It was a hive of activity. The good sergeant at the Kardamili nick who lives in Kambos was there with his harvest. Arresting Brits on suspicion of drink driving – a safe bet – can wait for another day. This is the Elias season. My friend Vangelis, the man in the pink shirt, was there. His deliveries for Dixons can wait another day, not that I imagine there are many these days. He was dropping off a large harvest. Everyone said “yas Tom” and the man in charge, another Vangelis, summonsed his son who speaks a bit more English than I speak Greek. That is to say, not a lot.
Eventually it was understood that I was asking when my cash would be paid into my bank account? As was the case three days ago the answer was the same: avrio. That is to say tomorrow. It will arrive,of that I am sure. But I rather suspect that it will not actually be arriving avrio.
Though they did not know what day of the week it was, they were not so far gone as to be making a deposit. They too wanted their cash out, they just needed help. I was the sole person actually putting money into the bank and for that heroic act, Jim Mellon, rightly, suggested that they should have erected a statue of me in Kalamata next to those of the heroes from 1821.
At some stage I will need 4,000 Euro in that account in order to get Greek residency so I can buy a car and a gun. Please don’t blather on about Brexit. My father’s Canadian friend Peter has had residency for years and Canada is not in the EU. Being a non EU resident just means that you need to pop along to the local cop shop once a year to present your papers. I can handle that.
Pro tem I have not actively deposited cash but the proceeds of the Greek Hovel olive harvest each year are deposited into the account automatically. Wondering how much was in my account and being in Kalamata I wandered into a branch which seemed relatively quiet. I took a tab from the machine and got a number (205) and waited my turn. The big sign showed 193. Though the bank was full of staff shuffling papers there was only one of six counters manned. After 20 minutes the counter showed 194 so I asked a young man if there was a quicker way for me to find out what was in my account. I was shuffled to the special assistance desk and pretty soon was sitting opposite a young lady presenting my account book and passport.
The account book was pushed into a machine and came back with a raft of transactions on it. Blow me down, I have 2057 Euro in the account and will have another 290 shortly. At that point the young lady started suggesting that she’d like to see an electricity bill which I said was not needed, took my passport and account book and left.
The time is coming to risk c1700 Euro of real money, visit the branch again and get my account book to show that I have 4,000 Euro in it. Since the Greek banks are all bust, though we all pretend otherwise, I may well lose the lot but if I act quickly I can secure my residency before that happens. And then, like everyone else in Kambos, I get to own a gun.
Of course I have no neighbours up at the Greek Hovel but across the hills you can see folks burning off branches of olive trees hacked away during the harvest. My own harvest may not have been a spectacular success but just to show them that I too can play the game...
I have set a couple of bonfires going. Besides which leaving branches lying in great piles may provide suitable and attractive accomodation for the less pleasant members of the wildlife diversity community.
I have been sitting on this account of the final day of the 2018 olive harvest for some days as I am rather cross. I know the sums involved are trivial but none the less….
Having thrown four workers at our harvest for a couple of hours the son of George the Albanian dropped nine bags of olives weighing 442kg down at the press in Kambos. So ended day four of the harvest. More than eight of those bags were the results of the labours of team GB: myself, Andrew Bell and ShareProphets reader Bernard from the Grim North of England (c/o Donegal).
On day five, George lead a team of five who pitched up a quarter of an hour late at 8.15. Once again he insisted that they would be finished within a day. Bernard and I helped make up a magnificent seven. It was soon clear that the way they would finish was by tackling only really full trees. We stopped for lunch which George’s Mrs had prepared – a cracking sort of cheese pie and a custard version of the same for pudding. I showed them inside the house which they agreed was splendid but that break was only half an hour.
At about two thirty in the afternoon I had to break to do some work on my computer. I emerged at 3.30 to find that they had “finished” the entire lower terraces on one side of our lands and were packing up to go. Tackling the best trees on the hovel that day had produced just under nine sacks. We had a Greek coffee made by Mrs George on a portable stove and George and I discussed payment with his son translating.
200 Euro he said. That seemed fair. Then he added on 50 for yesterday. And 20 for taking the olive bags to the press in Kambos. Hmmm. I handed over 270 Euro and said that I'd pop into the press later. That I did to find that we had 856 kg in all. I was a bit pissed that the total was so low and really could not be arsed to watch my oil being pressed but left four 5kg cans (one for Bernard, three for me) for my oil and headed off to lovely Eleni's Kourounis taverna to write an article or two.
The news when I got back was not good. 146 litres minus my 20. Minus 10 for the press. So that is 116 litres which will be sold at just 2.5 Euro per litre which is 290 Euro. Knock off a 9.46 Euro admin fee and I am left with a profit (ignoring my own oil) of 10 Euro. The price of oil is down because, although it still tastes great, the quality of oil from Kambos is deemed to be lower because of chemicals sprayed all around – though not on my land – to combat the flies.
However, the bottom line is that hiring team Albania was an economic disaster. Had we merely sold the olives produced by team GB in the first two and a half days we would have cleared 140 Euro. Had team GB minus Bell carried on for and done five days we would have netted almost 300 Euro. The way I have to look at this is that I have transferred a portion of wealth from rich GB to an impoverished Greece. But I do feel a bit resentful. Had the yield not been cut by around 40% by the flies, storm Zorba and the strong winds of ten days ago the same trees harvested in the same time would have made me an additional 100 Euro profit. So that is God’s joke on me.
None the less I am a bit cross and George the Albanian has lost a customer. I feel that I contribute enough to the Greek economy already without paying over nearly all my revenues for the pleasure of his company and a great portion of cheese pie. Next year, with or without volunteers from the British Isles, I shall harvest without local help. I have all the equipment I need and if, God plays no jokes on me and I tackle only the better trees in a five or six day hard slog I could easily produce 15-20 bags alone or 30-40 ( depending on God’s jokes) with help from a new team GB.
The point of me harvesting is not to make money. It is about being part of the community here in Kambos. So there is no great bitterness in me. Each year I learn more about pruning and about how to harvest so I should get better returns from my trees. 2019 will be the year to go it alone. Perhaps if God can play his part with no more of his little jokes I might just make a real profit.
I rather regretted that third jug of local rose the night before, when my alarm started ringing at 5.20 AM. For Thrasher Bell had to get back to London and that meant getting him to the bust station in Kalamata before 6.30. Feeling a bit groggy I drove him into town and dropped him off. Stopping off at an ATM on the way back to load up with cash to pay my Albanian troops I arrived back in Kambos in time for an early morning coffee at the Kourounis taverna owned by lovely Eleni. The news was bad...
George the Albanian's brother had been hospitalised late last week so he was running half a day behind schedule. I headed back to the hovel with a hot cheese pie for Bernard and as I walked to my car who should I meet but George being driven by his son, an English speaker. I was assured that five Albanians would arrive by one. My next encounter was with the local golden eagle sitting on a fence as I drove down the back track towards the valley floor.
ShareProphets reader Bernard and I laboured manfully all morning. And at two o'clock the Albanians pitched up. As you can see below, they know what they are doing. But we only enjoyed two and a half hours of their work before the dark descended.
My worry is that George reckons he will be done in a day arguing some trees are empty. He has another job to go to. I know that and having walked my land with Bernard I know that there are an awful lot of good trees. That will be a battle for day four. Can we get an extra half day out of the Albanians? So far we have c470kg of olives either down at the press weighed and waiting for pressing or up here bagged at the hovel.
I discussed this with Eleni after supper. This is Greekenomics for you. There is mass youth unemployment in Greece. But as this country;s economy has tanked some Albanians have gone home or to go work in a car wash in Britain. So there is a shortage of Albanians. Thus Eleni has no-one to crop her olives. Everyone is fighting for Albanians meanwhile hundreds of thousands of Greeks sit there not working paid welfare by a country that is bankrupt. Go figure.
And so to day two of the olive harvest. We merry band of three all have our jobs. As you can see below, Shareprophets reader Bernard really is wearing shorts and a T shirt as, during the day it is hot enough to do so. He trained as an engineer and so, naturally, he is the twerker specialist.
Andrew Bell went to Eton and denies that he thrashed little boys when a prefect. But he has a great technique for thrashing the branches we cut down. I have my suspicions. What I need is Boris Johnson, David Cameron and Jacob Rees Mogg to come out and I would have a complete team of Eton thrashers.
Me, well I only went to a minor public school so I do a bit of thrashing but have no great technique. I am allowed charge of the saw with which to cut down branches. Bernard was allowed iit briefly but Thrasher Bell and I turned around and saw that in just minutes he had cut one poor tree almost back to the bone. And so he is no longer allowed the saw.
At the end of day two we were up to seven 50 kg sacks. Yes we are getting faster but it took us until six to finish work by when it was almost completely dark and we could barely see a thing. It was also bitterly cold. And then came the hammer blow, "thrasher" Bell has to return to England and so after a night of three jugs of wine in Kambos I set my alarm for 5.30 AM to take him to the bus. And then we were two..
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.
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.
As I noted yesterday the olive harvest will be pretty good and the first photo below is evidence of that. But the second shows that it could have been even better, a true bumper crop.
For beneath each tree lies a small pool of brown, rotting olives. Those are the ones the flies got or which were knocked down by storm Zorba. It is not like last year when the hailstorm left the area around each tree carpeted with fallen olives but is a reminder that what should have been a fantastic year will now only be good to very good. As long as God plays no more jokes on me, I look forward to the harvest with optimism.
I am beginning to think that God is not pleased with my restoration work at the Greek Hovel and is punishing me with an annual plague of my poor olives. Last year it was the hail storm ten days before harvest that destroyed the crop almost entirely, leaving my field carpeted with rotting berries and my neighbours crying into their ouzo and facing economic misery.
This year it started with the flies which destroyed, maybe, 20% of the crop. Then last week storm Zorba hit southern Greece. Winds of up to 100 kmh were reported. Waves on the seafront hit five metres and the rains caused flash floods. Up at the hovel the sea is ten miles away and so not an issue but e wind and the rain?
I called George the Architect this morning to check on progress and to warn him that I’d be there in less than three weeks. Such warnings tend to accelerate work. I was assured that the planks for the second floor would arrive avrio, that is to say tomorrow. Most things in Greece are scheduled to happen avrio. But George insists that the flooring will be completed by the start of next week. We discussed the Range Cooker on its way from Austria, fridges, wood burning stoves, balconies and sofas and then it was the olives.
George had headed up to the hovel specifically to inspect them. That will have been some trek. From the top of snake hill as one winds through other folks trees up to the hovel the mud track will, thanks to Zorba, be reminiscent of the Somme battlefield 102 years ago. But he made it and as he has his own trees he knows his olives and reckons that the storm has taken another 10% of the berries the flies did not get.
However, before God intervened twice, this was set to be a bumper harvest so – assuming no further interventions from the Almighty – it will still be a pretty decent year. I am negotiating with the Mrs as to when I head out, treat myself to a new electric machine for harvesting and start what will be my fifth harvest. I am already excited by the prospect. To those who have volunteered to join me as replacement Albanians I should have dates soon for the great undertaking.
This is good news for those, such as Andrew Bell ,who have volunteered to come to Greece as unpaid slave labourers on this year's olive harvest. My babies up at the Greek Hovel are looking good. It must have been the pruning I did a couple of months ago. As you can see below the olives are of a good size already and while the trees are not dripping with fruit, as they would in a great year, most trees have a good amount and some are dripping.
I am wandering among them pruning the odd one which I appear to have overlooked in May and which be covered in new sprouts as a result. On those which I did prune on my last visit there is just a bit of tidying up work to do on new sprouts that have emerged since then. Of course there could be another hailstorm, another act of God, to destroy the crop as there was in 2017. But as things stand I reckon that our team of volunteers should be able to pick well over a tonne of olives in December. Time to start training Gentlemen...
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.
I headed back to the Greek Hovel expecting to find an empty building site and no signs of progress. I take it all back. It may be Sunday but three hard working Greeks were on site with a mini bulldozer, hard at work. How could I have ever doubted the work ethic of the citizens of the mighty Hellenic Republic?
As you can see, the foundations of the extension which - with the new room above the rat room - will more that double the size of the Hovel are now laid. Because this is an earthquake zone they must be concrete and sturdy and they look fit for purpose. Today's work was on filling in earth between the foundations so that - after a bank holiday tomorrow - the team can start laying the floors.
You may think that the final two photos of the bat room and the old house indicate little progress since December and that might indeed be the case. But George the Architect confirmed by phone that work restarts on the bat room this week and that we are still on track for it to be completed with power, a shower, water, lighting and snake proof doors and windows by Easter. Yes, Easter 2018 and that is our Easter not the Greek Easter two weeks later!.
That means that when I come back next time, in early May, I can live up at the hovel in a room with a double bed, water, lighting, the internet and full snake defences. By the early summer the rat room should also be fit for habitation and by late summer the ground floor of the new wing, the master bedroom, will be in use while work on the upper floor and the roof should be finished in the Autumn before the olive harvest.
So that means that all those invited over this summer can now start booking their flights and that Joshua and I can, indeed, spend the Autumn here fitting the place out for a family Christmas in Greece. Yes that is Christmas 2018!
PS It also means that those who volunteered to come over for the olive harvest 2018 can stay at the hovel so I shall be taking you up on your kind offer of working unpaid to do our bit for the Greek economic recovery.
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.
I have not reported back on the Greek Hovel olive harvest as after each day's labours I have been just too dog tired to do anything. What can I say other than on many of the trees it was hunt the olives so bad had been the storm and it was very hard, boring work. But by Saturday noon I had three sacks filled to a greater or lesser extent with tens of thousands of tiny olives all harvested by myself. Enough is enough thought I, surely this is 80 kg and the 15 litres of oil I'd like to take back to the Mrs.
As they emptied the bags into the hopper at the Kambos press I began to think that maybe I had not harvested that much after all and sure enough the little piece of paper that followed my olives through the various stages of pressing told the stark truth - 54 kg. But that should be at least 9 litres thought I and bought two 5 litre cans from the Kourounis taverna. At least I knew that I would not be troubling the limits on my Easyjet baggage allowance flying back to Britain.
The final scores: seven and a half litres. that is enough for a year's personal use (I'm not David Furnish you know!) and Christmas presents for the usual folks but perhaps in smaller bottles this year. The big fat controller looked at my paper chit as I asked him how much I owed for the pressing. "Good eating Thomas" - for that is my name at the olive press - he said and ripped up the piece of paper.
Though I am knackered I could not have beaten God on this one. Next year I am treating myself to a late 50th birthday present: a second mat and an electric twerker. I want to do a full harvest without paid Albanian labour. Now all I need is a couple of willing volunteers to help me: no pay but free accommodation, what say you all?
The first shot was today. The olive harvest ended, the sun promptly re-appeared, the sky was blue, the rocks of the Taygetos that dominate this City, reflected the light and it was 21 degrees. Two days ago I was harvesting, the mountains were draped in dark clouds, the rain was falling and it was barely into double figures.
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.
Being a UK work day I started my harvesting a lot later than planned and finished a bit earlier. Well that is my excuse anyway. It won't wash tomorrow. But by late morning I had arrived at the hovel with my 5*10 metre mat and my olive tree basher. I was ready to go.
Harvesting was damn hard work when I was part of a team of pros. On my own it is worse. I found it hard to lay out the mat to catch what few olives I could smash down from the trees and it is harder still dragging it along between trees. having only one mat I can only do one side of a trees so must swat the olives on the other side towards the mat.
From inside the hovel I retrieved my trusty hacksaw and some branches, sadly all too few, which had a decent yield of fruit I chopped off and beat on top of the mat. After a couple of hours I had dealt with eleven of the 150 trees. My yield was - as you can see below, not great. I now have about a quart of a 50 kg sack full. You will remember that my minimum target is two sacks. That would be enough to allow me to take 15 litres home at no cost.
That oil really will be my oil, hand produced it will taste even better than usual. Tomorrow there is no excuse for not putting in a longer day and - as an added treat - the builders are promising to lay the first bit of concrete on the, currently, earth floor of the bat room. Progress on all counts.
Having been told by George the Albanian that it was uneconomic to do a commercial harvest this year after the storms he loaned me four sacks as I said I wanted to go it alone. I had meant to start "avrio" but something made me haed up to the hovel. I think it was frustration with certain aspects of work back in the UK. It has been one of those days when I really just wanted to pack it all in and spend my life writing about life here in Kambos.
Arriving at the hovel I saw George the Architect again chatting to the builders and we discussed a couple of issues regarding the interior of the bat room and the location of a trap door. I explained that there were so few olives left on the trees that I was just going to hand pick enough to produce 15 litres of oil, my annual consumption, including presents.
I spend about an hour hand picking and managed two and a half trees. One did indeed have so few olives on it that hand picking made sense. But the others were not quite as barren as I had feared. As he strolled back to his car George asked why I was not using a paddle and a mat to bring down the olives in the traditional way. I said that there were too few to make it worthwhile and he shrugged his shoulders. But, of course, he is right. The near barren trees can be ignored. The ones with a modest harvest should be attacked in the traditional way.
So far one and a half modest trees and one near barren one have yielded a few kg of olives. A sack will hold 50 kg. After a lengthy discussion lovely Eleni and her husband Nicho agreed that one sack would yield 8-10 litres of oil so I need a sack and a half for my needs, anything else I can sell. for ouzo money.
In for a penny in for 28.5 Euro I have invested in a paddle and a mat. Tomorrow I start work in earnest.
At 7.30 sharp I met George the Albanian up at the Greek Hovel. He skipped and jumped across the terraces like a young goat. In his sixties he puts me to shame. But it did not take him long to reach his verdict. I don't speak Greek but I understood. He is an honest chap. We retired to the village and went to see Vangelis, at the recently relocated hardware store. a man who speaks English.
It is not worth me paying George to harvest so bad has been the storm damage. But I am determined to bring some Greek hovel olive oil back to England so I asked if George could give me a few sacks. Vangelis understood "you will harvest by hand". Indeed I shall. There are so few olives left on most trees that actually picking them w2ill be quicker than laying down sheets and beating them off with paddles. On a few trees, sheltered from the storm, the crop is bigger.
I reckon that at five hours a day I can do it in four days. I start tomorrow. Avrio. This is not going to be easy because, as followers of previous harvests know, it is bloody hard work which will break you, unless you are a 65 year old Albanian or his wife. But cometh the day.... I want my oil.
As I wandered into the little square in Kambos which has Miranda's at the top, looking up at Zarnata castle, and the Kourounis taverna on one side, something looked very wrong.
The plastic chairs laid out by the accursed new creperie last summer had gone and it looked very closed. Hooray. Lovely Eleni at the Kourounis taverna says that it is "closed for winter" but then smiled. And perhaps for summer too I suggested. And she smiled again. Pissing off the locals, having no customers what could possibly go wrong with such a business model?
But there was something else missing. The hardware and garden store where i buy snake repelling (sometimes) sulphur and get my strimmer mended had also disappeared. It used to occupy the building next to the creperie but sprawled out into a side square as well. But no longer, as you can see below.
The good news is that it has merely relocated to the old man's ouzerie opposite the Kourounis taverna on the main street. I popped in to see my friend Vangelis who runs the store and we discussed the olive harvest disaster and then why he had moved. He reckons it will be easier for his customers to park and so is a good move.
Eleni thinks it is a good move too. There are just four tables inside Miranda's and the temperature here as it gets dark is already heading to close to zero. Do not believe what the weather forecasts tell you about Greece being hot. Sure those clear blue skies mean that it is 17 degrees as I write now, at midday. I can sit outside at the Kourounis in just a shirt. But those same clear skies see the temperatures plunge as it gets dark.
And that means that if the 537 residents of Kambos want a drink in the evening, one the 15 seats in Miranda's are gone, they now appear to have a choice of...the Kourounis taverna. Eleni may have seen her olives wiped by the disaster but I sense she has a decent winter ahead.
I rarely used the ouzerie where the the clientele made the House of Lords seem like a bunch of young whippersnappers but now and again I popped in so I regret its passing. That regret is not shared by team Kourounis taverna. But we can, at least, agree in delighting at the closure of the Greco-French creperie. Here's hoping that it is goodbye not au revoir.
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.
It has only taken three and a bit years but the final planning consent has now arrived. We can now start putting a roof on the Greek Hovel and extending it to more than double its original size. George the architect has been in touch and it is all systems go. However, there are, Greece being Greece, a few minor issues.
But there is nothing to stop the trusty band of Greek Albanians from re-starting work on the house itself. Fingers crossed it will be completed by next June although, since that is George's prediction, I am thinking that next September is more likely. But at that point the Greek hovel will become a green palace, generating all of its own power from PV cells and recycling all the waste from the eco-loos and other waters into improving the yield on my olive crop.
I was intrigued to see on a Bulletin Board the other day that one particular knave was still pushing the idea that I had fled to Greece to evade justice as I was afraid of charges of market abuse. I cannot remember when this myth started but it was many years ago. Suffice to say, all the regulators know exactly where I am in England for most of the year and it goes without saying that calling out a fraud or a daft stockmarket promotion as such is not market abuse.
How I wish that I lived in Greece all year round even if it did encourage stockmarket halfwits to push this myth even more. I suppose when obvious scoundrels promoting fraudulent shares spread lies like this, one should take it as an endorsement of your work.
Bring on the closure of sociology departments across Britain and an unemployed Mrs might just be persuaded to agree to a move. But until then I fear that I must remain in old Blighty for the bulk of the year.
Maybe when the Palace takes shape I can persuade the Mrs to join me in early retirement in the Hellenic Republic? Fingers crossed.
A meeting with George the Architect at the Greek Hovel went well. Joshua inspected his inheritance. The Mrs fretted about where to put the washing machine. For a house that is half built with no doors windows, roof and, in the case of two and a half rooms, walls, I reckon she may be getting ahead of herself.
After that a visit to our local village of Kambos and for 12 Euros we share two courses and a quarter litre of Rose at Miranda's. Miranda herself has retired but the food is, as ever excellent. Chicken in a lemon sauce with potatoes (not chips) and a Greek salad all made with fresh local ingredients. Perfect. Miranda's was packed out - that is to say all six tables were occupied.
Afterwards coffees at the Kourounis taverna run by lovely Eleni. It is agreed that her two year old daughter will marry Joshua in due course. The dowry, free Greek salads for life. well actually I have not negotiated that bit yet but the wedding has been agreed. The Kourounis taverna is pretty busy and conversation turns to the ghastly creperie which had absolutely zero customers during our time in town.
Eleni is ever the diplomat but she is no fan of the bossy French woman who has parked her tables across the square and intruded on life in a village where nothing is meant to change and rarely does. But the lack of customers has not gone un-noticed and there is a small smile noticeable as she notes that the business plan keeps changing. First it was crepes, then pizzas and now coffee and toasties. And now the summer is over, the tourists who might have stopped in as they drive from Kardamili to Kalamata or vice versa are all gone. And the locals will stay in the four of five long established watering holes of Kambos.
The creperie is, methinks, toast. Eleni's smile tells you it certainly is not hurting her trade though it is an annoying eyesore. I reckon by the time I return for the olive harvest in November the creperie will be shuttered up. Good.
I wonder how long the road up from the bottom of the valley to the Greek Hovel has remained unchanged? The house is 100 years old so there will have been a mud track up to it for a century. In the 1970s, I think, the stretch known as snake hill, was concreted over. The biggest pot hole in that part is so large that you need to partially go off road to avoid your car wheel getting jammed inside. Smaller pot holes litter the road but these days I know how to navigate around them. But from the top of snake hill as one winds through the olive groves it is almost entirely just baked mud.
Since the good folks of Kambos have been tending their olive trees up here for a lot longer than the Greek Hovel has been around perhaps the stretch of track through the groves is even older. But my point is that it has stayed pretty much as is for decades. The sheep use it. The snakes sleep on it without fear of interruption, lizards scuttle across it and now and again myself or my neighbour ( two miles away) Charon might drive or wander along it. At olive picking time folks lay mats across the road knowing that they are unlikely to be disturbed.
But all that has changed and its my fault and I feel a bit of a sense of shame. In order to get the equipment we need up to the hovel it has had to be widened. Some awful machine had just scraped away at the grass on either side of the path. In places, new piles of rocks lire discarded as some ancient wall has been pushed aside. You can tell where the earth has been disturbed as it is red. The photo below contrasts new track with that leading up to hovel, earth bleached white by years of sunlight.
I know that walls will be patched up and that in a few years the grass will have regrown and the track will be back as it was but for now I feel as if I have cuased some ghastly modern intrusion in the groves which have lain tranquil and undisturbed for all of living memory. It is my fault and I do feel a sense of shame.
Back in early December when I arrived at the Greek Hovel for the olive harvest, the Taygettos mountains behind me were already covered with thick snow which you might think a bit odd. After all we are at the Southernmost edge of Europe and Al Gore and the global warming loons were telling us twenty years ago that this area would be almost a desert by now. Well guess what?
The snow still lies thick on the higher mountains above the hovel. As I drove down from Kambos towards the nearest harbour at Kitries today I looked up and there it was as you can see in the photos below. The same global warming I saw in December is still there and it is almost May. Give that man Gore another Nobel prize.
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.
Yesterday I served up a picture of the snow capped mountains of the Northern Peloponnese to show that it is not just in the far North of Greece that global warming falls each year. I am now in the Southern Peloponnese, in fact the Mani, where the Greek Hovel is located, is the most southerly part of mainland Greece. And guess what?
Firstly the grass is a gorgeous green. Our house is half way between the village of Kambos and the mountains and it is almost alpine. Sadly it is not only the grass that has grown but also the accursed frigana, the thorn bush that is my sworn enemy. I will have to tackle it once again this summer with my strimmer.
But above the hovel lie the Taygetos mountains and as in December when I was here for the olive harvest they too are covered in snow on the higher peaks. Greece and snow are not the images most folks in Britain have in their minds. But from North to South this country sees global warming falling every year.
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?
For the past week I have been getting up at 5 AM Greek time ( 3 AM GMT) to do a couple of hours writing before heading off to the olive harvest at the Greek Hovel for an 8 AM start. Yesterday's harvest finished at 5 PM and I was shattered. I arrived back at my hotel at eight and after one glass of milk went straight to bed. I was vaguely aware that someone called (it was the Mrs) but I was oblivious to it. I dreamed of little olives of all colours falling through my seperating machine.
I normally sleep for only six or seven hours and so I awoke at 1.30 AM. But after a few emails and a bit more milk I was back in bed and only woke up again at nine. A day without alarm calls and twelve hours glorious sleep. I feel like a new man.
Outside the sun is shining, it is T-shirt weather and I can see small fishing boats heading out from Kalamata into the bay. It is a day for doing nothing other than a catch up on my writing inspired by my muses here in Greece.
Myself and the two women who work with George the Albanian finished work at 5 PM today, having started at 8 AM. It was dark at the end. I could not see what was an olive and what was a leaf as I worked the separating machine. I just bashed the twigs and leaves hard with a plastic paddle and pushed anything that felt like a olive through the grill. My hands are stained with olives and feel raw from pushing those twigs and olives across that grill all day.
George was off to see a bloke about another job. But the ladies and I did high fives at the end. It is all over.
The weigh in at the Kambos press is complete. 2.681 tonnes. Had George not bunked off early we could have tackled a few more marginal trees. But what do I care? It is over and I survived without bunking off early once. That is an achievement and I feel rather proud of myself.
I have photos of the press and of olives from the hovel but will put them up in the morning before returning to Kambos for pressing. For now I have bought Nicho and the shepherd a drink and myself my first ouzo for many days. A quick coffee and then it is back to Kalamata and bed without having to set an alarm in the morning. Bliss.
Adam Reynolds and the Mrs are in my good books for returning phone calls and thus giving me phone breaks today. Peter Greensmith of Peterhouse did not and so ensured more toil and torture for me. Bad man Peter. Anyhow the sun shone all day and we toiled away as ever.
I am now getting so quick at my main (old ladies) job of seperating leaves from olives on a big metal grill that I found myself under-employed and so promoted myself to the job of thrashing branches, chopped down by George the Albanian, to cleanse them of olives.
Needless to say I clean one branch in the time it takes the ladies to clean three but I hope that every little helps. The end result is that we have finished the terraces on the mountain side and George thinks we have finished the top main level although I think there are a few tress in the far, snake infested, corner that we have missed. So we just have the short terraces ( two of them) on the Monastery side, the best trees in the area either side of the house and the poor trees in the other snake sanctuary, rocky ground by the entrance to the property, to go.
George ended today with the words "avrio, Kambos, ferma" which means he thinks we will be done tomorrow evening. He is the expert but I think he's missed out the main snake area which, as they are sleeping, and as I risked life and limb to clear it of frigana and prune the trees in the summer, is not on. If I am right it may be a Saturday finish. We shall see.
If it is tomorrow there will be no afternoon writing for me as it will be to Kambos to watch the press and have an ouzo and a settle up with George with lovely Eleni translating. Bring it on. The torture is almost over.
Greek is one of those languages where folks sound animated even if they discussing the weather or when the next bus arrives. But the conversations that break out between George the Albanian and his two female assistants, as we harvest the olives up at the Greek hovel, seem very animated indeed. I have no idea what they are on about.
The paranoid view is that the women are complaining about how slow I am and George is placating them.It could be that they are discussing the impact of the Italian referendum on the price of southern european olives though I doubt it. My guess it is about where to lay down the next set of mats to catch olives that are twerked. I can see that there are various routes across the terraces, which are not in straight lines and in places end and become half terraces. Perhaps mapping out the strategy for completing the harvest is sowing discord. I have no idea at all.
But after each discussion quiet resumes. The only noises you can hear are chainsaws being used on groves across the hills, the clock from the Church in Kambos, the sound of the threshing machine, the pitter patter of olives on the mats as someone twerks away and George singing some strange Greek or Albanian song. It seems a happy little number for he is a man who appears content with life. He still speaks to me in Greek though we are both aware that I have no idea what he is talking about but in year three of our business relationship all seems going well.
Rested, after a very hot bath which has left my limbs only hurting rather than in agony, I look forward to hearing more discussions about God knows what in the morning.
I am so tired. As soon as I press "publish" on this article i am off to bed. Today there was no break other than 20 minutes for lunch and so I did a solid six and a half hours. It is not that I am spectacularly unfit (cue jokes from health guru Paul Scott), it is just that I have to try to keep pace with hardened professionals, viz George the Albanian and his two female assistants. Boris Johnson likes riding bicycles but he would be some way off the pace in the Tour de France. It is similar here.
But I am proud to say that although I thought about bunking off early I stuck it out to the end. And I am getting quicker at my given tasks, the ones normally allocated to the old ladies, they having been promoted ahead of me.
The progress was rapid today. I reckon we might just be finished in two days time and we must have lifted at least 550 kg of olives once again today. If not more. What is surprising me is that the trees the other side of the ruined cottage on the property which yielded very little, even in the bumper year of 2014 and almost nothing last year are also dripping with olives. Naturally I put this down to my skilled pruning in the summer. It is just possible that we will need another three days to finish so great is the harvest.
Today saw us tackle the tree that lies inside the ruin. It is a not a tree that I think about with anything other than fear as I have often observed a snake slithering into the bushes around it. I have not actually seen the snake because as soon as I see a slithering motion in the grass I run as fast as I can in the opposite direction shouting "fuck it is a snake." Not that is ever anyone around to hear me. But the number of times I have seen the slither makes me certain that it is the lair of the snake.
And so my pruning of this tree has not been as diligent as on other trees. I did some hacking but trod gingerly and the prune was not complete. Of course the snakes are all hibernating or, as they say here, asleep. But where do they sleep? I think of the Gruffalo and look nervously at fallen logs. Maybe it is underneath stones or in holes? I do not know but there are plenty of places around the ruin for Mr Snake to sleep. So what if I tread on him or kick over the log or stone by accident? Will he wake up in time to bite me before I scarper, screaming as I go?
George went for the tree and chopped off lots of branches. One of his ladies pointed at the fallen branches and pointed to me and said something in Greek or Albanian. I knew what she meant. Gingerly I picked up each branch and threw it onto the pile that I was assembling for flailing. I think I lost about a stone and a half of nervous energy during that task. But no snake was seen. None the less I have been thinking about snakes ever since.
At the end I was so tired I considered just crashing out with the rats at the hovel. But then I thought of my nice warm bath, nice warm bed and snake and rat free hotel in Kalamata. It was no choice.
At about 2.30 this afternoon George the Albanian wandered over carrying the electric olive harvesting rod which I think is called a twerker. Battery kaput he said and looked unhappy. I endeavoured to look sad too but internally I was delighted because surely this meant that we could knock off early. Bar a 40 minute break to upload my Advanced Oncotherapy bombshell article and 20 minutes at lunchtime when I devoured a hunk of bread dripping in olive oil, a small piece of feta and a tomato all provided by George, I had been working hard since just after eight. And I was aching all over.
Sadly my inner joy was short-lived. George whipped out an additional old fashioned manual paddle and he and his two female associates cracked on. My heart sank. Naturally I am still doing the jobs normally reserved for old women, that is to say carrying branches sawn off by George to the flailing machine and then sorting olives from leaves in the manual separating tray - as explained in my day one photo article HERE. The old women have been promoted to operating the flailing machine and twerking/paddling as well as laying out and collecting the mats. They are not allowed to use the chainsaw. That is man's work and by man we mean George only.
The weather was delightful as you can see in the photo of the mountain behind the Greek Hovel. The sun shone all day and it was T-shirt weather. .
So where are we in terms of the yield. I reckon that we did at least 600 kg today which makes 1150 kg ( 1.15 metric tonnes) of olives. The photo below shows where we are up to on the land, about half way from the hovel to the small ruined house (but excluding my best trees in the fenced off area around the hovel). Beyond that house is about the same distance against from the hovel to the ruin but the trees there are fewer in number. But that is on the top level. I reckon we have done half of two terraces out of four and a half terraces. Which is my way of saying that I have not got a clue as I have never actually counted how many trees we have.
My gut instinct is that we have another three days work. The 2014 harvest ( a good one) was 1.6 tonnes. I will be gutted if we do not hit two tonnes and am dreaming about getting closer to 2.5 tonnes. If my memory serves me correctly, 2.5 tonnes would be c860 litres of olive oil. But at this stage it is al guesswork. Now time for another long hot bath and, having lasted a full day, I really think I desrerve an ouzo
It is too cold to stay up at the Greek Hovel so I am in my bolt hole of choice, the most excellent Pharae Palace hotel in Kalamata. It is far from packed but there is some activity as the British Council is organising exams for bubbles who have been learning English.
Over a healthy muesli breakfast, I chatted briefly to the two other people present, ladies a bit older than myself who were there to invigilate the exams. One complained that whenever the windows of her room opened she could smell olives and she did not like the smell. Hint Madam - don't come to Kalamata as you do know what it is famous for don't you?.
The obviously middle class lady, who struck me as one of life's utterly joyless Guardian readers, asked if it was an all year round smell and I assured that it was to do with the olive harvest and the processing of olives into oil which involves a lot of heat. I should say that, maybe it is because I am living the olive harvest, I cannot smell anything amiss in Kalamata. But she was insistent and suggested that it was all wrong.
I pointed out that olives were how many folks here earned enough to live. She said that that is all very well but surely they should think about the environment. Yeah peasants you go starve so that middle class ladies from Guardian la la land can open the windows of their seafront hotel rooms, thought I. But being a diplomat I said nothing..
Before she left she asked me what I was doing here? I cannot tell a lie and so with some pleasure I answered truthfully: "I am here to harvest my olives" I sense that we will not be chatting at breakfast tomorrow.
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,
In 2014 we harvested 1.65 metric tonnes (1650 kg) at the Greek hovel which yielded 566 litres of olive oil. Last year was a disaster - 550 kg and I fell and ended up in hospital. So far 2016 has been a triumph. I did not fall. Albeit with a few breaks I lasted the full working day and we have already harvested 550 kg with only a fraction of the trees finished. It is a triumph but I am shattered.
The first thing of note is that we have new technology. No longer are the trees only hit with plastic paddles but there is now an electric device - is it called a twerker? This is a sort of vibrating rake and it is a pleasure watching my colleagues wield it. My colleagues are, of course, George the Albanian and two women who, I think, are his wife and sister in law. After three years I should know but am too embarrassed to ask. Not that I speak Greek or Albanian or they speak English.
George is our leader so his main job is chopping branches off trees with his chainsaw.
These branches are then taken to a threshing machine where they are expertly flailed. This is skilled work so, naturally, I am not allowed to do it either. My first job is to carry the branches from where they fall to where the flailing machine, operated by lady 1, is wheeled to.
All the time we walk across the mats which are laid down by the ladies. This too is quite a skilled job and so naturally I am not party to it. Most of the branches are not cut from the tree but sit there to be attacked by the twerker or, now and again, by George wielding an old style long plastic paddle. But the twerker is king. Naturally it is a skilled job and so I am not allowed anywhere near it although I really do want a go and might ask to use it on the last tree so that if I break anything the harvest is in the bag.
Watching lady 2 or George wield the twerker is watching an artist at work and, as I take an occassional breather, I do just that.
In due course the mats are rolled up and the olives plus small twigs and leaves are poured into another machine. This is a skilled job and so is left to the ladies. But at this point my second job comes into play.
This machine has no moving parts and is very simple to operate. I think that normally it is what the old women do. But in this case I am the old woman and the old women have been promoted. Using the wooden stick one beats the leaves and twigs and the loose olives until all olives are loose and fall through the mesh on this tray and then slide into a sack. Even I cannot screw up on this. It is quite tiring but really satisfying as you see your bags fill up.
At the close of play George summonsed me and we wandered around the half filled bags with me holding one as another was emptied into it by George so making one full 50 kg bag. George can lift them easily. I rather struggled, straining muscles I had forgotten that I had. The bag below is two thirds full. By close of play we had 11 utterly full 50 kg bags.
I now invite you to consider a before and after photo. The first is of a tree dripping with olives and thick with leaves. It is the BEFORE photo
And below is what a tree looks like after it has been twerked. Can you see the difference AFTER? The sun shines through a tree that really has been stripped back, shaved and cleansed.
We started work at 8 AM sharp. That is 6 AM UK time which is the time zone I am still operating on. By 2 PM Greek time I was aching all over and it started to rain. Normally rain stops play and indeed on the neighbouring patch of land a team lead by my neighbour Charon and including the goat-herd and several others did stop for a while. I was at that stage thanking God that I might get an early break but George and his ladies just carried on. These Albanians are made of sterner stuff.
In one of my short breaks I went over to say hello to the heavily moustachioed goat-herd (not to be confused with the Shepherd) who, as ever, spoke to me in Greek knowing that I do not understand a word of it. But he had heard about Joshua and, having four children of his own, the Old Goat, kissed me on both cheeks to say well done before kissing the photo of my baby son on my camera. It seems that the whole village of Kambos knows of Joshua's arrival which is touching.
Now I am back in Kalamata. Tomorrow we start again. 8 AM sharp. No rest for the wicked. A long hot bath is greatly needed.
The recent rains means that my friend George the Albanian cannot start work until Saturday on our olive harvest but I went up to the Greek Hovel to do a preliminary investigation and it looks as if we have a pretty good crop. It has been a wet years and I like to think that my aggressive pruning and work on fertilising the trees has paid off. As you can see, the trees are just dripping in olives.
Of course olives are not the only things growing up at the hovel. I was amazed to see that there are still some prickly pears on the bushes and apparently edible.
Rather less good is that the frigana has also grown back.
In fact everything has grown. You probably think of Greece in the summer as a country where everything is a burned straw brown. But right now everything is just green. What a wonderful place. And at this time of year the snakes are all asleep. The rats less so although preliminary investigations inside the hovel detected no obvious signs of wildlife diversity.
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.
You are meant to make your Christmas puddings six weeks before Christmas to allow them to age and mature and so, leaving it to the last possible moment I have now just done that. The recipe is from a cookbook from the Queen of Irish cooking the amazing Darina Allen although she says that it is from her mother in law Myrtle, the founder of Ballymaloe. I think that Myrtle is still with us though she must be 92 by now and I am lucky enough to have visited the famed cooking school near Cork several times.
I say that I used Myrtle's recipe but I am sure that she and Darina would agree that you are allowed to play around with recipes a bit. Thus while I stayed true to the baked apples and most of the fruit I felt compelled to add in some nutmeg, mixed spice and cinnamon. And instead of Irish whiskey it was the remnant of some old Scotch but also some rum which was lying around and which no-one here drinks in any great quantities.
I think that I may have overdone the rum a touch but as of now I have steamed for 6 hours each of four two pint puddings. As a divorced Dad I get two Christmas meals to prepare and the remains from the second ( the Mrs and myself) will head up to Shipston for my father on boxing day.
Then there is one for the sister of the Mrs and her crazy Greek husband and finally one for Susan Shimmin of the Real Mani which I shall drop off in a couple of weeks when I head off to the Greek Hovel for the olive harvest. I can't see Susan compalianing that there is too much alcohol in her pudding.
I have had an on off battle with my weight for forty years. 2016 has not been my best year. The scores on the doors as we head through September are Fat 8 TW 1. Giving up smoking on February 15th was a great thing to do but I put on a few pounds in the Spring. In May and June I worked hard in the fields at the Greek hovel and managed to shed much of the post smoking gain. Since then, comfort eating, and the odd cider, with a bereaved father and with a pregnant wife has been bad news indeed. But enough is enough. The fight back is underway.
The presence of my in-laws is not helpful since I am constantly offered very pleasant South Indian food and also chocolate. But they depart tomorrow and at that point i am the master of the kitchen and shall cook nice food for the Mrs but restrict myself to a spartan diet.
I know this is not terribly PC in that I should take no responsibility at all for my own weight and instead rely on an army of state funded counsellors to help me all the way while insisting that it is my human right to have the NHS fit a gastric band. But I am no slave to political correctness so I am taking responsibility for my own body and have also joined a gym.
In my early thirties I worked out three days a week and either trained or played rugby on three other days. On the seventh day I would rest with a game of tennis or a swim. But that was a long time ago. By the time, yesterday afternoon, that I had walked 600 yards to the gym owned by Perry, the flagbearer for our local Tories, I was already feeling that I had done enough. But Perry greeted me with a smile and I did my own workout for an hour surrounded by half a dozen incredibly muscular men. This is a "man's" gym that I appear to have joined.
Perry is in good form as we discussed how both Labour Councillors for our part of Bristol have now been suspended by the People's Party for being nasty about those who opposed comrade Corbyn. But the main task at hand is dealing with my weight. There is no time for gloating at the chaos and mutual hatred amomg the Comrades.
Today, Perry took charge and I did a session of his own creation. Climbing back up the hill afterwards I wondered if I would make it home at all. But I did and now have 24 hours to recover before tomorrow's session which Perry has already planned. It is now 81 days to the olive harvest in Greece and I have two stone to shift and my upper body muscles to sort out. Wish me luck.
Everyone here in Kambos, the little Mani village in which I am resident, is agreed. Our trees are drowning in flowers and come late November we are going to have a great olive harvest. As is our way in this part of Greece will turn our olives into oil and we will have simply vast amounts to sell and so all the talk is of who we can get to promote our olive oil to help rescue the village from austerity. I know what we need.
Can anyone think of a celebrity who is well known for using vast amounts of olive oil? Preferably we would want a good family man or woman, known for their single minded commitment and integrity and who might perhaps help promote alternative uses for our oil? Can anyone think of a suitable person?
Even without my, pretty pathetic, assistance, George and his team completed the olive harvest today as I sat in the hospital. Last year it took us 5-6 days, this year it was just three. The sacks now lie at the village press whose boss greeted me like an old friend, forgetting that my Greek is somewhat weak but gabbling away happily. Tomorrow afternoon we press.
I shall take 16 litres in a can back to England for Christmas presents (Foxy Bex I have not forgotten) and personal use for the next 12 months. The rest I shall sell and that will cover George's wages, a bus fare back to Athens and maybe my flights. That is not really the point. Unless you are here to water your trees in the summer you know you will have one good year followed by one bad year and this is a bad year. I'm in this for the long run and so it is important to me that I pop in to see my gun toting friends in Kambos regularly. This is where the Mrs and I plan to retire, it will be our community.
Anyhow, I am in Greece to attend to a number of matters. There is a meeting tomorrow with the architect. We finally have a forestry permit, now we need a building permit and then the Greek Hovel can be rebuilt so that it meets the sanitaery requirements of the Mrs and my daughter. And so that Paul Scott, Andrew Bell, Thierry Laduguie, the Pizza Hardman, Richard Poulden, Matt Suttcliffe, Paul Atherley, Harry Adams and others can pop over for holidays as we have oft discussed. The Hovel will be renamed Write Minds (in Greek). Its a pun - geddit? When it is rebuilt, the Mrs and I can stay here every summer to tend the olives.
There is also a meeting tomorrow on global shorting conspiracy matters and I plan to spend Saturday in Athens filming a video outside the headquarters of an AIM listed company. I wonder if you can guess which one? From Athens with Love - the sequel.
After a whole day spent at the Kourounis taverna in Kambos I have finally met up with George, the sprightly 60+ Albanian who leads our olive harvest. I called lovely Eleni at the hospital to see if she had any idea how to track him down. She gave birth to a baby girl yesterday and admitted to being a bit tired but knows she will be back in the kitchen by Sunday and so is gearing herself up. She offered up an idea of where to find George's number.
Lovely Eleni's younger sister, who is really very, very lovely too, called and at about seven tonight in wandered George. In great relief I hugged the man for I was starting to panic. As ever, I bought him a Tsipero and myself an ouzo. And we sat in silence as he speaks not a word of English and my Greek is er...rather weak. But lovely Eleni's very, very lovely younger sister stepped into the breach. We start harvesting at 8 AM Monday. With that arranged, George and I sat in silence once more.
So on Sunday I move up to the Greek hovel. The power works, the internet does not. It will be bloody cold at night and with no shower - the hosepipe option does not appeal at this time of year - it will be fairly tough and I may be rather smelly by this time next week. I guess it gives me an insight into hiow life is in the grim Northern welfare safaris back in England.
Others will have to lead the effort on ShareProphets next week for I am committed to playing a full part in the harvest and so completing it in less than five days this time so that I can get back to the Mrs and the cats as soon as possible. Of course vreki can stop play. But at last I feel we are ready to go.
With that to celebrate I am back in Kalamata at a nice little restaurant for some tzatziki followed by calamari washed down with a large ouzo or three. The place is the best little eating house on the winter seafront even if it does not allow smoking. Perhaps that rather un-Greek health fascism explains why last night I was 100% of the customers and on a Friday night am 33% of the clientele.
I take it all back. The waiter has just rushed outside to tell me that, notwithstanding the no smoking signs everywhere, I can smoke inside. Okay the restaurant Katalenos on Navarino Street is perfect.
I fly tomorrow morning and will arrive in Kalamata so late that I shall enjoy one night of luxury in a hotel before heading off to the Greek Hovel for the olive harvest. George the sprightly 60 year old Albanian and his Mrs are ready to lead the harvest from Wednesday or Thursday and we are off. But there is a bit of a problem. I still speak no Greek and have hitherto relied on the lovely Eleni from the Kourounis taverana to assist. It is either her or Nikko the commie, no-one else speaks more English than I speak Greek in the village of Kambos.
In May I wondered if Eleni had put on a couple of pounds but did not like to say anything. By the time I arrived in August I was fairly sure that she was with child but being a gentleman and not wishing to offend I dared not ask. Aha. I speak to Eleni tonight and she is going into hospital tomorrow. Don't worry she says, she will be back at work by Sunday.
Well that is very good, none of this maternity leave nonsense of the West, back in the kitchen with you young lady. But pro tem I must now work out how to communicate with George - who speaks not a word of English - as well as to the rest of the village.
Nikko the commie will be hard at work on his own olives and so his presence cannot be guaranteed. This could be an uncomfortable few days as I struggle to heat the hovel, deal with the rats and communicate with absolutely anybody.
In the summer I used to drive past this old shed on the main street of Kambos every day. I was told that it was the olive oil factory but it looked deserted as if, like so much of Greece, it was a relic of times gone by when folks actually had jobs. But how wrong I was. By mid-November this place is a hive of activity. It is positively humming.
From late morning until well into the evening there is a constant queue outside of pick up tracks, of trailers pulled by tractors or just of ordinary vans and cars each bringing in bag after back of olives for pressing. Some folks deposit just a couple of bags, a trailer behind a tractor might disgorge fifty or sixty.
My seventy five bags arrived in three trips made by George the chief olive picker at the Greek Hovel in his battered blue pickup.
Each time strapping young men wearing military trousers grabbed the bags and loaded them onto trollies. They tossed the bags on into need stacks as if they were lifting a bag of groceries. I attempted to help, almost collapsed into the pile, so heavy were the bags, and thus just decided to watch while trying to look sort of managerial. No-one was fooled. They all knew that I did not have the faintest idea what was going on but none the less humoured me.
My bags were weighed and the charming factory manager, pictured below, gave me a yellow slip with their weight.
All in all, George and his team with some help from myself had harvested 2.7 tonnes (2,700 kg) of lives. Eventually some hours after our final bags were dropped off it was time to press my olives and as pre-arranged with the manager (with Nikko and the lovely Eleni interpreting) I was there as the sacks were emptied into a hopper.
As you can see my olives are green, purple and black…they look like sweeties but the great machinery does not discriminate on the basis of colour and the lives slip gradually into the hole in the hopper before emerging going up a conveyer belt which allows a young man in combats to take time off from texting to to remove some of the more obvious leaves and twigs.
The olives are washed and then rattle across rolling bars which remove the last of the leaves and then it is into a great big whirring machine.
Inside this machine are separate chambers allowing olives from separate farmers to be multi-crushed. My olives filled three of the six chambers where giant blades turn olives into a sort of sludgy tapenade but already you can see oil oozing to the surface.
The tapenade heads through anther machine which separates the oil from the sludge which is sent off elsewhere for what I do not know. And after heading through a few more pipes a bright green liquid starts to gush out into huge vats.
From one vat we extracted 16 litres of oil. This can headed back to England with me in my rucksack and was exceptionally heavy. It has dug into my back from Kambos to Bristol, hurting every step of the way. But the first bottle from that can will today be handed out as a Christmas present.
The rest of the oil was just sucked away into a communal vat, another 336 litres. After lovely Eleni sorted out the paperwork I was presented with a chit allowing me to claim a cheque for 1779 Euro from the big Olive Oil factory in Kalamata. That factory is, you see, fed by the little presses in each of the villages of the Mani.
As the oil poured into the tank the young man in combat trousers in charge of the whirring machines took a quick break from checking the machines while at the same time smoking sixty a day to stick his little finger into the green fluid. He tasted and pronounced it to be of the highest quality. I followed suit and naturally agreed. You really can taste the olive in this oil and there is an afterkick in your throat. It is quite amazing stuff.
It is far too good for salad dressing or certainly for cooking. back in Bristol we just dip bread in it and dream of Kambos.. Meanwhile small bottles of he stuff have been handed out this Christmas to the chosen few and a few more NewYear gifts are on the way.
I posted videos earlier showing the dreadful weather here in Kambos. That delayed the completion of the olive harvest as did the very Greek way we settle up accounts and so my return from the Greek hovel to England has been postponed. I should now be flying first thing Wednesday which means leaving Kambos tomorrow. Taking a bus from Kalamata to Athens and sleeping at a hotel by the airport for a crack of dawn flight.
I will leave Kambos with a cheque for 1779 Euro in my pocket thanks to the olive harvest. Obtaining the cheque was a bit of a kerfuffle. I fished out my Greek tax number – I am a loyal supporter of the Greek state in its hour of need – and wandered into the olive factory. Easy…
Hmmm. There then followed a long debate about how you spell my third Christian name – Zaccheus – in Greek. I had to fetch lovely Eleni and within minutes the click of her fingers saw the problem solved: Zaxios. Hmmm. Then to Kalamata to drop off my bike with John the bike man and to Olive pressing central HQ to pick up my cheque. Tomorrow I present it at the National Bank in Kalamata and I will head back to the UK with my pockets stuffed full of Euros.
And so there is one more night in Kambos. In need of a power source I find myself sitting at the bar next to the man in the pinkpolo shirt Vangelis. His name is actually Vagelis but I cannot go back and alter all my historic errors so he remains Vangelis.
On Saturday he showed me his hands, horny handed son of toil hands, brushed tough by years of tending to olives. “An olive tree is like a beautiful woman” he said in Greek and Nikko translated. Vangelis is concerned that my olive trees might get lonely and neglected in my absence. The Mrs says that I am neglecting her and the cats looking at my olive trees. Given that she works in the public sector I am sure that there is a compromise.
Pro tem the man in the pink shirt, now wearing his olive harvesting fatigues, and I work on. And then, sans bike, I walk home one last time in the dark, preparing to wade the, now not dry, river and clamber up snake hill for the last time until....
Last night the mud track from the top of snake hill to the Greek Hovel was almost entirely flooded. The dry river is flowing strongly. Somehow my bike made it through all the water and I did not fall off at any point. I then sat in the hovel with a fire blazing listening to the rain hammering down all night, to the thunder and to a stiff gale blowing through the trees. And the vreki continues today. Looking up at the mountains behind me and listening to the loud thunder claps and seeing the sheet lightening flash across the sky, I suspect there will be little olive harvesting going on today in Kambos.
To give you an idea of what it looks like I have shot you three videos, one yesterday and two today.
I look back on three weeks at the Greek Hovel, on life in Kambos and on the conclusion of the olive harvest. Rain stopped me recording since I need light to film and the vreki is heavy - so my thoughts are by audio
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 I ride towards the deserted monastery/convent on my way back from Kambos to the Greek Hovel I can normally see lights twinkling on the far side of the valley where I live. On my hill there is the hovel. On the hill behind it and one fold higher as you get into the mountains is my neighbour Charon. And there are a few other houses on the next ridge along. But as I rode tonight there were no lights. I rather feared that for once lovely Eleni was wrong and that the electricity had not been fixed.
But at least it was a clear night. There is a full moon and so riding up snake hill and through the olive groves it was far lighter than in recent days when this part of the journey has been managed in pitch darkness with only the light on my bike to guide me.
As I arrived at the hovel I imagined a night stumbling around with only a torch to guide me. Inevitably the battery would have died. But the moonlight lit the path making my torch almost academic and I strode up the steps in a way that I would have not considered this summer when the wildlife diversity was not in hibernation. Flinging open the door, I flicked the switch and…
How could I have ever doubted Eleni? What a fool I was. The lights were on revealing the sort of mess a Mrs free existence generates.
The timing of my ride was fortuitous. For the vreki has started again and is now heavy. The dry river will no doubt be gushing in the morning. Looking up towards the mountains I can see that Charon now has his lights on but so heavy is the rain that they are blurred. Say what you like about the hovel but the roof - touch wood – is solid. Outside I can hear the rain beating down on the snake veranda but inside, it is dry and – with the fire started up – surprisingly warm.
However what this means for a ride into Kalamata tomorrow, for the last day of the olive harvest and for frigana burning is a matter of some concern.
The river bed, at the bottom of the valley between the deserted monastery/convent and the start of the climb up snake hill to the Greek Hovel, sits dry all summer. It is parched and it is hard to think that it ever sees water. Even as I arrived in Kambos two weeks ago it was dry as a bone. Puddles formed on the track but the river bed was like dust. That all changed with the storm.
The ford is a ford for a good reason. The ground had been raised with concrete and across it the water was perhaps only an inch deep. Pas de problem for my magnificent motorbike.
But looking upstream the water was rather deeper, perhaps a foot or two. From nothing in just 24 hours. Even as I rode home last night there was nothing there but I guess that in the mountains the rain was heavier and gathered and the, whoosh, it hurtled towards Kambos. And this is just the sort of winter. I rather wonder if I came here at Christmas might I not get cut off.
The dry river runs into a pond lying at the foot of the land belonging to the deserted monastery/convent. In the summer this sits as a small pool supported by a little spring. The wildlife diversity come here for much needed water. I remember seeing a fox drinking at the edge as I headed off fig gathering in the summer. But now…
The water from the river gushes into what is now an ever larger pond. It may be muddy brown but it is far from stagnant. The green algae of summer has been swept away and it looks alive. It is all change in the Mani.
I now have my power back. The olive harvest is almost done and my thoughts are of returning back to the UK, of burning off the frigana, a last meal with my friends here and of a reunion with the cats and the Mrs. Not in that order.
You think Greeks are lazy. That is because all you see is folks in Athens sipping coffees all day. Out here in the Mani life is hard and folks do both a main job but also work the land. So my pal Vangelis is a delivery driver for Dixons but has – I think – 600 olive trees. Nikko and Eleni at the Kourounis taverna also own trees up near the Greek Hovel – they start their harvest tomorrow. And so do I!
The lovely Eleni has put me in touch with a new group of workers. Another chap called Foti, George and his son. I met up again with George today and we start on the olive harvest at 8 AM. So no ouzo for me tonight. To give you an idea of what lies in store for me here are some photos I took last week of a man harvesting trees on the road/track up to the Greek Hovel, just above snake hill. It seems to me that it looks like rather hard work.
Indeed Kambos is a hive of activity as folks gather in what they can ahead of the winter. The other day I heard voices on the land at the edge of the hovel. Given that I am in the middle of nowhere I wandered down to see what was going on. There was an old man and an even older woman picking what looked like weeds from the hillside. I asked if I could look and it seemed that the leaves looked a bit like rocket. The two pickers must have had a combined age of 150 but they were clambering up and down the rocks like young goats. They are a hardy lot here in the Mani, knowing how to extract all that they can from the land.
Remember that even 60 years ago you reached Kambos only by Donkey path up from the sea or by donkey path across the mountains. The road through here is a recent development. The folks here have been surviving for 3000 years (there is, you may remember, a Mycenaean tomb in the village) by living off what they can extract from the land. Greece can go bust (well it is bust) but Kambos will go on. There is no tourist trade here – this remains a working village. And tomorrow I start work.
Olives are my first challenge. In time I plan to grow vegetables here but also to learn about what nature offers us all. I see plants that look like rocket and mushrooms growing on my land but I dare not touch. I guess I have to learn Greek and to learn from the old folk what to look for. There’s plenty of time for that.
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
In my last days at the Greek Hovel this summer I showed unusual foresight in pondering how I would keep warm on my return for the Olive harvest. Hence I gathered firewood, stored it in the rat room and surrounded it with sulphur to ensure that no snakes viewed it as a des res winter home. And thus on my first night back I lit a fire.
Fire lighting is a macho sort of thing and I am pretty proud of my ability to get a good blaze going with just a couple of pieces of paper. Firelighters are for jessies. And so within minutes I had a roaring blaze going. And about two minutes later the room was filled with smoke. Perhaps there was some trick I had missed?
I fiddled with two bricks that cover little holes in the fireplace but to no avail. The smoke was by now overpowering and so I had to open all windows and the door. I am not so worried about the wildlife entering – why on earth would they rush into a smoke filled building. It was the cold. The Greek Hovel is in the foothills of the mountains and while it is shirt-sleeves hot in the morning and until about three it then start to get very cold indeed. I reckon that we are not that far above zero every night.
As such my first night was a cold one. As the fire died out the smoke gradually cleared and I shivered fully clothed underneath my quilt.
In the morning I resolved to ignore my chronic vertigo and to clamber onto the flat roof to investigate. I did not exactly show Tarzan like grace but I made it and removed the tiles that someone had put on top of the chimney, presumably to keep out the wildlife diversity. If I felt macho lighting a fire I felt uber-macho after this achievement as I somehow clambered down onto the snake veranda.
And now, as you can see I have a roaring fire every night. My summer store of wood is depleting rapidly but there is plenty lying around and so part of my daily routine is to go and gather fresh stocks for that night’s fire at The Greek Hovel.
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.
Every evening and most days a rather large man sits at the bar of the Kourounis taverna in Kambos run by lovely Eleni. He always wears a pink polo shirt. I am not sure if he has a large collection of such shirts or if he has been wearing the same one all summer. He laughs, he smiles, he drinks and smokes and taps away at his laptop. What on earth is he doing?
This has been bugging me all summer. Is he gambling? Or running a Money laundering operation? Or working for some dodgy dating site pretending to be a stunning 23 year old woman who is desperate for sex, if you join the premium site. Just I case he was some violent criminal I have not dared look at his screen for ten weeks.
Last night the truth emerged. Vangelis, for that is his name, is a delivery driver for Dixons. But because of the crisis there are not that many er…deliveries. And so he is now becoming an expert player of computer games. He also owns 2,000 olive trees which makes him a bit of an olive oil baron. And as an aside he is a crack shot and will be shooting a raft of small birds for a celebration supper when I return for the Olive harvest. Mystery solved.
— Tom Winnifrith
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