adjustment of going home to a UK work routine. Tonight, I celebrate my triumphs with a glass of the excellent local rose at lovely Eleni’s Kourounis taverna in my home village of Kambos.
I had planned to stay sober until my return but I fear that I have been led astray. I blame OTE Telecom. I still cannot get on the interwebby at The Greek Hovel so spent all Sunday working from the Kouronis taverna in Kambos, run by lovely Eleni. At about 10 O’clock Greek Time I was done writing and asked for my bill. But instead I was summoned to the bar and asked to sit with four men.
Either side of me were two Gentlemen who spoke English. The younger (George) was a relative newcomer to the area, the elder (Nikos) is a greying stocky man with a walrus moustache. It was he who had cross words with me on my second day here when I supported the Krauts rather than the Argies in the football. Since then we have exchanged nothing but pleasantries. Behind Nikos was the man in the pink polo shirt (Vangelis) and behind George was another George, a Greek only speaking builder.
I was told “it is not will you have a drink but what are you drinking”. They were on the hard stuff and so I opted for ouzo. Nikos told me that they had decided they needed to know me better as I was now their neighbour.
They refused to let me pay and four hours later I was rather the worse for wear. Nikos was concerned about me biking home. He offered to drive me several times but since he was also a tad unsteady on his feet I declined and made it back to the hovel falling off only once as my bike meandered across the track at five miles an hour.
Poor Niko (husband of Eleni) had to pour round after round, happy in the knowledge that he had to get up at 5.30 AM to go to the fruit market in Kalamata.
The conversation was wide ranging. I told them my father wrote books on Greece, spoke Greek and drank more than me. They said they wanted him to come next summer not me. They asked how they could help and what I did. So I explained about the writing and mentioned the death threats. Not a problem. If any strangers come to Kambos and ask for me “We will shoot them..but only if you want us to.”
We talked olives. Nikos recollected planting trees with his father when he was ten and now they stand at the heart of his fields. Actually he is marketing manager for a Cretan organic food company headquartered in Athens. But since the downturn there is not much demand so he is back in Kambos with his friends and his olives, doing a bit of work by phone and on the web.
The four men will be the winter crew. In the summer all sorts of folks come here to visit friends and relatives. As winter draws in they disappear. And so by the time of the Olive harvest this will be the hard core drinking crew at Eleni’s. Vangelis will cook a celebrator meal of wild birds with his own wine when my harvest is done. I said that I’d bring a Christmas pudding as my contribution and started to try to explain but in the end just said it tastes great and has lots of alcohol in it. That seemed to convince them all.
We talked snakes. Apparently the answer is to get a cat as cats eat snakes. I tried to picture my fat three legged cat Oakley engaged in mortal combat with a snake and found it hard to imagine. Oakley regards having to walk downstairs as strenuous exercise but apparently his Greek cousins are made of sterner stuff. And so maybe the Hovel, when completely renovated will need a cat. Oakley, do you have your passport ready?
I felt dreadful this morning and on arriving at the Kouronis taverna was met with a knowing smile by a laughing Eleni and her mother in law Poppy. “Crazy Greek men” she said as I ordered eggs and toast and started mainlining orange juice.
Three of the e crazy Greek men are again at Kouronis tonight as I write. They are not drinking. Just to show them that I’m not a total pansy I am struggling to down a glass f the local cheeky rose.
Tomorrow I go back on the wagon and will make amends for a poor 24 hours on the diet front with a full day in the fields frigana cutting. Writing will be limited.
I was sitting in lovely Eleni’s Kourounis tavern in Kambos when on the screen I suddenly see pictures of a bunch of loons waving Saltire’s and some other loons waving Union flags. Eleni looks a bit puzzled as the commentator tries to explain to a Greek audience what is going on.
Eleni asks me about Scotland. I tell her that it is a bit like Greece. Very high unemployment, the Government spends more than it takes and the politicians are all corrupt. But it is a lot colder. She says she understands why Scotland is the Greece of the North and we return to serious matters of discussing Greekeconomics – the Kambos Town Hall.
I am one of perhaps 500 people in our village of Kambos where The Greek Hovel is located. But we have a Town Hall and a Mayor. We also have three full time employees who work in one of the largest buildings in Kambos. Doing what? I have no idea.
The village of Kambos is obliged to mend my road by law. But it has no money to do so. I have another meeting there tomorrow to discuss. That’s Greekeconomics for you.
The summer is drawing to a close at the Greek Hovel. My summer lasts for just another three weeks and then I must return to Britain. I shall miss this place badly. But the physical summer is also drawing to its close. Nature is changing.
The grapes that used to sit in great bunches hanging from the vines that surround this house are all gone. I had my fair share but so too did some incredibly large wasps who after a day’s gorging would buzz around inebriated and stuffed. The wasps have gone and are now preparing, unknowingly, for death.
Meanwhile I start to gather firewood whenever I find it. Not in an organised fashion but on an ad hoc basis. There is plenty kicking around and it is now being stored in the rat room. I will need it for the fire when I come back in November and December for the olive harvest and frigana burning. By then it will be only 22 degrees during the day and at night it will be a tad chilly.
In the evenings as I head down to Eleni’s most excellent Kourounis taverna in Kambos for a Greek salad I now wear jeans and a shirt. By the time I head back there is a chill in the air. The weather is slowly turning. Do not get me wrong, it is 3 PM now and I sit in shorts only - the afternoon heat is still intense, just not quite what it was.
And so with no grapes to snack on I am now onto prickly pears which grow on two giant cactus like plants just behind the hovel.
Prickly is the word. Not only are here the very obvious spins but the whole pear is covered in tiny needles. In picking the bunch below I now have spindles that look like tiny hairs on most of my fingertips. I am slowly brushing them away and removing them but they sting. Nature has a clever way of protecting herself.
To eat. You cut both ends off and then peel away the remainder of the barrel with a knife. I have not quite got the hang of it yet but I am getting there. The pips are digestible and the taste great. Other than the almonds – of which I am no great fan – and the figs, they are all that is left of the summer harvest 2014 here at the hovel
I think that with hindsight it was a mistake to try to ride back from Kambos carrying two pots of lavender on the motorbike. But I did, I tried to turn in the main road and I fell of my bike. At 5 miles an hour it was not too painful. Folks rushed from Eleni’s taverna to help pick me and the lavender pots up. I got back on an increasingly battered bike and moved off gingerly.
Biking back along the dirt track to the Greek Hovel is never easy but carrying two lavender pots (in plastic bags), with my confidence dented and with blood trickling from my knee and elbow it was harder than usual.
On the plus side I have given them something to talk about in Eleni’s Kouronis taverna – not a lot happens in Kambos. My reputation as a bit of an odd and clumsy stranger will be enhanced and I suppose seeping blood has to be good for weight loss? Please tell me that is true.
— Tom Winnifrith
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