281 days ago
If you head to a seaside settlement in the Mani right now whether it be Islington-sur-Mer (kardamili) or the Costa-del-Stoupa they will be packed with people. Head there in the winter and they are semi-deserted. Up here in the lower reaches of the Taygetos mountains, in unfashionable old Kambos, the population barely changes throughout the year. The faces I see when harvesting olives in November are, essentially, those I see now in the burning heat of August.
Sure there are a few seasonal visitors. Poor Nicho the Communist, Papou, a man several years older than I am, has been saddled by his sister with two young nephews from Athens. He brings them to the Kourounis taverna of lovely Eleni where they play mindless games on their tablet with the other kids. Poor Nicho, a “moderate drinker” in the same way as the late Charles Kennedy, orders another large whisky and sits there resigned to his fate.
But most of the folks in Kambos are all year rounders. My first stop in the village was naturally at one of the two hardware stores to stock up on snake repellent canisters and to teat myself to a new saw and axe as my old ones appear to have been lost in the building works.
My olive trees are pretty clean having been thoroughly pruned in May and re-pruned in June but the rain of July has seen new sprouts emerging and so a re-cleaning exercise is called for and is now underway. 250 trees – almost for weeks so ten a day will do me fine. Yesterday I did twelve but even early in the morning it is jolly hot and so I’m not planning to spend that long each day in the snake-fields.
The second person I met was the ageing mother-in-law of lovely Eleni. I was wandering down the back street that leads from the Church and where I park my car, down towards the main street and there was the old lady painting white the pavement outside her house and the kerb.
In Ulster if you are a loyalist you paint the kerb red white and blue, a Fenian paints the kerb orange, white and green and you make a statement. In Greece all kerbs are painted white making the statement “We Greeks may have buggered it all up over the pat decade but we are calm and at peace and by the way we invented democracy, literature and philosophy three thousand years ago when you were all living in trees and caves. PS Glad to see Turkey buggering it up too.”
And so I greeted her and she greeted me. Tikanis, Cala, etc. She asked how old Joshua was and I replied “Theo”. I thought of trying to explain that he and the Mrs would arrive soon but given that my Greek is as non existent as her English thought better of it. Anyhow it was a warm greeting. And so I wandered on. The village square is packed in the evening with families as well as the normal old men chatting, drinking and eating at either Kourounis or at Miranda’s. trade is roaring. They are all familiar faces: the shepherds, the goat herder, Vangelis in his pink shirts, all the other m en who will all be called George, Nicho or Vangelis but whose names I cannot quite remember. It will be one of the three. Tikanis, Cala, Yas, Tom. I shake hands with many of them.
As ever I reflect on how few folks in Bristol I know well enough to greet them with a warm handshake. Come the weekend the Mrs who speaks some Greek pitches up. I’m not sure that will aid the conversation greatly but, of course, Joshua melts all hearts and builds bridges at once.
Up at the hovel after midnight there was another familiar face spotted. You may remember that three or four years ago I befriended a small black and white kitten up here by giving it milk. It has been a periodic pleasure in subsequent years to see my old friend, now a large cat, striding purposefully across the land. Cats eat rats and snakes and as such he, or she, is most welcome here.
My room being a tad stuffy I ventured outside shining my torch ahead of me to ensure that I had no unexpected encounters. There is a slightly cooling breeze and I wanted to catch a bit of it before heading off to sleep. If I hear a noise anywhere I shine my torch in the right direction hoping to spot what approaches. I saw a brief bit of black and white but the cat darted behind a tree. I kept the torch on that tree some 30 yards away and after a short while my friend broke cover and walked, with no sense of panic, off towards the snake fields. Happy hunting comrade cat.
282 days ago
My memories of sleeping at the Greek Hovel are of bedding down in the room above the Bat Room, terrified about what form of wildlife diversity would creep in, twitching at every noise outside and sweating in insufferable heat. as such I approached my first night in the bat Room with some trepidation leaving the light on before I headed into Kambos to guide me back in in case my torch failed.
What with the Bat Room lights, the stars and my torch visibility was good when I got back at around midnight. I locked the door firmly and tapped away on my PC for a while. I have rigged up an internet link and so was able to send my photos back to London to be uploaded here. Finally i could postpone sleep for no longer and so crashed out on the mattress with my torch in one hand and my new olive pruning axe close to the other.
But it really was not that bad. There was the odd sound outside. But walls that are almost two foot thick deaden the impact and it was clear that there was no wildlife diversity inside other than one mosquito. As to the heat, the thick stone walls are meant to keep the place cool in summer and hot in winter. And to a great extent the theory holds up so far. I think that i shall invest in a fan to please the Mrs and Joshua when they arrive but the temperature was a lot more bearable than in many Greek hotels I have stayed in where air conditioning is not on offer.
With hard working Greeks enjoying a Bank Holiday today there were no workmen on site to rouse me and I snoozed happily until ten in the morning local time when a compelling urge to prune my beloved olive trees roused me from my slumber. For we farmers there is no day off.
311 days ago
Fear not daughter Olaf, I have now laid down the snake repellent at the Greek Hovel. Two canisters, as you can see below, 10 yards away from opposite corners of the house now emit a smell which snakes are meant to regard as foul and so will keep the hovel, if not the snake-fields, free from serpents for three months until Autumn hibernation. Well in theory.
Snakes, have in the past, ignored the foul smell and approached the hovel anyway. But in theory they are already slithering away. Fingers crossed. I was wading through longer grass today as I pruned my beloved olive trees. I trod heavily, as one does, but had no encounters at all with the wildlife diversity community.
I should note, without sounding too conceited, that there was relatively little pruning to do. Whover did the pruning in May did a very thorough job and should be very proud of himself.
359 days ago
I have grossly underestimated the number of olive trees that sit on the land at the Greek Hovel. Yesterday and today I upped my quota to thirty so I have now pruned 160 which is what I thought we had. I was very wrong. But i now enter what I deem the land of the snake.
The top level of the land is almost done. I have pruned almost down to the far end. That is an area which was once a frigana forest. I was blissfully unaware of what lay beyond our land so thick was the accursed thorn bush. Thanks to months of hard sweat and labour in summers gone by it is now all gone and that has unearthed new olive trees which we can now harvest.
In one or two cases the remnants of the taller frigana trees, piles of logs surround an olive tree as you can see in the bottom photo. We Gruffalo readers know what lives in the tree log house and I prune such trees extremely carefully approaching with loud footsteps and trading carefully.
On the flanks of the top land are the terraces and as you head down to the lower terraces the grass gets longer and longer as you can see below. In years gone by I have seen shapes swishing through that grass which can only be one thing. I have done some work on the terraces but more remains - I reckon ten or fifteen trees on the monastery side and thirty or more on the mountain side.
Finally there are is the rocky area on the left of the track as one approaches the hovel. It too was once a frigana forest. I was over this that I clambered with lovely Susan Shimmin of the Real Mani when I first visited the house with the Mrs and it was absolutely crawling with snakes. But again, I have cleared the frigana, it is a bit less snake friendly but I have had encounters there before. I probably holds another 20 or so trees.
The bottom line is that the total is well over 200, I must up my work rate to forty tomorrow but I enter the badlands as I do so.
Yesterday my toils were interrupted by a rather portly young man who wanted me to move my car so he could deliver cement. As he strolled over to see me and explain he said in broken English "you know there are snakes here?" What is the Greek for "Do you know bears shit in the woods?"
362 days ago
I am horrified by how much pruning is needed on some of our olive trees. It is as if they have not been "cleaned, as they say here, for years. But this is just one season's growth. Maybe I have Alzheimer's but I really do not remember it being this hard other than in year one when Foti the Albanian and I tackled trees that had not been pruned in eons.
Below are two "before" shots, one of a floor covered in prunings and two "after" shots of one of the trees I tackled this morning. Phew. I had said that I have 160 trees so a kind reader said "that is 16 a day" but the truth is that I do not know how many trees we have.
For one thing the number is confused by wild olive trees ( no fruit) a handful of big olive trees (used for curing and eating not oil) and a half a dozen old trees that produce nothing. In due course Nicho the Communist and I will replace the old trees and wild olive trees with trees for oil. And we will plant new trees on land now emptied of frigana and so ready to domesticate.
There are also the trees which, until I arrived, were drowning in snake rich frigana and so were ignored. I have butchered the frigana but it is still pretty wild in the far reaches of the hovel's lands and I prune nervously.
So the truth is that I have no idea how many trees there are. But i shall stick to my 20 a day and see where I get to by the time I head home. I shall reveal the results of the olive census then.
363 days ago
— Tom Winnifrith
Damn. It was a near miss but I failed to kill it. The serpent was not in the olive groves where I trod carefully today as, armed with my new axe pruned 20 trees. I start with the highest yielders, the ones nearest the house which have always enjoyed my tender care. Those in the long grass on the further reaches of our land I save to the end as I know what will be lurking in that grass.
But as I headed back to Kambos, to lovely Eleni's Kourounis taverna for a diet coke and a most excellent Greek salad, I saw it. I was on the stretch of road leading up from the deserted convent to the village about 1000 yards out of the village outskirts and there on the road ahead of me was a snake which must have been at least two foot long.
I should say that i was in my car but feeling Greek I did as the locals do and put my foot on the accelerator and swerved violently to the edge of the road. sadly the snake was an adult and knew the score so just managed to slither into the long grass and escaped me. I heard no crunch under the wheels. I looked in my rear view mirror - there was no snake, dead or alive. I missed.
I think I am a bit out of practice. Next time my reactions will be faster.I am, after all, a proven snake killer.
364 days ago
With the one room at the Greek Hovel that was used to store goods out of action for re-flooring my possessions - such as they are - are scattered around the plot. After a bit of a search my saw was located. It had been used to stir concrete and so, rather sheepishly, on of the builders did his best to clean it. It is usable. My small axe (about a foot long) which one uses for taking away sprouts of new growth at the base of an olive tree could not be found. I have just bought a new one from Vangelis in Kambos.
But with only a saw I started the task of pruning my 160 trees. Bloody hell. It was as bad as it was in my first year of pruning, some 48 months ago. The trees have sprouted new growth as if they were on steroids. Below you see the carnage from pruning just one tree.
I am not sure what the impact of pruning is. By how much does it increase my yield? I suspect it is pretty marginal but I find it therapeutic if quite tough. Bend down for the new shoots at the base of the tree, stretch up to hack away shoots on the branches. After four years I reckon I know what I am doing although I am willing to stand corrected. I was taught by Foti and George, Albanians whose fitness is er.. a little bit greater than mine. I suspect they do not cut themselves with the saw on on jagged bark as I do buy my blood might act as an added fertilizer for the trees. I donated happily today.
With saw only my progress was limited. Tomorrow I return with axe and saw to put in some hard hours. It is all good training for my 30 mile sponsored walk in late July and it is a time to think and relax. What will the harvest be like this year? God only knows? Certainly the trees have a decent amount of small olives developing as you can see below. My sense is that it will not be great but it should, at least, be worthwhile.
705 days ago
— Tom Winnifrith
I am meant to test my blood sugars twice daily and be in a range of 5-7 whatever that means.Almost two months ago I was 15.3 but these days an almost zero carb, almost zero alcohol, low stress and modest daily exercise lifestyle plus five pills a day has seen me happily in "normal" territory for someone tackling type 2 diabetes, for some days. But I just tested myself and it was 9.6. WTF!
I have not has any ouzo, though I deserve it today, and have had no carbs or sugars. But I have done a two hour stint of frigana chopping up at the Greek Hovel. I am drenched in sweat and I could feel my heart beating fast. So natch, I checked on google.
Vigorous exercise can, it seems, cause a short term spike in blood sugars. And this has been my most vigorous exercise since last December's olive harvest.But it should unwind within an hour or so and long term doing exercise will cut my blood sugars. Pondering this over a most excellent lettuce salad and numerous big glasses of water at lovely Eleni's Kourounis taverna in Kambos I am resolved to take it easy this afternoon.
As I butchered the frigana earlier I found several olive trees that I had neglected to prune and a few large bushes of frigana which might be hiding a you know what. They are in an area of my land where I have had unpleasant encounters before. And thus this afternoon an hour of gentle pruning and somewhat less gentle poisoning beckons. The fight goes on.
713 days ago
Amid a general feeling of despondenc and uncertainty, the one constant joy is my blood sugar levels as I tackle type 2 diabetes. It is eleven days since I got back to Greece and I continue my regime of moderate exercise and avoiding booze and carbohydrates at all cost. Well almost.
I must admit that as I stayed up on Thursday night to watch the election I had a couple of glasses of white wine. I thought it would be one celebratory drink. It ended up as two to numb the pain. The odd thing was, that having been off the booze for a while, I did not really enjoy them. And as I struggled on Friday with lack of sleep, I was aware that even a modest amount of alcohol had made that feeling worse.
But I am back on the straight and narrow now. As a recap my blood sugars were 15.3 when my GP read the riot act to me. They got down to a stead 8 on my first trip to Greece before the visit of the wife's family. They were high 10s as I started again. I have now had six readings on the trot in the 7s. This is not a rogue poll. It is a steady trend.
Okay i am on heavy medication but the target range of 5-7 is very much in sight. My trousers feel looser and the symptoms, which a Gentleman dos not discuss in public, have almost entirely disappeared.
I know that I have a good few sessions left to complete my olive pruning and frigana poisoning up at the Greek hovel. By the time I head back to the UK in a couple of weeks to see my GP I have every hope that I will be in an acceptable range. The battle then is staying there.
714 days ago
We are almost there in removing the ghastly modern additions made to the 100 year old Greek Hovel by its former owner vile Athena. I was up there today pruning my olive trees at an incredible pace and almost the last legacy has gone.
I refer to the loathsome glass windows in metal frames and plastic shutters that covered them. As you can see, they are going.
Of course the rat room and bat room do not have windows at all just holes in the wall so this was just an issue for the main room upstairs where I have stayed when here in the past. We will now be removing the concrete blocks which are underneath these windows and replacing them with stone before, in due course, inserting new windows in wooden frames with traditional wooden shutters.
Pro tem the wildlife diversity now has full access to the living quarters. And that is a good reason why I shall not be staying here until that is rectified later this year.
719 days ago
— Tom Winnifrith
Just a very quick note on my blood sugar levels as I battle type 2 diabetes. Yesterday i reported how the trend was my friend as i re-started the fightback. After a day of hard olive pruning, swimming, no booze and healthy eating more dramatic progress has been made.
Supper last night was grilled octopus and boiled mountain greens. That dish is, as far as I can work out, a cross between spinach and weeds. But with a drowning of lemon it is actually rather nice. I turned down bread and felt virtuous because my pre-supper reading has been 9.7 and I was not going to let it slip.
As a reminder I started before my first campaign against the diabetes at 15.3 ( off the scale) and my target is sub 7. Back below 10 was a landmark. This morning, pre breakfast, my reading is in at 8.9. yes that is EIGHT point fucking NINE! Today: frigana poisoning and olive pruning at the Greek hovel, a swim - target is sub eight by next weekend.
719 days ago
— Tom Winnifrith
As you may remember when I was joined in Greece my by wife and her family my type 2 diabetes control went badly off the rails. In the ten days i spent in England there were days when I almost gave up. I was not dreadful, I ate no chocolate and I did take some exercise but not a lot. But I had a few drinks and some days I skipped my medication. I was angry with myself and depressed. But my flight back to Greece on Tuesday marked a new beginning. So we start the clock again.
On the morning of day 5 I am now into a routine of doing enough exercise out at the Greek hovel each day which sees me break into a sweat. Today it was an hour and a half of olive tree pruning. Boy my little babies are vigorous. the ones I prune a month ago have sprouted new shoots to lop off, the ones I have yet to tackle are really hard work. In 30 plus degree heat I have worked up a good sweat and climbing up and down the terraces left me almost breathless by the end. Good news. And I did not see one snake. Even better news.
My hotel has a pool and at 32 degrees down by the sea i am sorely tempted to have a swim. I am taking my medication religiously. I have not had a drink since Sunday nor do I imbibe fruit juice or diet coke. My diet is largely based on Greek salads, although I am allowing myself bacon and eggs for breakfast, and is almost entirely carbohydrate free. I am now enjoying a late lunch of soda water and a salad with no bread at the Kourounis taverna in Kambos.
By blood sugar measurements were 15.3 before I headed to Greece the first time. They were down in the 6, 7 8 range before the mother in law arrived but back in the low mid teens by the time she left. Stress free and back in a routine I tested 10.3 this morning having been 10.5 the day before. That is, of course, far too high. I should be sub 7. But I am heading the right way.
The good thing is that the symptoms of type 2 diabetes, most of which a gentleman does not discuss on the internet, have almost all gone. I feel more alive, more energetic and really looking at new challenges. I did my first podcast for two months today. It is not going to be a daily thing for a good while yet but it was a fun diversion. I have three work projects which I am mulling over. They will not take much time but will be fun and I feel up for a challenge.
There is no plan of going back to normal work any time soon. 10.3 is still shockingly high and unless I get that down to sub 8 by the time I next see my GP in three weeks I shall be getting a right old rollocking. But the trend is my friend and I feel pretty good about the way things are going.
741 days ago
An hours olive pruning each day is good for the olives and good for me. For starters it is some exercise to keep the type 2 diabetes at bay. Reach up, saw, reach down, axe, reach up axe, look around to check for snakes, hear a noise, panic, discover its not a snake, stop panicking, walk over the rocks and bushes to the next tree, check there are no snakes. Repeat. Repeat again. If I could do this every day the pounds would roll off.
And when not panicking about a noise in the bushes or thinking which shoots and branches to lop off it is a chance to think. I am not sure I always get the pruning 100% correctly in terms of what to lop and what to leave but locals from Kambos who have inspected my work up in the snake fields at the Greek Hovel nod with some sort of approval. I think I get it more right than wrong.
In terms of the thinking I am not sure I get that all right either. There is an awful lot to think about and you can do so in almost total silence. Sometimes you can hear the bells of the sheep or goats. Now and again it is a rustling in the bushes but mostly it is just silence. Its the best place to clear your head.
Anyhow you wanted a photo. sadly I could not find a snake for you so you will have to make do with a lizard. They are everywhere. This little specimen was scrambling up the wall at the Greek Hovel. He or she, for I am no expert at sexing lizards) is about four inches long and could not get away from me fast enough.
756 days ago
— Tom Winnifrith
My strips for my English meter should have arrived by Fedex yesterday. They have not. And so i am still on the Greek meter where my readings are all over the shop. Overall the trend seems down and yesterday post run I scored a reading of 106 which I gather is 5.9 in proper money. Okay vigorous exercise really spoofs the meter but three weeks ago I could have run a marathon and still not got anywhere near that level. Okay that is a lie.
Yesterday i managed 3.1 km in 26 minutes. A new post diabetic personal best but still a bit short of a marathon. And i was a sweaty wreck. Today it will be 3.3km in 27 minutes and I am jolly proud of myself. that pride was a bit punctured by a late night call from soon to be 16 year old daughter Olaf who claims to be able to do 5 km in 25 minutes. "But well done daddy you are starting from a different base" she opined. Patronising little witch. I will show her.
That was not the extent of my exercise. I headed up to Kambos to pick up my poison for a weekend of frigana poisoning with Nicho the Communist. 80 Euro saw me get a massive plastic bottle which weighed a tom. well not quite but it was frigging heavy and I had to put it down several times as I walked back to my car. Lovely Eleni and her husband Nicho (not a communist as far as I know) laughed as they saw me and at that point Nicho the Communist wandered up. So you two are poisoning tomorrow said Eleni and laughed even more. There seemed some doubt as to whether Nicho the Communist would be sober enough to do it but he assured me that he would. 9 AM sharp on Saturday. We will be poisoning hard all weekend.
As I lugged the massive container to my car I walked past three little old ladies dressed in black who just sit around all day. I could hear them chatting. The Englishman from Toumbia is a phrase I recognise. A truck went by with two young workers from the village olive press. They shouted out "Hi Tom" and seemed to be laughing as well. Another lady hooted. I sense that the nicho The Communist/Tom frigana poisoning the snake fields story is all round Kambos and is seen as a potential source of merriment for all.
Olaf and I discussed how I know more folks in Kambos than I do in Bristol. It is true. Other than a couple of folks from the Conservative Club and our neighbours on one side I know no-one other than my wife's mad left wing friends in Bristol. I have more conversations in a tiny Greek village with 536 people - of whom three speak some sort of English - in a day than i do in a week in Bristol. and I live a healthier lifestyle. And its 27 degrees. What is not to like?
I ended the day with a spot of olive pruning at the hovel. The trees are now enjoying their fourth prune with me after years of neglect so they need less and less "cleaning". It is so quiet up there. There was a flock of sheep but they wandered away so it was just me. In a way that is wonderful. The downside is that even a deaf old man like me can hear the smallest twig crack or leaf rustle. And as I hear such sounds, a voice in my head immediately shouts out "snake." I look around. There is nothing visible. I tread even more carefully. After a while I decided that was enough snake panicking for the day and headed off. But three bouts of exercise fuelled by a bowl of raw oats and two salads, is not bad for a man with type 2 diabtes is it?
One day I shall go into all the symptoms although a Gentleman probably should not. But suffice to say they are all in retreat if not gone altogether.
767 days ago
— Tom Winnifrith
My blood sugar levels s have remained pretty good over the past few days. After my 9.3 on Friday I came in at 9.5 on Saturday and 9.9 on Sunday morning. I am running low on the little sticks you put in the machine so am on morning only tests pro tem. But Easter Sunday saw me hammering away at my laptop and drinking coffee. I had no car at that point and the cafe kept on giving me a little biscuit with my coffees. My day was almost all sedentary. It was a day that was just so typical of my poisonous lifestyle that saw blood sugar levels at 15.3 two weeks ago and me battling severe type 2 diabetes.
I was also goaded into doing a financial article which annoyed me massively. I am meant to be on a break and as i hammered it out I became crosser and crosser. Stress is not good for blood sugar.
I am kicking myself and have resolved to do far better. As such the manual labour has now started. Notwithstanding the fact that I have yet to put up any snake repellent at the Greek Hovel I ventured out to start pruning the trees. You make think of pruning as being what an elderly vicar played by Richard Briers does to his rose bushes in an Agatha Christie - a gentle exercise which burns so few calories that the wicked clergyman has plenty left in the tank to go off murdering his neighbours.
But olive tree pruning is a different kettle of fish. In one hand I have my small axe in the other my small saw. I must bend down to axe away any new growths at the base of the tree and then work my way up until I stand on tiptoe taking away growths or whole branches that are set to yield little or nothing in the way of olives. There is the constant nervous energy of watching out to make sure that you do not tread on any member of the wildlife diversity community or indeed that there is nothing lurking in the branches. It is all jolly tiring, something i forget after each year's pruning and remember afresh once again after about two trees of the next season.
Start gently says my doctor. I did just that. Nine trees are now "cleaned." My arm aches. And up in the Taygettos mountains above the hovel the storm clouds are gathering. That was my cue to head to the Kourounis taverna where lovely Eleni rustled up a magnificent Greek salad which , in a good diabetic way, I devoured without any bread. Having retrieved my rod from the hovel, an afternoon of fishing in the rain now beckons.
1064 days ago
— Tom Winnifrith
1068 days ago
— Tom Winnifrith
1071 days ago
— Tom Winnifrith
British Airways staff were again brilliant today. On Saturday I arrived at Kalamata airport with a barely mobile father and weak step mother. Within minutes a cute airline lady had helped me get a wheelchair for my father and i was told my job was over. The lady put them at the front of the line and I had nothing more to do. Today it was the turn of the Mrs. We arrived and the small departure lounge was again heaving with lobster pink Northern Europeans forming long lines to check in for flights to London and Paris.
I found a different cute airline lady and said that my wife was heavily pregnant, as she is, and within minutes she was again at the head of the queue leaving dozens of the lobster pink Brits and froggies fuming behind her. Then she was through passport control and was off and I headed back to town to face another three to four weeks at the Greek Hovel with just the snakes and rats for company.
When the Mrs is here I am on holiday so I only work 3-4 hours a day at my PC and I do no manual labour at all. I enjoy three meals a day and more than the odd drink. "After all we are on holiday" say I as I order another ouzo. I get to sleep on clean sheet in an air conditioned hotel and enjoy swims in luxury pools. The Mrs is paying and it is a treat. I enjoy my hols with the Mrs. We talk, we plan, we discuss. Life without the Mrs is very different.
Aware that I will have gained a few pounds while she has been here I want to lose weight badly, as I did do in my first stint here this summer. So it will be down to one or two meals a day and by meal I mean a greek salad. There will be virtually no boozing. And there will be hard labour in the fields every day. Greece with the Mrs is perhaps not very good for my figure but it is a holiday. You may think that I remain on holiday just because I am here and not in the Bristol house. But I made that mental leap two years ago. The Greek Hovel is as much my home as Bristol is and it is where I work hardest and most effectively.
I stopped off in Kalamata to watch the footie and made it back to the hovel at six. So guilty was I about my waistline that I abandoned writing work for the day and headed out to the fields. I know that late evening olive pruning risks encounters with the wildlife diversity but I could not wait to work up a good sweat and feel like I'd done something really productive. I thought I'd just do one tree but then I did another and another. All in all I was just into double figures on trees when I cut my finger on something and took that as a sign to call it a day.
I wandered in and Nigel Wray called. It turns out that he has two massive olive trees outside a house he owns....maybe I could become a full time itinerant professional olive tree pruner. It is just so relaxing. It is almost addictive.
1081 days ago
— Tom Winnifrith
When the Mrs bought the Greek Hovel we were told that there were around 120-150 olive trees here. A few are wild so bear no fruit but still we had a lot of trees. I am now convinced that the number is far greater as I navigate the far reaches of the land. I do so more conscious than ever, after yesterday, that I am not alone as I work.
There is 16,000 square metres of land here. Okay knock off 500 square metres for the house, the ruin and the "drive" but that is still a lot of land. Looking out at the immediate garden which is olive tree rich and, roughly, 100 square metres contains eight trees. Elsewhere on the property the intensity of tress is far less but a bit of basic maths suggests that we must have well over 150 trees here.
What also convinces me that we do have more trees than previously thought is that I have now been pruning at between 8 and 15 trees a day pretty much every day for at least 20 days. And I still have a stack of trees to go. The trees I tackle now appear not to have been pruned for many a year indeed I somewhat doubt that they were harvested in the past given how deep they were buried in frigana bushes. But that frigana was hacked back big time two years ago and poisoned and chopped aggressively last year. Now I am wading into what must be the last redoubts of the frigana, the last bits of this land which it clings to and, in doing so, I am exposing yet more trees.
The problem - as I am sure you have guessed - with a foray into land which has not seen human visits for many a year is that I am very much not alone. I tread heavily, carefully and slowly but the grass, frigana and other bushes are thick and hide many things. I hear creatures moving around me more often than I care to consider and I find myself thinking what happens if I do meet a you know what? How brave will I be? Will I stand my ground, armed with axe, saw or frigana chopping machine or will I run away screaming. And then suddenly it was not exactly a hypothetical question.
There I was yesterday and after about two hours in the fields I was tired, my limbs ached and I was almost ready to call it a day when I heard something. I spun around and the grass and bushes were moving in a clear S-shape pattern. They were at least moving away from me. I stared transfixed at where the snake appeared to have come to rest. I could not see it but was acutely aware that it was blocking my path back to the Greek Hovel. A dilemma indeed.
And thus I found myself swinging right - that happens a lot as one gets older and grows up - and clambering up a wall to take an indirect route home. That saw me discover three more trees that have not felt man's tender love for many a year. They were duly pruned before I heard another noise. Enough is enough, time to head back to the hovel.
However, as I push on to the far reaches of the land here, there will inevitably be other encounters. I am now on the lowest terrace that surrounds the property on both sides, I find trees up against iron fencing that marks our boundary and which are protected by thick bushes.The work must go on. Not only do the olives deserve a prune but the land here must be cleared for only then can myself and George the Albanian undertake the replanting programme we plan for the spring.
My sense is that around 40 of the 200+ trees here are either wild or in such bad nick, for whatever reason, that they need to be replaced as they will never yield us anything. Moreover there are now vast stretches of land which two years ago wre covered with frigana but which are now clear and where olive tree density is perhaps only 1 per 100 square metres or less. I had calculated, from experience, that this property would generate 600 Euro ( bad year) to 1800 Euro (good year) revenues from oil.
I can see that my maths was all wrong.Not only can we almost double the number of yielding trees but with a bit more care of the whole estate, pruning, watering and fertilising it should easily start to yield 1500 Euro (bad year) to 4500 Euro (good year). And then when I buy another field.... Bear in mind that I could live on well under 800 Euro a month out here and I am sure you can see where I am heading. That sort of maths would allow me to spend all my literary time writing not terribly commercial articles about life in Kambos and up here at the hovel. Sod the stockmarket. What fun!
Okay, I am getting ahead of myself. I still have another ten days of olive tree pruning and frigana clearing, perhaps more. But at least I shall have company at all times.
1082 days ago
— Tom Winnifrith
I've been nicotine clean now for three months and three weeks exactly and the urge to have "just one" cigarette is now really pretty rare. But I must admit to having such an urge just now.
I do not feel the desire to smoke when drunk or when stressed. Indeed quite the opposite. Just now I have completed more than 90 minutes of hard manual labour, that is to say olive tree pruning on some of the rockier, wildlife friendly and TW unfriendly terrain at the Greek Hovel. Returning covered in sweat and with sun tan lotion dripping into my eyes I turned on the shower, that is to say hosepipe, and ...well... gosh it was brilliant.
The sea yesterday was an inviting and sparkling blue. I plunged in because I was very smelly not because it was enjoyable. It was cold. Not Whitby or Margate cold but too cold for my liking. My shower, on the other hand, has its water heated in the metal pipe that climbs the mountain, linking the Hovel to civilization. The shower was, as ever, better than sex - to quote my guest of two years ago. It was blissful.
And so I sit here after a hard afternoon's work and the best shower a man can ask for with most of my work done for the day and what could be better than to enjoy just one cigarette, sitting on the steps leading up to the snake veranda watching the world go by? Or, given where I am, watching it not go by.
The desire is passing already. There are no fags stashed at the hovel and Kambos with its 4.5 Euro packs of twenty is two miles away. I know that one fag will lead to two and to twenty and I really don't want that to happen. I may have put on the odd pound but as I labour in the fields I am conscious that I am fitter than I have been for ages. There's no going back.
1083 days ago
— Tom Winnifrith
That is it. I have written a stack of articles. I have done two very hard and sweaty sessions of frigana slashing and I shall do a stint on the olive pruning and then I am off. Ive served my time in the fields of the Greek Hovel, I've penned my golden prose and apart from anything else, having been drenched in sweat, I smell less than perfumed.
Because of the wildlife diversity I wear thick black jeans when wading into the frigana bushes. Given that it is 30 degrees plus even up at the hovel that is less than comfortable and I have spent all day dreaming of wading into the sea. All work no play makes Tom a dull - and in this case smelly - boy. Off to the sea I go.
1094 days ago
— Tom Winnifrith
There is a reason that the Greeks, or rather the Albanians the Greeks hire to do manual labour, start at 8 AM and finish at 3 PM. The reason, I think, is snakes. That is to say the snakes are at their least active in the morning. During the day they sunbathe and so by dusk they are really quite frisky. I have hitherto been working to a different schedule. Silly me.
You see when I awake I start writing articles for you my dear readers. By the time you open up your PC at seven I have already been generating golden prose for at least ninety minutes. As such by the time I had finished generating golden prose and had my lunch (Greek salad) in Kambos today and got back for olive pruning it was 4.40 PM.
And so I headed straight for that part of the property which, when I first arrived, was a thick frigana jungle. I was convinced then that it was the sort of place that snakes really would want to hang out in but two years ago cleared it none the less, wading into the bushes in a fearless manner and, as it happened, encountering not a single snake.
It is not an area where the olive trees yield much. I think that is because for years they have never been pruned or fertlised as they were simply immersed in frigana, in dense jungle. That, I have determined is all to change and so I started work. On one tree a wild olive, non fruit bearing specimen, had attached itself to the trunk and I sawed away, eventually dragging the parasite trunk in three cleanly cut pieces onto what will be a huge bonfire at Christmas but is for now just a huge pile of branches, a sort of sanctuary for the wildlife diversity.
As the evening light started to fade my limbs started to tire. It is hard work olive pruning. One must bend down to remove little shoots of olive at the base of the tree with your axe and also reach up into the highest branches to axe and saw away new growth that cannot yield fruit this year. I was sweating and tired and on my penultimate tree. And then I heard a rustle and looked around to see something shoot off into a bush.
Lizards shoot off in a straight line. Their back legs propel them like a bullet straight to safety. Snakes slither so you can see the S shaped movement as the tail disappears. This was a snake. It must have been a small one which suggests it was poisonous but it headed away from me and must have been sitting in a bush two yards from my feet as I heard no more noise.
"Fuck me" I said rather loudly although the only creature that could hear me was the snake. I chopped a last few branches from the tree and decided that maybe the Greeks were right not to prune as dusk approaches. I decided to walk the "safe" way back to the hovel, that is to say along the goat path that runs between our land and that of our neighbour and onto the main track. It is rarely used but surely safer than walking back through the bushes. It goes without saying that within thirty yards I heard a very loud noise and something slithering off into the bushes.
As I wander I carry my pruning axe in one hand and my pruning hand saw in the other. So the snakes should be aware that I might be a hard Albanian who will go for them, not a Western pansy who is fecking terrified. Anyhow, I shall write late tonight so that I have a clear morning of pruning tomorrow. When in Rome do as the Romans do.
When in Greece do as the Albanians do because the Greeks are too lazy.
1099 days ago
I once read a short story but for the life of me cannot remember its title or author but it comes to mind as I toil in the fields at the Greek Hovel, slashing away with my frigana cutter below.
A man is travelling across America in the 1930s with his family in search of work. They drive up to a wonderful farm surrounded by fields of amazing corn but it is abandoned. They cannot believe their luck and just move in. The man cuts corn and his family have all the food they need. One day he hears a cry as his scythe goes through a sheaf of corn. His kid is dead. They bury it. A while later the same thing happens again, another kid is dead. And then it is his wife. He realises the corn is humanity. He is the grim reaper. The only way out is to cut the stalk that is him and he slashes wildly to find it. Folks who drive by see a man crazed, just cutting away all day and all night. The Holocaust, Hiroshima, he thrashes on and on, cutting corn at an unprecedented rate.
Can anyone remind me what this story is?
Meanwhile I slash at the frigana here at the Greek hovel. There appear to be some islands of the vile plant left which have escaped the cutting of 2014 and the poisoning of 2015. They stand there green and defiant challenging me to risk snake attack and to wade in for an assault. I am not sure what i would do if a snake emerged from the frigana. I like to think I'd plunge my cutter, with its whirling blade of death, straight at the serpent. I rather fear that I'd drop the cutter and run like the clappers. I pray that I am not faced with this problem.
But I feel like a man possessed and just wade into the bushes and attack. Yesterday I managed four sessions - one can cut for only so long before the machine over-heats and cuts out. Today it is a cool day and the machine wanted to go on until it ran out of petrol and so did I. Slash, slash, slash. My father, reading this, would have been thinking about his former colleagues at the University of Warwick. The grim reaper was searching for his own straw. I sometimes think of other folk but mainly just want to nail the frigana once and for all.
The frigana when alive is a shiny green. After just three days in the sun the plants that I have slashed have been blanched. By next month they will be brown. Already there are satisfying patches of white next to the brown areas I poisoned last year.
This afternoon it is back to olive pruning. There is only so much death one can hand out. It is time for a bit of nurturing and life.