201 days ago
And thus on the final evening in Greece, Joshua and I set off on the walk up to the house of Charon my closest, in fact I think, only neighbour for several miles.
The walk is uphill all the way for Charon lives on the next hill up from the hovel towards the Taygetos mountains. But the track, as you would imagine, winds and bends. Initially it is stone or concrete but after a while, as is the case in the last 800 yards before the hovel itself, the way forward is earthen. But cars only very rarely venture up here. For most of the time I have known Charon he has been without a motor and I have thus driven him to the village by car or on the back of a bike many times.
And so, sheltered by olive trees, the track turned to thick green grass eventually ending up at two houses. I think, judging by the underpants on the washing line, he lives at the one in the first photo. He is, as it happens an accomplished musician and also a DJ and sometimes you can hear his music blaring out in an otherwise silent evening. As it happens he was not at home and so, with the sun starting to set, Joshua and I beat a retreat.
304 days ago
— Tom Winnifrith
As is my wont, when in Kambos, I walked into the restaurant formerly known as Miranda’s and headed for the small cooking area at the back. The new supremo, the new Miranda, explained what was on offer and after due consideration I went for small pieces of pork in a wine sauce with a side helping of zucchinis and okra. That will end up costing me six euro.
As I wandered back to my table on the stoop, the step just outside the restaurant but before you get to the tables on the square, a place where an open window leaves you sort of inside while enjoying the breeze, an old man started gabbling at me. He was sitting on a table with a younger man who I did not know and a man my age who I have got drunk with once or twice, who I exchange yassas and a wave with but who I don’t really know. Is his name Georgios? I think it is.
The old man had a vaguely swivel eyed loon look to him and talked faster and in a louder at me keeping me fixed in his gaze and pointing at me. He seemed almost angry. I tried to make him understand that I did not speak Greek and my drinking friend, I think, made the same point. I moved onto my table, one open window away from his. As the new Miranda put water and bread on my table I asked who the old man was. “The village President Stavros”. Aha. I nodded politely at the man who talked even louder and started banging the table, looking at me then at his companions and then at me again.
The young man several times tried intervening as did my drinking friend. Further evidence that I was being discussed came as I heard the word Toumbia mentioned several times. Toumbia is the settlement of two dozen farmsteads spread far and wide where the Greek Hovel is located. I am pretty sure that there are only two residents of Toumbia, me and my mad neighbour Charon.
I asked the new Miranda what the old man was so cross about as she arrived with my ,lunch. “He is just mad” she said and that was it. Perhaps Kambos is following some ancient Athenian model of democracy where the only folks eligible to be village President are those deemed so mad that they are utterly unfit for office?
I ate my lunch. A couple of other folks with whom I have spent an evening on the ouzo headed to the old man’s table, leaned over and exchanged words. The an ger subsided. There was no more table banging. Twenty minutes later I wandered in to pay and as I left the man waved goodbye and smiled a very friendly smile. I have no idea what that was all about.
531 days ago
— Tom Winnifrith
I accept that we hacked branches off about 30 olive trees that stood by the side of the track up to the Greek Hovel in order to allow the builders to get their bigger trucks up. We also appear to have damaged the dry stone walls in places. Its a given. My bonkers neighbour ( he lives two miles away but is my closest neighbour) Charon has not asked for any compensation. He is a good guy. But then there are two cousins who want more. I met with them in my hotel this week with George the Architect there to translate.
Old men they appeared friendly. The reasonable cousin has seen about 20 trees damaged but he knows that the branches will have regrown by next year's harvest and his main concern are the walls which we have promised to restore when the hovel is rebuilt. He said you compensate me what you think fair.
The unreasonable cousin has seen just eight trees damaged. He wants 300 Euro. I pointed out that as a result of the storm the economic loss this year was exactly zero and both men agreed. We also agreed that the branches would be back by next year. So the unreasonable cousin has lost exactly nothing. His harvest this year will be so bad that he probably won't even bother doing it at all. So having accepted that his economic loss was exactly nil I was hoping for some movement. After all you can buy land with five trees on it for 300 Euro!
George confirmed that he still wanted 300 Euro.
I paid for our drinks and said George would let them know my decision tomorrow as it was not good to discuss money in this way. My decision is to give them 400 Euro. If the unreasonable cousin still demands 300 he will clearly be stealing from his reasonable relative and that is not the done thing. My offer is more than fair and - as they squabble among themselves to divide the spoils they will know that.
703 days ago
After quizzing George the architect, it appears that it is just one of my neighbours who is asking for 900 Euro compensation for chopping off branches on his olive trees to make way for the heavy machinery needed to renovate the Greek Hovel. In fact it is even better than that...
The olive trees are owned by a father and son. The young man reckons 500 to 600 Euros is about right. It is his father who wanted more - 1500 Euro. So they settled in the middle. It is the father who goes to show that, as ever, Paddy Leigh Fermor has the Greeks nailed. 99% of Greeks are the nicest, most fair and generous folks you can meet. My neighbour Charon wants no compensation and neither does the sister in law of lovely Eleni. But, as Paddy noted in his classic book The Mani, just now and again you meet a Greek who is just such a complete and utter bastard that he will serve as a reminder of how great everyone else is.
I have inspected the thirty trees which we have "pruned". In some cases the branches cut are the sort you would cut at harvest time to flail across a machine to clean off olives. They are that small and they will have regrown by the time of the 2019 harvest. So it is one year's harvest lost. In other cases the branches are bigger and it will take three years for them to re-grow.
George and I did our maths and we cannot see how the loss of income over three years is anything more than 400 Euro and that is generous. So I said I would pay 500 Euro and if the old bastard does not accept he can take me to court. Moreover I shall tell the entire village what a bastard he has been and shame him in public. It is his call and I am very relaxed either way.
Meanwhile at the hovel work continues apace. I cut frigana and the Greek Albanians work on the building and on killing snakes. As you can see the ugly concrete blocks beneath the old ugly windows have now gone as well and the one window into the bat room has been extended so that it will get more natural light. The upstairs room will be flooded with light as the windows will be be almost floor to the current ceiling. Of course when it is finished that room - which will lead into the new room above the rat room and the new wing, will have a pitched wooden roof so it should feel very spacious indeed.
710 days ago
The Mrs claims that she has put up a Labour poster in our house back in Bristol. The shame of it. What will our god fearing, hard working, tax paying white van driving neighbours think of us. They will have no idea that I am not, like the Mrs, a deluded Guardian reading lefty. The Mrs also made it clear that My Tory poster would be used as litter by Oakley or ripped up by Joshua in my absence. So I have brought it to Greece and as you can see it is now up on display ay the Greek Hovel.
There are several dozen houses in the large geographic area of Toumbia but only two are inhabited: the Greek Hovel (sometimes) and the house of my nearest neighbour, two miles by track away, Charon. He is, of course, mad as a box of frogs so Id but him down as a SNP voter. But since he's Greek he can't vote in the UK election which means that we can already call Toumbia as a landslide win for the Conservatives.
Theo Clarke, our Tory candidate back in Bristol East is a remoaning member of the (London) metropolitan elite who appears not to have a shred of Tory DNA in her body. But given that our sitting Labour MP Kerry McCarthy is a barking mad extremist, I have held my nose and voted for Theo. I sense that Bristol east may well go the same way as Toumbia.
756 days ago
— Tom Winnifrith
On the first day that Nicho the Communist and I were due to inspect the wild olives at the Greek Hovel to see about turning them into yielding trees he forgot our appointment. Yesterday it was raining so we postponed until 3 PM today. After a morning scribbling away and a good session at the hotel gym, I arrived on time to find my friend, rather worse for wear, at Miranda's the establishment next to the Kourounis taverna of lovely Eleni.
He apologised but explained that he had been drinking with his cousin George and a friend since 10.30. He was, he confessed, rather tired. I asked what had brought this on. Simple. It is St George's Day and his cousin is called George. The man in charge of Miranda's today is also called George. In fact almost every man in Kambos is called either George or Nicho with the odd Vangelis thrown in. It seems that George is an important saint not only in England.
George (the person in charge, not the cousin) offered me a coffee on the house as it was his Saint's Day. And, as Nicho poured himself another glass of wine and more Tsipero arrived, we sat there discussing olive trees and who owns the trees around the hovel. It turns out that some are owned by the brother of the third man at the table who was the cousin of the previous owner of the hovel, the loathsome Athena. Others are, as we already knew, owned by my eccentric neighbour Charon.
We sat there in the sun a bit longer and discussed planting new trees on the land I had cleared of frigana. And we agreed to meet up tomorrow at 4.30 for a site visit. Avrio. As is so often the case in Kambos.
759 days ago
— Tom Winnifrith
I arranged to meet architects George and Sofia at the Greek Hovel at 11 AM. I arrived twenty minutes late but no-one was there. This is Greece so eleven sharp means any time before twelve and at about twenty to twelve my friends arrived. They brought with them the head builder, an ethnic Greek from Albania, so a man my father will approve of big time. I got down to the main point quickly. I showed them the snake I had killed and asked the builder how he felt about snakes. "I kill them with my bare hands" he said. I like him a lot and said that "you can have the next one."
I sense that town dwelling George and Sofia are not, like me and the builder, brave snake killers and they trod carefully and nervously as they inspected the property. The good news is that after three years one permit has come through. That is to say the permit to demolish the illegally added concrete blocks and bricks put up without any permit at all by Athena, the slippery former owner. That permit will also allow us to start digging out the rock floor of the bat room, into which I have not yet dared to venture, to unpick some bad external plastering and to cut down the giant oak tree whose roots threaten the bat room.
There are one or two other trees which the forestry survey may or may not have noted but which might accidentally get cut down by mistake over the next few weeks as well including a clutch of giant friganas which are entangled with wire netting and where, I am sure, many snakes live. We will start work as a crew on May 5 when I return from a brief visit to England but I will work alone until then. Although the giant frigana and wire snake nest is a treat I will leave to my new friend the builder.
The actual building permit is still "in process." It is now expected to arrive in late May. Once again I asked if we might consider bribery but George assured me that he would not know how to do that and he is sure there is no bribery in the building permit department. I was only kidding as I know that this is not a country where such practices occur.
Next to arrive was the man who will provide stones and cement. All was going swimmingly until the group of four worked out that one or two of the roads and tracks needed widening to allow big lorries to access the Hovel. This will require lovely Eleni to allow George to chop a few branches off some of her olive trees and my eccentric neighbour Charon - who harvests a neighbouring grove - to allow us to concrete over a few of his rocks. In a normal world this would be easy. But this is Greece. I imagine the conversation:
G: We would like to concrete over five of your useless rocks of no value, is that a problem?
C: But these rocks have been in my family for hundreds of years...it would be like selling my mother
G: But until last year they were covered in frigana and they have no value whatsoever?
C: You are insulting my dead mother...reaches for gun
G: Would 500 Euro ease your suffering
C: For my dead mother how dare you...shall we say 1000 Euro?
Rather George than me. Lovely Eleni seems a bit more relaxed about losing a few branches. She did ask how many but i said not very many. But then I mentioned that it was to build a swimming pool which she and her family would be free to use at all times. Her eyes lit up. I think that conversation might be rather less challenging for George.
897 days ago
In 2014 we harvested 1.65 metric tonnes (1650 kg) at the Greek hovel which yielded 566 litres of olive oil. Last year was a disaster - 550 kg and I fell and ended up in hospital. So far 2016 has been a triumph. I did not fall. Albeit with a few breaks I lasted the full working day and we have already harvested 550 kg with only a fraction of the trees finished. It is a triumph but I am shattered.
The first thing of note is that we have new technology. No longer are the trees only hit with plastic paddles but there is now an electric device - is it called a twerker? This is a sort of vibrating rake and it is a pleasure watching my colleagues wield it. My colleagues are, of course, George the Albanian and two women who, I think, are his wife and sister in law. After three years I should know but am too embarrassed to ask. Not that I speak Greek or Albanian or they speak English.
George is our leader so his main job is chopping branches off trees with his chainsaw.
These branches are then taken to a threshing machine where they are expertly flailed. This is skilled work so, naturally, I am not allowed to do it either. My first job is to carry the branches from where they fall to where the flailing machine, operated by lady 1, is wheeled to.
All the time we walk across the mats which are laid down by the ladies. This too is quite a skilled job and so naturally I am not party to it. Most of the branches are not cut from the tree but sit there to be attacked by the twerker or, now and again, by George wielding an old style long plastic paddle. But the twerker is king. Naturally it is a skilled job and so I am not allowed anywhere near it although I really do want a go and might ask to use it on the last tree so that if I break anything the harvest is in the bag.
Watching lady 2 or George wield the twerker is watching an artist at work and, as I take an occassional breather, I do just that.
In due course the mats are rolled up and the olives plus small twigs and leaves are poured into another machine. This is a skilled job and so is left to the ladies. But at this point my second job comes into play.
This machine has no moving parts and is very simple to operate. I think that normally it is what the old women do. But in this case I am the old woman and the old women have been promoted. Using the wooden stick one beats the leaves and twigs and the loose olives until all olives are loose and fall through the mesh on this tray and then slide into a sack. Even I cannot screw up on this. It is quite tiring but really satisfying as you see your bags fill up.
At the close of play George summonsed me and we wandered around the half filled bags with me holding one as another was emptied into it by George so making one full 50 kg bag. George can lift them easily. I rather struggled, straining muscles I had forgotten that I had. The bag below is two thirds full. By close of play we had 11 utterly full 50 kg bags.
I now invite you to consider a before and after photo. The first is of a tree dripping with olives and thick with leaves. It is the BEFORE photo
And below is what a tree looks like after it has been twerked. Can you see the difference AFTER? The sun shines through a tree that really has been stripped back, shaved and cleansed.
We started work at 8 AM sharp. That is 6 AM UK time which is the time zone I am still operating on. By 2 PM Greek time I was aching all over and it started to rain. Normally rain stops play and indeed on the neighbouring patch of land a team lead by my neighbour Charon and including the goat-herd and several others did stop for a while. I was at that stage thanking God that I might get an early break but George and his ladies just carried on. These Albanians are made of sterner stuff.
In one of my short breaks I went over to say hello to the heavily moustachioed goat-herd (not to be confused with the Shepherd) who, as ever, spoke to me in Greek knowing that I do not understand a word of it. But he had heard about Joshua and, having four children of his own, the Old Goat, kissed me on both cheeks to say well done before kissing the photo of my baby son on my camera. It seems that the whole village of Kambos knows of Joshua's arrival which is touching.
Now I am back in Kalamata. Tomorrow we start again. 8 AM sharp. No rest for the wicked. A long hot bath is greatly needed.
1090 days ago
— Tom Winnifrith
I was on the phone to the Mrs who had some good news to relay when I heard the unmistakable voice of my neighbour Charon outside. Then he banged on the door saying "Tom, Tom." I had no choice. He knew I was there. I could not hide. I opened the door.
When I say neighbour it is not as if he is just round the corner. As the crow flies his place is about another mile up the mountain. By road it is a two mile trek and Charon had walked over and was there on my doorstep topless and sweating.
It is not that I don't like him, it is just that he insists on speaking English to me. His English is better than my Greek but not a lot better. And so we have long exchanges of words which really cant be described as conversations. Sometimes I get out my Greek English dictionary and try speaking Greek words. However we go about it it is painful.
The one bond we used to have was the common language of cigarettes. The poor man was out of fags and so asked me if I had one. He was clearly in great need of a fix. I said "stopped" and waved my arms to express finality. He asked "why?" Trying to explain about playing soccer with my nephews and nieces on St Valentine's day and feeling like shit after five minutes would have been tough so I made a coughing noise.
"Oh no!" he cried and looked alarmed. I tried to say just to stop me coughing but I think he now worries that I have been diagnosed with cancer. Looking a bit shaken by my bad news he trudged off in the direction of Kambos. Another two mile walk for him to pick up fags at 4 Euro a packet.
Cheap fags have not tempted me back. Nor has the fact that everyone in the Kourounis taverna smokes away like there is no tomorrow. If I can quit smoking I can do anything..maybe even learn Greek.
1099 days ago
— Tom Winnifrith
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.
1100 days ago
— Tom Winnifrith
Snake hill is a stretch of, very rough and multi-potholed, concrete that tracks down from the quiet olive groves on my side of the valley to the valley floor. It ends at the dry river where the track once again turns to mud for a couple of hundred yards before one takes a sharp left to head up the concreted track next to the deserted monastery where, when driving at night, I still imagine the presence of ghostly phantom monks.
Snake hill got its name two years ago when my guest that summer made the grave mistake of going for a run in the midday heat and encountered a serpent sitting on the hill. She sidestepped the viper but the hill got its name.
Ever since then I have been waiting to see another snake there. I have seen plenty of lizards and heard lots of rustling in the bushes on either side of the road but not seen a snake. But today: two!
I am delighted to say that both were of the variety deadus deadus and were in the process of being devoured by ants, flies and other little creatures. What caused their, very welcome, demise? Perhaps it was my only neighbour, the man I know as Charon although like half of the village he is actually called Nicho, who has a new moped which could just have despatched the serpents?
I tend to think that a more likely snake killer would be one of the feral cats that roam the hillsides around here. They are, apparently, perfectly capable of taking on a snake, even a poisonous one. I noted that one of the two serpents looked half eaten so maybe it was a cat that can claim these "kills".
Somehow I cannot see my morbidly obese three legged cat Oakley coming out well in a one-to-one match up with a viper, but these Greek feral cats are made of sterner stuff.
1448 days ago
— Tom Winnifrith
So how is the sabbatical going? Hmmmm. Not quite so restful. when at the Greek hovel I live on English time so I work late and get up not quite at the crack of dawn. Other than today when my nearest neighbour - he lives a mile and a half away - Charon knocked on my door at 6 am GMT. I answered in my underpants in a rather sleepy fashion but that did not phase him.
As ever Charon speaks a mixture of a little English and a lot of Greek. The former is so bad that I do not understand it. The latter I still do not understand at all. Our common languages are cigarettes and coffee and I provided both.
A text from London's top tech analyst arrived "fuck me, you are on Zero Hedge". Sadly I was not online at the hovel for reasons I cant quite fathom and so I said "sto Kambos" and bundled Charon into my tiny motor to head off to the Kourounis taverna in the village. Lovely Eleni is also not yet up but her husband and mother in law were and yup, my Greek Bank Run story is indeed right up at the top of the front page of the top US website, getting rather a lot of reads. I am flattered.
It is a double flattery day as checking my email I discover that I have been asked to speak at a top conference on financial fraud held eack yeart in London on "market abuse on AIM." I am told that on October 1 I will be speaking at the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners shindig with delegates drawn from the legal profession, forensic accountants, law enforcement and fraud investigators . I wont be short of things to say.
Now that I have fully woken up it is off to the fields. The sun is blazing. It is a bank holiday here in Greece so no-one is doing any work. No cheap jokes now! But I shall be frigana poisoning all day.
1569 days ago
— Tom Winnifrith
I have no pictures of Charon. That is because he always pops up by surprise. If you arrange to meet he is never there. He just turns up and then disappears.
His house is the nearest one to the Greek Hovel. The long and winding road from Kambos does not end at the hovel but turns back on itself and up the next hill. I really had no idea where it headed but one day curiosity got the better of me and I turned my bike around and headed on up. After about a mile and a half you arrive at a ramshackle but clearly inhabited set of buildings, the house of Charon. He is one hill higher up than me. The next range of hills behind him leads straight into the mountains.
Charon is not his real name. It is Nikko but since half the village is called Nikko I stick with the name I gave him when we first met. The poor man was returning from a walk into the village to buy cigarettes. It was a blazing hot day and not being the fittest fellow on this planet he was dripping with sweat. His greying hair is longer than mine and with the sweat pouring off him my mind sprang to Virgil’s description of the ferryman to the underworld. Nikko’s rather long face always looks a little sad even when he is smiling.
There is only one thing worse that trying to chat to someone who speaks only Greek when you speak only English. And that is trying to chat to someone who speaks just enough English to think that he can communicate but in fact cannot. And thus when Charon and I chat it is a truly painful experience. He says a few words in English which are in fact the wrong words and intersperses that with Greek which I cannot understand at all.
So for cold Nikko uses the word hot. After a while I figured that out when we drank some “hot” water straight from the fridge. When Charon is around I grab my Greek English dictionary to dull the pain of non-comprehension but our conversations are still monumentally hard going.
The man appears from nowhere for our chats. I am standing there holding my strimmer hacking away at the frigana thinking about Bulletin Board Morons and suddenly I am conscious that there is someone behind me. If I turn too quickly leaving the strimmer on I’d cut his testicles off but I have learned to live with the appearance of the apparition. I am sitting tapping away at my PC with my back to the door and I hear no sound of anyone approaching but there he is standing behind me gazing into my screen.
Charon is a big music fan and tells me that he has four stereo systems at his hovel - that might in facr mean anything between 1 and five. But there is at least one because just occasionally the night time silence is broken by the sound of music blaring from the next range of hills up towards the mountain. It is as if there is a party but while there will be plenty of music and drinking there is only one man partying on all night.
Charon’s catch phrase is “English cigarettes good" at which point I hand over a few of my Greek fags as he appears to have run out. But it is not all one way trade. He brings almonds from a tree near his house and figs, not that the latter is in short supply at our Hovel. And it was he who showed me how to pick and eat prickly pears without taking in a mouthful of prickles. For that I am truly grateful.
How will our relationship develop? I have no idea. Occasionally I give him a lift into Kambos on my bike and we swear to meet up a day later for a drink. Of course he does not turn up although I am always there expecting for some reason that he will be. Perhaps as my Greek improves our conversations might progress a little further.
1625 days ago
— Tom Winnifrith
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.
1639 days ago
— Tom Winnifrith
It is a Saturday night and the Mrs is out on the lash in Bristol and I am here in lovely Eleni’s Kourounis taverna in Kambos. My neighbour Charon popped up at the Greek Hovel earlier and so with him sitting behind me we drove slowly into the village on my new bike. Charon is not his real name but we will come to that another time.
The place is buzzing. My friend Nikko – who has promised to kill anyone who comes to the village asking for me – is 59. And so the drinking has started. Vangelis, the Police Sergeant from Kardamili who lives in Kambos and all the others are here. We have already exchanged a “round of drinks”. I think you all know what happens next and it will not be the Sergeant warning us all about the dangers of drink driving.
A lot has happened since I came back to what I increasingly view as my home. More on that tomorrow..perhaps not right at the crack of dawn
1694 days ago
— Tom Winnifrith
I write this on the train from Reading to Bristol. A journey of bike, car, plane, train, train is almost over. I am back in the UK. I am back in a land of folks with horrible tattoos, of fat people swilling beer in concreted pub gardens, of nasty, smelly and expensive takeaway food. I am back in a land of surveillance cameras where there are far too many people jostling each other to get ahead. I am back in a Country that is just emerging on another illegal war, where jingoism and English or Scottish patriotism combine for a poisonous mix.
On the other hand I cannot wait to see the Mrs who will pick me up at Temple Meads, to give the cats an enormous hug and to catch up on last week’s Downton Abbey. I am really looking forward to a mug of tea, to sitting in my back garden looking at the grapes which we will harvest tomorrow to turn into wine. The Mrs has videod the start of the new season of Dallas and the episode of Corrie when Ken returned to the Street. I am sure the Mrs will cook me a wonderful supper. But I can’t but help think about my friends in Kambos who will be gathering right now at the Korounis taverna, run by lovely Eleni, to chat, watch the football and look out on the stars in a clear sky.
As I rode into Kambos on Friday night it was one of those splendid Greek evenings. The sun was going down but it was warm and as I headed down snake hill the valley opened up before me. The – I think – deserted monastery or convent stood solid in front of me, up the hill above the spring. Further along the valley is a small house where the village baker lives. Why would anyone leave?
To Eleni’s to load videos and upload articles and to enjoy one last portion of her meatballs. Knowing that it was my last night Vangelis (the man in the pink short, not the man from the frigana chopper/snake repellent shop or the Vangelis who will win an Olympic gold in frigana chopping) bought me an ouzo. Naturally I reciprocated and I was soon sitting there with both George’s, Nikos (the football man) and a new pal Dimitris.
I showed a reasonable amount of common sense and left by midnight wishing them all, and Nikos the magician, a fond farewell.
Up at the crack of dawn I readied the Greek hovel for my departure. The eco-loo was emptied one last time, sulphur applied on all doorsteps and window ledges to keep the snakes away and all doors were locked. The gate on the drive/track was closed so that the shepherd can allow his sheep to graze at will on my land and then I somehow managed to drive down to the bottom of the valley on my bike while gripping a rucksack between my feet and with a bag on my back.
John the bike man, of whom more later, was happy to get me to the airport but reluctant to drive past the spring in his car so bad is the road. And so at the spring he took my bags and my helmet which I have kept all summer but never worn. He headed off for Kalamata in his car I headed into Kambos one last time.
I shook hands and said goodbye to the man from the other snake poison/rat poison shop and then to the Kourounis taverna to see lovely Eleni who I had missed on my last night. It was not yet nine but Nikos the football man was on his first coffee of the day and Nikos the Magician, his mother Poppy an Eleni were sitting around. Poppy wished me a safe journey in Greek and I understood. “Catalvemo?” “Ne. Efharisto”.
To Eleni I offered my thanks for all her help this summer and she said thank you for being there smiling and laughing. It was a bit of an awkward how do you say goodbye moment all round. If she was a man I know it would have been acceptable to kiss her on the cheek. But a young woman? I stuck out my hand to break the deadlock and we shook hands. And then scuttled off to my bike quickly. It promptly failed to start. “Okay I am staying” I said to the assembled group and the English speakers among them, Eleni and Nikos (the football man), laughed before I kick-started the bike and headed off not allowing myself to look back.
There are a few more tales from my summer at the Greek Hovel I aim to write them up this week. My time with John the bike man, Charon (my neighbour (not his real name), the three shepherds and the tiny village behind Kambos all deserve a mention.
There is one episode that I have felt unable to write until my return to England, the tale of Kardamili, of how I was dragged to the Police Station by the filth and of the nastiest woman in the Mani. It would have been disloyal to the wonderful folks of my home village to recount that story while living there. But now, as we head towards Chippenham I can begin.