142 days ago
I rather regretted that third jug of local rose the night before, when my alarm started ringing at 5.20 AM. For Thrasher Bell had to get back to London and that meant getting him to the bust station in Kalamata before 6.30. Feeling a bit groggy I drove him into town and dropped him off. Stopping off at an ATM on the way back to load up with cash to pay my Albanian troops I arrived back in Kambos in time for an early morning coffee at the Kourounis taverna owned by lovely Eleni. The news was bad...
George the Albanian's brother had been hospitalised late last week so he was running half a day behind schedule. I headed back to the hovel with a hot cheese pie for Bernard and as I walked to my car who should I meet but George being driven by his son, an English speaker. I was assured that five Albanians would arrive by one. My next encounter was with the local golden eagle sitting on a fence as I drove down the back track towards the valley floor.
ShareProphets reader Bernard and I laboured manfully all morning. And at two o'clock the Albanians pitched up. As you can see below, they know what they are doing. But we only enjoyed two and a half hours of their work before the dark descended.
My worry is that George reckons he will be done in a day arguing some trees are empty. He has another job to go to. I know that and having walked my land with Bernard I know that there are an awful lot of good trees. That will be a battle for day four. Can we get an extra half day out of the Albanians? So far we have c470kg of olives either down at the press weighed and waiting for pressing or up here bagged at the hovel.
I discussed this with Eleni after supper. This is Greekenomics for you. There is mass youth unemployment in Greece. But as this country;s economy has tanked some Albanians have gone home or to go work in a car wash in Britain. So there is a shortage of Albanians. Thus Eleni has no-one to crop her olives. Everyone is fighting for Albanians meanwhile hundreds of thousands of Greeks sit there not working paid welfare by a country that is bankrupt. Go figure.
185 days ago
— Tom Winnifrith
My best friend in Kambos, bar lovely Eleni, that is to say Nicho the communist said that he would, this weekend, give his verdict on my olives – will the harvest be good, bad or indifferent? He is by nature a pessimistic fellow and so, though I was filled with modest optimism, I was braced for a more downbeat assessment.
It was early afternoon on Sunday when I encountered him. I had finished my writing for the day he was starting his first beer. I asked him how he was and he said that he was tired. Drinking last night? I asked, for Nicho can be a thirsty fellow. Too much work, he assured me. We agreed that he would pop up for an inspection in 15 minutes and sure enough, thirty minutes later, he pitched up in his truck.
I showed him my trees. We agreed that some were better than others. He looked at the sprinkling of olives downed by Zorba or the flies around each tree. He gave one of those hang dog expressions which are so much easier if you sport a large moustache. “Not too bad” he professed. His “not too bad” is my “jolly good” But he believed the crop would be commercial and asked who would be harvesting with me. He seemed reassured that it was not just me and a couple of other Englishmen but that I was bringing in real workers, otherwise known as Albanians. The crop is commercial.
Nicho has an interest in the wild olives on the edge of my land. He wants to harvest them to see what their oil tastes like. But sadly, as per normal, the wild trees bear little fruit. We have made plans to address that in 2020. We always make such plans but this time we are serious.
187 days ago
As I noted yesterday the olive harvest will be pretty good and the first photo below is evidence of that. But the second shows that it could have been even better, a true bumper crop.
For beneath each tree lies a small pool of brown, rotting olives. Those are the ones the flies got or which were knocked down by storm Zorba. It is not like last year when the hailstorm left the area around each tree carpeted with fallen olives but is a reminder that what should have been a fantastic year will now only be good to very good. As long as God plays no more jokes on me, I look forward to the harvest with optimism.
188 days ago
Nicho the Communist is sitting with me in the Kourounis taverna in Kambos and says that his harvest this year will be so so. Pride comes before a fall but I think mine is, all things considered, looking good. Nicho says he will come and inspect this weekend which may be a reality check.
On the ground there is a good sprinkling of rotten berries killed either by the flies in the summer or knocked off by storm Zorba a few weeks ago. Notwithstanding that, the trees I have inspected so far are pretty laden with berries. Some are turning from green to purple and brown. Others stay green. That means nothing, all get chucked into the same press at the end. But they look big and the trees are fairly heavy with olives as you can see below.
Of course God could still throw in a hailstorm as he did last year or there could be another disaster before the harvest in early December but as things stand it looks good, to my untrained eye at least.
204 days ago
— Tom Winnifrith
I am beginning to think that God is not pleased with my restoration work at the Greek Hovel and is punishing me with an annual plague of my poor olives. Last year it was the hail storm ten days before harvest that destroyed the crop almost entirely, leaving my field carpeted with rotting berries and my neighbours crying into their ouzo and facing economic misery.
This year it started with the flies which destroyed, maybe, 20% of the crop. Then last week storm Zorba hit southern Greece. Winds of up to 100 kmh were reported. Waves on the seafront hit five metres and the rains caused flash floods. Up at the hovel the sea is ten miles away and so not an issue but e wind and the rain?
I called George the Architect this morning to check on progress and to warn him that I’d be there in less than three weeks. Such warnings tend to accelerate work. I was assured that the planks for the second floor would arrive avrio, that is to say tomorrow. Most things in Greece are scheduled to happen avrio. But George insists that the flooring will be completed by the start of next week. We discussed the Range Cooker on its way from Austria, fridges, wood burning stoves, balconies and sofas and then it was the olives.
George had headed up to the hovel specifically to inspect them. That will have been some trek. From the top of snake hill as one winds through other folks trees up to the hovel the mud track will, thanks to Zorba, be reminiscent of the Somme battlefield 102 years ago. But he made it and as he has his own trees he knows his olives and reckons that the storm has taken another 10% of the berries the flies did not get.
However, before God intervened twice, this was set to be a bumper harvest so – assuming no further interventions from the Almighty – it will still be a pretty decent year. I am negotiating with the Mrs as to when I head out, treat myself to a new electric machine for harvesting and start what will be my fifth harvest. I am already excited by the prospect. To those who have volunteered to join me as replacement Albanians I should have dates soon for the great undertaking.
398 days ago
— Tom Winnifrith
One of the big lies that our children are told in school and university and which the liberal media ram down our throats is that public sector workers are paid less than we folks in the productive sector and have had lower pay rises over the past few years. Those lies are exposed as lies with hard data as I did in my, Bath Spa lecture HERE, the "what happened next" story of which I will relay one day and which will horrify you. But the lie has worked. If enough folks repeat a lie often enough it becomes an Orwellian truth.
And thus pay rises for lower paid NHS workers of 6.5%-29% were announced. The cost will be £4 billion a year which, according to the BBC, will be picked up by the Treasury.
Oh how nice of the Treasury...there was I thinking it would be funded by tax receipts from folks like you and me or from more Government debt which will need to be serviced ( by tax receipts from folks like you and me) and maybe repaid with tax receipts from folks like you and me.
The BBC as an institutionalised Money Tree believer thinks that the Government funds everything. The Government funds nothing. It takes money from workers, businesses and consumers and then spends it, usually not very efficiently. Folks spending their own cash tend to be prudent and spend it wisely and demand value for money. The Government and its employees don't give a fuck as they are just bribing the electorate with Other People's Money.
The vast majority of tax taken by HMG comes from evil capitalists, from big business and from entrepreneurs who risk their own capital to establish businesses and, sometimes, reap the rewards from doing so. As we entrepreneurs know, the vast majority of businesses set up today will go bust within five years.
The writing is on the wall. Whether under Jeremy Corbyn or the faux Tories of May and Hammond, public sector workers who earn more than we in the private sector, have had bigger pay rises, have better pensions, more holidays, more sick pay, more days off for strikes and far more job security than we evil capitalists will get more and more pay rises to be paid for by we evil capitalists. Well not this one.
In the past two years I have successfully sold two businesses - the restaurant and the UK Investor Show. Now it is a matter of exiting smaller ones and winding down my work commitments. I really can't be arsed to work my socks off to hand more money to folks who despise me for what I do and who could not dream of working the hours I do. Enough is enough.
This is the final straw. The wind-down to a life of writing for pleasure only and concentrating on farming goats is now officially underway.
And before any lefties out their say "good riddance" just consider that I am far from alone. There will be many other entrepreneurs feeling the same way today. Consider that and then go and read Aesop's fable of the Goose that laid the Golden egg. The problem with socialists as our greatest ever Prime Minister once observed, is that eventually they run out of other people's money.
505 days ago
About six of the trees have much bigger olives. These are black (not green, purple, brown and black) and are often almost an inch long. The oil is not good for drinking, instead these olives are cured in brine and then eaten.
I have suggested that picking these olives and curing them might be her job but she has other ideas. When we are installed at the hovel on a more permanent basis this will be another challenge for me.
506 days ago
— Tom Winnifrith
I accept that we hacked branches off about 30 olive trees that stood by the side of the track up to the Greek Hovel in order to allow the builders to get their bigger trucks up. We also appear to have damaged the dry stone walls in places. Its a given. My bonkers neighbour ( he lives two miles away but is my closest neighbour) Charon has not asked for any compensation. He is a good guy. But then there are two cousins who want more. I met with them in my hotel this week with George the Architect there to translate.
Old men they appeared friendly. The reasonable cousin has seen about 20 trees damaged but he knows that the branches will have regrown by next year's harvest and his main concern are the walls which we have promised to restore when the hovel is rebuilt. He said you compensate me what you think fair.
The unreasonable cousin has seen just eight trees damaged. He wants 300 Euro. I pointed out that as a result of the storm the economic loss this year was exactly zero and both men agreed. We also agreed that the branches would be back by next year. So the unreasonable cousin has lost exactly nothing. His harvest this year will be so bad that he probably won't even bother doing it at all. So having accepted that his economic loss was exactly nil I was hoping for some movement. After all you can buy land with five trees on it for 300 Euro!
George confirmed that he still wanted 300 Euro.
I paid for our drinks and said George would let them know my decision tomorrow as it was not good to discuss money in this way. My decision is to give them 400 Euro. If the unreasonable cousin still demands 300 he will clearly be stealing from his reasonable relative and that is not the done thing. My offer is more than fair and - as they squabble among themselves to divide the spoils they will know that.
676 days ago
I think the last dripping in sweat, post frigana chopping selfie photo was not very flattering. Apparently some of you think that i have multiple chins. Au contraire. That was just the angle. I have not commented on my trouser size for a while but since we are on the subject...
There has been no change. I shifted down from 36 inches to a 34 inch pair about six weeks ago and they now feel very comfortable indeed. I am conscious as I wander into the swimming pool each evening that I still have a bit of a belly but it is not, as it once was, a vast expanse about which I feel real shame. If I breathe in you can see my ribs.
I have not weighed myself for a long while. That is no longer because id be terrified of the reading but because, as I noted the last time I was back at 32 inches and in Greece there seem to be no scales here. I suspect that my BMI is now mildly overweight but not what is termed obese. My priority has been tackling blood sugars - now back happily in range after yesterday's freak reading - not weight loss. Anyhow I hope the selfie below shows that i do not have multiple chins.
Indeed on yesterday's skype call to the Mrs, Joshua and Oakley, the first post haircut, of which more later, the Mrs - without prompting - said my face looked quite thin. That may be relative to that of Oakley but it is progress of sorts.
Meanwhile my babies are growing. The more I look the more I fear that it will be a poor olive harvest this year. For my neighbours who need the income it is bad news. For me it is a minor frustration but one that I can live with. But those olives that are there are now up from tiny balbearing size to small ballbearing size.
687 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.
729 days ago
— Tom Winnifrith
Fourth time lucky. At the agreed time, Nicho the Communist wandered into the Kourounis taverna in Kambos for our trip to inspect the olives at the Greek Hovel. I had left him the previous day five hours into his binge with George, George and anyone else he could find as he celebrated St George's Day. He confessed that he had continued celebrating until late at night on a taverna crawl round Kambos - there are four places to drink in our village of 536 souls.He had that look, that I remember from my own days of heavy drinking, that says "I am never going to touch alcohol again." But of course you always do. Having not touched the demon drink for almost ten days I am feeling a little smug. Excuse my smugness.
I drove us up to the Greek hovel. We discussed snakes which are all now out of hibernation. "It is their time" he said in a way that reminded me of the Lord of the Rings. Now starts the fourth age of man. Or in Kambos, Gandolph, or Papou, announces Now is the age of snakes. But conversation was a little hard when your companion obviously just wants to go back to bed. He did however note that the Hovel is a lovely place but, as we crawled along the long and winding and very bumpy track looking for snakes to run over, just a bit far from the village. "I like it that way" I assured him. "No-one can find me."
Arriving at the hovel we immediately met a herd of goats. Whose are they asked Nicho. I did not have a clue but said that I did not mind. Nicho was less certain pointing out that they will eat my olives. And indeed that is the case. Sheep walk on the grass and tend to eat only things that lie on the floor. Goats jump on rocks and will eat anything, frigana included, but do have a penchant for olive tree leaves. Nicho went up to an enormous billy goat and told it to bugger off. Which it did. I assured him not to worry. I do not mind losing a few olives if I also lose some frigana. More importantly, snakes do not like goats.
The purpose of our trip was to check out my wild olive trees - trees whose fruit cannot be processed into oil. I seem to have been a little confused on this matter. The two trees I had identified as wild as they produced big black olives which George the Albanian shuns when we harvest, are in fact not wild olives. Those are olives which you need to cure to eat as opposed to pressing for oil. Aha. I told the Mrs later that this was women's work and a job for her. She seemed unconvinced.
But as we wandered to the far reaches of the property, at either end, we did indeed discover at least 20 wild olive trees. Nicho says that he will monitor them this harvest and we will splice on domestic olives for next year so upping my yield. But it gets better still. As we wandered across the land we identified spaces for at least another sixty new trees to be planted this October at a cost of 8 Euro a pop. The net result of this all would be to increase my harvest, ceteris paribus, by at least 50%.
George the architect looks at a non olive tree and says "the Foresty Commision has said we must not chop it down.". I look at these trees and the undergrowth that surrounds them and say "that looks the sort of place snakes like". Nicho looks at that tree and says "I will chop it down so we can plant more olives." I like Nicho's attitude.
So this weekend we are are to poison the frigana which has made a resurgence in certain of the further reaches of the property and will chop down some trees. Nicho has ordered the poison already and he assures me that the areas we deal with will be brown and weed and frigana free within a month. And that the poison will also drive the snakes onto my neighbours' lands. I like the sound of that. We start at 9 AM on Saturday. I cannot wait.
731 days ago
— Tom Winnifrith
On the first day that Nicho the Communist and I were due to inspect the wild olives at the Greek Hovel to see about turning them into yielding trees he forgot our appointment. Yesterday it was raining so we postponed until 3 PM today. After a morning scribbling away and a good session at the hotel gym, I arrived on time to find my friend, rather worse for wear, at Miranda's the establishment next to the Kourounis taverna of lovely Eleni.
He apologised but explained that he had been drinking with his cousin George and a friend since 10.30. He was, he confessed, rather tired. I asked what had brought this on. Simple. It is St George's Day and his cousin is called George. The man in charge of Miranda's today is also called George. In fact almost every man in Kambos is called either George or Nicho with the odd Vangelis thrown in. It seems that George is an important saint not only in England.
George (the person in charge, not the cousin) offered me a coffee on the house as it was his Saint's Day. And, as Nicho poured himself another glass of wine and more Tsipero arrived, we sat there discussing olive trees and who owns the trees around the hovel. It turns out that some are owned by the brother of the third man at the table who was the cousin of the previous owner of the hovel, the loathsome Athena. Others are, as we already knew, owned by my eccentric neighbour Charon.
We sat there in the sun a bit longer and discussed planting new trees on the land I had cleared of frigana. And we agreed to meet up tomorrow at 4.30 for a site visit. Avrio. As is so often the case in Kambos.
738 days ago
— Tom Winnifrith
When my Uncle Chris went on his first of his many honeymoons it was to the Mani where the Greek Hovel stands. Back in the early swinging sixties it took him more than a day to get here from Athens. That has all changed. There is a super fast Motorway linking the capital to this part of the world. But for as long as I can remember it has stopped just short of Kalamata adding another 20% to your travel time as you are forced to wind your way through suburbs and back streets. Yesterday I discovered that this has all changed.
The bus swept straight along the final stretch of highway right to the heart of town. The end of the main road is now just 200 yards from the bus station which lies underneath the old fort, the scene of the first heroics of 1821 when on March 21 the heroic Maniots answered the call of the Bishop of Triploli and stormed the hill to slaughter every Turk inside the citadel.
In a way this new road makes my life easier. Flights direct to Kalamata are infrequent and seasonal and so my journey time from Athens is greatly reduced. I think I can now even get to the Mani without going through Kalamata. So my life is that much simpler. But there is a downside.
There are increasing numbers of flights landing at the airport here. British Airways now flies twice a week in summer as an alternative to Easyjet. It is only a matter of time before my favourite airline, Aegean, joins the party. And with the road also that much faster more folks will come to this region to holiday and, also to buy second homes. More bloody foreigners.
Of course I am a foreigner too. But my family have been writing about Greece for 200 years. My great uncle David Cochrane died here. Greece is in my blood. Heck, I even harvest olives. So I like to think that I am a bit less of a foreigner than the other foreigners. I will spend more and more of my time here as I get older.
I love my nearest village of Kambos in large part because nearly everyone who lives there is Greek or Albanian. Since it is a good half an hour from the sea it is never going to be fashionable. I suspect it will remain resolutely Greek, or rather Maniot, until long after I have my final encounter with St Peter. But the area will change.
If that brings greater wealth, or rather less poverty, I suspect many of my neighbours will welcome it. But they should be careful what they wish for. Before they know it they will suffer snooty Guardian readers trying to stop them creating "foul smells" from pressing their olives.
I may be selfish in how I view it but for me the new highway is very much a mixed blessing.
852 days ago
The photos below are self explanatory. One five kg tin has been changed into ten presents. Eight were posted yesterday, after 2 hours was spent at the Post Office wrapping them in the prescribed manner. I know that it worked as the first has just landed in London. Two more remain for hand delivery or post Christmas sendings.
And we still have ten litres left for ourselves. When you buy olive oil at Tesco is it this green? Nope. This is a first press of the olives from the Greek Hovel. The peppery back of the throat aftertaste is very powerful. There is no need to add pepper to this as you prepare to dunk in your bread. This is the real deal squeezed from some of the 2.681 tonnes of olives I helped harvest from the hovel a few weeks ago.
In decanting I spilled a bit on the worksurface. That was a bonus as i could mop it up with bread and treat myself whikle also clearing up so impressing the Mrs. I am such a domestic God.
857 days ago
— Tom Winnifrith
862 days ago
What follows shows how the olives from the Greek Hovel (2.681 tonnes) became 450 kg of olive oil. Having revisited ny 2014 results that is a tiny fall in olives but a steep fall in oil. But I got a better price so have walked away with roughly the same cash - 1650 Euro, against labour costs of 770 Euro now that I do my pruning myself.
The photos are from the press in the local village of Kambos where you can see the machines in order of use without olives and with, the strapping lads who lift 50 kg sacks as you and I might lift a 10 kg bag of potatoes, and the little chemistry set that determines the quality of each batch of oil. It is all very high tech. Enjoy.
863 days ago
— Tom Winnifrith
I have mentioned elsewhere that there are oranges growing everywhere here in Greece. The trees do need watering every day so we could not, for instance, have them at the Greek Hovel as we are not there all summer. But there are so many other trees that you can just pick your own as you walk along the street. The tree below is just along the side street where the Pharae Palace hotel in Kalamata is situated and where I am staying.
865 days ago
— Tom Winnifrith
For the past week I have been getting up at 5 AM Greek time ( 3 AM GMT) to do a couple of hours writing before heading off to the olive harvest at the Greek Hovel for an 8 AM start. Yesterday's harvest finished at 5 PM and I was shattered. I arrived back at my hotel at eight and after one glass of milk went straight to bed. I was vaguely aware that someone called (it was the Mrs) but I was oblivious to it. I dreamed of little olives of all colours falling through my seperating machine.
I normally sleep for only six or seven hours and so I awoke at 1.30 AM. But after a few emails and a bit more milk I was back in bed and only woke up again at nine. A day without alarm calls and twelve hours glorious sleep. I feel like a new man.
Outside the sun is shining, it is T-shirt weather and I can see small fishing boats heading out from Kalamata into the bay. It is a day for doing nothing other than a catch up on my writing inspired by my muses here in Greece.
867 days ago
— Tom Winnifrith
Adam Reynolds and the Mrs are in my good books for returning phone calls and thus giving me phone breaks today. Peter Greensmith of Peterhouse did not and so ensured more toil and torture for me. Bad man Peter. Anyhow the sun shone all day and we toiled away as ever.
I am now getting so quick at my main (old ladies) job of seperating leaves from olives on a big metal grill that I found myself under-employed and so promoted myself to the job of thrashing branches, chopped down by George the Albanian, to cleanse them of olives.
Needless to say I clean one branch in the time it takes the ladies to clean three but I hope that every little helps. The end result is that we have finished the terraces on the mountain side and George thinks we have finished the top main level although I think there are a few tress in the far, snake infested, corner that we have missed. So we just have the short terraces ( two of them) on the Monastery side, the best trees in the area either side of the house and the poor trees in the other snake sanctuary, rocky ground by the entrance to the property, to go.
George ended today with the words "avrio, Kambos, ferma" which means he thinks we will be done tomorrow evening. He is the expert but I think he's missed out the main snake area which, as they are sleeping, and as I risked life and limb to clear it of frigana and prune the trees in the summer, is not on. If I am right it may be a Saturday finish. We shall see.
If it is tomorrow there will be no afternoon writing for me as it will be to Kambos to watch the press and have an ouzo and a settle up with George with lovely Eleni translating. Bring it on. The torture is almost over.
868 days ago
— Tom Winnifrith
Greek is one of those languages where folks sound animated even if they discussing the weather or when the next bus arrives. But the conversations that break out between George the Albanian and his two female assistants, as we harvest the olives up at the Greek hovel, seem very animated indeed. I have no idea what they are on about.
The paranoid view is that the women are complaining about how slow I am and George is placating them.It could be that they are discussing the impact of the Italian referendum on the price of southern european olives though I doubt it. My guess it is about where to lay down the next set of mats to catch olives that are twerked. I can see that there are various routes across the terraces, which are not in straight lines and in places end and become half terraces. Perhaps mapping out the strategy for completing the harvest is sowing discord. I have no idea at all.
But after each discussion quiet resumes. The only noises you can hear are chainsaws being used on groves across the hills, the clock from the Church in Kambos, the sound of the threshing machine, the pitter patter of olives on the mats as someone twerks away and George singing some strange Greek or Albanian song. It seems a happy little number for he is a man who appears content with life. He still speaks to me in Greek though we are both aware that I have no idea what he is talking about but in year three of our business relationship all seems going well.
Rested, after a very hot bath which has left my limbs only hurting rather than in agony, I look forward to hearing more discussions about God knows what in the morning.
869 days ago
— Tom Winnifrith
I am so tired. As soon as I press "publish" on this article i am off to bed. Today there was no break other than 20 minutes for lunch and so I did a solid six and a half hours. It is not that I am spectacularly unfit (cue jokes from health guru Paul Scott), it is just that I have to try to keep pace with hardened professionals, viz George the Albanian and his two female assistants. Boris Johnson likes riding bicycles but he would be some way off the pace in the Tour de France. It is similar here.
But I am proud to say that although I thought about bunking off early I stuck it out to the end. And I am getting quicker at my given tasks, the ones normally allocated to the old ladies, they having been promoted ahead of me.
The progress was rapid today. I reckon we might just be finished in two days time and we must have lifted at least 550 kg of olives once again today. If not more. What is surprising me is that the trees the other side of the ruined cottage on the property which yielded very little, even in the bumper year of 2014 and almost nothing last year are also dripping with olives. Naturally I put this down to my skilled pruning in the summer. It is just possible that we will need another three days to finish so great is the harvest.
Today saw us tackle the tree that lies inside the ruin. It is a not a tree that I think about with anything other than fear as I have often observed a snake slithering into the bushes around it. I have not actually seen the snake because as soon as I see a slithering motion in the grass I run as fast as I can in the opposite direction shouting "fuck it is a snake." Not that is ever anyone around to hear me. But the number of times I have seen the slither makes me certain that it is the lair of the snake.
And so my pruning of this tree has not been as diligent as on other trees. I did some hacking but trod gingerly and the prune was not complete. Of course the snakes are all hibernating or, as they say here, asleep. But where do they sleep? I think of the Gruffalo and look nervously at fallen logs. Maybe it is underneath stones or in holes? I do not know but there are plenty of places around the ruin for Mr Snake to sleep. So what if I tread on him or kick over the log or stone by accident? Will he wake up in time to bite me before I scarper, screaming as I go?
George went for the tree and chopped off lots of branches. One of his ladies pointed at the fallen branches and pointed to me and said something in Greek or Albanian. I knew what she meant. Gingerly I picked up each branch and threw it onto the pile that I was assembling for flailing. I think I lost about a stone and a half of nervous energy during that task. But no snake was seen. None the less I have been thinking about snakes ever since.
At the end I was so tired I considered just crashing out with the rats at the hovel. But then I thought of my nice warm bath, nice warm bed and snake and rat free hotel in Kalamata. It was no choice.
And now to bed.
871 days ago
— Tom Winnifrith
It is too cold to stay up at the Greek Hovel so I am in my bolt hole of choice, the most excellent Pharae Palace hotel in Kalamata. It is far from packed but there is some activity as the British Council is organising exams for bubbles who have been learning English.
Over a healthy muesli breakfast, I chatted briefly to the two other people present, ladies a bit older than myself who were there to invigilate the exams. One complained that whenever the windows of her room opened she could smell olives and she did not like the smell. Hint Madam - don't come to Kalamata as you do know what it is famous for don't you?.
The obviously middle class lady, who struck me as one of life's utterly joyless Guardian readers, asked if it was an all year round smell and I assured that it was to do with the olive harvest and the processing of olives into oil which involves a lot of heat. I should say that, maybe it is because I am living the olive harvest, I cannot smell anything amiss in Kalamata. But she was insistent and suggested that it was all wrong.
I pointed out that olives were how many folks here earned enough to live. She said that that is all very well but surely they should think about the environment. Yeah peasants you go starve so that middle class ladies from Guardian la la land can open the windows of their seafront hotel rooms, thought I. But being a diplomat I said nothing..
Before she left she asked me what I was doing here? I cannot tell a lie and so with some pleasure I answered truthfully: "I am here to harvest my olives" I sense that we will not be chatting at breakfast tomorrow.
871 days ago
— Tom Winnifrith
You find me sitting in the Kourounis taverna of lovely Eleni in my Greek "home village" of Kambos. Idle bastard, I hear you say, it is only 9.30 AM Greek time why isn't the slacker off harvesting olives. Au contraire mes amis, I have completed my second day of harvesting without injuries and honour intact. The truth is that rain (vreki) has stopped play for all of us hardworking labourers.
Almost from the moment I arrived I could hear the thunder claps. They were loud but, having survived a lightning strike direct on my roof while recording a bearcast in the summer (it is about six minutes in HERE) I know the score. George the Albanian said vreki but as it started to tip down we carried on working for a while.
But the thunder grew louder and the rain grew heavier and at about nine George started packing up. as we are on top of a hill we are, I guess, a bit lightning exposed.I can see the logic of not wishing to hold onto a long metal twerker or paddle and stick it up into the trees. we will try again tomorrow (avrio). Since my body aches all over I must admit that my disappointment at not adding to yesterday's triumph was slightly mitigated by the thought of spending a day in a warm room relaxing and catching up on my other work.
The thunder clouds are rolling in not from the mountains above but from South, the road down the Mani towards Kardamili. The photo is the view from the front of the hovel towards the Frankish castle of Zarnata which overlooks Kambos.
Meanwhile the Kourounis taverna is filling up as my fellow labourers also retire from the front line until avrio. At least one has already started on the ouzo. Even for me, I reckon that it is a little bit early for that,
874 days ago
The recent rains means that my friend George the Albanian cannot start work until Saturday on our olive harvest but I went up to the Greek Hovel to do a preliminary investigation and it looks as if we have a pretty good crop. It has been a wet years and I like to think that my aggressive pruning and work on fertilising the trees has paid off. As you can see, the trees are just dripping in olives.
Of course olives are not the only things growing up at the hovel. I was amazed to see that there are still some prickly pears on the bushes and apparently edible.
Rather less good is that the frigana has also grown back.
In fact everything has grown. You probably think of Greece in the summer as a country where everything is a burned straw brown. But right now everything is just green. What a wonderful place. And at this time of year the snakes are all asleep. The rats less so although preliminary investigations inside the hovel detected no obvious signs of wildlife diversity.
1039 days ago
— Tom Winnifrith
For the reasons explained in the Tomograph and bearcast I sense that my visit here will be cut short and thus there is a mad scramble to complete my olive pruning. I had reckoned that I had three days work left. I blitzed it today, doing two sessions in which I worked till I felt feint and I think I am now just a day from completion.
It is hot and after each session as I trudge slowly back to the Greek Hovel, for the last trees are in the far reaches of our land, my mouth is parched and my limbs ache. I arrive back and dive for the little tap on the side of the house which is where we get all our water from here. I splash it on sweating arms and my face. I gulp greedily. I am drinking pints of water now to replace the sweat that has poured into my T-shirts and long black jeans.
Given what lives in the long grass and bushes that surround the trees, this is not a place to wander around in shorts.
When walking between trees and pruning I always have half an eye on what may be watching me.
My tools you have seen before.
As I prune, I thank the Lord that at Byfield Primary School back in 1973, teachers with a Victorian mindset, forced me to stop writing with my left hand and to use my right. It means that I can do certain things with both hands such as hold a squash racket or, more importantly, use either axe or saw.
The point of pruning, I think, is to remove any twig, shoot or branch that has zero chance of bearing fruit or which has so few fruit that it is very low yield. I admit that I would not bet the ranch on calling every branch right but the Shepherd has inspected my work and reckons its okay.
Some of the slashing is at the base of the tree where new shoots are coming up. that is axe work. You see some such shoots below.
Most is up in the branches. Sometimes it is just a young shoot, other times a large branch with just one or a few tiny olives which must be sawed off. Water and nutrients are rare here (despite my efforts) and so all goodness must be pushed to the most productive olive bearing branches.
And when it is all done there is a mass of branches, leaves and twigs on the floor. he Shepherd's sheep love them and view them as a real treat. He should be up with his flock shortly.
But the trees I prune today are ones in the far reaches so I am not sure the sheep will find them. I know they were not pruned last year. My suspicion is that in some cases it has been several years since they were pruned or even harvested.They are often surrounded by tall grass, frigana and other bushes. To reach them one must clamber over rocks. I just know this is snake territory. But I battle on.
ETA completion - Monday night. And for a bloke who normally sits behind a desk all day that is quite a feat. I will feel good about myself as that last branch is lopped off.
1046 days ago
— Tom Winnifrith
It is not just the olives that are getting bigger and bigger but also the grapes. A rather untrained vine winds its way across a random set of wires either side of the Greek Hovel. One day I shall have a trained vine and lots of grapes but, for the time being, I fertilise this feral creature in a way that only a man can do and watch with delight as the fruit grow and grow. I fear that when the grapes are ready in early August I shall not be there to enjoy them as they are large, sweet and incredibly "more-ish".
They will instead provide nourishment for large wasps who drink and drink grape juice which is slowly fermenting inside the grape. My absence will thus create a generation of totally inebriated wasps. For as you can see below it is looking good for the grape harvest 2016
1051 days ago
— Tom Winnifrith
I am sure that many of you reading this believe that olives like all other food come from Tesco wrapped in clean plastic packets and therefore may scream "yuk" as you read what follows. Yes, my dear sweet wife I am thinking about you and all the other latte drinking townies out there. Those of us who grew up in the boonies know that producing food is a hell of a lot easier if you have loads of shit ( i.e manure) to boost the process. I have no manure yet although my first batch of humanure from the eco-loo should be ready next year. But I have something even better...wee wee.
Urine contains not only stacks of nitrogen but also potassium and phosphorus which, essentially, are the key ingredients of those plastic bags of sanitised fertiliser folks buy at the garden centres. And thus, as a man, I am in a position to do what a woman might find harder and provide daily doses of loving fertiliser to my trees.
I can see right now some of the City dwellers among you making cheap jokes about the peppery taste of the oil from our olives here at the Greek Hovel in Kambos.Thank god you don't know how many of the organic vegetables you eat at your fancy, twee, restaurants are grown in organic material. That is to say manure.
The problem is that while I might occassionally treat a tree on the far edge of the property if I am caught short while pruning, most of the times when I am in a position to dispense treats I am sitting in the hovel. As such the trees in the immediate vicinity have been very well blessed. Those further away will be lucky to be blessed once a summer in this manner. But it all helps.
1051 days ago
— Tom Winnifrith
It is now 30 degrees or more day in and day out at the Greek Hovel. And I am up in the mountains, down by the sea it is warmer still. But that constant sunshine now leaves the fields and hills looking ever browner as you can see below.
The poor sheep must be struggling to find green grass to eat as the wander the mountainside with my friend the Shepherd. But at least they are now getting a summer shear from a fierce looking lady with electric clippers. She looks like the sort of woman who used to represent East Germany in the shot put and so she needs no help in wrestling a sheep to the ground and pinning it down as she removes its coat.
She is now plying her trade in the rather overgrown field just past the bottom of the valley at the side of Deserted Monastery hill on the way up to Kambos. I would like to stop and take a photo of her in action but she owns a very fierce and large dog. Even as I drive past, the Hound of the Baskevilles starts to chase my car, barking fiercely and eyeing me up. His jaws are salivating. Sorry reader, but my devotion to you is not that great that I will leave my car and face Cerberus in order to capture an image of the sheep sheering female shot-putter at work.
Back at the hovel the sunshine seems to be doing wonder for my olives. I think it was two weeks ago that I posted a photo of little fruit the size of pin heads covering the trees.
Today I furnish you with a new photo suggesting that we will be drowning in olive oil this winter.
I am not sure that this demonstrates how the little olives have grown in the past fortnight but they have. What were green pips the size of a pin head are now the sizre of four or five pin heads. You may think that I am becoming slightly obsessive but I just keep looking at the trees, checking their load, it is all so terribly exciting.
1061 days ago
— Tom Winnifrith
I leave Greece for a few days with, I think, almost 80% of the olive trees now pruned. my hands are covered in scratches and cuts and I am not sure that I shall win any prizes for my pruning but I think I am getting there.
The tools of the trade are below. The shaving foam canister is just there to show you how small my axe and saw are. I wield one in each hand. One of the few advantages of my Victorian era primary school teacher forcing me to start writing with my right hand when I was a natural "leftie" is that I can swap hands when olive pruning. I can pull the same trick on a Squash court in extremis.
The idea - I think - is that you cut off any branch, shoot or twig that is not going to yield any olives or will yield so few it is not worth it. There are the small sprouts at the base of the tree which you take out with the axe. Where the tree has not been pruned for years these can be rather big. And then there are shoots and twigs along the branches. You start bending to the floor. You end reaching to the heights. It is tiring.I am sure I cut a few branches in error and maybe missed some I should have hacked but when the Shepherd examined my work he seemed to approve.
At the end of the fields at the Greek Hovel is a large frigana tree. This accursed plant can start as a small shoot. It is mainly a shrub up to a yard high. But left unchecked it can turn into a tree. As a final act of part 1 of this Greek trip I took my saw to it and removed half its branches. This monster knows it is now in retreat...part two to follow!
1067 days ago
— Tom Winnifrith
You guys think that I am wandering around in a T-shirt and shorts. Boy you could not be more wrong. For starters, when I am up at the hovel I always wear sturdy black jeans and long boots. You never know what is going to slither out of the bushes and bite you. I want some protection.
More importantly, the weather here over the past couple of days makes me think that I am back in the Isle of Man. The Manx folk are protected from bad things by the cloak of the Celtic God Mannanan, in other words the fog. It seems that the old boy is on his travels as a thick fog rolled in yesterday from the mountains. And that was followed by vast amounts of rain.
I suppose it is good for the olives. But also for the frigana. On Friday night the wind was howling and the rain was beating down. The oak tree outside the Greek Hovel thrashed against my roof. I am not sure if the normal wildlife diversity was hiding but its noises were, for once, just drowned out. The hovel is at least dry but it provided little relief from the cold.
This is really not what Greece should be like in late May. I blame Brexit.
1067 days ago
— Tom Winnifrith
A reader tells me not to count my chickens. Just because our 150 trees are heaving with flowers that means nothing I am told, I must see evidence of flowers becoming olives. Okay, here you go. It is happening right now, across all the trees as the photos below demonstrate.
Those tiny little green things are olives. They will need to grow a lot before we harvest in December but we are now on track for a mega harvest from the Greek Hovel which means that I shall have anywhere between 500 and 600 litres of oil to sell. that enough to fill a pretty big swimming pool. Can anyone think of someone who can me help promote our olive oil?
1080 days ago
— Tom Winnifrith
The lack of progress on getting permits to rebuild the Greek Hovel is starting to concern me and I am keen to make contact with George the architect ahead of my next trip on Saturday. And so I pick up my battered 1990s Nokia phone and scroll the directory and finding a George with a Greek number I call. For once I get an answer...
But the fellow does not seem to understand a word I say and is babbling away in Greek. It dawns on me quickly that this is in fact George the Albanian who assists me with all things olives. Tikani? Cala. we say to each other. We know we are both well but that is about the end of it. I try to convey that I will arrive on Saturday with the phrase avrio, avrio Saturday.
But I fear that lost in translation does not convey what is going on as Tomorrow, tomorrow, Saturday is pretty meaningless. I hope I see him on Saturday.
I then try calling George the architect who speaks perfect English but seems to have disappeared altogether. My heart sinks again.
1222 days ago
Today I was posting bottles of olive oil brought back from the Greek hovel to a few lucky folks like PR bird foxy Bex.It was a poor harves - 179 litres of oil this year - last year it was 574 litres. You always have a bad year followed by a good year and so on. You can mitigate that greatly if you are around in the summer to water the trees.
Indeed I "water" the four trees closest to the house personally several times a day. Urine is a great fertiliser and I note that those trees were amongst the most productive on the farm.
No doubt some urban sophisticates will go ugh. Where do you folks think that agricultural fertiliser comes from? The hardware store?
Photo one shows the sacks that get stacked up in the Kambos olive press and photo two shows them being emptied into the great press.
Photo three shows them washed and ready for pressing, little green little black, little purple and some larger black olives looking like sweeties, and photo four is my olive oil as it arrives.
Finally here it is. I lugged 16 litres back to BRistol and the Mrs and I have decanted some of that into bottles. Dark green. Peppery, it is awesome.
1229 days ago
— Tom Winnifrith
1232 days ago
— Tom Winnifrith
1572 days ago
— Tom Winnifrith
In the summer I used to drive past this old shed on the main street of Kambos every day. I was told that it was the olive oil factory but it looked deserted as if, like so much of Greece, it was a relic of times gone by when folks actually had jobs. But how wrong I was. By mid-November this place is a hive of activity. It is positively humming.
From late morning until well into the evening there is a constant queue outside of pick up tracks, of trailers pulled by tractors or just of ordinary vans and cars each bringing in bag after back of olives for pressing. Some folks deposit just a couple of bags, a trailer behind a tractor might disgorge fifty or sixty.
My seventy five bags arrived in three trips made by George the chief olive picker at the Greek Hovel in his battered blue pickup.
Each time strapping young men wearing military trousers grabbed the bags and loaded them onto trollies. They tossed the bags on into need stacks as if they were lifting a bag of groceries. I attempted to help, almost collapsed into the pile, so heavy were the bags, and thus just decided to watch while trying to look sort of managerial. No-one was fooled. They all knew that I did not have the faintest idea what was going on but none the less humoured me.
My bags were weighed and the charming factory manager, pictured below, gave me a yellow slip with their weight.
All in all, George and his team with some help from myself had harvested 2.7 tonnes (2,700 kg) of lives. Eventually some hours after our final bags were dropped off it was time to press my olives and as pre-arranged with the manager (with Nikko and the lovely Eleni interpreting) I was there as the sacks were emptied into a hopper.
As you can see my olives are green, purple and black…they look like sweeties but the great machinery does not discriminate on the basis of colour and the lives slip gradually into the hole in the hopper before emerging going up a conveyer belt which allows a young man in combats to take time off from texting to to remove some of the more obvious leaves and twigs.
The olives are washed and then rattle across rolling bars which remove the last of the leaves and then it is into a great big whirring machine.
Inside this machine are separate chambers allowing olives from separate farmers to be multi-crushed. My olives filled three of the six chambers where giant blades turn olives into a sort of sludgy tapenade but already you can see oil oozing to the surface.
The tapenade heads through anther machine which separates the oil from the sludge which is sent off elsewhere for what I do not know. And after heading through a few more pipes a bright green liquid starts to gush out into huge vats.
From one vat we extracted 16 litres of oil. This can headed back to England with me in my rucksack and was exceptionally heavy. It has dug into my back from Kambos to Bristol, hurting every step of the way. But the first bottle from that can will today be handed out as a Christmas present.
The rest of the oil was just sucked away into a communal vat, another 336 litres. After lovely Eleni sorted out the paperwork I was presented with a chit allowing me to claim a cheque for 1779 Euro from the big Olive Oil factory in Kalamata. That factory is, you see, fed by the little presses in each of the villages of the Mani.
As the oil poured into the tank the young man in combat trousers in charge of the whirring machines took a quick break from checking the machines while at the same time smoking sixty a day to stick his little finger into the green fluid. He tasted and pronounced it to be of the highest quality. I followed suit and naturally agreed. You really can taste the olive in this oil and there is an afterkick in your throat. It is quite amazing stuff.
It is far too good for salad dressing or certainly for cooking. back in Bristol we just dip bread in it and dream of Kambos.. Meanwhile small bottles of he stuff have been handed out this Christmas to the chosen few and a few more NewYear gifts are on the way.
1590 days ago
— Tom Winnifrith
I do not speak Greek. And I cannot understand it. But given that virtually no-one in my home village of Kambos speaks English, I am exposed to it whenever I wander into town and I am now starting to “hear it.”
I was sitting opposite the olive factory with George the chief olive picker at the Greek Hovel as we waited out turn to drop off some olives. A little old lady, her back arched and curved and dressed in widows black opened the front door of her tiny house opposite, pulled out a chair and just watched the bags go in and out. She asked a question of George while looking at me and George replied. She nodded knowingly.
Whilst I did not understand the question I can guess what it was since the answer was “He is the Englishman who lives in Toumbia.” The lady’s response indicates that folks in Kambos know that there is an Englishman in Toumbia, that is to say me.
Toumbia is not actually a place. It is the name for the area behind Kambos up in the snake friendly hills on the way to the mountain where there are perhaps 20 houses of which, maybe, three or four are inhabited. My nearest neighbours may be two miles away on either side but we are all in Toumbia. So Toumbia is not really a place just an area which contains the odd farm-house, of which are few are not abandoned. It is a place where folks in Kambos may own olive trees, where the goats and sheep can graze and, of course, where the snakes can go unmolested.
And I am the man who speaks no Greek but can spend all day at lovely Eleni’s tavern writing and looking out at life passing by; the man who fell off his bike at 5 MPH outside Eleni’s providing the incident of the summer (until the double murder) in sleepy Kambos, the man who is terrified of snakes but lives at the top of snake hill. Ho, ho, ho…the fool! That is the Englishman from Toumbia.
I digress. My point is that I am starting now to hear Greek. Next up is learning to speak it. But that is for avrio (tomorrow)
1605 days ago
— Tom Winnifrith
And so we are off. At 8 AM on the button George and his team arrived to start the Olive harvest at the Greek hovel. They took half an hour off for lunch and worked solidly until the sun started to set at 4 PM. I am full of admiration for harvesting olives is not easy. I chipped in but admit that I am not fit enough and am put to shame by these folks. So let me try to explain what happens. We start with a tree full of olives.
As you can see matting is laid all around it. There is a sort of moveable feast of matting surrounding about two trees on one terrace and two on the terrace above at any one time. So how to get the olives down? There are two methods which the team operate simultaneously. One is to beat the trees with paddles. The lady below holds a long paddle, there is also a shorter paddle for the lower branches. It is the sort of device Tory MP's get spanked with by Mayfair hookers. I was on short paddle duty today. and boy my arms ache.
And then there is method two. George climbs into the trees. He does not actually need a ladder. The guy must be 60 but he just leaps up and stands in the branches.
Just to prove that George needs no ladder - that is him in a tree.
And here he is in the branches where he gets oit his chainsaw and chops off some of the branches which fall to the floor. He then gets ot hs paddle and thrashes away.
As George beats the tree, the sound is like rainfall as showers of little olives fall onto the mats. On the edge you can see the little paddle. There is something vaguely therapeutic in beating the branches and hearing the olives pitter patter onto the sheeting. Sometimes they land in a great shower. Other times, as you pursue the last olives on a given branch, they just trickle down.
As you can see below there are a good number of leaves mixed in with the olives which are green, black and purple. But fear not.
But first back to the branches that George lopped off. These we carry (I did a bit of the carrying) to a portable whirring machne - that is the blue thing - that moves along the grove with the workers. One of George's assistants skillfully runs each branch across the whirring spinning thing, twisting and turning each branch until all the olives have been knocked off. I was offered a chance to try my hand at this but, knowing that Id cock it up and get branches tangled in the whirring thing, I declined politely.
Now back to the mats. Pretty soon they are covered in both olives and leaves. And so the workers skillfully roll up one mat at a time and pour all the contents into the hand operated machine below. The mat can then be moved one tree along the terrace and the machne sorts the olives from the leaves - only the smaller objects, the olives, can fall through the grill.
It is all rather hard work but the team only took two breaks. One to use my laptop to call George's daughter in Thassalonika on Skype.That went down well. And the second short break was lunch.
And so what was achieved? Remember the tree at the top laden with olives. That was the before picture. This is the after picture. as you can see this tree and 34 of its brothers and sisters have been stripped clean. Thanks to George's handiwork I now have enough thick logs to use for firewood for the next few days.
But more importantly I now have 13 sacks of olives some of which you can see below. 13 sacks = 660 kg of olives which will equate to around 130 litres of oil. And that I can sell in Kambos for c500 Euro. Knock off labour costs (charging my efforts, not altogether unfairly, at nil) and that is c380 Euro gross profit. I reckon that we have another four days of harvesting and so that should be c1900 Euro. Knock off the 200 Euro I paid Foti in the summer for pruning and it is 1700 Euro. Add back my grant from the grateful Greek ( I mean German) taxpayer and that is 2200 Euro. Maybe a touch less as I plan to take a few litres home.
However, these trees have not been tended. Next year they will get some manure and the yield should increase materially. In 2015 I shall do all the pruning myself. Had I waited until Christmas I could have got another Euro or two per litre for my oil. So maybe in 2015 we might spend Christmas here and put the Mrs to work on the harvest so saving on a few labour costs. Whilst the Mrs might decide to expand our acreage a bit this is never going to be a big moneyspinner but it is all rather satisfying. For now it is enough to pay the land taxes and for a couple of flights here and back.
1675 days ago
— Tom Winnifrith
I had planned to stay sober until my return but I fear that I have been led astray. I blame OTE Telecom. I still cannot get on the interwebby at The Greek Hovel so spent all Sunday working from the Kouronis taverna in Kambos, run by lovely Eleni. At about 10 O’clock Greek Time I was done writing and asked for my bill. But instead I was summoned to the bar and asked to sit with four men.
Either side of me were two Gentlemen who spoke English. The younger (George) was a relative newcomer to the area, the elder (Nikos) is a greying stocky man with a walrus moustache. It was he who had cross words with me on my second day here when I supported the Krauts rather than the Argies in the football. Since then we have exchanged nothing but pleasantries. Behind Nikos was the man in the pink polo shirt (Vangelis) and behind George was another George, a Greek only speaking builder.
I was told “it is not will you have a drink but what are you drinking”. They were on the hard stuff and so I opted for ouzo. Nikos told me that they had decided they needed to know me better as I was now their neighbour.
They refused to let me pay and four hours later I was rather the worse for wear. Nikos was concerned about me biking home. He offered to drive me several times but since he was also a tad unsteady on his feet I declined and made it back to the hovel falling off only once as my bike meandered across the track at five miles an hour.
Poor Niko (husband of Eleni) had to pour round after round, happy in the knowledge that he had to get up at 5.30 AM to go to the fruit market in Kalamata.
The conversation was wide ranging. I told them my father wrote books on Greece, spoke Greek and drank more than me. They said they wanted him to come next summer not me. They asked how they could help and what I did. So I explained about the writing and mentioned the death threats. Not a problem. If any strangers come to Kambos and ask for me “We will shoot them..but only if you want us to.”
We talked olives. Nikos recollected planting trees with his father when he was ten and now they stand at the heart of his fields. Actually he is marketing manager for a Cretan organic food company headquartered in Athens. But since the downturn there is not much demand so he is back in Kambos with his friends and his olives, doing a bit of work by phone and on the web.
The four men will be the winter crew. In the summer all sorts of folks come here to visit friends and relatives. As winter draws in they disappear. And so by the time of the Olive harvest this will be the hard core drinking crew at Eleni’s. Vangelis will cook a celebrator meal of wild birds with his own wine when my harvest is done. I said that I’d bring a Christmas pudding as my contribution and started to try to explain but in the end just said it tastes great and has lots of alcohol in it. That seemed to convince them all.
We talked snakes. Apparently the answer is to get a cat as cats eat snakes. I tried to picture my fat three legged cat Oakley engaged in mortal combat with a snake and found it hard to imagine. Oakley regards having to walk downstairs as strenuous exercise but apparently his Greek cousins are made of sterner stuff. And so maybe the Hovel, when completely renovated will need a cat. Oakley, do you have your passport ready?
I felt dreadful this morning and on arriving at the Kouronis taverna was met with a knowing smile by a laughing Eleni and her mother in law Poppy. “Crazy Greek men” she said as I ordered eggs and toast and started mainlining orange juice.
Three of the e crazy Greek men are again at Kouronis tonight as I write. They are not drinking. Just to show them that I’m not a total pansy I am struggling to down a glass f the local cheeky rose.
Tomorrow I go back on the wagon and will make amends for a poor 24 hours on the diet front with a full day in the fields frigana cutting. Writing will be limited.
1745 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.
1818 days ago
— Tom Winnifrith
It is that time when I have to hope that I have not lost my passport, boarding pass and other documents. And by a stroke of luck I rummage away in my computer bag and they are all there. I have even been efficient enough to book a ticket for a bus back from Gatwick and all being well I shall be in my bed in Bristol by 3.30 AM on Sunday Morning. But it will not be a long stay in England.
All being well I shall be back in Greece on July 1st preparing to spend three months working both online with my writing (tough luck Bulletin Board Morons if you thought I was retiring) but also on a building site. That is to say, the Mrs appears to have bought a property in the Mani which er..needs a bit of work. In fact it needs a total overhaul.
Taking advice from an Irish pal, working on a building site in the summer heat is a great way to lose weight. And I need a new challenge and learning how to rebuild a house seems like a good one. Greece being Greece nothing is done until it is done but, fingers crossed, the retirement home in the olive groves half way up a mountain has been located. There is a good amount of land with the hovel and a local worker (Albanian natch) and I have done a deal on the numerous olives it produces: He picks and the Mrs gets enough of a cut to pay Greek property taxes and for a few flights.
Anyhow that is all for the future. For now I can think of installing eco-loos ( more on that later) and on grand redesigns, the hard work – I hope – starts in July.