11 days ago
In twelve days time I will walk 33 miles from Horse Hill to Woodlarks with 11 other rogue bloggers to try to raise £40,000 for a charity that really needs that cash. So if you are yet to sponsor me please do so now HERE. Sagturday saw a training walk allowing me to explore the area around my new home, the Welsh Hovel, on the River Dee.
I started at the Hovel. It had been a cold morning so I had three layers on. And for once I did not take my rucksack so had no water with me, a schoolboy error.
The first half a mile or so was on the Welsh side of the Dee before crossing over a 13th century Bridge into England. It is on this bridge every morning and afternoon as I drop my son Joshus off at nursery (in England) or pick him up that he says “Goodbye Wales” and then a minute later “Hello England” or vice versa.
On the far side, I headed towards Chester keeping the Dee close to my left apart from in one place where there was a field full of bulls and I decided to take a rather long detour.
I walked through woods and fields on a path that seems, after a while, to be rarely used. I met few walkers and as I waded through nettles in some places I undersgtood why. Joshua would have loved the deep dark wood and would have started chattering about the Gruffalo. In one wood the smell of wild garlic was almost overpowering.
At about two and a half hours I saw a small village ahead and reckoned that I had done at least seven miles so turned and headed back the way I had come. By this time the sun was hot and I was sweating badly and feeling a tad dehydrated as my schoolboy error came back to haunt me. But my feet were fine and though a fourteen mile walk is no real test, that it was essentially so easy, is a good sign for what is to come. And the scenery was wonderful, the North really is not so grim after all.
If you are yet to donate to Rogue Bloggers for Woodlarks please do so HERE
212 days ago
A quiet day in Kambos and at the Greek Hovel for both the Mrs and I have deadlines and important work to do. Right now Joshua is watching some moronic rubbish on his mother's smart phone up at the hovel while the Mrs and I tap away like dervishes. This morning the Mrs, whose deadline is more pressing than mine, got to work in lovely Eleni's Kourounis taverna, while Joshua and i went on a tough walk which he deemed to be "exciting" largely as I kept falling down.
Below you can see my boy, over breakfast, studiously reading the Gruffalo - the English not the Shetland version. Thereafter, as in the summer I put him on my back in a special carrying pack and headed off to try and climb to Zarnata Castle from the Kambos side rather than through the village of Stavripgio. As in the summer I failed to make it to the top. I got a lot closer, making it to the outer wall but it is now topped with wire fencing and unlike some Ottoman warrior of the fifteenth century I could not breach the defence.
One trouble is that the track, stopped a couple of hundred yards shy of the wall. Thus I had to walk along terraces and then clamber between them which with Joshua on my back, and noticeably heavier than in the summer, and the ground slippy after the recent rains, was not easy, Three or four times I slipped. I ensured that each time it was me landing on the ground and Joshua was protected from any harm and as a result my trouser are now stained with the red Maniot earth. Each time I'd ask Joshua if he was alright and he'd day "yes, daddy are you alright?" I said yes and we continued on, eventually heading back down the road, along which we marched up the hill into Stavropigio.
The joy of that climb is that you can look back at Kambos spread before you and then if you peer closely enough you can see the Hovel as the hills behind the village start to turn into mountain. The other joy was a coffee for me and an ice cream for Joshua at the other end. After such a trek we deserved it.
Walking back to Kambos was all downhill. I sang Molly Malone and one man went to mow, Joshua did not seem to mind. One day Joshua and I will make it up that hill and find a way to the castle.
262 days ago
— Tom Winnifrith
As if the Mrs has not suffered enough during the past five years, today she has the unenviable task of explaining to our, almost, two year old son Joshua why, when they arrive back in Bristol there will be no Oakley to greet them. For yesterday afternoon, Oakley went to a better place.
Joshua adored Oakley, He calls the Greek Hovel, where I am staying on for a few days, “Joshua’s House,” The house in Bristol is “Oakleys house”. The “King of cats” he called “Oakley da King” and repeated the phrase endlessly. Da King would go to sleep next to Joshua’s cot to keep him company and would head into his room to listen to bedtime tales. He must have known more about the Gruffalo than any other cat.
I first met Oakley seven years ago when my previous companion, Kitosh, died very suddenly having travelled with me from London via Paris to the isle of Man. Grief stricken I headed to the MSPCA where two older cats were sitting unwanted and unloved. There was the very affectionate Tara, who passed away a couple of years ago, and another one who hid in his hutch but was, I was assured, very friendly, if very fat and lazy. That was Oaks.
They travelled with me after my rather hurried departure from the tax dodgers and for a while stayed with the pizza hardman Darren Atwater in Hackney. I know that Darren and his Mrs are devastated by the news. It was during this time that Oakley developed cancer and had his leg amputated. We were told that the big C would probably return within five years but that he was so fat and old that it would not be an issue.
At one point, even with three legs, Oaks tipped the scales at 6.6 kg. So he went on a diet. But in the past year his weight has plunged from 3.7 kg to just 2.7 kg and it was almost certainly the cancer that got him. There is a guilt in that his final days were spent without us. But he was receiving many visits a day from professional cat sitter Terry the hipster plus numerous visits from admirers such as Mu and Godfather Johnny. Perhaps it was a day spent with a junior doctor (Johnny) and being forced by the cruel Shipman to watch the hammers lose on MOTD that proved the final straw, oaks slept loyally in a West Ham blanket.
When Terry the most excellent hipster cat-sitter found him yesterday he had lost all his energy was not eating or drinking and was rushed to the cat hospital. By the time he arrived his eyes were losing colour, jaundice was setting in and there was only one outcome. The Mrs and I both had tearful final conversations with him, well monologues. He did recognise our voices, he really was fading fast. We told him we loved him and said goodbye. I am glad that Terry rather than the Mrs and Joshua had to go through those final hours. Sorry if that sounds selfish.
We will bury the ashes in the garden with a small ceremony as we did when the ashes of Kitosh were interred. Tara’s body was buried rather hastily underneath a rhubarb plant before Joshua could notice.
I think back to five wonderful cats I have owned. There was Big Puss ( aka Jesus) a gift from Uncle Chris when I was young who earned his blasphemous nickname by sleeping in the straw of our crib back at Byfield. He lived to a ripe old age, fathering many children. Poor babysitter, the great, Neil Masuda had to bury him. His replacement had enormous triangular ears and being born in 1982 was named after the bomber with huge triangular wings sending Easter presents to the Argies at that time. Vulcan lived a long life and died peacefully sparing my father a trip to the vets he could not bear to make even though it was the only option so decrepit was “Vulcs”. Then the much travelled east End lad Kitosh and then Oakley and Tara.
In my worst times they would lie in bed with me as I watched old videos and were a great comfort. Oakley was always keen on jumping into bed even when with three legs it involved taking a long lollop up and launching himself like a missile. Not having him launch himself into our bed to offer up big fishy breathed kisses as a reminder that it was time for his first breakfast, will leave a big hole in the life of myself and the Mrs. As for poor Joshua, I just don’t know what the Mrs will say.
I am not sure I can face another pet death. I have had a cat in my life for almost all of my own existence but Oakley really was the king. There could be no substitute.
I take consolation that the King is now at peace with no more suffering. Below he is pictured with his long time companion Tara, with Joshua and alone
557 days ago
— Tom Winnifrith
This is the time olf year when I ask you to consider making a small donation to ensure that folks far less fortunate than we all are enjoy some real joy this Christmas. Woodlarks is a charity with whom I have worked for years. It provides a one-off service: full holiday acccomodation for those so severely disabled that they would otherwise not get such a break.
Each Christmas our hero Nick Richards and his team assemble a magical Christmas spectacle at the Woiodlarks campsite as you can see from photos of my 2016 visit HERE. And they seek to give gifts to more than 100 kids at the grotto.
But this is not a fashionable charity drowning in cash so it needs your help. Will you make a small donation HERE
Mining entrepreneur Paul Johnson has started the ball rolling with £250 after the Gruffalo in Shetlandese podcast appea HERE - all support is much appreciatedl
575 days ago
— Tom Winnifrith
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.
637 days ago
— Tom Winnifrith
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.
650 days ago
— Tom Winnifrith
Anyone with kids will know the classic tale The Gruffalo. One godfather of my baby son Joshua recently worked in the Shetland Islands so gave him a copy of the book in Shetlandese. I was reading that to Joshua, the other day, when a mining fellow called Paul Johnson rang and Paul said that if I recorded a podcast of the Gruffalo in Shetlandese then he would donate £100 to my favourite charity Woodlarks, which I have been supporting for more than a decade and a half. I know that I will sound like a total prat and my apologies go out to Gruffalo author Julia Donaldson and to the entire population of the Shetland Isles but it is for a good cause. If you appreciate this exercise in self-humiliation and wish to make a small donation to a good cause go to the Woodlarks website HERE
765 days ago
Not withstanding my snake killing heroics of yesterday, I still live in dread of the vipers that slither around the Greek Hovel and across its fields. Irrationally, for I have never seen a snake there, there is one spot that holds particular dread. And it is all the fault of Julia Donaldson, the author of the children's classic, The Gruffalo.
Many moons ago folks were installing telephone poles across the hills around the hovel. God knows why as no-one lives up here but it probably seemed like a good idea in the general scheme of Greekenomics. Let's tarmac roads no-one uses and fix up telephone polls where there are no phones - more jobs for all paid for by a state with no money. What is not to like?.
But as you can see four of the poles were left on our land. As one drives up to the Hovel they sit there on your right by the first terrace of olive trees. It is now about fifteen years since I first read the Gruffalo to my daughter Olaf but the pictures, the images of the logs under which the snake lives are clear in my mind. He lives under the goddamn telephone poles taken from the hovel!
Then, the mouse continued his journey through the deep dark wood. A snake saw the mouse and the mouse looked good.
The hungry snake asked, “Where are you going to, little brown mouse? Come for a feast in my logpile house,”
“It’s kind of you, Snake, but no - I’m having a feast with a Gruffalo,” the clever mouse rejected. “A gruffalo? What’s a gruffalo?” asked the curious snake. The mouse played his trick again, “A gruffalo! Why, didn’t you know? His eyes are orange, his tongue is black, he has purple prickles all over his back”.
The snake started to get scared, he asked, “Where are you meeting him?”
"Here, by this lake and his favourite food is … scrambled snake,” replied the mouse. “Scrambled snake!! It’s time I hid!! Goodbye, little mouse,” and away the snake slid.
The mouse couldn’t’ help but laugh hysterically, “Silly old Snake! Doesn’t he know there’s no such thing as a gruffalo …hahaha!!!!!!!!!!"
I am not sure that Greek snakes know about the Gruffalo but the image from the book will not leave my mind. I am sure I hear rustlings whenever I pass the logs. I hurry on as fast as my legs can carry me for even a brave snake killer like myself does not seek out serpents.
899 days ago
— Tom Winnifrith
I am so tired. As soon as I press "publish" on this article i am off to bed. Today there was no break other than 20 minutes for lunch and so I did a solid six and a half hours. It is not that I am spectacularly unfit (cue jokes from health guru Paul Scott), it is just that I have to try to keep pace with hardened professionals, viz George the Albanian and his two female assistants. Boris Johnson likes riding bicycles but he would be some way off the pace in the Tour de France. It is similar here.
But I am proud to say that although I thought about bunking off early I stuck it out to the end. And I am getting quicker at my given tasks, the ones normally allocated to the old ladies, they having been promoted ahead of me.
The progress was rapid today. I reckon we might just be finished in two days time and we must have lifted at least 550 kg of olives once again today. If not more. What is surprising me is that the trees the other side of the ruined cottage on the property which yielded very little, even in the bumper year of 2014 and almost nothing last year are also dripping with olives. Naturally I put this down to my skilled pruning in the summer. It is just possible that we will need another three days to finish so great is the harvest.
Today saw us tackle the tree that lies inside the ruin. It is a not a tree that I think about with anything other than fear as I have often observed a snake slithering into the bushes around it. I have not actually seen the snake because as soon as I see a slithering motion in the grass I run as fast as I can in the opposite direction shouting "fuck it is a snake." Not that is ever anyone around to hear me. But the number of times I have seen the slither makes me certain that it is the lair of the snake.
And so my pruning of this tree has not been as diligent as on other trees. I did some hacking but trod gingerly and the prune was not complete. Of course the snakes are all hibernating or, as they say here, asleep. But where do they sleep? I think of the Gruffalo and look nervously at fallen logs. Maybe it is underneath stones or in holes? I do not know but there are plenty of places around the ruin for Mr Snake to sleep. So what if I tread on him or kick over the log or stone by accident? Will he wake up in time to bite me before I scarper, screaming as I go?
George went for the tree and chopped off lots of branches. One of his ladies pointed at the fallen branches and pointed to me and said something in Greek or Albanian. I knew what she meant. Gingerly I picked up each branch and threw it onto the pile that I was assembling for flailing. I think I lost about a stone and a half of nervous energy during that task. But no snake was seen. None the less I have been thinking about snakes ever since.
At the end I was so tired I considered just crashing out with the rats at the hovel. But then I thought of my nice warm bath, nice warm bed and snake and rat free hotel in Kalamata. It was no choice.
And now to bed.
1546 days ago
— Tom Winnifrith
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.