Okay so i am a big girl's blouse. But you too would have been shocked by what happened.
Someone (er..me) left a filter in the coffee ,machine and it had, unlike Australia, developed a thriving culture all by itself. And so I took out the various parts and took them to the Bat Room sink for cleaning. The actual coffee jug looked a bit mucky so I filled it with water and yikes!
Up floated this wriggling creature which, I swear, was, when fully extended, almost three inches long. I shouted "yikes" or something like that and emptied the jug, water and monster into the sink. It struggled manfully but eventually I had poured enough water into the sink to flush it down the plughole.
It will take a few days before even a seasoned snake killer like myself regains his courage in the face of wildlife diversity.
Okay my labouring in the snake fields is not a fraction as hard as the work the chaps rebuilding the Greek Hovel do but they are used to it and I am not so I reckon our suffering is equal. And here is how we keep going.
When I first arrived at the Greek Hovel there was a fridge but rats were using it as a nest and had chewed all the cables. And so I invested in a small replacement which might not pass a Bristol City Council food hygiene test but works. It is now perched on top of a heap of junk at the top of the main steps next to the gap that is my front door. And inside are bottles and bottles of freezing water.
Business partner Darren is still obsessing about the dead snake and rat photo and unable to focus on the real progress made at the Greek Hovel. Okay, he is not the only one. But as you can see below, the pointing of the walls is now almost complete - in one shot you can see a completed wall next to an undone one. Next up are the roof and floorboards and having just whizzed a large sum out to Greece that should start next week. Doors and windows have also been ordered. The last major work will be the floors on the ground floor of the new wing and in the rat room and then it is on to power points, installing a range cooker, a woodburning stove, lighting etc. We are getting there...
The headline really does reflect the photos so if you are squeamish do not look any further. This trio of pictorial horrors arrived this morning in an email from George the Architect. Chief builder Gregori the snake killer has been at work.
Most snakes of this type of adder, the most poisonous of the nine Greek species that are poisonous, are 20-30 centimetres long. This one was forty centimetres in length. You may wonder what it is hanging out of its mouth…
That is the tail of a large rat which it had just killed and was digesting. The act of digestion slowed it up greatly so allowing Gregori – who came across this on the building site – to act. The snake killer needed no invitation.
That the serpent was hanging around in the vicinity of the Greek Hovel is a bit of a shock. I was rather hoping that all the noise made by Gregori and his crew of Albanians had persuaded the wildlife diversity to head elsewhere, preferably to land owned by other folks but at least to the further reaches of the hovel’s fields. I was mistaken. As I plan my next trip to the Mani in three weeks: Yikes!
I have just enjoyed a cracking lunch of beef in tomato sauce and peas at Miranda's in Kambos. Actually it is not called Miranda's any more as it has a new owner but I stick with the old name. The prices have not changed. That will be 5 Euro.
I have also downed two litres of water after pruning twenty more trees up at the hovel.
Skipping, okay I exaggerate a bit, up and down the terraces to the most snake infested long grass, in the far reaches of the hovel's lands, was tiring work in 30+ degree heat. I am shattered and must return to Kalamata soon to wash my trousers which contain ten days of sweat and blood - from when I cut my hands and arms on saw or frigana. I wipe them on my poor trousers which now feel like cardboard and carry on. Anyhow the Mrs suggests I wash them before returning home. I say suggests but it is not in an optional sort of way.
So I have pruned 240 trees and there are, perhaps, a dozen more in the furthest reaches that are un-pruned. I shall tackle them next month. I have far more trees than I thought. Four years agon on prune one it took three days and Foti the Albanian trousered 210 Euro. There are more trees now thanks to the ones that we discovered as we cleansed the frigana forest. Okay it has taken me ten stints of a couple of hours a day but it has not cost me a cent. I feel good about that.
Now its farewell to the folks in Kambos and back to the bloody UK. Next time I come here the hovel will have a roof, ceilings, more doors and windows and a bed in the snake proof bat room. And I shall therefore be staying here not in Kalamata. It is all very exciting.
I headed back to the Greek Hovel expecting to find an empty building site and no signs of progress. I take it all back. It may be Sunday but three hard working Greeks were on site with a mini bulldozer, hard at work. How could I have ever doubted the work ethic of the citizens of the mighty Hellenic Republic?
As you can see, the foundations of the extension which - with the new room above the rat room - will more that double the size of the Hovel are now laid. Because this is an earthquake zone they must be concrete and sturdy and they look fit for purpose. Today's work was on filling in earth between the foundations so that - after a bank holiday tomorrow - the team can start laying the floors.
You may think that the final two photos of the bat room and the old house indicate little progress since December and that might indeed be the case. But George the Architect confirmed by phone that work restarts on the bat room this week and that we are still on track for it to be completed with power, a shower, water, lighting and snake proof doors and windows by Easter. Yes, Easter 2018 and that is our Easter not the Greek Easter two weeks later!.
That means that when I come back next time, in early May, I can live up at the hovel in a room with a double bed, water, lighting, the internet and full snake defences. By the early summer the rat room should also be fit for habitation and by late summer the ground floor of the new wing, the master bedroom, will be in use while work on the upper floor and the roof should be finished in the Autumn before the olive harvest.
So that means that all those invited over this summer can now start booking their flights and that Joshua and I can, indeed, spend the Autumn here fitting the place out for a family Christmas in Greece. Yes that is Christmas 2018!
PS It also means that those who volunteered to come over for the olive harvest 2018 can stay at the hovel so I shall be taking you up on your kind offer of working unpaid to do our bit for the Greek economic recovery.
In my final days in Greece there really was progress up at the Greek Hovel as a large concrete mixing lorry somehow found its way up the long and winding track and got to work, as you can see below.
The result is that there was a floor laid in the bat room (picture 4) and foundations poured for new walls for the rat room (5). The bar room used to have a rock and earth floor but it was dug out to a depth of almost a yard in places.
Now there is a solid floor there. As for the rat room the team can now start building new thick walls. Fear not the grey grout will be picked out when dry so these very solid walls will look like the rest of the hovel.
By Easter the bat room will have a window, a bathroom, power, internet and a new floor and ceiling as well as an external door and one into the rat room. The lattter will also be nearly complete although it may not have a wooden ceiling as I am not sure when the floor above it will be completed.
But progress is being made.
PS. Newer readers wondering about how rooms are named should just think about what was the dominant wildlife in that room or space when I first arrived. Of course there were also bats in the rat room and vice versa but it is what dominated. The same is true of the snake patio and snake veranda areas.
The snake patio is not to be confused with the snake veranda. The latter was the flat surface on the (illegally constructed) concrete roof above the rat room. It was surrounded by (illegally constructed) concrete blocks which have now gone. We did meet a snake there on our second visit to the hovel hence the name. It was where i killed an adder a few weeks ago.
The snake patio is in front of the house as you approach it. Laid on a concrete slab the former owner, vile Athena, had laid a series of tiles. But the roots from the oak tree (now cut down) broke through and the surface was thus cracked and uneven. Frigana flourished in the cracks as did the wildlife diversity. I never actually encountered a snake there but it is a slam dunk certainty that they visited. But like the tree and the concrete blocks the snake patio has been demolished. as you can see below
In time there will be a new patio there with a wooden construct above it on which a vine will be trailed. Our patio will be made of rough local stones so it will not be even but it will be in keeping with a 100 year old property. In the shade of the vine I will put up a large wooden table for lunch.
Also disappearing is the stairway up to the front door. In my old unhealthy days I used to sit on those steps enjoying a cigarette and the complete calm and quiet. I rather liked the steps. They too were topped with concrete but it was so old and weathered that it almost blended in. But the steps have had to be partially removed to allow the injection of concrete into the main structure to ensure that it meets the standards required to withstand earthquakes. They happen in this region every few decades and so it seems a sensible enough move.
If you look inside the hole created you can see the old stone-work of the main house which really is very attractive. The new stairs will be built of the same stone with no concrete topping.
The Greek Albanian team of workmen have dug all around the house to expose more original stone and allow the concrete injection. This shot is of the back of the house. For now this is an external wall. But the intent is to add a whole new wing along this side of the house, doubling the overall floor space and making this wall an internal one.
The plants the Mrs and I have planted in our back garden have almost all suffered death by cat defecation. That is to say my fat, though no longer morbidly obese, three legged cat Oakley hads shat them into oblivion. And so during my brief UK visit I have led a drive to re-plant. To complete that task the Mrs, Joshua and I headed to a garden centre here in Bristol today. Before stopping to pick up a few herbs (me0 and some flowers (the Mrs) we sat enjoying an expensive coffee and watched the masses head by.
I could not help but reflect about how in two days time I shall be sitting in the Kourounis Taverna in Kambos, the nearest village to the Greek Hovel, enjoying a coffee at half the price and looking at folks wander in an out of our own garden centre run by Vangelis.
Here in Bristol there is no need for shelves of poison for your frigana or snake repellent or hard tools small farmers use for clearing ground or for some part of the process of caring for, nurturing and harvesting the olives. That is what dominates the shop in Kambos, it is a place for folks doing a real job.
Of course it has plants too which one can buy. But they are mainly vegetables or herbs. There is no money or need in Kambos for vast arrays of colourful weeds, oops I meant flowers. Here in suburbia there were any number of colourful weeds to choose from.
There were even little olive trees for sale at thrice or four times the price of a sapling back in Kambos. Of course the British trees will never generate an economic return, they are mere ornaments. If I told my friends in Kambos that my neighbours in Bristol will pay 30 Euro for an olive tree that would never create oil they would think folks here were very strange indeed. They would be right of course.
The garden centre in Bristol was packed. I guess it is what baby boomers do on a bank holiday weekend in Suburbia. There were probably more folks in that centre during the course of this morning than live in Kambos, and all the British suburbians just buzzed about, picking up things, lining up to hand over more cash than they should really be spending and then crawling home through the traffic with cars laden up with things that are not really needed.
And this is meant to be relaxing? Whatever. I shall be back in Kambos by Tuesday lunchtime.
I have been pruning olive trees at the Greek Hovel for four years now. But there is one tree that has almost entirely escaped my attention until now, the one that lies within the outer ring of stones of the abandoned ruin on our property, a.k.a. the snake house.
The ruin was surrounded by thick bushes. In the first year there was a forest of frigana around it. And time and time again I have heard rustlings from inside. Over the years I have hacked back the frigana as much as I dare and poisoned it some more and now the bushes are almost gone.
Last year I did a quick attempted prune but as I saw a snake disappear into long grass about a yard from where I stood I bear a hasty retreat. This was the snake house and I accepted that.
But now Nicho the Communist's poison has left the last few bushes brown and dying. More importantly, as you can see HERE, the ruin is being pulled down so that we can use its stones to extend the main house. And all that poison and activity has forced Mr snake to seek a new home. So on a symbolic day the Mrs snapped me pruning that tree, at last.
At the Greek Hovel, about half way along our land on top of the hill, there is an old ruined house. It was almost entirely covered by frigana but over four years I have cut and poisoned that away. As I have have done that I have repeatedly heard rustlings inside. Last year as I ventured in a snake made a clear exit in the other direction. I saw not the snake but the snake shape curving its way through the long grass. In a way that was more frightening.
But now tthe snake house is being pulled down. The stones are needed to extend and rebuild the main hovel. As you can see, work is progressing well. he backdrop of the Taygetos mountains behind us is, I hope you agree, spectacular
The Mrs, myself, Joshua and my parents in law are staying about 15 miles South of the Greek Hovel in a nice hotel by the sea. As I mention here, I have very mixed feelings about Kardamili and would really rather be back in Kambos. But this break is not about me. Today, we escaped the in-laws and took Joshua to see his inheritance, that is to say the Greek Hovel. The Mrs has not visited for almost a year and was keen to see how the building was going. I was just delighted to be out of Kardamili and able to do some manual labour.
The half way point as one goes on the long and winding road/dirt track from Kambos to the hovel is the crossing of the dry river which winds its way along the valey underneath the deserted convent. Get over the river and you are soon climbing snake hill and on your way up our side of the valley.
In winter the river is full enough to spill over the road and after especially heavy storms it can be many inches deep as it crosses the track. As we head into May the river has almost entirely disappeared. As one heads towards the hovel there is just one deep-ish pool of water. It is covered in green algae and must be both the temperature and consistency of soup. I have not investigated first hand for reasons that will become clear.
This last remnant of river is about four yards from where my car door would open if I dared to get out. For the past two or three days I have been aware that there were black "shapes" cutting their way through the algae. They were clearly moving. They were long and thin. I stared at them long and hard and was pretty sure what they were. One day I got out to go have a closer look but then heard a nose in the bushes and quickly got back in my car and wound the window up.
As the water level goes down I guess there is less surface area and a moving shape becomes more visible. And thus as we drive past today I peered past the Mrs in the passenger seat and stopped the car quickly. "Look" said I. The shape was very visibly moving as only a snake would do. And it was not alone. It was a veritable snakefest and the Mrs had not even arrived at the Hovel yet. It is a good job her husband is such a brave snake killer. Notwithstanding that I drive on quickly.
As you may remember, work was delayed on the rebuilding of the Greek Hovel after the authorities insisted we needed a permit to demolish bricks put up without a permit by the previous owners. This is Greece after all. that permit has arrived and so the demolition starts, and phase one is the snake veranda.
It is the area above the rat room and got its name after, on our second visit, we encountered a snake which was aggressive but, it appears, not poisonous. It was also where I killed an adder the other day. On this roof - which was itself added illegally - the previous owner had added hideous breeze blocks and iron rods all round.
As you can see they are now all gone. The house looks better already!. the view from the top up to the taygetos mountains behind us is even more magnificent with all the clutter removed.
You may remember that George the Architect is a little nervous about chopping down non olive trees which the forestry survey may have identified at the Greek Hovel. On the other hand Nicho the Communist regards these snake shelters as an obstruction to the basic human right of every Greek to plant as many olive trees as possible on his land. I am with Nicho.
And thus while on day one of the poisoning Nicho started work dealing with the frigana -as you can see here - The Albanian was sent off with a chainsaw to deal with one of the five trees that we have earmarked for removal.
Sod elf n safey, this is Greece. The little chap just set to work clambering up the tree and taking at apart branch by branch as you can see below. In fifteen minutes the tree was an ex tree and Nicho had another place to plant an olive tree this Autumn.
Given that my new Greek blood sugar testing machine is all over the shop (I have had readings of both 236 and 125 today) perhaps I should revert to trouser size as I await new strips to arrive for my British blood sugar testing machine. There is dramatic news on the trouser front after my revelation earlier that my 36 inch trousers are falling down.
I tried on a spare pair which claims to be a 34 inch waist. Now admittedly they are those stretchy sort of black jeans which, I suspect, flatter to deceive. But when I last tried them on about six weeks ago, I could not pour my body into them. This morning they fitted comfortably. I did not even to breathe in. That is a result and three quarters. Heck, the Mrs and I chatted on skype again and she - without prompting - said that my face looked thinner. I don't hear that often.
Meanwhile my morning gym session saw my run increased from 2.47 km in 22 minutes to 2.63 km in 23 minutes. Tomorrow the target is 2.77 km in 24 minutes. I am not quite up there with Matt Lofgran, my favourite gun owning, god fearing , hard working, tax paying AIM CEO who emails me to say he does 7 km in the rattlesnake infested desert, but I am getting there.
Matt also says that he has eaten rattlesnake. I am not planning on making snake part of my own calorie controlled diet but if I kill another one, I will put it in a fridge and Matt is free to come and collct it at any time.
I arranged to meet architects George and Sofia at the Greek Hovel at 11 AM. I arrived twenty minutes late but no-one was there. This is Greece so eleven sharp means any time before twelve and at about twenty to twelve my friends arrived. They brought with them the head builder, an ethnic Greek from Albania, so a man my father will approve of big time. I got down to the main point quickly. I showed them the snake I had killed and asked the builder how he felt about snakes. "I kill them with my bare hands" he said. I like him a lot and said that "you can have the next one."
I sense that town dwelling George and Sofia are not, like me and the builder, brave snake killers and they trod carefully and nervously as they inspected the property. The good news is that after three years one permit has come through. That is to say the permit to demolish the illegally added concrete blocks and bricks put up without any permit at all by Athena, the slippery former owner. That permit will also allow us to start digging out the rock floor of the bat room, into which I have not yet dared to venture, to unpick some bad external plastering and to cut down the giant oak tree whose roots threaten the bat room.
There are one or two other trees which the forestry survey may or may not have noted but which might accidentally get cut down by mistake over the next few weeks as well including a clutch of giant friganas which are entangled with wire netting and where, I am sure, many snakes live. We will start work as a crew on May 5 when I return from a brief visit to England but I will work alone until then. Although the giant frigana and wire snake nest is a treat I will leave to my new friend the builder.
The actual building permit is still "in process." It is now expected to arrive in late May. Once again I asked if we might consider bribery but George assured me that he would not know how to do that and he is sure there is no bribery in the building permit department. I was only kidding as I know that this is not a country where such practices occur. Next to arrive was the man who will provide stones and cement. All was going swimmingly until the group of four worked out that one or two of the roads and tracks needed widening to allow big lorries to access the Hovel. This will require lovely Eleni to allow George to chop a few branches off some of her olive trees and my eccentric neighbour Charon - who harvests a neighbouring grove - to allow us to concrete over a few of his rocks. In a normal world this would be easy. But this is Greece. I imagine the conversation:
G: We would like to concrete over five of your useless rocks of no value, is that a problem? C: But these rocks have been in my family for hundreds of years...it would be like selling my mother G: But until last year they were covered in frigana and they have no value whatsoever? C: You are insulting my dead mother...reaches for gun G: Would 500 Euro ease your suffering C: For my dead mother how dare you...shall we say 1000 Euro?
Rather George than me. Lovely Eleni seems a bit more relaxed about losing a few branches. She did ask how many but i said not very many. But then I mentioned that it was to build a swimming pool which she and her family would be free to use at all times. Her eyes lit up. I think that conversation might be rather less challenging for George.
Not withstanding my snake killing heroics of yesterday, I still live in dread of the vipers that slither around the Greek Hovel and across its fields. Irrationally, for I have never seen a snake there, there is one spot that holds particular dread. And it is all the fault of Julia Donaldson, the author of the children's classic, The Gruffalo.
Many moons ago folks were installing telephone poles across the hills around the hovel. God knows why as no-one lives up here but it probably seemed like a good idea in the general scheme of Greekenomics. Let's tarmac roads no-one uses and fix up telephone polls where there are no phones - more jobs for all paid for by a state with no money. What is not to like?.
But as you can see four of the poles were left on our land. As one drives up to the Hovel they sit there on your right by the first terrace of olive trees. It is now about fifteen years since I first read the Gruffalo to my daughter Olaf but the pictures, the images of the logs under which the snake lives are clear in my mind. He lives under the goddamn telephone poles taken from the hovel!
Then, the mouse continued his journey through the deep dark wood. A snake saw the mouse and the mouse looked good.
The hungry snake asked, “Where are you going to, little brown mouse? Come for a feast in my logpile house,”
“It’s kind of you, Snake, but no - I’m having a feast with a Gruffalo,” the clever mouse rejected. “A gruffalo? What’s a gruffalo?” asked the curious snake. The mouse played his trick again, “A gruffalo! Why, didn’t you know? His eyes are orange, his tongue is black, he has purple prickles all over his back”.
The snake started to get scared, he asked, “Where are you meeting him?”
"Here, by this lake and his favourite food is … scrambled snake,” replied the mouse. “Scrambled snake!! It’s time I hid!! Goodbye, little mouse,” and away the snake slid.
The mouse couldn’t’ help but laugh hysterically, “Silly old Snake! Doesn’t he know there’s no such thing as a gruffalo …hahaha!!!!!!!!!!"
I am not sure that Greek snakes know about the Gruffalo but the image from the book will not leave my mind. I am sure I hear rustlings whenever I pass the logs. I hurry on as fast as my legs can carry me for even a brave snake killer like myself does not seek out serpents.
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.
This day goes down in history. I am terrified of snakes. Everyone in the village of Kambos knows it and laughs at the idea of the weird Englishman from Toumbia living in a hovel in the snake fields at the top of snake hill. But I need to do manual labour and so this afternoon headed to the hovel. Retrieving my pick axe from the rat room, or spare bat room as it is now known, I went onto the illegally constructed level above it, the snake veranda.
It was there we met a, non poisonous but still terrifying, snake on our first trip to the hovel. And the name stuck. And so I peered nervously over the wall and established that it was snake free zone.
In the middle of the snake veranda is a two sided brick wall. It serves no purpose at all other than being ugly and so I started to attack it with my pick axe. Bang. Bang. Bang it slowly came down and after twenty minutes I had worked up quite a sweat. Some of the bricks have are constructed, for a reason that I fail to understand, with hollowed out tubes running through them.
And from one such tube there emerged... a snake. It was an adder albeit a juvenile one about a foot long. But as you may know, juvenile adders are more dangerous than their parents as they are yet to learn how much poison to deploy when biting. They just bit, hang on and inject their venom. I stood and stared for what seemed like a long time but cannot have been more than twenty seconds as it started to slither. And then I acted. Whack when the pick axe on the long sided blade end. I missed.
The snake had little time to respond because whack went the pick axe again and I scored a direct hit. And then another. The snake was now in two halves but the front end was still moving on a pile of rubble the other side of the now half demolished, so just two foot high, wall. Whack, whack whack I hit it again and again first with the edge and then just clubbing it with the end of the axe. It stopped moving.
I, on the other hand, was shaking like a leaf. I may now be a snake killer but I rather worried that where there was one there may be others. And so leaving the pick axe inside the rat/spare bat room I retreated hastily to my car to phone my father and the Mrs with news of my heroics.
Retreating, again, to Kambos I stopped first at the snake repellent store where my friend the owner had two canisters in stock which I bought eagerly. I told him that I had killed one and, knowing my reputation, he seemed surprised but in a good way. He offered other advice for repelling the snakes. Apparently they do not like the poison one uses to spray frigana. I need to get clearance from the shepherd as I have no desire to poison his sheep but I think some spraying is on the agenda.
Fear not there are not any pictures of my fertilizing olive trees as only a man can do. Although I have assisted a few of my little darlings in this way over the past few days. This is the formal process with George the Albanian, his Mrs and myself in a team of three.
First stop, at 8 AM sharp, the shop of Vangelis the man who mends my strimmer and sells me 1 Euro bags of sulphur to keep away the snakes. 210 Euro are handed over and Vangelis and George load up his truck with about fifteen 25 kg bags of fertilizer, one of which you can see below.
It goes without saying that the skilled task of doing the fertilizing is reserved for George and his Mrs. The little white pellets of goodness were poured into two buckets and off they went spreading them in circular loops around the trees as you can see below. Was there not a kids drawing game in the 70s that helped you to make similar shapes? I was, natch, not up to such demanding work.
Instead, as the two Albanians, wandered further and further from George's truck my job was to carry new bags of fertiliser to wherever they were. 25kg is less than the 30-40kg sacks of olives I was carrying in the Autumn harvest. But still, over rough terrain, it was not exactly a bundle of laughs.
But after less than two hours there was just one bag left. The job was done allowing a bit of time for some more bonfire work. Before I knew it, a four our stint was done. All over. No more manual labour until April at which point I shall no doubt be applying top up fertilizer to my favoured trees in the way that only a man can.
Arriving at the Greek Hovel this morning it was damp underfoot. There had been overnight rain and the puddles in the dry river are growing and threatening to link up to form a vibrant stream, but the skies looked clear enough. I wandered down to the other side of the ruin, the lair of the snake, to trees that have gone from zeros to heros in the space of a year. George the Albanian was hard at work as was one of his women. But only one. Hell's teeth: what could have gone wrong?
These Albanians they are not like snowflake millennials in Britain who throw sickies at least once a fortnight because it is a basic human right to do so. My comrades in labour could be bitten by a snake, be running a fever and have a broken leg and they'd still turn up for work. What on earth could have gone wrong?
I speculated that lady two might have been bought by a rival team. In football terms she would be a bargain. Valued as an "old lady" she has been playing as a valuable mid-fielder given the arrival of a new old lady in the team (me). But this is the Mani, the land of the blood feud. Any attempt to pinch one of his team, who might actually be his wife, would see George heading off with his shotgun to ensure honour was satisfied. Maybe George had sent his son to do the honour killing while he cracked on with the harvest?
I should not have worried. In due course she too wandered into the fields and we all cracked on. Well some more than others. Though I am only doing the old ladies tasks I was soon shattered and any interruption from a phone call was most welcome. Anyone who wants to phone me tomorrow feel free, any time after 6.30 GMT I am keen to talk.
Actually I am getting quicker at my jobs. I am still very slow by Albanian standards but less slow than I was a few days ago. But by 2.30 PM I was in deep trouble. I had passed on lunch to do a bit of catching up but then it started to rain. Vreki thought I, with joy, and looked at where George the Albanian was labouring away. He too had noticed and so electrical machinery was covered in plastic. Goodie goodie thought I, we can all bunk off early. But George and the ladies simply started thrashing branches the old fashioned way, by hand. My heart sank. The Greeks on the terraces on the other side of the valley had packed up why weren't we heading home?
By 3.15 PM it really was starting to tip it down. I was tempted to wander over to George to point at an increasingly sodden T-shirt and suggest that I was going to Kambos. But that would be wimping out. It is day five and I have lasted the pace (sort of) so far. Just as I prepared to capitulate, George wandered over. "Vreki. Avrio" said our great leader. Naturally I did my best to look disappointed but reluctantly agreed that we would try again in the morning.
Looking out of my hotel window in Kalamata it is sheeting it down. My guess is that the dry river is now flowing across the track up to the hovel and that tomorrow morning, as the track turns to an earth path through the olive groves at the top of snake hill on my side of the valley, it will be covered in puddles and slippery mud. If we do harvest tomorrow I very much doubt that we will finish the job. I reckon we need two more days and that we are still looking at between two and two and half metric tonnes - a record result. Naturally that is is a testament to my pruning of this summer.
Do I want clear weather tomorrow? Naturally I do. But if it is raining? Every cloud has silver lining.
The Mrs and I bought the Greek Hovel about 28 months ago. Naively we rather assumed that by now it would have been renovated and we could both head over to enjoy the forthcoming olive harvest in comfort. Au contraire. If there was an Olympic gold for bureaucracy then the Hellenic Republic would be winning it every year. But there is good news today.
You may remember that I had to make a few, ahem, adjustments to the land before submitting an application for forestry clearance. that is to say that I had to hack away 2000 square metres of snake infested frigana which I did in the summer of 2014 enabling us to submit a forestry permit after I had burned the evidence in February 2015. That should have taken three months. I think it came through after various misadventures in May 2016. Aha so we can now submit the building permit application said I?
Not so fast said George the Architect. First we need the approval of the architectural council but that will take just 4 weeks. We submitted on June 2nd. It will not surprise you to hear that we have yet to receive clearance. But this morning George says that the Council meets tomorrow and we are on the agenda. Hooray!
If we pass this hurdle then it is just the Building Permit which we will be ready to submit at once and should be given within three months. The Building inspectors are based opposite the office of George so he can harass them and says that he will. I have again raised the issue of bribes but am assured that things like that just do not happen in Greece. Whatever.
Three Greek Months is, about six to nine English months which means that we could well start rebuilding between April - when I fly out anyway - and June next year. Hooray!
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.
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.
I can hear a loud chirping noise from outside as I prepare to go to sleep at night. Surely it cannot be a bird? I hear nothing in the day. Tonight all has been explained. Beneath the one room that is habitable at the Greek Hovel is the bat room, named after the dominant species of inhabitant when I arrived. Behind me but a level down, underneath the snake veranda, is the rat room, the veranda and the room both named for similar reasons. The latter has been cleansed of rats and it is where I store wood for the winter.
As I drove back the other day the headlights of my car were undipped and shone into the rat room and I saw little creatures flying around. The bats, it seems, have a new home.
Bats here do not carry rabies and they eat mosquitoes and so they are, in my book, good guys. I do not mind them although if they fly towards you as they did when I initially cleared the bat room of junk, it is a touch un-nerving.
And so it finally dawned on me, is the noise I hear my friends the bats, perhaps magnifed by a pretty much entirely blocked off ventilation pipe that connects the rat room to my bedroom? Luckily the internet has everything. Below is the noise that will send me to sleep tonight.
After three days of manual labour at the Greek hovel I was conscious that I did not exactly smell like a male model doused in perfume and thus it was time to rig up the shower as you can see below.
Okay it is indeed a hosepipe. The water travels up the mountain in metal pipes. in winter with the temperature hovering around zero it means we have a constant supply of cold water. In summer the water arrives a perfect luke warm to warm. The water runs at a constant pleasant temperature unlike my shower back in Bristol which alternates between scalding and freezing.
I was a little nervous ahead of the first shower. Hence the three day delay. I need not have worried. It was awesome.
In case you were wondering and it is perhaps not a thought that you wish to dwell on, yes I shower naked. There are only two folks who might see me. The shepherd wanders past with his flock about once every three days and sooner or later my neighbour Charon will pop over from his house a mile and a half away. But they are men of the world. And 99.9% of the time the hovel's only living souls are myself and the wildlife diversity.
Sadly in late June I shall not be in Bristol but will instead be working hard to rebuild the Greek Hovel. Even if planning consent is not quite in by then, I am free to start preparatory work such as digging out the stone floor of the bat room and demolishing the illegal construct on top of the rat room, the area known as the snake veranda.
The Mrs was set to join me but is now altering her travel plans. Tom Winnifrith just cannot compete with Deacon Claybourne, Gunner, Scarlett and Will Lexington. Nashville fans will know exactly what I mean. If you are not a fan of this must-watch TV series you do not know what you are missing.
We caught Gunner in action at a Country show last year in London. Rather suprisingly the actor who plays Texan born Gunner is in fact a Brit and is an accomplished singer songwriter as well as an actor. Gunner used to date Scarlett who is the neice of recovering alcoholic Deacon, now back with his sweetheart the star of the show Rayna. Deacon may or may not be dead, that is the cliffhanger at the end of series three. Well actually there was no way that Deacon who is the star of the show could be killed off, and as American viewers who are already well into Series 4 know, Deacon is alive but his ghastly sister Beverley is not doing so well.
At least for British viewers, Will is back as Gunner's housemate following the collapse of his faux marriage because he is in fact a closet homosexual. It all happens in Nashville.
Anyhow, Deacon, Will, Scarlett & Gunner are on tour and the Mrs and her fried Jeanetta managed to get seats to the Bristol leg before they sold out after just a few hours. She has not worked out yet that this means a change to her holiday plans so excited is she about the prospect of seeing Deacon in the flesh. It means that she will have to fly to Greece after the gig which gives me even more time away in the Hellenic Republic. As such I am not complaining but I shall leave it to her to work out what this all means in her own sweet time.
Wait till I tell her that my internet searches show that Deacon is still alive. What a bonus.
A morning at the Greek Hovel working on frigana poisoning, lunch by the sea at Kitries and then a leisurely drive over the mountain roads back to Kardamili. That was the order of the day for the Mrs and myself. I write from the bar of the wonderful Meletsina Village hotel - my top tip for staying in Karadmili - with a Gin & Tonic looking out over the sea in the late afternoon sun. But I am frustrated.
As we drove over the mountains, the Mrs cried "there's a snake". Sure enough there was indeed a snake slithering towards safety on the other side of the road. These days I think Greek so without hesitating I swerved sharply, not thinking of what might be heading the other way around the next bend, and drove over the middle of the snake. Kill! Thought I.
But much to my dismay I looked in my rear view mirror and the creature - about three foot in length - was still slithering into the undergrowth. It may be wounded but it will live to fight another day. My pal Vangelis says you have to make sure you go over the head and neck to ensure a kill. Next time if I miss I shall do the real Greek and reverse back to ensure it is a kill.
I am sorry of there are any wildlife lovers who are offended by this but there is wildlife and there is wildlife. Snakes, rats and scorpions are not the good guys of the natural world. It always amazes me when folks bleat about how species such as the British adder face threats to their habitat. Good! I shed no tears.
But today my attempt to reduce wildlife diversity was foiled. I feel frustrated.
In the end I could not get my head around a 200 cc bike with gears and so chickened out and hired another 150 cc automatic. But it felt great being on two wheels again as I whizzed up the mountain road from Kalamata to my home village of Kambos. It was warm but the wind was in my hair and as I swept down towards Kambos with the ruined castle looming in the background I just felt content and happy.
After dealing with the rat at the Greek hovel I headed into Kambos to do some work at my office, aka the Kourounis tavern. But for some reason they key in the bike was jammed and then broke. I could start the machine but not turn it off so I knew it had to be fixed or I’d have a dead battery by morning. Feeling really pissed off I headed back to Kalamata. I was so pissed off that I drove on the left hand side of the road.
Prang! At the corner by the petrol station I hit a van head on at about 20 km an hour. It all happened terribly fast but I sort of protected myself and ended up sprawling on the floor with my bike several yards down the road.
The driver was initially jolly good about it but the citizens of Kambos rushed out. The man from the snake repellent/hardware store, a chap whose name I cannot remember who drinks at Kourounis a little old lady were all at my side. I was told to sit down, given water to drink and the folks could not have been kinder.
After a while the the man whose name I cannot remember stick various bits of bike back on with sellotape I called the bike shop in Kalamata and John the bike man said he’d be there with a new bike in 30 minutes. I headed back to the Kourounis tavern where once again all sorts of folks fretted over me and waited with the driver of the van and his girlfriend. John was late. The chap got a bit testy and said we should head to see the Police at Kardamili police station, a building of which I do not have the happiest memories. I refused to budge knowing full well that the Kardamili Sergeant who lives in Kambos would be along soon. I’d rather play with a home referee.
After about ninety minutes the Police arrived. Despite all my neighbours saying that I was good to pay the 100-150 Euro it will need to mend the small issue his van has with its bumper, the van driver had called in the filth. Luckily at that point John the bike man turned up and showing diplomatic skills worthy of Kofi Annan managed to get the Police to leave and the van man to put a sock in it. By this time I was not exactly feeling warm feelings towards him given that the deal he agreed with John was the same as agreed with my neighbours ninety minutes previously.
I feel daft for driving on the wrong side. My father had a prang in Greece 35 years ago and ended up in Court where the Judge said “the professor was driving beautifully but just on the wrong side” as he let him off. I guess it runs in the family.
My leg is a bit bruised as is my arm. I imagine both will be stiff as a rod in the morning. But above all I just feel a bit stupid but also very much at home with the folks of Kambos who were again so kind and who have all shouted “Yass Tom” as they have wandered into the Kourounis taverna tonight. Thanks also to the kind folks who have wteeted their best wishes.
PS Before you ask. No I have not had a drink for two days!
After almost one month I had yet to see a snake at the Greek Hovel…until yesterday. I arrived back at the Hovel at 9 AM feeling rather tired after a night at Athens Airport and as we got out of the car my guest says “so where are the snakes then?”
As I entered the garden I was about to reply “not seen one yet” when I heard a whoosh and something shot through the grass, starting about three yards from where I stood rooted to the spot. I peered closely at where it was now resting, five yards away. Er….”over there” I said.
In defence of the snake it was a gorgeous shade of green and it seemed more scared of me than I was of it – in that it rushed to leave while I stood my ground.
I have not searched on the interweb but that colour and that size indicates that it is almost certainly poisonous. We have decided to buy more canisters of snake repellent. And we have agreed that if either of us is bitten the victim will cling onto the other on the back of a bike to get to Kambos to seek assistance.
Heck I knew they were there, this should not be a shock. I am actually quite relaxed about it.
I gather that on twitter there are a few folks who thing that I am writing a bit too much and should take up gardening or tai-chi and “chill” Hmmmm. Have I got news for you…
As it happens the Mrs is away for the weekend so I am catching up on a few things. One of which is the paperwork on a new house the Mrs is purchasing in Greece. The deposit is paid tomorrow. It is not a lot as it is a total train wreck.
When we visited it last the only sign of life there was a snake we met sitting on a terrace. The house is not really fit for human habitation but comes with vast amounts of olive groves so can be expanded and renovated over time. The nearest neighbour is a ten minute walk away and is the one old monk left in a vast monastery. Ten minutes drive along a very rough track gets you to a village.
And so I shall be working like a dervish in the UK until June 30th when, all being well I head off to Greece to start work renovating the place. I do not mind that the shower (pro tem) is a hosepipe or that the outside lavatory does not work. I shall install an eco-loo (more on that later) in my first week. I will work alongside the Greek builders as their Albanian (i.e. unskilled labourer) for three months so that by the time the Mrs arrives in August to inspect her new property it is just about habitable and by the end of September, phase one will be complete.
I am ensuring that the fridge contains antidote in case I meet any other snakes and that I can somehow connect to the Internet so that I can write when not building. If three months on a building site in 39 degree heat does not knock me into shape nothing will.
So twitter friends, how’s that for relaxing?
— Tom Winnifrith
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