PERSONAL, UNDILUTED VIEWS FROM TOM WINNIFRITH
33 days ago
65 days ago
Don't the skies look glorious above the Greek Hovel? How I wish I was there to see the little snakes emerge after their winter sleep. The weather is improving and thus a digger has made it up the track and so work on the swimming pool for daughter Olaf is, as you can see, accelerating. George the Architect assures me that the olive trees we had to move, about seven, are being watered every day and are recovering well. All is good...
205 days ago
And so on the final afternoon at the Greek Hovel we invited over the elderly lefties from the village up in the mountains. They were rather scared of the track so I had to go fetch them from Kambos and drive them up.
Almost immediately on arriving they stared into the sky and started shouting "Chrissy, there is Chrissy". I stared up and saw a very large bird of prey. I like the numerous birds of prey that circle the hills above the hovel as they eat snakes and rats. Good job. The more birds the better. But why Chrissy? And the size: this bird was very large indeed, why was that?.
Chrissy was their nickname for a bird based on the Greek word Chrysos (gold). For this magnificent creature was a golden eagle. These birds have large territories so though they may all look the same the odds are this was indeed Chrissy. He or she was truly magnificent.
Later that day as the Mrs said that she had important work to do, preparing a lesson plan to fill the heads of impressionable young folk with left wing nonsense, Joshua and I went for a walk.
Or rather, as you can see below, I walked with my son and heir on my back and we headed up the hill behind the hovel towards the house of my neighbour Charon. It is a jolly steep climb and the track soon turns to grass. The view down to the hovel was a wonderful one as the sun started to set.
Walks with Joshua soon turn into nature lessons. And so we saw a large grasshopper sitting on a wire fence and, real excitement, the skin shed by a snake. I tried to explain that to Joshua but I am not sure he got it, saying "goodbye snake" as we wandered onwards and upwards.
217 days ago
I am in a short sleeved short. Tomorrow it will be a T-shirt. I am not trying to make you jealous but though it is mid October it is jolly hot. As I drove along the Kalamata sea front earlier the beaches were well populated. Folks were swimming. It is lovely.
there are lizards everywhere. My old saying is that where there are lizards there are snakes. But from memory, and fingers crossed, the snakes start to hibernate well before the lizards and you do sometimes see lizards even in the winter. Anyhow, here is one chirpy fellow I spotted sun bathing on a wall on the way from the Hovel down towards snake hill.
280 days ago
If you head to a seaside settlement in the Mani right now whether it be Islington-sur-Mer (kardamili) or the Costa-del-Stoupa they will be packed with people. Head there in the winter and they are semi-deserted. Up here in the lower reaches of the Taygetos mountains, in unfashionable old Kambos, the population barely changes throughout the year. The faces I see when harvesting olives in November are, essentially, those I see now in the burning heat of August.
Sure there are a few seasonal visitors. Poor Nicho the Communist, Papou, a man several years older than I am, has been saddled by his sister with two young nephews from Athens. He brings them to the Kourounis taverna of lovely Eleni where they play mindless games on their tablet with the other kids. Poor Nicho, a “moderate drinker” in the same way as the late Charles Kennedy, orders another large whisky and sits there resigned to his fate.
But most of the folks in Kambos are all year rounders. My first stop in the village was naturally at one of the two hardware stores to stock up on snake repellent canisters and to teat myself to a new saw and axe as my old ones appear to have been lost in the building works.
My olive trees are pretty clean having been thoroughly pruned in May and re-pruned in June but the rain of July has seen new sprouts emerging and so a re-cleaning exercise is called for and is now underway. 250 trees – almost for weeks so ten a day will do me fine. Yesterday I did twelve but even early in the morning it is jolly hot and so I’m not planning to spend that long each day in the snake-fields.
The second person I met was the ageing mother-in-law of lovely Eleni. I was wandering down the back street that leads from the Church and where I park my car, down towards the main street and there was the old lady painting white the pavement outside her house and the kerb.
In Ulster if you are a loyalist you paint the kerb red white and blue, a Fenian paints the kerb orange, white and green and you make a statement. In Greece all kerbs are painted white making the statement “We Greeks may have buggered it all up over the pat decade but we are calm and at peace and by the way we invented democracy, literature and philosophy three thousand years ago when you were all living in trees and caves. PS Glad to see Turkey buggering it up too.”
And so I greeted her and she greeted me. Tikanis, Cala, etc. She asked how old Joshua was and I replied “Theo”. I thought of trying to explain that he and the Mrs would arrive soon but given that my Greek is as non existent as her English thought better of it. Anyhow it was a warm greeting. And so I wandered on. The village square is packed in the evening with families as well as the normal old men chatting, drinking and eating at either Kourounis or at Miranda’s. trade is roaring. They are all familiar faces: the shepherds, the goat herder, Vangelis in his pink shirts, all the other m en who will all be called George, Nicho or Vangelis but whose names I cannot quite remember. It will be one of the three. Tikanis, Cala, Yas, Tom. I shake hands with many of them.
As ever I reflect on how few folks in Bristol I know well enough to greet them with a warm handshake. Come the weekend the Mrs who speaks some Greek pitches up. I’m not sure that will aid the conversation greatly but, of course, Joshua melts all hearts and builds bridges at once.
Up at the hovel after midnight there was another familiar face spotted. You may remember that three or four years ago I befriended a small black and white kitten up here by giving it milk. It has been a periodic pleasure in subsequent years to see my old friend, now a large cat, striding purposefully across the land. Cats eat rats and snakes and as such he, or she, is most welcome here.
My room being a tad stuffy I ventured outside shining my torch ahead of me to ensure that I had no unexpected encounters. There is a slightly cooling breeze and I wanted to catch a bit of it before heading off to sleep. If I hear a noise anywhere I shine my torch in the right direction hoping to spot what approaches. I saw a brief bit of black and white but the cat darted behind a tree. I kept the torch on that tree some 30 yards away and after a short while my friend broke cover and walked, with no sense of panic, off towards the snake fields. Happy hunting comrade cat.
310 days ago
Fear not daughter Olaf, I have now laid down the snake repellent at the Greek Hovel. Two canisters, as you can see below, 10 yards away from opposite corners of the house now emit a smell which snakes are meant to regard as foul and so will keep the hovel, if not the snake-fields, free from serpents for three months until Autumn hibernation. Well in theory.
Snakes, have in the past, ignored the foul smell and approached the hovel anyway. But in theory they are already slithering away. Fingers crossed. I was wading through longer grass today as I pruned my beloved olive trees. I trod heavily, as one does, but had no encounters at all with the wildlife diversity community.
I should note, without sounding too conceited, that there was relatively little pruning to do. Whover did the pruning in May did a very thorough job and should be very proud of himself.
311 days ago
Today was the day that my books, a few pieces of furniture and wall hangings as well as four Belfast sinks were meant to arrive at the Greek Hovel after a van journey from Bristol, via Bulgaria. Much to my surprise the Bulgarian chap in London called yesterday and said to expect delivery this afternoon.
It got better still. At 11.30 AM he called and said that the van would be at the Petrol Station in Kambos to meet me in 45 minutes. I got in my car sped up here and waited. And waited.
Eventually I called to be told that the driver was indeed at the petrol station. I assured the chap in London that this was not the case as I was at the petrol station and was alone. It took a while before it was established that the van was waiting at a petrol station back in Kalamata. I gave instructions and killed time by wandering into the hardware store to buy some snake repellent canisters. The man who knows me well, said “do you have snakes?” He smiled. He knows I do and that I am shit scared. It was his little joke and he fetched two canisters which, at 28 Euro, is the best investment I will ever make.
I killed some more time by heading up to the hovel and explaining, via one worker who speaks English, to a crew working incredibly hard, that I might need a bit of help unloading my van. I headed back to the petrol station.
Eventually the van arrived and I explained to a sweaty little Bulgarian who spoke no English that he should follow me up the road to the hovel. He drove slowly along the first half of the track which ends with the slope down past the deserted convent to the valley floor. I made to turn on to the track up towards the hovel but he stopped. He refused to go on.
He insisted that his van – which is exactly the same size as one used by the builders this very day and smaller than some of the heavy machinery we have taken up to the hovel – could not go on. He tried to insist that he was only meant to take the goods to Kalamata even though the docket clearly stated my house name and Toumbia, the widely scattered group of houses. At this point I really started to think of a four letter word beginning with c to describe this sweaty Bulgar who wanted payment for dumping my goods in a deserted valley floor.
I told him to wait, headed back to the hovel and brought down two Greek labourers one driving a jeep the other a truck with a flat bottom. With little help from the tardy and cowardly Bulgar we loaded my possessions into the jeep, my car and the lorry. One chest of drawers belonging to my grandmother appeared to have become slightly damaged. I repaired it up at the hovel but as it was handed over I looked at the sweaty Bulgar who just shrugged his shoulders, it was not his fault. I thought the c word again.
Up at the hovel we unloaded the goods. The sinks have strict elf ‘n safey instructions in English about how they must be lifted by two men. They are very heavy indeed. Greek workers picked them up, slung them on their shoulders and carried them single handedly to the bat room where everything is now stored. I’ll put up pictures later.
The Greeks were heroic. I did my bit. The Bulgar is a pathetic wretch. Over at Kardamili there is a monument to Greek military successes. Suffice to say that nearly all of them were two thousand years ago. The few in modern times were largely against the Bulgarians in the Balkan wars of the early 20th century.
I suggest that most Bulgars who have anything about them are now gainfully employed driving Ubers or selling the Big issue in London. Those left in Bulgaria are clearly a dishonest, feckless, inbred and pathetic bunch. Perhaps to distract the good folk of the Hellenic Republic from his own treachery and incompetence, our loathsome Prime Minister Mr Alex Tspiras might consider invading Bulgaria as a distraction. Judging by today, it would be a walkover for mighty Greece.
314 days ago
Once before I arrived at the Greek Hovel to find workmen proudly admiring a construction made of brand new shiny bricks. Much to their pleasure I had it torn down, an extra days work for them. I rather assumed that the message had got through. You can imagine my horror when arriving at the hovel yesterday to find piles of shiny new bricks in the new wing and the rat room. Cripes!
George the Architect is not around, for family reasons, but his business partner Sofia and a young trainee who acts as translator soon arrived and a heated discussion with a gaggle of workmen ensued. It is the way of the Greek language that a discussion on the most trivial matters becomes so animated that it appears as if all parties are trying to solve some major international crisis. I stood my ground.
In the rat room, the walls are the old ones and are, frankly, not that beautiful. So they will be plastered with a smooth white finish. As such I showed that I can compromise and accepted that in that room, a narrow room, bricks can be used to house the eco-loo and then plastered. They will fit in.
But in the new wing the stonework is magnificent. A brick and plaster enclosure for the eco-loo and shower would simply be wrong. One of the workmen who spoke reasonable English agreed with me and it was agreed that stones would be used. There was a rear-guard action in some quarters. Do I not realise that this will make the bathroom that bit narrower as the walls will be thicker. We worked out the maths and it was agreed that my net loss would be 24 centimetres. I do not see that as a problem. Eventually folks conceded.
Sofia, the trainee and I wandered around the house ironing out numerous other little points as we waited for the doors and windows man to arrive. He, I gather, is also the man who will build the floors/ceilings in the new wing and above the rat room. Eventually a rather large and unshaven chain smoking individual toddled up. Now for the bad news.
The roof, which was meant to have gone on three weeks ago will start to be erected early next week and will be finished by the end of July. But the windows, doors and floors? Er.. September said the man. What the fuck? I was wielding my olive pruning axe and started waving it angrily, as would a Greek, to show that I was cross. I had made it quite clear to George that in late August the Mrs, Joshua and Olaf arrive for a holiday and that while I had no problem with a lack of windows and doors the women of the household would do. The man said he would do his best and started measuring up the windows and doors. FFS why did he not do this weeks ago?
It has been agreed that at least some windows and doors will be installed by the time the Mrs arrives with an aim of getting everything done. Pro tem, at least the bat room has a door, a window, a shower and an eco-loo. It might be cramped but we could all stay in that one room but surely we could at least get the rat room made wildlife diversity proof? Amid talk of how ferocious Olaf can be (what do they know about my charming daughter?) it has been agreed that they will work all hours to hit our targets.
I needed to calm down as the all parties meetings continued, without the windows man who was measuring away. So though in shorts and sneakers, not the jeans and sturdy boots one should wear in the snake fields, I headed off to prune my beloved olive trees. Now and then I was called back to settle another minor point. In the end I gave up as pruning, especially when you are being extra careful as to where you tread, requires concentration and some semblance of tranquility.
Notwithstanding my concerns about snakes and other members of the wildlife diversity community I cannot stress how much I feel at home working in the fields. I accept that I am perhaps not the most efficient of workers and it is also very possible that I may not be the greatest of olive tree pruners or harvesters but as I work, amid the almost deafening but soothing noise of cicadas, there is a real sense being at peace. One can forget about work back home, indeed it helps you to realise that it really is not that important or, at many levels, enjoyable. The frustrations I feel almost every day as I stare at my computer just disappear.
The view, BTW, is of the new wing ground floor looking away from the mountains.
319 days ago
338 days ago
341 days ago
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!
345 days ago
I see that Brokerman Dan, who will be walking 32 miles for Woodlarks with me on July 28, has tweeted about completing a 15 mile training walk. In the smug looking selfie that accompanied the tweet the old bastard looks fresh as a daisy, as if he had just strolled to and from the local corner store. If only it were that way for me.
On Saturday or Sunday I shall be doing my weekend long walk. Last Saturday I managed ten miles. The target this weekend is 12-14 miles along the River Avon starting at bath and heading West. Do I stop at the Chequers pub ( 11.5 miles) or can I make it to the Conham River car park (14 miles) and get the Mrs to take me back to the pub by car? Decisions, decisions.
Pro tem it is back to five miles every other day – my weekday training. Yesterday saw me do just over 3.5 miles in an hour on a constant uphill gradient of between 4 and 7 ( whatever that means) at the local gym run by Perry the Tory here in Brislington, Bristol. The body builders who are the gym’s other clients did not giggle but at the end I was sweaty and smelly but not actually that breathless and easily able to walk straight to Joshua’s nursery and wheel him home. That involves a couple of steep hills as well so a good five miles in all and lots of hill work.
I worry that the Woodlarks walk has a lot of hills along the way.
I am not sure that the girls who look after Joshua at his nursery were that impressed by his sweaty and smelly dad. I tried to mumble something about training and a 32 mile walk but decided quickly that the best thing to do was to get him out of there as soon as possible with a promise that we could go visit the snakes and rabbits at Pets at Home over the way.
Today is a day off although I shall do the one and a half mile walk to pick Joshua up just to keep my hand in so to speak. Instead I have sent a few emails to encourage folks to make their donations. After about three weeks of fund raising Dan and I have raised £5718.16 ( with gift aid that is £6,815.210). That is 28% of our £20,000 (without gift aid) target so not bad.
But most of you reading this article have not yet pledged. To those that have I am grateful and will not let you – or myself – down. To those that have not, I am sure that you can spare a tenner. Go on, think of me trying to explain away how smelly I was to Joshua’s carers, think of the muscle men laughing at me, think of my humiliation, laugh and donate a tenner HERE
355 days ago
358 days ago
I have grossly underestimated the number of olive trees that sit on the land at the Greek Hovel. Yesterday and today I upped my quota to thirty so I have now pruned 160 which is what I thought we had. I was very wrong. But i now enter what I deem the land of the snake.
The top level of the land is almost done. I have pruned almost down to the far end. That is an area which was once a frigana forest. I was blissfully unaware of what lay beyond our land so thick was the accursed thorn bush. Thanks to months of hard sweat and labour in summers gone by it is now all gone and that has unearthed new olive trees which we can now harvest.
In one or two cases the remnants of the taller frigana trees, piles of logs surround an olive tree as you can see in the bottom photo. We Gruffalo readers know what lives in the tree log house and I prune such trees extremely carefully approaching with loud footsteps and trading carefully.
On the flanks of the top land are the terraces and as you head down to the lower terraces the grass gets longer and longer as you can see below. In years gone by I have seen shapes swishing through that grass which can only be one thing. I have done some work on the terraces but more remains - I reckon ten or fifteen trees on the monastery side and thirty or more on the mountain side.
Finally there are is the rocky area on the left of the track as one approaches the hovel. It too was once a frigana forest. I was over this that I clambered with lovely Susan Shimmin of the Real Mani when I first visited the house with the Mrs and it was absolutely crawling with snakes. But again, I have cleared the frigana, it is a bit less snake friendly but I have had encounters there before. I probably holds another 20 or so trees.
The bottom line is that the total is well over 200, I must up my work rate to forty tomorrow but I enter the badlands as I do so.
Yesterday my toils were interrupted by a rather portly young man who wanted me to move my car so he could deliver cement. As he strolled over to see me and explain he said in broken English "you know there are snakes here?" What is the Greek for "Do you know bears shit in the woods?"
360 days ago
A kind reader in the land of the free emails with praise about my article on the Irish murder referendum HERE and makes a couple of suggestions. The first is that i should move to Texas and run for office.
Sadly I must decline that, as the Mrs says that the only red state we are allowed to visit, let alone reside in, is Tennessee where she is hoping to bump into Deacon Claybourne and pay homage to Nashville. So I guess that career option is out. Texas has, of course, produced the finest politician in US history, the saintly libertarian Doctor Ron Paul and it is a fine place full of God fearing, gun owning, hard working decent folks, but I must say no.
And so it is suggested that I join my reader on a trip to Belize to see real snakes. I should say that visiting Belize was never on my bucket list anyway. But having been provided with the details of the poisonous snakes that live there by my dear reader, here, is is definitely not a place that I will be heading to.
362 days ago
I am horrified by how much pruning is needed on some of our olive trees. It is as if they have not been "cleaned, as they say here, for years. But this is just one season's growth. Maybe I have Alzheimer's but I really do not remember it being this hard other than in year one when Foti the Albanian and I tackled trees that had not been pruned in eons.
Below are two "before" shots, one of a floor covered in prunings and two "after" shots of one of the trees I tackled this morning. Phew. I had said that I have 160 trees so a kind reader said "that is 16 a day" but the truth is that I do not know how many trees we have.
For one thing the number is confused by wild olive trees ( no fruit) a handful of big olive trees (used for curing and eating not oil) and a half a dozen old trees that produce nothing. In due course Nicho the Communist and I will replace the old trees and wild olive trees with trees for oil. And we will plant new trees on land now emptied of frigana and so ready to domesticate.
There are also the trees which, until I arrived, were drowning in snake rich frigana and so were ignored. I have butchered the frigana but it is still pretty wild in the far reaches of the hovel's lands and I prune nervously.
So the truth is that I have no idea how many trees there are. But i shall stick to my 20 a day and see where I get to by the time I head home. I shall reveal the results of the olive census then.
363 days ago
Damn. It was a near miss but I failed to kill it. The serpent was not in the olive groves where I trod carefully today as, armed with my new axe pruned 20 trees. I start with the highest yielders, the ones nearest the house which have always enjoyed my tender care. Those in the long grass on the further reaches of our land I save to the end as I know what will be lurking in that grass.
But as I headed back to Kambos, to lovely Eleni's Kourounis taverna for a diet coke and a most excellent Greek salad, I saw it. I was on the stretch of road leading up from the deserted convent to the village about 1000 yards out of the village outskirts and there on the road ahead of me was a snake which must have been at least two foot long.
I should say that i was in my car but feeling Greek I did as the locals do and put my foot on the accelerator and swerved violently to the edge of the road. sadly the snake was an adult and knew the score so just managed to slither into the long grass and escaped me. I heard no crunch under the wheels. I looked in my rear view mirror - there was no snake, dead or alive. I missed.
I think I am a bit out of practice. Next time my reactions will be faster.I am, after all, a proven snake killer.
364 days ago
Finally I hope the photos below show the scale of the rebuild, turning the small Greek Hovel into an eco palace. I was shocked at the, rapid, progress made since February and my last visit. The scale of what is being undertaken is only now dawning on me. We start with the shutters and door to the bat room which used to have open gaps and an earth and rock floor - it was where the animals ( both domesticated and wild) lived.
The concrete srea in front of the bat room (photo two) will be tiled and will sit underneath a large decked area which one approaches from the second floor. Photos three, four five and six are of the new part of the house which will more than double its size.
Photo seven is of the now much enlarged rat room. If you look carefully, the boulder that once stood outside the hovel has - as instructed - been incorporated into this wall. Eight shows the inside of the now almost complete bat room. I am using traditional materials and designs, the floor of the bat room ( and in due course the rat room and the ground floor of the new wing - the master bedroom - are my one nod to modernity in that I am using polished concrete but I think it looks great.
The next photo is from the room I used to sleep in with the rats inside and snakes trying to get in through cracks I plastered up. It is on the second floor and although without a roof right now has had its external stonework sorted and will be the kitchen and route out to that decking mentioned earlier.
The last two photos show the stone we uncovered marking the construction of the old house in 1924. It has been relocated to what will be the external wall of the new room above the bat room which has no internal walls as it leads directly into the upper level of the new wing.
The builders say that the rat room should have a roof and be semi habitable within weeks and we are still on track to complete this part of the project by August. Then it is phase two ( an infinity swimming pool looking out on the deserted convent on the other side of the valley) and three (a second house where the old ruin once stood, about 400 yards away. It is all very exciting indeed...
364 days ago
When I am in England I do not think much about snakes. Okay, three times a week I pick Joshua up from his nursery and he says "snakes" so, on the way home, we pop into Pets At Home and go to see the snakes. They are tiny little creatures, corn snakes, which nearly always hide in their houses and only rarely peek out. When they do, Joshua gets very excited. Most of the time we see no snakes so Joshua just says "bye bye snakes" and we head on past the fish where Joshua says "fish," past the hamsters and gerbils where he says "mice", and to the rabbits where he says "By Bye Babbits" and we head home. And I think nothing of it.
But now I am back in Greece and as soon as I started driving out of Kalamata, where there are few snakes, and up into the hills towards Kambos and The Greek Hovel I started thinking of nothing else. Would I see one on the road? Would I swerve and kill it as a Greek driver would? What about up at the hovel? Surely by now the place is crawling with snakes?
And thus I arrived to find snake killer Gregori and his team of ethnic Greek Albanians hard at work. After a brief pleasantry or two "tikanis, cala, etc, etc" I asked the big question. Apparently since they came out of hibernation about eight weeks ago two have been spotted. There was a big one but it was dead. And a smaller one nestling under a T-shirt someone had discarded. After meeting Gregori it was also dead.
Small ones, this year's crop of adders, are the most dangerous since if they bite they have no idea how much venom to inject so just keep on injecting. But this one met its match in the snake killer and he had a photo of the corpse on his phone to prove it.
The workers are making a lot of noise now and have heavy machinery up there. My hope is that the snakes have done the sensible thing and moved away from the house and, I pray, onto the neighbours land. The odds are that as I prune my olive trees over the next ten days in the further reaches of my land, I shall discover otherwise. There were certainly plenty of lizards in evidence and I am sure that my old adage "where there are lizards there are snakes" is not far wrong.
368 days ago
Daughter Olaf has agreed to join me at the Greek Hovel in late August but only after making detailed enquiries about sanitation. As you can seem the bat room now has a ceiling, a door to keep out the snakes and a shower! What more could a young Lady want? I shall be in The Mani by next weekend so more photos soon.
455 days ago
I was woken this morning by the most almighty explosion of noise. For a moment I wondered if a ship had crashed into the quayside for my hotel in Kalamata is right on the harbourside. It had not. It was thunder. Yet again it was sheeting it down, making three days of torrential rain on the trot. Now the sun is shining but the effects of the downpour were evident as I made my way up to the Greek Hovel.
The first three photos below are of the dry river that heads across the valley underneath the deserted convent on the way to snake hill and on to the hovel. As you can see it is anything but dry and now runs several inches deep across the track.
Indeed the rains have been so heavy that another stream has appeared at the bottom of the hill by the side of the convent, which I incorrectly labelled deserted monastery hill when I first pitched up here almost four years ago. What is in summer, a muddy ditch, no doubt home to numerous snakes, is now a stream so swollen with rainwater that it spills out onto the road.
Both streams now pour into Susan Shimmin's "lake" - more on that tomorrow.
459 days ago
I think that I have published articles similar to this before but it is a point worth making again and again, there is a hidden Greece that so few of we Northern Europeans never see. for most of us Greece is a place we only visit in the stifling hot summers. If we bother to leave the coastal strip we see grass burned brown by a constant sun, if not scorched black by the forest fires that happen all too often. But there is another Greece, the Greece of winter and spring.
The fields all around me are, as you can see below, green. This could be England or Switzerland in the summer. And the flowers are everywhere: reds, yellow, whites, purples. It is a glorious view.
But all too soon it will be gone. By May the sun will have started to have its effect. as the snakes come out to play after their winter sleep, green turns to brown and those flowers disappear. Right now it is T-shirt weather both down in Kalamata and up here at the Greek Hovel in the lower reaches of the Taygetos mountains. there are no snakes around and the view is wonderful. It is, in many ways, the best time to be here.
498 days ago
A kind reader in Australia has twigged that, despite rebuilding the Greek Hovel in an area teeming with snakes, I have a, perfectly rational, fear of the little critters and has thus taken to sending me photos and stories about them on a regular basis. Today's really is the stuff of nightmare and comes with photos.
His mate was just driving along when he noticed something on the driver's side window. The snake in question is a highly venomous red belly black snake. I would have jumped out the passenger side and left the car in the middle of the road running as fast as I could shouting snakes fuck snakes fuck. Natch the couple in question being hard Aussies merely stopped the car and removed it safely with no harm done to anyone.
Reasons not to go to Australia No 107 - snakes on the car.
536 days ago
George the architect is a modernist. I am a traditionalist. And thus at every stage of the design and reconstruction of the Greek Hovel he has an idea, my heart sinks, we discuss it and we reach my conclusion. And so last week we took a trip to a windows, shutters and door factory in the neighbouring village. I say factory, it was a big shed with - as far as I could see - the boss and just one employee.
The matter of shutters was not up for dispute. The Mrs had sent over a photo of her favoured - traditional - design. George tried to suggest we look at newer ways which...I cut him off. The Mrs has decreed, we don't argue. So that was settled. Doors were also settled in that we had sent photos of the big external door at Paddy Leigh Fermor's house down the road in Kardamili. Take away the grill and we are there. Again. Don't argue with the Mrs.
So we entered the factory and George and the boss took us over to a demonstration window frame which was clearly of the modern style. Complex machinery allowed the windows to tilt open as well as be flung open to let in the snakes. I let George and the boss gabble away for a while. I was distracted by the two factory cats and a small kitten which was playing happily.
After a few minutes George and the boss looked at me. I know that the window is expensive, modern and that when the complex joints and bolts break it will cost an arm and a leg to get a little man out from Kalamata to mend it, especially as he will have to order in new parts from Germany which will take weeks. Besides which our house was first built in 1924 not 2014. So I said no and looked at the windows of the factory itself, old style and simple. The message got through.
So we moved on to discuss which wood we should use and after that I looked at the big bags of sawdust piling up and asked "what do you do with that - can I buy it from you?" The man looked puzzled, he just gives the dust away to shepherds for winter bedding for their flocks. Of course he'd be delighted to help but he still looked confused.
George had to explain to him about how you use sawdust with an eco-loo. Not speaking Greek I'm not sure into how much detail he went. But the man nodded and understood. Another problem resolved.
544 days ago
547 days ago
Shortly after the Mrs agreed to buy the Greek Hovel we got an email from the most excellent estate agent Susan Shimmin of the Real Mani suggesting that there was a small lake at the bottom of the valley which one must cross before climbing snake hill. At once I had visions of stocking it with trout like the one from Metsovo I enjoyed with the amazing baker of Zitsa. Then reality kicked in.
Sure there is a pond of sorts directly underneath the abandoned convent. It is fed by a spring which spews out water all year. In winter and spring as the dry river gushes into action it also flows into the pond and it can grow quite large. But as summer arrives the river is dry once again and the scorching heat more than matches the output of the spring and the pond shrinks to a small sink hole.
But that water is still a treat for wildlife. I have seen foxes drinking there. I can only imagine what other members of the wildlife diversity community use it. I say that I can only imagine because I do imagine and have no desire to confirm my worst fears. We know what lives in the dry river during summer storms and I am sure the same creatures use Susan Shimmin's "lake".
For now, the snakes are hibernating and, as you can see, the "lake" is filling up.
574 days ago
After I pick up my one year old son Joshua from nursery we allow ourselves a little treat - a vist to Pets at Home. Later on we look at the tanks of fishes and go visit the rabbits and guinea pigs. Joshua knows what they all are and makes appropriate noises at each point of the store.
The staff do not seem to mind our daily visits apart from one rather stern young lady who I made the mistake of telling how I had eaten guinea pig in Ecuador and how good it tasted as we stared at a cage full of the little creatures. The sour faced millennial said that my comments were not appropriate and stares at me in Paddington Bear like fashion whenever I enter the store.
Our first point of call is always the snake tanks of which there are four. In each tank there is a little house and for the six weeks we have been engaging in this routine the snakes have always been hiding. So Joshua looks at the picture on the tank and goes ssssssssssssss as we wave our hands in snake like fashion and laugh. We know all about snakes from reading the Gruffalo.
But yesterday a banana python was out of its house. About a foot and a half long it was sliding around the tank and then up the front pane directly in front of us. Joshua watched intently but was not laughing. The snake stated at us and flicked its tongue and Joshua looked again but was still not laughing. I think he realises that snakes are not nice creatures which will prove useful when we encounter them in the snake fields at the Greek Hovel.
636 days ago
It is the 50th birthday party of the sister of the Mrs today. The sister in law is married to a bubble and we are staying in their house in his family village about 90 minutes the other side of Kalamata from the Mani. The party is on a boat so Joshua is not invited and I am showing solidarity with my 11 month old son and we are going on a road trip together.
The destination is the Greek Hovel. The workmen are not on site so it will be just myself, Joshua and the snakes up there as we inspect his inheritance. Joshua does know the animal sound for snake. He waves his hand from side to side in a snake like movement and hisses through his teeth. He has seen a picture of a snake in the Gruffalo but yet to meet a real one. I think he knows that they are bad things and not like Oakley ones where you can pinch them and try to push them around.
Then to the nearest village to the hovel, Kambos, to see my friends and for them to see the son and heir. I am charging my camera tonight for a full photoshoot and will bring you the results over the weekend.
695 days ago
Gosh I am brave and show it my devotion to you dear readers. The other day I was working in the fields at the Greek Hovel in an area where the grass is long and the frigana slashing involves wading through that grass. I trod carefully and heavily as I have had wildlife diversity encounters in that area before.
And then I heard it. Well, I did not hear it, that is to say the reptile but I heard the grass moving, a couple of yards to my left. Those who have met me at investor shows will be aware that I am a little hard of hearing but in the silence of the snake-fields your average post can hear almost anything happen. And after a while your ears can, as they sometimes say in Greek, "smell" the different noises.
A lizard makes one noise in the grass as its little legs scuttle rapidly, crushing small stems but brushing very little aside with the swish of its tail. On the other hand as a snakes' body creates great ox-bow lake shapes as it speeds through the grass its powerful muscles push the blades violently this way and the other.
I turned to the noise but the grass had bounced back quickly and no shape was visible. But the sound was clear. It was a snake and it was fleeing from me. It must have heard what a feared snake killer I had become on the serpent grapevine.
Emboldened by this as I drove back to the village a bit later I stopped off at the dry river and glanced at the last remnants of water in the last pool of water where I had spotted "eels" a few weeks earlier. Bravely I got out of my car and approached the stagnant waters to bring you the photo below. Clearly my reputation as a snake killer proceeded me as once again the vipers had fled. Cowards!
706 days ago
After quizzing George the architect, it appears that it is just one of my neighbours who is asking for 900 Euro compensation for chopping off branches on his olive trees to make way for the heavy machinery needed to renovate the Greek Hovel. In fact it is even better than that...
The olive trees are owned by a father and son. The young man reckons 500 to 600 Euros is about right. It is his father who wanted more - 1500 Euro. So they settled in the middle. It is the father who goes to show that, as ever, Paddy Leigh Fermor has the Greeks nailed. 99% of Greeks are the nicest, most fair and generous folks you can meet. My neighbour Charon wants no compensation and neither does the sister in law of lovely Eleni. But, as Paddy noted in his classic book The Mani, just now and again you meet a Greek who is just such a complete and utter bastard that he will serve as a reminder of how great everyone else is.
I have inspected the thirty trees which we have "pruned". In some cases the branches cut are the sort you would cut at harvest time to flail across a machine to clean off olives. They are that small and they will have regrown by the time of the 2019 harvest. So it is one year's harvest lost. In other cases the branches are bigger and it will take three years for them to re-grow.
George and I did our maths and we cannot see how the loss of income over three years is anything more than 400 Euro and that is generous. So I said I would pay 500 Euro and if the old bastard does not accept he can take me to court. Moreover I shall tell the entire village what a bastard he has been and shame him in public. It is his call and I am very relaxed either way.
Meanwhile at the hovel work continues apace. I cut frigana and the Greek Albanians work on the building and on killing snakes. As you can see the ugly concrete blocks beneath the old ugly windows have now gone as well and the one window into the bat room has been extended so that it will get more natural light. The upstairs room will be flooded with light as the windows will be be almost floor to the current ceiling. Of course when it is finished that room - which will lead into the new room above the rat room and the new wing, will have a pitched wooden roof so it should feel very spacious indeed.
709 days ago
I wonder how long the road up from the bottom of the valley to the Greek Hovel has remained unchanged? The house is 100 years old so there will have been a mud track up to it for a century. In the 1970s, I think, the stretch known as snake hill, was concreted over. The biggest pot hole in that part is so large that you need to partially go off road to avoid your car wheel getting jammed inside. Smaller pot holes litter the road but these days I know how to navigate around them. But from the top of snake hill as one winds through the olive groves it is almost entirely just baked mud.
Since the good folks of Kambos have been tending their olive trees up here for a lot longer than the Greek Hovel has been around perhaps the stretch of track through the groves is even older. But my point is that it has stayed pretty much as is for decades. The sheep use it. The snakes sleep on it without fear of interruption, lizards scuttle across it and now and again myself or my neighbour ( two miles away) Charon might drive or wander along it. At olive picking time folks lay mats across the road knowing that they are unlikely to be disturbed.
But all that has changed and its my fault and I feel a bit of a sense of shame. In order to get the equipment we need up to the hovel it has had to be widened. Some awful machine had just scraped away at the grass on either side of the path. In places, new piles of rocks lire discarded as some ancient wall has been pushed aside. You can tell where the earth has been disturbed as it is red. The photo below contrasts new track with that leading up to hovel, earth bleached white by years of sunlight.
I know that walls will be patched up and that in a few years the grass will have regrown and the track will be back as it was but for now I feel as if I have cuased some ghastly modern intrusion in the groves which have lain tranquil and undisturbed for all of living memory. It is my fault and I do feel a sense of shame.
710 days ago
The Greek Albanian building crew are making cracking progress at the Hovel. There are now so many ways to get into the room in which I used to sleep that even the stupidest snake in Christendom can find its way in.
The first photo shows the main door which, pro tem, remains. But if you look right you will see that there is now a hole from the main room linking it to the snake veranda. The plan is that the rat room underneath the snake veranda will be extended by a couple of yards. Then this doorway from the only habitable room will then be a link from what becomes my kitchen to the start of the living area. The plans see us building a whole new wing adjacent to the kitchen/snake veranda which on the second floor just forms a vast living area and on the first the master bedroom.
But that is all for the future. Right now we have another doorway for the snakes.
The next photos are of the front of the house as you approach. The small window at the bottom is the only natural light for the bat room and will be enlarged. The upper two windows are now snake entrances into the only habitable room. And if you look through the snake doors you can see more on the other side.
It is hard to imagine what the hovel will look like when finished. But to try and help you visualise it, one other thing to remember is that the flat concrete roof will be removed and replaced by a pitched wooden roof supported by wooden beams and covered in old style tiles which should, I hope, make the much enlarged upper floor feel truly spacious.
711 days ago
I always carry my camera with me as I wander round the Greek Hovel. This is because of the snakes. If I meet one my first instinct is to flee. My second instinct is also to flee. Just conceivably, if I am carrying a pick axe I might go on the offense. But I have nightmares about snakes and, on balance, I know that I am told that they are more afraid of me than I am of them but I think that is bollocks. Though an official snake killer these days I am still shit scared. And I also recognise that I might just tread on one by accident. Hence the camera.
I walk with heavy step and I tread carefully so I hope that I will never tread on a serpent but one day I shall be unlucky and may therefore be bitten. At which point I shall whip out my camera and take a photo of the little bastard knowing that I have ten hours to seek medical attention. I will thus be able to show the quack what it was that bit me and ensure I get the right anti venom. With luck it will be a non poisonous snake – 18 of the 27 varieties of Greek snakes are non poisonous – and the Shipman will just tell me not to be such a wuss and to piss off. But all bases will be covered.
Having that camera also allows me to snap away at the other wildlife diversity. Yesterday I came across the stump of the tree which used to stand behind the, now demolished, old ruin whose stones are being cannibalised to extend the hovel. What glorious colours were on show. I hope the camera captures the beauty of nature.. Is not God a jolly clever chap? .
716 days ago
What a delight it was to be among the olive trees yesterday. the first treat was to go an investigate two new trees that no-one has seen for years. They were enclosed in a patch of dense frigana bushes with some large frigana trees there for good measure. Previous owner vile Athena had chucked a stack of wire into this mess meaning that I have never been able to tackle it with my strimmer. It was too dense to poison and anyhow I was convinced it was home to numerous snakes so I gave it a wide berth.
But my brave Albanian Greek workforce led by Gregori who kills snakes with his bare hands waded in and the frigana has gone. Instead we have two trees surrounded by logs as you can see below.
I was a bit nervous of treading over the logs but ventured in anyway and gave both trees their first prune in years. What a treat for them and for me.
The other big news is that my babies, the olives themselves are emerging. as you can see they are tiny right now, about the size of a very small ball-bearing but they are there. I fear that it will not be a great crop but the annual delight of seeing your first olives is a delight none the less. that is it for me for today, it is off to the hovel for more pruning.
719 days ago
As you may remember when I was joined in Greece my by wife and her family my type 2 diabetes control went badly off the rails. In the ten days i spent in England there were days when I almost gave up. I was not dreadful, I ate no chocolate and I did take some exercise but not a lot. But I had a few drinks and some days I skipped my medication. I was angry with myself and depressed. But my flight back to Greece on Tuesday marked a new beginning. So we start the clock again.
On the morning of day 5 I am now into a routine of doing enough exercise out at the Greek hovel each day which sees me break into a sweat. Today it was an hour and a half of olive tree pruning. Boy my little babies are vigorous. the ones I prune a month ago have sprouted new shoots to lop off, the ones I have yet to tackle are really hard work. In 30 plus degree heat I have worked up a good sweat and climbing up and down the terraces left me almost breathless by the end. Good news. And I did not see one snake. Even better news.
My hotel has a pool and at 32 degrees down by the sea i am sorely tempted to have a swim. I am taking my medication religiously. I have not had a drink since Sunday nor do I imbibe fruit juice or diet coke. My diet is largely based on Greek salads, although I am allowing myself bacon and eggs for breakfast, and is almost entirely carbohydrate free. I am now enjoying a late lunch of soda water and a salad with no bread at the Kourounis taverna in Kambos.
By blood sugar measurements were 15.3 before I headed to Greece the first time. They were down in the 6, 7 8 range before the mother in law arrived but back in the low mid teens by the time she left. Stress free and back in a routine I tested 10.3 this morning having been 10.5 the day before. That is, of course, far too high. I should be sub 7. But I am heading the right way.
The good thing is that the symptoms of type 2 diabetes, most of which a gentleman does not discuss on the internet, have almost all gone. I feel more alive, more energetic and really looking at new challenges. I did my first podcast for two months today. It is not going to be a daily thing for a good while yet but it was a fun diversion. I have three work projects which I am mulling over. They will not take much time but will be fun and I feel up for a challenge.
There is no plan of going back to normal work any time soon. 10.3 is still shockingly high and unless I get that down to sub 8 by the time I next see my GP in three weeks I shall be getting a right old rollocking. But the trend is my friend and I feel pretty good about the way things are going.
721 days ago
It may sound silly but I find that killing frigana - the horrid thorn bush in which snakes hide - is really the most relaxing thing that I can do. Whether it be with poison or with my strimmer I become the grim reaper and could not be happier.
Today "Death" was armed with a brand new 16 litre spraying kit. One measure of poison from my 5 litre can (also pictured) for nine of water and off I went. The lever on the side must be flexed in order to build up pressure and then you spray away. Oh what joy.
The strimmer brings the satisfaction of causing instant decapitation but the bloody plants just grow again. Poison takes a while but after ten days what was sprayed today will be a golden brown and on its last legs.
Three years ago I used a strimmer only as the frigana was anywhere between waist height and my height and had to be slashed back carefully because of what might be lurking inside. But three years of slashing, burning and poisoning have left the 16,000 square metres of land at the hovel a very different place. And that in itself brings a sense of fulfilment. I have, with my own hands, turned a wildlife diverse jungle into land which can be farmed for olives and - longer term - for vegetables. It is land across which one can wander with clear sight of whatever wildlife diversity may be ahead of you, the diversity has nowhere to hide.
These days there are whole patches that are frigana free. The plants that have grown back are mostly knee high. The industrial spraying by Nicho the Communist a month ago missed out a few areas entirely and the odd plant or row of plants elsewhere. So I am really just adding the finishing touches. Across our lands most plans are now golden brown, dead or dying.
The only concern I have as I spray away is snakes so I tread carefully. But standing on a snake free spot, wearing an Olympiakos baseball cap left at the Greek hovel by the former owner vile Athena, I can then just spray away in pure joy. As the liquid falls on each plant i think of some Bulletin Board moron or share poltroon who has accused me of theft, tax evasion, child abuse, murder or whatever. I compare the frigana plants to the stockmarket villains I hunt in my day job. Maybe my poison is as weak as UK financial regulators in that just when you think a villain is nailed slam dunk or a frigana plant is drowning in poison and doomed, it goes away for a while but then comes back a year later to annoy you once again.
I am not sure if I am winning the battle against stockmarket fraud but who cares? Two hours of poisoning the frigana sees me dripping in sweat but thoroughly fulfilled. In ten days I will be able to witness the tangible fruits of my labour. And there will be a tangible win. Tomorrow I can tackle a whole new swathe of frigana. I can feel my blood pressure falling already. This is the life.
722 days ago
I headed pretty much straight from Kalamata airport up to Kambos for a Greek salad at the Korounis taverna. As i wandered in a couple of old men whose names I do not know raised their hands and said "Yas." Everyone in the village knows about the snake-phobic Englishman who lives surrounded by snakes up in the hills at Toumbia. After that it was up to the snakefields and the Greek Hovel where Gregori and his gang of Greek Albanians have really started to transform the place as you can see below.
The first photo is of the house as you approach it up the garden path. The old tree which used to tower above the hovel and whose roots were gradually undermining it has gone. that exposes the ugly metals windows and the breeze blocks below them to full view but they will be gone too within the next week or so. Imagine that view with old style wooden windows and shutters painted a Greek blue and you can start to see this 100 year old house for the beauty she was once and will be again.
Further along this side of the house all the metal railings have been removed on the stairs up to the front door and the area above the old bread oven. Gregori, who kills snakes with his bare hands, has cleaned out that oven and declared it fit for use. That is a bonus. I must admit that in three years i have not even dared look inside for fear of what members of the wildlife diversity community I might find.
On the other side of the house, an old door which had been replaced with breeze blocks by the vile former owner Athena has been re-opened giving a second entrance to the rat room. That door will in time be filled with a wooden door linking the rat room to the new part of the house which we will add on to double its floor space. The rat room is for Joshua and will link to what will be the master bedroom.
At the back of the house I found Gregori's co-workers. The older guy is actually his father in law. The work they are doing is turning boulders extracted from the digging out of the floor of the bat room into stones that can be used to build the extension. This is done by hand, the old way. It is how the stones were formed when the house was first built more than a century ago. And also when it was rebuilt after the civil war which saw the Commie burn down this place as punishment for its owners supporting, as did nearly all of Mani, the Royalist cause.
The bad news is that yet again planning permission for building as opposed to demolition has not arrived. I was told that it really would come through within four weeks. But i was told the same thing four weeks ago and four weeks before that. I arranged with architect Sofia that we would go to see the planning department in Kalamata first thing tomorrow so find out what is happening. The other bad news is that the timescale for completion has er... lengthened. There is no cost implication, although I brace myself, but instead of being ready by Christmas I am told that it will be ready within a year. I hope that is a British year not a Greek one.
722 days ago
In my absence my gang of Greek Albanian workmen have been busy at the Greek Hovel as you can see HERE. Arriving almost straight from the airport we discussed how work was going, what was next and then came to the main point of my visit, an update on the snake situation. As you may remember this gang got hired after its leader Gregori, pictured below, boasted that he killed snakes with his bare hands.
"So have you killed many snakes?" asked I. Gregori beckoned and showed me a small one that he had killed just the other day. Do not be fooled into thinking this is a harmless little serpent. This was a junior adder which is more dangerous than a mature viper since it does not know how much venom to inject, it just bites and poisons away.
I looked at the small snake and asked if Gregori had met any others. Rather like a fisherman he opened up his arms to indicate the length of the two others he had sent to snake heaven. Bother were adders and more than two foot long. One made the mistake of slithering across the door of the bat room as the gang dug out the floor. The door offers the only light into the room and thus it was all too visible and Gregori had pounced. Three kills in a week, yikes. Gregory cheerfully pointed out that if he had killed three it indicated that there were many more out there in the land around the hovel. We agreed that we need to get hold of some cats as a matter of urgency.
Worryingly all three kills had been within a yard of the hovel which indicates that the snakes do not seem to have noticed that I have snake repellent canisters up to ensure that there is a snake free zone. At this point I was beginning to think twice about my plan to stay up at the hovel on this trip.
If I was in any doubt as to my intentions, that was resolved as Gregori explained that among the next jobs was removing all the ghastly metal windows and shutters so that the stonework could be improved to encompass new old style wooden windows and shutters. My friend seemed worried that this would allow humans to enter and steal what is inside. There is little of value inside the hovel other than my strimmer, which I can store in the village, and my concern was about what non human animals would be heading into the hovel. My decision has been made. I have extended my booking at my hotel in Kalamata.
Living in a hovel surrounded by snakes but with every hole and window securely sealed is bad enough. Call me a wimp if you wish but living in a hovel with no windows surrounded by snakes is sheer madness.
731 days ago
It has been agreed with the Mrs that Joshua is to inherit the Greek Hovel on condition that any other family member can use it at no cost. And so the lad was taken to see his inheritance. Unlike his mother, also in the picture, he made no complaints about eco-loos, the lack of a shower, rats or snakes. I feel the place will be in good hands.
731 days ago
If you have not spent time in Greece you may not be familiar with the restaurant cats. Every place, bar the smartest establishments in Athens and Salonika has them. In the winter, at the tourist resorts, although not at places such as Miranda's in Kambos, the poor creatures starve as custom disappears.
To survive they must do what they are really there for: catch mice, rats and snakes to eat. In fact they will eat anything. Flies, lizards and insects are all protein. At the start of summer those who have made it through the lean months emerge to sidle up to tourists as they sit and inevitably over-order.
The gullible foreigner at first thinks that the cat has fallen in love with them as it purrs and brushes against a fat sun reddened leg. Aaaaaaah what a poor thin little creature thinks the foreigner who tosses over-priced octopus, souvlaki, calamari from he table. It is all appreciated. Bread, Greek salad, the cat is not choosy - after its winter famine it will feast on any calories going.
As soon as the food is taken from one table the cat flicks its tail indicating "laters" and heads off to the next table to express its undying love to a new stranger. For the cats by the sea we Westerners are a soft touch and the summer months allow them to put on some fat to prepare them for the winter hardship. Up in Kambos there are fewer drippy foreigners to fall for the son story.
The Greeks are no soft touch but still titbits are offered and that will be an all year round offering in those non tourist villages. It is not that the Greeks are great animal lovers. I have noted before how Greek children will often taunt and mistreat restaurant cats with the parents watching on. On occasion I have intervened with a load "Oxi" so horrible are the little brats.
But in places such as Kambos folks appreciate that having cats around means there will be no mice, rats or snakes in attendance. Cats are useful friends to have, which is why I must work hard on my feline kidnapping policy for the Greek Hovel.
The specimen below is from the small seaside village of Kitries, the nearest harbour to Kambos.
738 days ago
There are two hardware stores in the village of Kambos (pop 537 including me) providing everything that we peasant farmers need: poisons, fertilisers, tools, plants. You name it we can buy it here. There is one store on the Square where Miranda's and lovely Eleni's Kourounis taverna provide two of the other borders. It has suffered a grave misfortune.
Run by a nice chap called Vangelis it was where I bought my frigana strimmer. My man toy. That was poor Vangelis' misfortune since he now finds me trouping in every few weeks having broken something or other. He patiently fixes it and I go away for a few more weeks. I also buy Sulphur, to deter snakes, from Vangelis.
But i spread my patronage by buying snake repellent canisters and rat poison from the other store from a man whose name I do not know but who seems to be the greatest living expert on the snakes of the Mani, especially the flocks of vipers that inhabit the fields around the Greek Hovel.
My plan is to move into the hovel in about twelve days time and thus I popped in today to buy some rat sweeties. Men of a certain age might think that they are extra large viagra tablets but I assure you that they are lethal rat killers. And so I bought a bag for two Euros.
Wearing plastic gloves I placed sweeties all around the one habitable room at the hovel where i shall be moving in a bunk bed and sleeping bag very shortly. I shall keep you posted on how the rat killing goes although I am braced for the usual bleatings from mad liberals about what a bastard I am for harming the wildlife diversity. Hmmmmm. If any such folks are reading this page, please imagine you are lying there in the dark, two miles from the nearest human being hearing all sorts of noises in the night-time air. Imagine a nightmare of waking up to find a rat staring down at you.
Hey fucking liberals, are you still on the side of Mr Rat?
While in the shop as the snake expert weighted out 2 Euros' of rat sweeties, the conversation turned, as it usually does, to snakes. I said that I had the repellents he had sold me up and working and that Nicho the Communist had helped me poison the land which the snakes did not like. I explained how the workmen were making big vibrations with their power drills which will drive away the snakes. And I reminded him that I was now part of the brotherhood of proven snake killers. My mixture of English and demonstrating with actions seemed to work and the man nodded but said "still you need a cat, or lots of cats."
For, as lovely Eleni has repeatedly said, cats kill snakes. But I explained that i was not always there to feed the cats. that did not matter, I was assured, just get cats there and when you go if they can find no food they will go too. But where to get such cats I asked?
At this point the snake expert chatted with an old man who sits in his shop doing nothing all day. They were laughing. I think they were laughing at my naivete. Mr snake expert said: "The cats are everywhere, you just pick them up and take them." Well this is indeed true. There are cats everywhere but I sort of assumed that the vaguely belonged to someone. I gather some do but most are just fed by whoever feeds them or by God if they happen upon a nice juicy snake.
Owning a cat in Kambos is a bit like owning a bike used to be when I was a student at Oxford. there is no point getting a pedigree Persian in the Mani or a top of the range mountain bike in the City of Lost Causes. Just accept that your cat/bike will disappear and that you will then "find" another one. It seems that cat-napping is thus perfectly legal.
Maybe this is a project for the summer. I think I need an Albanian to help me but we must go and find some cats in Kambos to relocate to the hovel to deal with the snakes once and for all. What could possibly go wrong with this cunning plan?
740 days ago
The bravery I show on your behalf, dear readers, knows no bounds. I wrote an article the other day about how the last pond in the rapidly drying out, and now almost dry, river that crosses the road up to the Greek Hovel, contained certain shapes. I maintained that they were snakes. One reader suggested that they were in fact eels, that I should wade in and capture a few for lovely Eleni to cook for me for my supper at the Kourounis taverna. I can only conclude that this reader wishes me ill. Today I ventured closer to the rapidly shrinking pond and bring you two new photos.
The shape was moving but I think that you can clearly make out that it is not an eel. I have showed the photos to lovely Eleni who says that the snakes I see are not that poisonous but that I should try not to tread on them. Fear not, I got within five yards of the pool, it moved and I retreated rapidly. But not before I captured the two images below.
741 days ago
My almost sixteen year old daughter Olaf has so far declined to visit the Greek Hovel. It was something about the homemade eco-loo. Or was it the hosepipe that is my shower. Or perhaps it was the snakes, rats or scorpions. Honestly, kids today. No gumption at all. But Olaf will be delighted to see how much progress has been made on what will be her bedroom when she stays, what is currently known as the bat room.
This is the room underneath, what is currently the only habitable room. Its light is broken and its one shattered window and door with holes in it have allowed various members of the wildlife diversity community easy access. My guess is that in days gone by it was where the sheep or goats sheltered for there is no evidence of it having had a fireplace.
About half the floor was dirt covered and beneath that a mixture of rocks and soil. But on the far side of the room a giant rock bubbles out of the surface. On that far side the gap between rock and ceiling is only about five foot.
And so the plan is to dig out the soil and hack out the rock so that, without damaging the foundations, we create a gap of seven a half feet. Buy the time we have laid a floor, which will be polished concrete so giving a marble like appearance, there should still be seven foot of headroom. As Olaf is not that much over five foot that will be fine. Indeed it should fit more or less anyone.
One of the stones recovered has been set aside by the workmen. I can see why. It looks as if it has been hewn by man. I am not sure what it is but it merits further investigation I think, don't you?
As you can see we have extracted large numbers of big stones which will be used when we rebuild and extend the Hovel.
And there is also a vast amount of red earth which, pro tem, is parked on the other side of the wall.
The workmen are now on their fifth day and this job is almost finished as you can see. Next up...tree removal.
741 days ago
An hours olive pruning each day is good for the olives and good for me. For starters it is some exercise to keep the type 2 diabetes at bay. Reach up, saw, reach down, axe, reach up axe, look around to check for snakes, hear a noise, panic, discover its not a snake, stop panicking, walk over the rocks and bushes to the next tree, check there are no snakes. Repeat. Repeat again. If I could do this every day the pounds would roll off.
And when not panicking about a noise in the bushes or thinking which shoots and branches to lop off it is a chance to think. I am not sure I always get the pruning 100% correctly in terms of what to lop and what to leave but locals from Kambos who have inspected my work up in the snake fields at the Greek Hovel nod with some sort of approval. I think I get it more right than wrong.
In terms of the thinking I am not sure I get that all right either. There is an awful lot to think about and you can do so in almost total silence. Sometimes you can hear the bells of the sheep or goats. Now and again it is a rustling in the bushes but mostly it is just silence. Its the best place to clear your head.
Anyhow you wanted a photo. sadly I could not find a snake for you so you will have to make do with a lizard. They are everywhere. This little specimen was scrambling up the wall at the Greek Hovel. He or she, for I am no expert at sexing lizards) is about four inches long and could not get away from me fast enough.
748 days ago
I left Heathrow at midnight Greek time. Having picked up a stomach bug in London the flight and the bus journey from Athens that followed were less than comfortable. Wearing a jacket and winter coat from London I was feeling pretty awful by the time I arrived in 29 degree Kalamata at 10 AM.Thank heavens my hotel had a room ready for me to wash and dump my coat in. I headed straight to the Greek Hovel feeling extremely tired.
The good news is that after three years of planning woes work is now finally able to start. If there was an Olympic event in Government inefficiency, Greece would win gold, silver and bronze.
Gregori the Greek Albanian foreman and two assistants had already demolished most of the illegally added structures on top of the snake veranda. By the close of play tomorrow they will all be gone as will the, illegally added, platform on the other side of the house facing the deserted convent and the, illegally constructed lavatory, that does not work.
Tomorrow is a big day. For starters I join the work team. It is agreed, Gregori will kill any snakes we find with his bare hands. But with all the noise he and his two assistants are making the snakes will be in full flight to my neighbour's land. They will be working an eight hour day. My plan is to start at a couple of hours and build that up over the summer.
The other big news is that the Mrs, Joshua and the parents in law are arriving in the evening. We switch hotels to one in Kardamili. My commitments at the hovel might mean a bit less time with the mother-in law but we must all make sacrifices in life.
Anyhow, for the past three weeks I have been able to do a bit of financial writing as I do just a spot of manual labour. It is now full on work with a target of having one habitable room by late summer and the rebuild complete by the time of the Olive harvest in December. As such, that means less writing, I shall just keep my hand in with photo articles from the building site. You cannot get more exciting than that can you? That is what I call page bait!
753 days ago
I arrived at the Greek Hovel bang on time at 9 AM for day two of the frigana poisoning. Not to my great surprise, Nicho the Communist and The Albanian were nowhere to be seen. I sat there watching lizards for three quarters of an hour.
I am not sure whether the large number of lizards around the hovel is a good thing or a bad thing. On the one hand, I am pretty sure that my old saying "where there are lizards there are snakes" is valid. The conditions are perfect for all sorts of wildlife diversity. But on the other hand, lizards are not daft.
Lizards eat moths and insects and snakes eat pretty much anything but they are very partial to a spot of lizard. So if the lizards are everywhere around the hovel perhaps that is because my snake repellent cans are working and they have identified it as a safe space? I know what I hope for but I am not sure where the truth lies. Anyhow, they are gorgeous little creatures. Some are a pure pea green, others are a mixture of green, yellow and black. The smallest are a couple of inches long but I have seen peak green monsters of a foot and a half in the past. They all scuttle along always looking around for both things to eat and for er...danger. I like watching lizards.
But there is a limit to my appetite for lizard watching and so in due course I drove out of the hovel, stopping to shut the creaking gates, and headed off to a packed Kourounis taverna in Kambos. The one notable absentee was Nicho the Communist and it soon emerged that he had, last night, been, once again, celebrating International Worker's Day ahead of time. Assisted by the usual suspects it appears that three bottles of whiskey had been downed and it was suggested that Nicho might be having a bit of a lie in. I left my number with lovely Eleni - whose wealth must be boosted materially by Nicho's celebrations - and about an hour later, shortly after I arrived back in Kalamata, I received a call.
I asked if Nicho was feeling a bit tired after last night and he agreed that he was. But that was not the reason for the postponement of the poisoning. "It's the air - the air is wrong - if the air is good we will do it tomorrow" said my Comrade. I accepted him at his word but rather suspected that the whiskey was the real cause of the postponement. I saw nothing wrong with the air, it was a lovely sunny morning.
But, as it happens, I sit here mid afternoon in my hotel looking up at the Taygetos mountains which form the spine of the Mani peninsular and they are clouded in a thick fog. In fact I cannot actually see the mountains at all. It is almost certainly raining heavily up at the Hovel and so Nicho's excuse was valid. There is no point in spraying the frigana if the rain washes it off just a few hours later. You need a clear 24 hours of hot dry weather for all the poison to be sucked down into the roots.
So it was God not the whiskey that postponed the final bit of poisoning.
754 days ago
As he had promised my friend Nicho the Communist returned to the Kourounis taverna after half an hour and so shortly before eleven, two hours after we planned, we were ready to start poisoning the frigana, the ghastly snake hiding thorn bushes, that blight the Greek Hovel. Shall we go in my car I asked?
I must take The Albanian, said Nicho. Great he has hired an Albanian. I felt much happier. No offence but Nicho is getting on a bit and when it comes to hard work here in Greece you can't beat an Albanian. Moreover, since my status has been elevated to that of snake killer, I have sensed a diminution of the previous bravado of my friend when it comes to serpents. I rather feared that if we encountered one he would join me in flight. Say what you like about the Albanians but they are as hard as nails. They will kill snakes with their bare hands.
And thus I set off in my car, Nicho followed behind in a battered truck with the young Albanian, who greeted me like an old friend "Hello Thomas", sitting beside him. That, it turned out, was the full extent of his English but in Nicho we had an able translater. He is the best English speaker in Kambos, not that there is much competition for that title. For what it is worth I like it that way. Coastal villages might lose their character. Kambos stays resolutely Greek.
When I go poisoning by myself I use a 5 litre bottle which is jolly heavy. But what i was about to witness was industrial scale poisoning. It was genocide. No other word is appropriate for the slaughter which was set to unfold. Nicho drove his truck past the hovel, past the ruin where a snake lives to the far end of the fields. I have never seen that done before and as he squeezed past rocks and over stones the truck became that bit more battered.
As you can see the truck contained a cylinder into which we added 20 litres of poison to the 380 litres of water it contained. I saw we, of course I mean Nicho and the Albanian. The Albanian started a motor and a long hose was unwound and Nicho started spraying. It was not just the frigana but all sorts of bushes and flowers. Everything in fact. The poison does not harm olives trees and of course the trees were spared but everything else got the treatment.
After a while Nicho handed the hose to the Albanian. "I am old" he said. "The Albanian is young and faster." I thought both were frighteningly efficient. My role was limited to helping pick up the hose when it snagged on a rock or a plant but three hours traipsing around the hovel was enough to leave me feeling pretty drained. I thought about trying to explain about diabetes and blood sugars and the dangers of them falling too low but thought that this might be lost in translation and just be seen as a sign of being pathetic. So i soldiered on but celebrated greatly when the 400 litre tank ran out.
We start again tomorrow at 9 AM. The job is 80% done. Nicho assures me that the snakes hate the smell of poison and will flee. And also that within ten days everything sprayed will be dead. We will have another session to finish off anything we missed in a couple of weeks but the land will then be clear and so we can mark out cleared spots for planting new trees in October. And the snakes can bugger off to plague my neighbours. What's not to like?
I handed the Albanian some Euros but Nicho refused to take payment. I mentioned bottles of whiskey and that seemed to meet with his approval.
754 days ago
A reader asks how do I ensure that, when the land around the Greek Hovel has been poisoned, the various herds of goats and flocks of sheep that wander the foothills of the Taygetos do not roll on by for a fatal meal. The land will be pretty bad for their health for at least a week. Its a fair question with a three part answer.
Firstly I have told lovely Eleni what I am up to. Since all the shepherds and goatherds frequent the Kourounis taverna she has warned them what is afoot. Secondly word about Nicho the Communist and I going to poison the snakefields has spread throughout Kambos and is the subject of much hilarity. The Englishman from Toumbia - snakes - Nicho - sober - you get the gist. So everyone knows what is happening anyway.
And finally...I have shut the gate. There is a rickety metal structure at the end of what you might term the "drive" but is really just a continuity of the mud track which leads to the hovel. Normally the gate is left wide open as a sign to all shepherds and goatherds that our land is a common resource. But when I am poisoning I shut the gates as a sign. The gates are very much on their last legs and your average sheep could open them with a good shove. I suspect that the gates will not last the year. I have plans, not yet discussed with the Mrs so do not alert her, to build a great wall around our land and with it large new wooden gates.
I have discussed this with a man called George - that would be George the wall builder as opposed to all the other George's in Kambos - and shown him what sort of wall I want. Once, like the Patron Saint of the Old Country, I have purged my land of snakes, the wall will help keep them out. And it will also keep out any unwelcome visitors from Britain who might object to some of the things I write. Like Donald Trump, I like walls.
Pro tem I make do with an old wire fence that keeps nothing out and a gate whose only purpose is to signal that the land will, for the next ten days, be under poison. So readers, no sheep or goats will be harmed by what Nicho and I are up to.
754 days ago
I had agreed to meet Nicho the Communist at 9 AM sharp to poison the frigana at the Greek Hovel. Lovely Eleni had promised to keep him sober on the Friday and although I tarried a bit over my breakfast coffee I arrived at the track leading to the Greek Hovel by 9 AM and was at the house by seven minutes past. No Nicho. Perhaps he was celebrating International Labour Day early with some breakfast tsipero? I contented myself with some gentle olive tree pruning.
Two or three years ago that would have exhausted me but i worked at a good pace for half an hour or more, saw no snakes, but at 9.45 AM really did start to wonder where my friend had got to. I had grave fears that lovely Eleni had not managed to keep him under control last night. There was nothing for it, I started to drive along the long and winding track and road back to the village of Kambos.
I passed the village simpleton, well one of a few, who was wandering through the olive groves with no apparent purpose. I waved, he raised his hand weakly. I passed an aged old crone, with an arched back where black from headscarf to toe. She was aged indeed. her face looked like an old olive tree, lined and wrinkled and with boils where the tree has knots. She was wandering up the mountain as 80 year old crones do here collecting herbs. I got stuck as a shepherdess and her flock marched along the road. But after quarter of an hour I was sitting with a coffee in the Kourounis taverna in the heart of Kambos.
Sure enough in wandered Nicho the Communist. to his credit ( or rather that of Eleni) he did not appear in the slightest bit hungover. He explained he has a problem with his car. He is taking it to the petrol station where he and Spiros, the owner of the garage which is also where the post for outlying houses such as mine is left, will mend it. In half an hour he will be pack and the poisoning can begin.
755 days ago
My strips for my English meter should have arrived by Fedex yesterday. They have not. And so i am still on the Greek meter where my readings are all over the shop. Overall the trend seems down and yesterday post run I scored a reading of 106 which I gather is 5.9 in proper money. Okay vigorous exercise really spoofs the meter but three weeks ago I could have run a marathon and still not got anywhere near that level. Okay that is a lie.
Yesterday i managed 3.1 km in 26 minutes. A new post diabetic personal best but still a bit short of a marathon. And i was a sweaty wreck. Today it will be 3.3km in 27 minutes and I am jolly proud of myself. that pride was a bit punctured by a late night call from soon to be 16 year old daughter Olaf who claims to be able to do 5 km in 25 minutes. "But well done daddy you are starting from a different base" she opined. Patronising little witch. I will show her.
That was not the extent of my exercise. I headed up to Kambos to pick up my poison for a weekend of frigana poisoning with Nicho the Communist. 80 Euro saw me get a massive plastic bottle which weighed a tom. well not quite but it was frigging heavy and I had to put it down several times as I walked back to my car. Lovely Eleni and her husband Nicho (not a communist as far as I know) laughed as they saw me and at that point Nicho the Communist wandered up. So you two are poisoning tomorrow said Eleni and laughed even more. There seemed some doubt as to whether Nicho the Communist would be sober enough to do it but he assured me that he would. 9 AM sharp on Saturday. We will be poisoning hard all weekend.
As I lugged the massive container to my car I walked past three little old ladies dressed in black who just sit around all day. I could hear them chatting. The Englishman from Toumbia is a phrase I recognise. A truck went by with two young workers from the village olive press. They shouted out "Hi Tom" and seemed to be laughing as well. Another lady hooted. I sense that the nicho The Communist/Tom frigana poisoning the snake fields story is all round Kambos and is seen as a potential source of merriment for all.
Olaf and I discussed how I know more folks in Kambos than I do in Bristol. It is true. Other than a couple of folks from the Conservative Club and our neighbours on one side I know no-one other than my wife's mad left wing friends in Bristol. I have more conversations in a tiny Greek village with 536 people - of whom three speak some sort of English - in a day than i do in a week in Bristol. and I live a healthier lifestyle. And its 27 degrees. What is not to like?
I ended the day with a spot of olive pruning at the hovel. The trees are now enjoying their fourth prune with me after years of neglect so they need less and less "cleaning". It is so quiet up there. There was a flock of sheep but they wandered away so it was just me. In a way that is wonderful. The downside is that even a deaf old man like me can hear the smallest twig crack or leaf rustle. And as I hear such sounds, a voice in my head immediately shouts out "snake." I look around. There is nothing visible. I tread even more carefully. After a while I decided that was enough snake panicking for the day and headed off. But three bouts of exercise fuelled by a bowl of raw oats and two salads, is not bad for a man with type 2 diabtes is it?
One day I shall go into all the symptoms although a Gentleman probably should not. But suffice to say they are all in retreat if not gone altogether.
758 days ago
Fourth time lucky. At the agreed time, Nicho the Communist wandered into the Kourounis taverna in Kambos for our trip to inspect the olives at the Greek Hovel. I had left him the previous day five hours into his binge with George, George and anyone else he could find as he celebrated St George's Day. He confessed that he had continued celebrating until late at night on a taverna crawl round Kambos - there are four places to drink in our village of 536 souls.He had that look, that I remember from my own days of heavy drinking, that says "I am never going to touch alcohol again." But of course you always do. Having not touched the demon drink for almost ten days I am feeling a little smug. Excuse my smugness.
I drove us up to the Greek hovel. We discussed snakes which are all now out of hibernation. "It is their time" he said in a way that reminded me of the Lord of the Rings. Now starts the fourth age of man. Or in Kambos, Gandolph, or Papou, announces Now is the age of snakes. But conversation was a little hard when your companion obviously just wants to go back to bed. He did however note that the Hovel is a lovely place but, as we crawled along the long and winding and very bumpy track looking for snakes to run over, just a bit far from the village. "I like it that way" I assured him. "No-one can find me."
Arriving at the hovel we immediately met a herd of goats. Whose are they asked Nicho. I did not have a clue but said that I did not mind. Nicho was less certain pointing out that they will eat my olives. And indeed that is the case. Sheep walk on the grass and tend to eat only things that lie on the floor. Goats jump on rocks and will eat anything, frigana included, but do have a penchant for olive tree leaves. Nicho went up to an enormous billy goat and told it to bugger off. Which it did. I assured him not to worry. I do not mind losing a few olives if I also lose some frigana. More importantly, snakes do not like goats.
The purpose of our trip was to check out my wild olive trees - trees whose fruit cannot be processed into oil. I seem to have been a little confused on this matter. The two trees I had identified as wild as they produced big black olives which George the Albanian shuns when we harvest, are in fact not wild olives. Those are olives which you need to cure to eat as opposed to pressing for oil. Aha. I told the Mrs later that this was women's work and a job for her. She seemed unconvinced.
But as we wandered to the far reaches of the property, at either end, we did indeed discover at least 20 wild olive trees. Nicho says that he will monitor them this harvest and we will splice on domestic olives for next year so upping my yield. But it gets better still. As we wandered across the land we identified spaces for at least another sixty new trees to be planted this October at a cost of 8 Euro a pop. The net result of this all would be to increase my harvest, ceteris paribus, by at least 50%.
George the architect looks at a non olive tree and says "the Foresty Commision has said we must not chop it down.". I look at these trees and the undergrowth that surrounds them and say "that looks the sort of place snakes like". Nicho looks at that tree and says "I will chop it down so we can plant more olives." I like Nicho's attitude.
So this weekend we are are to poison the frigana which has made a resurgence in certain of the further reaches of the property and will chop down some trees. Nicho has ordered the poison already and he assures me that the areas we deal with will be brown and weed and frigana free within a month. And that the poison will also drive the snakes onto my neighbours' lands. I like the sound of that. We start at 9 AM on Saturday. I cannot wait.
765 days ago
Arriving back at the Greek Hovel I am always terrified as to what forms of wildlife diversity have camped out there while I have been away. I turn up whatever crap music I can pick up on a car radio here in the lower levels of the mountains, open the car windows and try to warn all of God's creations that I am back and they should flee. Of course they know that I am not a hard Greek or Albanian who will kill them all but a total wuss so nothing flees.
The grass is still green and one cannot but be amazed at the flowers that cover our land: yellows, blues, purples, whites, reds - truly it is wonderful way to be greeted. And gazing at the flowers delays the moment when - carrying a big stick I open the doors to see what has entered the hovel since I left.
In the only semi habitable room there appeared to be nothing living. Perhaps my defences, taping up all the holes and then filling them with liquid cement, have actually worked? Or perhaps something was hiding under a mattress. I grabbed my fishing rod and did not bother to investigate. But my hand axe and small saw which I needed for olive pruning were not in the main room. I must have left them in the rat room below. I said "bugger" several times, not that any man was listening.
The rat room is also my wood store and God only knows what has decided to make a pile of dried olive and frigana logs its winter home. Sure it is protected by a ring of snake repelling sulphur but, as I have discovered in the past, some snakes do not know that they should not cross sulphur. As for scorpions or rats it is no deterrent. And so I poked my head around the corner nervously and sadly noted that my tools were hanging on the far side of a room named after its inhabitants when I first cleared it out.
In walked in carefully. Flap! flap! flap! Not rats but bats - as you can see below. FFS don't they know that the bat room is on the other side of the hovel, this is the rat room. Actually bats are good guys. Down here in the Mani they do not carry rabies and they eat mosquitoes so I should like them. But after all those Hammer House of Horrors movies of the 1970s you cannot but help think that they might turn into Lord Howard of Quindell. Despite this I do not fear them.
All God's creatures have a purpose. Even snakes are good, in a way, in that they eat rats which I really do dislike with a passion. I have nightmares about rats entering the Hovel and me waking up with one looking down menacingly at my face. But then I have even worse nightmares about finding a snake slithering up towards me. So it is hard to think of snakes in a positive light. The snake sinned in Eden and thus God decided that it would be hated and despised for eternity and who am I to argue with God?
But back to the bats, I left them in peace. Today I must retrieve my pick axe from the rat room, or the spare bat room as it now is, as I start to knock down the illegally contsructed additions to the snake veranda, the area above the rat room. If the only wildlife diversity I encounter is some more bats I would call that a result.
Finally, since I know all Brits are obsessed by the weather, it is a hot 30 degrees today. But yesterday was far cooler as the storm clouds gathered on the Taygettos mountains above the hovel.
765 days ago
After my sedentary Easter Sunday I was determined to make amends with a perfect display of type 2 diabetes virtue on Bank Holiday Monday and thus having skipped breakfast I picked up my car and headed out to the Greek Hovel. There were wildlife encounters as I explain here and that must have seen me sweat off a few pounds. Indeed my 36 inch trousers are not very obviously starting to fall down. I must, every now and again, hitch them up to spare my blushes.
A spot of olive tree pruning followed and then after a no bread Greek salad care of lovely Eleni at the Kourounis Taverna I headed off for a spot of fishing at a spot recommended by one of my fellow part time residents here. He assured me that it is where all the locals who are in the know head to.
After a 30 minute drive on the old Kardamili road which is now a case study in Greekenomics, as I explain here, I arrived at a rocky cove and started fishing. That is to say I clambered over rocks as the waves crashed in. Being completely isolated and miles from the nearest human being I sweated off a few more pounds of nervous energy. What if I fell in? What if I met a snake and was bitten? In the middle of nowhere snakes were bound to be everywhere surely?
I need not have feared. Within 40 minutes the sea had seized two spinners and a line of hooks and I was heading back along the old Kardamili road towards civilization. My 40 year record of not harming a single fish was, unlike my kit box, completely intact.
By the time I reached Kalamata I was feeling really rather feint. I tested my blood sugar at my hotel and they were just 6.8. That is at one level far too high - 5 is my target. At another level it was alarmingly low - they had fallen by more than 4 points since the morning. I read all the warnings about bloods heading too low and the threat of diabetic coma.
I am advised to keep a chocolate bar handy just in case but ignore that as I know I'd at it in a non emergency.
Thinking on my feet, I delayed taking my evening sugar busting medication and other delightful pills and headed to my favourite restaurant which I had noted was finally open once again. As is nearly always the case it was empty. I really do fear for its future and urge all folks who ever visit this place to head straight to 23 Navarino Street to save the Katelanos. After a delightful portion of grilled octopus and a small black eyed pea salad with a small amount of rough bread, lightly toasted and drizzled with olive oil and herbs I felt so much better and wandered back to my hotel.
My bloods this morning are 9.5. That is of course far too high for the long term but it is where I should be right now. This afternoon there will be more manual labour at the hovel and the trend is heading the right way once more.
766 days ago
In fact I have only been away for about ten weeks since the February burning & olive fertilising season so it is not exactly long time no see. But even had it been ten years not ten weeks I doubt that much would have changed in Kambos, the village nearest to the Greek hovel.
It is a Bank Holiday of course so, don't laugh, most folks here in Greece are not working. But the guy at the petrol station was on duty and greeted me knowingly as I drove up into the mountains on what is a rather cold and grey day. I am not exactly shivering in my Viva Steyn T-shirt but by Greek standards for late April it is fairly cold up here. The fields are a glorious green as the summer suns are yet to burn the grass to straw brown. The alpine like flowers are everywhere. On the mountains ark clouds gather so it will rain later.
The two snake repellent shops are not open. that means that I will have to buy the canisters tomorrow and lay them down to ward off he serpents at the hovel. I am slightly reluctant to start work there until the canisters have been in place for a few hours and are repelling away.
In the Kourounis taverna a few familiar faces greet me with a knowing nod and a Yas Tom! There is a new young man behind the counter who does not know me but I am welcomed warmly by Poppy the ageing mother in law of lovely Eleni. As ever it takes her just a few minutes to lecture me in Greek about how I really must learn Greek. I do understand what she is saying as this is a lecture which has been given many times before. as normal I assure her avrio, avrio. That means tomorrow, tomorrow but in Southern Europe tomorrow very often never comes.
I can see her explaining to the new young man who I am. she points at me and then points up in the direction of the mountains above the village, to the smattering of , almost all abandoned, homesteads that is Toumbia. I think that only the Greek hovel and the house of my nearest neighbour Charon, a mile and a half away from me, are actually inhabited. The other houses stand, like the old convent, slowly crumbling and home only to ghosts and, probably, large numbers of snakes.
Nicho the Communist is not yet here. That means there are no English speakers and also that we cannot finalise our plans for the splicing of domesticated olives onto wild olive trees which we must first cut back. That will, in about three years, turn trees that yield nothing into producers. That is phase one of increasing the yield from the hovel. Phase two will be planting new trees on the areas that two years ago I cleared of the accursed frigana. Phase three will be to buy up my neighbours fields.
But phase three can wait until the hovel is rebuilt something I pray will happen this year. My aim is not to produce enough oil to "turn pro" or become a full time olive farmer. The amount we are paid for our oil is so pitiful ( £3 a litre) that this is not viable. But Id like to think that in a few years I might just be producing enough to pay the land taxes here and for my flights to and from Kalamata. That is for the future. For now it is time to venture up to the hovel to see my friends the snakes.
817 days ago
George the Albanian said to be there at 8 AM and I, more or less, was. No one in Greece is ever on time and so I operate on the "when in Rome" principle. Having showed that I was a hopeless pryomaniac a few days earlier I was preparing for humiliation. I got it.
George gathered a bunch of grass a few twigs and then, as you can see, within a few minutes there was a roaring blaze of the olive branches we had cut as part of the harvest before Christmas.
We moved quickly on to one of the terraces on the Mountain side of the hovel. Again within minutes the fire was blazing away.
George's Mrs then arrived and she too was a natural pyromaniac. I having failed so miserably myself I could but watch and throw branches from the terrace above where the fires were running to the fires below.
For George and his Mrs this was about setting fires to burn the branches. My hope with every fire was that it would also "take out" some of the live frigana plants which were once again growing despite three season of cutting and poisoning by myself. I think George sensed this but it was not his agenda.
After a while I decided to start a fire myself, feeling that having watched the master I could do it. I chose a spot where there were a stack of branches nearby and also lost of green frigana poking through the golden leaves of its brethren which I chopped last year. As you can see I too am a pryomaniac. But George wagged his finger. Apparently my blaze was too close to an olive tree and the fact that it was pursuing a scorched earth policy against the frigana was of no interest to me. that fire was left to burn out. But, sod the olives, I reckon that I did some damage against the real enemy!
Later a couple of fires started to move up the slopes away from the original inferno to take out reasonable chunks of young frigana. I thought happy thoughts. George cut a branch off a tree and beat it out. I am just not thinking Greek, thinking of making lift happy for the olive trees. Instead I think of my enemy the frigana.
In two months I shall be back at the hovel near the village of Kambos. My main job is rebuilding it. A secondary job is introducing new trees to the areas I really have cleared of frigana and splicing domestic olives onto wild olive trunks which I shall create with Nicho the Communist. But my third job will be to brave the awakening snakes and wage war for the fourth year with my enemy the accursed frigana. This year it is all out war...the last battle.
823 days ago
Just over a third of the way between the Hovel and the far end of the land lies an old ruin. I think it was a house once and in a sense it still is. For inside the ruins there lived a snake all of last summer and the summers before. I heard it many times as I rushed on by. When foolish enough to prune the olive tree at its edge last summer I saw a snake shape disappearing into the grass. This is Mr snake's house. But not for much longer.
In a job that I shall supervise not actually take part in, for one very obvious reason, all the stones will be removed and taken to the main hovel to be used in rebuilding and extending it. That is one way that we can ensure that the new hovel even in its extension which will, on its own, more than double the floor space, retains the appearance of the old in terms of stone type. As a bonus Mr snake will have to fuck off and find somewhere else to live - I suggest the other side of the external fence.
But then the ruin will be a phoenix. For what we embark on this year is just phase one - the hovel and the pool demanded by my daughter, she who must be obeyed, as a condition for visiting. The planning permits we have submitted also allow for phase two which is to turn the site of the ruin into a new house with three rooms and a garret study for me.
At that point we would have seven bedrooms plus a massive living space with additional sleeping space on the sofa. The Mrs wants to invite her sociology pals and they can sleep in the Phoenix. I have few friends but hope that folks like Abbe Aronson, the woman who broke my heart in 1986 and whose birthday it is today (Happy Birthday you old lesbian who have caused thirty years of misery and mental trauma for myself with your callous rejection BTW) will pop over for a visit and, natch, stay in the hovel itself.
Right now I cant' wait to supervise the tearing down of Mr Snake's house, but the Phoenix will - one day - arise in its place.
823 days ago
I have been reluctant to enter the rat room at the Greek Hovel. Its light is broken and it is dark. I bravely ventured in once to leave my axe and saw but did not enjoy it, as the room contains a great pile of logs I put there a year ago to burn in the fire when this place is finally habitable.
I have surrounded the logs with sulphur to keep out snakes. But not all snakes appear to know that sulphur is a line they cannot cross and scorpions have no fear of the yellow powder at all. I have not yet seen a scorpion at the hovel but I am told that they are everywhere. It is only a matter of time.
True, both scorpions and snakes are hibernating but both like to find winter sleet in a dry place such as an empty room in the middle of nowhere and under a pile of logs. Put another way, the rat room is now set up as a 5 star hotel for the wildlife diversity.
Having hung up my axe and saw I scuttle away quickly. Best not wake the little darlings up. When it comes to moving these logs in the summer rebuild, that is a job where I am keen to supervise rather than take part. I am sure you understand why.
824 days ago
I am reluctant to draw a map of the route to the Greek Hovel pointing out all the landmarks that I refer to in my writings. Maybe you want to see exactly how Monastery Hill links to snake hill? Well tough, I enjoy the safety that comes with folks finding it bloody hard to find me.
You may remember that when I explained to my neighbours in Kambos about the death threats I received for exposing the Quindell fraud, Nicho the Communist and Vangelis kindly offered to shoot anyone who came to Kambos and was asking where I lived. Thus I have a belt and braces approach to my safety: it is very hard to find where I live and if you ask, Nicho will kill you. You can't say fairer than that.
And so you will just have to imagine. Monastery hill leads down past what, I now know to be, the abandoned convent. When I first arrived I thought it had once housed monks and as I drove past it in the dark I terrified myself with images of ghostly monks in long black robes trouping past my little auto. Even in the daytime that hill is covered by a canopy of trees and so feels cold and it is often damp. So it used to have terribly negative connotations.
But then I met the most amazing lady who looks after the place with a, I fear misplaced, belief that the nuns will return. And I know it was a convent not a monastery so though the hill retains its name in my mind and in my writings, if nowhere else, I view it in a wholly positive fashion.
On the other side of the dry river is snake hill. My guest in 2015 encountered a live snake there while running up the hill. For me it is too steep to do anything other than walk up the concreted surface. I have only met a dead snake there but numerous times I have heard rustlings in the bushes on either side. Snake hill = negative thoughts.
At the top of snake hill there is a short gently sloping patch where concrete turns to mud as you head into the olive groves owned by the lovely Eleni. This short stretch of track is now officially, in my mind at least, known as Mark Slater hill. It was there at the start of a torrential thunderstorm that I had a long chat with my friend shortly after Brexit. The noise of rain on my car roof was thunderous so I opted to stand outside, getting drenched, to take the call.
It was what happened next that made it a memorable chat I headed back to the hovel in my car and rushed inside to dry off. I sat down in dry clothes and started to record a bearcast. Six minutes in - Bang! Lightening struck the hovel. You can hear that bearcast here. I hope never to be struck again but it was a memorable experience that day. Try everything once apart from incest and folk dancing and all that.
Being a fund manager Mark will know all about finding himself next to snakes. But now Mark Slater Hill lies next to Snake Hill.
827 days ago
I published a piece earlier about how I had spotted a very old bridge underneath the old bridge where the bodies from the Kambos double murder of 2014 were dumped. Feeling a bit nervous I trekked down to the very old bridge today clutching a camera and a phone in case of emergency. God knows if it would have worked at the bottom of the gorge.
The path down to the dry river was not to steep but it was not the sort of path I would have walked along in summer. Undisturbed by humans it is exactly the sort of place snakes would seek out for a spot of sunbathing. But they are all asleep are they not? After about fifteen yards I heard a rustle in the bushes behind me. I did not see what it was but, though it is utterly improbable I almost convinced myself that one of the serpents had set his hibernation clock for the wrong time. I was just in that sort of paranoid mood.
Arriving at the river I looked up the gorge having horrible images of flash floods sweeping me away. There is no reason at all why this would happen but as I headed down I looked to see how I could escape if such a flood arrived.
The boulders are large in places and it struck me that, as a boy, might have enjoyed climbing across them and leavering myself along. as an almost fifty year old man my best days of clambering along such rover beds are behind me.
As I moved towards the bridge I thought of the two bodies hurled there in 2014. The men had already been shot but this was their temporary resting place. I thought also of Paddy Leigh Fermor finding a dead body on a dry river bed as he walked to Kambos. At the bottom of this valley it is darker than at the top and it seemed a gloomy sort of place where dead bodies really should be found. Looking upwards you realise how "far down" you are
The bridge is in good enough nick. as you can see I clambered through blackberry bushes up the side of the valley allowing me to walk on the bridge. a few bushes are growing out of the top and it disappears on the other side into thick undergrowth. So I guess that I am unusual in walking across it in 2017.
There was no visible datestone but I shall be asking around about it in Kambos. I realise that the events of 2014 might make this a difficult subject to broach but I am keen to find out when it was built and anything about its history. I shall keep you posted. But it is a link with an older Mani from a time before you could reach the village of Kambos by road and thus it is something I'd like to check out.
As for skeletal remains, there was something. But this dead sheep was doing no savaging.
829 days ago
As I drove up the mountain road to Kambos and the Greek Hovel I could see smoke rising all around me. It is the season when you burn the branches you chopped down in the olive harvest, start pruning your trees and give them a bit of fertilizer. I bought a lighter in Kalamata and, having been trained by George the Albanian on how to start a fire with a few bits of dried grass I was determined to match my neighbours.
As you can see their fires roar away. I must report that I tried for 30 minutes and failed. The piles of branches are the sort of places that snakes might hibernate so I have two reasons to want them to blaze away. But my repeated attempts to set fires going ended in abject failure. Reluctantly I have asked lovely Eleni at the Kourounis taverna in Kambos - my conduit to Greek speakers - to call George for assistance. Until he is ready I must content myself with a few days of aggressive pruning.
The hovel is changed little. I pray that we start rebuilding it in April and it will be transformed and so for the record here it is as it stands today with one shot from each side. I opted not to venture inside either the main room - which is sort of wildlife diversity proof - or the rat room or bat room which are not. God only knows what is living inside and so I shall save that treat for when George arrives. Fearless George will tackle whatever lies inside.
For as of now the Hovel is as isolated and devoid of human contact as ever. Great. The Grouch is my role model. The only creatures who wandered by are below. The sheep and goats here are mighty big creatures and I see that - as I requested of my friend the shepherd - they have been grazing my land hard for sheep droppings are everywhere. that is good for the land and short well grazed grass makes me happy too as it offers less cover for the you know what's in the summer.
894 days ago
It was in the summer of 2015, I think, that I made the acquaintance of a feral kitten at the Greek Hovel. The timid little thing was terrified of humans but I managed to persuade it to take a few saucers of milk. I did so because I love cats and who cannot love a sweet little kitten? I also thought how much it looked like Kitosh, pictured, the cat I owned before Oakley. And there was self interest at play as well.
I have now and again wondered if the little kitten had survived the winter as I have not seen it since. Until, I think, this week. Now it could be another young cat with Kitosh type markings or my memory could be playing tricks on me. But earlier this week I saw this magnificent beast striding through the olive trees beyond the ruined cottage, presumably on the hunt.
I made that sound you do with your lips to attract cats and it turned and stared at me. It gave me a look that said "whatever" and turned away to move on. Again, late ;last night the same cat strode close to the hovel and looked at myself and the two women as we thrashed olives wildly, and then just wandered off.
Feral cats eat both rats and snakes. So having such a beast regard the hovel as home turf is damn good news. I hope it is "my kitten" but the real news is that we have a vermin catcher in residence.
Now and again as the Mrs and I chat we wonder how our morbidly obese three legged cat Oakley would fare against a rat or a snake. The conclusion is not that well. I suspect he would just sit there giving it a stupid "what are you" look. The Mrs thinks he would run as fast as his, three legs, could carry him. Oakley has his own charms. The feral cat/kitten is, however, a magnificent hunting machine.And my joy that it is batting for team Greek Hovel is very real.
898 days ago
I am so tired. As soon as I press "publish" on this article i am off to bed. Today there was no break other than 20 minutes for lunch and so I did a solid six and a half hours. It is not that I am spectacularly unfit (cue jokes from health guru Paul Scott), it is just that I have to try to keep pace with hardened professionals, viz George the Albanian and his two female assistants. Boris Johnson likes riding bicycles but he would be some way off the pace in the Tour de France. It is similar here.
But I am proud to say that although I thought about bunking off early I stuck it out to the end. And I am getting quicker at my given tasks, the ones normally allocated to the old ladies, they having been promoted ahead of me.
The progress was rapid today. I reckon we might just be finished in two days time and we must have lifted at least 550 kg of olives once again today. If not more. What is surprising me is that the trees the other side of the ruined cottage on the property which yielded very little, even in the bumper year of 2014 and almost nothing last year are also dripping with olives. Naturally I put this down to my skilled pruning in the summer. It is just possible that we will need another three days to finish so great is the harvest.
Today saw us tackle the tree that lies inside the ruin. It is a not a tree that I think about with anything other than fear as I have often observed a snake slithering into the bushes around it. I have not actually seen the snake because as soon as I see a slithering motion in the grass I run as fast as I can in the opposite direction shouting "fuck it is a snake." Not that is ever anyone around to hear me. But the number of times I have seen the slither makes me certain that it is the lair of the snake.
And so my pruning of this tree has not been as diligent as on other trees. I did some hacking but trod gingerly and the prune was not complete. Of course the snakes are all hibernating or, as they say here, asleep. But where do they sleep? I think of the Gruffalo and look nervously at fallen logs. Maybe it is underneath stones or in holes? I do not know but there are plenty of places around the ruin for Mr Snake to sleep. So what if I tread on him or kick over the log or stone by accident? Will he wake up in time to bite me before I scarper, screaming as I go?
George went for the tree and chopped off lots of branches. One of his ladies pointed at the fallen branches and pointed to me and said something in Greek or Albanian. I knew what she meant. Gingerly I picked up each branch and threw it onto the pile that I was assembling for flailing. I think I lost about a stone and a half of nervous energy during that task. But no snake was seen. None the less I have been thinking about snakes ever since.
At the end I was so tired I considered just crashing out with the rats at the hovel. But then I thought of my nice warm bath, nice warm bed and snake and rat free hotel in Kalamata. It was no choice.
And now to bed.
903 days ago
The recent rains means that my friend George the Albanian cannot start work until Saturday on our olive harvest but I went up to the Greek Hovel to do a preliminary investigation and it looks as if we have a pretty good crop. It has been a wet years and I like to think that my aggressive pruning and work on fertilising the trees has paid off. As you can see, the trees are just dripping in olives.
Of course olives are not the only things growing up at the hovel. I was amazed to see that there are still some prickly pears on the bushes and apparently edible.
Rather less good is that the frigana has also grown back.
In fact everything has grown. You probably think of Greece in the summer as a country where everything is a burned straw brown. But right now everything is just green. What a wonderful place. And at this time of year the snakes are all asleep. The rats less so although preliminary investigations inside the hovel detected no obvious signs of wildlife diversity.
1063 days ago
1067 days ago
My daughter calls to wish me a happy father's day. Sadly she has not been tracking my whereabouts and so this serves as a just past midnight wake up call. It is not as if I can sleep anyway. The fan is broken and the heat inside the Greek Hovel is unbearable. I dare not open a window for fear of what might come and join me, although the night air is cool.
Now and again I venture onto the small balcony outside my prison cell which looks over the valley towards the deserted monastery. I stand there in just my underpants for there are no humans anywhere and it is refreshing. I return inside, seal the door and within minutes sweat is again pouring down my arms and off my face. I suppose it must be good for the figure.
Unable to sleep, I play the one game that sits on my battered old Nokia phone, the sort of old handset that causes my daughter to say "oh Daddy" as if I have committed some appalling faux pas. Now you may think that it is strange, given how my life out here is driven by a fear of snakes, but the game is called Snake Xenzia and I have just recorded a score of 1,524 which is a new personal best. So there.
You may well say that this is ten minutes of my life wasted. I agree completely. But pro tem sleep is just impossible and I cant spend the whole night watching old Def Leppard videos on youtube. Something which, in itself, is not the most productive way to spend my time
1067 days ago
1068 days ago
For the reasons explained in the Tomograph and bearcast I sense that my visit here will be cut short and thus there is a mad scramble to complete my olive pruning. I had reckoned that I had three days work left. I blitzed it today, doing two sessions in which I worked till I felt feint and I think I am now just a day from completion.
It is hot and after each session as I trudge slowly back to the Greek Hovel, for the last trees are in the far reaches of our land, my mouth is parched and my limbs ache. I arrive back and dive for the little tap on the side of the house which is where we get all our water from here. I splash it on sweating arms and my face. I gulp greedily. I am drinking pints of water now to replace the sweat that has poured into my T-shirts and long black jeans.
Given what lives in the long grass and bushes that surround the trees, this is not a place to wander around in shorts.
When walking between trees and pruning I always have half an eye on what may be watching me.
My tools you have seen before.
As I prune, I thank the Lord that at Byfield Primary School back in 1973, teachers with a Victorian mindset, forced me to stop writing with my left hand and to use my right. It means that I can do certain things with both hands such as hold a squash racket or, more importantly, use either axe or saw.
The point of pruning, I think, is to remove any twig, shoot or branch that has zero chance of bearing fruit or which has so few fruit that it is very low yield. I admit that I would not bet the ranch on calling every branch right but the Shepherd has inspected my work and reckons its okay.
Some of the slashing is at the base of the tree where new shoots are coming up. that is axe work. You see some such shoots below.
Most is up in the branches. Sometimes it is just a young shoot, other times a large branch with just one or a few tiny olives which must be sawed off. Water and nutrients are rare here (despite my efforts) and so all goodness must be pushed to the most productive olive bearing branches.
And when it is all done there is a mass of branches, leaves and twigs on the floor. he Shepherd's sheep love them and view them as a real treat. He should be up with his flock shortly.
But the trees I prune today are ones in the far reaches so I am not sure the sheep will find them. I know they were not pruned last year. My suspicion is that in some cases it has been several years since they were pruned or even harvested.They are often surrounded by tall grass, frigana and other bushes. To reach them one must clamber over rocks. I just know this is snake territory. But I battle on.
ETA completion - Monday night. And for a bloke who normally sits behind a desk all day that is quite a feat. I will feel good about myself as that last branch is lopped off.
1071 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.
1079 days ago
I gather that back in the UK you have all had a spot of bother with thunderstorms and tornados. Has David Cameron managed to blame a surge in support for Brexit yet? Just watch out little people, if you back Boris and Priti you are all going to drown and here are a list of 100 experts who support that claim. Okay 98 of them are on the EU payroll in some way, shape or form but they are frigging experts and you are little people who cant be trusted to make your own minds up. So either start building an ark or vote the right way!
As it happens the mountains above Kardamili are also covered in dark clouds and the thunder sounds ominous. The Mrs has conceded that there will be no sea swimming today and I have opted not to head back to the hovel for a spot of snake spotting and frigana slashing. It is clearly set to tip it down. Is Brexit to blame for the Greek deluges? Apparently Dodgy Dave's NBF President Erdogan of Turkey blames it all on the wicked Kurds.
Update: it is now tipping it down, the lightening is lighting up dark skies and the thunder is noisier than ever. We sit in our hotel room and I say to the Mrs that we must look on the bright side, at least this rain is really good for our olive trees. She says: even better, it means that you wont make me go and see them today! The cheek of it all, what could be more enjoyable than olive pruning at the snake safari that is the Greek Hovel?
As it happens I am rather glad to be in a warm and dry hotel room with air conditioning right now rather than at the hovel. By now the mud track, which leads from my front door to the top of snake hill where the road turns to concrete, will be filling up with puddles and driving will become less than easy. The snakes love water and will be out and about. And the one room I live in will be dry but either freezing or boiling, a fridge or a sauna - not a place to be trapped inside by a deluge.
1080 days ago
When the Mrs bought the Greek Hovel we were told that there were around 120-150 olive trees here. A few are wild so bear no fruit but still we had a lot of trees. I am now convinced that the number is far greater as I navigate the far reaches of the land. I do so more conscious than ever, after yesterday, that I am not alone as I work.
There is 16,000 square metres of land here. Okay knock off 500 square metres for the house, the ruin and the "drive" but that is still a lot of land. Looking out at the immediate garden which is olive tree rich and, roughly, 100 square metres contains eight trees. Elsewhere on the property the intensity of tress is far less but a bit of basic maths suggests that we must have well over 150 trees here.
What also convinces me that we do have more trees than previously thought is that I have now been pruning at between 8 and 15 trees a day pretty much every day for at least 20 days. And I still have a stack of trees to go. The trees I tackle now appear not to have been pruned for many a year indeed I somewhat doubt that they were harvested in the past given how deep they were buried in frigana bushes. But that frigana was hacked back big time two years ago and poisoned and chopped aggressively last year. Now I am wading into what must be the last redoubts of the frigana, the last bits of this land which it clings to and, in doing so, I am exposing yet more trees.
The problem - as I am sure you have guessed - with a foray into land which has not seen human visits for many a year is that I am very much not alone. I tread heavily, carefully and slowly but the grass, frigana and other bushes are thick and hide many things. I hear creatures moving around me more often than I care to consider and I find myself thinking what happens if I do meet a you know what? How brave will I be? Will I stand my ground, armed with axe, saw or frigana chopping machine or will I run away screaming. And then suddenly it was not exactly a hypothetical question.
There I was yesterday and after about two hours in the fields I was tired, my limbs ached and I was almost ready to call it a day when I heard something. I spun around and the grass and bushes were moving in a clear S-shape pattern. They were at least moving away from me. I stared transfixed at where the snake appeared to have come to rest. I could not see it but was acutely aware that it was blocking my path back to the Greek Hovel. A dilemma indeed.
And thus I found myself swinging right - that happens a lot as one gets older and grows up - and clambering up a wall to take an indirect route home. That saw me discover three more trees that have not felt man's tender love for many a year. They were duly pruned before I heard another noise. Enough is enough, time to head back to the hovel.
However, as I push on to the far reaches of the land here, there will inevitably be other encounters. I am now on the lowest terrace that surrounds the property on both sides, I find trees up against iron fencing that marks our boundary and which are protected by thick bushes.The work must go on. Not only do the olives deserve a prune but the land here must be cleared for only then can myself and George the Albanian undertake the replanting programme we plan for the spring.
My sense is that around 40 of the 200+ trees here are either wild or in such bad nick, for whatever reason, that they need to be replaced as they will never yield us anything. Moreover there are now vast stretches of land which two years ago wre covered with frigana but which are now clear and where olive tree density is perhaps only 1 per 100 square metres or less. I had calculated, from experience, that this property would generate 600 Euro ( bad year) to 1800 Euro (good year) revenues from oil.
I can see that my maths was all wrong.Not only can we almost double the number of yielding trees but with a bit more care of the whole estate, pruning, watering and fertilising it should easily start to yield 1500 Euro (bad year) to 4500 Euro (good year). And then when I buy another field.... Bear in mind that I could live on well under 800 Euro a month out here and I am sure you can see where I am heading. That sort of maths would allow me to spend all my literary time writing not terribly commercial articles about life in Kambos and up here at the hovel. Sod the stockmarket. What fun!
Okay, I am getting ahead of myself. I still have another ten days of olive tree pruning and frigana clearing, perhaps more. But at least I shall have company at all times.
1080 days ago
For some reason I awoke early this morning. It is probably the knowledge that the Mrs lands at 11.30 Greek Time and so I have a fair bit of scribbling to do to ensure that you get your daily dose of golden prose and poisonous malice. As is my wont I threw open the front door ahead of doing to an olive tree what only a man can do. With a speed my morbidly obese three legged cat Oakley could not even contemplate a small cat shot past me.
I am pretty sure that this little black and white creature visited me two summers ago when I gave it some milk. It is a little larger now and will be one of the numerous feral cats that roam the hills around here. There is clearly a domestic cat gene or two in it but it is wild and terrified of humans. What it was doing on the snake veranda last night I cannot imagine.
This member of the wildlife diversity community is most welcome. I am by nature a cat person but out here I want as many cats as possible roaming the property. For not only do they eat mice and rats but they will also attack snakes too and wll kill them for food. Before I could reach for a camera, Mr cat shot off into the fields where, after yesterday, I must wish him the happiest of hunting.
1081 days ago
He is back. In the space between the window at the far end of the room from my bed and the shutter sits a smallish rat. It is where the rats always sit. I thought that I had driven them all away with generous helpings of rat "sweeties", the little blue pills which help send them to a "better place".
Sadly I heard a rustling last night and there today sat the rat. I banged on the window and it did nothing. It was clearly unaware that I am a serial rat killer well versed in using both poison and the mini spade I use for clearing out the fireplace for smiting my enemy. Frigging hell Mr Rat have you not seen the axe and saw I wield as I wade into the snake fields? I am the frigging Gruffalo and you are meant to be scared of me like the snakes who slither away. But Mr Rat seemed unphased.
So I opened the window a bit and dropped in four big rat sweeties. Mr Rat is delighted and is sitting there now munching away happily. Be my guest Roland....
1082 days ago
1083 days ago
I have somehow lost the only torch that actually works. And that means that the eight yard walk from where I park my car to the front door of the Greek Hovel must be made in complete darkness. Well almost. I always leave the light on at the hovel to guide me. Except that last night I also forgot to do that.
And so, after a long phone call from a fellow member of the Banstead Athletic supporters club, taken in Kambos last night I made it back to the hovel just after midnight and the skies were black. I shone my car headlights at the bat room and had the music blaring from the car radio. I hoped that the wildlife diversity was listening and fleeing.
In theory the path to the house should be safe from you know whats as it is inside the zone protected by Herpotex snake repellent canistsers. Indeed there is one canister right by where the car is parked at the start of the path. But I always worry that some snake might not get the hint and thus I trod slowly with heavy footsteps getting a small amount of blue light from my battered old mobile.
Crunch went my feet on the brown leaves. I heard no noises. I made it home safely and locked the door from inside. After several days of 30 degree heat the hovel is steaming inside but I dare not open the windows for obvious reasons. A secure wildlife diversity free room is more important than personal comfort.
I swapped emails with Uncle Chris (Booker). I said that I will be buying a torch this morning. He said "buy two...you never know when the lights will go out all over Europe". Two it will be. That will make a collection of five and at this rate I shall be opening a broken Torch museum before too long.
1090 days ago
As you may remember, Nicho the Communist delighted in telling me upon my arrival in Kambos that the snake harvest had been excellent this year and that the fields around my house, the Greek Hovel, would be full of them. During the past few weeks he has several times asked after the snakes, managing to speak and laugh at the same time. And so having encountered one, I felt I should relay the news to him.
We were sitting, as you might expect, in the Kourounis taverna. I told him what had happened and he looked straight into my eyes and asked earnestly "Did you kill it?"
You and I know that as the snake slithered away from me into a bush I moved in the opposite direction and regarded it as a good thing that we part company. But that is not the Maniot way. Someone from the Mani would see it as their duty to dive into the bush and club the serpent to death with whatever lay to hand. Should I fess up to Nicho that I ran away or would that be seen as almost as bad as supporting Turkey in the Euros? "It escaped" I said. He grunted, suspecting I think, that I was not really that keen on snake killing unless it was from the safety of a car or a motorbike.
It is not just the Maniot men who have the killing gene. During the Greek war of Independence from the accursed Turk, the rebellion started in the Mani. The men took time off from fighting each other in blood feuds to march on Kalamata and slaughter the Ottoman garrison on March 23rd 1821 just six days after the Mani led Greece in declaring war.
Later on in the campaign the Turks thought that since the Maniot fighters were engaged in hostilities in the Kalamata area they would send 1500 Egyptian soldiers by ship, forty miles down the coast to land at Diros and then seize the Maniot capital Areopoli which is a couple of miles inland. The Turks landed their men but 300 Maniot women and some old men were working in the fields, harvesting crops with scythe and sickle. The maniot women fell upon the accursed invaders and catching them by surprise drove them back them back. As another 300 Maniot old men and women arrived the panicking Egyptians had to swim to their ships or die. Very few made it home.
There are other tales of heroic Maniot women fighting the accursed turk through the ages. And as such when anyone from this region sees a snake they will pursue it and destroy it in a fearless fashion. For snake read Turk. I am afraid that I just do not possess this fighting gene and though I am now more relaxed about snakes, the idea of pursuing one into the bushes is just a step too far.
1094 days ago
There is a reason that the Greeks, or rather the Albanians the Greeks hire to do manual labour, start at 8 AM and finish at 3 PM. The reason, I think, is snakes. That is to say the snakes are at their least active in the morning. During the day they sunbathe and so by dusk they are really quite frisky. I have hitherto been working to a different schedule. Silly me.
You see when I awake I start writing articles for you my dear readers. By the time you open up your PC at seven I have already been generating golden prose for at least ninety minutes. As such by the time I had finished generating golden prose and had my lunch (Greek salad) in Kambos today and got back for olive pruning it was 4.40 PM.
And so I headed straight for that part of the property which, when I first arrived, was a thick frigana jungle. I was convinced then that it was the sort of place that snakes really would want to hang out in but two years ago cleared it none the less, wading into the bushes in a fearless manner and, as it happened, encountering not a single snake.
It is not an area where the olive trees yield much. I think that is because for years they have never been pruned or fertlised as they were simply immersed in frigana, in dense jungle. That, I have determined is all to change and so I started work. On one tree a wild olive, non fruit bearing specimen, had attached itself to the trunk and I sawed away, eventually dragging the parasite trunk in three cleanly cut pieces onto what will be a huge bonfire at Christmas but is for now just a huge pile of branches, a sort of sanctuary for the wildlife diversity.
As the evening light started to fade my limbs started to tire. It is hard work olive pruning. One must bend down to remove little shoots of olive at the base of the tree with your axe and also reach up into the highest branches to axe and saw away new growth that cannot yield fruit this year. I was sweating and tired and on my penultimate tree. And then I heard a rustle and looked around to see something shoot off into a bush.
Lizards shoot off in a straight line. Their back legs propel them like a bullet straight to safety. Snakes slither so you can see the S shaped movement as the tail disappears. This was a snake. It must have been a small one which suggests it was poisonous but it headed away from me and must have been sitting in a bush two yards from my feet as I heard no more noise.
"Fuck me" I said rather loudly although the only creature that could hear me was the snake. I chopped a last few branches from the tree and decided that maybe the Greeks were right not to prune as dusk approaches. I decided to walk the "safe" way back to the hovel, that is to say along the goat path that runs between our land and that of our neighbour and onto the main track. It is rarely used but surely safer than walking back through the bushes. It goes without saying that within thirty yards I heard a very loud noise and something slithering off into the bushes.
As I wander I carry my pruning axe in one hand and my pruning hand saw in the other. So the snakes should be aware that I might be a hard Albanian who will go for them, not a Western pansy who is fecking terrified. Anyhow, I shall write late tonight so that I have a clear morning of pruning tomorrow. When in Rome do as the Romans do.
When in Greece do as the Albanians do because the Greeks are too lazy.
1096 days ago
I have two sets of keys with me and both lie on the table here at the Greek Hovel. One is my English keys, my house and the restaurant. The other a set of Greek keys, one of which opens the hovel's door the rest of which are there for decoration - God only knows what they open.
For once I left my laptop in the hovel last night having worked solidly all day. I took just a bit of cash, my phone, my passport and credit card down to the village for supper. Really that is all I need to get anywhere in the world so I always carry those things with me. I grabbed a set of keys, locked up and headed off for a Greek salad.
There was an almost full moon but on my return it was still very dark. I hope that the snake repellent canisters make the area around the hovel a safe zone but I always flash my torch nervously as I walk, slowly and with a deliberately heavy step, up the path. I reached in my pocket and all I could find were my English keys. Feck. I must have dropped the Greek keys somewhere.
I headed back to Kambos to the Kourounis taverna and checked where I had been sitting. Nothing. It was by now almost eleven and I was panicking. I established that I had not - as I thought I had - given lovely Eleni a spare key. Where the feck was that spare key?
There is a way into the hovel clambering up a back wall and through a window. But at night. the snakes.... perhaps not
And so I gave up. I drove to Kalamata to the most excellent Messenian Bay hotel where they recognised me from 15 months ago when - for 10 days - I was their only guest and i was greeted like a long lost friend. An ouzo on the house and a luxury suite at a single room rate was provided. Luxury. Sleeping in clean sheets. Having a proper shower.It was almost worth the hassle.
This morning I returned to the hovel. You know what? A thought crossed my mind. Maybe somehow a Greek key has slipped onto my English ring? Indeed it has. Inside on the table lay my Greek keys. I feel a little foolish and am not sure how I shall explain my stupidity to lovely Eleni later today. I have already been out for one session of frigana slashing to punish myself for my stupidity.
1098 days ago
I once read a short story but for the life of me cannot remember its title or author but it comes to mind as I toil in the fields at the Greek Hovel, slashing away with my frigana cutter below.
A man is travelling across America in the 1930s with his family in search of work. They drive up to a wonderful farm surrounded by fields of amazing corn but it is abandoned. They cannot believe their luck and just move in. The man cuts corn and his family have all the food they need. One day he hears a cry as his scythe goes through a sheaf of corn. His kid is dead. They bury it. A while later the same thing happens again, another kid is dead. And then it is his wife. He realises the corn is humanity. He is the grim reaper. The only way out is to cut the stalk that is him and he slashes wildly to find it. Folks who drive by see a man crazed, just cutting away all day and all night. The Holocaust, Hiroshima, he thrashes on and on, cutting corn at an unprecedented rate.
Can anyone remind me what this story is?
Meanwhile I slash at the frigana here at the Greek hovel. There appear to be some islands of the vile plant left which have escaped the cutting of 2014 and the poisoning of 2015. They stand there green and defiant challenging me to risk snake attack and to wade in for an assault. I am not sure what i would do if a snake emerged from the frigana. I like to think I'd plunge my cutter, with its whirling blade of death, straight at the serpent. I rather fear that I'd drop the cutter and run like the clappers. I pray that I am not faced with this problem.
But I feel like a man possessed and just wade into the bushes and attack. Yesterday I managed four sessions - one can cut for only so long before the machine over-heats and cuts out. Today it is a cool day and the machine wanted to go on until it ran out of petrol and so did I. Slash, slash, slash. My father, reading this, would have been thinking about his former colleagues at the University of Warwick. The grim reaper was searching for his own straw. I sometimes think of other folk but mainly just want to nail the frigana once and for all.
The frigana when alive is a shiny green. After just three days in the sun the plants that I have slashed have been blanched. By next month they will be brown. Already there are satisfying patches of white next to the brown areas I poisoned last year.
This afternoon it is back to olive pruning. There is only so much death one can hand out. It is time for a bit of nurturing and life.
1103 days ago
I know I have been banging on about this all week but today I wake up having not smoked for three months and I am fecking proud of myself. It did it via cold turkey so there is no legacy nicotine in my body from vaping, gum or patches.
It was playing soccer with a range of nephews and nieces aged 7 to 16 on St Valentine's Day that made me quit smoking. My lungs were burning after just a few minutes. I wanted to run but could not. Being outpaced by a 7 year old is just not on. Enough was enough.
And so today I will toil in the fields for a couple of hours. I am clearly not fit, that is a given. I've put on a few pounds during the past three months. But while my limbs ache it is that that forces me to take a break not any shortness of breath. My smokers cough has gone and apparently my circulation is improving while my blood sugar is falling. Just nine more months and apprently I will have more than halved my risk of a heart attack. Touch wood. It is all good news.
I do feel better and there is really virtually no desire to get back on the weed.
I say virtually as just now and again I find myself thinking gosh a fag would be great. But then I think that one would lead to twenty as it always has when I have given up before. And so I stay clean.
I hope that being back at the Greek Hovel will start to deal with the weight as well. Being here means only lunch and supper, no breakfast. It means a diet of Greek salads for both meals, it means physical labour every day - as opposed to once in a blue moon in Bristol - and then there is the nervous energy expended worrying about snakes and rats.
Maybe I should market the place as a health farm?
1103 days ago
The way that the rat "sweeties" were disappearing made me pretty sure that relatives of the rats that I had killed off with poison last summer, were making a comeback at the hovel. And so I have laid down more and more sweeties in the gap between one of the windows and a shutter which is their favoured run. The rats can't enter the hovel but can just look in through the glass.
My pal Dave Paxton grew up in Zim and said that the best way to get rid of rats is to get more snakes on your land. No doubt if he was here, Dave would be wandering around the hills collecting vipers in a bag to release at the hovel. For obvious reasons that is not my approach. I'm happy with poison.
And so I returned tonight from supper in the village (Greek salad no booze, as I am on a strict regime) and although the main light was on, casually shone my torch at the rat run.
There sat a rat nibbling at the sweeties. I banged the window with my torch and tried shining it straight into its eyes. The rat blinked and then just carried on munching away at a blue sweetie. Heck, it can stay there all night for all I care, just as long as it carries on eating and takes some back to its nest for the little rats.
1104 days ago
Snake hill is a stretch of, very rough and multi-potholed, concrete that tracks down from the quiet olive groves on my side of the valley to the valley floor. It ends at the dry river where the track once again turns to mud for a couple of hundred yards before one takes a sharp left to head up the concreted track next to the deserted monastery where, when driving at night, I still imagine the presence of ghostly phantom monks.
Snake hill got its name two years ago when my guest that summer made the grave mistake of going for a run in the midday heat and encountered a serpent sitting on the hill. She sidestepped the viper but the hill got its name.
Ever since then I have been waiting to see another snake there. I have seen plenty of lizards and heard lots of rustling in the bushes on either side of the road but not seen a snake. But today: two!
I am delighted to say that both were of the variety deadus deadus and were in the process of being devoured by ants, flies and other little creatures. What caused their, very welcome, demise? Perhaps it was my only neighbour, the man I know as Charon although like half of the village he is actually called Nicho, who has a new moped which could just have despatched the serpents?
I tend to think that a more likely snake killer would be one of the feral cats that roam the hillsides around here. They are, apparently, perfectly capable of taking on a snake, even a poisonous one. I noted that one of the two serpents looked half eaten so maybe it was a cat that can claim these "kills".
Somehow I cannot see my morbidly obese three legged cat Oakley coming out well in a one-to-one match up with a viper, but these Greek feral cats are made of sterner stuff.
1106 days ago
And so I tracked down a shop in Kalamata which sells canisters of Herpotex, cans that emit a smell snakes find noxious and which will keep them away for three months. In theory at least. The guide says I only need two to be placed 10 yards from two diagonally opposed corners of the hovel. Fecking hell, we are talking snakes here. I asked for four, one for each corner. The lady said "they are 30 euros each."
I thought that the price had gone up quite a bit since last year. Perhaps the fantastic "snake harvest" referred to by Nicho the communist means that demand is outstripping supply and that Herpotex snake repellent is the one item in Greece seeing real inflation? But this is snakes so I found 120 Euro and prepared to hand over the cash and to do so gladly.
The till rang up 52 Euro. Either I had misheard or the lady was a bit confused about 13 and 30. I tried to explain that I would have happily paid her 120 Euro or for that matter 300 Euro. These are snakes we are talking about.
The canisters are now in place. In theory the snakes are fleeing the area around the hovel and thus tomorrow I shall be moving from my nice secure hotel in Kalamata and out to the hovel, to the snakes, rats and mice. The trip begins in earnest.
1106 days ago
I am not actually living the hovel yet. I move in tomorrow for reasons I shall explain later. But I am driving out there each day to work on pruning the olive trees and cutting the frigana. After the mice yesterday today's wildlife diversity included a couple of lizards and...a snake. And how brave am I? I felt nervous as I approached but, just for you dear readers, I have a photo.
Okay, it was on the road and was dead but I still felt pretty scared as I walked up to it. It could like some horror from Greek mythology suddenly come alive again and then grow 99 heads and attack me. I am not sure what sort of snake it was but it is now the only variety of snake I really like, that is to say deadus deadus.
In Greece the etiquette if one sees a snake while driving is to swerve. That is to say to ignore anyone else who might be on the road and to swerve to kill the serpent. My own road kill tally is two. Well I am claiming two. Last summer I ran over a viper on my motorbike but I am prepared to concede that it might have been dead already. Anyhow I rekilled it. At least I can claim an assist, surely?
The other serpent was on the other side of the mountain road down to Kardamili. I swerved violently and took it out. The Mrs, who was with me at the time, muttered something about patriarchy, machismo, hormonal mid-life crisis issues and the possibility that a large truck might have been coming the other way. I could tell that she was not impressed.
But when in Greece....
1107 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.
1107 days ago
Since most of us visit Greece only at the height of summer, the pictures we have in our mind are of a country with grass burned brown by days of seemingly endless sunshine. But as we move into mid may the land around the Greek Hovel here in the Mani is almost Alpine, a lush green dotted with the pinks, whites, yellows and purples of a sea of flowers.
And the sun is not shining. As you prepare for summer barbecues back in Britain, pity me here dodging the rain showers. The skies are grey except over the Taegessus mountains where black storm clouds gather. It is not exactly T-shirt weather and the waters in the deeper parts of the dry river that lies between the hovel and the village of Kambos, tell a take of recent storms as well as the melting of the final snows on the mountains behind us.
I am not sure if this means that the snakes are still hibernating. There is no point asking the people in village since they know my fears and delight in them in a friendly sort of way. They will thus be full of tales of how it has been a record snake harvest and how the fields are teeming with them. Whether the snakes are out to play or not, I am taking no chances and shall not be moving in until I have bought and deployed cans of snake repellent as well as rat poison and given them a day or so to take effect.
My preliminary inspection of the hovel today showed little in the way of wildlife diversity but you never know. As I strolled through the olive groves up at the hovel the only brown was the frigana I poisoned last summer. Here and there the accursed plant is making a comeback but not for long. Into battle I go tomorrow on a regime of hard manual labour designed to ready the house and land for rebuilding and to shed a few pounds as well.
1249 days ago
For most of my early December stay in Greece I was wearing a T-shirt all day although at night I needed a sweat shirt and coat as the temperatures plunged towards zero. But on the penultimate day it started to rain heavily both in Kalamata, where I was staying, and up in the village of Kambos in the foothills of the Taegessus Mountains. The photos below show what happened next.
Photo one is of an orange tree just off the main street in Kambos. As we worked in the fields picking olives in quite warm weather oranges were handed out by my friend George. They are just ripening for picking now.
The next two photos are from the Greek Hovel another 50 metres or so higher up into the Teagessus and three miles away from Kambos. Those who have seen the hovel in the summer will associate it with grass burned brown by hot sun. But, as you can see, it is now a lush green - this is the view looking back along the drive. The rains of October and November have left the place looking very much alive. The second photo shows a front lawn strewn with olive branches post harvest. Come February I shall return to burn them off.
But now look up into the mountains, into the Taegessus. What fell as rain in Kambos fell as snow higher up. Those peaks will remain snow covered until March or even into April.
Elsewhere in Greece in places such as Metsovo in the Pindus or in Pelion folks go skiing. I described driving through the snow in between Athens and the Mani in the snow last Febuary. But the Taegessus are wild and rugged. There will be no skiing.
My Uncle Chris (Booker) who turns 79 next year says that we must climb these mountains together. In the summer that means incredible heat and snakes. From now until April that means treacherous snow. I think, dear Uncle that it must be October. The heat will have lessened but it will still be warm anough. The snakes will be asleep. And there will be no snow.
1368 days ago
I had consoled myself as I contemplated snakes, bats, rats and scorpions at the Greek Hovel that at least there were no poisonous spiders in Greece. Phew. We may have more types of snakes than any other country in Europe and the hills around the Greek Hovel may be infested with them but at least I felt sure, having – I thought – read it somewhere that there was no spider issue. Spiders eat Mosquitos. We like spiders right?
And so last night as I sat tapping away I looked up and there was a spider with what looked like an enormous abdomen full of something. It must have been about two inches long. Just out of curiosity (and fear) I did a quick google search. Fuck me. There are three types of poisonous spiders in Greece and I had a sneaking suspicion that what was sitting above my head was one of the three.
As rats and snakes already know to their cost, they do not call me “killer” for nothing. Once again the thick mining presentation left by my guest last summer (well, that portion not used to light fires) proved invaluable. Smack. It was an ex-spider.
The wildlife diversity at the hovel increases by the day. What next?
1372 days ago
And so yesterday lunchtime I drove back into Kambos and first stop was the hardware store number 1 where I buy canisters of snake repellent. “I am sorry we are out of stock” said my friend the owner who then assured me that the snakes season is well over and that they are all starting to hibernate. He always does that, promising me that whenever I turn up there are no snakes around as he explians his lack of stock.
I was not born yesterday and with the temperature now in the mid-thirties I was fully aware that the land around the hovel is crawling with serpents. I bought a can of chippings which my friend swore would form a protective ring around my house and headed off to see lovely Eleni at the Kourounis taverna who reassured me that the area around the hovel – where she owns some olive trees – is indeed crawling with snakes. How they must laugh in Kambos, the man who is terrified of snakes is heading back to the serpents paradise.
Rather gingerly I headed up to the hovel and was delighted to see no snakes and no signs of rats. There were however bats in both the rat room and the bat room which I have now chased away. Having happily surrounded the place with the snake magic dust I headed back to a hotel in Kalamata with a swimming pool for one last night of decadence.
Returning today there was no sign of snakes. Good news. But on entering the house I saw a most enormous rat (4 inches excluding its tail) in the space between a window and the shutter. I grabbed a spade but as I tried to open the window the rat scuttled off. I left him five rat sweeties which I am delighted to say had all, by my return this evening after supper in Kambos, been devoured. I do hope they were taken back to a nest for a treat for the entire family.
Sadly the wildlife diversity had one last treat for me inside the hovel – a swarm of flying ants. They were in my hair, jumping on my arms and climbing down my shirt. No ants in my pants but they were most everywhere else. Two hours of stamping, swatting and laying strips of sellotape across the floor and dangling from the ceiling has seen a genocide. There ae still too many but the ranks have been massively thinned.
Just to add to my woes I have just seen a spider on the ceiling which looked fearsome. I had thought that there were no poisonous spiders in Greece but a quick google search shows that – rather predictably – I was wrong and that three venomous species live in poor Hellas. And I am fairly sure that one venomous species was on my ceiling. But they don’t call me “killer” for nothing. It is now on the bottom of my fireplace spade – the same device that has despatched a couple of rats.
I sleep with the light on tonight.
1454 days ago
I invested in another big can of frigana poison this morning but also in a new boy toy, a 12 Euro olive axe. It is about 18 inches long and used for pruning becuase I must prune all 150 trees before I leave. Cripes it is hard work.
On days like today, when dark clouds hover on the Taegessus mountains above the Greek hovel it is an olive pruning day. The last thing you want is the rain washing the poison off the frigana plants and so your choice is made. In one hand I carry my hand saw in the other my sharp new axe (the blunt old one I found on the property broke yesterday).
Like most of you reading, I am not used to manual labour, still less work that involves you cutting and hacking with your arms above head height. I managed about twenty trees this afternoon and my arms ache. Vangelis - the man in the pink shirt - thinks I should get a power saw and that it is ather funny that I do it the old way.
Though I was taught how to prune by Foti the Albanian last summer, I sense that my work is not quite up to scratch. The axe does not always hit its target. The villagers in Kambos regard their trees as like beautiful women, to be cherished and treasured. They prune with a skill that I shall only learn with time. I rather hope that my handiwork is not inspected as it may be viewed as the olive tree equivalent of wife beating. Anyhow I am on a learning curve, things can only get better. Meanwhile, my arms feel like they are falling off.
In other news, the shepherd who grazes his sheep on snake mountain where the hovel sits has asked lovely Eleni to ask me if he can use my land. I am sort of touched that he asked since he could have wandered in at any time without asking, and have tried to explian that he never need ask again. Right now he cannot graze his flock there for a couple of weeks until the frigana poison has worked its way through the system. Thereafter it is full sheep ahead.
Reason one: the sheep will eat the long grass so meaning that snakes have less scope to hide and spring a nasty surprise on me. Reason two: snakes do not like sheep - and a shepherd - wandering around and will head onto somene else's land. The more sheep the merrier, that is what I say.
Besides which, and please do not think that I am becoming a soft lefty, I am not using the land. Yes the Mrs owns it but why not allow communal grazing right?. The folks in Kambos have been very kind to me, my guest last summer, my wife and my father. It is only right to give back what I can.
1465 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.
1465 days ago
1466 days ago
On the way back through the olive groves at the top of snake hill tonight I found myself tracking a fox. It did not seem too scared and eventually trotted off into the bushes. But that was not the real wildlife diversity news today - I met a snake.
I was travelling into the village in the early evening for a salad. Roadworks yesterday on abandoned monastery hill meant that I have been forced to discover a new way to get from the bottom of the valley into Kambos. It is a side track, not in that bad a condition, which winds its way all the way up to the top of the village past a little abandoned church coming out above our new big church. So from the top of that track you actually go downhill again to the Kourounis taverna. One day I shall draw a map for you all.
I was biking along thinking about nothing in particular when I heard a crunch under the wheels. I pulled up and looked back and about five yards behind me was a small snake. It is the small snakes that are the dangerous ones, the nine poisonous types of adder here in Greece.
There were three scenarios. It was dead before I crunched it. It was alive before I crunched it but now dead. Or it was alive before I crunched it but not yet dead. I thought about it and took one step towards the viper and could see enough to know that I did not wish to conduct a post mortem in case it turned out to be a pre-mortem.
Instead I got back on the bike and sped off as fast as possible to the village. At the taveran they all thought it rather funny. The bloke who is terrified of snakes now actually meeting one as well as the rats, bats, tortoise and crab. Lovely Eleni suggests that the hovel is now officially the Kambos zoo. Very funny.
It goes without saying that I took the other route home but each time I saw a strange line in the road you know what was going through my mind. Twigs, breaks in the concrete, they all suddenly became - in my mind at least - snakes.
Two more nights here and then the Mrs arrives She has one or two issues with the hovel as it stands and so it is off to a luxury hote in Kardamili, funded by the greatful taxpayer (that is to say my public sector employed wife) we go. After tonight I think I can manage to suffer a few nights of wildlife diversity free luxury.
1469 days ago
There was I motor biking from the Greek Hovel into Kambos when suddenly I saw it. I had just turned left after the dry river and started the climb up the hill next to the abandoned monastery (or was it a convent, one day I shall find out) when it appeared just sitting in the middle of the road.. a crab, potamon potiamos to give it its full name.
You and I might think that crabs live in the sea but there are in fact three varieties of land crab here in Greece, to go with the 27 varieties of snake. The little creature was about three inches wide and stood there as I fumbled in my bag trying - unsuccessfully - to find my camera. And then it headed off into the bushes.
More wildlife diversity here at the Greek Hovel
1471 days ago
I thought that I had driven the live rat from the Greek Hovel but as I returned tonight I heard a distinct scuttling noise. A year ago I would have panicked but these days I am just not scared of the little critters any more. And so I picked uo the mini spade I use to clear ash from the fireplace and headed towards the noise.
I saw the rat dart under a pile of rugs. I lifted them ine by one and at rug five there stood the rat - a small thing about three inches long excluding tail - blinking in the light.
Thwack. I missed. Thwack. I missed again. Thwack. Bullseye. If it was not dead it was almost a gonner and it just lay on its side. I scooped up the corpse, or near corpse, in my spatula and strode outside tossing the little thing off into the darkness for the snakes to gobble up.
I am feeling jolly proud of myself but have promised the Mrs that I shall use the silicon I bought today to fill in all cracks in the walls so that the one habitable room here is 100% rat proof before she comes late next week, But for tonight I shall wallow in the macho pride. Tom the rat killer.
1475 days ago
When I left in February I tried to buy two cans of snake repellent to keep the 27 varieties of Greek serpent away from the Greek hovel. The man at the hardware store said “there is no point as they are asleep, when are you back?” I said May. He said, do not worry they do not wake up till June. What he meant was “I have none in stock.”
And so I wandered in yesterday and bought two of the cans which you position 10 yards away from two corners of the house and which emit a scent which scares away snakes. Except when like the one I met on my front doorstep last summer they do not scare them away. I asked if the snakes were awake yet, rather fearing that I knew the answer.
“Yes, the sun is bright they are everywhere” said my friend cheerfully. Great. As I drive up the long and winding road and track to the hovel I saw no snakes but stacks of very large and very small lizards. Winnifrith’s Rule No 1 of reptiles “when you see lizards on the road, snakes are lurking in the long grass”. My heart sank.
I approached the hovel nervously. I made load noises as I approached. The grass is now turning from green to brown but is long enough to be an ideal hiding ground for snakes. I will not be wandering barefoot across the lawn until I have put the strimmer to work. But there were no snakes. As I unlocked the door a lizard scuttle across my feet but as I looked inside nothing moved.
A dead rat lay on the floor. The vast amounts of poison I had left in February had worked although I cannot figure how the critter got in to start with. I tossed the rodent into the bushes hoping that a snake would gobble its poison filled body up greedily and grabbed some masking tape to attach the snake repellent to two trees. I sprinkled sulphur all around the house – my inner snake free redoubt and left. Give it 24 hours, thought I and I shall have a wildlife diversity free hovel.
Returning today I checked the bedding and disturbed a live rat. Seriously, Brokerman Dan you must come over to catch some treats for your kids in the Manchester slums. I do not fear rats during the day it is just the thought of them crawling close to my face at night that freaks me out. I wondered why it had resisted the temptation of the rat sweeties but chased it into a crack in the chimney. I quickly lit a fire and he/she is now roasted or well smoked or has wriggled to freedom. I kind of sense that he/she will not be coming back.
And now I sit in lovely Eleni’s Kourounis taverna in Kambos contemplating my first night in the hovel with darkness all around and the wildlife diversity making strange noises at all times. I think I shall “sleep” with the light on and a heavy spade next to the bed tonight.
1475 days ago
1542 days ago
The man at the hardware store in Kambos said there was no need to buy snake repellent canisters as they will not wake up till June and I’m back in May. I am not so sure about that as I distinctly remember meeting a snake on what is known as the snake veranda on my first visit to the hovel in April. But I did not argue, I said efharisto and shook his hand warmly.
I worked at the Kourounis taverna in the afternoon and headed up to the hovel to lay out sweeties for the rats. But on arrival I found myself staring at one patch of rocks where I had hacked down a particularly loathsome frigana bush in the summer. There was still some dead frigana branches by the fence which George had overlooked,
And so, having learned how to light a fire with dried grass and a cigarette lighter I set to work. As the skies darkened the flames took out not only the dead branches but also the old stumps on the ground and some of the new green shoots that had appeared. I love the idea of old frigana providing the blaze that burns new frigana. The rocks are now black. The rain will clean them up and wash the ashes away.
There was a time when the dark at the hovel frightened me. But no more. As I stood by the dying fire I took three pictures – maybe you can see the hovel in the background in the first and the mountains in the second and third. I laid out the rat sweeties, locked up and now sit back in the Kourounis tavern planning a farewell Metaxa and my goodbyes. I will be up at 5 AM your time as I start the trek back to the UK.
It is back to the UK not back home. The Mrs, the cats, my family are in the UK and so that is in a way home. That is where I pay tax. But this is also my home. Slowly I am learning Greek. In the summer I shall start work on preparing for the rebuilding of the hovel, sort out my residency, and buy a gun, a motorbike and a truck. A few tweaks to the way I run my work and I could live here all year. Of course I can’t yet. The Mrs has her career and Oakley needs looking after. My father is old.
But I am sitting here at the Kourounis tavern. At the bar Vangelis – the man in the pink shirt – is playing on his computer. Lovely Eleni’s mother in law is watching more bad news on the TV. A rather hungover Nikko the communist may recover from an all-day ouzo session to pop in later. And I sit in the corner tapping away as part of the furniture.
I start counting down the days to my return to the Mani in May on Wednesday morning.
1545 days ago
Those who visited the Greek Hovel last summer will remember the enormous pile of frigana built at the end of the garden. We all rather feared what wildlife diversity lived underneath it. It is no more.
I arrived on Friday with the rain tipping down so there was no George. Vreki = no burning. But sod it, I thought I'd have a go myself. With a small dose of petrol from my frigana cutter and a broken seat from an old chair I got the blaze going. What is that recipe from The Gruffalo? Baked snake? No apparely Nigel Somerville says that it is scrambled snake. Anyhow the great pile is no more and I burned it myself while rain stopped play for the locals. A triumph Indeed.
1548 days ago
George the olive picker is back in my life and there is no end to his talents. I tried to set frigana on fire and failed abjectly. George gathers a pile of dried frigana – the stuff I slashed last summer – or olive branches from the harvest and whoosh! We have a bonfire. In fact he must have started about 25 as we moved up and down the terraces.
George starts the fire and then he, his son and I would gather all the detritus from that terrace and the one above and throw it on. With the detritus half cleared George moves on to start another fire and the son and I finish clearing that little area.
It goes without saying that George is the fastest worker. He reaches into a pile of branches and twigs and gathers an enormous bundle which he lobs onto the fire. The son has no gloves and also reaches in in a fearless manner but being a young person appears to get a call or text that he must answer on his cellphone about every ten minutes.
And there is me. I left my cellphone charging in the house but approach a bundle of branches and leaves with some trepidation. I am mindful that the snakes are in hibernation ad I know where they tend to sleep. What would a sleeping snake do if I disturbed it or, god forbid, picked it up? And so I tend to chuck on rather smaller piles.
There is also the fitness issue. George has the stamina of an ox. His son is less used to manual labour but has youth on his side. And there is me. Climbing up and down the terraces and bending down and reaching up for five hours has left me exhausted and I awake this morning with my body aching all over. But there is no rain forecast and so once again I shall be heading up to the Greek Hovel shortly.
There are small shoots of frigana appearing all over the place and the odd stem and branch we missed last year. It is nothing like the jungle I met last summer and hacked away with pleasure with my strimmer thinking bad thoughts about Bulletin Board Morons as I chopped away. As such there is a sort of pleasure when one sees old dead frigana ablaze, with the flames reaching out and burning off some of the new green shoots. It feels almost like poetic justice.
I can see that there will be light frigana cutting this summer or perhaps some poisoning as I treated myself and bought a new heavy duty poisoning backback in the autumn. The war is not over but I feel like we are at early 1945. The enemy is trying to fight back but it is very much on its last legs.
1559 days ago
In five days time I shall be landing in mighty Hellas. Within six days I should be back among my friends in the little village of Kambos. The weather forecast says that it will be minus 7 tonight at the Greek Hovel. I imagine that the Taygetus mountains that stetch out behind the Hovel are capped with snow.
On the bright side, I spoke to lovely Eleni from the Kourounis taverna yesterday. I called and said in my best Greek "kale-nichta" at which point she laughed and said "oh, hello Tom." I guess there are not many folks who call who speak Greek as badly as I do. Anyhow plans are underway for frigana burning with George the olive picker.
Also on the bright side, at minus seven the snakes are still going to be very much asleep.
On the minus side I sense that the hovel might be a little on the nippy side. We shall brush over the matter of my Greek lessons, I have promised the Mrs I will do some revision before she returns from the Grim North tomorrow. So don't call me in the morning even if you are Quindell whistleblower. Meanwhile I am doing a spot of revision with Despina.
1619 days ago
I do not speak Greek. And I cannot understand it. But given that virtually no-one in my home village of Kambos speaks English, I am exposed to it whenever I wander into town and I am now starting to “hear it.”
I was sitting opposite the olive factory with George the chief olive picker at the Greek Hovel as we waited out turn to drop off some olives. A little old lady, her back arched and curved and dressed in widows black opened the front door of her tiny house opposite, pulled out a chair and just watched the bags go in and out. She asked a question of George while looking at me and George replied. She nodded knowingly.
Whilst I did not understand the question I can guess what it was since the answer was “He is the Englishman who lives in Toumbia.” The lady’s response indicates that folks in Kambos know that there is an Englishman in Toumbia, that is to say me.
Toumbia is not actually a place. It is the name for the area behind Kambos up in the snake friendly hills on the way to the mountain where there are perhaps 20 houses of which, maybe, three or four are inhabited. My nearest neighbours may be two miles away on either side but we are all in Toumbia. So Toumbia is not really a place just an area which contains the odd farm-house, of which are few are not abandoned. It is a place where folks in Kambos may own olive trees, where the goats and sheep can graze and, of course, where the snakes can go unmolested.
And I am the man who speaks no Greek but can spend all day at lovely Eleni’s tavern writing and looking out at life passing by; the man who fell off his bike at 5 MPH outside Eleni’s providing the incident of the summer (until the double murder) in sleepy Kambos, the man who is terrified of snakes but lives at the top of snake hill. Ho, ho, ho…the fool! That is the Englishman from Toumbia.
I digress. My point is that I am starting now to hear Greek. Next up is learning to speak it. But that is for avrio (tomorrow)
1638 days ago
On top of my fireplace at the Greek Hovel in a picture I published the other day is a large bag of white powder. At once the self-styled Northern Barons my good pals Doc Holiday and Brokerman Dan were tweeting in a frenzy that I had a large stash of coke with me. Dan reckoned I was going to dose my Albanian workers tomorrow and get the olives harvested at record speed. I am sorry to disappoint the Northern gits.
For behind the bag is a box marked Tide. This is a product called “washing powder” which in the South of England we use to wash our clothes. In the North I guess they just hang their shell suits out in the rain until they are marginally less grubby and then leave them to dry next to the pigeon loft. The next time that my good friends trek down from the welfare addicted wastelands of the Grim North I will try to explain to them what this is all about.
The picture below is of the washing powder but also a larger bag of yellow powder which is Sulphur which I use on the edge of the garden to keep snakes away. For readers in the Grim North who might not understand what a snake is it is a bit like a Quindell shareholder. That is to say it has a small brain but some varieties are poisonous and no-one likes any of them. The only difference is that snakes can be worth a bit of money.
1639 days ago
In my last days at the Greek Hovel this summer I showed unusual foresight in pondering how I would keep warm on my return for the Olive harvest. Hence I gathered firewood, stored it in the rat room and surrounded it with sulphur to ensure that no snakes viewed it as a des res winter home. And thus on my first night back I lit a fire.
Fire lighting is a macho sort of thing and I am pretty proud of my ability to get a good blaze going with just a couple of pieces of paper. Firelighters are for jessies. And so within minutes I had a roaring blaze going. And about two minutes later the room was filled with smoke. Perhaps there was some trick I had missed?
I fiddled with two bricks that cover little holes in the fireplace but to no avail. The smoke was by now overpowering and so I had to open all windows and the door. I am not so worried about the wildlife entering – why on earth would they rush into a smoke filled building. It was the cold. The Greek Hovel is in the foothills of the mountains and while it is shirt-sleeves hot in the morning and until about three it then start to get very cold indeed. I reckon that we are not that far above zero every night.
As such my first night was a cold one. As the fire died out the smoke gradually cleared and I shivered fully clothed underneath my quilt.
In the morning I resolved to ignore my chronic vertigo and to clamber onto the flat roof to investigate. I did not exactly show Tarzan like grace but I made it and removed the tiles that someone had put on top of the chimney, presumably to keep out the wildlife diversity. If I felt macho lighting a fire I felt uber-macho after this achievement as I somehow clambered down onto the snake veranda.
And now, as you can see I have a roaring fire every night. My summer store of wood is depleting rapidly but there is plenty lying around and so part of my daily routine is to go and gather fresh stocks for that night’s fire at The Greek Hovel.
1642 days ago
I arrived at Athens airport at midnight Greek time on Tuesday. 24 hours after the Real Man Christmas party I was still feeling a little fragile and so walked zombie like to the hotel airport and wet to my room to crash. The bed swallowed me up and I was asleep. So far so good.
I made it to Athens bus station the next day and caught my bus to Kalamata where I went to the best hotel overlooking the sea front. In summer all the hotels in town are booked out months in advance. But it is November, and the town is dead. 50 Euros including breakfast and I was ready to get back to work and immediately called John the bike man, a venerable source of information on local brothels and much else.
A deal was struck. I have a new bike of which more later but it has real power! The next morning as agreed I met up with John and I drive the bike to Kambos. He was to follow in a car to meet me at The Greek Hovel with my bags and coats. Easy, 1.30 at the hovel.
Driving up into the mountains my head was simply flooded with happiness. In summer the fields were a straw brown. Today they are the sort of green you associate with a water meadow in Oxfordshire. The flowers popping up are almost alpine. I wore a shirt but felt warm as the sun bore down. As I climbed higher and higher old familiar sights came into view. Pretty soon I could see the Kambos church in the distance and before I knew it I had swept into the village.
I waved at the man at the garage and at the man at the first snake repellent/rat poison/hardware store. And then pulled up by the Kourounis taverna home to lovely Eleni. I shook hands and chatted to Vangelis owner of the second snake repellent/rat poison/hardware store. Nikko, the husband of lovely Eleni welcomed me back and I had a coffee on the house and then headed back to the hovel to meet John the bike man.
1.30 came and I called. “I will be there at 2.30”. By 3.30 there was still no John. He had my PC, my phone charger and my phone was now out of battery and indeed he had everything including my keys to the hovel. The keys are actually a bit of an irrelevancy since if you know how you can clamber onto the front balcony which I had done to make myself a coffee. But WTF was going on? Even by Greek standards this was poor form. And so I thought I’d walk towards the village hoping to meet John but failing all else to borrow a phone from the man at the garage to call him. 25 minutes down dale, up dale I arrived and the garage man said “in post room.”
Hmmm. A letter from my father delayed by the Greek Post? A utility bill? Er..no it was my bags and coats. Deadweight 20 kg. There was no choice. As I climbed up snake hill the sweat poured off. This was like rugby training at London Irish. But I am an older man now. I cursed John with every step.
As I marched up snake hill I wondered about snakes. Were they in hibernation or had some of them forgotten that November is beddy byes time? I heard the odd rustle in the bushes and was conscious that it was still pretty warm but tried just to think about how needed to get home. I marched on. And at last I arrived. The keys worked, the door opened. As I had already established by my break in there were no rats there. No snakes. My sanctuary at the Greek Hovel was wildlife diversity free.
Greece and Greeks are, by English standards, unreliable. C’est la vie. I get frustrated and occasionally I get angry. John and I spoke. I had no anger. That is the way here. Think of the plus points.
1649 days ago
On Monday I head off to London for the 3rd Real Man Christmas party. I reflect upon those who attended two years ago and how the list has grown. And then I am off to Greece to return to the Greek Hovel and I think about my hopes, my concerns, my worries and my excitement about that trip: snakes, motorbikes, the lovely Eleni and all that lies in Kambos.
In my weekly financial video postcard I forgive the Quindell shareholders who have threatened and abused me during the past six months. They have my sympathies as they face wipeout and I have a few words of advice, even for the folks who sent me death threats. That video can be watched HERE
1698 days ago
I write this on the train from Reading to Bristol. A journey of bike, car, plane, train, train is almost over. I am back in the UK. I am back in a land of folks with horrible tattoos, of fat people swilling beer in concreted pub gardens, of nasty, smelly and expensive takeaway food. I am back in a land of surveillance cameras where there are far too many people jostling each other to get ahead. I am back in a Country that is just emerging on another illegal war, where jingoism and English or Scottish patriotism combine for a poisonous mix.
On the other hand I cannot wait to see the Mrs who will pick me up at Temple Meads, to give the cats an enormous hug and to catch up on last week’s Downton Abbey. I am really looking forward to a mug of tea, to sitting in my back garden looking at the grapes which we will harvest tomorrow to turn into wine. The Mrs has videod the start of the new season of Dallas and the episode of Corrie when Ken returned to the Street. I am sure the Mrs will cook me a wonderful supper. But I can’t but help think about my friends in Kambos who will be gathering right now at the Korounis taverna, run by lovely Eleni, to chat, watch the football and look out on the stars in a clear sky.
As I rode into Kambos on Friday night it was one of those splendid Greek evenings. The sun was going down but it was warm and as I headed down snake hill the valley opened up before me. The – I think – deserted monastery or convent stood solid in front of me, up the hill above the spring. Further along the valley is a small house where the village baker lives. Why would anyone leave?
To Eleni’s to load videos and upload articles and to enjoy one last portion of her meatballs. Knowing that it was my last night Vangelis (the man in the pink short, not the man from the frigana chopper/snake repellent shop or the Vangelis who will win an Olympic gold in frigana chopping) bought me an ouzo. Naturally I reciprocated and I was soon sitting there with both George’s, Nikos (the football man) and a new pal Dimitris.
I showed a reasonable amount of common sense and left by midnight wishing them all, and Nikos the magician, a fond farewell.
Up at the crack of dawn I readied the Greek hovel for my departure. The eco-loo was emptied one last time, sulphur applied on all doorsteps and window ledges to keep the snakes away and all doors were locked. The gate on the drive/track was closed so that the shepherd can allow his sheep to graze at will on my land and then I somehow managed to drive down to the bottom of the valley on my bike while gripping a rucksack between my feet and with a bag on my back.
John the bike man, of whom more later, was happy to get me to the airport but reluctant to drive past the spring in his car so bad is the road. And so at the spring he took my bags and my helmet which I have kept all summer but never worn. He headed off for Kalamata in his car I headed into Kambos one last time.
I shook hands and said goodbye to the man from the other snake poison/rat poison shop and then to the Kourounis taverna to see lovely Eleni who I had missed on my last night. It was not yet nine but Nikos the football man was on his first coffee of the day and Nikos the Magician, his mother Poppy an Eleni were sitting around. Poppy wished me a safe journey in Greek and I understood. “Catalvemo?” “Ne. Efharisto”.
To Eleni I offered my thanks for all her help this summer and she said thank you for being there smiling and laughing. It was a bit of an awkward how do you say goodbye moment all round. If she was a man I know it would have been acceptable to kiss her on the cheek. But a young woman? I stuck out my hand to break the deadlock and we shook hands. And then scuttled off to my bike quickly. It promptly failed to start. “Okay I am staying” I said to the assembled group and the English speakers among them, Eleni and Nikos (the football man), laughed before I kick-started the bike and headed off not allowing myself to look back.
There are a few more tales from my summer at the Greek Hovel I aim to write them up this week. My time with John the bike man, Charon (my neighbour (not his real name), the three shepherds and the tiny village behind Kambos all deserve a mention.
There is one episode that I have felt unable to write until my return to England, the tale of Kardamili, of how I was dragged to the Police Station by the filth and of the nastiest woman in the Mani. It would have been disloyal to the wonderful folks of my home village to recount that story while living there. But now, as we head towards Chippenham I can begin.
1700 days ago
I am conscious that when I return to the Greek Hovel for the Olive harvest and frigana burning in late November it will be a tad nippy at night. Luckily the main room has an open fire with its own little tripod should I wish to cook my own baked beans rather than trek down to see the lovely Eleni at the Kourounis taverna in Kambos. For when the rains start the track to the hovel will be a tough ride even though I shall be hiring a more powerful motorbike.
As such I spent a happy afternoon collecting firewood and storing it in the rat room. The old owners had left all sorts of trash and the planks, broken tables etc. will burn nicely, There are plenty of old olive branches pruned and discarded years ago that were collected and – as a real treat – some of the thicker frigana branches will give me enormous pleasure to send up in smoke.
Mindful that snakes will be looking for a winter home, you will note the thick yellow ring around the woodpile. That is sulphur which snakes are not meant to cross. Before I go I shall be sprinkling it liberally around the place. It is not my job to provide a winter residence for the wildlife diversity.
1700 days ago
As promised I bring you a summer’s work, the destruction of 2,000 square metres of frigana, a bright green holly/thorn bush that scarred the land around the Greek Hovel and was a great home for snakes. It is all gone.
The first picture is some of the first frigana cut, the bushes that covered the wall that surrounds the garden. It is now a deep golden brown, ready for a dose of petrol and a match in November.
It sits in an area which is surrounded by a stone circle. One visitor suggested that it had once been a threshing circle. The stones were covered by frigana but have now emerged blinking into the sunlight.
Moving past the circle here is a 150 yard slope down to the edge of the property. It was thick with frigana but it was chopped last week, the leaves are now a light green and heading for brown. This area I feared to be snake infested as the bushes were once thick. Now old paths have emerged and you can walk down among the rocks.
Frigana grows on the flat, on top of walls and in walls. It is vile and tenacious. Across the land the stone walls which support the olive terraces have now been uncovered. Seeing a wall that has long been covered by bushes is a wonderful sight
About 500 yards from the main hovel there is a ruin. I plan to turn that eventually into a 2.5 bedroom house. The shot below shows the browning frigana on the way from the hovel to the ruin which you can see in the distance. This was an early killing field.
Beyond the ruin the land extends for another 800 yards and it was in the far corners of the land that the most brutal battles were fought, largely – I should say by my Greek assistant Vangelis – not me. For here he frigana had in some cases turned into trees. My little cutter was out of its depth. The bushes were also so thick that only a fearless local would wade in, knowing what might be lurking inside.
The frigana here lies deep and still green. The massacre only happened this week
Come November it will all be dry and golden brown. And with a bit of fuel and a match whoosh it will disappear. Should there be any wildlife diversity hibernating underneath it..that would be a bonus.
1701 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.
1702 days ago
I have slightly cheated and brought in an local, Vangelis, to assist me with the frigana cutting. He has a few advantages over me. He is fit and young. He is fearless, wading into bushes not worrying about what wildlife diversity might be hiding there. His big advantage is that he has an ultra-powerful frigana cutter. In motorbike terms he has a 500 cc cutter, I have a 125 cc cutter. But he is also an artist. Watching him weld his frigana cutter is a pleasure, he twists and turns, stabs and swipes and the evil bushes just disappear.
My guess is that by Thursday at noon, 2000 square metres of frigana will be no more. His last patch is in the far corner of the property and is dense and old. Some of the frigana bushes have become trees and for them a saw is needed.
My last patches are one half terrace on the Kambos facing side, a small patch next to the entrance the sheep use to get on the land and then the outside fences on the two tracks either side of the land. I managed five forty-five minute sessions today, after each one I was drenched in sweat and breathless. Even my 125 cc type frigana cutter is heavy and to tackle the plant at floor level and then on walls above head height uses every muscle in your arms. Five more sessions tomorrow and my bit is done.
The whole property is now covered in cut frigana branches. The oldest are golden brown, today’s cuttings are still a deep green, those from a few days ago are now turning light green. Walls, terraces and steps that have not seen the sunlight for years are now exposed in all their beauty. Two stone circles (threshing circles perhaps?) have emerged.
I shall post some videos when we are done to show you what I mean. But I feel very satisfied now as I can survey the land to its far extent. We are almost there.
Frigana cutting should be an Olympic Sport. You could design a standard course with bushes, rocks to climb and a sprinkling of snakes dispersed throughout and then the competitors would be judged as in ice dancing on technical merit (how many bushes cut right back to the root in an allotted time) and artistic impression, how skilfully the blade is weeded. Killing a snake should earn bonus points.
I reckon my Greek pal is a shoe-in for the gold medal. I see myself as an Eddie the Eagle Edwards competitor for team GB. I think the view in Kambos is that I have some idea what to do but everyone knows that it is a bit of a struggle and that the snakes are an issue, but applauds the effort anyway.
1703 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.
1704 days ago
1707 days ago
My shorts are packed away, the (just 33 inch!) jeans and a fleece are now the daily norm. There is a chill in the air. The skies over the mountains behind the Greek Hovel are now dark with cloud pregnant with rain. There have been spits and spots periodically for two days but no downpour. It is only a matter of time.
The daily shower at the hovel is less of a laugh these days. You may remember that it is simply a hosepipe draped from the frame on which our vine trails. Just a few weeks ago the water arrived heated by the sun burning down on the metal pipes which connect my house to the village. The water is rather less hot these days and though I am drenched in sweat from labouring in the fields the temptation to skip the odd shower is very real. The Mrs is no longer here, no one is going to mind if I am a bit smelly are they?
In the village the preparations for winter are being made. Biking in to Kambos through the olive groves above snake hill the other day I was thinking about nothing in particular and so was rather startled when a woman’s voice shouted out “Hello Tom”. Which nymph of the woods, was calling?
It was lovely Eleni from the Kouronis taverna (pictured above), the only semi-fluent English speaker in Kambos. A few other folk speak enough for me to make a transaction. The chaps at both stores selling snake repellent and frigana poison know me well and we can talk about snakes. But Eleni is the only person with whom I could discuss, for instance, Scottish Independence.
I digress. Eleni was up in the patch of olive grove that she owns with her husband and two boys gathering wood, or as she says “woods.” Even I have started to make a little store of the stuff in the rat room. Part of me fears that this will provide an ideal winter home for a variety of snakes. But another part of me knows that when I come back for the Olive harvest I will need a fire to keep warm and I’d rather not be picking up sticks in November given what may be falling asleep underneath them. And so every day I add to my little store.
As I sit now in the Kouronis taverna, trucks pass by laden with water melons and other fruits of the field, Meanwhile I weigh up the odds of me getting a drenching when I bike home. It does not matter when I leave. The downpour will start just after I leave the main road at the petrol station/post office and start up the winding track to the hovel. Such is life.
1711 days ago
In my weekly video postcard HERE I revealed how I obsess about snakes while at the Greek Hovel but had not actually seen one. Bloody hell that was a bit of a jinx. Snakes were very much on my mind today as the section of frigana I am attacking right now is the densest on the property on a rocky hill near the gate on our drive. For drive read mud track. Put it this way, if I was a snake I’d hang out there.
I had mentally preserved this section for my brave Albanian pal Foti who is coming up to assist me next week. Foti is fearless and if he saw a snake would grab whatever was nearest to hand and smash it on the head. But I decided to man up and head into the bushes anyway.
Luckily I encountered no snakes and so, dripping in sweat after an hour’s solid cutting in the midday heat, I ambled back to the house and started to wander up the front steps and – fuck me – there was a snake, slithering over the snake veranda towards my front door. Naturally I retreated rapidly shouting to no-one in particular “it’s a fucking snake”.
Maybe it is my Irish genes? St Patrick rid our blessed land of snakes and so the thought of encountering one fills me with dread. What is more the bloody thing had slithered straight past my snake repellent canister and was inside the yellow sulphur line that surrounds my house because snakes won’t cross sulphur! Did no-one tell this bloody snake about that?
On reflection I thought it better to have another look and by my reckoning the snake was an Aeschylus snake, the same variety that we saw on our first visit here and which lead to the snake veranda getting its name. I may have got this wrong but it was not that long was brown and very thin so I reckon it was a relatively young Aeschylus and having checked it out on the internet last time I know that it might bite me but was not poisonous.
Emboldened by this identification – which may well have been completely wrong and this creature could well have been one of the nine varieties of adder that lives in Greece - I scuttled off to grab a spade and then advanced on the serpent banging the floor loudly. It slithered away rapidly. It was not to know that I was not a brave Albanian who would smash in its head without second thought. Who knows, had I got the chance I might have done just that.
I have now blocked the hole that makes access to the snake veranda that much easier and through which this serpent escaped. I had an early lunch/supper at wonderful Eleni’s taverna in Kambos so ensuring that I got back while it was still light. I very much doubt that I shall be venturing outside to use the eco-loo which sits on the snake veranda tonight. It is legs crossed time. Tomorrow morning I shall be stocking up on sulphur and adding to the outer defences while creating a new inner redoubt.
I told Eleni about the snake. In the village there are no snakes. They know to stay away. Eleni seemed sympathetic and sucked her teeth accordingly. Quite possibly she was thinking “this moron is terrified of snakes so buys a house not in the village but on Snake Mountain. All my other customers kill snakes with their bare hands. This guy is a total wuss.” But she did not let on, she too said that she was not very keen on snakes.
Suddenly the thought of returning to a nice terraced house on the edge of Bristol seems that little bit more attractive.
1712 days ago
This is my penultimate video postcard from Greece until I return November for the olive harvest. Forgive my lack of writing, I have been busy preparing for UK Investor Show on April 18 2015 and also obsessing about snakes and frigana.
I discuss both snakes and frigana in great detail.
I then go on to say why I disagree with Paddy Leigh Fermour and have fallen in love with Kambos, the village nearest to the Greek Hovel.
Details of the show are at www.UKInvestorShow.com – book your seat now!
My financial video postcard this week covers the issues of shares that appear to be uber cheap (PE of less than 3 etc). It is the “It’s too good to be true” edition and can be viewed HERE
1720 days ago
Some weeks back I reported to you that I had seen a snake in the garden of The Greek Hovel. I have thought about this long and hard and have concluded that I did not. Let me explain.
Firstly the garden is within the outer redoubt, the area protected by two snake repellent cans which emit a smell that snakes are meant to dislike. The locals swear by them and I hope that their faith is well placed.
Secondly I saw a foot long lizard in the garden the other day. It darted off to catch some poor bug and raised its head to digest. Its colour and head were on reflection identical to that of the “snake”. Perhaps most conclusively what I saw in my garden shot off in a straight line as would a lizard. Snakes can move rapidly but do so in S-shapes. I think I was so startled by my encounter with the wildlife diversity that I overlooked that little point.
And so I conclude that I have yet to see a snake but as I wade deeper and deeper into the frigana bushes with my strimmer, slashing madly, I sense that it is only a matter of time. For there are clearly snakes around. How do I now? Well for starters my guest saw one.
She was out running (silly girl) and started down from the hovel past where the track is muddy and flat and winds through olive trees and onto where it is stony - or in a few places concrete - but steep and surrounded by rocks and bushes. It is the steep part of the track as you head towards the spring on the valley floor. And there she almost tripped over the serpent. That was enough for me, I have retired from running.
On what has now been rechristened “snake hill” the adder ( it was short and adder length) seemed more scared of a yuppie storming down the hill listening to nasty young people’s music than the yuppie was of it. Hence it slithered (in S-shape fashion) off into the bushes at a rate of knots.
Secondly it seems that in the village of Kambos the folks find it terribly amusing that a man who keeps buying various snake repellent devices and powders and who is clearly shit scared of snakes is living where I do. For in the village there are no snakes. But up in the hills? The locals make S-shaped patterns with their hands and tell me that the hills are crawling with them. “Why I killed two just last week” said the man from the Garden Centre as helped fix my strimmer.
That news did not make my day.
I fear my snake free run may be about to end any day.
1744 days ago
Tomorrow’s excitement at the Greek Hovel is the arrival of a diesel powered machine for dealing with the frigana – the horribly prickly bushes which are dotted across the property. At the edge of the garden are a row of very large bushes which I suspect of being home to a wide selection of unpleasant wildlife diversity. Of course my new thin yellow line prevents them encroaching closer to the house but none the less I want them gone.
The much larger task is clearing the olive groves of this accursed plant. Due to Greek Forest Fire laws all that my guest and I can do is hack the bushes down (they can be anything from 2 inches to ten foot tall) and them cover the stems with a vile poison to kill the roots. When I come back nearer Christmas there will be a good spot of burning to do lest the wildlife diversity things it has a new home.
Pro tem I have been busy clearing the area around the hovel of more than a decade of leaf mulch which the snakes find very pleasant to slither through. My guest has been a bit of star in this process when she is not going on the sort of runs which I would consider a crime against humanity. And so I show you first …the snake patio (as opposed to the snake veranda) which is now clean. There are still some frigana roots but these have had their “medicine” and will wither in due course. But it is a “safe zone” in which to sit or shower.
The second phot is of a curious sort of bird bath which is about a yard away from the patio. I really have no idea what it is for. But you will see that on one side we have not yet dealt with the leaf mulch. On the other side it has been cleared to reveal a paved extension to the snake patio.
The path is clear, the steps to the house are clear, the snake veranda is clear and the area outside the rat room is clear of snake friendly mulch. That area is also paved, a fact of which I was totally unaware of until the other day.
So far about thirty big plastic sacks of leaf mulch have been collected. Around twenty of them now sit outside the garden and just outside the snake exclusion zone. At some stage Foti and his made with a van will come to collect them and they will be gone.
The Greek Hovel becomes more habitable by the day.
1745 days ago
My weekend encounter with a snake has sparked me into action at the Greek Hovel. I scuttled off yesterday to buy more snake repellent canisters although the weekend evidence suggested that they were not that effective. Sadly my friend at the plant store had none in stock but pushed a bag of yellow powder my way and swore by it stating happily that there were lots of snakes up where I live. That seems to be a constant and cheering message for me in the village of Kambos.
It is sulphur and snakes will apparently not cross it. How much is that I said? 1 Euro. In that case I shall have two please.
There now exists a yellow line round the edge of the garden and encircling the house. It is, an outer redoubt, against the wildlife diversity (of the snake variety). Fingers crossed it holds. However tomorrow the bush cutting machine arrives and my guest and I sally forth outside the redoubt to start bush clearance. We move into enemy territory…
1759 days ago
I am sorry for the delay in sending this over. Challenges? Dealing with Greece’s OTE. I pay the bastards for internet access, my account at the hovel shows I have credit but ….er OTE will not let me use it. Bastards. So I took the afternoon off.
The video is really about the challenges I face here at the Greek Hovel. Aged 46 I have done sod all carpentry since gaining 27% and coming 127/127 in the U4th woodwork exam. I have never ridden a bike. Never barricaded a room against rats, dealt with snakes, showered with a hosepipe, coped with living in a land where I don’t speak the language, the list goes on and on.
But I am enjoying he challenges while getting on with my working life. I also cover the fact that many of the liberal idiots who support Hamas appear to have no knowledge of the history of the region.
PS Having watched this you are now meant to email me and congratulate me on the weight loss!
1770 days ago
As I was leaving the Greek Hovel this morning at around 9.30 the gardeners arrived. Before Dan Levi tweets out abuse from the Manchester slums about how I am outsourcing hard work, let me explain.
I refer, of course, to the flock of sheep which have now spent two days grazing on the land. I now that snakes do not like sheep and I know that trimming the grass will reduce the habitat options for the local wildlife diversity. And so this was my cunning plan, all I needed was a shepherd to play ball and a translator and Foti did the business on Tuesday.
Sadly, I am told that sheep prefer luscious green grass and not my dry and brown offering and so the gardeners may not be coming that much more. Bloody hell. I prefer a delicately grilled fresh trout in a lemon sauce washed down with a chilled Burgundy white to Greek salad and a can of diet coke but there do not happen to be that any 4 * restaurants in the ‘hood. And for that matter I cannot see a blade of green grass anywhere near Kambos – the whole area is scorched and dry. How fussy can a sheep be?
It seems as if the grass cutting will be down to me. Foti has a machine and says he will teach me to use it. But he says that I must be careful of the snakes. He is a wily old goat, he knows how to yank my chain.
5 Euro an hour and Foti cuts the grass and meets the snakes or zero cost and I cut the grass and meet the snakes. Hmmmm, I shall sleep on it but apparently trade is brisk at Real Man and so I might duck out of this one. I am sure I can persuade myself that it is all about opportunity cost.
Anyhow, especially for Paul Roberts and my other readers from Wales, here are my gardeners.
1771 days ago
1771 days ago
What in nature scared me a few days ago? Snakes? Yes big time. But also rats, bats. scorpions and the dark. I also have a great fear of heights but that has not been an issue to date as I settle into the Greek hovel. But the rest of my phobias have come in spades.
I know there are snakes on the land here. I saw one on what is known as the snake veranda the first time that the Mrs and I visited. And Foti says he has seen plenty of them in the olive groves. Cheers mate. So far I have not seen one. Perhaps my snake repellent system is working? I touch wood. I awoke early today and spent a couple of hours clearing some of the leaves and detritus that lie on the path to my door, the snake patio next to it and the entrance to the room below the snake veranda. The path is now clear and as I returned tonight for the first time I could not hear “crunch, crunch” and was not wondering what lay beneath my feet ready to spring out and bite.
The rest of the detritus, which snakes love, goes tomorrow and later on this week I shall be spraying the immediate vicinity with snake repellent. I am not taking chances.
After a third load of junk disappeared tonight with Foti and his pal, both lower floor rooms are now almost empty. The bat room still needs a bit of clearance before I tackle digging out its earthen floor but the paradise for rats that existed a week ago has gone. Now the almost clean floors have a few “rat sweeties” on them. Rats are becoming less of an issue and, while I would not want to wake up at night to find myself staring one in the face, I am actually less scared than I was. If I met one in daytime I would now like Foti seize a broom or a spade and go for it.
The bats seem really very harmless and small. There is no rabies in this part of the world and I was happy to chase the last bat resident here away today.
To be honest I had not thought about scorpions until today. I popped into the local garden centre/poison store for a chat and the chap there mentioned them asking how many I’d seen. Cheers pal. Lovely Susan Shimmin from Real Mani reassured me this evening that scorpions are at their most poisonous after hibernation in the spring but by now are only vaguely poisonous. She advises me just to hit them with a broom in the way that I smash any bug that is foolish enough to venture inside my almost perfectly enclosed bedroom.
The dark I cannot avoid. The village of Kambos is well lit. I linger there at night (as I still have no internet at the hovel) in the taverna which is open until 1 AM or later. I delay the drive back to the hovel by swapping emails or writing something I need not write. But eventually I must face the dark.
Leaving Kambos the road is unlit and I am the only car on the winding and rough track. As I drive down to the old and large monastery with just one monk left in it I find myself imagining ghostly processions of long dead monks dressed head to toe in black. Do I believe in ghosts? My mother swore that she saw the “Grey Lady” at the gates of Portman Lodge on the edge of Bryanston in Dorset when she was young. I think that I do not believe but driving past the monastery in the dark my mind runs riot.
After I reach the valley floor the road gets far worse as I start the long climb to the hovel. I saw a rabbit yesterday but I am conscious that I am alone. I dread finding an obstacle in the road and having to get out of my locked car to clear it but when I reach the hovel I have no choice.
It is ten yards from my car door to my front door. I leave the light on before I go but they are still ten dark yards as the shutters are closed to keep the wildlife away. As I reach the front door I fumble nervously with the keys desperate to get inside and to shut out the dark. Having checked for signs of wildlife I lock the door and am, I think, safe from nature until the dawn.
But outside the dark is everywhere. And there are the noises. There are still cicadas clicking away, you can hear dogs bark across the valley but there are other sounds that you cannot quite explain. With my shutters firmly drawn I cannot see the dark but it is out there. However much I want a pee I simply cross my legs until dawn – I dare not wander outside and round the house in the dark to use the (very smelly) facility. I really must build my portable eco-loo!
I am now man enough to sleep with the light off. I am sure that I will get used to the dark and conquer my fear but I greet the morning as my friend and with enthusiasm.
1772 days ago
Oh dear, I thought that I was making progress on eradicating wildlife diversity at The Greek Hovel but it just got worse. I am sure that it is just a temporary blip.
My new best friend, and business partner in the olive business, Foti and a friend of his were clearing out the two first floor rooms again this evening. Another truck load of rubbish has now gone and still we are not finished.
However in the room under the snake veranda we discovered not one but two rats. This time I did not run, my fear of these creatures is diminishing. But Foti was more proactive, grabbing a broom and thrashing wildly. There was no escape for either rodent. After a couple of minutes of wild thrashing the first one was no more and Foti carried it by its tail and threw it into the olive groves for the snakes to feast upon. The second one he trapped under his boot and pressed down. It too was an ex-rat and on its way to be snake supper.
I should have explained to Foti that in the slums of Manchester and other Grim Northern Shit holes fresh rat is considered a treat for the kids and that we could make a few quid sending the carcasses freeze packed back to Dan Levi. But I do not know how to say that in Greek.
I then asked Foti and his pal to lead the way in clearing a pile of bricks on the snake veranda. Although it now boasts a can of snake repellent so should be snake free I have bad memories.
From there it was off to bedroom two on the ground floor, the one with the earth floor which I must dig out. Once again a rat appeared but before Foti could act it had scuttled off into a hole in the wall. But the wildlife adventure was not over because something then flew past my head. FFS what’s that? I asked rather nervously. It was a bat. Oh great…more wildlife diversity. Just what I needed. There is in fact a small colony of bats in this room. But it is getting smaller, all three of us prodded the ceiling and encouraged them to leave. Things can only get better.
And now to the sheep…I had a brainwave about how to accelerate clearing the land: bring in goats. They eat anything. Sadly that includes olive trees but sheep apparently behave themselves and as an added bonus snakes do not like sheep and will flee them. And so with Foti’s pal translating I grabbed a local shepherd who was wandering past with his flock. What a result: As of tomorrow he will be grazing his sheep in the grounds of the hovel. Meanwhile I plan to clear the detritus from the immediate vicinity of the house (including years of leaves) to make it 100% snake unfriendly, to rig up my shower and to install the internet.
There are probably another two more truckloads of rubbish to go and then after a bit more poison is laid down the whole house should be rat unfriendly and rat free. I am however thinking that I now need a couple of pigs to assist in the regeneration plans, how shall I break this to the Mrs?
1775 days ago
I procrastinated and procrastinated as I dreaded what I would find when I arrived at the Rat Room – aka my bedroom for the next three months. So I bought a spade to bash rats with and to dig out the “estate” at the Greek hovel. For tomorrow I start work on my eco-loo and humanure system. Then I bought a few vegetables for supper, rather forgetting that I have no knives or forks although the previous owner has left me a fine collection of quite amazingly horrible plates as well as a can of warm beer, which I have binned. On this trip I plan to stay dry.
Then I had a coffee in the local taverna where I sit once again this evening having failed miserably to get my mi-fi internet connection working.
But in the end I had no choice and started the drive along the long and winding road. As I passed through the gates I turned the car music up to 11 determined to show the wildlife that I had arrived and they better scram. With spade in hand I wandered up to the building and peered nervously over the ledge of the snake veranda. Maybe the snake repellent had worked for it was deserted.
And so I unlocked the door of the Rat Room and raised my spade. The sticky pads had been flipped. Mr Rat had been in residence last night. And the blue “sweeties” I had left for him had also disappeared suggesting that he would soon be on his way to “a better place.” But there was no corpse.
This is what a rat sweetie looks like.
And so I started the process of sweeping the floor rather more thoroughly than the previous owner had done. Mirabelle you would be proud of me! The two cabinets were emptied and moved and I swept under them. And then to the two beds both of which had layers and layers of rugs upon them. One by one I removed the rugs banging the beds loudly every few minutes with my broom. And then there he was…Mr Rat. Alive and kicking.
He looked at me and I looked at him. I had already found his nest with three well-nibbled sweeties in it and so I know that he is “on his way” but before I could think about how to accelerate that process he darted away underneath the other bed. I finished with bed one, hung all the rugs outside to air and then repeated the process with bed 2. But Mr Rat had gone…I suspect here is a hole that I have yet to discover through which he escaped.
And so with the Rat Room thoroughly cleansed as you can see in the pic below I have escaped to the tavern and an internet connection.
Right now I accept that it looks like a student room. It is sparse but it is clean enough. The rat will find no food and no bedding if he returns only sweeties and death. For his sake, and mine, I rather hope that he does not come back.
As an aside I offer you the view from the bedroom window and balcony out over the valley at the front…such a sight when you wake up explains why both Mr Rat (RIP) and I are so fond of the place.
And at least the former owners left me some chairs. I spent a happy break this afternoon sitting outside on the level below the snake veranda trying not to think of what might be above me, listening to the cicadas and to the tinkling of goat bells on the hillsides. A shepherd wandered past with his small flock and tried to speak to me in Greek. That was not a long conversation. Tonight I really will start to learn Greek.
1776 days ago
I have procrastinated for as much as I can. I have sat here in a comfortable pool catching up on nearly all of my work because my mi-fi internet system at the hove at the Greek Hovel may not work. I say that because a) I am an IT loser and b) it was bought in Greece and this is Greece so things do not always work. Okay that is one excuse.
The other is that I left sticky board rat traps out last night in my bedroom for tonight. What is worse?
a) finding no dead rats so assuming they are still there somewhere
b) finding a dead rat killed by the poison I laid and having to dispose of it.
c) finding a half dead rat on the sticky boards and having to kill it & then dispose of it.
d) finding a snake inside eating a rat which it has either caught and killed or was killed/half killed by me?
My mind is naturally pondering all these matters. A good friend emails to urge me to stay in the hotel another night. But I can procrastinate no more. I might be online later…off I go, into battle.
1776 days ago
By now you might have wondered quite what possessed the Mrs to snap up falling down our Greek hovel in the middle of nowhere and which is teaming with rats and snakes. Hmmm. Good question. And I have not even started on the works I need to do on the grounds or of the sanitation, er…..issue. But let me show you the view.
I start with the view from the back. The hovel sits on 15,500 square metres of olive groves. It might actually be 16,000 – non-one is exactly sure…this is Greece. From the back one looks over at the other side of the next valley, our land slopes half way down this side. There are a couple of houses there and behind them the mountains where in winter there will be snow.
And then to the front…in this direction lies the sea but it is a good ten miles away. I am not sure that I captured the monastery in these two shots, it is about half way up the other side of the valley, over the top of the brow of the hill is the village of Kambos. The second picture is our land to the side of the house on top of our hill At the far end is a ruin...that is a project for another summer.
And thus as you can see I am surrounded by olives trees, peace and quiet. The odd goatherd wanders by now and again but that is it as far as human contact goes. It is just me, the olives, the goats and …er, I’d rather not think about that.
1776 days ago
I spare you photos of the Rat Room, aka my bedroom for the next three months. I would not wish to scare the Mrs so will tidy it up a bit first. But it is by far and away the smartest room at the hovel. In fact it is the only one not completely littered with junk and totally unfit for human habitation. It is on the top floor next to the snake veranda.
Here are both from the outside.
Beneath it is a former animal room.
I did not venture in in case there might have been some animals of the non-domestic type inside. But as you can see from the photo taken through its iron (non snake and rat proof) door it is full of junk and has an earth floor. The window is also broken just in case the snakes and rats could not be bothered to climb through the front door.
In order for it to be able to accommodate my father who is a fraction taller than me, let alone anyone else the first job is to lower the floor by a foot and a half. Luckily the floor is an earth floor. And so all I need to do is to clear the junk, snakes and rats and get digging. God knows what I will find.
Then there is the “master bedroom” beneath the snake veranda. It has a concrete floor and humans used to live here hence the fire in the corner. Right now it seems to be home to half the lizards of the Mani and so shall henceforth be known as the Lizard Room. I am afraid that as I clear out the junk – including a brand new washing machine which the previous owner bought but could not use as she had her water cut off for non-payment (welcome to economics Greece style) – the lizards must also go.
A challenge? Just a bit…
1776 days ago
And so we arrive at the Greek hovel that the Mrs has snapped up. Before I can contemplate the enormity of the task at hand there is the little matter of the rats and snakes to deal with. We have visited the village hardware store where – rather worryingly – about 40% of the product lines seem to be associated with dealing with, er…rats and snakes. Susan Shimmin and I are now armed.
To the snakes first. I have bought two pots of snake repellent which I am assured will deter the creatures from visiting the hovel any more. I lodge one firmly ten yards from one corner of the hovel, surround it with stones to ensure that it stays firm emitting whatever it emits to keep the snakes away. The other I lodge diagonally opposite it at the far edge of what we term the snake veranda.
On my first visit to the hovel it was on this piece of the property that we all encountered a snake. Having researched it hard on the internet I discover that this type of snake bites and can stand its ground but is not poisonous. At the time I just thought “Shit!!!! – how do I escape”
The snake veranda is not actually a veranda. It is an illegally constructed platform above the second “bedroom”. One of my jobs this summer is to knock it down. We will be building up this section of the house both properly and legally in due course but right now its only purpose in life is as an ideal habitat for lizards and snakes. Though I am an ardent supporter of wildlife diversity there are limits. It has to go.
Then to the rats in my “bedroom.” Poison has been laid. Sticky boards have been set. If a rat ventures onto them it will find itself trapped. I will then have to finish the job.
The hovel has thus been transformed from vermin heaven to vermin hell. It is time to retreat to a hotel for the night and to see what we find waiting for us in the morning. As a statement of intent I leave my axe and saw at the hovel. Into battle tomorrow when I move in.
1776 days ago
As you know I am this summer starting the reconstruction of a Greek hovel snapped up by the Mrs. Please do not regard this as an investment. There is more chance of making money from Quindell (QPP) shares than from buying hovels in Greece. Actually that’s a lie. There is zero chance on both counts.
I shall post updates all summer of my progress but I start with the news I received two days before arrival. That is to say that our lovely estate agent Susan from The Real Mani ( who - as her name suggests comes fro an Isle of Man family) reported back on Tuesday that when visiting the hovel she had encounter a rat in the only room that is (vaguely) habitable – the room henceforth known as my bedroom for the summer.
Hmmmmm. I try to look on the bright side. If there are live rats in my bedroom at least it means that the snakes have not managed to penetrate that part of the building. Things can only get better from here.
1781 days ago
This may be my last video postcard for a while. The Mrs has bought a hovel in Greece and I am off late on Thursday night to start its renovation. It really is a hovel and right now has no internet and is a 15 minute drive from the nearest habitation. But I will work hard on getting connected ASAP.
And then I shall keep you updated on gripping matters such as the construction of an eco-loo and a humanure system and on bush clearance and digging out an earth floor or tow. Oh.. and on the snake situation.
From humanure I turn to the Westminster paedophile cover-up. It is a cover up and everyone on Fleet Street knows who is being protected and why the ripples could spread far and wide. The age of those directly involved is no defence as I explain.
My weekly financial video postcard starts with a discussion of those bears who have attacked Quindell (QPP) and blinkx (BLNX) inter alia. Tom explains why they need to be more transparent. Having said that, I also explain why bears play such a key role in protecting investors on AIM. This video can be watched HERE