Say “Cheese!”

Meet the new kid on the block. There is quite a sizeable team of feral cats in our village, encouraged by the fact that Kyria Sofia, our aged neighbour up the hill, puts out scraps for them on a daily basis. We don’t feed them ourselves, because as feral animals they well know how to look after themselves (Sofia notwithstanding) and they most certainly perform a service in that they keep the rats at bay. I was watering our upper bed the other evening and was struck by the fact that this little chap (photo above) wanted to hang around and watch me. Unlike my better half, who usually shoos the cats away, I have a tendency to talk to them (but I DON’T talk to the plants, all right?) and – although I say so myself – I can do a pretty good ‘miaow’ even to the extent that cats look around when I do it and stare at me and think, “He sounds like us, but he sure don’t look like us.”

So, anyway, when I first noticed that this little chap was kind of following me about the garden at a safe distance, I decided to snap the photo above, and this next one, because he looked genuinely interested in what I was doing…

I have to admit, he does look exceedingly cute staring at me over the fence like that. Since I talked to him, and made little encouraging cat-noises at him, he seemed to take that as an OK to continue watching what I was doing. There’s no way we’d ever tame him, mind you. Plus, we wouldn’t really want to. But I did find myself warming to the little chap, not least because he bears a striking resemblance to a feral cat that we did end up regularly feeding during the last 12 months of our occupancy in the house on Rhodes. Since that one too was black and white, we named him ‘Mavkos,’ since the Greek for black is ‘mavros‘ and the Greek for white (well, one of the two words they have for ‘white’) is ‘levkos.’ You can work it out, I’m sure.

When we fed Mavkos, he actually reached the stage where he would be under our feet as we emptied some dry cat food into his dish (yes, we even bought him a little dish for his food and water), but you could never actually touch him. I did some research on-line about taming feral cats and it seems that, once they’re over about 6 months old, it’s a near impossibility getting a feral cat to become truly domesticated. It made us quite sad, because if we were relaxing on the terrace with a drink or a sandwich, he’d actually come and sit within inches of our feet. But try and pet him, and he was gone. One time I held out a scrap for him, in my hand. We found that he had a particular fondness for cheese, so I held a chunk in the palm of my hand and waited patiently as he approached to within a foot or so. He stared at that cheese for ages while I hoped he’d simply eat it out of my palm. Instead of that, after he eventually decided that he’d had enough of waiting and wanted to eat it, he snatched it our of my hand with his paw, claws extended, and, once it hit the ground he grabbed it in his mouth and retreated to a safe distance to enjoy it. In snatching it with his claws out, he drew blood from one of my fingers. I couldn’t hold it against him, though, because I know he didn’t do it out of spite, but rather out of fear.

Here’s a photo of Mavkos, and you can see how he resembles my new furry friend here on Crete…

When we first ‘adopted’ Mavkos, he was skin and bones, which was why we felt we had to feed him. He was soon exhibiting a fine coat and a healthy physique, and would regularly await either outside our kitchen window or on the front door mat when he knew it was time for his food. Yes, he came to depend on us and we to love him, but petting and smoothing was never going to be on the agenda. That’s why we couldn’t bring him with us when we moved islands. A few people back on Rhodes said, when we told them we were worried about how he’d fare once we’d gone, “Take him to Crete with you.” The fact was, sadly, we could never even have caught him to put him in a basket, even assuming we’d have had room in our car, which, on the day of our final move, was packed so full that we couldn’t even squeeze in another matchbox, leave alone a cat-box.

And so we reluctantly had to leave Mavkos to his fate, but now that this little neighbour’s hanging around, he’s put us in mind of poor Mavkos, and we pain at the thought of what might have become of him.

There is another reason why I called this post “Say Cheese” though. The rest of the post is a collection of recent photographs, and, although they’re not of people, but rather of buildings and plants, I did overhear a Greek family on the beach the other day taking photos. There were several daughters and a couple of parents. As one of the girls went to take a shot of the family she called out, “Πείτε τυρί!” – which translates as “Say cheese!” There are a lot of expressions in the English that simply don’t transliterate but, evidently, this one does.

And so to the photos. I’ll post brief descriptions where appropriate. Hope you like this latest bunch…

Above: This is the first of several taken in the village. As you walk around you’re struck by just how many houses are now sitting derelict. Stare in through the doorways where possible, and you see history talking to you. You note original features that show how villagers lived decades ago. We had a chat during this particular walk with a 72 year-old neighbour called Giorgis, who was born in the village. He was standing outside his own front door, across the street from the house where he’d grown up, which had been his parents’ house. He told us, as we listened transfixed, about how just a few decades ago there was no electricity and no sewerage anywhere in the village. Plus water had to be collected from wells. Yet, believe it or not, the locals not only survived, But lived off an abundance of produce from the land. Giorgis also confirmed what others have told us, that there were kafeneions dotted all through the village, one of which was right across the steep street from where we were standing.

Above: I took this one while we talked with Giorgi. I climbed a few stone steps right opposite his home to look at this abandoned cottage. He told us it was one of those owned by the Church which was given to poor people as somewhere to live. Now, I may have issues with just about all ‘established’ religions, but credit where it’s due; the Orthodox Church does do this. They have provisions in place in communities such as this one to provide not only material assistance, but even a roof over the heads of those in need. Mind you, they ought to be able to afford it, for rumour has it that the Greek Church is richer than the country’s government.

Above: This one is right next-door to the previous one. I know it’s a hackneyed expression, but it holds true, “if only walls could talk, eh?” And I wonder what an estate agent would say to describe no. 120…

Walking through the alleyways it’s now the season when you can see the grapes swelling, and it makes you look forward to the harvest in a few months time…

And finally, right across the lane from our house, Evangelia and her daughter Maria’s chicken run is partially shaded and indeed obscured by a magnificent climber (below). Back in the UK I’m pretty sure we’d have called this ‘convolvulus,’ or ‘Bindweed’ and would have set about ripping it out…

…but, you know what? I’m glad it’s there, because at this time of the year those flowers are magnificent, don’t you agree? Makes you want to stand up against it and get someone to take your photograph, while you grin and say “cheese.”

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A visit that was a little overdue

Above: Amaryllis flowers add some colour to a village backwater.

A few days ago we took another of our regular village walks, to see who or what was about. We’ve lived in the village now since October 2019, so it’s around 20 months and counting, yet until this past week we hadn’t visited the village kafeneion. We do have some justification for the tardiness of the visit, and primarily it’s because the place leaves a lot to be desired when it comes to kerb appeal. Not that there are any kerbs in these parts, but you get the idea. When we first moved in, we took one look at the premises and concluded that, owing in part to its appearance, it had long since closed, that and the way the population of the village has dwindled over the past few decades. If you’re lucky enough to pass our village, heading north from Ierapatra, apart from one or two rogue buildings on your left as you make the climb past the village sign, the entire village is sprinkled up the hillside to your right as you drive through. The only building of any substance on the left at about the halfway point, is the kafeneion, run in the mornings by Iraklis, and from late afternoon and into the evening by his son Manoli.

We have since been told by a few villagers that the kafeneion is indeed open for business (apart, that is, from the 6 months November through May, when the entire country’s café-bars were closed owing to the pandemic), and that it would be worth a visit some time. Indeed, some have said that if one ambles down there for a meal during a summer’s evening, you simply tell Manoli you’re coming and he’ll rustle up whatever you want him to cook for you. Plus, sit there any time with a drink and you get supplied with a couple of plates of savoury nibbles, like olives, sliced tomatoes, cucumber, maybe a dip or two. The thing is, when we go out for a coffee, as a rule we like to sit in a pleasant environment with the chance of a little of our favourite participation sport being on the agenda, ‘people-watching’ of course. The same goes for our occasional sorties for a meal out. When you stand and look at the place in the village, it has virtually no footfall in the shape of passers-by, and the terrace, such as it is, is simply a patch of concrete out front, surrounded on two sides by a fairly substantial screen made up of that woven rush-walling stuff. You know the kind I mean? It’s the sort of thing people put around their garden to avoid being overlooked, and once it’s been in situ for a while, it begins to look very grey and uninviting. It’s a bit like this…

Of course, you know I’m going to say that we finally paid the place a visit, so here was the view from my chair as we sat there the other morning…

As we walked in there was one table already occupied. A couple of people from the village sat there, one of whom was Kyria Popi, a ya-ya whom we knew and had spoken to several times as we’d walked past her house near the top of the village. The other we were soon to discover was her son. They broke into wide smiles, bade us good day and then carried on with their conversation. The host, evidently keen to welcome his two new customers, peeled off from passing the time of day with his regulars and came over to us to see what we’d like to drink. He was, I’d say, heading towards his mid sixties, with a happy grin, grey whiskers and a well-creased complexion. He wasn’t overweight though, I’ll say that for him. We ordered a couple of Greek coffees and he went inside to prepare them for us, soon returning to the table with the coffees, the regulation glasses of water and a readiness to sit down and get to know us.

Once our host had seated himself across the table from us, evidently keen to pursue a conversation, as indeed were we, he whipped out his ‘roll-your-own’ and was soon puffing contentedly on a wrinkly cigarette. Yes, his name was Iraklis and he’d lost his wife a few years ago. He knew exactly who we were and what house we’d moved into. In fact, since the builder of our house had lived in it himself before selling it to us, and was a well known carpenter-joiner and ‘small builder’ in the area, Iraklis was quick to point out that it was the very same, Giorgos Anifantakis, who’d constructed the canopy over the kafeneion’s terrace. On visual inspection, we could see the same workmanship that’s evident in the canopy over our own veranda, in fact.

We weren’t surprised that Iraklis had known who we were. Word gets around in a village of only 75 or so inhabitants, after all. He even remembered that more than a year ago his son had given us a lift when we’d been walking back to the village one day when we’d walked into town and then discovered that the bus back wasn’t running, owing to the schools being out. We told him that we’d intended to pay his establishment a visit many times since discovering that it was still functioning as a kafeneion, but for one reason or another hadn’t got around to it until now. He wasn’t at all put out, only pleased that we’d eventually made it.

I’ve no idea if the place has a name, since it has no sign outside, not even a faded, cracked weather-worn one that may have seen better days. My wife was keen to suggest that, were Iraklis to have a sign made, along with perhaps an A-board advertising the fact that it was indeed open, then he might just increase his takings a little. “You know,” she said, helpfully, “tourists driving past might the be tempted to stop and come in.”

Iraklis’ reply was sanguine given the circumstances. He said, “What tourists? You don’t see more than one or two hire cars a day, if that. Wouldn’t make a lot of difference. Imagine how long it would take for a new sign to pay for itself.” He did have a point there. “Anyway,” he continued, “I have my ten or fifteen regulars, they keep me going.”

I must say it’s hard to imagine how a mere ten to fifteen regulars can make a café-bar viable. Mind you, he did add that during the summer there was a Scandinavian gentleman (from Sweden, Iraklis thinks) who has a house in the village and, when he’s here for several weeks at a time during the summer months, he frequents the place. So, there you are then, eh? Plus there is another English family who own a house further up in the village from our place, who also patronise the place when they’re here. A veritable gold mine, I’d say.

I remarked that Angla’i’a had told us that hers and Georgo’s place had been a kafeneion several decades ago, to which he replied, “Oh, there were several others.” Describing in turn a few more houses, at each of which we nodded in acknowledgment when we realised the buildings he was referring to, he explained that at one time the village had supported five, yes five, cafe-bars. Looking at the village today, it’s hard to imagine how, yet the population in its heyday must have been several hundred. Slowly, over the years, as young ones decided that they’d prefer to go to college, or simply to live in the town and live the ‘modern’ life, in rejection of the rural ways that had been the reason for the birth of the village centuries ago, the numbers had dwindled and the kafeneions closed one by one. There is a building two doors away from Angla’i’a’s which was once a medical centre, and another was the village school, back when there were enough children here to justify it. Now, that building stands empty most of the time, only getting put to use when the mobile medical units come around once or twice a year, like the last one a few months ago that was carrying out breast x-rays to help women guard against breast cancer.

Today there are about ten children in the village, and they get bused down to Ierapetra and back to go to school. They all have day-glo rucksacks and have a mobile phone permanently welded to their left hands, thumbs tapping away, as they wend their ways back up through the narrow alleys to their homes after hopping off the bus on their way home. It’s a similar pattern all cross the world I suppose. Less and less people want to adopt the rural lifestyle, preferring to live the pressurised city life that comes with office work, digital TVs, flash cars and designer clothes. They want to sit in modern coffee bars and stare at their phones, each with an iced coffee in front of them on a table around which there’s precious little actual conversation. I shouldn’t knock them. If I were just out of school these days would I be much different?

A few years back, when Greece was first in the grips of its financial meltdown and it had more elections and new governments than I change my socks in a week, there was a quiet move back to the land on the part of some. Owing to the employment situation, people were going back to the villages of their heritage, all of them still owning property there, often left derelict up until then. They were planting seeds and growing food, and we watched TV reports from the middle of a field where a father would be interviewed, a couple of young children with him, as they harvested tomatoes, or some fruit or other, maybe aubergines or courgettes (eggplant or zucchini, guys) and they’d have glowing faces and be so positive about how they were rediscovering the real values, the better lifestyle for one’s health. Maybe that’s still going on, but it’s not making the news any more if it is.

I have to say, and this is in no way meant to be judgmental (you have to be so careful, what with everyone looking for ways to be offended these days), that we’re so glad that we bought a house in which we’re actually living, all year round. Even when we lived back in the UK, since both of us had rural upbringings, we were sensitive to local village folk who were well put out by the fact that their villages were becoming ghost towns in some areas. In fact, even this past week I was watching the local TV news from Wales (nostalgia, pure and simple) and there was an interview with the last local couple left in a West Wales village, which was almost entirely now a collection of holiday homes or tourist lets. Here, I do rather understand why some locals don’t take readily to foreigners who buy up homes in their dwindling communities, with the intention of only occupying them for a few weeks every year. When we first got to know the locals in our village, those who’ve now become our friends and neighbours, they all asked us within the first few minutes of conversation, “So, you go back to the UK in winter time?

It has to be said that they beamed with delight when we told them that, no, we were permanent residents, adding to the human presence in the village, and hopefully putting something worthwhile into the community. The world is what it is, of course. When I write posts like this one, they’re merely observations, after all.

By the way, after we rose to leave having enjoyed an hour’s conversation with our host, as I whipped out my purse to pay for our coffees, Iraklis wouldn’t hear of it. “Those are on me!” he declared.

And so, to the most recent batch of photographs. Hope you like them…

Above: this group of shots is all of the huge artichoke plant growing below next door’s veranda. It’s hard to show the scale of it, but it’s as tall as I am, and I’m over six foot. Doing a spot of Googling after we’d been given some artichokes (see this post) by Angla’i’a, I was amazed to discover that artcihokes are simply the unripe seedpods of a type of thistle. If left to flower, like the one shown above, the flowers are a magnet for bees and easily as spectacular as sunflowers, but this gorgeous purple-blue colour.

Above: All of these were taken during a stroll around the village a couple of days ago. The one with the white picket fence and gate is the lower entrance to our garden. The pot-plant in the corner of someone’s terrace is a Mexican Jasmine.

That’s it for this one. Thanks for reading it, and keep safe.

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Getting stuck in

Well, a couple of days ago we went for our first ‘jabs’ at the special vaccination clinic they’ve set up at the hospital in Ierapetra. We had with us our printouts from the pharmacy where we’d booked the appointments (both for the first and the second jabs) and these showed our appointment times for both visits, spaced three weeks apart, thus we knew (since someone told us!) that we’d be getting the Pfizer version. In fact, as we were on our way home from town and coming up the lane to the house here in the village, we stopped to talk to our neighbour Maria, who works in the hospital, and she told us that the Pfizer version was the only one being used here in Ierapetra.

My wife’s appointment was for 9.50am and mine for 10.20am. As we reached the desk that is set up just outside the entrance to the clinic, the two ladies who were checking the vaccination candidates in took our paperwork and did a few checks, asking us whether we were on any medication (which we’re not, unless you count the occasional vitamin) and whether we knew of any allergies that we may be suffering from. That sorted, seeing that we were together, they ushered us both in through the main door together. The time was still only around 9.45am.

Once inside we entered a small room with a couple of portable screens, each shielding off a lone chair for individual ‘vaccinees‘ (is there such a word?), and there were two women ready and prepared to stick the needles into us, and another lady at a desk in the corner staring at a computer. She had to give the go-ahead to each vaccinator before they could do the deed, which she did after speaking to us to confirm once again who we were, and the two ladies did their thing. My wife was ‘jabbed’ a half a minute or so before me, and I was relieved to hear her saying, just before receiving my needle, “Oh, is that it? I was expecting more pain than that!

When I was a child, I remember being vaccinated for a few things as I was growing up in South West England. One was measles, and the others, I can’t rightly remember now. I do, however, remember that one was administered as a fluid impregnated into a sugar cube (can you imagine that these days?). Another one that I received as probably a seven or eight-year-old had been an injection, much as this one is today, but there was a big difference in what I felt as the needle went in. Maybe it was because I was so small back then, or perhaps it’s because the technology’s moved on and the needles are of a much narrower gauge these days, but I can still remember now that the injection hurt me like hell and I’d cried. This time, The lady was sticking a small dressing on my arm before I knew it and I was thinking, “There’s nothing to it,” which indeed there wasn’t.

Watching a little UK TV on-line a few nights back, I saw one of my favourite UK comedians, Jack Dee, talking about receiving his vaccination. He was most annoyed that it hadn’t hurt. In fact, he said that he didn’t feel a thing and was wondering if they’d even given him the shot at all. “Crafty way of saving money, that would be, eh?” he remarked, po-faced as is his usual trademark way. “I mean, they tell you you’ve had the jab, when you haven’t, and so they save a couple of hundred quid per person. I was thinking of complaining, I want more pain!

We both walked out of the building at 9.48am, still two minutes earlier than the time the first of our two appointments had been scheduled for. I call that a result, a model of efficiency, in fact. Just around the building there’s a waiting area with a couple of parasols and a pergola set up to provide some shade. There are free bottles of water for people to avail themselves of if they so desire and everyone’s advised to wait (there are a few seats too) for 15 minutes before clearing off, just to be sure that there’s no immediate adverse reaction. Once you’ve been ‘done’ they also give you back your printout to bring along in three week’s time for the second jab, plus a two-page info leaflet (A4 photocopies; I mean, hey, this is Greece!) to answer any questions you may have.

This week has seen a marked decline in the number of cases all across Greece, so here’s hoping this trend will continue. The only reservation I have is that this also happened last year, since here in Greece everyone’s outdoors for a few months from now until November, and the virus is less easily transmitted out of doors. Mind you, come November a pretty large percentage of the Greek population ought to have had the jab, so maybe next winter will indeed be different from the last one, which was a very long one in view of the fact that all the restaurants and bars were closed for six months (pleeeease – not again!).

And, to round it all off, here are some photos from the past few days…

Above: The Jacaranda is truly beautiful and it’s out in flower in all its blue glory at this time of the year. This one’s in a pedestrian street in Ierapetra Town. The shot below is the same tree, but from a different angle, with a second tree also in shot.

Above: Owing to the fact that we were out of the hospital a full hour before we expected to be, we reached the sea front much earlier than usual for our well-earned Freddo Espresso. But there was already a clutch of ‘old boys’ having a go at putting the world to rights just a little way along from our table.

Finally, yesterday was a beach day, complete with a club sandwich, a plate of fava (garnished with chopped spring onions) and a beer or two. The beach restaurant at Achlia is brilliant. They have a very extensive hand-written menu and they give you a freebie to start (some kind of dish of scrambled egg, tomatoes and lemon juice that smears nicely on to a chunk of bread), plus a plate of both honeydew and watermelon for afters. The place was very quiet…

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Widening out

The photo above is of a little nook in the village, of which there are many that quite excite our fascination. We’ve taken of late to trying to get out for a half an hour’s walk around the village once or twice a week, mainly in the early evening. It’s in those hours when the heat of the day subsides when the locals begin to sit outside and hope for some conversation with whoever may be passing. Sometimes, in desperation, they’ll bid even those they don’t get along with to sit a while, so as to be able to pass the time with a little more mental stimulation. ‘No names, no pack drill,’ as they say, but we were enlightened as to who is one of the less popular village residents as we passed by old Manoli’s front door a few evenings ago.

As you’ll know, if you’ve any knowledge of Greek village life, just about everyone in a village is related in some way or another. We’re still trying to piece it all together here in our village, and sometimes it can be quite entertaining finding stuff out. As we were heading back towards home at around 6.30pm, we approached our mailbox to see if anything had actually got through this week. No luck, as it happened, but the mailbox is just below the upper level where Manolis was seated under a rubber tree talking to another village resident whose face we recognised, although we couldn’t think from where exactly. Manolis insisted we sit down and suggested that we might like to bring a couple more chairs out from his kitchen. So we did so and plonked ourselves down to enjoy a few minutes banter.

You can’t, of course, sit outside a villager’s house without them offering you a drink. Manolis suggested we might like either a ‘portokala’tha‘ or a Greek coffee. Portokala’tha (soft ‘th’) is usually fizzy orange and was the lesser of two evils at that time of the day. My sleep patterns are bad enough, so to drink a Greek coffee in the early evening would blow any chances I may have had of a few hours shut-eye that night right out of the water. It always amuses me that it’s very much a Greek habit to keep a few mini-cartons of fruit juice, a few small branded bottles of fizzy orangeade and a couple of bottles of regular Coca Cola in their fridges for all eventualities. Very often they’ll offer you a glass of neat fruit juice (which can frequently be a full tumbler of the stuff) or a fizzy orangeade as an alternative to coffee when you sit down with them. We opted for the portokala’tha, and, with that, Manolis shouted along the way to Angla’i’a, who, as it happens, was also outside her front door busying herself with some vegetables in a bowl, and told her to come over here and serve his two latest guests. She duly complied, wiping her hands on a tea towel as she made her way along the fifty metres or so between the two houses’ front doors. She hadn’t the slightest hint of irritation on her face when she arrived at our sides and greeted us, joking about being Manoli’s ‘on-call waitress.’

The other chap who was seated with Manoli when we arrived wasn’t particularly loquacious, but did introduce himself and told us where he lived, and so we soon realised that we did already know him, and had conversed on many occasions with his wife, who’s much more affable to passers by than her husband. He got up pretty sharpish as Angla’i’a approached and headed across the way to a small gate between two houses, which led to some stone steps, up which he could make his escape to the labyrinthine lanes further into the village. He hadn’t fully made good his escape when our usually good-natured and kind female neighbour let rip with a few choice words of chastisement, revealing an inner fury that we’d never imagined she could have harboured. What could all that have been about, then?

Soon dispelling any idea that we may have had that this chap cleared off because we had arrived, Angla’i’a told us he was one of her brothers, and that he was a no-good layabout who didn’t do anything for anybody. She then filled us in on all the other reasons why he was a waste of space and, with Manolis nodding in agreement, made it clear that she was the reason he’d decided to make himself scarce, not us. He knew she’d give him an earful, which she apparently does at every opportunity she gets. We couldn’t help but fully understand where she was coming from, because we often walk past his house, and his wife always talks and indeed likes to chat, but the best you’ll get from him is a reluctant grunt of a greeting as he turns back to his cigarette and TV. Seems he’s not well liked by anyone in the village and never lifts a finger to help anyone.

Ah, well, there’s always one, isn’t there? I could go into a whole series of rather unsavoury facts about this ne’er do well that both Angla’i’a and Manolis were only too pleased to apprise us of, but I don’t think it would be a good idea. Let’s just say he’s an unsociable self-centred type who gets along by being as curmudgeonly as he can. As Angla’i’a made her retreat, Manolis then warmed to his task of chatting endlessly to his two new guests and we were delighted to cock an ear. I have to be honest and say that, when talking to villagers, I can often struggle to understand what they’re saying, owing to their very broad accents, but for some reason I follow I’d say about 80% of what Manolis says, and so was able to chip in the odd question and word of assent as he rambled amiably on. At one point I wished I’d had a pen and some A4 paper, because I’d have been able to begin compiling a pretty extensive family tree of the village by the time half an hour had elapsed.

Before long, we’d drained our bottles of orangeade and suggested we take our leave, which of course elicited cries of, ‘kathiste, den preppei na figete,’ [stay a while, no need to go yet] from Manoli. As we stood up and I returned the chairs to Manoli’s kitchen, Angla’i’a called to us from along the way and pointed to a large plastic bag which she’d placed on the table outside her front door. “This is yours! Don’t go past without taking it with you!” As the time approached 7.30pm, we bade good evening to Manoli, who still amazes me at his robustness for a man approaching 88 years of age, and made our way home, collecting the bag that Angla’i’a had left out for us. It was full to bursting with fresh cucumbers and beef-tomatoes from her husband George’s plot, just across the road. No surprises there then.

As we entered our own garden gate at the house, we both agreed that this idea of taking a stroll around the village was paying dividends, not because we might occasionally receive a lovely gift of fresh vegetables, but because it was making us feel all the more like we were known, and we’re coming to know, our neighbours better each time (warts and all, it would seem!). It was good, it was satisfying. Widening out, as it were, is richly rewarding.

And, to round this one out, here’s another photo I took during that same stroll. Deep in the winding backstreets of the village is an old abandoned mill, probably a flour mill, and the workings and millstones can still be seen by the passer-by. We couldn’t help but remark on the old saying, ‘if only walls could talk.’

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A few more creature comforts

When I first came to Greece for a visit, back in 1977, and for the next 25 years or so really, me and the better half were really against any beach that sported sunbeds and umbrellas. When we went to the beach, it had to involve a trek on foot, often across scrubland following a goat track, or down precarious cliffs, maybe trudging around a precarious headland or two, following red spots of paint splurged on to the occasional blisteringly-hot sunbaked rock for the intrepid sun-worshipper who wanted that extra bit of privacy to follow in the pursuit of their quest. Not for us was anywhere that looked even remotely like there were any facilities for the convenience of the beach-lover. Oh no, such places were for the mainstream ‘grockles,’ whom we despised with a righteous passion.

Many a time we even found ourselves on a beach where there may have been an area partially laid out with umbrellas and beds, but the rest of which was a blank canvas for the hardy beach-campers who’d brought all their own stuff, as it were, like those cheap rush beach-mats, maybe a DIY umbrella (the sort that always blew itself inside out when even the slightest breeze came up, or simply allowed itself to be ripped out of the sand/shingle and blown away to oblivion), and a packed lunch. I was well used, in those days, to arriving at a beach carrying what felt like a foot soldier’s back-pack (it was that heavy), which I’d set down with huge sighs of relief to reveal a back that was soaked with so much sweat, it looked like I’d already been in for a swim with my t-shirt on. We’d set out our ‘camp’ only metres from those people who were lazily stretched out on sun beds, under the shade of their parasols and feel like we were real ‘travellers,’ not namby-pamby package-tour types who were being fleeced left, right and centre all the while they were away from home.

Mind you, on such occasions, which tended to occur more frequently as those years ticked away (largely owing to the fact that we were less and less enthused by the thought of a 45 minute walk in more than 30 degree heat before arriving at our perceived little piece of beach paradise), I couldn’t help thinking more and more often, ‘Those sun loungers, they must be more comfortable than laying on the hard shingle with only a towel and a eighth of an inch of rush matting between me and the ground.‘ And, while I sat there with my baseball cap pulled low over my eyes, my arms wrapped around my knees as my legs were drawn up to my chin, far enough to enable me to get my beach towel wrapped around all exposed areas of skin, since I’d already spent much longer than was wise (even with factor 30) out in the scorching mediterranean sun, I remember thinking, ‘a bit more shade wouldn’t go amiss, especially as when we got to the beach we found that the only tree-shade at the back of the beach was already commandeered by other intrepid types who’d got there well before us.’

And so it was that, probably some time in the 1990’s, we finally succumbed and went to a beach where there there was a modest number of umbrellas and beds and plonked ourselves on to the two beds at the farthest end of the row, so that at least we weren’t hemmed in on all sides by lesser mortals who didn’t mind a spot of ‘commercialism’ while they soaked up the sun. When the person came around to collect the fee, we grudgingly handed over the cash and set the backs of loungers to just the right angle. And thus we became ‘grockles,’ folks. ‘Hmm,’ I must have thought, ‘this being one of the mainstream sheep isn’t so bad after all, and it’s a damn sight more comfy than laying on the ground without a shred of shade.’

Of course, ‘slippery slope’ and all that, once you’ve become used to a few more creature comforts when you want a beach day, there’s no going back, and I even had to admit, I didn’t want to go back once I’d revelled in the shade of the parasol and found that I could sleep for a while in a comfy position any time during the day. Why, I even had somewhere to hang my cozzy while it dried out (under the splines of the umbrella), or my diving mask, so that I didn’t have to plonk it down on the sand and see it get covered in the stuff. Oh, and my walkman (these were the days before things such as iPods) ran far less risk of being ruined by grains of sand getting into the works.

Yes, peeps, these days, when we go to the beach, we no longer seek out that remote, deserted cove, in fact if we don’t have a sun lounger and umbrella, we won’t stay, it’s not worth the discomfort. Is that to do with getting older? I dunno, but this much I do know – there are actually some pretty good beaches, if you seek them out, where it’s not too commercialised, yet there are enough creature comforts to make a beach day 100% enjoyable. Oh, and you usually have a shower available to wash the salt off too. And, I also have to own up, I really, really do want somewhere to buy a beer, or even to sit and eat an omelette and a salad at lunchtime now and then. That also means that there are toilets available too, rather than having to go back in the sea, even if you don’t want to get wet again quite yet, when you need a pee.

Last summer was when we really had to come to terms with the fact that we’re now well and truly the types that simply have to have a little more luxury when on the beach. We went off for a long day out with two Greek couples, friends of ours, who took us to a wonderful area, it’s true, but when we arrived at the beach that they’d been enthusing about, we were horrified to find that there was nothing there. We’d already driven along a few kilometres of dirt track, and once we piled out of the vehicles and across a few metres of hot sand to lay our stuff out, we found that our preparations had been woefully inadequate. We were only just able, the six of us, to sit under the two pretty substantial portable umbrellas that the Greeks had brought with them. They kept saying that they didn’t begrudge us the area of shade that we were occupying, but I was very conscious of the fact that one of my mates back was still exposed, and visibly reddening by the minute. And they broke out veritable banquets from their cool boxes, while we fingered our purses and wondered how far we’d have to walk to find somewhere where we could buy a drink and a spot of lunch.

And thus I come to the following set of photographs. It’s our new favourite beach since moving here to Crete. It’s got just the right blend, as I hope the photos show. Even in high season it’s never crowded, but it has all the facilities we need and a backdrop of beautiful mountains too. It’s where we go at least once a week during the season since moving here, and I can’t see us breaking the habit. It’s where last year I was able to follow a huge turtle whilst snorkling, and where we’ve never seen any rubbish floating in the sea. It’s got just enough creature comforts without being on the main tourist trail. Sorry to rub it in, because I hear the weather in the UK’s unseasonably cold for this time of the year right now, but, well, maybe these will at least warm you up inside a little. I took them last Sunday…

I took this short video of the sea there too, because it’s perfect!

If you’re hoping to make it to Greece this year, and I know there are still major issues for many, I hope you get to do what you want to in safety. As I float in that bay, I’ll be thinking of you. (I know, mean aren’t I?).

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A normality of sorts

The photo above is the kind of scene that so many people envisage when they think about eating out in Greece, agreed? After six months of restaurants and coffee bars being closed, this photo was taken just last Sunday, a few days after they were allowed to open again, albeit without playing music. We enjoyed a delicious lunch at the excellent and very traditional Konaki taverna on Ierapetra sea front, and it tasted all the better for being the first meal out for a very long time. We ordered gigantes, kollokithokeftedes, a green salad and a swordfish steak. Along with that we had a 500ml bottle of retsina and, of course, they always bring you fresh bread. They also brought us a complimentary bottle of mineral water. The entire bill came to €30, and we wish we hadn’t ordered the swordfish, not because it wasn’t delicious, but because we couldn’t eat all the food. Had we not ordered the swordfish, the bill would have been a princely €18. A bottle of very acceptable retsina sets you back €4!!

So, from the above, one might assume that normal life has returned here in Greece, but it hasn’t, not quite. The daily case numbers of Covid-19 continue to rumble along. Here in Lasithi it was 4 yesterday, so I suppose we can be thankful that it does seem to have remained a mere trickle, with the occasional spike of 10 or 12. In Heraklion and Hania, though, it can be in the twenties, even thirties now and then, so the virus stubbornly refuses to give up trying on this island. Having heard the news about the UK’s ‘traffic light’ system, I can’t help but wonder why the UK government can’t treat Greece as a selection of smaller destinations, not as one country as a whole. I say this because there are about 19 islands where the entire population has now been vaccinated and thus Covid is essentially no more. These are predominantly smaller islands, but most have airports and a normally thriving tourism industry during the summer season.

Here in Greece they have their own system of banding for Covid levels. There are dark red areas, red areas, orange areas and yellow. Needless to say the dark red and red are high risk, the orange medium, and the yellow low risk. Up until a couple of months ago here in Lasithi we were actually white, which was very low to no risk at all. Right now, as I type this, there are no remaining white areas, although those islands I referred to above will shortly become white, as it were. Lasithi is currently orange, or amber. Although freedom of movement between prefectures will return from Saturday morning the 15th, and the system of sending a phone text before venturing out will be discontinued, I don’t have any doubts that the current law in force that everyone has to wear a mask in both outdoor and indoor areas will continue for the foreseeable future. The exception is, of course, when one is sitting at a table to eat or drink, when the mask need not be worn.

Frankly, although I have minor reservations about the vaccine, I’ll be glad when we’ve had ours and can go about without worrying. The law here is still that people should remain at least 1.5 metres apart, but you try applying that while you’re either waiting in a queue to get into a supermarket, or at the till on your way out. I very much believe that, in our region at least, complacency still prevails. I have on a few occasions turned to the person behind me in the situations referred to above and stated that they should back off, since they’ve actually been brushing my back on occasion, but it’s not something I like doing and it gets my better half stressed out, since she thinks I’m making a fuss. As a foreigner living here too, I’m only too aware that I don’t want to be seen as a self-righteous ex-pat who comes over here and begins ordering locals about.

Still, apart from the mask thing (and the fact that we still rigorously and regularly apply sanitising gel to our hands when we’re out and about), life from this coming Saturday will at least bear some resemblance to normality, hooray! The photo below is a scene that’s been missing from the streets of Greece for a long time, so it is nice to see the restaurants (like this Pizza place behind the Archeological Museum) setting their tables and chairs out for the summer…

The photo above shows the latest gift from our neighbour Angla’i’a. Along with some eggs from her hens, she gave us this bag of artichokes. I’ve got to be honest here, but we’ve never cooked with them. We have eaten a rather tasty soup made with them at some friends’ house back in Rhodes though, and, after the initial reluctance at seeing the artichoke ‘leaves’ in amongst the other ingredients, we gave it a go and, must admit, it was pretty good. So now the better half has a challenge on her hands, how to make the traditional Greek soup with artichokes. Fortunately we found a recipe on-line for a dish that looks exactly like the one we were served up in Rhodes. Take a gander here if you want to see it. It has the added bonus of being a vegan dish too, since it’s what lots of Greeks eat during lent, when they aren’t supposed to eat any meat.

Polishing off this post, here’s a nice little shot I took during a wander through the village a couple of days ago…

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Going nowhere

Something that we’ve been mulling over of late is the quality of life of the older inhabitants of villages such as ours. Those of our generation kind of think we’re living very fulfilled lives when we can jet off all over the place, or shoot off for a few days in the car, take a boat etc – all pandemic-permitting, of course. And I must state right here: I do hold broadly to the idea that travel broadens the mind. Yet, this past couple of weeks we’ve been talking very frequently with Evangelia, the octogenarian who lives just across the lane from us. Our conversations usually follow the same pattern. We talk about the same things. The only exception last week was when she quite surprised me by telling me she was off down to the town to get her second inoculation jab against Covid-19.

The atmosphere here in the village (and in many similar backwaters all across the country I’d hazard the guess) is very laid back and the older villagers are usually to be seen trudging home from their horafi without wearing a face-mask. They’ll be sitting outside each others’ homes sipping coffee and solving the world’s problems also without many masks being in evidence. They’ll sweep up the leaves around their front door, in the narrow streets, or make their way down to the road to meet the ‘cheese, yogurt and honey’ man and make their purchases from the back of his van, usually without bothering to put a mask on. We always have ours around our chins when walking through the village, and this isn’t to be self-righteous or anything, but we do visit the town at least twice a week and, therefore, even though we’re frantic about wearing our masks in places where we come into closer contact with others, plus we keep bottles of hand-sanitiser in my wife’s handbags, and in the car and regularly apply the stuff to be doubly careful, it’s because we wouldn’t want to be the ones who infected our elderly neighbours and we wouldn’t want them to think that we don’t take the situation seriously enough. We always slip our masks up over our mouths and noses if we stop to exchange a friendly word with the locals, it’s a given, as far as we’re concerned.

When we see our neighbour Evangelia, though, quite often it’s from our veranda and from such an angle that she doesn’t always see us and so we don’t say anything to each other. She has a very fixed routine, as no doubt have countless others of her generation and background. She’s always up with the dawn chorus, brushes a few metres either side of her front door, crosses the lane to feed her chickens. Mid morning she’ll walk with her bastouni across to the patch of ground below our place and forage for Horta. 12 noon on the dot she’ll retire to her bed for her midday sleep. Yes, to us it’s a couple of hours too early but, when you’ve been up since before six, I suppose it’s understandable really.

In the late afternoon or early evening she’ll be sitting on the ledge outside her door with a bowl, a knife and some vegetables, preparing something to cook, or maybe plucking feathers from yet another of her stock of poultry that’s met its end in order to grace the family table. I watched her the other day, and wondered whether, apart from her recent two trips to the hospital for her first and second Covid jabs, she’d ever been on holiday, ever travelled even to Heraklion, let alone to somewhere off the island. In all probability she hasn’t. Her routine never changes, be it weekdays or the weekend. No doubt to be ferried down to Ierapetra Town was a major travel highlight for her. Every day is the same. Yet is she depressed? Is she stressed? I’d say no, she most definitely isn’t.

When we talk, she always seems to me to be quite content with her life, barring the fact that she was widowed a decade and a half ago, of course. But she has a ready smile and is always happy, even pleased, to be able to have a chat for just a couple of minutes, before carrying on with her routine. Is my life, considering the fact that I’ve travelled extensively and taken holidays several times a year in times past, of any more value than hers? Is it any more satisfying? What does this gentle old woman possess, when you add it all up? A tiny old village house with low ceilings, a few chickens and a few sets of black clothes that she no doubt recycles, yet always give the impression that she never changes what she wears. But, she lives her life, always has, at a measured pace. I can’t imagine her, even in the past when she could gad about without a stick to assist her tired old legs and back, ever being totally stressed out and pressured. Lots of people who I would postulate might argue that their lives are much more fulfilling, are dead by the time they’re in their sixties, owing to heart disease, cancer, and any number of other illnesses that blight the developed world. This old lady, who never goes anywhere, is still fairly robust and looking after herself well into her ninth decade.

Does she, and others like her, believe that she’s missing out? Not on your nelly. She has actually told me, in so many words, anyway, that ‘here in the village we’re OK aren’t we?‘ We can carry on with our lives largely ignoring all that fuss that the TV exudes during the evening news bulletins. All that ‘fassaria‘ is a long way away and it can stay that way, right? What do we want to be bothering with all those things for? Do those people running the streets hurling missiles at the police live happier lives? Do those people rushing along the city streets gabbling into their phones and perpetually frowning have anything to offer Evangelia?

I bet you know what her answer would be.

We took a drive up to the small coastal village of Sissi yesterday. It was a bit of a reccy to see if we fancied spending a few days there on a mini-break maybe this coming September. To be honest, the place disappointed us. We’d read that it’s a bit of a hidden gem, with very low-key tourism, yet there was stuff like “Crazy Golf” and even an Irish-themed bar there, so it wasn’t quite what we had expected to see. Overall, I have to admit, owing to the fact that the tourist season is still a week away from officially starting here, it was rather empty, with all the waterfront tavernas still closed, so maybe we didn’t see it in its best light. Anyway, I took the photos below, if you’d like to have a look at them. Must admit, seeing these again now, the place at least does have some photogenic corners, doesn’t it. See what you think…

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Here’s the latest review on its Amazon UK page of my novel “The Crete Connection.” Many thanks to Barbara Iatrou: “Excellent Read: A not to put down book, characters that are interesting and truly believable. A really enjoyable read, I would like to read some more by this author.

A few photos (now there’s an original name for a post)

Above: The village at 5.50am this morning.

Above: It certainly pays to have neighbours.

Above: Now, THAT’S what I call radishes.

Above: I built a bird box out of a few scraps I had laying around. Now all we can do is hope…

Above: Near the seafront at Ierapetra. This assortment of relics (or whatever you’re supposed to call them) have just been laid in position by a JCB. Rather a nice job to add the finishing touches to the renovation of the main town square area that’s recently been completed.

Above: Part of our modest little lower garden just after sunset.

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Signs of life

It’s almost unbelievable, but it’s real. Yes, the tables and chairs are finally being cleaned up, jet-washed, painted and prepared, for on this coming Monday, May 3rd, people in Greece will once again be able to sit in a café or restaurant and order a drink or something to eat. It’s been a long haul, a very long haul, since the first week of November last year, when the government here announced a two-week lock-down in which all bars and restaurants were to close completely. As that two weeks progressed, the talk was that when the two weeks were up, the lock-down would be extended, and so it was; and extended, and extended, until here we are six months later, and at last these businesses are to be allowed to open again.

One gets the distinct impression too, that were it not for the fact that this country depends so heavily on tourism, then even now it would be doubtful whether these restrictions would be eased. Yet the economy of Greece so desperately needs the tourist Dollar, that the residents of the country will benefit as a side effect from the fact that the tourists wouldn’t be able to look forward to much of a holiday if they were to come here, only to find that the tavernas and bars were closed.

So, yesterday, as we took a walk through the town and along the sea front in 30ºC temperatures, we saw those signs of life that mean so much. The very culture of the country has been struck such a blow by this closure, that it’s been desperately sad to see all the streets and waterfronts that, under normal circumstances, would be littered with tables and chairs all occupied by people having ‘parea,’ keeping company with friends over a coffee, going out on ‘volta‘ night (Sunday) to eat a meal or bump into friends and family at a pavement or waterside café, exhibiting a bereft, almost post-apocalyptic, atmosphere. Somehow it hasn’t been like Greece, it’s been like Greece might have looked after some sci-fi movie’s weird scenario where a nightmare pandemic has struck. But, wait a minute, that’s exactly what has happened.

Even though the outside seating areas of bars and restaurants can open from Monday the 3rd, there are still provisos in place. If the Covid cases were to surge, that could well cause it all to be reversed. Masks are to continue to be mandatory in all outdoor and indoor spaces, with the exception of where people are eating or drinking at a table. Staff in these establishments must take a self-test for Covid at least twice a week, and no music may be played. Why no music? Well, it does make some kind of sense, actually. The feeling is that in bars where they play music quite loudly, it causes people to have to speak up, even shout, in order to have a conversation. In such circumstances, people talking are projecting the micro-particles that come out of their mouths over a much greater distance than if they’re simply talking at normal volume. The virus could thus be spread where people have their masks off to sip a drink or eat something.

It’ll not be until May 15th when all travel restrictions between prefectures will most likely be lifted. This still depends on how the next couple of weeks go, but all being well that will be the case. The incidence of new cases in Greece this past week or so has stabilised, even started to reduce a little, which is pretty important, because over the past few months the number of cases per 1,000 of the population has increased alarmingly.

Anyway, enough of all the analysis, here are some photos, starting with some more that I took as we walked the seafront yesterday. The ‘African dust‘ is still around, and it makes for some murky periods when the sun is obscured, so some of these show the sky to be cloudy, but most of the time it was bright sunshine and the air felt for the first time this year as though a Greek summer were beginning. We needed to seek out shade to sit and sip our take-out coffees and while walking along. That’s the first time this has been the case since last October.

Below are a few shots I took during a midday walk in the hills last weekend…

“The road goes ever on…”

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Vacillate or vaccinate

We’ve been “umming and ahh-ing” about this whole Covid-19 vaccination thing for some time now. By and large, me and the better half are always much keener on prevention than cure, and that’s why we’ve studied diet, lifestyle and exercise (as amateurs, of course) and how each of those can affect one’s health as one moves through the decades. Eating the right things, getting sufficient cardio-vascular exercise, to get it right doesn’t come without a fair degree of study and effort, and it seems to me that most people can’t be bothered. The result is they end up suffering, while still early in their fifties sometimes, all kinds of illnesses that could have been circumvented had they bothered to get clued up.

I tend to view this whole balance between what’s called ‘alternative’ medicine and the conventional kind as a bit like how you look after a car. If you give it the right fuel, service it regularly and give it regular checkups, it’ll serve you well for a very long time. Occasionally you might dent a wing (fender, guys) or something, and then there’s little alternative but to take it to the body shop. So, when I had my hernia op a few years back, there wasn’t much a herbalist could have done about that, it was a ‘mechanical’ thing, like a dented wing, or gasket failure. But as for things like diabetes, heart disease, blood pressure issues – such things are decidedly rarer among those who’ve chosen a healthy diet and exercise regime, fact. They’re like the regular maintenance that avoids the need for too much drastic corrective action, brought on by neglect, shall we say.

So, when this dratted CoronaVirus reared its ugly head and the governments went all-out in their search for a vaccine, when they first declared that they were approving the use of them, we tended to view it with a substantial degree of scepticism. I mean, don’t they usually do field trials for years before releasing such things to the general public? Yet here we were being told that we could be innoculated with vaccines that were only months old. We’ve had a few conversations about this with other people, those few that we’ve been able to converse with, that is, owing to all the lockdown measures that have kept us away from the kind of social contact we’re all used to. And, you know what, after not a few in-depth discussions about the pros and cons, we decided that we’d do it. Much though it goes against the grain in some ways, we have been swayed, largely by one particular conversation with someone a couple of weeks back. When we aired our concerns as outlined above, mainly regarding the speed at which these vaccines have been approved for use, the other person told us, “Yes, but, what these vaccines contain isn’t all newly created chemicals or drugs, they’re more aptly described as containing proven ingredients from vaccines that have shown their worth over the years against other infections, only the cocktail is slightly different.”

Greece, for quite a long time in the earlier stages of the pandemic, was getting praised up hill and down dale for the way in which it handled the thing to keep infections down among the populace. This situation, however, has changed. In recent months the infection rate per 1,000 of the population has well exceeded that of the UK. Greece had reported as many or more daily cases as the UK, yet with only about one sixth of the population. OK, so the vast majority of the cases (positive tests, that is, which of course doesn’t really show how many people actually have the thing) are centred around the two big cities, Athens and Thessaloniki, and their surrounding areas; yet on Crete, where we live, of course, there has nevertheless been an increase. Six months ago we were sitting pretty, so we all thought. We had virtually zero cases week-in-week-out in Lasithi, and only a handful in the other ‘counties,’ Heraklion, Rethymnon and Hania, which are not merely those cities, but their surrounding areas too. In fact, quite often this past few weeks the cases in Heraklion have been 30, 40, sometimes more. The fact is, no one can take anything for granted. Even down the road from us, in Ierapetra, which has (officially at any rate) largely escaped any outbreaks so far, the Police had to break up a ‘Covid party’ the other day, arresting tens of youths all ‘getting down’ without masks or social distancing, yet with plenty of booze and loud music. A ‘super-spreader’ in the making.

Here in Greece, if your age range has been called, it’s a simple procedure to get your appointment. You simply go into your regular pharmacy, give them your AMKA number, and they’ll book you in for the jab. Yesterday, then, off we trotted to our favourite pharmacy (the one where we can get our fix of masks, Dettol or hot water bottles, plus they do sell herbal sleep tablets) and the very nice girl in there simply called our AMKA numbers up on her computer screen, booked our appointments, both within half an hour of each other so we can go together, and even also booked the appointments for the second dose too, exactly three weeks later to the day. All we need to do is turn up at the hospital, go in through the dedicated entrance for vaccine candidates, show them our printouts (which have a QR code on them) and we’ll be done. No fuss, no expense. In fact, the efficiency of the system quite impressed us. Oh, and the printout specifies that you need ID with you too, and your passport will suffice for that one.

Me and the better half, we’ve had AMKA numbers since the system was first introduced. In fact, within a couple of weeks of the system being rolled out, we’d gone down to the Gennadi KEP office (on Rhodes) and walked out ten minutes later with our A4 printouts, bearing our AMKA numbers. No fuss, no expense. I get slightly mystified when I read on various Facebook discussions about people wondering if their AMKA number covers them for this or that, when we’ve had no problems with the system at all. When my beloved needed a checkup a few months back, owing to a few problems with her ‘system,’ shall we say (see this post), her AMKA number was all she needed to get a series of tests done at no expense and she was given a clean bill of health. I wasn’t even aware that some people (ex-pats, of course) seem to have temporary AMKA numbers, that’s a new one on me.

Anyway, we’re booked in for our first dose on Thursday May 27th. I’ll let you know how it goes. It does seem to make sense to do it, though, as it’ll make travelling a whole lot easier if and when we decide to fly anywhere, like back to the UK, at some point in the future.

Once again, I wish you health and safety (but not necessarily of the ‘jobsworth’ variety).

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