210 days ago
— Tom Winnifrith
My best friend in Kambos, bar lovely Eleni, that is to say Nicho the communist said that he would, this weekend, give his verdict on my olives – will the harvest be good, bad or indifferent? He is by nature a pessimistic fellow and so, though I was filled with modest optimism, I was braced for a more downbeat assessment.
It was early afternoon on Sunday when I encountered him. I had finished my writing for the day he was starting his first beer. I asked him how he was and he said that he was tired. Drinking last night? I asked, for Nicho can be a thirsty fellow. Too much work, he assured me. We agreed that he would pop up for an inspection in 15 minutes and sure enough, thirty minutes later, he pitched up in his truck.
I showed him my trees. We agreed that some were better than others. He looked at the sprinkling of olives downed by Zorba or the flies around each tree. He gave one of those hang dog expressions which are so much easier if you sport a large moustache. “Not too bad” he professed. His “not too bad” is my “jolly good” But he believed the crop would be commercial and asked who would be harvesting with me. He seemed reassured that it was not just me and a couple of other Englishmen but that I was bringing in real workers, otherwise known as Albanians. The crop is commercial.
Nicho has an interest in the wild olives on the edge of my land. He wants to harvest them to see what their oil tastes like. But sadly, as per normal, the wild trees bear little fruit. We have made plans to address that in 2020. We always make such plans but this time we are serious.
213 days ago
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.
276 days ago
If you head to a seaside settlement in the Mani right now whether it be Islington-sur-Mer (kardamili) or the Costa-del-Stoupa they will be packed with people. Head there in the winter and they are semi-deserted. Up here in the lower reaches of the Taygetos mountains, in unfashionable old Kambos, the population barely changes throughout the year. The faces I see when harvesting olives in November are, essentially, those I see now in the burning heat of August.
Sure there are a few seasonal visitors. Poor Nicho the Communist, Papou, a man several years older than I am, has been saddled by his sister with two young nephews from Athens. He brings them to the Kourounis taverna of lovely Eleni where they play mindless games on their tablet with the other kids. Poor Nicho, a “moderate drinker” in the same way as the late Charles Kennedy, orders another large whisky and sits there resigned to his fate.
But most of the folks in Kambos are all year rounders. My first stop in the village was naturally at one of the two hardware stores to stock up on snake repellent canisters and to teat myself to a new saw and axe as my old ones appear to have been lost in the building works.
My olive trees are pretty clean having been thoroughly pruned in May and re-pruned in June but the rain of July has seen new sprouts emerging and so a re-cleaning exercise is called for and is now underway. 250 trees – almost for weeks so ten a day will do me fine. Yesterday I did twelve but even early in the morning it is jolly hot and so I’m not planning to spend that long each day in the snake-fields.
The second person I met was the ageing mother-in-law of lovely Eleni. I was wandering down the back street that leads from the Church and where I park my car, down towards the main street and there was the old lady painting white the pavement outside her house and the kerb.
In Ulster if you are a loyalist you paint the kerb red white and blue, a Fenian paints the kerb orange, white and green and you make a statement. In Greece all kerbs are painted white making the statement “We Greeks may have buggered it all up over the pat decade but we are calm and at peace and by the way we invented democracy, literature and philosophy three thousand years ago when you were all living in trees and caves. PS Glad to see Turkey buggering it up too.”
And so I greeted her and she greeted me. Tikanis, Cala, etc. She asked how old Joshua was and I replied “Theo”. I thought of trying to explain that he and the Mrs would arrive soon but given that my Greek is as non existent as her English thought better of it. Anyhow it was a warm greeting. And so I wandered on. The village square is packed in the evening with families as well as the normal old men chatting, drinking and eating at either Kourounis or at Miranda’s. trade is roaring. They are all familiar faces: the shepherds, the goat herder, Vangelis in his pink shirts, all the other m en who will all be called George, Nicho or Vangelis but whose names I cannot quite remember. It will be one of the three. Tikanis, Cala, Yas, Tom. I shake hands with many of them.
As ever I reflect on how few folks in Bristol I know well enough to greet them with a warm handshake. Come the weekend the Mrs who speaks some Greek pitches up. I’m not sure that will aid the conversation greatly but, of course, Joshua melts all hearts and builds bridges at once.
Up at the hovel after midnight there was another familiar face spotted. You may remember that three or four years ago I befriended a small black and white kitten up here by giving it milk. It has been a periodic pleasure in subsequent years to see my old friend, now a large cat, striding purposefully across the land. Cats eat rats and snakes and as such he, or she, is most welcome here.
My room being a tad stuffy I ventured outside shining my torch ahead of me to ensure that I had no unexpected encounters. There is a slightly cooling breeze and I wanted to catch a bit of it before heading off to sleep. If I hear a noise anywhere I shine my torch in the right direction hoping to spot what approaches. I saw a brief bit of black and white but the cat darted behind a tree. I kept the torch on that tree some 30 yards away and after a short while my friend broke cover and walked, with no sense of panic, off towards the snake fields. Happy hunting comrade cat.
358 days ago
I am horrified by how much pruning is needed on some of our olive trees. It is as if they have not been "cleaned, as they say here, for years. But this is just one season's growth. Maybe I have Alzheimer's but I really do not remember it being this hard other than in year one when Foti the Albanian and I tackled trees that had not been pruned in eons.
Below are two "before" shots, one of a floor covered in prunings and two "after" shots of one of the trees I tackled this morning. Phew. I had said that I have 160 trees so a kind reader said "that is 16 a day" but the truth is that I do not know how many trees we have.
For one thing the number is confused by wild olive trees ( no fruit) a handful of big olive trees (used for curing and eating not oil) and a half a dozen old trees that produce nothing. In due course Nicho the Communist and I will replace the old trees and wild olive trees with trees for oil. And we will plant new trees on land now emptied of frigana and so ready to domesticate.
There are also the trees which, until I arrived, were drowning in snake rich frigana and so were ignored. I have butchered the frigana but it is still pretty wild in the far reaches of the hovel's lands and I prune nervously.
So the truth is that I have no idea how many trees there are. But i shall stick to my 20 a day and see where I get to by the time I head home. I shall reveal the results of the olive census then.
531 days ago
— Tom Winnifrith
I have been so dog tired during the olive harvest that I have eaten our rarely. Normally supper has been a Greek salad in my hotel room. One Friday night, sensing the end of the harvest was nigh, I ventured out to my favourite restaurant here in Kalamata, the Katelanos which is about 400 yards from my hotel on the seafront.
As ever it was not exactly bustling. This is not a seasonal thing. It can often be found near deserted in summer as it is in winter. I really don't know why. On this night there was a table of eight, four men at one end talking man things and four women at the other end smoking hard and talking women things. Greece is a conservative place but this is progress. Thirty years ago the women would have been left at home. Other than that there was a lonely looking woman sipping a glass of wine in the corner, waiting, it seemed, for Godot. And there was me.
I chatted to my friend the lady who runs the place and for £15 enjoyed a plate of home made tzatziki (garlic infused yogurt with cucumbers) and grilled octopus an d, as the harvest was almost done, two ouzos. You might think that this seems like a bargain, I doubt you'd get much change out of £30 for the same meal in London. The food was good but I have grown mean in my old age now that I know the delights of Miranda's up in Kambos.
Up at Miranda's there are never any fish dishes. In the old days it would have been a three quarter day mule ride up from the sea to bring fish to the village so, even today, it is not on the menu. Instead it is locally grown vegetables and meat: goat, lamb, pork, beef or chicken. The cooking is simple but it tastes all the better for that.
As it is winter so we all sit inside. That one evening I made it 15 at dinner including me, All of us hunched up on four of five tables kept warm by a wood stove. For me it was park in a wine sauce and potatoes cooked in the oven - £5.
The faces were all familiar to me: Nicho the Communist chatted to Foti the Albanian, the rather simple assistant chap at the garage laughed away.Naturally none of the diners were women, they all sit at home or occasionally venture into the Kourounis taverna.
Despite the woes of the harvest everyone seem in good form as Fix beers and small bottles of ouzo and raki were opened one after another. I popped in again yesterday for a farewell lunch: two knuckles of stewed beef and some incredible chickpeas in a sauce, drizzled with lemon. The chickpeas really were spectacular. That, an ouzo and a Greek coffee came to just over £8. I bade my farewells to all present, explained to my Communist friend that I'd be back in the spring, and with that it was goodbye to the best little restaurant in Greece.
540 days ago
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...
696 days ago
I was driving on the road that heads up into the mountains heading from Kalamata to Kambos. Of course it does not end in Kambos, the nearest village the Greek Hovel. Kambos is just a settlement, of no particular historical significance, beauty or importance, sitting on the road as one heads to Kardamili, the ghastly tourist fleshpot of Stoupa or the regional capital Areopolis. But Kambos is as far as I usually go.
The sun was beating down and 600 yards out of town as the road starts to climb I saw a young woman, laden down with shopping bags and gesticulating wildly. Naturally, being a gent, I stopped and she said she was trying to get back to Stoupa. I said I could take her as far as Kambos and she tried to get into the front seat.
And then she stopped. as you can see lying on my front seat was my axe and 12 inch saw. Worse still I had my frigana chopper sitting there with the shaft running into the back seat. It has a tiny leak in the tank and so the whole car stank of petrol.
In Britain in the current climate that would have seen the girl calling 101 on her cellphone and an armed response unit arriving within minutes. JK Rowling would be on twitter within half an hour, talking about how yet another white supremacist had been nabbed and how Katie Hopkins and Nigel Farage were to blame. But here in the Mani I bet many cars are kitted out thus at this time of year. The young lady clambered into the back and we started chatting.
Looking in my rear view mirror I though she polished up well and that confirmed my prejudices. She was a Greek from Stoupa and my shame is that I leapt to the conclusion that she was just another dippy millennial out shopping and now heading back to Stoupa, a cultural desert, to head out to the bars. Shame on me.
Her passion was botany and we talked flowers. She searched for rare orchids up in the high Mani. She had spent the morning talking online to a world famous Irish botanist about a plant she had discovered. Did I know of him she asked? I had not heard of him. I remarked on the flowers up at the Hovel in spring and how I photographed them,. She asked me what flowers they were.
All that I could say is that I thought they were varied, of many colours and very attractive. Who is the bloody airhead now? C'est moi. I did not dare to mention that, as Nicho the Communist and I had purged the snakefields of frigana with poison, I had wiped out most of the flowers at the same time. An airhead and a vandal to boot, I was shamed.
706 days ago
As I have noted many times, killing frigana is very therapeutic. To date this year, the weapon of choice has been poison and as you can see below, that has worked in places to very good effect. This is a patch I sprayed about a week ago and it is already on its way out. Leaves that were a shiny green are now visibly browning and pretty soon this whole patch will be a golden brown. But sadly that is not the whole story.
As I continued pruning my olive trees on Saturday I headed to the furthest points of our lands. I would say that it is almost 1,000 yards from the front gate to the point where a wire fence marks a patch that was pure jungle from an isolate place where someone, I know not who, keeps a few chickens and sheep. I did not actually know about this enclosure until a year after we bought the hovel so dense was the frigana at the far end of the land.
I always view the fight against the frigana as some sort of military conflict. The massed ranks of the enemy have largely been destroyed. But as you can see, a few large bushes remain. And in some places it is a bit more than a few. They ave held out against Nicho the Communist's spraying. Maybe some of the upper leaves are now golden brown but most of the square, I guess I now think of a British formation in the Napoleonic wars, has held firm. As Lady Thatcher once said, There Is No Alternative. TINA.
Tomorrow I must try to hope that my frigana cutting machine with its three pointed blade of death is in working order and I must wade in. The plan is to slash the bushes down to and including the roots and to revisit in August. At that point, I move forward from 1815 to 1916 and will, if needed poison again should new small green shoots be coming through.
Tom Winnifrith vs the frigana. This is not a battle this is a war. And we are now into the fourth summer campaign. Victory is in sight, onwards and upwards.
717 days ago
It may sound silly but I find that killing frigana - the horrid thorn bush in which snakes hide - is really the most relaxing thing that I can do. Whether it be with poison or with my strimmer I become the grim reaper and could not be happier.
Today "Death" was armed with a brand new 16 litre spraying kit. One measure of poison from my 5 litre can (also pictured) for nine of water and off I went. The lever on the side must be flexed in order to build up pressure and then you spray away. Oh what joy.
The strimmer brings the satisfaction of causing instant decapitation but the bloody plants just grow again. Poison takes a while but after ten days what was sprayed today will be a golden brown and on its last legs.
Three years ago I used a strimmer only as the frigana was anywhere between waist height and my height and had to be slashed back carefully because of what might be lurking inside. But three years of slashing, burning and poisoning have left the 16,000 square metres of land at the hovel a very different place. And that in itself brings a sense of fulfilment. I have, with my own hands, turned a wildlife diverse jungle into land which can be farmed for olives and - longer term - for vegetables. It is land across which one can wander with clear sight of whatever wildlife diversity may be ahead of you, the diversity has nowhere to hide.
These days there are whole patches that are frigana free. The plants that have grown back are mostly knee high. The industrial spraying by Nicho the Communist a month ago missed out a few areas entirely and the odd plant or row of plants elsewhere. So I am really just adding the finishing touches. Across our lands most plans are now golden brown, dead or dying.
The only concern I have as I spray away is snakes so I tread carefully. But standing on a snake free spot, wearing an Olympiakos baseball cap left at the Greek hovel by the former owner vile Athena, I can then just spray away in pure joy. As the liquid falls on each plant i think of some Bulletin Board moron or share poltroon who has accused me of theft, tax evasion, child abuse, murder or whatever. I compare the frigana plants to the stockmarket villains I hunt in my day job. Maybe my poison is as weak as UK financial regulators in that just when you think a villain is nailed slam dunk or a frigana plant is drowning in poison and doomed, it goes away for a while but then comes back a year later to annoy you once again.
I am not sure if I am winning the battle against stockmarket fraud but who cares? Two hours of poisoning the frigana sees me dripping in sweat but thoroughly fulfilled. In ten days I will be able to witness the tangible fruits of my labour. And there will be a tangible win. Tomorrow I can tackle a whole new swathe of frigana. I can feel my blood pressure falling already. This is the life.
729 days ago
— Tom Winnifrith
I have been pruning olive trees at the Greek Hovel for four years now. But there is one tree that has almost entirely escaped my attention until now, the one that lies within the outer ring of stones of the abandoned ruin on our property, a.k.a. the snake house.
The ruin was surrounded by thick bushes. In the first year there was a forest of frigana around it. And time and time again I have heard rustlings from inside. Over the years I have hacked back the frigana as much as I dare and poisoned it some more and now the bushes are almost gone.
Last year I did a quick attempted prune but as I saw a snake disappear into long grass about a yard from where I stood I bear a hasty retreat. This was the snake house and I accepted that.
But now Nicho the Communist's poison has left the last few bushes brown and dying. More importantly, as you can see HERE, the ruin is being pulled down so that we can use its stones to extend the main house. And all that poison and activity has forced Mr snake to seek a new home. So on a symbolic day the Mrs snapped me pruning that tree, at last.
734 days ago
— Tom Winnifrith
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?
743 days ago
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.
746 days ago
— Tom Winnifrith
There was i just dozing off gently as the "Cathedrals Express," which I had caught at Moreton in the Marsh, pulled slowly past Didcot. Then my phone rang. It was a Greek number but not one that I recognised. It was Nicho the Communist on a land line.
So you are in England, he said. I replied that I was. He was calling to say thart he and "The Albanian" were returning to the Greek Hovel this afternoon to finish the frigana poisoning. Thank you very much I said in Greek. We will meet this weekend to sort out a second payment for the Albanian and for me to hand over his favoured currency, whiskey.
The job is done, even without my assistance. In less then ten days what were green fields dotted with green frigana will be a golden brown. And we can start plotting where to plant our new olive trees.
In Kambos, Avrio may not always be tomorrow but it always comes in the end.
748 days ago
— Tom Winnifrith
I arrived at the Greek Hovel at 9 AM sharp for the delayed day two of the frigana poisoning. I parked outside the gates. I could not be bothered to open them, close them and almost certainly have to open and close them again when my comrade in Labour, Nicho the Communist turned up. For I had a feeling that once again he would not. Yesterday it was God's fault...
Three quarters of an hour spent watching lizards outside the car window was anough for me. I reversed and headed back along the three mile track to Kambos. I passed Nicho's car and his truck parked outside his house and headed to the Kourounis taverna. Lovely Eleni tried calling Nicho but there was no answer.
Lovely Eleni confirmed that Nicho had, as I had suspected, been on the whiskey last night. If there is a a Y in the day it means that it is a "Yamas" day. The suggestion was that he had kept going to 5 AM. In which case his lie in, is understandable. When will we complete our work? Avrio. Avrio.
749 days ago
— Tom Winnifrith
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.
750 days ago
You may remember that George the Architect is a little nervous about chopping down non olive trees which the forestry survey may have identified at the Greek Hovel. On the other hand Nicho the Communist regards these snake shelters as an obstruction to the basic human right of every Greek to plant as many olive trees as possible on his land. I am with Nicho.
And thus while on day one of the poisoning Nicho started work dealing with the frigana -as you can see here - The Albanian was sent off with a chainsaw to deal with one of the five trees that we have earmarked for removal.
Sod elf n safey, this is Greece. The little chap just set to work clambering up the tree and taking at apart branch by branch as you can see below. In fifteen minutes the tree was an ex tree and Nicho had another place to plant an olive tree this Autumn.
750 days ago
As he had promised my friend Nicho the Communist returned to the Kourounis taverna after half an hour and so shortly before eleven, two hours after we planned, we were ready to start poisoning the frigana, the ghastly snake hiding thorn bushes, that blight the Greek Hovel. Shall we go in my car I asked?
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.
750 days ago
— Tom Winnifrith
A reader asks how do I ensure that, when the land around the Greek Hovel has been poisoned, the various herds of goats and flocks of sheep that wander the foothills of the Taygetos do not roll on by for a fatal meal. The land will be pretty bad for their health for at least a week. Its a fair question with a three part answer.
Firstly I have told lovely Eleni what I am up to. Since all the shepherds and goatherds frequent the Kourounis taverna she has warned them what is afoot. Secondly word about Nicho the Communist and I going to poison the snakefields has spread throughout Kambos and is the subject of much hilarity. The Englishman from Toumbia - snakes - Nicho - sober - you get the gist. So everyone knows what is happening anyway.
And finally...I have shut the gate. There is a rickety metal structure at the end of what you might term the "drive" but is really just a continuity of the mud track which leads to the hovel. Normally the gate is left wide open as a sign to all shepherds and goatherds that our land is a common resource. But when I am poisoning I shut the gates as a sign. The gates are very much on their last legs and your average sheep could open them with a good shove. I suspect that the gates will not last the year. I have plans, not yet discussed with the Mrs so do not alert her, to build a great wall around our land and with it large new wooden gates.
I have discussed this with a man called George - that would be George the wall builder as opposed to all the other George's in Kambos - and shown him what sort of wall I want. Once, like the Patron Saint of the Old Country, I have purged my land of snakes, the wall will help keep them out. And it will also keep out any unwelcome visitors from Britain who might object to some of the things I write. Like Donald Trump, I like walls.
Pro tem I make do with an old wire fence that keeps nothing out and a gate whose only purpose is to signal that the land will, for the next ten days, be under poison. So readers, no sheep or goats will be harmed by what Nicho and I are up to.
750 days ago
— Tom Winnifrith
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.
751 days ago
— Tom Winnifrith
My strips for my English meter should have arrived by Fedex yesterday. They have not. And so i am still on the Greek meter where my readings are all over the shop. Overall the trend seems down and yesterday post run I scored a reading of 106 which I gather is 5.9 in proper money. Okay vigorous exercise really spoofs the meter but three weeks ago I could have run a marathon and still not got anywhere near that level. Okay that is a lie.
Yesterday i managed 3.1 km in 26 minutes. A new post diabetic personal best but still a bit short of a marathon. And i was a sweaty wreck. Today it will be 3.3km in 27 minutes and I am jolly proud of myself. that pride was a bit punctured by a late night call from soon to be 16 year old daughter Olaf who claims to be able to do 5 km in 25 minutes. "But well done daddy you are starting from a different base" she opined. Patronising little witch. I will show her.
That was not the extent of my exercise. I headed up to Kambos to pick up my poison for a weekend of frigana poisoning with Nicho the Communist. 80 Euro saw me get a massive plastic bottle which weighed a tom. well not quite but it was frigging heavy and I had to put it down several times as I walked back to my car. Lovely Eleni and her husband Nicho (not a communist as far as I know) laughed as they saw me and at that point Nicho the Communist wandered up. So you two are poisoning tomorrow said Eleni and laughed even more. There seemed some doubt as to whether Nicho the Communist would be sober enough to do it but he assured me that he would. 9 AM sharp on Saturday. We will be poisoning hard all weekend.
As I lugged the massive container to my car I walked past three little old ladies dressed in black who just sit around all day. I could hear them chatting. The Englishman from Toumbia is a phrase I recognise. A truck went by with two young workers from the village olive press. They shouted out "Hi Tom" and seemed to be laughing as well. Another lady hooted. I sense that the nicho The Communist/Tom frigana poisoning the snake fields story is all round Kambos and is seen as a potential source of merriment for all.
Olaf and I discussed how I know more folks in Kambos than I do in Bristol. It is true. Other than a couple of folks from the Conservative Club and our neighbours on one side I know no-one other than my wife's mad left wing friends in Bristol. I have more conversations in a tiny Greek village with 536 people - of whom three speak some sort of English - in a day than i do in a week in Bristol. and I live a healthier lifestyle. And its 27 degrees. What is not to like?
I ended the day with a spot of olive pruning at the hovel. The trees are now enjoying their fourth prune with me after years of neglect so they need less and less "cleaning". It is so quiet up there. There was a flock of sheep but they wandered away so it was just me. In a way that is wonderful. The downside is that even a deaf old man like me can hear the smallest twig crack or leaf rustle. And as I hear such sounds, a voice in my head immediately shouts out "snake." I look around. There is nothing visible. I tread even more carefully. After a while I decided that was enough snake panicking for the day and headed off. But three bouts of exercise fuelled by a bowl of raw oats and two salads, is not bad for a man with type 2 diabtes is it?
One day I shall go into all the symptoms although a Gentleman probably should not. But suffice to say they are all in retreat if not gone altogether.
754 days ago
— Tom Winnifrith
Fourth time lucky. At the agreed time, Nicho the Communist wandered into the Kourounis taverna in Kambos for our trip to inspect the olives at the Greek Hovel. I had left him the previous day five hours into his binge with George, George and anyone else he could find as he celebrated St George's Day. He confessed that he had continued celebrating until late at night on a taverna crawl round Kambos - there are four places to drink in our village of 536 souls.He had that look, that I remember from my own days of heavy drinking, that says "I am never going to touch alcohol again." But of course you always do. Having not touched the demon drink for almost ten days I am feeling a little smug. Excuse my smugness.
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.
756 days ago
— Tom Winnifrith
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.
757 days ago
— Tom Winnifrith
Having explained to the nice lady who runs my favourite restaurant here in Kalamata why I had to turn down a free ouzo she expressed great sympathy about the plight of a man with type 2 diabetes. And thus, having finished my grilled octopus and black eyed peas and mountain greens, I was presented with a bowl of soup.
Next to the bowl, which contained small bits of asparagus, was a slice of lemon. It was on the house and I was assured that it would cure diabetes. If I had a quid for every time I had been told that something would cure my condition I'd be retiring for good already. But I tried the soup and it was fantastic. Heck, I really like this "cure."
The lady returned. Oh no! She exclaimed it only works if you add the lemon. It changes the colour and will cure you. This is the sort of thing I'd expect to happen in Asterix the Gaul but she brought more soup to which I added the lenon juice. Suddenly my soup turned pink. I tried again, keen to be cured, but it now tasted absolutely awful. Under a bedy eye I managed to finish and was assured that the cure was underway.
In Victorian times they believed that spa waters in places like Leamington or Harrogate must be good for you becuase the water tasted so nasty. That was, of course, hocus pocus. And I have grave doubts about this cure for diabetes. I have not asked for another portion.
My blood sugar goes all over the place. On the new scale it was 232 this morning which is alarmingly high for a reason I cannot fathom as I have been virtue incarnate. Yesterday, after doing a gym session for thirty minutes in my hotel I hit 120 ( six point something on the old scale). God knows what it is now after a breakfast of raw oats.
In my prime when I worked out or played rugby at London Irish five days a week, I could do an hour at 7.5 km an hour on a treadmill and still do some weights and then jog home. Yesterday I managed just over 2km in 20 minutes and felt wrecked. But I like this gym as a) there is no-one else in it to laugh at you and b) the lady on the front desk is not one of those fitness freaks who looks at you with a mixture of sympathy and derision but a total blubber mountain who could almost certainly do with testing her own blood sugars. Her kindly and welcoming smile will see me go again. It s not quite a hovel workout but there are no snakes to panic about.
Today... gym, a light hovel workout and - at last an olive inspection with Niccho the communist - and another stab at fishing. I have bought more hooks and a float and solen some bread from the Hotel breakfast buffet. a new day, new tactics as I try to break my 41 year duck when it comes to actually catching anything.
762 days ago
— Tom Winnifrith
In fact I have only been away for about ten weeks since the February burning & olive fertilising season so it is not exactly long time no see. But even had it been ten years not ten weeks I doubt that much would have changed in Kambos, the village nearest to the Greek hovel.
It is a Bank Holiday of course so, don't laugh, most folks here in Greece are not working. But the guy at the petrol station was on duty and greeted me knowingly as I drove up into the mountains on what is a rather cold and grey day. I am not exactly shivering in my Viva Steyn T-shirt but by Greek standards for late April it is fairly cold up here. The fields are a glorious green as the summer suns are yet to burn the grass to straw brown. The alpine like flowers are everywhere. On the mountains ark clouds gather so it will rain later.
The two snake repellent shops are not open. that means that I will have to buy the canisters tomorrow and lay them down to ward off he serpents at the hovel. I am slightly reluctant to start work there until the canisters have been in place for a few hours and are repelling away.
In the Kourounis taverna a few familiar faces greet me with a knowing nod and a Yas Tom! There is a new young man behind the counter who does not know me but I am welcomed warmly by Poppy the ageing mother in law of lovely Eleni. As ever it takes her just a few minutes to lecture me in Greek about how I really must learn Greek. I do understand what she is saying as this is a lecture which has been given many times before. as normal I assure her avrio, avrio. That means tomorrow, tomorrow but in Southern Europe tomorrow very often never comes.
I can see her explaining to the new young man who I am. she points at me and then points up in the direction of the mountains above the village, to the smattering of , almost all abandoned, homesteads that is Toumbia. I think that only the Greek hovel and the house of my nearest neighbour Charon, a mile and a half away from me, are actually inhabited. The other houses stand, like the old convent, slowly crumbling and home only to ghosts and, probably, large numbers of snakes.
Nicho the Communist is not yet here. That means there are no English speakers and also that we cannot finalise our plans for the splicing of domesticated olives onto wild olive trees which we must first cut back. That will, in about three years, turn trees that yield nothing into producers. That is phase one of increasing the yield from the hovel. Phase two will be planting new trees on the areas that two years ago I cleared of the accursed frigana. Phase three will be to buy up my neighbours fields.
But phase three can wait until the hovel is rebuilt something I pray will happen this year. My aim is not to produce enough oil to "turn pro" or become a full time olive farmer. The amount we are paid for our oil is so pitiful ( £3 a litre) that this is not viable. But Id like to think that in a few years I might just be producing enough to pay the land taxes here and for my flights to and from Kalamata. That is for the future. For now it is time to venture up to the hovel to see my friends the snakes.
813 days ago
George the Albanian said to be there at 8 AM and I, more or less, was. No one in Greece is ever on time and so I operate on the "when in Rome" principle. Having showed that I was a hopeless pryomaniac a few days earlier I was preparing for humiliation. I got it.
George gathered a bunch of grass a few twigs and then, as you can see, within a few minutes there was a roaring blaze of the olive branches we had cut as part of the harvest before Christmas.
We moved quickly on to one of the terraces on the Mountain side of the hovel. Again within minutes the fire was blazing away.
George's Mrs then arrived and she too was a natural pyromaniac. I having failed so miserably myself I could but watch and throw branches from the terrace above where the fires were running to the fires below.
For George and his Mrs this was about setting fires to burn the branches. My hope with every fire was that it would also "take out" some of the live frigana plants which were once again growing despite three season of cutting and poisoning by myself. I think George sensed this but it was not his agenda.
After a while I decided to start a fire myself, feeling that having watched the master I could do it. I chose a spot where there were a stack of branches nearby and also lost of green frigana poking through the golden leaves of its brethren which I chopped last year. As you can see I too am a pryomaniac. But George wagged his finger. Apparently my blaze was too close to an olive tree and the fact that it was pursuing a scorched earth policy against the frigana was of no interest to me. that fire was left to burn out. But, sod the olives, I reckon that I did some damage against the real enemy!
Later a couple of fires started to move up the slopes away from the original inferno to take out reasonable chunks of young frigana. I thought happy thoughts. George cut a branch off a tree and beat it out. I am just not thinking Greek, thinking of making lift happy for the olive trees. Instead I think of my enemy the frigana.
In two months I shall be back at the hovel near the village of Kambos. My main job is rebuilding it. A secondary job is introducing new trees to the areas I really have cleared of frigana and splicing domestic olives onto wild olive trunks which I shall create with Nicho the Communist. But my third job will be to brave the awakening snakes and wage war for the fourth year with my enemy the accursed frigana. This year it is all out war...the last battle.
820 days ago
— Tom Winnifrith
I am reluctant to draw a map of the route to the Greek Hovel pointing out all the landmarks that I refer to in my writings. Maybe you want to see exactly how Monastery Hill links to snake hill? Well tough, I enjoy the safety that comes with folks finding it bloody hard to find me.
You may remember that when I explained to my neighbours in Kambos about the death threats I received for exposing the Quindell fraud, Nicho the Communist and Vangelis kindly offered to shoot anyone who came to Kambos and was asking where I lived. Thus I have a belt and braces approach to my safety: it is very hard to find where I live and if you ask, Nicho will kill you. You can't say fairer than that.
And so you will just have to imagine. Monastery hill leads down past what, I now know to be, the abandoned convent. When I first arrived I thought it had once housed monks and as I drove past it in the dark I terrified myself with images of ghostly monks in long black robes trouping past my little auto. Even in the daytime that hill is covered by a canopy of trees and so feels cold and it is often damp. So it used to have terribly negative connotations.
But then I met the most amazing lady who looks after the place with a, I fear misplaced, belief that the nuns will return. And I know it was a convent not a monastery so though the hill retains its name in my mind and in my writings, if nowhere else, I view it in a wholly positive fashion.
On the other side of the dry river is snake hill. My guest in 2015 encountered a live snake there while running up the hill. For me it is too steep to do anything other than walk up the concreted surface. I have only met a dead snake there but numerous times I have heard rustlings in the bushes on either side. Snake hill = negative thoughts.
At the top of snake hill there is a short gently sloping patch where concrete turns to mud as you head into the olive groves owned by the lovely Eleni. This short stretch of track is now officially, in my mind at least, known as Mark Slater hill. It was there at the start of a torrential thunderstorm that I had a long chat with my friend shortly after Brexit. The noise of rain on my car roof was thunderous so I opted to stand outside, getting drenched, to take the call.
It was what happened next that made it a memorable chat I headed back to the hovel in my car and rushed inside to dry off. I sat down in dry clothes and started to record a bearcast. Six minutes in - Bang! Lightening struck the hovel. You can hear that bearcast here. I hope never to be struck again but it was a memorable experience that day. Try everything once apart from incest and folk dancing and all that.
Being a fund manager Mark will know all about finding himself next to snakes. But now Mark Slater Hill lies next to Snake Hill.
891 days ago
— Tom Winnifrith
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.
The press was heaving with folks. There was the cop from Kardamili nick who greeted me warmly. My friend the shepherd and all sorts of folks were there. No-one there spoke English so I had to fetch Nicho the communist from the Kourounis taverna to translate for me.
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.
1086 days ago
— Tom Winnifrith
As you may remember, Nicho the Communist delighted in telling me upon my arrival in Kambos that the snake harvest had been excellent this year and that the fields around my house, the Greek Hovel, would be full of them. During the past few weeks he has several times asked after the snakes, managing to speak and laugh at the same time. And so having encountered one, I felt I should relay the news to him.
We were sitting, as you might expect, in the Kourounis taverna. I told him what had happened and he looked straight into my eyes and asked earnestly "Did you kill it?"
You and I know that as the snake slithered away from me into a bush I moved in the opposite direction and regarded it as a good thing that we part company. But that is not the Maniot way. Someone from the Mani would see it as their duty to dive into the bush and club the serpent to death with whatever lay to hand. Should I fess up to Nicho that I ran away or would that be seen as almost as bad as supporting Turkey in the Euros? "It escaped" I said. He grunted, suspecting I think, that I was not really that keen on snake killing unless it was from the safety of a car or a motorbike.
It is not just the Maniot men who have the killing gene. During the Greek war of Independence from the accursed Turk, the rebellion started in the Mani. The men took time off from fighting each other in blood feuds to march on Kalamata and slaughter the Ottoman garrison on March 23rd 1821 just six days after the Mani led Greece in declaring war.
Later on in the campaign the Turks thought that since the Maniot fighters were engaged in hostilities in the Kalamata area they would send 1500 Egyptian soldiers by ship, forty miles down the coast to land at Diros and then seize the Maniot capital Areopoli which is a couple of miles inland. The Turks landed their men but 300 Maniot women and some old men were working in the fields, harvesting crops with scythe and sickle. The maniot women fell upon the accursed invaders and catching them by surprise drove them back them back. As another 300 Maniot old men and women arrived the panicking Egyptians had to swim to their ships or die. Very few made it home.
There are other tales of heroic Maniot women fighting the accursed turk through the ages. And as such when anyone from this region sees a snake they will pursue it and destroy it in a fearless fashion. For snake read Turk. I am afraid that I just do not possess this fighting gene and though I am now more relaxed about snakes, the idea of pursuing one into the bushes is just a step too far.
1102 days ago
— Tom Winnifrith
And so I tracked down a shop in Kalamata which sells canisters of Herpotex, cans that emit a smell snakes find noxious and which will keep them away for three months. In theory at least. The guide says I only need two to be placed 10 yards from two diagonally opposed corners of the hovel. Fecking hell, we are talking snakes here. I asked for four, one for each corner. The lady said "they are 30 euros each."
I thought that the price had gone up quite a bit since last year. Perhaps the fantastic "snake harvest" referred to by Nicho the communist means that demand is outstripping supply and that Herpotex snake repellent is the one item in Greece seeing real inflation? But this is snakes so I found 120 Euro and prepared to hand over the cash and to do so gladly.
The till rang up 52 Euro. Either I had misheard or the lady was a bit confused about 13 and 30. I tried to explain that I would have happily paid her 120 Euro or for that matter 300 Euro. These are snakes we are talking about.
The canisters are now in place. In theory the snakes are fleeing the area around the hovel and thus tomorrow I shall be moving from my nice secure hotel in Kalamata and out to the hovel, to the snakes, rats and mice. The trip begins in earnest.
1103 days ago
— Tom Winnifrith
I was hoping that the canisters which are meant to keep the snakes away would have arrived in Kambos today. I was told they would. Naturally they have not. This is Greece. "They will be here on Wednesday" means "There is no chance at all that they will be here on Wednesday". I am bloody well not moving up to the hovel without them.
My friend Nicho the communist asked why I was not yet resident in the the village and I explained. "You really are frightened of them aren't you" he said while laughing loudly. Fecking hell isn't everybody? Nicho then explained to a gaggle of Greek old men sipping ouzos what was happening and they all laughed too. Ha bloody ha. They all live in the village where there are no snakes, I dare them to wander up snake hill in the dark to see me.
Tonight I head to a store in Kalamata which is meant to sell the magical canisters. If I install tomorrow I might move in later that day or perhaps Friday. It is not that the hovel is uninhabited. I was up there today laying down rat poison, just in case a new colony had arrived to replace the ones I killed last summer, when I heard a noise on the window sill behind my bed. I jumped. I really do not like hearing noises whether in the house or from the bushes as I wander through the fields.
Upon closer examination it was two mice. They were quite sweet and being a pansy Westerner I delayed going after them with my small spade just long enough for them to escape through a small hole in the window frame. I have left them some poison too and taped up that window. I really do not mind mice. Yes, like PR people they are filthy little vermin but they harmless enough. They are not rats. Rats fill me with dread. As of course do snakes.
So far I have yet to encounter one of the 29 species of snake resident in Greece on this trip, but it is only a matter of time. I am now working hard in the fields every day and I know what is out there. There are plenty of lizards already evident. The biggest one I saw was nine inches long and a stunning fluorescent green. It just stood there in the road at the bottom of the hill beneath the deserted, and I am convinced haunted, monastery, seemingly daring me to drive over it. Again, I was a Western pansy and so got out of the car and ushered it into the bushes. A Greek would just have driven over it. The other lizards are less beautiful but they are everywhere. And where there are lizards there are always snakes.
I carry a camera at all times so when I do meet a snake I will do my best to capture that moment for you all, dear readers, before I run as fast as I can away from the serpent, shouting "fucking hell its a snake" forgetting that there will be nobody listening.
1462 days ago
— Tom Winnifrith
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.
Postscript. Make that two. No three.
1598 days ago
— Tom Winnifrith
On my first night at the Greek Hovel I wandered into town to watch the World Cup Final. As you may remember I was the only person present supporting the Krauts against the Argies and this drew particular disapproval from one man wearing the heavy moustache one would associate with a Maniot warrior of old. That man was Nicho.
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.