PERSONAL, UNDILUTED VIEWS FROM TOM WINNIFRITH
69 days ago
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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.
226 days ago
This is just to make my pal Evil Knievil jealous. I found myself in Kardamili, Islington on Sea, to use an ATM and to buy Evil a very superior bottle of Greek red wine, to show the old wine snob that not everything produced here tastes of mouth-wash. far from it.
With a child unfiendly beach Kardamili does not attract families but older punters nearly all of them impeccably middle class. As such, the start of school has made not that much difference, it was still fairly busy as I arrived at nine. Cash and wine secured I headed to one of the cheaper, less ornate establishments just off the main square.
As ever. my poison is ouzo but as a real contrast to Miranda's up here in Kambos my food was a delightful salmon salad. Note the cracking presentation. This is not how one imagines food in Greece but this is Islington-sur-Mer after all.
237 days ago
The ruined Frankish castle of Zarnata sits on top of the hill overlooking Kambos and on its nearer side the village of Stavropiglio. I often sit staring up at it, in awe at the largely still standing outer wall which threads its way around the hill, when enjoying an ouzo in Miranda's or from the tables outside the Kourounis taverna run by lovely Eleni. In an attempt to inject a bit of culture to the holiday of Godless daughter Olaf, I led the family on a trek up that hill yesterday, with young Joshua on my back.
If you approach from the Stavropiglio side you are much of the way up already. But the final climb is a rough one with the steep track littered with loose stones. With my son and heir on my back, as you can see below, it was a bit of a slog. The castle is very much a ruin but the small church next door is well preserved but locked so, sadly for Olaf, we could not go inside. Heaven only knows which saint it is dedicated to, I could not make out the sign - perhaps a reader can assist?
As you can see, the views down to Kambos are spectacular. In the second panoramic shot you can just about make out the Greek Hovel if you look closely.
As we left the property and headed back to Stavropiglio I noted the prickly pear bush pictured. I did not notice that i had brushed a pear but by the time we were back at the car a cluster of tiny needles had started to press through my shirt and was causing real pain to my right arm. We drove onto Kardamili with me half wearing a shirt and half Stoupa (topless) where the Mrs bought me a replacement T-shirt before I headed out in public.
250 days ago
I started today at 4.30 AM GMT in Bristol. I did not have the rub of the green with logistics in Athens and thus I did not arrive at my posh Kalamata hotel until 6 PM GMT, 8 PM local time. I have checked my emails , enjoyed a Greek salad and am just about to order an ouzo. But the really good news comes from George the Architect…the Bat Room at the Greek Hovel is wildlife diversity secure, the power and water is still working and so tomorrow I move in….
Of course, three years ago, I used to stay at the hovel in the one room which was then, at least partially, wildlife diversity secured. But it was only partially secure and as I lay there at night I could hear rats running outside the window and I found sleep almost impossible as I pondered what else might be trying to get inside.
George did not relay progress on doors and windows elsewhere at the hovel which is rather important to the Mrs and daughter Olaf who will arrive, with Joshua, over the coming week. All will become clear as I head up to Kambos and the hovel at just after noon.
The Bat Room may indeed be secure but, unlike here in Central Kalamata, all will be quiet outside apart from the screeches, rustling, squawks and other noises of the wildlife diversity community. It will take me a while to adjust to that and I admit that I feel rather nervous. But I have booked only one night at my hotel. The die is cast after four years of hard work it is time to move in. Fingers crossed.
257 days ago
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As is my wont, when in Kambos, I walked into the restaurant formerly known as Miranda’s and headed for the small cooking area at the back. The new supremo, the new Miranda, explained what was on offer and after due consideration I went for small pieces of pork in a wine sauce with a side helping of zucchinis and okra. That will end up costing me six euro.
As I wandered back to my table on the stoop, the step just outside the restaurant but before you get to the tables on the square, a place where an open window leaves you sort of inside while enjoying the breeze, an old man started gabbling at me. He was sitting on a table with a younger man who I did not know and a man my age who I have got drunk with once or twice, who I exchange yassas and a wave with but who I don’t really know. Is his name Georgios? I think it is.
The old man had a vaguely swivel eyed loon look to him and talked faster and in a louder at me keeping me fixed in his gaze and pointing at me. He seemed almost angry. I tried to make him understand that I did not speak Greek and my drinking friend, I think, made the same point. I moved onto my table, one open window away from his. As the new Miranda put water and bread on my table I asked who the old man was. “The village President Stavros”. Aha. I nodded politely at the man who talked even louder and started banging the table, looking at me then at his companions and then at me again.
The young man several times tried intervening as did my drinking friend. Further evidence that I was being discussed came as I heard the word Toumbia mentioned several times. Toumbia is the settlement of two dozen farmsteads spread far and wide where the Greek Hovel is located. I am pretty sure that there are only two residents of Toumbia, me and my mad neighbour Charon.
I asked the new Miranda what the old man was so cross about as she arrived with my ,lunch. “He is just mad” she said and that was it. Perhaps Kambos is following some ancient Athenian model of democracy where the only folks eligible to be village President are those deemed so mad that they are utterly unfit for office?
I ate my lunch. A couple of other folks with whom I have spent an evening on the ouzo headed to the old man’s table, leaned over and exchanged words. The an ger subsided. There was no more table banging. Twenty minutes later I wandered in to pay and as I left the man waved goodbye and smiled a very friendly smile. I have no idea what that was all about.
277 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
298 days ago
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412 days ago
It was my penultimate day in Kambos, the nearest village to the Greek Hovel. I had parked in the small side street that leads off the main road up and past the newest and biggest of the, at least, five churches in out settlement with a population of 537 (when I am there). I enjoyed a lunch at Miranda's - pork in a wine sauce, oven cooked potatoes and an ouzo for seven Euro. I left eight, headed back to my car and drove up to the turning square opposite the Church.
This is the highest point of the village. The telephone wires spoil the photo a bit but the view up into the Taygetos mountains is spectacular none the less. The pinkness of the rock is not a camera trick it is how it really looked at four thirty that day as the moon started to rise into the sky and the light started to fade
418 days ago
For some reason I could not sleep a wink last night and thus my excuse for not returning to the Greek hovel for more failed bonfire lighting is that I am just so dog tired that I fear that I may fall asleep at the wheel. That is not something you wish to do on a Mountain road. Hence I content myself in my hotel wish washing my socks, admin matters and writing like a dervish. And trying to catch up on some sleep. If I manage all of that I may treat myself to a slap up meal at Katelanos tonight: Mountain greens, octopus and ouzo.
Yesterday I did try my hand at pyromania up at the hovel. It was a wet day and thus a) I had an excuse for failure b) there were no workers on site to laugh at my inevitable failure. Perfect.
As you can see below there is hard evidence of the triumphs from my previous pyromania. But yesterday's effort was another failure. Lawyers letters from Roger Lawson burn really well but everything is so wet that nothing caught. I retreated and admitted defeat. On the way down I stopped at the very much, not dry, river bed and took a shot of the olive trees on the other side dripping with rain. I am not sure if I captured how they shimmered in the downpour. maybe you just had to be there to appreciate it.
424 days ago
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595 days ago
I am no particular admirer of my Oxford contemporary, the pompous MP for somewhere in Somerset, Jacob Rees Mogg. But my fellow residents of the Hellenic Republic should at once establish a committee to erect statues of the pin stripe suited buffoon in every town square in our great land. The heroes of 1821 should stand shoulder to shoulder with the man who has arrived at a solution to our economic misery and enslavement by the fucking Germans, sorry I meant the EU, and banksters. Jacob Rees Mogg is the new Byron.
This may come as a surprise to Jacob but he raised a very valid point this week on the matter of Brexit which, to his credit, he supports unreservedly. Jacob notes that if the UK as a large net contributor is expected tp pay vast sums as the price of leaving then should a big net gainer wish to leave surely the EU would have to pay it a vast sum as compensation. His logic is impeccable.
The amount that the UK gave the EU in 2016 net of automatic rebate and the amount spent in the UK by the Evil Empire, spent not always wisely it should be said, was £8.6 billion (call it 9.4 billion Euro) and the EU is demanding 100 billion Euro as our exit bill so that is 10.64 times historic net contributions.
In 2015 - the last year for which we have figures - Greece paid E1.206 billion to the Evil Empire but the EU spent E6.210 billion in Greece making a net inflow of E5.004 billion to the Hellenes. As Rees Mogg points out, a consistent and logical EU would force Greece to accept -a cheque if it left the EU which on the UK multiplier formula would be E53.23 billion. There could be no talks about trade or the rights of Germans to relive the joys of the 1940s and move to Greece until the Greeks agreed to receive a cheque for 53 billion Euro.
That works out at a one off windfall equivalent to a 31% boost to GDP or put another way a one off gift of E4,936.51 for every man woman and child resident in Greece. Hmm I make that the cost of 897 meals of a Greek salad and an ouzo at lovely Eleni's Kouronis taverna in my home village of Kambos. Each time I raise my glass I would think of Jacob, the man who made this possible for Greece.
I am sure that my fellow residents would each happily donate 1 Euro of their windfalls towards the committee to erect a statue of Jacob Rees Mogg in every town square in this land.
The way forward is clear. leave the logical EU, pick up a cheque for 53 billion Euro, go straight to Go at which point revert to the drachma and say that all our external debts will be repaid in nice new drachmas. We all know that the drachma will plunge in value every year so the banksters take it up the arse, Greece has solved its debt problems at a stroke and with 53 billion Euros to spend from the EU as our "price of Grexit" it is ouzos all round as we toast the new Bryron, Jacob Rees Mogg.
619 days ago
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672 days ago
I am meant to test my blood sugars twice daily and be in a range of 5-7 whatever that means.Almost two months ago I was 15.3 but these days an almost zero carb, almost zero alcohol, low stress and modest daily exercise lifestyle plus five pills a day has seen me happily in "normal" territory for someone tackling type 2 diabetes, for some days. But I just tested myself and it was 9.6. WTF!
I have not has any ouzo, though I deserve it today, and have had no carbs or sugars. But I have done a two hour stint of frigana chopping up at the Greek Hovel. I am drenched in sweat and I could feel my heart beating fast. So natch, I checked on google.
Vigorous exercise can, it seems, cause a short term spike in blood sugars. And this has been my most vigorous exercise since last December's olive harvest.But it should unwind within an hour or so and long term doing exercise will cut my blood sugars. Pondering this over a most excellent lettuce salad and numerous big glasses of water at lovely Eleni's Kourounis taverna in Kambos I am resolved to take it easy this afternoon.
As I butchered the frigana earlier I found several olive trees that I had neglected to prune and a few large bushes of frigana which might be hiding a you know what. They are in an area of my land where I have had unpleasant encounters before. And thus this afternoon an hour of gentle pruning and somewhat less gentle poisoning beckons. The fight goes on.
707 days ago
I have not even bothered to test my blood sugar levels for the past few days. I know they are up. I can feel a couple of the symptoms of type 2 diabetes making a minor comeback. Last night, for instance, I felt the need to piss several times. Net result: no sleep. And it is all so predictable. I could kick myself. Or certain others.
The theory was simple. Come to Greece and shock my body into beating back the diabetes. I have done it before. I know what to do. It means physical workouts every day either in a gym or up at the Greek hovel or both. It means no booze. It means no stress at all. And it means a limited and largely carb free calorie intake with meals at regular times. And it worked gloriously until last Saturday, eight days ago. At that point I was getting blood sugar readings that were in the "normal range" for diabetics. And I was happy. I was on track to end the shock treatment and be able to just "manage my way" to an even better score and that could even happen in the UK.
But eight days ago my wife, eight month old son and the parents of the Mrs arrived. We transferred to a base in Kardamili, a town that I do not really like and the routine went out of the window. I have spent one day and a couple of short sessions up at the hovel in the past eight days but my exercise levels have fallen off a cliff. Other folks just could not be abandoned and no-one other than I wants to spend any real time at the hovel.
Then there is the food. The Mrs, quite rightly, points out that I lambast fat welfare junkies who demand State aid to stop being so fat, because what you put into your own body is your own choice. However, the reason that I have type 2 diabetes is that I do not have great will power when it comes to food or drink. Nobody is perfect and I am far from perfect and this is one of my many weaknesses.
If I had will power I would not be in this mess to start with. Surely she understands that?
Meals are now communal. My mother-in-law, who I should stress has a heart of gold, fusses about ordering, asking for things that are not on the menu and then insulting waiters later on. The end result is that there is invariably too much food on the table but also long delays for the meal proper during which time, like Joshua, I just eat bread. I have it with oil, Joshua likes it plain. Wine is ordered for the table and I end up having just one glass.
The drinking is in fact worse than that. My mother-in-law and my dear father have a few things in common. Their faith ( laudable) but also a staunch political mindset made only possible by living in a post fact era. My mother in law is entitled to state that the pound has fallen by 25% since June 23rd 2016 ( it is down by 2% actually) and that post Brexit the UK will not be allowed to export to anywhere in the world at all. I am sure my father would love to hear it and they could remoan away together. But I do know a bit about economics and happen to know this is not true. But there is an insistence this is fact.
Yesterday evening I hit the ouzo in response. I had three small measures.
That may not sound like a lot but ten days ago I was on one unit of alcohol a week. Now it is 3 or 4 a day. The Mrs says "we are on holiday" as if it does not matter. She does not have type 2 diabetes which was "raging off the scale" just weeks ago. I do. She is not being told by her GP that there is a good chance that she will be dead within five years. I am.
So for me it bloody well does matter as I try to explain. I was doing a great job of shocking my body back into shape and avoiding stress so that I had a better than evens chance of making it to 55 but the past week has seen a dramatic reversal. Forget the mother-in-law (a committed Labour supporter) insisting that, whatever the Mrs and I believe, Joshua must go to a fee paying school, I am not going to be alive to make that decision, the way things are going.
This afternoon we part company for a couple of days. I head back to Kalamata while the others stay here in Koroni. I intend to restart shock therapy and when we all meet again I have asked the Mrs if she minds if I eat alone. That did not go down well.
Next weekend there is the return to Britain. I am there for just a few days but am meant to be seeing my GP to discuss my blood sugar levels, medication and how things are going. He is worried that I do not take my diabetes seriously. I think perhaps the Mrs should come with me so she understands why the past week has been such a total bloody disaster for me. I take the prospect of having a heart attack at 52 all too seriously and am trying my hardest to avoid that in a way that I can achieve.
709 days ago
As we walked out of the restuarant last night here in Kardamili, my eight month old son Joshua made eye contact with two ladies who, I guess, were about a decade younger than I am. He started smiling, they started smiling and soon conversation broke out. Joshua is a great ice-breaker whether you want him to be or not.
It turns out that one of the two, who were British, pops over to Kardamili several times a year for four or five day breaks, long weekends. She just loves the place. She asked about us and why we were here. We mentioned the Greek hovel and our family connections with Greece.
The lady knew Kambos. And shared in our joy that after three years we are finally building. It is exciting. But conscious that Joshua needed to get to bed and we needed to keep an eye on the mother in law before she insulted any more of the locals, I attempted a parting gambit "See you in the Kourounis taverna in Kambos, one day maybe". It worked as a way for us to separate and head home but I'm kicking myself this morning.
One of the joys of Kambos is that there are no other Brits in town. A few pop in from neighbouring villages and a couple of them do live up to the stereotype of the gin sozzled, or beer sozzled, ex pat. Lobster red, Daily Mail reading old bores, bleating about how England has gone to the dogs & how the natives out here cannot organise a piss up in an ouzo factory. But generally that sort of person is rarely seen in Kambos. And it is not me!
I rarely drink anything at lovely Eleni's taverna these days. Its coffee and a Greek salad for me. I avoid hanging out with the Brits instead chatting, if I talk at all, with a few worlds of broken Greek on my part and a few words of broken English on theirs, to my fellow residents of Kambos. I am kicking myself for giving the impression that I behave otherwise.
712 days ago
There was I sitting in the Kourounis Taverna in Kambos having taken the Mrs and Joshua up to see his inheritance, that is to say the Greek Hovel. The Mrs and I were enjoying a Greek salad prepared by Nicho the Magician, that is to say Eleni's other half and Joshua was enjoying a few bits of bread and smiling at all passers by. A lady came up and introduced herself.
I already knew who she was. Nicho had pointed her out as the French lady. She rather stands out as her mother was from Cameroon. Non white folks rather stand out here. Until recently the Mrs, has on her visits, been 100% of the non white community.
We spoke in a mixture of French and English. Thanks to the chain smoking WW2 tank hero Harry Owen who taught me at Warwick School my French is not that bad. But her English was better. early on in our conversation she asked if I was German. I think my body language made it clear that I took this as a grave insult. Do I look like a fucking Kraut FFS? Apparently i do. The woman blundered on by saying she only said so because I was tall, like a member of the frigging master race. Whatever.
It turns out that her late husband was a bubble and so her daughter lives in Kambos and is going to start a creperie this summer. She pointed at where it will be... about twenty yards from the Kourounis taverna and just next to Miranda's. Now Miranda's limited menu does not include crepes but in the summer Nicho the Magician gets out a special machine and his crepes are most excellent. Naturally, as a good diabetic, i shall not be indulging but the kids love him.
This new entrant to the scene means that with a population of 536 (539 including myself, the Mrs and Joshua), Kambos has two ouzeries where you can get nibbles, coffee and ouzo. Plus three places to eat ( and get ouzo).
Naturally, lovely Eleni will retain my business. Accusing me of being a Kraut is not the way to win me over.
729 days ago
Having explained to the nice lady who runs my favourite restaurant here in Kalamata why I had to turn down a free ouzo she expressed great sympathy about the plight of a man with type 2 diabetes. And thus, having finished my grilled octopus and black eyed peas and mountain greens, I was presented with a bowl of soup.
Next to the bowl, which contained small bits of asparagus, was a slice of lemon. It was on the house and I was assured that it would cure diabetes. If I had a quid for every time I had been told that something would cure my condition I'd be retiring for good already. But I tried the soup and it was fantastic. Heck, I really like this "cure."
The lady returned. Oh no! She exclaimed it only works if you add the lemon. It changes the colour and will cure you. This is the sort of thing I'd expect to happen in Asterix the Gaul but she brought more soup to which I added the lenon juice. Suddenly my soup turned pink. I tried again, keen to be cured, but it now tasted absolutely awful. Under a bedy eye I managed to finish and was assured that the cure was underway.
In Victorian times they believed that spa waters in places like Leamington or Harrogate must be good for you becuase the water tasted so nasty. That was, of course, hocus pocus. And I have grave doubts about this cure for diabetes. I have not asked for another portion.
My blood sugar goes all over the place. On the new scale it was 232 this morning which is alarmingly high for a reason I cannot fathom as I have been virtue incarnate. Yesterday, after doing a gym session for thirty minutes in my hotel I hit 120 ( six point something on the old scale). God knows what it is now after a breakfast of raw oats.
In my prime when I worked out or played rugby at London Irish five days a week, I could do an hour at 7.5 km an hour on a treadmill and still do some weights and then jog home. Yesterday I managed just over 2km in 20 minutes and felt wrecked. But I like this gym as a) there is no-one else in it to laugh at you and b) the lady on the front desk is not one of those fitness freaks who looks at you with a mixture of sympathy and derision but a total blubber mountain who could almost certainly do with testing her own blood sugars. Her kindly and welcoming smile will see me go again. It s not quite a hovel workout but there are no snakes to panic about.
Today... gym, a light hovel workout and - at last an olive inspection with Niccho the communist - and another stab at fishing. I have bought more hooks and a float and solen some bread from the Hotel breakfast buffet. a new day, new tactics as I try to break my 41 year duck when it comes to actually catching anything.
731 days ago
On my new machine, the blood sugar reading this morning was 195, up from 146 the prior day. What on earth had I done wrong? I ate sensibly, I took good exercise and I only had one ouzo. It must have been the ouzo. I cursed myself. I reckon that reading is up in the high ten points old scale. Type 2 diabetes is a real bastard,
After breakfast I took a call which saw me swearing repeatedly for the first time in two weeks. I am set to appear as an Expert Witness at a Tribunal in London in early May. I say tribunal but view it as a kangaroo court. The prosecution is also the judges. First they tried to block me as a witness. That failed and they laid out a schedule of events and when I was set to appear. They know I am in Greece and am flying in for 48 hours just for this.
So having agreed it all they have now announced that the hearing is to be extended and one witness is to have his timings altered. Guess who? This is an explicit attempt to knock me out of the game. Luckily the organisers of this kangaroo court reckoned without my incompetence. I have booked no tickets with Aegean. So I shall wait for the new dates to be confirmed and then book. But this will not be the last dirty trick. Anyhow I found myself swearing repeatedly and getting very angry indeed.
It is this poisonous ,viper infested and institutionally corrupt world that has polluted my mind and my body. Why cannot people act like decent souls and do what they agreed to? I tried to put it aside and forget about it and fell asleep mid morning thinking how, in many ways, the City of London was the sort of place that in the Old Testament, God would have destroyed with fire and brimstone. Come on God, find someone to spare the (few) righteous and then bring it on!
Waking up at one, I felt feint and sure enough my blood sugars were just 135 (low eights old scale).That is too high but such a sharp fall was alarming and thus I headed off to my fave restaurant (Save The Katelanos) for some octopus and black eyed peas & mountain greens. The lady who manages this place and I have talked many times and she greeted me warmly. We talked Greece " i work for Alex Tsipras" she complained. Indeed the middle classes are squeezed to pay the bills of the banksters. To what end?
As i waited for my meal she came over with a large ouzo "on the house". I had to explain why I could not. To think that there has come a day when I have to say no to free ouzo. is there any point in going on?
732 days ago
The excitement of the snake killing left me so excited that I skipped lunch which I know is not the way that a man with type 2 diabetes should behave. There is no need to lecture me. Perhaps i should not admit that i had also more or less skipped breakfast, having just one small piece of rough bread. The oddity is that I am eating far less but am not hungry. Well it is not that odd.
One sign of severe diabetes is that you drink like a fish but are always thirsty. Another is that you find yourself eating like a horse but losing weight. My body is getting back into shape and so I no longer eat like a horse but I am really losing weight. The trousers are within weeks of being unbearably loose and, already. must be hitched up frequently ato spare my blushes.
Suffice to say that when I got back into Kalamata at about seven I was feeling a bit feint. I left my phone in my car. Then I left something in my room. And something somewhere else. I was not thinking too straight and my blood sugar tested at sub 8 again.
On that matter I have run out of strips and so for reasons I cannot fathom have had to buy Greek strips at 25 Euro. These work in a different machine which came with the strips but measures blood sugar in a different way on a different scale. It is like Celsius and Fahrenheit.
I am sure my doctor back in Bristol is used to dealing with complicated maths involving large numbers. He has to do it once a month when he gets his bloated pay packet so I am sure he can fathom it all out. Anyhow this morning my blood sugar was 8.9 on the old scale and 141 on the new. That comes after a supper last night at my favourite restaurant which is about 400 yards away from my hotel. Grilled Octopus, black eyed pea salad and a few bits of rough bread, lightly toasted drizzled with olive oil and herbs. No ouzo. Just what the doctor ordered.
744 days ago
Day 2 of my battle to tackle type 2 diabetes showed just exactly why there was no way I could do so without shoving my keyboard in a cupboard and changing every aspect of my life. I had to go to London to do some expert witness business for a friend. So it was all on board the 4.47 AM having done a very early morning blood test which came out at 11.7 down from 15.3 the night before. I know that post fasting measures will be lower but even so: I was told those new zappo pills would work fast!
Though I had only porridge on the train that was where the good news sort of stopped. I resisted biscuits in the meeting but by the time I walked out ( after four and a half hours) I was almost fainting and a bowl of pasta at Wedge Issue was much needed. Meeting, meeting, writing a bit for Steve Moore, some garlic bread, stress, it was all bad. I drank only water and coffee but I really felt tired and stressed and by the time I took my bloods very late that evening back in Bristol they were up at 14. The next morning they were still 13.7.
The bad news is that I discovered on Wednesday night that I was out of testing strips and have only just managed to wade through NHS bureaucracy to get some more. So I shall resume testing tonight - day 4. The good news is that two stress free days make me feel relatively confident.
Yesterday I drove up to see my father who remains in hospital and turned 79 on the first day of the new tax year. I showed him the present he will get on his return to Shipston but did so covertly, I sensed the NHS would not like bottles of ouzo being brandished about freely in Warwick Hospital. He was in cracking form and has suffered no further complications. God willing he will be at home within days. Despite having too much driving it was a semi-relaxing day for me. At least it started with me waking up when I feel like it. For the first time in 26 years there is no alarm set to ensure that I am staring at a screen by 7 AM.
While driving I listened to a most excellent programme on Radio 4 about sugar. We Brits eat an average of 30 bags a year - that is one every 12 days. It is horrifying. We eat it neat in our warm drinks, in cakes, soft drinks and puddings and in a way few of us notice in so many processed foods. Sugar consumption has soared and so too has the incidence of type 2 diabetes. The two things are linked.
In Greece I eat no processed foods at all. I, now and agai,n allow myself a pudding but not this year. And so I'd hope to be eating more or less no sugar at all. Here in Britain it is harder but I am cutting out the processed foods, puddings and alcohol so I really hope that I am well below the national average. Not that beating such a shocking score should be hard.
Today there was once again no alarm call. I have eaten very sensibly and I have taken three walks. They may be short walks but they are the sort of walks that I might well have done by car in the past. Now I consciously opted to walk even when carrying Oakley to the vets for his annual check up. My three legged cat is no longer morbidly obese. It is hard to tell beneath his masses of fur but he has lost a good amount of weight. Perhaps too much, expensive blood tests are called for.
But I digress. Let's talk about me.I know my bloods will keep getting better. I am not kidding myself. I know I have a very long way to go but I am heading the right way. And I feel it already! My father would say that this is not the sort of matter a gentleman discusses but I am less tired in the afternoon and, more noticeably, I am pissing far less often. I am now almost excited abut what news tonight's blood test will bring.
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For me this is a delight. I am in my favourite restaurant in Kalamata and I am the only customer. I have chatted to Amelia the owner and am half way through my first ouzo. Grilled octopus has just arrived with some greens, Amelia insists that I try some. I am not normally a rabbit food sort of person but they are splendid.
My heart goes out to the folks here as they are honest about when they have fresh octopus and the food really is magnificent, As is the ouzo. But they sit here just hoping that customers will turn up. It is off season and the economy is again shrinking thanks to the Nazis of the IMF and EU.
Cripes, other plates have just arrived. Amelia is rightly very proud of her food. Rightly so. It is superb. I remember turning around a restaurant in London and in the dark days before that was complete just sitting there praying that customers would arrive. It was just so dispiriting. I know exactly how she must feel.
And so if you are passing through Kalamata at any stage do yourself a favour and make your way to the Katalanos restaurant on Navarino Street. You will be made very welcome, the food is wonderful.
Cripes a plate of gigantes (giant white beans) has just arrived. Wonderful
791 days ago
Charlatan Darren Winters coughing up nearly all the cash he owed us after his latest court thrashing was a good reason to celebrate. And thus, I headed to my favourite restaurant here in Kalamata and started with an ouzo. Sadly the fresh octopus was not available. Hmmmmmmm. how to tease my friend the bear raider Evil Knievil with pictures of what treats lay in store? Could I top the honey soaked puddings at the Kourounis Taverna in Kambos (prop. lovely Eleni) or the fresh octopus at this place?
As you can see below I started with Dakos. That is a Cretan dish which they also serve quite often here in the Mani. On top of a dried barley rusk is placed generous helpings of a soft sort of creamy feta, chopped tomatoes and the odd olive. At this place there is a generous drizzling of balsamic vinegar and that and the tomato juice drain into the crispy rusk - magnificent.
To follow, for I felt that after a hard day of manual labour I deserved more, I went for a small plate of calamari. In many places here you get large chunks of frozen squid in a clumsy rather fatty batter. It all tastes, pardon the pun, just a bit greasy. That is your cheap and cheerful seaside dish. But I enjoyed small pieces of fresh squid in a ,well made, light batter onto which I squeezed fresh lemon juice. Truly it was wonderful. Natch that called for another celebratory ouzo.
I know that the wine snob Evil is concerned about the quality of booze issue when travelling to the Hellenic Republic but these pictures will again have him salivating badly. I grow confident that I can persuade him to bring a case of Burgundy white inside a large suitcase and come join me here next summer when the Greek Hovel is ready. I shall continue to torture him with photos until then.
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Oft accused by folks who do not like what I write of being an alcoholic, the sad truth is that these days my poison of choice is ginger beer and I drink almost nothing. When in Greece I might have an ouzo at the end of a hard day, here in the UK I drink almost nothing.
The Mrs and I used to polish off a bottle of wine in a couple of days. There is a bottle standing by the fridge whach was opened more than a week ago and still has a glass in it. And most of that was the Mrs. The truth is that - away from ouzo with its strong aniseed taste - I really just do not like the taste of alcohol very much and I delight in not having had a hangover for absolutely ages, even after my Christmas party back in November.
And thus on my birthday last week I had just one unit of alcohol. Right at the end of the day the Mrs opened a bottle of Christmas Pudding vodka - a Christmas gift - and we had a small glass each. It does not taste of alcohol but I would not urge you all to tush out and buy a bottle.
I think that the last time I celebrated my birthday with less than lots of units was when I was fifteen, thirty four years ago. It is not a conscious attempt to be virtuous in any way just that I do not enjoy booze or fags any more.
Perhaps as punishment from a God with a sense of humour my new found ways of purity, now see me laid low with a heavy cold and feeling rotten. Maybe I should have forced myself to drink more to ward off the evil spirits of illness.
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845 days ago
I have begged for a pass but it seems that I am committed to spend New Year's Eve with the deluded lefty friends of the Mrs, public sector workers the lot of them. The venue is, I think the house where the Mrs attended the 2015 General Election "victory party" which included that classic line "This can't be happening, I don't know anyone who votes Tory". I was almost sorry I missed that one.
But as we end 2016 and look forward to 2017 no doubt they will all be reflecting on Trump, Brexit, the Italian vote, Labour being a total joke, the War in Syria going the right way and all present, bar me, will be celebrating none of this.
My father advises me to stay sober and to bite my lip. My wife advises biting my lip knowing that I will be unable to endure this without an ouzo or four. But if provoked I have been contemplating a few winning lines. How about:
"Do you think it is wrong to fancy Marine Le Pen far more than Angela Merkel?"
"After Hillary, if Marine Le Pen loses how do you think we should tackle glass ceilings in 2017?"
"My wish for 2017? Clue - I'm wearing a Hillary for Prison-T-shirt, when do you expect her to get arrested?"
"Me too, yes I voted for Jezza - are you another Tory4Corbyn"
"You are in the Labour Party, - are you in the Jew hating part of it or are you outside the mainstream?"
"Yes, I was reading about that, the other day, in the Daily Mail"
"So looking forward, how will you be celebrating the triggering of article 50?"
"So you've married your (same sex) partner - another piece of social change only the Tories were enlightened enough to implement, its so good to have progressives in power don't you think?"
Feel free to make other suggestions in the comments box below. I don't think I can beat the Merkel/Le Pen line for when I encounter a particularly sour faced lefty, but perhaps you can do better?
848 days ago
862 days ago
Myself and the two women who work with George the Albanian finished work at 5 PM today, having started at 8 AM. It was dark at the end. I could not see what was an olive and what was a leaf as I worked the separating machine. I just bashed the twigs and leaves hard with a plastic paddle and pushed anything that felt like a olive through the grill. My hands are stained with olives and feel raw from pushing those twigs and olives across that grill all day.
George was off to see a bloke about another job. But the ladies and I did high fives at the end. It is all over.
The weigh in at the Kambos press is complete. 2.681 tonnes. Had George not bunked off early we could have tackled a few more marginal trees. But what do I care? It is over and I survived without bunking off early once. That is an achievement and I feel rather proud of myself.
The press was heaving with folks. There was the cop from Kardamili nick who greeted me warmly. My friend the shepherd and all sorts of folks were there. No-one there spoke English so I had to fetch Nicho the communist from the Kourounis taverna to translate for me.
I have photos of the press and of olives from the hovel but will put them up in the morning before returning to Kambos for pressing. For now I have bought Nicho and the shepherd a drink and myself my first ouzo for many days. A quick coffee and then it is back to Kalamata and bed without having to set an alarm in the morning. Bliss.
863 days ago
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.
867 days ago
At about 2.30 this afternoon George the Albanian wandered over carrying the electric olive harvesting rod which I think is called a twerker. Battery kaput he said and looked unhappy. I endeavoured to look sad too but internally I was delighted because surely this meant that we could knock off early. Bar a 40 minute break to upload my Advanced Oncotherapy bombshell article and 20 minutes at lunchtime when I devoured a hunk of bread dripping in olive oil, a small piece of feta and a tomato all provided by George, I had been working hard since just after eight. And I was aching all over.
Sadly my inner joy was short-lived. George whipped out an additional old fashioned manual paddle and he and his two female associates cracked on. My heart sank.
Naturally I am still doing the jobs normally reserved for old women, that is to say carrying branches sawn off by George to the flailing machine and then sorting olives from leaves in the manual separating tray - as explained in my day one photo article HERE. The old women have been promoted to operating the flailing machine and twerking/paddling as well as laying out and collecting the mats. They are not allowed to use the chainsaw. That is man's work and by man we mean George only.
The weather was delightful as you can see in the photo of the mountain behind the Greek Hovel. The sun shone all day and it was T-shirt weather.
You can see the piles of branches, stripped of olives, are mounting up. The sheep love them and I must ensure my friend the shepherd gets his flock onto my land as soon as we are done.
So where are we in terms of the yield. I reckon that we did at least 600 kg today which makes 1150 kg ( 1.15 metric tonnes) of olives. The photo below shows where we are up to on the land, about half way from the hovel to the small ruined house (but excluding my best trees in the fenced off area around the hovel). Beyond that house is about the same distance against from the hovel to the ruin but the trees there are fewer in number. But that is on the top level. I reckon we have done half of two terraces out of four and a half terraces. Which is my way of saying that I have not got a clue as I have never actually counted how many trees we have.
My gut instinct is that we have another three days work. The 2014 harvest ( a good one) was 1.6 tonnes. I will be gutted if we do not hit two tonnes and am dreaming about getting closer to 2.5 tonnes. If my memory serves me correctly, 2.5 tonnes would be c860 litres of olive oil. But at this stage it is al guesswork. Now time for another long hot bath and, having lasted a full day, I really think I desrerve an ouzo
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I gather that there were a some FT and Guardian journalists in the roolm as I gave a talk at the Offshore Alert fraud conference today and so I made a point of making a few points about how corrupt and useless the deadwood press was. It was just too good an opportunity to miss.
I did not have any slides and my notes were scribbled on three post-its. i am conscious that my shirt was a bit unironed so I kept my jacket on and prattled away for 45 minutes plus questions. You know what? Folks seemed to really like it..heck they even laughed at my jokes and now they know all about Roland "fatty" Cornish, Cloudtag, African Potash and much more.
And I am knackered. The room was warm so I sweated a bit but it is really just the mental exhaustion of speaking for 45 minutes with just a skeletal plan of what you are going to say. It does not come over as rehearesed but its my style. A good day's work but i am now utterly wiped out. It is, after all, almost ouzo O'Clock and it is the first Christmas party of the year, mine.
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I was rooting around in the car boot for some bags for Sainsbury's and guess what I found? Hint: it is from Greece, it looks like water and it made my day as I had run out of the stuff many weeks ago.
That means that it is ouzo o'clock
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I sit here now in Shipston with my father, trying to persuade him to come to Greece for the olive harvest in December. It is not that he would be much good in terms of picking olives. I suppose he might lean against a tree up at the Greek Hovel and bash the branches with his walking stick. But I think his role should be more concerned with drinking ouzo with the older men of Kambos so that my liver is preserved and I can play a full part in the harvest working with George the Albanian and his family.
The Greek Hovel seems a long way away. As does the house of all round superhero Paddy Leigh Fermor which I visited with my wife and my father and step mother. on June 8 It was only five weeks ago but things moved fast for my step mother on her return. She enjoyed this last Greek trip as you can see.
There are a couple of internal photos in an earlier article HERE. Below are photos of the dining area, the courtyard, the steps down to the sea and the sea itself and of myself, my father and step mother sitting inside the main entrance.
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Lovely Eleni's Kourounis taverna has still not reopened. But the hardcore clientele led by Nicho the communist and Vangelis in his pink shirt still sit resolutely on its outside tables, using its internet link and chatting with the wider Eleni family. Rather naughtily I have discovered that I can use the Kourounis wi-fi while sitting in Miranda's next door and did that as i tucked into a last meal of Mani sausage and courgettes.
And then I said farewell to Miranda explaining, in Greek, that I was going to England tomorrow. Yes you heard that correctly I spoke a few words of fucking Greek. And then back to Elenis where I explained why I was leaving. I showed them all the picture of the Mrs at Mistras and they understood...
Vangelis talked of drinking. Yes we shall all drink together again my friend. And you can again drive me back to the hovel at 3 AM 15 ouzos later.
Elias! I shall be back at the Greek Hovel for the olive harvest in December. Nicho can try out his wild olive experiments on my land and we can talk together of snakes and other matters. And yes my friends, we shall all drink some ouzo.
I shall be back in December to harvest with my friend George the Albanian, but also to look out on olive groves and towering mountains and to hear nothing for most of the day bar the bells on the sheep. To speak to no-one except the Shepherd unless I make a conscious decision to do so. To write with a sense of freedom and to think thoughts one dares not think back in Airstrip One.
Oh well, its now time to start packing, to clean the eco-loo I built with wood I found at the hovel; to slash frigana one last time and to head back to a grey Bristol suburb.
I know I must return to bloody England for all sorts of reasons but to say that I am heading "home" would be an untruth. The population of Bristol is 428,100 and I can't say that I have a single friend in the City. I like some of the friends of the Mrs but they are her friends and my personal social circle is zero.
In Kambos there are 538 people including me. For some reason, everyone here knows who I am - the English guy from Toumbia up in the snake infested mountains who is terrified of snakes, who writes all day and falls off his bike and who wants to be an olive pruner. And though very few folks speak English I have more conversations with people I like and respect here in a week than I do in a season of Bristol life. The shepherd speaks Greek to me. I speak English to him. Neither of us understands a word but we become better friends as every day goes by.
As I drive back from the village down monastery hill, across the dry river, up snake hill and through the olive groves the car bumps from side to side and the songs playing on local radio Live FM are two songs I hear out here all the time but rarely back in England. In my mind they are summer songs. Winter starts tomorrow night.
1024 days ago
It is my last full day at the Greek Hovel until December and I shall miss my life here badly. It is just after three in the afternoon and I sit in the shade in the centre of Kambos typping away with a glass of ouzo to hand (celebrating vengeance after eleven years) watching the world go by. As ever the A Board on the main street of Kambos advertises all sorts of delight at Miranda's little taverna. Fish, grilled meats, toasted kangaroo, the list goes on. Actually I made up that bit about the kangaroo but it might as well have been on the public menu because the actual menu is...what is on top the oven today which is chicken and spaghetti.
Miranda gets me to taste the chicken and says something in Greek including the word "spiti" which is one of the few words I actually know. Until this morning what i am about to devour was fluttering around at her house. spiti = house. Now it is covered in a superb sauce and part of it will be my lunch.
And so I order what is on the actual menu but it seems that patronage is now rewarded with an upgrade in that I am trusted to lay my own table in the little square outside the taverna. Miranda hands me one of the paper sheets that are clipped to tables in Greek restaurants, a glass and a bottle of iced nero (water) and off I toddle.
I guess some of the Bulletin Board morons back home who just hate it when I expose as frauds the companies that have invested in will be delighted by this news. It is evidence that once again I am really just a waiter in a restaurant. One such moron was again abusing me today "and your pizza is shit."
I suppose in the tiny addled little mind of such a total fucktard buying a loss making restaurant, turning it round and selling it on at a profit is the same as being a pizza waiter. Such folks will no doubt now also define me as being Miranda's waiter. What a silly world I inhabit back in Britain.
Postscript: the chicken was really fantastic. I am not a big fan of spaghetti but this was thicker than the Italian version and coated in crumbly local cheese it was not bad at all. A thin cat sat next to my table as soon as the food arrived and started begging loudly. I gave it some spaghetti which it devoured.
1025 days ago
After yesterday's encounter with an adder I was not exactly gagging to go frigana cutting today. The only real patches left are thick bushes whrere the shoots can be up to six foot tall and where, one imagines, snakes regard it as an ideal place to sit around waiting for prey. Or me. So I procastinated, swapping emails with David Lenigas, and writing a long piece on Tony Baldry, a loathsome scumbag former Tory MP who makes your avereage adder seem like a nice piece of work.
But I was conscious that I had enjoyed a few ouzos the night before and so needed to spend some time toiling in the heat to burn off those calories and so, in the end, plucked up courage and headed off to the fields.
Full of petrol my frigana cutter is pretty heavy but whereas I carried it two handed at the start of the summer there is now real muscle in my arm and I carry it one handed and can indeed wield it with one hand if needs be. Maybe when I get back to Bristol the Mrs will do a blog post on how muscular my arms have become.
It would be fair to say that I trod more carefully than usual as I waded through the long grass towards the bushes. I attacked from the edges peering carefully in every now and again to see if I could see anything moving. Gradually the bushes thinned and I could see through to the other side. This was a snake free zone. I slashed with renewed vigour.
After forty minutes I was surrounded by cut branches with yet more thrown over the wall to the terrace below.When I approached this small terrace it was surrounded on all sides by a wall of frigana which has now gone. I can now see clearly down from the top terrace all the way to the fence. I still ponder how I managed to miss this little forest two years ago when I thought I had cleansed our land. Frigana simply does not reach six foot in two years we must have missed this little area of the land. But now it is cleansed.
I doubt that I shall entirely clear the land of frigana by the time I return on Saturday. But as I wander around I can see large expanses of leaves turning golden brown which, when I arrived, were bright green frigana.
This may not be the final push into Berlin where i am the Russians and the frigana is the Nazis, but this summer can certainly be seen as the siege of Stalingrad. it is the beginning of the end for the Nazis and with dead Germans lying across the lands of the Greek Hovel, the frigana boys have taken one hell of a beating.
1026 days ago
I decided that it was time to tackle the frigana bushes that sit just outside the fence on the mountain side of the land at the Greek Hovel. Access is easy as the fence runs alongside a paved road used by the shepherd and, as far as I can see, nobody else at all.
I approached the first bush which sat on a rock and slashed away the grass in front of it so that nothing mide jump out at me. So far so good. I then started hacking away at what was a ha5rdy old bush with every sprout intertwined with grass and other green things. Fuck!
One of the green things was moving. I could see just a couple of inches of it through the frigana but it was green with black markings which means that it was an adder. Had I been an Albanian I would have said - in Albanian - "sod the frigana" and started slashing away at the snake.
Being a pansy Brit I shouted Fuck! Fuck! Fuck! Fuck! Fuck! and turned tail running as fast as I could up the road and away from the snake, the bush and the scene of my cowardice. After about thirty yards I turned around. The snake was not following me. Who cares? I ran again.
That is it for frigana cutting today. I need an ouzo or five and shall resume tomorrow but there is one area where I think I shall let the frigana grow in peace.
1031 days ago
last night I met an amazing woman here in Kambos. More on that later but I am in awe. Then it was watching the Brexit results on the BBC on the internet as the smug biased lefties had to come to terms with how the great unwashed had given them and the rest of the elite a total kicking. I tried to get two hours sleep but a drunk comrade from the Eurosceptic trenches, Lucian Miers, woke me up. So I worked a bit and then slept. By 2.30 PM it was ouzo o'clock. So I headed to Miranda's as you can see below and raised a class to Boris, Priti, Nigel, Michael et al but also to my late grandfather Sir John Winnifrith and my Uncle, Chris Booker, who was in a fine mood today. Cheers to you all.
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1038 days ago
It was eight days ago that my father and I popped over to Kambos to visit the Greek Hovel and to meet a friend of mine from the neighbouring village. We will come to him and his village, the Feta village, in due course. He did not show up. Perhaps, as we had both had vast amounts of ouzo when we made this plan, he had forghotten. Worse was to come, we arrived to see that the Kourounis taverna was shut. Eleni's husband Nicho said "ten days, no coffee, no Greek Salad, no ouzo" And with that Dad & I sloped off to the ouzerie opposite, a place frequented only by very old men.
It was my first visit there and we had a couple of ouzos. The owner - with whom I crossed swords regarding parking a couple of years ago - brought tiny plates of cheese, bread and olives with each round. It is the real deal old style ouzerie. My father left a good tip and the owner now waves at me like a long lost friend. My presence will reduce the average age of the clientele materially and now that I am "in" I may go again.
Last night I popped into Kambos after some good olive pruning and there was lovely Eleni sitting outside the taverna with Vangelis, wearing his trademark pink shirt. She explained to me why she was upgrading the taverna which joins her general store which is not changing. I am not sure I see the point as Kourounis is already the smartest gaffe in town by a long chalk. I should say that the competition is poor but it is Eleni's place so she can do as she wishes. I shall remain a loyal customer. But when will it be ready?
Eleni says 7 days. Vangelis smiled and though he speaks not a word of English he knew what was being discussed and so said a few words of Greek which I understood "August, September, October" and laughed. I laughed. Eleni laughed but rather less convincingly. Doing renovations at a time when tourists pass through the village every day on their way to Kardamili or Stoupa seems a bit daft to me but heck I'm not in the restaurant business anymore.
But I do like a Greek salad. There is a place next door to Kourounis which is rumoured to sell them but I am not sure of the etiquette. Will they mind that I am a sweaty smelly wreck after a day in the fields? Do they sell diet coke? Or, more importantly, ouzo? I am nervous. And so I bought four fresh oranges from Eleni for my supper and headed back to the hovel. The Mrs says this is not a balanced diet. She has a point.
And so I am moving to a one meal a day set up. That should help with the weight loss and justifies a trip tonight down to Kitries by the sea for my salad and maybe a bit of Octopus. As for Eleni, seven days, er...if I had to bet on how many English days seven Greek days would be I think I'd be looking at ten or more.
1038 days ago
British Airways staff were again brilliant today. On Saturday I arrived at Kalamata airport with a barely mobile father and weak step mother. Within minutes a cute airline lady had helped me get a wheelchair for my father and i was told my job was over. The lady put them at the front of the line and I had nothing more to do. Today it was the turn of the Mrs. We arrived and the small departure lounge was again heaving with lobster pink Northern Europeans forming long lines to check in for flights to London and Paris.
I found a different cute airline lady and said that my wife was heavily pregnant, as she is, and within minutes she was again at the head of the queue leaving dozens of the lobster pink Brits and froggies fuming behind her. Then she was through passport control and was off and I headed back to town to face another three to four weeks at the Greek Hovel with just the snakes and rats for company.
When the Mrs is here I am on holiday so I only work 3-4 hours a day at my PC and I do no manual labour at all. I enjoy three meals a day and more than the odd drink. "After all we are on holiday" say I as I order another ouzo. I get to sleep on clean sheet in an air conditioned hotel and enjoy swims in luxury pools. The Mrs is paying and it is a treat. I enjoy my hols with the Mrs. We talk, we plan, we discuss. Life without the Mrs is very different.
Aware that I will have gained a few pounds while she has been here I want to lose weight badly, as I did do in my first stint here this summer. So it will be down to one or two meals a day and by meal I mean a greek salad. There will be virtually no boozing. And there will be hard labour in the fields every day. Greece with the Mrs is perhaps not very good for my figure but it is a holiday. You may think that I remain on holiday just because I am here and not in the Bristol house. But I made that mental leap two years ago. The Greek Hovel is as much my home as Bristol is and it is where I work hardest and most effectively.
I stopped off in Kalamata to watch the footie and made it back to the hovel at six. So guilty was I about my waistline that I abandoned writing work for the day and headed out to the fields. I know that late evening olive pruning risks encounters with the wildlife diversity but I could not wait to work up a good sweat and feel like I'd done something really productive. I thought I'd just do one tree but then I did another and another. All in all I was just into double figures on trees when I cut my finger on something and took that as a sign to call it a day.
I wandered in and Nigel Wray called. It turns out that he has two massive olive trees outside a house he owns....maybe I could become a full time itinerant professional olive tree pruner. It is just so relaxing. It is almost addictive.
1040 days ago
Apparently this website which is four years old this week, TomWinnifrith.com is plastered with adverts for the Remain Camp in the Brexit debate. It seems that on this website you cannot avoid the tax exile Sir Richard Branson and his ghastly lies. A reader asks if I have changed sides? Oh no, major Tom, don't say its true...
Euroscepticism is in my DNA. Chris Booker is my maternal uncle, my paternal grandfather Sir John Winnifrith was a "leave" spokesman in 1975 but as I explain HERE I have already voted for Brexit with my head as well as my heart.
Google serves up adverts on this site based on what is written here. I write a lot about Brexit so there are stacks of adverts from those bankrolled by Goldman Sachs, the CBI et al who have money to burn and a view to push.... that is to say Remain. If I wrote about how to fiddle your welfare benefits google would in the same way serve up adverts aimed at people living in Liverpool. You get how it works, right?
Now every time that you dear reader, who I assume is smart enough to be a Eurosceptic, hits on an advert from Remain two things happen. I earn a few pence for the ouzo fund and Project Fear spends a few pence of Goldman's blood money. Both events are ones that should make you happy.
And so every time you see Sir Richard Branson smiling at you on this site or another ad for "Remain" do the decent thing and hit that advert as many times as you can. Click on the tax dodger Branson's smug face and think of how my ouzo fund grows and how at last some of the money Goldman Sachs screwed from Greece cooking its books so it could enter the Euro, is finding its way back to the Hellenic Republic and a good cause.
Comrades: do it for Greece, do it for Brexit, start hitting those Remain adverts as often as you can bear.
1045 days ago
Rather foolishly no-one took exact directions to the house of Paddy Leigh Fermor which is about three quarters of a mile outside the main area of Kardamili. My father sat in the other front seat and my step mother and wife sat in the back as I drove along the main road reliant on the fact that the Old Man had been there before. That was an error, Not for nothing does my father make regular donations to the Alzheimer's society.
Indeed, on occasion he manages a real triumph by sending a cheque to the society in an envelope addressed to one of my siblings while sending to the Alzheimer's folks a long, rambling and illegible letter in which he makes rude observations about a range of family members exempting - on this occasion only - the intended recipient.
As such the satnav skills of my father were rather lacking. He being almost totally immobile, my very pregnant wife not much better, it was thus down to my step mother and I to find a native and get directions. I take my hat off to my step mum who took directions in Greek and thanks to here we, somehow, arrived albeit rather rather late.
The house is open at certain hours and you have to get on the list to visit as part of a large group. Chez Leigh Fermor is up a rather steep track which I drove up by car to deposit the almost totally immobile and nearly immobile before somehow reversing down to secure a parking spot. A walk along a leafy path from the top of the track found the advance party of my step mother and I facing a long wall which encircles the property. Where the wall turned lower I peered over and saw a very well dressed middle class Brit and asked him how we might secure entrance.
Paddy Leigh Fermor attracts disproportionate admiration from elitist British snobs and this well bred member of the elite peered down his patrician nose to find himself staring at a man who has not shaved for two weeks and who was wearing a shirt without a collar, that is to say an Indian shirt, black jeans and sneakers. Clearly I was not the right sort of fellow and with great pleasure he answered my question "by arrangement only". I responded - we have made arrangements I just wanted to know how we get in?
But at that point the man turned on his upper class heels having spent far too long engaging with a member of the lower classes. Thinking that a man such as Leigh Fermor would have happily have sat at the Greek Hovel drinking ouzo unlike this upper class twit, I said "patrician tosser" in a voice loud enough for all to hear. The chap strode off to distance himself from the peasantry while my step mother, the daughter and sister of a Baronet and someone noted for being really rather posh, looked at me a little disapprovingly.
We headed back to the door to the compound which had been locked and somehow managed to attract the attention of a Greek. He had no reservations about speaking to a man in a beard who was wearing an ethnic shirt and entrance was secured.
1051 days ago
The forestry permit was meant to take three months but took seven. Our architects - who one imagines are not exactly rushed off their feet with new projects - then took another two and a half months getting ready plans which were meant to have been ready when Forestry came through. But last week I was told that we will submit for a Building permit next week.
No-one answered my emails since then and so this morning I paid a surprise visit to the architects and was told that plans had been submitted but not for a building permit but to the Architect's Council which, it emerges, is a new hurdle to overcome. No-one had mentioned these guys before but apparently they will take only one month to rubber stamp our documents. That is one Greek month or anything up to three months in English. And then we can apply for a Building Permit which will take 3-4 months even though we are the only folks in the whole region who have both the money to pay for a building project and are a young enough to live through all of the regulatory hurdles.
A building permit will take 3-4 months Greek time. I reckon we will be lucky to be rebuilding the Greek Hovel this side of Christmas.
What is the point of all this red tape you ask? It is simple it is how the Greek State creates jobs for all the millions of folks on its payroll. It makes it impossible to do business here so it helps to trainwreck the economy but that is socialism for you. Greece is the ultimate demonstration of Lady Thatcher's observation that the problem with socialists is that eventually they run out of other people's money.
Twenty years ago I would have been infuriated by news of the Architect's Council. Today I just shrug it off. This is Greece. Everything happens avrio (tomorrow) but in the end it does happen, of that I can be sure. Meanwhile I can just sit back, enjoy another ouzo and prune my olive trees. Life goes on.
Back in Britain the people I know work frantically shuffling bits of paper living in a mad old City, rushing hither and thither and becoming ever more stressed by life on the hamster wheel. It is no contest.
1058 days ago
A final farewell to Kambos...well for a week only. Having escorted my father back to Kalamata next Thursday I shall be back at the Greek Hovel in a week's time. A final farewell means popping into the Kourounis taverna for an ouzo with the owner Nicho, the husband of lovely Eleni. Farewell, say I to Eleni who wishes me "good travels." I remind you that she is the best English speaker in the village. In her arms, as you can see below, the only person in Kambos whose Greek is worse than mine.
1075 days ago
I was hoping that the canisters which are meant to keep the snakes away would have arrived in Kambos today. I was told they would. Naturally they have not. This is Greece. "They will be here on Wednesday" means "There is no chance at all that they will be here on Wednesday". I am bloody well not moving up to the hovel without them.
My friend Nicho the communist asked why I was not yet resident in the the village and I explained. "You really are frightened of them aren't you" he said while laughing loudly. Fecking hell isn't everybody? Nicho then explained to a gaggle of Greek old men sipping ouzos what was happening and they all laughed too. Ha bloody ha. They all live in the village where there are no snakes, I dare them to wander up snake hill in the dark to see me.
Tonight I head to a store in Kalamata which is meant to sell the magical canisters. If I install tomorrow I might move in later that day or perhaps Friday. It is not that the hovel is uninhabited. I was up there today laying down rat poison, just in case a new colony had arrived to replace the ones I killed last summer, when I heard a noise on the window sill behind my bed. I jumped. I really do not like hearing noises whether in the house or from the bushes as I wander through the fields.
Upon closer examination it was two mice. They were quite sweet and being a pansy Westerner I delayed going after them with my small spade just long enough for them to escape through a small hole in the window frame. I have left them some poison too and taped up that window. I really do not mind mice. Yes, like PR people they are filthy little vermin but they harmless enough. They are not rats. Rats fill me with dread. As of course do snakes.
So far I have yet to encounter one of the 29 species of snake resident in Greece on this trip, but it is only a matter of time. I am now working hard in the fields every day and I know what is out there. There are plenty of lizards already evident. The biggest one I saw was nine inches long and a stunning fluorescent green. It just stood there in the road at the bottom of the hill beneath the deserted, and I am convinced haunted, monastery, seemingly daring me to drive over it. Again, I was a Western pansy and so got out of the car and ushered it into the bushes. A Greek would just have driven over it. The other lizards are less beautiful but they are everywhere. And where there are lizards there are always snakes.
I carry a camera at all times so when I do meet a snake I will do my best to capture that moment for you all, dear readers, before I run as fast as I can away from the serpent, shouting "fucking hell its a snake" forgetting that there will be nobody listening.
1088 days ago
1103 days ago
I guess most people on the Bristol Uni public events email list are members of the Welsh Militant Tendency then. Or am I just a bit narrow minded? You see my email arrives and I am promised that this month "we have events to suit everyone."
Goodie goodie thought I - an evening with blond lap dancers gyrating on stage before reading their favourite excepts from the works of Ayn Rand with a screen at the back showing a replay of West Ham winning the FA Cup in 1964, all washed down with free ouzo on tap. Surely that would please lots of folks? Oddly it appears not to be on offer. Instead I have a choice of:
Bristol Speakezee - Camouflaging animals and dreaming of synthetic sheep
We are currently in the middle of the earth’s biological evolution and revolution. Since the start of time, the animals in this world have constantly adapted to the changes in the environment and so have we. Interested in having a laugh while learning about the past and future of biology AND raising money for charity? Come join us for an evening where two of our experts discuss biological change – from both a natural evolutionary perspective, as well as our plans to move forward in a synthetic world. Tickets £5.00. Advance booking required. Proceedings for this event will be going towards the Against Malaria Foundation.
Global Political Economy in the 21st Century: A problématique and critical research agenda
Professor Stephen Gill, from the Department of Political Science, York University, Ontario, will sketch aspects of the interdisciplinary field of global political economy and make suggestions for a critical pedagogy and research agenda. This will be linked to an effort to conceptualise, outline and interpret some of the constitution, contradictions and governance of actually existing capitalism in the early 21st century, and some of its impacts on politics, society and the integrity of the biosphere. Followed by a book signing and drinks reception. Free, booking optional.
I can see why it might be hard to charge for Prof Gill's commie, capitalist hating, rantings since only about three people on this planet will have any idea what he is on about. Anyhow, charging could be sort of capitalist which is evil right? As for synthetic sheep...I just give up. Anyhow it is good to see the Uni splashing taxpayers cash on events for "everyone". How terribly inclusive.
Did anyone say panes et circuses?
1117 days ago
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For lunch today for less than £15 the Mrs and I enjoyed two glasses of ouzo ( both me), a Greek coffee, mineral water, breads, a fine Greek Salad, some amazing mushrooms baked in vinegar and local sausage. I was not allowed any Dakos which is a Cretan speciality as the Mrs says I have had enough already. For those who have not enjoyed it Dakos is a creamy form of feta and oregano and chopped tomato on top of a barley rusk,a hard form of bread. It is quite magnificent. Simple Greek food is a delight and a reason to come here.
So imagine my horror as I arried at Heraklion yesterday to see a large poster celebrating the six MacIslands ( Crete, Rhodes, Kos, Zakinthos, Corfu and ne I cannot remember). Those are places you can fly to and enjoy a Big Mac and fries. As a rule those are places that have surrendered to the lowest form of tourism. They are places which it is perhaps - as a rule - better to avoid.
For what its worth the same sort of meal we enjoyed at lunch if ordered off the beaten track would be closer to a tenner.
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After a whole day spent at the Kourounis taverna in Kambos I have finally met up with George, the sprightly 60+ Albanian who leads our olive harvest. I called lovely Eleni at the hospital to see if she had any idea how to track him down. She gave birth to a baby girl yesterday and admitted to being a bit tired but knows she will be back in the kitchen by Sunday and so is gearing herself up. She offered up an idea of where to find George's number.
Lovely Eleni's younger sister, who is really very, very lovely too, called and at about seven tonight in wandered George. In great relief I hugged the man for I was starting to panic. As ever, I bought him a Tsipero and myself an ouzo. And we sat in silence as he speaks not a word of English and my Greek is er...rather weak. But lovely Eleni's very, very lovely younger sister stepped into the breach. We start harvesting at 8 AM Monday. With that arranged, George and I sat in silence once more.
So on Sunday I move up to the Greek hovel. The power works, the internet does not. It will be bloody cold at night and with no shower - the hosepipe option does not appeal at this time of year - it will be fairly tough and I may be rather smelly by this time next week. I guess it gives me an insight into hiow life is in the grim Northern welfare safaris back in England.
Others will have to lead the effort on ShareProphets next week for I am committed to playing a full part in the harvest and so completing it in less than five days this time so that I can get back to the Mrs and the cats as soon as possible. Of course vreki can stop play. But at last I feel we are ready to go.
With that to celebrate I am back in Kalamata at a nice little restaurant for some tzatziki followed by calamari washed down with a large ouzo or three. The place is the best little eating house on the winter seafront even if it does not allow smoking. Perhaps that rather un-Greek health fascism explains why last night I was 100% of the customers and on a Friday night am 33% of the clientele.
I take it all back. The waiter has just rushed outside to tell me that, notwithstanding the no smoking signs everywhere, I can smoke inside. Okay the restaurant Katalenos on Navarino Street is perfect.
1234 days ago
1336 days ago
There, as you may remember, is just one habitable room at the Greek Hovel and its windows are sealed with masking tape, holes in the wall are now filled in, I fact it is almost impenetrable for the local wildlife diversity. But in summer that also makes it unbelievably hot at night. Without a fan I would be sitting here drenched in sweat as I type and unable to sleep afterwards in what becomes a sauna.
And so last year I bought a fan.
Sadly at some point, no doubt after a few ouzos, I tripped over it and thus the fan head and controls is now detached from the stand. But I am beginning to think that I am a bit of a closet Heath Robinson. After all I made my own eco loo from waste wood I found around the hovel. I constructed an outdoor shower using a hosepipe and I have just made a new fan stand.
Well that is to say I bought a six pack of bottled water one night to use as emergency rations if ever I ran out of water in the hours of darkness. For reasons you can appreciate I am less than keen to wander outside to the tap when the wildlife diversity is starting to party and when I cannot see a thing.
Hey presto, I removed two bottles and rammed the fan head into the middle of the remaining four. A fully functioning fan stand which allows the head to rotate as designed. Genius or what?
1355 days ago
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1379 days ago
I arrived at Athens airport at 7 PM on the dot and sober as a judge with plenty of time for a 9 PM flight to Gatwick, given that I had already checked in and only have hand luggage. Er..oh. My flight is delayed by 3 hours and 20 minutes.
That means that I am likely to arrive at Gatwick at c2.30-3PM GMT and will then have 150 minutes to kill before the first bus to Bristol departs. A nightmare journey awaits.
I head to the special needs easyjet desk and say that I have a special need, I am thick. What does this all mean? An officious lady says shows me a pack of vouchers which I guess get me a sandwich and a drink and offers me the chance to get behind 140 other sweaty Brits and escaping Greeks to queue to get the voucher of which she has a stack of in her hand. Put another way "fuck off and line up with all the other peasants, I am not even going to use the word sorry since you are only a customer and I view you with complete contempt."
I say ta but no ta and head off to get a frozen yoghurt and to wander to the terribly expensive Sofitel opposite the airport. It has a great internet connection.
As it happens my Euro to ouzo conversion programme of the past eight days has not gone according to plan and I appear to have around 1200 Euro burning a hole in my pocket. I now have four and a half hours to kill. I have no choice. The PC is plugged in. I am writing and a large ouzo with ice has just arrived. This could be a long night and I fear that my only company will be my best friend ouzo. I have eight days of relative sobriety to make amends for.
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In March 1821 the Greek war of independence began as the folk in the Mani launched an uprising against the accursed Turks. The Mani, where the Greek Hovel is situated, was always quasi independent anyway but its warlike folk started a fire that could not be supressed. The first major triumph was the storming of the Turk held fortress at Kalamata. No Maniots died but the entire Turkish garrison was slaughtered.
Right now I sit opposite that fortress, in Kalamata bus station having just purchased one more ouzo for the road, to Athens. Tomorrow Greece will formally not pay monies owed to the IMF claiming that it will bundle the payment due then with another due on June 30th. It is now 24 hours away from being technically in default and on June 30 when it has not got a cat in hell's chance of meeting either June payment the can will have been kicked to the end of the cul de sac.
There are some that hope that Greece will compromise. I am not one of them. There are huge debt repayments due in July and August and indeed right up to 2057. Agreeing to draconian cuts in all sorts of things in returning for leaving the kids and grandkids an unsupportable level of debt repayments is no way to behave.
Greece should think of the heroic Maniots of 1821 and tell the EU and IMF where to stick it, default on its debts and leave the problems with other country's banks. Hellas can start again just as it did in the 1820s free from foreign tyranny. It will be painful just as it was in 1821 but it is the only way.
1417 days ago
The Mrs wants me back in Bristol by tomorrow afternoon and it is nice to be wanted. And so I embark on the journey back from the Greek hovel with a cunning plan given that there are only intermittent flights from Kalamata at this time of year.
First up, I have already booked a seat on the 9.45 bus from Kalamata to Athens. But that gives me four hours to kill and, being on sabbatical, I really do not have any work to do. And so I sit in a bar by the sea in Kalamata knocking back a few ouzos. Certainly enough to ensure that I fall asleep on the bus to Athens.
I arrive at c1.30 in the morning at Athens bus station which is a dump in the worst part of town and so will quickly hop into a cab to the airport where I know that I can access the internet and keep myself occupied from 2.15 AM until I check in at 7.15 AM Greek time.
Once onboard the plane I should be so shattered that I fall asleep at once, waking up at 11.15 AM GMT at Heathrow. If I am still tired then the coach to Bristol will be my next bedroom and by early afternoon I shall be back with the Mrs and the cats.
Simple eh? Ouzo is the answer to any problem.
1421 days ago
I sit with my back to the door at the Kourounis taverna typing away, writing almost anything to avoid the torture of completing the subbing of Zak Mir's book. Is it too early for an ouzo to stiffen my resolve to face the torture that awaits?
The cop at the Kardamili police station, who lives in my home village of Kambos, has just wandered in and pats me on the back "yas Tom" says he and wanders to the bar. This reminds me that I visited the police station at Kardamili once again last week. You may remember that last summer I spent a couple of hours detained at the Kadamili nick thanks to a bent cop and bent hotelier and so my memories of the place were, shall we say, mixed.
But I am trying to get Greek residency so that I can buy a car, a motorbike and a gun for the Greek Hovel. And that means that I had to go to Kardamili police station to present my papers. I took my Greek speaking wife with me for protection. Would I meet the bent cop who incarcerated me last year? Would I meet his goon of an assistant who looks like the nasty gay character in Coronation Street? I was rather nervous.
But as luck would have it it was the cop from Kambos who was in charge. He greeted me with a very friendly "yas, Tom!" The downside to him being in charge is that he does not speak a word of English. But eventually a younger policeman arrived and the Kambos cop explained that I lived in Toumbia - the area in the hills above Kambos and that he knew me well - I understood what he was saying. Between the English of the younger cop and the Greek of the Mrs we established that this time I had all the documentation bar one minor item.
In order to show that I will not be a drain on the Greek state I need a bank account with a bank in Greece showing that I have 4,000 Euro in it. As every single person in the whole of Greece rushes to empty their bak account I have to open one and put cash in. Jim Mellon says that if I do this they should build a statue in my honour. Hmmm. And so on Friday I headed to the bank in Kalamata to do my duty...
But we left the Kadamili Police station with handshakes all round. I have noted before the observation of Paddy Leigh Fermor that 99 in 100 Greeks are the most generous, kindest and welcoming folk you can meet. The other one is a complete prize shit who will screw you at every opportunity. Our time in Kardamili last year was marred by meeting two of those prize shits - the bent cop and the hotelier. But that wound has now healed. Even the Kardamili Police station is now somewhere I can view in a positive light.
1423 days ago
I was just planning to return to the Greek Hovel after an hour of subbing Zak Mir's golden prose. I had forgotten just how appalling is the way that he mangles the English language and am feeling pretty shell shocked. It has taken two ouzos to get this far and my task is only 30% done.
And at that point I heard a cry from the bar at the Kourounis taverna "Tom, ouzo". It seems as if my pal Vangelis has bought me another drink. Ok I shall be marginally over the limit as I drive home but I will be the only vehicle on the track and after what Zak has inflicted on my brain I feel I deserve it. And anyhow it would be rude to refuse.
I said Efharisto and there then followed a conversation in Greek between the mother-in law of lovely Eleni and Vangelis about how I really need to learn Greek. I understand eniugh to know what they are saying and agree with them 100%. But first I have the rest of Zak's quite unintelligble gibberish to translate into English. At least I know what pergatory will be like.
1432 days ago
I was meant to pick the Mrs up at Kalamata airport in about thirty minutes but it appears that she is back at Gatwick. Her plane was struck by lightening and so had to turn back. Now her phone battery is dead so what to do? Sit in Kalamata and have an ouzo or two? Sounds like a plan.
Meanwhile it has been a two snake day. I was out poisoning frigana thinking of who the plants represented as I sprayed them with a lethal liquid when all of a sudden I saw it. It must have been two foot long, a light brown and perhaps an inch and a half in diameter. It had seen me too and was slithering away rapidly. But not as rapidly as I sprinted in the opposite direction. I guess at our closest we were less than a yard apart.
I looked on the interweb and assured myself that it was not a poisonous snake that was within 15 yards of the Greek Hovel. But when I asked lovely Eleni and described it in detail she assured me that it was highly poisonous. Hmmm, I look forward to spending a few days with the Mrs in a luxury hotel in Kardamili. That is if she ever arrives.
With snakes rather on my mind as I biked into Kalamata guess what I spotted on the mountain road. Yes, you are correct. My third snake in three days. This one looked pretty mangled and was at the edge of the road but was rather large and an alarming green. My guess is that a car had alreadty dealt with it but I gave it a wide berth and did not hang around to examine it in detail.
1433 days ago
I am sitting happily tapping away at my computer loading a bit of blockbusting copy for ShareProphets in the morning. The Kourounis taverna in Kambos is pretty full with little groups here and there chatting away happily. The doors are flung wide open as it is a warm night. Outside at one of the tables my friend Nicho the Communist is holding Court. Behind me I can hear lovely Eleni chatting and laughing loudly. How do I know it is her? Well there are only four women in the taverna and the other three are sitting in front of me.
As I tapped away an old man reminding me of the Asterix character Geriatrix hobbled over propped up by a stick and stared at my screen. He looked hard for a couple of minutes. I am not sure of he has ever seen a content management system before, I know he can't read or speak English. Indeed it is far from certain that he can read Greek.
But it clearly fascinated him and he peered intensely for a good two minutes before muttering something in Greek and tottering off. Perhaps like my father he refers to all PCs as Beelzebub and that is what he said.
Around me the smell of ouzo is everywhere. It is what all the older men drink. I have resisted the lure for almost two weeks now but, what the heck, one for the road before heading back to the wildlife diversity at the Greek Hovel.
Postscript. Make that two. No three.
1597 days ago
I am rather dreading heading back to the Greek Hovel tonight. I left at 3 PM as the electricity had gone again. I fled naturally to the Kourounis taverna where lovely Eleni assured me at 4 that it was back on. I sha;l find out shortly but have my torch ready just in case. But I postpone the trip back with another ouzo.
I hung around in Kambos because at 5 PM George the head olive picker arrived with the first 25 sacks from the Greek Hovel. We deposited them at the Olive Oil factory in the centre of the village and I now have a yellow slip saying that I have deposited 1033 kg ( just over a tonne) of olives. There is at least another half a tonne to arrive tomorrow as we finish up the harvest. Bags are stacked at the hovel and the only trees left to harvest are on the flat area next to the house. We are almost done.
So tomorrow we finish. It is Christmas pudding with Nikko, Vangelis and the others, steamed by Eleni. And we are done. And I had a Quindell whistleblower on the phone as a bonus. That job is almost done too. More on that tomorrow.
1602 days ago
You think Greeks are lazy. That is because all you see is folks in Athens sipping coffees all day. Out here in the Mani life is hard and folks do both a main job but also work the land. So my pal Vangelis is a delivery driver for Dixons but has – I think – 600 olive trees. Nikko and Eleni at the Kourounis taverna also own trees up near the Greek Hovel – they start their harvest tomorrow. And so do I!
The lovely Eleni has put me in touch with a new group of workers. Another chap called Foti, George and his son. I met up again with George today and we start on the olive harvest at 8 AM. So no ouzo for me tonight. To give you an idea of what lies in store for me here are some photos I took last week of a man harvesting trees on the road/track up to the Greek Hovel, just above snake hill. It seems to me that it looks like rather hard work.
Indeed Kambos is a hive of activity as folks gather in what they can ahead of the winter. The other day I heard voices on the land at the edge of the hovel. Given that I am in the middle of nowhere I wandered down to see what was going on. There was an old man and an even older woman picking what looked like weeds from the hillside. I asked if I could look and it seemed that the leaves looked a bit like rocket. The two pickers must have had a combined age of 150 but they were clambering up and down the rocks like young goats. They are a hardy lot here in the Mani, knowing how to extract all that they can from the land.
Remember that even 60 years ago you reached Kambos only by Donkey path up from the sea or by donkey path across the mountains. The road through here is a recent development. The folks here have been surviving for 3000 years (there is, you may remember, a Mycenaean tomb in the village) by living off what they can extract from the land. Greece can go bust (well it is bust) but Kambos will go on. There is no tourist trade here – this remains a working village. And tomorrow I start work.
Olives are my first challenge. In time I plan to grow vegetables here but also to learn about what nature offers us all. I see plants that look like rocket and mushrooms growing on my land but I dare not touch. I guess I have to learn Greek and to learn from the old folk what to look for. There’s plenty of time for that.
1602 days ago
You may remember that my shower arrangements at the Greek Hovel are somewhat rudimentary. I attach a picture of the shower, aka a hose pipe dropping down from the vine on the "snake terrace."
In the summer it is great. The water comes up the hill in metal pipes and so arrives at a perfect temperature and showering is real pleasure. But now it is winter. It is almost zero at night. So what to do?
Well it brings back memories of Warwich School for boys. After rugby it was a compulsory shower watched over by an unmarried master who paid close attention to ensuring we all showered. The less said abiut that the better. But the showers were always freezing and you just sort of ran in at one end and out at the far end as soon as you could.
And so it is at the Greek hovel. Put it this way, with the Mrs not here I feel no compulsion to shower every day. But after a few days needs must. This morning, nursing a stinking hangover, it was almost therapeutic. That is not to say that it was enjoyable.
As to the hangover, well it was my friends in Kambos who led me astray again: Nikko, George and Vangelis. All three felt some concern about my ability to bike home and so it was agreed that Vangelis - who had only had about 12 ouzos - would give me a lift in his car up the winding mud track to the hovel. Fear not...I am not drink driving!
1669 days ago
Back in the 1960s my uncle visited the Mani on his first honeymoon. Oddly he and his wife were joined by another couple and within months his wife had run off with the other man. That is an aside. It took my uncle more than two days to get from Athens to the Mani so remote and cut off was the region.
Here in Kambos the dirt track to Kardamili became a road back in 1965 (two years after that fateful honeymoon), roads south from there were built later. The man who brought this peninsular to the attention of the wider world was Paddy Leigh Fermor, a truly amazing man once described as a mixture of Indiana Jones, James Bond and Gerald Durrell.
Though incredibly clever, Paddy was no academic and so after being expelled from school (issues with a young lady) in 1933 he walked through Europe to Greece. Along the way he noticed that something was not quite right in Germany. When war broken out he signed up immediately and was sent into Greece since he spoke the language fluently. His most heroic exploit was in Crete where – with the partisans – he captured a German general on the North of the island and transported him across Crete to the South where he was lifted off by British Destroyer. The film, based on the episode, has Leigh Fermor played by Dirk Bogarde
In the war Paddy’s code name was Michalis. After the war he stayed on in Greece fighting with the Royalists in the Civil war. He refers to this in his two classic books on Greece The Mani and Roumeli. The latter is about Northern Greece, the area about which my father writes and so on the only Winnifrith family holiday to Greece which I did not go on, there was a long visit to Paddy’s house.
The Mani is part history but draws on a walk that Paddy and his wife undertook through the peninsular in the early 1950s. At that stage walking was what you did. There were no roads. To get down the peninsular it was simpler to travel by boat.
Paddy was rather rude about Kambos, the second village on his trek. He cannot hide how dull he finds it and how glad he is to leave. On the other hand he cannot hide how he falls in love with Kardamili the moment he spots it and it was there that he built a house. The locals all knew him as Michalis. A social fellow he smoked 80 a day, drank more than his fair share of ouzo and though married retained a lifelong interest in les femmes.
The Mrs and I fell in love with Kardamili too, as we arrived there one late summer evening. Having no real beach it has been spared the tourist plague and ribbon development of Stoupa a few miles down the coast. But it is a town and for reasons that I will discuss later our experience there was not entirely happy. Its buildings, Venetian and onwards are stunning and it has a charm of its own. If I had to live in a town here it would be Kardamili.
But it has tourists and that changes the nature of any place. Kambos has no tourists. We are just a village in the road between Kalamata and Kardamili. There are some charming old stone houses on the back streets but no-one could say that Kambos is picturesque. But it is Greek. Or rather it is Maniot. Life here has not changed in the way that it has in the towns and villages by the sea. There is no crime – other than the murders – folks all own olives and will be working at least some of the time on the land. There is no need to learn English and they look after their own. In the hills around Kambos there are wonderful places to visit, to walk to for there is no other way to get there.
The Mrs and I first met lovely Susan Shimmin from the Real Mani in Kambos – at Eleni’s taverna – as it was a half-way point between Kalamata and Kardamili. Susan lives one village away in Stavrapoula. Whilst we were charmed from the first moment by the friendliness of Eleni and her husband Nikos, we were simply passing through as Paddy did back in 1952. Kambos did not grab us. We did not fall in love with it on sight.
We fell in love with the Greek Hovel, notwithstanding meeting a snake on our first visit. But Kambos has grown on the Mrs. It entranced my guest this summer who is keen to return to a place where she is remembered fondly. And I feel at home here. It took a while. Falling off my bike at 3 MPH in front of the Korounis taverna helped. Struggling, but publicly succeeding in tackling the frigana has demonstrated that I am not just a tourist. My commitment to come back for the Olive harvest and to work on it rather than just supervise Foti is clear.
Next Spring, work starts on formally rebuilding the Greek hovel. I had a good meeting with Eleni (that is Eleni the architect daughter of lovely Susan and a woman who has to be the biggest snake coward in the whole of Greece, not lovely Eleni from Kambos) on Monday. By next summer there should be at least one room that the Mrs deems habitable and she too has fallen in love with this place. So as soon as UK-Investor show is out of the way….
For any number of reasons I have to regard Paddy Leigh Fermor as a total superstar. But I wonder if he was around today might he take a rather more charitable view of my home village of Kambos.
1671 days ago
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.