I have been sitting on this account of the final day of the 2018 olive harvest for some days as I am rather cross. I know the sums involved are trivial but none the less….
Having thrown four workers at our harvest for a couple of hours the son of George the Albanian dropped nine bags of olives weighing 442kg down at the press in Kambos. So ended day four of the harvest. More than eight of those bags were the results of the labours of team GB: myself, Andrew Bell and ShareProphets reader Bernard from the Grim North of England (c/o Donegal).
On day five, George lead a team of five who pitched up a quarter of an hour late at 8.15. Once again he insisted that they would be finished within a day. Bernard and I helped make up a magnificent seven. It was soon clear that the way they would finish was by tackling only really full trees. We stopped for lunch which George’s Mrs had prepared – a cracking sort of cheese pie and a custard version of the same for pudding. I showed them inside the house which they agreed was splendid but that break was only half an hour.
At about two thirty in the afternoon I had to break to do some work on my computer. I emerged at 3.30 to find that they had “finished” the entire lower terraces on one side of our lands and were packing up to go. Tackling the best trees on the hovel that day had produced just under nine sacks. We had a Greek coffee made by Mrs George on a portable stove and George and I discussed payment with his son translating.
200 Euro he said. That seemed fair. Then he added on 50 for yesterday. And 20 for taking the olive bags to the press in Kambos. Hmmm. I handed over 270 Euro and said that I'd pop into the press later. That I did to find that we had 856 kg in all. I was a bit pissed that the total was so low and really could not be arsed to watch my oil being pressed but left four 5kg cans (one for Bernard, three for me) for my oil and headed off to lovely Eleni's Kourounis taverna to write an article or two.
The news when I got back was not good. 146 litres minus my 20. Minus 10 for the press. So that is 116 litres which will be sold at just 2.5 Euro per litre which is 290 Euro. Knock off a 9.46 Euro admin fee and I am left with a profit (ignoring my own oil) of 10 Euro. The price of oil is down because, although it still tastes great, the quality of oil from Kambos is deemed to be lower because of chemicals sprayed all around – though not on my land – to combat the flies.
However, the bottom line is that hiring team Albania was an economic disaster. Had we merely sold the olives produced by team GB in the first two and a half days we would have cleared 140 Euro. Had team GB minus Bell carried on for and done five days we would have netted almost 300 Euro. The way I have to look at this is that I have transferred a portion of wealth from rich GB to an impoverished Greece. But I do feel a bit resentful. Had the yield not been cut by around 40% by the flies, storm Zorba and the strong winds of ten days ago the same trees harvested in the same time would have made me an additional 100 Euro profit. So that is God’s joke on me.
None the less I am a bit cross and George the Albanian has lost a customer. I feel that I contribute enough to the Greek economy already without paying over nearly all my revenues for the pleasure of his company and a great portion of cheese pie. Next year, with or without volunteers from the British Isles, I shall harvest without local help. I have all the equipment I need and if, God plays no jokes on me and I tackle only the better trees in a five or six day hard slog I could easily produce 15-20 bags alone or 30-40 ( depending on God’s jokes) with help from a new team GB.
The point of me harvesting is not to make money. It is about being part of the community here in Kambos. So there is no great bitterness in me. Each year I learn more about pruning and about how to harvest so I should get better returns from my trees. 2019 will be the year to go it alone. Perhaps if God can play his part with no more of his little jokes I might just make a real profit.
I rather regretted that third jug of local rose the night before, when my alarm started ringing at 5.20 AM. For Thrasher Bell had to get back to London and that meant getting him to the bust station in Kalamata before 6.30. Feeling a bit groggy I drove him into town and dropped him off. Stopping off at an ATM on the way back to load up with cash to pay my Albanian troops I arrived back in Kambos in time for an early morning coffee at the Kourounis taverna owned by lovely Eleni. The news was bad...
George the Albanian's brother had been hospitalised late last week so he was running half a day behind schedule. I headed back to the hovel with a hot cheese pie for Bernard and as I walked to my car who should I meet but George being driven by his son, an English speaker. I was assured that five Albanians would arrive by one. My next encounter was with the local golden eagle sitting on a fence as I drove down the back track towards the valley floor.
ShareProphets reader Bernard and I laboured manfully all morning. And at two o'clock the Albanians pitched up. As you can see below, they know what they are doing. But we only enjoyed two and a half hours of their work before the dark descended.
My worry is that George reckons he will be done in a day arguing some trees are empty. He has another job to go to. I know that and having walked my land with Bernard I know that there are an awful lot of good trees. That will be a battle for day four. Can we get an extra half day out of the Albanians? So far we have c470kg of olives either down at the press weighed and waiting for pressing or up here bagged at the hovel.
I discussed this with Eleni after supper. This is Greekenomics for you. There is mass youth unemployment in Greece. But as this country;s economy has tanked some Albanians have gone home or to go work in a car wash in Britain. So there is a shortage of Albanians. Thus Eleni has no-one to crop her olives. Everyone is fighting for Albanians meanwhile hundreds of thousands of Greeks sit there not working paid welfare by a country that is bankrupt. Go figure.
I am still a bit confused as to why it was Carnival day all on Sunday but all over Greece folks were celebrating. I watched on TV as in Naxos they paraded through the streets dressed, I think, as ghouls. Somewhere else, a name containing absolutely all those Greek letters I can't pronounce and just give up on - they were dressed as sheep or was it goats, but they had bells on. With the carnival over Lent has now begun which means that the devout will eat no meat although it will still be served everwhere for Godless souls such as me and the Albanians.
In Kambos the kids were all in fancy dress even the two year old daughter of lovely Eleni at the Kourounis taverna. She has a Greek name with lots of confusing letters too and so I simply refer her to her as the future bride of my young son Joshua. The Mrs has a Greek brother in law and says that is enough bubbles in the family and so is not impressed by my little joke. But then she does not struggle, as I do, with the unprounounceable Greek letters.
Anyhow, Joshua's future wife was dressed up as a rather shy little red riding hood as you can see below.
This being a family website, and since I am such a fecking feminist, I decline to bring you photos of the ladies in bikinis. but as I drove along the Kalamata seafront today they were there, on the beach and heading in to the water for a swim. Not many brave the sea at this time of year and, I grant you, those that do may be out on day release, but it is just about do-able. Down by the shore it is again in the high teens and I wander around in a T-shirt.
As you drive up into the mountains of the Mani it gets a bit colder but I sit now in my office away from home, that is to say the Kourounis taverna in Kambos owned by lovely Eleni and I still wear a T-shirt.
It is a pleasant day. But if one looks up to the high Taygetos behind the village and above the Greek hovel ( photo 3 is looking down the "drive" of the hovel) , the global warming, as you can see, lies thickly.
I have been so dog tired during the olive harvest that I have eaten our rarely. Normally supper has been a Greek salad in my hotel room. One Friday night, sensing the end of the harvest was nigh, I ventured out to my favourite restaurant here in Kalamata, the Katelanos which is about 400 yards from my hotel on the seafront.
As ever it was not exactly bustling. This is not a seasonal thing. It can often be found near deserted in summer as it is in winter. I really don't know why. On this night there was a table of eight, four men at one end talking man things and four women at the other end smoking hard and talking women things. Greece is a conservative place but this is progress. Thirty years ago the women would have been left at home. Other than that there was a lonely looking woman sipping a glass of wine in the corner, waiting, it seemed, for Godot. And there was me.
I chatted to my friend the lady who runs the place and for £15 enjoyed a plate of home made tzatziki (garlic infused yogurt with cucumbers) and grilled octopus an d, as the harvest was almost done, two ouzos. You might think that this seems like a bargain, I doubt you'd get much change out of £30 for the same meal in London. The food was good but I have grown mean in my old age now that I know the delights of Miranda's up in Kambos.
Up at Miranda's there are never any fish dishes. In the old days it would have been a three quarter day mule ride up from the sea to bring fish to the village so, even today, it is not on the menu. Instead it is locally grown vegetables and meat: goat, lamb, pork, beef or chicken. The cooking is simple but it tastes all the better for that.
As it is winter so we all sit inside. That one evening I made it 15 at dinner including me, All of us hunched up on four of five tables kept warm by a wood stove. For me it was park in a wine sauce and potatoes cooked in the oven - £5. The faces were all familiar to me: Nicho the Communist chatted to Foti the Albanian, the rather simple assistant chap at the garage laughed away.Naturally none of the diners were women, they all sit at home or occasionally venture into the Kourounis taverna.
Despite the woes of the harvest everyone seem in good form as Fix beers and small bottles of ouzo and raki were opened one after another. I popped in again yesterday for a farewell lunch: two knuckles of stewed beef and some incredible chickpeas in a sauce, drizzled with lemon. The chickpeas really were spectacular. That, an ouzo and a Greek coffee came to just over £8. I bade my farewells to all present, explained to my Communist friend that I'd be back in the spring, and with that it was goodbye to the best little restaurant in Greece.
As I wandered into the little square in Kambos which has Miranda's at the top, looking up at Zarnata castle, and the Kourounis taverna on one side, something looked very wrong.
The plastic chairs laid out by the accursed new creperie last summer had gone and it looked very closed. Hooray. Lovely Eleni at the Kourounis taverna says that it is "closed for winter" but then smiled. And perhaps for summer too I suggested. And she smiled again. Pissing off the locals, having no customers what could possibly go wrong with such a business model?
But there was something else missing. The hardware and garden store where i buy snake repelling (sometimes) sulphur and get my strimmer mended had also disappeared. It used to occupy the building next to the creperie but sprawled out into a side square as well. But no longer, as you can see below.
The good news is that it has merely relocated to the old man's ouzerie opposite the Kourounis taverna on the main street. I popped in to see my friend Vangelis who runs the store and we discussed the olive harvest disaster and then why he had moved. He reckons it will be easier for his customers to park and so is a good move.
Eleni thinks it is a good move too. There are just four tables inside Miranda's and the temperature here as it gets dark is already heading to close to zero. Do not believe what the weather forecasts tell you about Greece being hot. Sure those clear blue skies mean that it is 17 degrees as I write now, at midday. I can sit outside at the Kourounis in just a shirt. But those same clear skies see the temperatures plunge as it gets dark.
And that means that if the 537 residents of Kambos want a drink in the evening, one the 15 seats in Miranda's are gone, they now appear to have a choice of...the Kourounis taverna. Eleni may have seen her olives wiped by the disaster but I sense she has a decent winter ahead.
I rarely used the ouzerie where the the clientele made the House of Lords seem like a bunch of young whippersnappers but now and again I popped in so I regret its passing. That regret is not shared by team Kourounis taverna. But we can, at least, agree in delighting at the closure of the Greco-French creperie. Here's hoping that it is goodbye not au revoir.
It is, perhaps, my favourite "office." Sitting in the Kourounis taverna in Kambos I tap away happily. Lovely Eleni keeps the coffee coming and every now and again I look up to watch the world go by, oh so slowly, on the main street in Kambos,, the village closest to the Greek Hovel.
The main street through Kambos is, of course also the road from Kalamata down into the Mani and in summer it can get busy with tourists heading off to Kardamili, if they are middle class Brits or Norwegians heading to the Jazz festival, or to Stoupa if they are the sort of folks who like to wear football shirts when on holiday in case a game breaks out. In winter the traffic is thin.
But occasionally there was a jam. A tractor pulls a cart full of kit or produce. A horse pulls something else. Or, as yesterday, a flock of sheep or goats is walked along the road with no great urgency with an ever longer line of cars following on behind. But what is there to rish for. Sit back, look up at the mountains on one side or Zarnata castle on the other. Enjoy. This is Greece. You can always wait until "avrio" to do what needs to be done.
And thus as I sat yesterday the sheep were in town...
With a day to kill before flying back from Greece to what the Mrs calls home but I call Britain, there was time for one last lunch in my "home village" of Kambos. First a brief stop off at Joshua's inheritance, the Greek hovel, where a bulldozer had arrived and great progress has been made. I have photos of that, of my olives and also of my prickley pears but they can wait. For the main event, in a village whose great attraction is that nothing ever happens, was lunch in the main square.
Three of the main four tables at Miranda's were occupied. At two sat local Greeks sipping slowly at cool beers. At a third, Gary Sausage held court. He is a Brit but a permanent resident not of Kambos but of these parts. He is not really called Mr Sausage. I have no idea of his real name and I am not sure if anyone else knows either. But since he makes his living importing pork pies, British bangers and the like for those other ex-pats who - for reasons I cannot fathom - have a yearning for British food, he is Mr Gary Sausage.
The name has a naughtier sub text. Gary arrived here with his wife. In these progressive times I suppose I should make it explicitly clear that his wife was a woman. I say was because she appears to have tired of his charms and returned to Blighty. This information would surprise you as Gary Sausage is both rotund and also just extraordinarily camp. My gaydar is clearly very defective because I just assumed that he was one of life's big fat fairies. Think Christopher Biggins in shorts.
What is more, Gary Sausage always holds court when I see him in Kambos. He is always surrounded by a gaggle of British ladies who, like him, are in their sixties and have seen more than their fair share of Mediterranean sunshine and who seem to hang on his every word. Gary Sausage is the only straight man in the West to have this power over women. Anyhow he was holding Court on a large table strewn with rapidly emptying plates and bottles. Gary Sausage knows who I am, though since I have no cravings for pork pies or marmite, we have never talked.And so as the Mrs and I walked, with Joshua in his pushchair, towards the fourth table there was a fleeting acknowledgement from the great man before he refocused his attentions on his gaggle.
Miranda's was thus pretty full for a late lunch period. It was surrounded by empty plastic chairs ans empty plastic tables from the ghastly new creperie. On one of those tables sat the half French half Greek owner and her Greek father - the interlopers. They talked to themselves for they had no-one else to serve or to chat too. If someone passed by they would smile. The old man caught Joshua's eye and smiled. Joshua smiled back. That looks like a rarity.
The plain fact is that the locals are not using the creperie at all. And the last tourists have all gone, not that there was any sign that they were using it either. You do not need to be Richard Branson to see the gaping hole in the business plan going forward. And everyone in Kambos knows that.
There will come a day this Autumn when the creperie will not bother with the charade of opening its doors and laying out tables for customers who will never come. Perhaps the froggy will have another go next summer. I hope not. But pro tem the excruciating embarrassment goes on. The owner and her Dad sit there because they have to pretend they have a business and have tp keep smiling.
We all know that their fate is sealed and many of us look forward to the demise of the creperie and a return to the old order of the square being "owned" by the Kourounis taverna, Miranda's and the shop where I buy poison for frigana and get my strimmer mended. For now, however, we avoid catching a French eye, avoid having to smile back, avoid the sheer embarrassment of it all.
A meeting with George the Architect at the Greek Hovel went well. Joshua inspected his inheritance. The Mrs fretted about where to put the washing machine. For a house that is half built with no doors windows, roof and, in the case of two and a half rooms, walls, I reckon she may be getting ahead of herself.
After that a visit to our local village of Kambos and for 12 Euros we share two courses and a quarter litre of Rose at Miranda's. Miranda herself has retired but the food is, as ever excellent. Chicken in a lemon sauce with potatoes (not chips) and a Greek salad all made with fresh local ingredients. Perfect. Miranda's was packed out - that is to say all six tables were occupied.
Afterwards coffees at the Kourounis taverna run by lovely Eleni. It is agreed that her two year old daughter will marry Joshua in due course. The dowry, free Greek salads for life. well actually I have not negotiated that bit yet but the wedding has been agreed. The Kourounis taverna is pretty busy and conversation turns to the ghastly creperie which had absolutely zero customers during our time in town.
Eleni is ever the diplomat but she is no fan of the bossy French woman who has parked her tables across the square and intruded on life in a village where nothing is meant to change and rarely does. But the lack of customers has not gone un-noticed and there is a small smile noticeable as she notes that the business plan keeps changing. First it was crepes, then pizzas and now coffee and toasties. And now the summer is over, the tourists who might have stopped in as they drive from Kardamili to Kalamata or vice versa are all gone. And the locals will stay in the four of five long established watering holes of Kambos.
The creperie is, methinks, toast. Eleni's smile tells you it certainly is not hurting her trade though it is an annoying eyesore. I reckon by the time I return for the olive harvest in November the creperie will be shuttered up. Good.
Two years ago I would do four or five 45 minute frigana slashing sessions a day at the Greek Hovel. Somehow I forgot how I needed a good break between each one as both myself and my machine cooled down. I also forgot that I built up to that level of work over three months. And so heading up there today I convinced myself that I would do a good two hours before a lettuce salad lunch at the Kourounis taverna. Yeah right.
I was fairly amazed that my machine, which has lain gathering dust for a year worked at all. But I got it started in no time and strode off into the snakefields with the building team trying, not terribly hard, to hide their smiles as I wandered to the far edges of the property. I should be fitter than i was two years ago but I had forgotten just how hard work it is slashing away at the larger bushes and also just how heavy a chopper with a full tank of 2-stroke actually is.
After 25 minutes i was delighted to get a phone call, cut the power and lifted my mobile to my ear. My hand shook like I had some sort of degenerative disease.That was the result of controlling hard vibrations for less than half an hour. Manfully I continued and as you can see below, some big bushes have bitten the dust.
But after three quarters of an hour I was hurting badly. I was also sweating profusely which I hope you can see in the selfie I took. The Olympiakos baseball cap is about the only thing of any use left in the hovel by the previous owner vile Athena. Now enjoying that lettuce salad my right arm which carries the full weight of the chopper is aching. But the day is still young. One more session awaits before I head back to Kalamata and, if the rain holds off, a relaxing swim. This is the life...
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.
I already knew who she was. Nicho had pointed her out as the French lady. She rather stands out as her mother was from Cameroon. Non white folks rather stand out here. Until recently the Mrs, has on her visits, been 100% of the non white community.
We spoke in a mixture of French and English. Thanks to the chain smoking WW2 tank hero Harry Owen who taught me at Warwick School my French is not that bad. But her English was better. early on in our conversation she asked if I was German. I think my body language made it clear that I took this as a grave insult. Do I look like a fucking Kraut FFS? Apparently i do. The woman blundered on by saying she only said so because I was tall, like a member of the frigging master race. Whatever.
It turns out that her late husband was a bubble and so her daughter lives in Kambos and is going to start a creperie this summer. She pointed at where it will be... about twenty yards from the Kourounis taverna and just next to Miranda's. Now Miranda's limited menu does not include crepes but in the summer Nicho the Magician gets out a special machine and his crepes are most excellent. Naturally, as a good diabetic, i shall not be indulging but the kids love him.
This new entrant to the scene means that with a population of 536 (539 including myself, the Mrs and Joshua), Kambos has two ouzeries where you can get nibbles, coffee and ouzo. Plus three places to eat ( and get ouzo).
Naturally, lovely Eleni will retain my business. Accusing me of being a Kraut is not the way to win me over.
I arrived at the Greek Hovel at 9 AM sharp for the delayed day two of the frigana poisoning. I parked outside the gates. I could not be bothered to open them, close them and almost certainly have to open and close them again when my comrade in Labour, Nicho the Communist turned up. For I had a feeling that once again he would not. Yesterday it was God's fault...
Three quarters of an hour spent watching lizards outside the car window was anough for me. I reversed and headed back along the three mile track to Kambos. I passed Nicho's car and his truck parked outside his house and headed to the Kourounis taverna. Lovely Eleni tried calling Nicho but there was no answer.
Lovely Eleni confirmed that Nicho had, as I had suspected, been on the whiskey last night. If there is a a Y in the day it means that it is a "Yamas" day. The suggestion was that he had kept going to 5 AM. In which case his lie in, is understandable. When will we complete our work? Avrio. Avrio.
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.
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.
I was just planning to return to the Greek Hovel after an hour of subbing Zak Mir's golden prose. I had forgotten just how appalling is the way that he mangles the English language and am feeling pretty shell shocked. It has taken two ouzos to get this far and my task is only 30% done.
And at that point I heard a cry from the bar at the Kourounis taverna "Tom, ouzo". It seems as if my pal Vangelis has bought me another drink. Ok I shall be marginally over the limit as I drive home but I will be the only vehicle on the track and after what Zak has inflicted on my brain I feel I deserve it. And anyhow it would be rude to refuse.
I said Efharisto and there then followed a conversation in Greek between the mother-in law of lovely Eleni and Vangelis about how I really need to learn Greek. I understand eniugh to know what they are saying and agree with them 100%. But first I have the rest of Zak's quite unintelligble gibberish to translate into English. At least I know what pergatory will be like.
In the end I could not get my head around a 200 cc bike with gears and so chickened out and hired another 150 cc automatic. But it felt great being on two wheels again as I whizzed up the mountain road from Kalamata to my home village of Kambos. It was warm but the wind was in my hair and as I swept down towards Kambos with the ruined castle looming in the background I just felt content and happy.
After dealing with the rat at the Greek hovel I headed into Kambos to do some work at my office, aka the Kourounis tavern. But for some reason they key in the bike was jammed and then broke. I could start the machine but not turn it off so I knew it had to be fixed or I’d have a dead battery by morning. Feeling really pissed off I headed back to Kalamata. I was so pissed off that I drove on the left hand side of the road.
Prang! At the corner by the petrol station I hit a van head on at about 20 km an hour. It all happened terribly fast but I sort of protected myself and ended up sprawling on the floor with my bike several yards down the road.
The driver was initially jolly good about it but the citizens of Kambos rushed out. The man from the snake repellent/hardware store, a chap whose name I cannot remember who drinks at Kourounis a little old lady were all at my side. I was told to sit down, given water to drink and the folks could not have been kinder.
After a while the the man whose name I cannot remember stick various bits of bike back on with sellotape I called the bike shop in Kalamata and John the bike man said he’d be there with a new bike in 30 minutes. I headed back to the Kourounis tavern where once again all sorts of folks fretted over me and waited with the driver of the van and his girlfriend. John was late. The chap got a bit testy and said we should head to see the Police at Kardamili police station, a building of which I do not have the happiest memories. I refused to budge knowing full well that the Kardamili Sergeant who lives in Kambos would be along soon. I’d rather play with a home referee.
After about ninety minutes the Police arrived. Despite all my neighbours saying that I was good to pay the 100-150 Euro it will need to mend the small issue his van has with its bumper, the van driver had called in the filth. Luckily at that point John the bike man turned up and showing diplomatic skills worthy of Kofi Annan managed to get the Police to leave and the van man to put a sock in it. By this time I was not exactly feeling warm feelings towards him given that the deal he agreed with John was the same as agreed with my neighbours ninety minutes previously.
I feel daft for driving on the wrong side. My father had a prang in Greece 35 years ago and ended up in Court where the Judge said “the professor was driving beautifully but just on the wrong side” as he let him off. I guess it runs in the family.
My leg is a bit bruised as is my arm. I imagine both will be stiff as a rod in the morning. But above all I just feel a bit stupid but also very much at home with the folks of Kambos who were again so kind and who have all shouted “Yass Tom” as they have wandered into the Kourounis taverna tonight. Thanks also to the kind folks who have wteeted their best wishes.
PS Before you ask. No I have not had a drink for two days!
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.
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.
You think Greeks are lazy. That is because all you see is folks in Athens sipping coffees all day. Out here in the Mani life is hard and folks do both a main job but also work the land. So my pal Vangelis is a delivery driver for Dixons but has – I think – 600 olive trees. Nikko and Eleni at the Kourounis taverna also own trees up near the Greek Hovel – they start their harvest tomorrow. And so do I!
The lovely Eleni has put me in touch with a new group of workers. Another chap called Foti, George and his son. I met up again with George today and we start on the olive harvest at 8 AM. So no ouzo for me tonight. To give you an idea of what lies in store for me here are some photos I took last week of a man harvesting trees on the road/track up to the Greek Hovel, just above snake hill. It seems to me that it looks like rather hard work.
Indeed Kambos is a hive of activity as folks gather in what they can ahead of the winter. The other day I heard voices on the land at the edge of the hovel. Given that I am in the middle of nowhere I wandered down to see what was going on. There was an old man and an even older woman picking what looked like weeds from the hillside. I asked if I could look and it seemed that the leaves looked a bit like rocket. The two pickers must have had a combined age of 150 but they were clambering up and down the rocks like young goats. They are a hardy lot here in the Mani, knowing how to extract all that they can from the land.
Remember that even 60 years ago you reached Kambos only by Donkey path up from the sea or by donkey path across the mountains. The road through here is a recent development. The folks here have been surviving for 3000 years (there is, you may remember, a Mycenaean tomb in the village) by living off what they can extract from the land. Greece can go bust (well it is bust) but Kambos will go on. There is no tourist trade here – this remains a working village. And tomorrow I start work.
Olives are my first challenge. In time I plan to grow vegetables here but also to learn about what nature offers us all. I see plants that look like rocket and mushrooms growing on my land but I dare not touch. I guess I have to learn Greek and to learn from the old folk what to look for. There’s plenty of time for that.