Of course I have no neighbours up at the Greek Hovel but across the hills you can see folks burning off branches of olive trees hacked away during the harvest. My own harvest may not have been a spectacular success but just to show them that I too can play the game...
I have set a couple of bonfires going. Besides which leaving branches lying in great piles may provide suitable and attractive accomodation for the less pleasant members of the wildlife diversity community.
Okay so i am a big girl's blouse. But you too would have been shocked by what happened.
Someone (er..me) left a filter in the coffee ,machine and it had, unlike Australia, developed a thriving culture all by itself. And so I took out the various parts and took them to the Bat Room sink for cleaning. The actual coffee jug looked a bit mucky so I filled it with water and yikes!
Up floated this wriggling creature which, I swear, was, when fully extended, almost three inches long. I shouted "yikes" or something like that and emptied the jug, water and monster into the sink. It struggled manfully but eventually I had poured enough water into the sink to flush it down the plughole.
It will take a few days before even a seasoned snake killer like myself regains his courage in the face of wildlife diversity.
It is unbelievably wet at the Greek Hovel. The rain is still sheeting it down making the track up here ever more reminiscent of a WW1 battlefield. But although the heating is not yet working thanks to the electricity company not upgrading my meter, the thick stone walls keep it warm inside. And there is real progress to show you as you can see below.
In the kitchen the Range Cooker has arrived from Austria so is installed with a granite work surface, a Belfast sink and a washing machine. There is still some work to be done on internal shelving in that unit but that needs my friend the carpenter who, right now, is hiding in his factory. I shall be paying him a visit tomorrow. The flooring is complete thoughout the upper level and looks magnificent, if i say so myself. We have lights, a fridge freezer and a wood burning stove.
Sadly the wood has not been briought to a dry place so is utterly sodden and lies in piules outside with god knows what members of the wildlife diversity community sleeping below. I have started to, rather gingerly, pick up a few logs and bring them in to dry.
Finally a view from the second floor balcony up into the Taygetos moyuntains behind me which look menacingly black and wet as they often do at this time of year.
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.
Right now I am in a luxury hotel organised by the Mrs for daughter Olaf's last night in Greece and for me to recover in after a ten hour road trip to drop Miss W off at Athens airport."Baywatch" has a great view, a lovely pool, ouzo is on tap, the internet works allowing Joshua to sit like a moron watching Thomas the Tank Engine without interruption and the Mrs is lolling happily. And there is no wildlife diversity to report. Not so back at the Greek Hovel. Let us start with the scorpion.
It seems to have got into the house before the windows were installed but the noise of workmen roused it and led it to its death as it tried to crawl on a rapidly drying polished concrete surface. It got stuck and mist have died an unpleasant death. George the Architect whose foot also appears in the picture has only fessed up to this incident a few dates later having removed the corpse when it was found.
Of course I knew there were loads of scorpions up in the area around the Greek Hovel. A bite would not be fatal but would be painful until treated, especially for Joshua. However, in the five years that I have been up here I have not seen a single scorpion. Until now. I guess I shall be “seeing them” everywhere now as I already “see” snakes everywhere. It is not that there are snakes everywhere but as I see shapes dancing in the shadows or in the gleam of a car headlight my imagination races away.
Next up was what caused the Mrs and Olaf to scream. we were driving back late at night from Kambos to the hovel. we had just come down Monastery Hill, the steep slope thick with wood on one side and with the abandoned convent on the other and must have been doing 20 kilometres an hour. just as we reached the bottom out it shot from the field on my left, bursting through a fence, and cantering up the back track into Kambos... a wild boar.
The Mrs screamed as it rocketed across our headlights, not more than a yard or so from the car. Olaf screamed. Joshua was just burbling on about steep hill, Gordon's Hill and carried on burbling. I braked and then drive hurriedly on. I think I was rather brave for not screaming, my father says I was a chicken for not putting my foot to the floor and bagging a week's worth of supper. Yeah dad, like you would have done that? Really?
The boar was not fully grown but it was large enough. a fully grown boar charging at your car as opposed to across it, would cause real damage. I muttered about this was why I should be allowed a gun. Olaf made some elitist comment about Trump supporters and morons. Anyhow that was also the first boar I have seen although I am sure I heard one crashing through the undergrowth around the hovel three years ago but it was at night and I declined to investigate.
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.
To be struck by lightning at the Greek Hovel once is, perhaps, understandable but twice would look like carelessness. You may remember how, six minutes into THIS PODCAST the hovel was indeed struck but I soldiered on anyway. However, I'd rather not repeat the experience.
As I started my second session of frigana slashing up at the hovel it started to rain. To be fair, the clouds in the Taygetos mountains above me, looked a tad on the ominous side. And the weather has been all over the shop for the past 24 hours. Last night I was unable to sleep and so at 3.30 AM I opened the window in my hotel which faces out over the bay of Kalamata looking towards Koroni. That is to say the part of Greece where I go to milk goats with my wife's sister's in-laws.
I couldn't hear thunder so the lightning must have been 15 miles or more away but it was stunning. Sheet lightning lit up the clouds in the night sky and fork lightning rained down on the poor goats. For a good quarter of an hour the power of God, of nature, had me captivated. As we sit around tweeting and playing on snapchat we humans really are insignificant little creatures.
Anyway, back to the hovel. What is a bit of rain thought I. I am a Brit after all. And it was not exactly cold so I started attacking large frigana bushes with relish. Take that you Cloudtag morons, swoosh. Take that you fucking students who want to hike my taxes so you get to study sociology and basket weaving at no cost, swoosh again.
However, after about fifteen minutes there was a massive flash of lightning and about three seconds later I heard thunder. I did my schoolboy maths and decided that a kilometre away was just a bit too close for comfort. Did I really want to carry on waving the five foot metal pole, that is my frigana cutter, in the air? As a bonus this metal pole has a full tank of two-stroke at its end.
You may think that I am a bit rash now and again but I am not that rash. I retreated to my car as quickly as I could carrying the pole not on my shoulders but as close to the ground as possible. On the way a foot long pea green lizard scuttled across my path seeking shelter for by this time it was tipping it down. A wildlife diversity sighting is normally my cue that God is telling me to stop work in the snake-fields as you never know what the next piece of wildlife diversity you will encounter will be.
As I drove back towards the village the rain really was pelting down. On snake hill there were already rivulets forming. Snake hill got its name for a good reason so I did not leave my car in taking the photo below.
As for the last pond in the dry river? It is filling up happily. Good news for the "eels." Such is the localised nature of weather here that by the time I was back in Kalamata the roads were dry, the sun was shining and there was not a drop of rain. Kambos may be only twenty minutes drive away but as you head up into the mountains things can change very quickly indeed.
We are almost there in removing the ghastly modern additions made to the 100 year old Greek Hovel by its former owner vile Athena. I was up there today pruning my olive trees at an incredible pace and almost the last legacy has gone.
I refer to the loathsome glass windows in metal frames and plastic shutters that covered them. As you can see, they are going.
Of course the rat room and bat room do not have windows at all just holes in the wall so this was just an issue for the main room upstairs where I have stayed when here in the past. We will now be removing the concrete blocks which are underneath these windows and replacing them with stone before, in due course, inserting new windows in wooden frames with traditional wooden shutters.
Pro tem the wildlife diversity now has full access to the living quarters. And that is a good reason why I shall not be staying here until that is rectified later this year.
This is all great news if a tad embarrassing. Very healthy eating, lots of exercise and no booze is definitely helping me shed the pounds. As i wandered back into the hotel elevator yesterday evening I looked and with my trousers slipping down my boxers were clearly visible. However much I hitch up my 36 inch trousers they keep on falling down. What good news.
This is not the weight loss you can suffer while eating like a horse as a result of type 2 diabetes. This is weight loss caused by burning more calories than you take in. No booze helps. But other than a few portions of grilled octopus I have not eaten meat for ten days. I am existing largely on raw oats in the morning and Greek Salads for the rest of the day.
Here in Kalamata as I prepare for my morning session in the hotel gym the sun is shining and wearing a pair shorts, which are also starting to slip, is okay. Up at the Greek Hovel sturdy boots and long trousers are needed in case i step on a member of the wildlife diversity community. Luckily I have two spare pairs of black jeans with me, bought at various points of my weight gain/loss cycle so I hope to find something that fits. I don't want you thinking that i am anorexic. far from it.
My stomach is too large but the trends are positive. And yesterday's gym run was up to 2.47 km in 22 minutes. Today's target is 2.6 km in 23 minutes. Things are heading the right way and all the symptoms of diabetes, which a Gentleman does not discuss, are in full scale retreat.
What is my blood sugar level? God only knows. The Greek machine I bought the other week has given me results from 120 to 236. I am getting more than the odd result saying that I am in a "healthy range." But then I get a result starting 2 with a 2. I am just plain confused. The Mrs will - I hope - fedex me some good old British testing strips today and so I have a clear idea where I am. But given the weight loss, healthy living and retreating symptoms surely the trends are good?
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.
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.
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.
Meanwhile I have solved another mystery. As one heads up my side of the valley just past snake hill there is a turning off the mud track to the right. This turning is clearly a road but a road to where?
On my way down to Miranda's I stopped the car and started to walk up this road. Given that it is used even less frequently than the road to snake hill I trod rather nervously as I climbed up the hill and round the corner. And what was around the corner? Nothing. The road, deliberately created by man just stopped after less than one hundred yards.
On one side a path headed off into the olive trees. Naturally I followed this path, treading even more deliberately and slowly than I had on the road lest I encounter a member of the wildlife diversity community. And after about one hundred yards the path passed two large trees and I reached...nowhere. It stopped.
There was a gap in the bushes to a field which looked better manicured and greener than all the other fields. But was this the lush pasture of a green and pleasant land or just very long grass for snakes to hide in. At this point my nosiness was overwhelmed by cowardice and I carefully retraced my steps along the road to nowhere.
As I headed back to the car I was struck by the view, a view towards the abandoned monastery. Enjoy.
Who would believe that the fine cat below is the same species as my morbidly obese three legged moggie Oakley. The latter, for some reason, has a deep aversion to the working classes and so when middle class folk arrive he is uber-friendly. When tradesman arrive it is rather different. Right now plumbers are installing a new bathroom for the Mrs and Oakley is spending his entire working day cowering under the duvet in the top bedroom.
Back here in the Greek mountains I was driving down from the hovel last evening and towards the end of the track through the olive groves about 200 yards before snake hill I spotted this cat.
Though domestic in terms of gene pool, he or she lives totally in the wild up here in the area around the hovel. They are afraid of humans but not of snakes, rats, mice, lizards or indeed more or less any other member of the wildlife diversity community. All are considered fair prey for supper.
Oakley, who could not catch a cold, would not last up here for more than a day. Like the Mrs he is not cut out for hovel dwelling and would be demanding a move to a posh hotel by the sea, very quickly. His cousins are in their element and the more members of the wildlife diversity community they devour, the better.
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.
At night in summertime the one habitable room at the Greek Hovel is unbearably hot at night, after a long day of 33 degree heat. But opening the large windows would allow all sorts of wildlife diversity to gain entrance to a room where I have sealed every crack and hole to make it secure. As such one just sweats it out. Or at least that used to be the case until I bought an electric fan. However...
Someone, I cannot remember who, stumbled on the fan during the night and snapped it clean in two. The head is now seperated from its base. But call me Heath Robinson, if you wish, I have a solution. Remember that out here I built my own eco-loo from waste wood, I am a fecking eco-warrior so I shall not throw away a fan just because the base snapped off.
As you can see below a fourpack of water bottles is my new base. It works. As - sometimes - does the fan. I know that it sucks up power and to my fellow eco-loons I must apologise for that.
In a year's time, when this place is renovated, it will have PV cells installed and will be entirely self sufficient when it comes to electricity. In fact we should have enough power to sell some juice back to the National Grid although whether we actually get paid for that is another matter given that this is Greece.
Pro tem, I apologise for the power usage but my favourite fan is back in action.
You guys think that I am wandering around in a T-shirt and shorts. Boy you could not be more wrong. For starters, when I am up at the hovel I always wear sturdy black jeans and long boots. You never know what is going to slither out of the bushes and bite you. I want some protection.
More importantly, the weather here over the past couple of days makes me think that I am back in the Isle of Man. The Manx folk are protected from bad things by the cloak of the Celtic God Mannanan, in other words the fog. It seems that the old boy is on his travels as a thick fog rolled in yesterday from the mountains. And that was followed by vast amounts of rain.
I suppose it is good for the olives. But also for the frigana. On Friday night the wind was howling and the rain was beating down. The oak tree outside the Greek Hovel thrashed against my roof. I am not sure if the normal wildlife diversity was hiding but its noises were, for once, just drowned out. The hovel is at least dry but it provided little relief from the cold.
This is really not what Greece should be like in late May. I blame Brexit.
After three days of manual labour at the Greek hovel I was conscious that I did not exactly smell like a male model doused in perfume and thus it was time to rig up the shower as you can see below.
Okay it is indeed a hosepipe. The water travels up the mountain in metal pipes. in winter with the temperature hovering around zero it means we have a constant supply of cold water. In summer the water arrives a perfect luke warm to warm. The water runs at a constant pleasant temperature unlike my shower back in Bristol which alternates between scalding and freezing.
I was a little nervous ahead of the first shower. Hence the three day delay. I need not have worried. It was awesome.
In case you were wondering and it is perhaps not a thought that you wish to dwell on, yes I shower naked. There are only two folks who might see me. The shepherd wanders past with his flock about once every three days and sooner or later my neighbour Charon will pop over from his house a mile and a half away. But they are men of the world. And 99.9% of the time the hovel's only living souls are myself and the wildlife diversity.
With the snake repellent canisters laid down yesterday I had no excuse and have returned to the Greek Hovel. It is now 11 PM my time, outside is just miles and miles of darkness. I don't mind that too much, my torch guided me to the front door from the car. I could see in the car headlights that there were bats flying around the rat room. But bats here are not rabid and they wont bother me.
I left the light on before I left and so I did not walk into a dark room. But its not the dark that spooks me it is the noises. Out in the fields, on the windowsill and outside my door the wildlife diversity is in full cry. I just dread to think.
But, in a stroke of genius, I have managed to get the internet working here as well as a kettle. Thus I can drink coffee to keep me awake for a few hours knowing that I really will not sleep well tonight. I shall catch up tomorrow during the day.
And I can both work and also play music from the internet. The wildlife diversity does not seem very keen on rock music. And so with no irony given what it is that I fear the most outside, the song we kick off with to scare away the creatures of the night is from Alice Cooper.
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.
There, as you may remember, is just one habitable room at the Greek Hovel and its windows are sealed with masking tape, holes in the wall are now filled in, I fact it is almost impenetrable for the local wildlife diversity. But in summer that also makes it unbelievably hot at night. Without a fan I would be sitting here drenched in sweat as I type and unable to sleep afterwards in what becomes a sauna.
And so last year I bought a fan.
Sadly at some point, no doubt after a few ouzos, I tripped over it and thus the fan head and controls is now detached from the stand. But I am beginning to think that I am a bit of a closet Heath Robinson. After all I made my own eco loo from waste wood I found around the hovel. I constructed an outdoor shower using a hosepipe and I have just made a new fan stand.
Well that is to say I bought a six pack of bottled water one night to use as emergency rations if ever I ran out of water in the hours of darkness. For reasons you can appreciate I am less than keen to wander outside to the tap when the wildlife diversity is starting to party and when I cannot see a thing.
Hey presto, I removed two bottles and rammed the fan head into the middle of the remaining four. A fully functioning fan stand which allows the head to rotate as designed. Genius or what?
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.
A morning at the Greek Hovel working on frigana poisoning, lunch by the sea at Kitries and then a leisurely drive over the mountain roads back to Kardamili. That was the order of the day for the Mrs and myself. I write from the bar of the wonderful Meletsina Village hotel - my top tip for staying in Karadmili - with a Gin & Tonic looking out over the sea in the late afternoon sun. But I am frustrated.
As we drove over the mountains, the Mrs cried "there's a snake". Sure enough there was indeed a snake slithering towards safety on the other side of the road. These days I think Greek so without hesitating I swerved sharply, not thinking of what might be heading the other way around the next bend, and drove over the middle of the snake. Kill! Thought I.
But much to my dismay I looked in my rear view mirror and the creature - about three foot in length - was still slithering into the undergrowth. It may be wounded but it will live to fight another day. My pal Vangelis says you have to make sure you go over the head and neck to ensure a kill. Next time if I miss I shall do the real Greek and reverse back to ensure it is a kill.
I am sorry of there are any wildlife lovers who are offended by this but there is wildlife and there is wildlife. Snakes, rats and scorpions are not the good guys of the natural world. It always amazes me when folks bleat about how species such as the British adder face threats to their habitat. Good! I shed no tears.
But today my attempt to reduce wildlife diversity was foiled. I feel frustrated.
I am sitting happily tapping away at my computer loading a bit of blockbusting copy for ShareProphets in the morning. The Kourounis taverna in Kambos is pretty full with little groups here and there chatting away happily. The doors are flung wide open as it is a warm night. Outside at one of the tables my friend Nicho the Communist is holding Court. Behind me I can hear lovely Eleni chatting and laughing loudly. How do I know it is her? Well there are only four women in the taverna and the other three are sitting in front of me.
As I tapped away an old man reminding me of the Asterix character Geriatrix hobbled over propped up by a stick and stared at my screen. He looked hard for a couple of minutes. I am not sure of he has ever seen a content management system before, I know he can't read or speak English. Indeed it is far from certain that he can read Greek.
But it clearly fascinated him and he peered intensely for a good two minutes before muttering something in Greek and tottering off. Perhaps like my father he refers to all PCs as Beelzebub and that is what he said.
Around me the smell of ouzo is everywhere. It is what all the older men drink. I have resisted the lure for almost two weeks now but, what the heck, one for the road before heading back to the wildlife diversity at the Greek Hovel.
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.
I was standing on the horrible concrete balcony which I look forward to demolishing. But it has wonderful views out over the valley and something caught my eye - movement in the long grass by the prickly pear plants. I looked more closely and it was moving really quite fast seeking sanctuary in the big bowl where we collect water. Yes it was a tortoise. They roam wild here in Greece but are rather shy so by the time I had got down there with my camera it had scuttled into a hole. I am beginning to feel a bit like Gerald Durrell.
Slightly gingerly I got on my new bike and rode back to the Greek Hovel tonight. I encountered no wildlife diversity on the way home and, even better, none inside the hovel. Things are actually working quite well here. For starters the electricity has not been cut off despite there being an outstanding bill of 900 Euro. We think this is a bit of a misunderstanding and George the architect has played a blinder in keeping us in power. I sense we are not the only household in Greece not paying the bills. But we will do once the little misunderstanding is cleared up.
The water is also flowing. My guest last summer described the hosepipe shower as better than sex. That of course depends on who you are having sex with and, from a personal perspective, I would not be making such claims. But the water is great. It comes up the hill in a metal pipe and so by the time it gets here it is warm, shower-perfect. It is seriously the best shower you will ever enjoy. And so I flushed through the last winter water and pretty quickly I had warm water flowing strongly.
I have also managed to rig up by internet device and the coffee maker and so am online and now sipping my first mug of coffee. If the wildlife diversity gets too noisy at least I now have music to keep me company.
Already I can see moths gathering outside the glass of the front door. Okay the only door. They are drawn by the light. Pretty soon that door will become a killing field as the lizards start to feast. Occasionally you hear the lunge of a lizard as it thrashes its head gripping a soon to be ex-moth. If that is the only wildlife I hear tonight I shall count myself blessed.
For now Jon Bon Jovi is keeping me company and scaring off the wildlife diversity.
The normal routine at the Greek Hovel this summer was that I would go for a short run first. Not being the fittest of fellows the run would indeed be short. At best I would make it to the bottom of snake hill, have a brief rest staring at the pond at the bottom of the valley and then walk back up snake hill – bitterly regretting having gone down the steep slope in the first place as I looked our carefully for wildlife diversity. I would then jog back along the olive groves and arrive back at the hovel a sweaty and topless wreck.
My guest would make no comment on the brevity of my run in distance terms. For I had been away a good while and so she naturally assumed that I had managed a reasonable distance. She would then trot off spending about the same time away but managing to make it to the village of Kambos and back. That means climbing two steep hills and covering twice the distance. By the time she returned I would have had time for a restorative cigarette or three and for a naked shower. I would then hide inside the hovel while she showered.
You will remember that my shower at the Greek Hovel is a hosepipe draped over the vine. The water has come up the hill in metal pipes and so is just the right temperature. It is the best shower in the world in summer. My guest said that the shower is “better than sex”. Well it is good but not that good. I suppose that it depends with whom you are having sex with.
But one day my guest went running first. As she arrived back I trotted off but on snake hill on the descent I felt a muscle pull. I tried to limp on but could not. And so – feeling quite relieved that I had only a bit of snake hill to reclimb - I jogged slowly back to the house. As I approached the entrance to the drive I distinctly saw a pink shape underneath the shower. What is a gentleman to do?
As luck would have it my glasses which had cracked earlier that year were still cracked. Indeed they remain cracked to this day as I never seem to find the time to go into an optician. They are also usually dirty and on this occasion were tinged with sweat. As such the pink object was sufficiently blurred that I have no graphic details to relay. But there was no doubt about it, my guest was enjoying the best naked shower one can ever enjoy which she was thinking was better than sex.
Should I call out “Cooeeee, I’m back and I can see you are starkers” which might for a reticent well brought up Englishman be a bit embarrassing? Or should I hide round the corner and wait. Naturally it was the latter. After a few minutes I popped my head around but boy was she enjoying the shower. It was clearly going to be an endless shower. And so I waited another ten minutes and the pink blurry shape had disappeared and I wandered in, not mentioning that my run had been a little truncated.
Being too much of a bumbling shy Englishman I have not mentioned this little incident until now. But I guess with the passage of time it is better to fess up.
As I ride towards the deserted monastery/convent on my way back from Kambos to the Greek Hovel I can normally see lights twinkling on the far side of the valley where I live. On my hill there is the hovel. On the hill behind it and one fold higher as you get into the mountains is my neighbour Charon. And there are a few other houses on the next ridge along. But as I rode tonight there were no lights. I rather feared that for once lovely Eleni was wrong and that the electricity had not been fixed.
But at least it was a clear night. There is a full moon and so riding up snake hill and through the olive groves it was far lighter than in recent days when this part of the journey has been managed in pitch darkness with only the light on my bike to guide me.
As I arrived at the hovel I imagined a night stumbling around with only a torch to guide me. Inevitably the battery would have died. But the moonlight lit the path making my torch almost academic and I strode up the steps in a way that I would have not considered this summer when the wildlife diversity was not in hibernation. Flinging open the door, I flicked the switch and…
How could I have ever doubted Eleni? What a fool I was. The lights were on revealing the sort of mess a Mrs free existence generates.
The timing of my ride was fortuitous. For the vreki has started again and is now heavy. The dry river will no doubt be gushing in the morning. Looking up towards the mountains I can see that Charon now has his lights on but so heavy is the rain that they are blurred. Say what you like about the hovel but the roof - touch wood – is solid. Outside I can hear the rain beating down on the snake veranda but inside, it is dry and – with the fire started up – surprisingly warm.
However what this means for a ride into Kalamata tomorrow, for the last day of the olive harvest and for frigana burning is a matter of some concern.
The river bed, at the bottom of the valley between the deserted monastery/convent and the start of the climb up snake hill to the Greek Hovel, sits dry all summer. It is parched and it is hard to think that it ever sees water. Even as I arrived in Kambos two weeks ago it was dry as a bone. Puddles formed on the track but the river bed was like dust. That all changed with the storm.
The ford is a ford for a good reason. The ground had been raised with concrete and across it the water was perhaps only an inch deep. Pas de problem for my magnificent motorbike.
But looking upstream the water was rather deeper, perhaps a foot or two. From nothing in just 24 hours. Even as I rode home last night there was nothing there but I guess that in the mountains the rain was heavier and gathered and the, whoosh, it hurtled towards Kambos. And this is just the sort of winter. I rather wonder if I came here at Christmas might I not get cut off.
The dry river runs into a pond lying at the foot of the land belonging to the deserted monastery/convent. In the summer this sits as a small pool supported by a little spring. The wildlife diversity come here for much needed water. I remember seeing a fox drinking at the edge as I headed off fig gathering in the summer. But now…
The water from the river gushes into what is now an ever larger pond. It may be muddy brown but it is far from stagnant. The green algae of summer has been swept away and it looks alive. It is all change in the Mani.
I now have my power back. The olive harvest is almost done and my thoughts are of returning back to the UK, of burning off the frigana, a last meal with my friends here and of a reunion with the cats and the Mrs. Not in that order.
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.
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.
For the past few nights I have heard this very strange animal noise outside The Greek Hovel at night. At first I thought it was some sort of bird but it would have been a very strange bird. Tonight the noise sounder closer than ever and so I bravely opened the door and shone my torch…it is a gorgeous little black and white cat. It cannot be much out of kittendhood.
I tried to tempt it in but the creature is obviously feral. It has no interest in getting close to humans. And so it just sat there on the entrance to the snake veranda blinking in my torchlight. I rather hope it hangs around inside the snake exclusion zone happily attacking any other members of the wildlife diversity community that dare to approach. It could start with the bats, two of whom have returned to the bat room below where I sleep.
And so it has arrived, my new toy for boys as my guest so kindly puts it. It is wicked. You just stick it into the frigana bush and with a pole long enough to keep you out of harm’s way should any wildlife leap out, off it goes. You swing it too and fro and the stalks are cut back to the base with violence and speed.
The next job is for my guest to rake them away and apply poison to the stems to kill the roots. As an added bonus I gather that the poison also works on reducing all sorts of local wildlife diversity.
Mindful of that diversity, for the really big bushes which can be four of five yards cubed we have decided to cut away an opening belt of a yard all round, rake away the detritus and apply poison. Ay wildlife will thus get the message and move on before we eat into another yard the next day and so on until each bush is eliminated.
It is actually quite heavy my new toy and after a fifteen minute scything session in the late afternoon sun – which I should note was preceded by a good run to the spring and back – I was somewhat of a sweaty wreck albeit resplendent in my Mark Steyn T-shirt. Tomorrow afternoon we have pledged to do a long session the fields. The era of the frigana is drawing to a close.
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…
— Tom Winnifrith
Register here for The Tomograph
Tom's newsletter with original articles and a free share tip of the week, not found on this website.