40 days ago
George the Architect sends over photos from the Greek Hovel where there is good news and bad.
The good news, as you can see below, is that progress on the swimming pool continues apace. Now I know it does not look very deep but walls will be built around it so, fear not daughter Olaf, at the deep end the water will be 1.9 metres deep.
The bad news is that the water connection to the hovel and indeed neighbouring houses has broken so we are without water to fill the pool, in due course, or to water the olive trees we moved to make room for the pool. Greece being Greece, no-one has any idea when this will be fixed.
The good news is that God has been watering the trees - it has been raining heavily for days. The bad news is that heavy rains stop any further work on the pool.
For now my attention is on our house move in the UK to the Welsh hovel but, fingers crossed, the Greek hovel will be utterly completed by mid May.
61 days ago
Don't the skies look glorious above the Greek Hovel? How I wish I was there to see the little snakes emerge after their winter sleep. The weather is improving and thus a digger has made it up the track and so work on the swimming pool for daughter Olaf is, as you can see, accelerating. George the Architect assures me that the olive trees we had to move, about seven, are being watered every day and are recovering well. All is good...
86 days ago
George the architect has made it up to the Greek Hovel for the start of the spring campaign to completion. He will take a few days out in March to come to England/Wales to help draw up plans for the Welsh hovel. But for now it is full steam ahead in Greece. Or rather not.
As you can see below, the skies are now blue but it has been raining solidly for almost two months. Some of the dry stone walls that stand next tol the mud track, as it wends through the olive groves at the top of snake hill and Slater slope, have fallen down. Cars can get through, lorries cannot and so that will delay work on the swimming pool that daughter Olaf demands as a condition of her honourings us with her presence.
The house itself has survived the winter relatively unscathed. The chimneypot was blown off and will be replaced and there are still a few small jobs for the carpenter and the electrician to complete but they are on the case. Next week George will start to transplant seven olive trees and then work can start on the pool.
172 days ago
You may remember that two olive trees had to be moved to allow the hovel to be extended. One perished quickly. The other one appeared to be at death's door by the summer. Thus I applied the sort of fertilizer only a man can apply at every opportunity and as you can see below... it is a sea of green. It has made it. I am not sure if it will bear any olives next year but the fightback has begun.
On completion of this year's harvest six trees must be moved to make way for the swimming pool that daughter Olaf demands as a pre-requisite for her presence. Fingers crossed on that transplant.
Continuing the biblical theme a sinner, that is to say the unreliable carpenter, has repented. Well sort of. He was due to pitch up on Friday to install shelving. But much to my surprise his brother and a workmen made it up to the Hovel today and work is now underway. Six of the eighteen shelves have now been installed and look amazing. I have spent a happy afternoon starting to fill them with books. On that subject more to follow.
256 days ago
The back road to Kambos starts with a sharp right turn ( if you are heading towards the hovel) at the bottom of monastery hill and is truly terrible. It is narrow and in places the potholes are as large as the road. I have only ever driven up it on a motorbike, including on the occasion when my bike killed a snake. But now and again I drive down it in a car. It starts just past the big modern church at the top of Kambos village and after passing a couple of houses and a small church heads down steeply to the bottom of the valley.
I dread to think what would happen if I met something coming up as there is no room to pass but I think I am the only person who ever uses the track. Anyhow just before the steep descent if you look up towards the Taygetos mountains you can see the Greek hovel. In photo one it is just a speck above the last of the olive trees in the foreground. In the second photo I zoom in.
The big windows you see are floor to ceiling windows in the kitchen. The smaller ones on the same side are in the upper floor of the new wing (not that it actually has a floor yet). The Bat Room where, I am now, is directly beneath the kitchen.
305 days ago
As I arrived at the Greek Hovel on Sunday I was surprised to find the two elderly men employed by Gregori the snake killer hard at work. They sat under the shade of a large olive tree hammering away at stones to make them the right size and shape for use. Following my "ban the shiny modern bricks" edict those stones are now being used to build the bathroom in the master bedroom, the bottom floor of the new wing.
As you can see below, progress is rapid. The stones will go up to floor height and it looks as if this part of the job will be finished this week at which point the stones will need pointing and then we await the floorboards. Once again you can see the views up to the Taygetos which folks on the upper floor of this building will enjoy as they sit on the large balcony, sipping a large ouzo with ice
305 days ago
Of course there is not a door there yet or a roof, nor have the walls of the kitchen been plastered and it does not have any windows but....
Taking a photo from inside the kitchen this is the view that will greet me every morning as I throw the doors wide open - that is the Taygetos mountains you see over the tops of my olive trees.
311 days ago
Once before I arrived at the Greek Hovel to find workmen proudly admiring a construction made of brand new shiny bricks. Much to their pleasure I had it torn down, an extra days work for them. I rather assumed that the message had got through. You can imagine my horror when arriving at the hovel yesterday to find piles of shiny new bricks in the new wing and the rat room. Cripes!
George the Architect is not around, for family reasons, but his business partner Sofia and a young trainee who acts as translator soon arrived and a heated discussion with a gaggle of workmen ensued. It is the way of the Greek language that a discussion on the most trivial matters becomes so animated that it appears as if all parties are trying to solve some major international crisis. I stood my ground.
In the rat room, the walls are the old ones and are, frankly, not that beautiful. So they will be plastered with a smooth white finish. As such I showed that I can compromise and accepted that in that room, a narrow room, bricks can be used to house the eco-loo and then plastered. They will fit in.
But in the new wing the stonework is magnificent. A brick and plaster enclosure for the eco-loo and shower would simply be wrong. One of the workmen who spoke reasonable English agreed with me and it was agreed that stones would be used. There was a rear-guard action in some quarters. Do I not realise that this will make the bathroom that bit narrower as the walls will be thicker. We worked out the maths and it was agreed that my net loss would be 24 centimetres. I do not see that as a problem. Eventually folks conceded.
Sofia, the trainee and I wandered around the house ironing out numerous other little points as we waited for the doors and windows man to arrive. He, I gather, is also the man who will build the floors/ceilings in the new wing and above the rat room. Eventually a rather large and unshaven chain smoking individual toddled up. Now for the bad news.
The roof, which was meant to have gone on three weeks ago will start to be erected early next week and will be finished by the end of July. But the windows, doors and floors? Er.. September said the man. What the fuck? I was wielding my olive pruning axe and started waving it angrily, as would a Greek, to show that I was cross. I had made it quite clear to George that in late August the Mrs, Joshua and Olaf arrive for a holiday and that while I had no problem with a lack of windows and doors the women of the household would do. The man said he would do his best and started measuring up the windows and doors. FFS why did he not do this weeks ago?
It has been agreed that at least some windows and doors will be installed by the time the Mrs arrives with an aim of getting everything done. Pro tem, at least the bat room has a door, a window, a shower and an eco-loo. It might be cramped but we could all stay in that one room but surely we could at least get the rat room made wildlife diversity proof? Amid talk of how ferocious Olaf can be (what do they know about my charming daughter?) it has been agreed that they will work all hours to hit our targets.
I needed to calm down as the all parties meetings continued, without the windows man who was measuring away. So though in shorts and sneakers, not the jeans and sturdy boots one should wear in the snake fields, I headed off to prune my beloved olive trees. Now and then I was called back to settle another minor point. In the end I gave up as pruning, especially when you are being extra careful as to where you tread, requires concentration and some semblance of tranquility.
Notwithstanding my concerns about snakes and other members of the wildlife diversity community I cannot stress how much I feel at home working in the fields. I accept that I am perhaps not the most efficient of workers and it is also very possible that I may not be the greatest of olive tree pruners or harvesters but as I work, amid the almost deafening but soothing noise of cicadas, there is a real sense being at peace. One can forget about work back home, indeed it helps you to realise that it really is not that important or, at many levels, enjoyable. The frustrations I feel almost every day as I stare at my computer just disappear.
The view, BTW, is of the new wing ground floor looking away from the mountains.
350 days ago
— Tom Winnifrith
I have just enjoyed a cracking lunch of beef in tomato sauce and peas at Miranda's in Kambos. Actually it is not called Miranda's any more as it has a new owner but I stick with the old name. The prices have not changed. That will be 5 Euro.
I have also downed two litres of water after pruning twenty more trees up at the hovel.
Skipping, okay I exaggerate a bit, up and down the terraces to the most snake infested long grass, in the far reaches of the hovel's lands, was tiring work in 30+ degree heat. I am shattered and must return to Kalamata soon to wash my trousers which contain ten days of sweat and blood - from when I cut my hands and arms on saw or frigana. I wipe them on my poor trousers which now feel like cardboard and carry on. Anyhow the Mrs suggests I wash them before returning home. I say suggests but it is not in an optional sort of way.
So I have pruned 240 trees and there are, perhaps, a dozen more in the furthest reaches that are un-pruned. I shall tackle them next month. I have far more trees than I thought. Four years agon on prune one it took three days and Foti the Albanian trousered 210 Euro. There are more trees now thanks to the ones that we discovered as we cleansed the frigana forest. Okay it has taken me ten stints of a couple of hours a day but it has not cost me a cent. I feel good about that.
Now its farewell to the folks in Kambos and back to the bloody UK. Next time I come here the hovel will have a roof, ceilings, more doors and windows and a bed in the snake proof bat room. And I shall therefore be staying here not in Kalamata. It is all very exciting.
351 days ago
I am under instructions from David Bick not to complain about the weather here in Kambos. And I should say that it is 30 degrees right now and I am dripping with sweat having pruned another thirty olive trees up at the Greek Hovel. I am on my second litre of water as I enjoy a late lunch at Miranda's in Kambos and recover from my labours. Yesterday I was in the same place at the same time having completed my manual labour for the day and the heavens opened. This was the view....
354 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?"
358 days ago
As you may have gathered, both the Mrs and daughter Olaf have suggested that lavatories are a bit of an issue at the Greek Hovel. Both are unconvinced about my solution of eco-loos. Well girls, prepare to be shocked. The first eco-loo, made by the same chap who crafts the doors and the Bat Room Bed which has also arrived, has landed as you can see below.
The bed raised a bit of an issue. The slats are of the wrong wood so are being sent back. The eco-loo will be up and running shortly but will only be "christened" in July when the humanure pit has been created at what is becoming the eco-palace.
In case you are worried about smells. There are three points to make. First - put the lid down. Second there is an extractor fan thingy in the loo closet and, thirdly, in the closet there will be a bucket of fresh sawdust and after using the eco loo you are mewant to throw in a handful or two. That soaks up liquid, negates smells and also is part of the decomposition process in the pit which after a couple of years will be yielding rich "black earth" which will be used to boost the yield on the olive trees.
I am sorry to be so graphic but these things need explaining to folk like Olaf.
358 days ago
I am horrified by how much pruning is needed on some of our olive trees. It is as if they have not been "cleaned, as they say here, for years. But this is just one season's growth. Maybe I have Alzheimer's but I really do not remember it being this hard other than in year one when Foti the Albanian and I tackled trees that had not been pruned in eons.
Below are two "before" shots, one of a floor covered in prunings and two "after" shots of one of the trees I tackled this morning. Phew. I had said that I have 160 trees so a kind reader said "that is 16 a day" but the truth is that I do not know how many trees we have.
For one thing the number is confused by wild olive trees ( no fruit) a handful of big olive trees (used for curing and eating not oil) and a half a dozen old trees that produce nothing. In due course Nicho the Communist and I will replace the old trees and wild olive trees with trees for oil. And we will plant new trees on land now emptied of frigana and so ready to domesticate.
There are also the trees which, until I arrived, were drowning in snake rich frigana and so were ignored. I have butchered the frigana but it is still pretty wild in the far reaches of the hovel's lands and I prune nervously.
So the truth is that I have no idea how many trees there are. But i shall stick to my 20 a day and see where I get to by the time I head home. I shall reveal the results of the olive census then.
360 days ago
— Tom Winnifrith
When I am in England I do not think much about snakes. Okay, three times a week I pick Joshua up from his nursery and he says "snakes" so, on the way home, we pop into Pets At Home and go to see the snakes. They are tiny little creatures, corn snakes, which nearly always hide in their houses and only rarely peek out. When they do, Joshua gets very excited. Most of the time we see no snakes so Joshua just says "bye bye snakes" and we head on past the fish where Joshua says "fish," past the hamsters and gerbils where he says "mice", and to the rabbits where he says "By Bye Babbits" and we head home. And I think nothing of it.
But now I am back in Greece and as soon as I started driving out of Kalamata, where there are few snakes, and up into the hills towards Kambos and The Greek Hovel I started thinking of nothing else. Would I see one on the road? Would I swerve and kill it as a Greek driver would? What about up at the hovel? Surely by now the place is crawling with snakes?
And thus I arrived to find snake killer Gregori and his team of ethnic Greek Albanians hard at work. After a brief pleasantry or two "tikanis, cala, etc, etc" I asked the big question. Apparently since they came out of hibernation about eight weeks ago two have been spotted. There was a big one but it was dead. And a smaller one nestling under a T-shirt someone had discarded. After meeting Gregori it was also dead.
Small ones, this year's crop of adders, are the most dangerous since if they bite they have no idea how much venom to inject so just keep on injecting. But this one met its match in the snake killer and he had a photo of the corpse on his phone to prove it.
The workers are making a lot of noise now and have heavy machinery up there. My hope is that the snakes have done the sensible thing and moved away from the house and, I pray, onto the neighbours land. The odds are that as I prune my olive trees over the next ten days in the further reaches of my land, I shall discover otherwise. There were certainly plenty of lizards in evidence and I am sure that my old adage "where there are lizards there are snakes" is not far wrong.
425 days ago
George the Architect has been in touch with an update on progress at the Greek Hovel and, as you can below, see there really has been progress. The rat room extension walls are underway and the new wing of the house which will double the floor space is now also starting to take shape. George says the door to the bat room is on its way and it will be habitable within two weeks. The rest of the hovel is still on track to be finished by September, after just 51 months!
The skies over the Hovel and Kambos look dark in these photos but I see that today it is 17 degrees and sunny in Kambos and tomorrow it hits 19 degrees. Later in the week there will be rain and it will dip to 14 degrees but still why on earth am I sitting here in Bristol at my laptop when I could be pruning olive trees in the Mani?
544 days ago
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.
579 days ago
— Tom Winnifrith
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.
There is the little matter of my neighbour who is still demanding a silly amount for the few branches we cut off his olive trees to allow heavy machinery to get up the long track to the hovel. George suggests compromise. I think otherwise. There is a discussion with another neighbour about the excavations needed to create an "infinity swimming pool". George assures me that this is a "good neighbour" but I rather fear the outcome.
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.
On that note the olive harvest looms. I am mentally preparing to fly out in just over five weeks time to once again work in the fields with George the Albanian and his gaggle of female co-workers. I cannot wait.
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.
703 days ago
After quizzing George the architect, it appears that it is just one of my neighbours who is asking for 900 Euro compensation for chopping off branches on his olive trees to make way for the heavy machinery needed to renovate the Greek Hovel. In fact it is even better than that...
The olive trees are owned by a father and son. The young man reckons 500 to 600 Euros is about right. It is his father who wanted more - 1500 Euro. So they settled in the middle. It is the father who goes to show that, as ever, Paddy Leigh Fermor has the Greeks nailed. 99% of Greeks are the nicest, most fair and generous folks you can meet. My neighbour Charon wants no compensation and neither does the sister in law of lovely Eleni. But, as Paddy noted in his classic book The Mani, just now and again you meet a Greek who is just such a complete and utter bastard that he will serve as a reminder of how great everyone else is.
I have inspected the thirty trees which we have "pruned". In some cases the branches cut are the sort you would cut at harvest time to flail across a machine to clean off olives. They are that small and they will have regrown by the time of the 2019 harvest. So it is one year's harvest lost. In other cases the branches are bigger and it will take three years for them to re-grow.
George and I did our maths and we cannot see how the loss of income over three years is anything more than 400 Euro and that is generous. So I said I would pay 500 Euro and if the old bastard does not accept he can take me to court. Moreover I shall tell the entire village what a bastard he has been and shame him in public. It is his call and I am very relaxed either way.
Meanwhile at the hovel work continues apace. I cut frigana and the Greek Albanians work on the building and on killing snakes. As you can see the ugly concrete blocks beneath the old ugly windows have now gone as well and the one window into the bat room has been extended so that it will get more natural light. The upstairs room will be flooded with light as the windows will be be almost floor to the current ceiling. Of course when it is finished that room - which will lead into the new room above the rat room and the new wing, will have a pitched wooden roof so it should feel very spacious indeed.
705 days ago
— Tom Winnifrith
You will remember that back in early April my blood sugars measured 15.3 and I was told that my type 2 diabetes was raging out of control. It has been a long slog since then as I have aimed to get into a target range of 5 to 7. Whatever that means.
But I can now say that for three days both in the morning and evening my bloods have come in at between 5.5 and 7.2 with most tests in the 6's. This is normal range. This is where I should be. No booze, no sugars in anything and no carbs is the key with some gentle exercise thrown in. Oh, and no stress.
There is bad news on that front to report from the Greek Hovel. We had to chop a few branches off trees leading up to the hovel to allow heavy machinery in. The neighbours happily agreed. They have now, post chopping, asked for 900 Euro compensation. I am spitting nails. You can buy a new sapling for 8 Euro. You can buy land here planted with trees for 65 Euro a tree and even that is more than the Net Present Value of the olives you will harvest. And we have cut off a few branches.
I know that they are taking the piss. They know they are taking the piss. And I have told George the architect that they are taking the piss. As I say when some crook sues me for libel in the UK "See you in Court bitchez." There are three neighbours involved. I have told George I will see them in Kambos and face them down in front of their fellow villagers so exposing their greed to all. Their assumption must be that I am a rich Brit who will roll over. They are wrong and we have the photos, before and after, to prove it. If needs be I shall go to Court.
I am sure that I will calm down by tomorrow, but stress is not good. maybe I need to just fly back to the UK and calm down. Probably not. I need to stay here and sort this out.
The diabetes is not beaten yet. I am on heavy meds and I am sure that my GP will want me to get back into normal range with ever lower doses. But so far so good. My first goal has been reached and I am starting to think about a return to work in September.
712 days ago
What a delight it was to be among the olive trees yesterday. the first treat was to go an investigate two new trees that no-one has seen for years. They were enclosed in a patch of dense frigana bushes with some large frigana trees there for good measure. Previous owner vile Athena had chucked a stack of wire into this mess meaning that I have never been able to tackle it with my strimmer. It was too dense to poison and anyhow I was convinced it was home to numerous snakes so I gave it a wide berth.
But my brave Albanian Greek workforce led by Gregori who kills snakes with his bare hands waded in and the frigana has gone. Instead we have two trees surrounded by logs as you can see below.
I was a bit nervous of treading over the logs but ventured in anyway and gave both trees their first prune in years. What a treat for them and for me.
The other big news is that my babies, the olives themselves are emerging. as you can see they are tiny right now, about the size of a very small ball-bearing but they are there. I fear that it will not be a great crop but the annual delight of seeing your first olives is a delight none the less. that is it for me for today, it is off to the hovel for more pruning.
721 days ago
— Tom Winnifrith
The plants the Mrs and I have planted in our back garden have almost all suffered death by cat defecation. That is to say my fat, though no longer morbidly obese, three legged cat Oakley hads shat them into oblivion. And so during my brief UK visit I have led a drive to re-plant. To complete that task the Mrs, Joshua and I headed to a garden centre here in Bristol today. Before stopping to pick up a few herbs (me0 and some flowers (the Mrs) we sat enjoying an expensive coffee and watched the masses head by.
I could not help but reflect about how in two days time I shall be sitting in the Kourounis Taverna in Kambos, the nearest village to the Greek Hovel, enjoying a coffee at half the price and looking at folks wander in an out of our own garden centre run by Vangelis.
Here in Bristol there is no need for shelves of poison for your frigana or snake repellent or hard tools small farmers use for clearing ground or for some part of the process of caring for, nurturing and harvesting the olives. That is what dominates the shop in Kambos, it is a place for folks doing a real job.
Of course it has plants too which one can buy. But they are mainly vegetables or herbs. There is no money or need in Kambos for vast arrays of colourful weeds, oops I meant flowers. Here in suburbia there were any number of colourful weeds to choose from.
There were even little olive trees for sale at thrice or four times the price of a sapling back in Kambos. Of course the British trees will never generate an economic return, they are mere ornaments. If I told my friends in Kambos that my neighbours in Bristol will pay 30 Euro for an olive tree that would never create oil they would think folks here were very strange indeed. They would be right of course.
The garden centre in Bristol was packed. I guess it is what baby boomers do on a bank holiday weekend in Suburbia. There were probably more folks in that centre during the course of this morning than live in Kambos, and all the British suburbians just buzzed about, picking up things, lining up to hand over more cash than they should really be spending and then crawling home through the traffic with cars laden up with things that are not really needed.
And this is meant to be relaxing? Whatever. I shall be back in Kambos by Tuesday lunchtime.
729 days ago
— Tom Winnifrith
I have been pruning olive trees at the Greek Hovel for four years now. But there is one tree that has almost entirely escaped my attention until now, the one that lies within the outer ring of stones of the abandoned ruin on our property, a.k.a. the snake house.
The ruin was surrounded by thick bushes. In the first year there was a forest of frigana around it. And time and time again I have heard rustlings from inside. Over the years I have hacked back the frigana as much as I dare and poisoned it some more and now the bushes are almost gone.
Last year I did a quick attempted prune but as I saw a snake disappear into long grass about a yard from where I stood I bear a hasty retreat. This was the snake house and I accepted that.
But now Nicho the Communist's poison has left the last few bushes brown and dying. More importantly, as you can see HERE, the ruin is being pulled down so that we can use its stones to extend the main house. And all that poison and activity has forced Mr snake to seek a new home. So on a symbolic day the Mrs snapped me pruning that tree, at last.
750 days ago
You may remember that George the Architect is a little nervous about chopping down non olive trees which the forestry survey may have identified at the Greek Hovel. On the other hand Nicho the Communist regards these snake shelters as an obstruction to the basic human right of every Greek to plant as many olive trees as possible on his land. I am with Nicho.
And thus while on day one of the poisoning Nicho started work dealing with the frigana -as you can see here - The Albanian was sent off with a chainsaw to deal with one of the five trees that we have earmarked for removal.
Sod elf n safey, this is Greece. The little chap just set to work clambering up the tree and taking at apart branch by branch as you can see below. In fifteen minutes the tree was an ex tree and Nicho had another place to plant an olive tree this Autumn.
750 days ago
As he had promised my friend Nicho the Communist returned to the Kourounis taverna after half an hour and so shortly before eleven, two hours after we planned, we were ready to start poisoning the frigana, the ghastly snake hiding thorn bushes, that blight the Greek Hovel. Shall we go in my car I asked?
I must take The Albanian, said Nicho. Great he has hired an Albanian. I felt much happier. No offence but Nicho is getting on a bit and when it comes to hard work here in Greece you can't beat an Albanian. Moreover, since my status has been elevated to that of snake killer, I have sensed a diminution of the previous bravado of my friend when it comes to serpents. I rather feared that if we encountered one he would join me in flight. Say what you like about the Albanians but they are as hard as nails. They will kill snakes with their bare hands.
And thus I set off in my car, Nicho followed behind in a battered truck with the young Albanian, who greeted me like an old friend "Hello Thomas", sitting beside him. That, it turned out, was the full extent of his English but in Nicho we had an able translater. He is the best English speaker in Kambos, not that there is much competition for that title. For what it is worth I like it that way. Coastal villages might lose their character. Kambos stays resolutely Greek.
When I go poisoning by myself I use a 5 litre bottle which is jolly heavy. But what i was about to witness was industrial scale poisoning. It was genocide. No other word is appropriate for the slaughter which was set to unfold. Nicho drove his truck past the hovel, past the ruin where a snake lives to the far end of the fields. I have never seen that done before and as he squeezed past rocks and over stones the truck became that bit more battered.
As you can see the truck contained a cylinder into which we added 20 litres of poison to the 380 litres of water it contained. I saw we, of course I mean Nicho and the Albanian. The Albanian started a motor and a long hose was unwound and Nicho started spraying. It was not just the frigana but all sorts of bushes and flowers. Everything in fact. The poison does not harm olives trees and of course the trees were spared but everything else got the treatment.
After a while Nicho handed the hose to the Albanian. "I am old" he said. "The Albanian is young and faster." I thought both were frighteningly efficient. My role was limited to helping pick up the hose when it snagged on a rock or a plant but three hours traipsing around the hovel was enough to leave me feeling pretty drained. I thought about trying to explain about diabetes and blood sugars and the dangers of them falling too low but thought that this might be lost in translation and just be seen as a sign of being pathetic. So i soldiered on but celebrated greatly when the 400 litre tank ran out.
We start again tomorrow at 9 AM. The job is 80% done. Nicho assures me that the snakes hate the smell of poison and will flee. And also that within ten days everything sprayed will be dead. We will have another session to finish off anything we missed in a couple of weeks but the land will then be clear and so we can mark out cleared spots for planting new trees in October. And the snakes can bugger off to plague my neighbours. What's not to like?
I handed the Albanian some Euros but Nicho refused to take payment. I mentioned bottles of whiskey and that seemed to meet with his approval.
819 days ago
Fear not there are not any pictures of my fertilizing olive trees as only a man can do. Although I have assisted a few of my little darlings in this way over the past few days. This is the formal process with George the Albanian, his Mrs and myself in a team of three.
First stop, at 8 AM sharp, the shop of Vangelis the man who mends my strimmer and sells me 1 Euro bags of sulphur to keep away the snakes. 210 Euro are handed over and Vangelis and George load up his truck with about fifteen 25 kg bags of fertilizer, one of which you can see below.
It goes without saying that the skilled task of doing the fertilizing is reserved for George and his Mrs. The little white pellets of goodness were poured into two buckets and off they went spreading them in circular loops around the trees as you can see below. Was there not a kids drawing game in the 70s that helped you to make similar shapes? I was, natch, not up to such demanding work.
Instead, as the two Albanians, wandered further and further from George's truck my job was to carry new bags of fertiliser to wherever they were. 25kg is less than the 30-40kg sacks of olives I was carrying in the Autumn harvest. But still, over rough terrain, it was not exactly a bundle of laughs.
But after less than two hours there was just one bag left. The job was done allowing a bit of time for some more bonfire work. Before I knew it, a four our stint was done. All over. No more manual labour until April at which point I shall no doubt be applying top up fertilizer to my favoured trees in the way that only a man can.
1050 days ago
— Tom Winnifrith
Back in the UK I sit at my desk looking out on a quiet surburban road. It is all very different to the view from the rough table at which I write at the Greek Hovel. I see people, cars and neat brick walls rather than olive trees, sheep, the abandoned monastery and the wild of the Mani countryside. Here in Bristol, I also spot in a magazine rack next to my desk a copy of Grazia magazine.
On the front cover is Harry Potter star Emma Watson offering her opinions on things I don't care about plus pictures of other celebs whose names I do not recognise. Grazia is an inane magazine for women.
I ask the Mrs "surely you did not buy this?" because spending cash on such matters is surely grounds for divorce. Last time such a publication entered the house, the Mrs claimed to have found it on a train. This time she claims that her friend Katie brought it with her when she trekked down from the Grim North for a visit the other day.
I detect a pattern here. Surely catching your Mrs reading such piffle, however it came to enter the house, is a valid reason for divorce?
1058 days ago
— Tom Winnifrith
I was woken today by the sound of heavy thunder in the tall hills to my far right and in front of me. There was no lightening and it has now abated but in those hills dark clouds still loom, indeed a fog of rain clouds are now covering those slopes directly in front of me obscuring my view. Behind me, and to my left, in the Taygetos mountains there are also dark rain clouds evident. After day after day of 40 degree heat or worse this is such a break.
We have had a few spots of rain already. It has not deterred the cicada orchestra which is in full song but if the downpour intensifies they may cease. I read on the internet that in ancient Greece they used to eat cicadas. It goes without saying that the Chinese still do. I remember having deep fried locusts at a City party once and they were not bad but I am not sure that this is going to be a staple part of my long term self-sufficiency plan here.
Pro tem the front window is open and I have wedged the back door, the only door, wide open with a fishing rod. I sit in between in shorts only with a cooling breeze passing through. I pray for more rain. Let the heavens open, let me think of Byron and of Zitsa and my friend the baker and his barrister wife. A day of storms, of sitting here in a cooling wind would be a day to get so far ahead on my writing as to allow me a full day in the fields tomorrow.
And my poor olive trees could do with a drink, it must have been hard work for them in the recent heat, I know they would love a drink. I hear sounds on the tin awning I have above the entrance to the hovel...my prayers are being answered.
1075 days ago
— Tom Winnifrith
I gather that back in the UK you have all had a spot of bother with thunderstorms and tornados. Has David Cameron managed to blame a surge in support for Brexit yet? Just watch out little people, if you back Boris and Priti you are all going to drown and here are a list of 100 experts who support that claim. Okay 98 of them are on the EU payroll in some way, shape or form but they are frigging experts and you are little people who cant be trusted to make your own minds up. So either start building an ark or vote the right way!
As it happens the mountains above Kardamili are also covered in dark clouds and the thunder sounds ominous. The Mrs has conceded that there will be no sea swimming today and I have opted not to head back to the hovel for a spot of snake spotting and frigana slashing. It is clearly set to tip it down. Is Brexit to blame for the Greek deluges? Apparently Dodgy Dave's NBF President Erdogan of Turkey blames it all on the wicked Kurds.
Update: it is now tipping it down, the lightening is lighting up dark skies and the thunder is noisier than ever. We sit in our hotel room and I say to the Mrs that we must look on the bright side, at least this rain is really good for our olive trees. She says: even better, it means that you wont make me go and see them today! The cheek of it all, what could be more enjoyable than olive pruning at the snake safari that is the Greek Hovel?
As it happens I am rather glad to be in a warm and dry hotel room with air conditioning right now rather than at the hovel. By now the mud track, which leads from my front door to the top of snake hill where the road turns to concrete, will be filling up with puddles and driving will become less than easy. The snakes love water and will be out and about. And the one room I live in will be dry but either freezing or boiling, a fridge or a sauna - not a place to be trapped inside by a deluge.
1076 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.
1080 days ago
— Tom Winnifrith
Ten days ago I was, via lovely Eleni, telling the shepherd about the lush green grass up at the hovel and urging him to bring his flock up to graze lest they miss out. When I see him next I shall be begging him to bring his sheep up out of pity. The green grass has almost gone. Almost everything is brown.
Driving up the grass track to the house I was horrified. It was as if the whole area had been affected by a great heat. But as it happens that is exactly what has happened. Down by the sea at Kalamata today it is 33 degrees. Up at the hovel it is over thirty. It is wonderful weather to work in but the grass is burning away.
The purple flowers, a sort of lavender, survive but the dominant colour is now brown. The only green patches are the leaves on the olive trees and, of course, the accursed frigana bushes. I have retrieved my frigana cutter from the farm equipment shop in Kambos and this afternoon waded into the few remaining bushes with gusto. Those bushes are are the very edge of our land, they are thick and I dread to think what might lurk inside. But I wade in anyway.
The more central frigana that has somehow survived tow years of attacks from me was dealt with on the first part of my trip. The bushes I slashes now lie on the ground a golden brown. The odd green stalk I missed pokes through the mass of dead branches in a defiant way. Its defiance is its downfall for as I pass I "take it out""
The Mrs arrives on the afternoon of the seventh. I want to ensure that by then the last 40 olive trees are pruned and the frigana gone. At that point the fields will be even more brown and it will be time to start digging out the earth floor of the bat room in preparation for the eventual rebuilding of the hovel.
1105 days ago
— Tom Winnifrith
It was meant to take three months but took closer to a year but who cares? We now have a forestry permit received for the Greek Hovel. It seems that I failed to (illegally) cut down a few wild olive trees but most of my good works of the summer before last in clearing 2000 square metres of frigana have not been noticed and so we can now.....
Apply for a building permit. Lead by George the architect the team is now looking to submit within the next couple of weeks and the office that handles our application is just across the street from that of George in Kalamata. The process should take 2-3 months but this is Greece.
Once again I am happy to bribe anyone but George insists that Greece does not work that way. I am not quite so sure. I can just imagine the conversation:
Mr Official: I can approve your plans now if you give me 1000 Euro
Me: I am sorry but I am a moral man
Mr Official: This application could take quite some time, we have a big backlog of work
Me: Since you put it that way, have you not heard of austerity - shall we call it 250 Euro and I'll buy you an ouzo
Mr Official: make that two ouzos.
Alternatively, George could just wander across the street once a day and kick up a fuss. Anyhow... we are making progress.
1452 days ago
— Tom Winnifrith
After a hard day at the PC and in the field, braving the snakes to poison frigana, I plan to spend a relaxing evening at the Kourounis taverna in my home village of Kambos. Lovely Eleni has made me a Greek salad covered with herbs and drizzled with home produced olive oil and so far it is just coke zeros but I may allow myself an ouzo later. In the village where we have no tourists it is just me and the regulars. They chat. I tap away on my PC and say Yassas and Kale-nichta as required.
But an English couple has just walked in. As I heard them struggling to order a shared baclava and a glass of wine from lovely Eleni it was clear where they came from. Rather older than me they are now siutting on the far side of the room.
Being on the road from Kalamata to Kardamili and the hell hole that is Stoupa we get visitors here who just pop in on a daily basis. Sometimes I encounter Brits who live in the various villages around here as they too pop in.
After my solitary existence at the Greek Hovel a bit of me sometimes thinks I would like to chat to my compatriots. But I am not sure Id have much to say. Do they know about poisoning frigana, about pruning olive trees or about dealing with rats and bats? Probably not. Do I want to chat about events "back home?" Certainly not.
One of the joys of being here is that I just do not have to think about all of that nonsense. I chat to folks and scour the internet to write about things on the AIM casino but fill my head with things that really matter such as which patch of frigana I shall clear tomorrow or how on earth I shall manage to prune all the olive trees in just six days.
And so I say "yas" to George the builder, as opposed to George the architect, and sit in my corner tapping away at my computer. I say nothing more lest my countrymen rumble that I am one of them and try to talk to me.
1741 days ago
— Tom Winnifrith
I have already shown you photos of my self-built eco-loo at the Greek Hovel. Now for part two the Humanure pit. Sadly someone half-inched the two posts I had purchased to corner this up so I shall now have to buy four posts at some stage soon. But the base pit is sufficient for now.
It has been built entirely out of wood found on the property (of which I am proud) and is located just outside the outer snake free redoubt. However one of the snake repellent canisters is nearby so it should be in a relatively safe zone.
The theory is simple. You deposit a bucket of humanure – that is human waste plus loo paper, plus the flowers we throw in after use to remove odours. On top of that you put a pile of fibrous material, i.e. grass. The heap will pretty son start to operate at a warm old temperature and the microbes start to get digested.
The 2014 “vintage” will in this climate be ready for harvesting, to use as manure for the olive trees in the olive manuring season of January 2016. Next year a second pit will be built to mature in 2017. By 2016 pit one will be available for use once again.
In a region where water is not unlimited avoiding a flush loo is environmentally friendly. The great John Seymour (the guru of self-sufficiency with whom my late mother corresponded at length) once said that 99% of what comes into your household should stay there. We may not achieve that at the Greek Hovel but the plan is to use solar power and with eco-loos and composting to shoot for that target.
The process has started…
1770 days ago
— Tom Winnifrith
According to my new best friend Foti the Greek Hovel yields about half a tonne of olives a year. But we have plans to expand that greatly. There are a couple of very low yielding trees that will perish once we reach the burning season and post-harvest, in December. And there are some gaps where we can plant new trees.
But more importantly the trees have been neglected for years and need some TLC. That means applying manure in December post the harvest and pruning them back now. And so at 8 AM this morning Foti and a friend arrived for work and I insisted that I joined them. The friend headed off in one direction with a saw on a long pole and Foti grabbed a small handsaw and olive axe (a small axe about a foot long) and strode off in the other direction. I followed Foti glad that any snakes disturbed would meet him first.
Given that Foti speaks no English and me very little Greek communication is an issue. He speaks to me in Greek and I reply in English with neither of us gaining great knowledge from the conversation but in a strange way we understand each other completely. And so I watched the master to learn the science of olive tree pruning.
Essentially you hack away the sprouts at the base of the tree and then small branches and sprouts higher up so that all growth is focussed on the best and strongest olive bearing branches. There are already small olives showing. After two trees I grabbed the axe and started to do my bit. I axed, Foti sawed. Gradually I got the hang of it: be brutal, if in doubt chop.
The good news is that I managed four hours of hard graft without a drop of water, before my arm felt like it was falling off and I retired to head off to the hardware store for supplies. The other good news (please note to those arriving in August) was that we encountered not one snake.
I am sure that Dan Levi will regard it as wimpish to manage only four hours but it was 38 degrees by 10 AM and olive pruning is hard graft. And thanks to Foti all the trees are now pruned. Next jobs: shower & eco loo construction, humanure pit construction, more rubbish removal (tomorrow night) and then onto clearing the thorny bushes of which there are many. I had a vague thought about seeking assistance on that one from goats. I shall keep you posted.
1770 days ago
— Tom Winnifrith
Sunday may be a day of rest for some but not for myself or my new best friend, Foti the Albanian. Foti is also my new business partner. We have agreed that the net proceeds from the olive trees will be split 50/50 on the basis that he does the work. I have insisted that I be allowed to do my part as you will see.
Foti speaks not a word of English. And I speak almost no Greek. So he speaks to me in Greek which I do not understand. I reply in English which he does not understand. On that basis we muddle along fine.
And so Sunday evening saw Foti and his pal arrive in a pickup truck to remove years and tears of rubbish. Broken chairs, rusted bed frames, empty drums and tins and piping: I have got the lot in the two first floor rooms: Grandpa’s bedroom (earth floor, broken window, rat friendly door) and the one below the snake veranda.
I am not asking too many questions about where the rubbish is going but am assured that it will remain in a safe place until October when we can once again light fires here legally. We piled the truck high as you can see. I reckon there are now only about five more loads to go. One day at a time…