Wanted

The photo above was taken on the town beach, just as we were enjoying our Freddos on the beach beds at Chocolicious. I just rather liked the tables and chairs at such an angle. It’s not at all practical, sure, but isn’t it essentially Greek? These actually belong to the Babylon Bar, next door. That’s why you can see the woolly sleeves on the boughs of that tree. Rather unusual, eh? They try hard to make the Babylon a bit like somewhere in the Caribbean. It’s not really something we’d generally approve of, but hypocrites that we are, since we both have a love for reggae music, we overlook that.

Anyway (I really must try and stop beginning my paragraphs with that word!), to the reason why I called this post “Wanted.” It’s been a while since we last took coffee with the neighbours at Angla’i’a‘s, and so yesterday we made a point to wander down there, ostensibly to see if our water bill had arrived in our mailbox, but really to see if anyone was about so that we could cadge a coffee under Angla’i’a‘s huge rubber tree. As we approached her outdoor area, which is a thoroughfare really, but it’s been very much made into hers and Giorgo’s ‘avli‘ anyway, we were rather pleased to see that she was sitting out at her rickety old table with Dimitri, son of Maria, and part of the family that lives in the house below ours. The moment they saw us rounding the corner from our house, the two of them exclaimed, “Well!! They ARE still alive!! Welcome [Καλώς τους!!], “…Welcome! Where on earth have you two been this past few weeks? We thought we’d offended you.

On the table was a dish with a couple of delicious mizithra pancakes, still uneaten, and a couple of cups bearing evidence of the Elliniko that the two had just shared. There was a serviette holder and a bottle of water, condensation running down its chilled sides. Angla’i’a was up and out of her chair in an instant, “You’ll sit for a coffee. Elliniko, metrio, right?

As if we were going to refuse. After all, it was precisely the reason why we’d made the stroll down there. They wanted to know the reason for our prolonged absence from their ‘parea‘ and so we explained that, firstly we’d been beavering away painting and decorating inside and out for our neighbour two doors away, and secondly that we’d had a kind of ‘holiday’ staying in our friends’ apartment down in the town for about a week too. Plus we’d had a few trips that had also needed doing, like the one to the Police in Agios to begin the process of applying for our Biometric Residency Permits. We asked Dimitri how often he goes to town, which is, after all, only 6km down the valley.

“Me? Oh, I don’t go to town at all. Soon as I go there, I want to come home. I don’t stay there a minute more than I need to.” He replied. This from a young man who’s probably still only in his mid-thirties and single. Mind you, he is of very diminutive stature. As is often the case in small Greek communities, owing to the limited gene pool, there are frequently those born with various physical abnormalities. In Dimitri’s case, he’s perfectly formed, only small. He probably wears clothes manufactured for those in their early teens, which evidently his mother buys for him, since he never goes shopping. His voice, too, is slightly strained, a higher pitch than one would expect if one were merely to see his face and not the rest of him. He so reminds me of a Hobbit, but I wouldn’t dare ask him to take his shoes and socks off to prove otherwise. Tell you what though, were to he to be around when they were casting extras for Lord of the Rings, he’d have got work for a certainty. He drives an old red quad bike, primarily because his feet wouldn’t reach the pedals in a normal car.

Dimitris is always cheerful, always beams when he sees us and loves to shout a loud greeting whenever we pass on the road. As with the rest of his family, he’s also extremely generous. We only have to do the smallest favour for them, and he’ll turn up at the door with a bottle of goat’s milk and some freshly-picked produce.

So we sat down and were served our Ellinikos by Angla’i’a and the four of us caught up a little. I was compelled to enquire as to whether those last two mizithra pancakes needed eating, and was immediately told to get them down me. Couldn’t let them go to waste, now, could I? We covered the usually subjects, with Angla’i’a also telling us that she really wanted to get vaccinated, but somehow hadn’t so far got around to it. Dimitris, on the other hand, waved a hand in front of him and said, “Not me. Not that I’m against it, but I am apprehensive. Anyway, here in the village we’ve got our own little world. There’s no Covid to worry about here, is there?”

There was no way we were going to take issue with him, but later as we discussed that point of view, we did agree that it’s slightly foolhardy to assume that the village would remain Covid-free indefinitely. Let’s face it, people do come here from other parts of the world, even other parts of Greece, areas where the incidence of Covid is much higher than in Lasithi. There are, (although only four, agreed) houses in the village owned by people from Germany, Scandinavia and the UK, and those people turn up after having flown into Greece, tests notwithstanding, and do bring an element of risk with them.

Plus, as Yvonne (Maria) pointed out, there is the slight contradiction when you hear Greeks expressing reservations about having the vaccine. If I had a Euro for every kitchen drawer in a Greek home that I’d seen that’s stuffed so full of packets of prescription drugs that they could open their own pharmacy, I’d be a rich man. To generalise a little, granted, Greeks are rather prone to rushing off to the doctor for every little thing. The general practitioners are also rather keen to write out a prescription before you can say ‘side effects,’ and even more so to refer you to a specialist. That’s one reason why every Greek town’s side streets are packed full of signs advertising the specialists within. There are “…ologists” all over the place covering every possible branch of medicine. Walk along a side street in a Greek town and you’ll see what I mean. Add to that the paediatricians, the dentists, the private opticians and you have a plethora of choices for having an examination of just about every organ in your body, twice.

When it comes to man-made drugs, the Greeks knock them back enthusiastically and with regularity. Now, I’m no expert, I know, but the way it was explained to me what was actually in the vaccines, I’d say they are a whole lot less risky than knocking back man-made drug concoctions that always carry the risk of side effects, some of which can be pretty dodgy. All man-made drugs have side effects, fact. Now, the vaccine for Covid as I understand it (I’m quite sure someone will rush to put me right on this one, I can sense them limbering up their fingers even as I type this myself), contains antibodies, all of which have been used for years in other vaccines for other diseases. Yes, this particular cocktail is new, but by and large, it seems to this layman that the risks involved are much lower than those from artificially produced drugs, which, after all, are primarily foisted upon the unsuspecting public in the rush to make a profit. There, that ought to give the keyboard experts some ammunition to have a go at me, eh?

Where were we? Oh, yes, our chat with Dimitri and Angla’i’a. Dimitri confirmed that he works seven days a week, all year round. Every month the work changes subtly. It’s only another two months before he begins, along with the family, this year’s olive harvest. They have so many trees that they can harvest olives every year. The olive’s two year cycle is ‘staggered’ among their trees, so that one year they harvest from some trees, and the next from the others. We made the mistake of suggesting we buy some oil from the family. By the time we’d drunk our coffees, expressed our warm appreciation for the fact that they were so put out that they hadn’t seen us for a while, and Manolis, now a spritely 89 years old had turned up and sat down with us, it was time for us to go back to the house. We couldn’t leave before Angla’i’a had told us to hang on a moment. She dashed into the house and came back out a few minutes later with a carrier bag, and this was what was in it…

Yes, that bottle is full of olive oil. Our enquiring as to whether we could buy some from our neighbours had promoted her to decide that we evidently were in need of some to replenish our supplies. By the time we’d walked the few minutes back up to the house, we’d both again expressed our appreciation for these wonderful, humble people, among whom, almost exactly two years ago now, we’d accidentally landed ourselves, plus the fact that they’d missed our company.

Just to finish off, once again, it’s photo time…

Above: From the South-western end of the sea front at Ierapetra, you get this view looking eastward across the bay. Can you spot the young girl’s face (in profile) in the mountains?

Above: View of the town beach showing the Venetian Fortress, now almost completely renovated. We’re looking forward to it finally reopening for the public to go inside.

Last two above: We used to admire these plants on the local beach at Kiotari where we lived on Rhodes. They’re Sea Daffodils, or Pancratium Maritimum, and they’re quite magnificent at this time of the year. They grow in such hostile conditions. This beach is actually a lot nicer to look at than these photos would suggest. It’s east of the town and right beside the road, but is seldom crowded…

Plus, looking the other way, you see this in the corner of the beach…

Above: Again, it doesn’t look much, but as I sat there on that wall at around 6.30pm the other evening, I was able to study, wading in those marshes, a Sandpiper, a Turnstone and a yellow wagtail. I was sitting so still that the sandpiper came to within a few feet of me. That gave me a thrill. Both the Sea Daffodil photos and the beach shots were taken at around 6.30pm.

That’s about it for this one. Hope you liked it. See you soon.

Read about the books: https://johnphilipmanuel.wixsite.com/works

Exuberance

I believe I’m feeling rather exuberant. Sometimes it just hits you, this ‘being aware of one’s blessings’ malarkey, and right now I’m well aware of mine. Spending this few days staying at our friends’ apartment in town, going out on foot every day and walking to the restaurants and bars by night, it brings back memories of so many wonderful Greek holidays over the years before we moved here. I’d say it’s compounded by the fact that so many poor unfortunate people seem to be suffering in so many ways in all parts of this planet of ours; what with flash floods, hurricanes, civil wars, religious extremism putting the fear of God into people (and that’s an ironic pun that one doesn’t laugh at), we really do appreciate the relative stability of life in our little corner of Crete.

So often, in those years before we arrived in Greece as permanent residents, we’d be coming to the end of a particularly lovely holiday, and we’d be sitting at the taverna table on the last night, or maybe wiggling our toes in the sand just below the water line on a favourite beach and saying to each other, “We really don’t want to go home tomorrow.” I know, in the real world it’s not possible to live an endless vacation. Tell you what, though, if you get it right, living here can bring you a sense of happiness that’s very hard to describe to someone who hasn’t experienced it.

A lot of inner happiness depends on being content with what you have, not fretting about what you don’t have. What we have here is a modest little life in a small house, with a small car and a modest income. What we don’t have are worries about work, how to pay the next bill, or deal with serious crime rates, plus other things besides. And last night, as we sat on the waterfront eating a splendid meal of dolmades (both types, those wrapped in vine leaves and those wrapped in courgette flowers), fava with chopped sweet red onion on top, mini hortopites, two different salads, a pasta salad with a bit of spiciness thrown in, some wholemeal pittas, Cretan cucumbers and green olives, and a carafe of local white wine, we experienced one of those moments of excitement when you find yourself saying, even after 16 years here, “We don’t have to pack a suitcase and get whisked off to the airport tomorrow!”

So, for anyone reading this who’d love to be here, but right now can’t be, please accept these few photos with my love and best wishes. It’ll all still be here next time you come…

Read about the books: https://johnphilipmanuel.wixsite.com/works

A plug for the old ways

I’m a wet shaver. It’s not perhaps the most popular way of shaving among the modern, trendy, busy-busy men of today (not many of whom shave anyway, it seems), but there you are. I am what I am. I do have an electric razor, oh yes, but I don’t rate it well against my trusty old twin-blade that I’ve used (well, the disposable ones, which we do recycle, by the way [one has to be so careful with what one writes on-line these days]) for many decades. I’ve tried, I really have. I’ve been through a few different types of electric ones, starting with that one that used to be advertised on TV by the billionaire who owned the company that made his brand. “I loved this razor so much, I bought the company.” If you can remember that ad, you’re kidding no one when you tell them how old you are. He was lying, by the way. I’m here to prove it. I’ve progressed from that one through the rotary bladed ones, even having one with three rotary heads once, phew.

The fact is, though, however thin the metal membrane that protects the moving blades may be on an electric one, it’s never the same as the cutting blade having direct contact with the skin. OK, I have changed over the years, must admit. Owing to my wife’s insistence that I try it, I did start applying a spot of moisturiser after a shave a few years ago and, give or take a shave or two, I still apply it today. See, I can learn!

Now, assuming you haven’t already switched off and gone to look at yet another kitten getting up to all sorts of antics on a social media video (I’d question whether that has any more merit than reading my drivel, though), you’re probably wondering, “What has all this about his shaving habits got to do with life in Greece?”

Well, I’ll tell you. Me and the beloved are on holiday, yay! Well, I say ‘on holiday,’ (‘vacation,’ folks, but we’re British), but it’s a fairly modest version of ‘on holiday‘ by anyone’s standards, I must admit.

See, over the past 22 months since we bought the house here on Crete we’ve gone through money like an Exocet goes through the atmosphere on its way to hit its target. We’ve gone through cash quicker than a lazy person gets out of the job centre when he/she (got to be gender neutral these days) learns that there’s fear of work. So, (and I’m not pleading poverty here, we’re doing OK, all right?) we realised that to go away anywhere this year might just be a tad unwise financially. Got to let the coffers recover somewhat after all the stuff we’ve done on the house to get it how we want it.

But, as luck would have it, our friends with whom we’d stayed for a few weeks when we first moved here from Rhodes back in September 2019 have gone to Rhodes to visit his (the husband’s) family for about ten days or so. Their apartment in a quiet (that’s a qualified ‘quiet,’ since it’s not at all ‘quiet’ by comparison to life in the village, a fact that we’ve re-learned since trying to sleep last night) part of Ierapetra Town was thus unoccupied. So, with a little negotiation, it was agreed that we could come stay here for a few days while they’re away. Owing to my wife’s propensity to tidy up everywhere where she ever is for any time longer than three minutes, they’re the winners in this arrangement too. They know that when they come back, their normally upside-down kitchen will be spick, span and totally organised in readiness for their return, a fact that led them to plead with us not to go when we finally moved into our house in October 2019.

Look, I am getting to the point, honest. Nearly there. We thought, “Why not stay in Timotheo and Sylvia’s for a few days. It’ll be fun, and just like the old days. To be able to step outside and walk to the restaurants, the coffee bars and the beach without using the car will be relaxing for us, after all. That way we get a change of scenery, and they get their plants watered and their kitchen given the old once-over. It’s a win-win situation. We packed up the car with what we thought we’d need and drove the 8km from the village to the apartment yesterday afternoon. As we were carrying the stuff we’d brought with us up the stairway to the apartment, it did strike us, have to admit, that we may as well have been flying half-way across Europe we had that much stuff with us. Cue another link that that brilliant comedy routine by George Carlin, click here and be prepared to laugh at all of us, for our weird ways!

And so, ladies and gentlemen and children, to the point of this post. Over the many decades during which we used to holiday in Greece, we got used to the fact that nowhere we ever stayed ever had a plug for one of these…

Anyone who’s ever holidayed in Greece in the past half a century will know where I’m coming from with this. Now, we were always the ‘stay small’ types (which I’m sure if you’re a seasoned sufferer of all my ramblings, you’ll already know). We never stayed (not if we could help it) in ‘hotels.’ The real Greek experience is not to be found in hotels full of people from the same country that we were from, or maybe from Germany and Scandinavia too. Sit in the restaurant for breakfast and be served by a Polish waitress, eh? Wow, sooo Greek – not. Sit on the beach or around the pool and never even hear a Greek voice – no way José, or maybe Giorgo. So, if you’re the ‘hotel’ type (no offence, right? Please don’t write in), you may not have had this experience, but if you ever stayed in studios, village rooms or maybe apartments, which were much more likely to bring you into contact with the real local people, you’ll know only too well that they don’t seem to believe in plugs for sinks or baths (not that we ever encountered a bath in such circumstances, it was usually one of those ‘wet’ rooms with a drain hole in the tiled floor and the need to evacuate the toilet roll before you showered, to stop it getting sodden from the spray).

In fact, when we moved into our house in Makrylia a couple of years ago, I measured both plug holes in the dual stainless steel kitchen sink, plus the one in our shower basin in the bathroom and trotted off to the local plumber’s supply store to buy a few plugs so that we could actually fill the sink with water to do the washing up. As it happens, the sink in our bathroom has one of those pop-up type plugs which you simply push down with your fingers to seal and is lifted by a lever behind the mixer tap when you want to drain the water out. In our house it even still worked! Amazing.

All of which brings me to the point – and why I mentioned shaving all those aeons ago at the top of this post. To have a decent wet shave one needs to fill the sink at least half-full with piping hot water. This enables one to soak the flannel and plaster it across one’s chin, in readiness for applying the shaving gel. Plus, it’s needed during the course of the shave to vigorously wiggle the razor about in to disperse the build-up between the blades. All very technical, I know. So, imagine my chagrin when this evening, in preparation for hitting the town for a second time this holiday, I went to have a shave in the bathroom of our friends’ apartment, only to find that there was no plug anywhere. When I shouted to the better half that there was no plug (and I’d searched the bathroom high and low by that time), she rather helpfully replied, “NO! they didn’t have one when we stayed here two years ago either!” Funny how I’d not remembered that. You’d have thought I would have.

Ah, but now I do remember. For the entire few weeks that we’d stayed here before moving into the house, most of our ‘stuff’ was still packed up in our over-stuffed car, or still in boxes wrapped in heavy-duty clingfilm en route to the new house from Rhodes via the moving company. So I’d bitten the bullet and shaved with a portable rechargeable electric razor for the duration. It was nowhere near as close a shave as I like, but it sufficed. Oh the blessed relief when we first got into our new home and I was able to fill the bathroom sink with hot water and luxuriate in a decent wet shave. Incidentally, let no one tell you that they shave with an electric razor because it’s quicker. I’ve timed it often and it’s just as quick to have a wet shave.

Wait a minute! Where are you going? I hadn’t finished the story yet. There was that time when I found a plug in a studio in Thassos, only to discover that it was the wrong size for the sink. No how did that…?

Never mind. Another time, eh?

Read about the books: https://johnphilipmanuel.wixsite.com/works

No sense wasting an opportunity

This is the view from the Panorama Café/taverna, on the road to Sitia a few km up the hill from the village of Kavousi, or Karpouzi as I tend to call it more often than not. It’s also a view of their rather delicious portokalop’ita [Orange pie/cake] which one simply is compelled to order a slice of when taking coffee there. I was good though, because I didn’t have the dollop of vanilla ice cream that you can have served up on top if you so wish. We were there a couple of days ago, for the first time since we’d taken my sister Jane and her hubby Martin up there during their stay with us last year, which would have been around the third week of September. Can’t believe it’s almost a year since they were here, and since we last enjoyed this view…

It was a bit hazy this visit, which is why it’s slightly more difficult than normal to make out Agios Nikolaos across the bay, which was the reason why we’d taken the opportunity to drop by the Panorama on Tuesday anyway. After months of waiting, and one phone call from the Ag Nik Police to postpose the appointment by a few days, we finally went there to start the process of obtaining our Biometric Residency Permits. I know that a lot of foreigners living in Greece will have got theirs some time ago, and that’s fine by me, but we were in no particular hurry. If you’re a long-term permanent resident in Greece, and you’re from the UK, which – in case you didn’t know [heavy irony here] left the European Union this past December 31st – then you’re obliged to exchange the previous A6 Card permits for the shiny new credit-card sized Biometric ones, following the UK’s exit.

Now, if you’re not about to buy a house or a car, then it’s very unlikely that you’re going to need to show anyone your permit anyway. Ours hadn’t seen the light of day for years until we bought our house here on Crete in September 2019, and they’ve not been out of the file at home since then either. Also, if you’ve been living here year-round for 16 years, as we have, you also shouldn’t find it at all difficult to get the thing changed to the new format version either. I’d read all kinds of horror stories on Facebook from people having horrendous problems satisfying the officials at their local Police Station or Immigration Office with the required documentation. If you believe everything you read then you’d approach the whole procedure with fear and trepidation.

OK, so it does help if you speak Greek, but I’ve also heard from others who’ve had nothing but praise for the kindness and cooperation of those officials they’ve had to deal with in getting their permits processed. So, undeterred, I made the initial phone call to the Ag Nik number I was given by the police in our local Station in Ierapetra, and, after a couple of weeks of trying, finally got an answer too. It was a female voice on the other end and I asked if I could make our appointments, plus what documentation we’d need to bring along with us. She was very courteous and patient while she listed what I’d need to bring, both for myself and my wife, and we made the appointment, which was for several months later. This proved to be last week, after a male officer had called me a day or two before the original appointment to ask if we’d mind rescheduling, which was no problem to us, so we agreed on Tuesday August 24th at 10.00am.

We walked in the door of the Police Staton in downtown Agios Nikolaos at about 8 minutes to 10.00, and the officer in the booth at the entrance took our details, picked up his phone and spoke to someone, before inviting us to sit and wait for a few moments. He told us we could wait inside, where it’s air-conditioned, which was a welcome invitation if ever there was one. This was August on Crete, after all. The better half and I both expressed the view that the young officer looked to us like he might not even have started shaving yet, a view which we extended to several other uniformed policemen who came and went while we waited there. We very soon recalled what we used to be told a few decades ago, that the day policemen start looking like school kids is the day you realise you’re getting older. We instantly revised our view, of course. Must have been the light. Yes, that was it.

As we sat there on a comfy enough kanapé [look it up, go on! Copy and paste this into Google Translate if you like – Καναπέ], we noticed that the stairs were to our right. These were the ones we’d be climbing once called to the appropriate department where we’d be interviewed. Just to the left of the stairs, which were through a doorway, was a rather formidable-looking door with a metal grill covering the upper third of it. It was painted a rather depressing grey gloss colour. I suggested that it may be a holding cell for anyone brought in overnight, maybe someone who’s the worse for drink, for example. We couldn’t see through the grill, it looked very dark from the brightness of the lobby where we sat, and my beloved had to resist a strong urge to get up, go over and peer inside.

“Oh, I wouldn’t.” I proffered, “some madman inside might throw himself at that grill and grab your hair through it or something. Don’t take the risk, I say.” She acquiesced and remained seated beside me. Amazingly, at a mere three minutes past the hour, and much to our surprise and delight, I was called by the young officer to go up to the office.

“If you would, please go up individually. if you go first, sir, then when you come back your wife may go. OK?” I strongly resisted the urge to ask him, “Shouldn’t you be in school?” Mind you, it is the summer holiday period at the moment.

So off I trotted, document bag clutched to my chest, up two flights of stairs and along a corridor, asking directions of a couple of staff on the way, and was soon sitting across the desk (and behind a glass screen from) a young woman of about 35 to 40. She smiled and asked me to sit down. I handed her the papers that she’d asked me to bring along, which consisted of four passport sized photos, photocopies of our Tax Return (E1) forms for the past 6 years, my AFM and my AMKA numbers, and two photocopies of my passport. Also in the file was my parabolo (A4 printout from the KEP office, which you take to the Post Office or a bank and pay a €16 fee) and my health insurance details, plus a couple of utility bills in my name. Interestingly, she hadn’t asked me to bring along evidence that we had health insurance, although I’d heard that without proving you have cover either privately or through the State system, you wouldn’t be able to process your application. I did point that document out to her, and she took a cursory glance at it and left it in the file which she was to return to me at the end of the interview.

My wife and I have had our AMKA numbers (which are very similar to a National Insurance number in the UK) from the very start of the system when they were introduced some ten years ago or more. When they came into effect, you simply went along to the KEP office, filled out a form and were issued with your AMKA number in the shape of the usual A4 printout. An AMKA number covers you for any emergency treatment as a result of a road accident, for example. It also covered my wife for her examinations some months ago when we had a small worry about her health. Plus it covers one for one’s vaccination against Covid-19 too. It’s an excellent state-provided facility for residents, whether ex-pats or native. I was somewhat confused when on the social media pages I was reading when I was thinking about making our appointment for our Biometric cards I saw lots of people talking about temporary AMKA numbers and whether their AMKA number covered them for anything, or talking about them expiring. This was all news to me, since we’d had ours for many years and they’re permanent. I can only assume that people who live part of the year in their home country and part of the time here in Greece get issued temporary ones, but in our case, thankfully, no sweat, we have them, and they’re permanent.

After a nervous ten minutes sitting across the desk from this young lady, she told me everything was in order and would I now pop back downstairs and send my wife up. She said that once both of us had been interviewed, we’d have to hang around for up to half an hour while she started the process and printed out a form for each of us to show that we’d begun the application, which we were to keep with us until the next interview. Once I got back downstairs to the lobby, the better half went up, after I’d explained to her how to find the office.

Soon, and with very little pain, we were once again sitting in the lobby waiting for our print-outs. While we were waiting, I asked the young officer on reception if there was anywhere close by where I could purchase a bottle of water. He directed me to a supermarket a few metres away and off I went. When I got back my better half was super-excited about what I’d just missed. There was a tough-looking guy in jeans and a t-shirt, shaven head too, standing with two uniformed officers just near to that steel door I mentioned earlier. I thought that the tough guy might be a suspect or something. Turns out that, no, he was a detective! I had actually heard a shout or two, plus a rather rough-sounding smoker’s cough while we’d been sat there waiting. It turned out that, while I was away, the resident of that cell (yes, it was a holding cell) had been visited by the officers and gone ballistic.

As I sat back down and handed my better half the bottle of water, she said, “I’ve seen him!! I’ve seen a criminal! He’s in handcuffs and everything!

I had to resist the urge to fan her with my handkerchief. She went on to describe what this poor soul looked like. Seems he was only in his thirties and, from the conversation she’d heard him have with the officers, had been brought in smashed out of his mind some time during the night. All human life is here, folks. I think the experience, coupled with a spoonful of fear, in case he’d broken loose, quite made the better half’s day.

Anyway, within the half-hour time period that the young woman had told us we’d be waiting, the officer on reception again bade us go upstairs, this time together. The young woman had us sign a couple of bits of paper, then gave us our printouts. She said that in the next ten days we’d be receiving a phone call to go and pay a visit to the other Police Station on the outskirts of town, where we’d have to show both our passports and these printouts. I’m assuming that’s when we’ll be fingerprinted. Following that visit, she said, everything goes off to Athens and we’d then be told by phone once our permits had arrived. By and large, a result.

We were out of there by 10.45am, and so decided that, since it was due (we’d received the reminder SMS and a courtesy phone call), we’d take the car for its bi-annual roadworthiness test, or KTEO test as it’s called over here. The test centre that we use is just outside the village of Pachi Ammos, on the way back from Ag Nik, and so we drove into the test bay at around ten past eleven. I love the way the system works here in Greece when it comes to testing the car. In less densely populated areas like this, you just turn up, report to the desk and then sit and watch through a huge glass window while an engineer takes your vehicle through the testing procedure. They shove a probe up the exhaust (always make my eyes water, that one), check all the lights, wobble the front and rear suspension to check the shocks, test the brakes and a few other things besides. The whole bay is probably the length of a tennis court and has two lanes for busy periods. It’s open ended, but under cover the whole way. While you sit and watch, you can have a coffee, tea or juice if you want to. It’s all very civilised. Once the car is driven out the far end, the mechanic sends the message that it’s passed through the computer system to the guy on reception, who calls you over, gets you to sign a couple of forms, takes your fee (€45 every two years) and reminds you of the date in two years time when you’ll need to have it tested again. You do go back in the intervening year, but that’s only purely for an emissions test, which is €12 (I think!).

Every vehicle that’s passed its KTEO test also has a small round sticker (not much bigger than a coin) attached to the rear number plate, which is colour coded and shows the year and month when it’s next due for a test. This is a brilliant system and means that any police officer doing a spot check can tell instantly if you’re legal. Yes folks, Greece is indeed slowly (or actually, quite rapidly) moving into the 21st century.

Biometric Permits now under way and the car tested for another two years, we were only about 5km from the Panorama. No sense wasting that opportunity then, eh?

Finally, entirely unconnected to that saga above, here’s a photo I recently discovered in my “office” while going through some old stuff. It brought back a flood of wonderful memories of holidays on the island of Poros, back in 1977, 78, 80 and 82. This was taken in September 1978, and the two guys (waiters) sitting with my wife Yvonne (Maria) are both featured in the upcoming new book “A Motley Collection of Greek Oddities.”

Oh, all right then. Here’s yet another shot of the cat…

He’s a sly little devil. he’s quite wormed his way into our affections now. Follows us around and stretches out nearby as we drink our coffees, or have an early evening drink in the garden. When I put out his ‘puddy tat’ treats, he’s all around my feet in anticipation. I know, I’m just an old softy.

Read about the books: https://johnphilipmanuel.wixsite.com/works

On moggies and music

Looks like our Mavkos ‘Mk. 2’ now has his feet firmly planted under the table. In fact, all of him, by the looks of it. He spends about four hours lazing around this part of the garden most mornings. Tough life for a moggie, eh? Mind you, occasionally he likes a change of scenery…

In view of the fact that there are probably a dozen or so feral cats in this part of the village, we reckon he’s now sussed that he’s the only one that we’re nice to, and so has claimed our garden as his territory. We don’t harm the others, obviously, but we have been known to point the hosepipe in their direction when they’ve tried to muscle in while Mavkos is eating. We’re determined that he’s the only one who’s going to eat chez Manuel. After all, he took the time to make a friend of me while I was watering a couple of months ago now. Fair’s fair, after all. Plus, we’re not about to fall into the trap that so many ex-pats here fall into (and not only the British), of feeding dozens of them. We don’t give him a full meal anyway. What we give him (and only once a day, early evening usually, when he’s now taken to approaching the French windows to see if we’re about) is a few pussy cat treats. You can buy them in sachets for about 79c in the local supermarket.

Feeding feral cats is a bit of a hot potato to be honest. A lot of foreigners who move out here buy huge bags of dry cat food and do a daily run between all the dumpsters in their area, putting down food. The result is that the cats start depending on humans, and give up doing what they used to do naturally, for the benefit of the community, which was to keep the rat population down, for starters. Plus their numbers were regulated by the local conditions, however harsh that may seem. The fact is though, that they are wild animals, however cute they may look. Ex-pat actions have resulted over the past few decades in the feral cat population all over Greece burgeoning, as they grow fat on cat food, reproduce in greater numbers and thus become a nuisance. It’s a fact, sorry, and I am an animal lover. It’s why I don’t eat them (animals in general, of course. Only a few nations eat cats). If you’d really like to get hot under the collar about my views, there’s a whole chapter on the dog and cat thing in my book “A Jay in the Jacaranda Tree.”

So we give Mavkos a little treat, but not enough to make him depend too much on us. We like him feeling comfy around us, but if we were to go away for a while, he’d do OK.

Best move on, before I start getting hate mail.

Music. Do you like Greek traditional music? The Greeks call it ‘La’ika.’ If you’ve clicked that link, you’ll see that Wikipedia seems to prefer to call it ‘La’iko,’ but the radio stations here in Greece that play only this type of music universally use the term ‘La’ika,’ with an ‘a’ at the end. Maybe it’s the plural, I don’t know. Basically, it’s all the music that uses primarily the Bouzouki as a solo instrument, and the rhythms are limited to those that accompany the traditional dances, like the Hasapiko, Syrtaki, Kalamatiano, Rebetiko etc. Don’t confuse the word with La’iki‘ [pronounced lah-ee-key] by the way, because a ‘La’iki‘ is a local street market. Oops., eh? Once again, Wiki says it’s ‘La’iki agora,’ which I suppose is strictly correct, but all the Greeks I know simply call the market the ‘La’iki.’ The word ‘agora‘ translates as ‘market,’ so the phrase translates near enough as ‘people’s market.’

Anyway, I wanted to talk briefly about the music. With this here internet thingie it’s opened up so many possibilities for listening to World music, hasn’t it? We’ve got a smart speaker here in the house. It’s an Amazon Echo, and it unnerves us sometimes. My wife swears there’s a woman in there called Alexa who’s spying on us the whole time. But, despite that, she’s now acquired the habit of calling on Alexa to time everything she cooks. She’s very good at that sort of thing. What she’s not quite so good at is finding Greek radio stations. They’re in there all right, but if you want Alexa to find one you have to experiment with all kinds of weird and wonderful ways of pronouncing a Greek word before she might just get what you’re on about, although usually she won’t, and she’ll give you something entirely different and you have to tell her to stop before your ears get assaulted by some ‘orrible yoof shouting at you. Oh, sorry, they call it ‘rap’ or something don’t they? To me it’s nothing to do with music and everything to do with some bloke (or girl) shouting angrily at me the whole time. Me, getting old?

Anyway, one of the ‘skills’ you can activate using the Alexa app on your phone or tablet is ‘Global Player,’ which reputes to be able find you any radio station you like from anywhere in the world. I’ve found, though, that the only way to get the station that we like (I say ‘we’, but that translates as ‘my beloved wife’ of course) is to open the app on the iPad, search for Dalkas and then it’ll find it. Once you’ve played the station once, it’ll always show up when you go to the “Play’ tab in the Alexa app’s home page. Believe me, if you want to hear the kind of music that belts out in traditional tavernas, you need to give Dalkas a try. If you click on the link there, it’ll take you to Dalkas’ home page. Then click where it says “Ακούστε Ζωντανά” and see what you think. I’d hazard a guess that if you have any taste for Greek music you’ll be as hooked as we are. There are a few other stations in Greece playing similar music, the best of the rest being Derti, but Dalkas takes some beating.

And so to the latest clutch of photos…

Above: On a recent power walk I actually got out on to the hillsides before the sun was up. Here you can just make out the twinkling lights of the village, minutes before they went out and the sun crested the hills behind where I was standing.

Above: Another beautiful little beetle I found outside the house. Sadly this little guy was already dead, but isn’t he (she?) lovely all the same? It’s only about the length of your finger-nail.

Above: This is the first of a series (the rest are below) that I took while wandering around the old town of Ierapetra the other day. It’s nowhere near as beautiful as the Cyclades, or Lindos on Rhodes, but it does nevertheless have a charm and an ambience that evokes a feeling for what it may have been like before Ierapetra developed into the town it is today. Many homes don’t have gardens, but they don’t let that stop them, they simply fill the streets with pots.

Above: I love the angle of the electricity meter in this shot. I wonder, does the chap who reads the meters have a crick in his neck?

Above: I dunno, but what is it that gives me the feeling that they don’t use that door much these days?

And, finally, what I love about the Old Town area is that most of the streets empty out at the beach, where there’s a lovely row of bars and restaurants right beside the water’s edge…

Even more finally, here’s the puddy tat enjoying his evening treat (on two different evenings)…

Read about the books: https://johnphilipmanuel.wixsite.com/works

Hello, Dolly?

Last Sunday morning we went for a stroll around the village again. It really is a nice way to pass an hour or two, since you can rarely walk the entire village without coming across someone who wants to share a few minutes chat, and it’s a truly enjoyable process, this gradually getting to know our neighbours a little better as time passes.

As we walked down the sloping ‘street’ where Popi lives, she was outside gathering in some washing from one of those folding washing contraptions that you so often see in basic holiday accommodation. You know the ones I mean, surely. They’re a collection of metal rods on a folding frame that usually requires a couple of fairly hefty stones placed strategically on one or two of the cross-bars that sit on the ground, in order to avoid the whole thing being blown away by the first breath of wind. Small balconies in tourist accommodation all across the country sport these things, and at this time of year they’re usually laden with garishly-coloured beach towels and drying swimming costumes. They’re pretty common among locals too, especially when they have very little outside space in which to dry their washing.

As is the case with most of the villagers we talk to, she was quick to commend us for trying to get some exercise. “You out for one of your walks?” She asked, as we approached her, while she plucked the final pair of smalls from the drying frame and clutched it to her chest along with the rest of the washing that she was bringing in. You put your washing out at this time of the year, and it’s dry a quarter of an hour later. It’s one of the plus points about the August weather – and there aren’t many, believe me. We resisted the urge to reply, “No, we’re taking flying lessons in a Cessna Business Jet.” But then, it’s only a way of starting a conversation. So we answered with the fairly obvious, “Yes, got to get the heart pumping now and again, eh?”

A lot of our village chats tend to begin in the same way. The next comment from our neighbour, and in this case it was no different, is usually, “Well done. You’re doing the right thing, bravo.” It seems that most of our neighbours now know our routine, and approve. You get so as you know how to read the signs too. If the person you’re encountering has a little time on his or her hands, they’ll always move on to, “Sit a while. I’ll fix you a drink,” and that’s the sign that they’d rather appreciate a little company and a nice chinwag for half an hour or so. In such cases you’ll always not only get a fruit juice (the Greeks drink fruit juice by the gallon, seems to me. Almost as much as they drink Coca Cola), but you’ll also get a plate of boiled sweets placed in front of you, a dish of random small chocolate bars (yes, even in this heat) or perhaps some chopped melon or a bunch of fresh grapes. Maybe there’ll be some homemade Greek delicacy or other too. What never happens is that you simply get given a drink and nothing else.

If the person is a bit pushed for time (which is rare, true), they’ll simply stand there and carry on conversing until you say, “Well, best let you get on.” What they’ll never do is tell you themselves that they haven’t got time today. It’s not the done thing. It isn’t polite. In the case of this particular encounter with Popi, having sat for an hour with her the previous time, it was clear that she did indeed need to ‘get on.’ She cooks for a few men in the family, even though her own beloved hubby died some years ago, and this was a Sunday morning. Having covered the subject of the heatwave and the fires in various parts of the country, and assured her that we do have air-conditioning at home (although that’s a sore point, because the only unit that actually works broke down on us today – again), we exchanged pleasantries, wished each other ‘kali syne’heia‘ and continued on our way.

It wasn’t long before we were approaching the village kafeneion, so we decided that, since it was already a few weeks since we’d last stopped by (for the first time since moving here), we’d drop in and sip an Elliniko, hopefully with some scintillating conversation to go with it. There was only one table occupied, and two men sat there. One was Manolis, he who had the fall and broke his hip not long after we’d moved to the village, and the other was the proprietor himself, Iraklis. Not exactly a bustling clientele then. How the place stays open is a mystery to us. Iraklis was evidently pleased to see us making a return visit after our first, some weeks ago. He’d have been forgiven for thinking that, curiosity satisfied, we wouldn’t darken his door again. The two men, Iraklis with his wild whiskers and perpetual cigarette (roll your own) fixed between two fingers, and Manolis, who’ll be 89 in a couple of weeks time (a fact about which he proudly reminded us) both invited us to sit with them. In view of the fact that there was no other clientele in the place, it would have been a bit unsociable to sit on a different table anyway.

It never pays to refer to the current sweltering weather, because the response you’ll get is a shrug of the shoulders and a ‘tch‘, indicating that you’re expected to understand that this is Greece, and it’s August. Duh! OK, yes, it has been exceptionally hot this past week or two, and global warming’s the hot topic everywhere of course, but in August everyone who can simply sits still in semi-darkness and waits for the month to pass. After further commiserating with Iraklis over the fact that his wife only died a few years ago, and they’d had a wonderful marriage of over 40 years, my better half gave a knowing nod to both men, and suggested that she ought to take on the project of finding each of them a woman. What is it about women that seems to make them feel that they have a responsibility to relieve either a bachelor or a widower of his loneliness? Well, my beloved for one certainly takes this responsibility seriously. Iraklis was quick to dismiss the idea. He’s very happy on his own these days, thank you very much. No amount of suggestions by my well-meaning spouse could sway him. Someone to clean? “Bah! There’s no cleaning needed. I don’t make the place messy.

Someone to cook? “I cook very well myself, thank you very much. Besides, from around 3.00pm onwards every day my son Manolis takes over the running of the place and he’s an excellent chef. I can eat like a king right here if I want to.”

Having exhausted all avenues with the highly resistant Iraklis, Yvonne-Maria turned her attention to Manolis, whose initial response was to burst out laughing heartily, once again reminding us that he was soon to be 89. What would he want with a woman about the place? It also gave us further opportunity to examine his teeth, which, as I mentioned in a post last year some time, take a very responsible position in that they take the need for social distancing very seriously, since you could feed a freshly fried homemade taverna chip between any two of them, top or bottom gum. One thing we both noticed though, was the fact that we’d never seen Manoli smoking. So we asked him, did he ever smoke? I mean, come on, a Greek man of his generation, they’re practically born with a roll-your-own between their lips, aren’t they?

Oh yes, I did smoke for a few years when I was younger. I was a carpenter. Used to make tables, chairs, doors and frames, all kinds of furniture for the house. One day I was doing something heavy with some large shafts of wood, when I ran one backwards into my abdomen. It hurt so much I had to be taken to the hospital. They did a series of tests and examinations and the doctor told me: “You’d better quit the smoking, or the next time you’re brought in here may well be your last.

It seems the examinations had thrown up a few pointers as to what was happening to his heart and lungs owing to his 80-a-day habit. That was 25 years ago, and he hasn’t picked up a cigarette since. Yvonne asked him. “And you haven’t had any craving? Didn’t you cut down to just a few a day? Didn’t you have a relapse and start again?

“Nope. Walked out of the hospital and never touched tobacco again.” Manolis said this with a deserved degree of pride.

“That’s why you’re still here, and in pretty strapping health at your age!” Yvonne-Maria told him. He pointed to his ‘bastouni‘, his walking stick, which was sitting across his lap, and replied that it was the only concession he makes these days to advancing age.

While this conversation was going on, Iraklis had managed to ask us what we were drinking, and we’d both ordered a Greek coffee. After we’d conversed a little while longer and covered a few other topics, like the few foreigners who have houses in the village, the Scandinavian gentleman who’s due to arrive in the next week or so, and the British couple, the husband of which boosts Iraklis’ beer sales by quite some margin when they’re in residence up in the village, it was time for us to make our excuses and take our leave. On our first visit, Iraklis had insisted that the coffees be on the house. This time, as I went to extract a few coppers from my purse, Manolis waved a dismissive hand and insisted that this time they were on him. I have learned over the years that there is little point in remonstrating, you’ll only upset their feelings and you won’t win anyway; so with plenty of expressions of appreciation, together with our insistence that next time it would be our turn, no arguments, we arose and made our way the short distance to the house.

As we walked, I told my beloved that I might start calling her “Dolly,” after the character in the musical “Hello Dolly.” She professed not to remember what the storyline was in that show, so I reminded her that Dolly was a matchmaker. It was her vocation, even business, to find single men a partner. Fortunately, my wife has a good sense of humour.

Just the one photo this time, and it shows just how hot it’s been lately…

Note the outdoor temperature reading on the car facia a few days ago. Phew!

Read about the books: https://johnphilipmanuel.wixsite.com/works

Not quite an Amsterdam Hotel Room

…And it’s not the hottest time of day yet.

OK, the joke’s over, I’d rather like to go back to the lower thirties now please, if it’s all the same to you. I blame Saki Arnaoutoglou, the national weather man on the ERT TV channels (I say channels, plural, because if the basketball’s on he’ll switch channels regularly). Every summer he takes a break of several weeks and it all goes to pot. I can never quite get my head around why (and I know, you’ll tell me I’ve gone on about this before, but…) a national weather forecast has to simply disappear while the main man takes his summer break. I mean, do they not think we want to see a forecast while he’s off then? In the UK, there is a constant stream of forecasters all working their shifts, so that the great British public never has to go without their daily fix of what’s coming next. Here, Sakis goes off for his annual holliers and we all have to go without weather while he’s away. It’s simply not cricket. There are, of course, other TV forecasts on other channels, but none can hold a candle to Saki. Tassos on Ant1 does come close, though, have to admit that.

Just getting serious for a moment, I’m not going to go on about the wildfires that are currently raging here in Greece, since you can get all the ‘fix’ you want of those on line elsewhere anyway. Yes, we have them every year and, yes, sometimes they’re worse than average. This year it’s truly catastrophic what’s happening on the island of Evia, especially in the north, and all we can do is hope that people (and animals, of course) can get away safely, although there’s nothing to compensate for the complete loss of one’s home, with all that’s in it, plus even one’s livelihood too. When we had the fires a couple of valleys away recently, we were only too aware of what we may have been able to cram into the car and what we would have had to leave behind, had our village been in the path of those fires, so we had our own reality check all right.

Every year too, we get a couple of heatwaves, when it gets to over 40ºC, but they usually only last a couple of days. This one’s a week long (almost) and the temperatures in parts of Greece have been the highest ever recorded. Today’s generally considered to be the worse and last day of the heatwave here in our part of Crete. We’re forecast to experience 45ºC outside, and it was (as the photo at the top of this post shows) already 42 by mid-morning in the shade on the veranda. The worst of it is, there isn’t a breath of wind. It’s a two-edged sword, this ‘still air’ business, because it means that fires are less likely to spread if they do break out, but it also means that the only solution at home is to (as I mentioned in the previous post) stay inside, close everything up and live in a kind of twilight for the day.

Thus the reason for the title of this post. My better half said, as we ate our breakfast sitting up in bed, “It’s another John and Yoko day then, is it?” She meant, of course, that the best way to spend at least the daylight hours today would be to pass them in (or rather ‘on,’ since even a sheet above one’s body is too much in this) our bed. Just like John and Yoko did all those years ago in that Amsterdam hotel room. It’s burned into our vocabulary now, that one. If we’re in bed for a day for any reason, it’s become a “John and Yoko” day. [Now, now, that’s enough of that!]

Currently, we only have one working air-con unit in the house, and it’s the one in the bedroom. No point going into it now but, when we bought the place, the seller, who was sweetness itself, told us that both units (there are only two, since our house isn’t much larger than a chalet) were in working order, but that they’d maybe need a service come the spring time. Since we moved in during October 2019, it wasn’t an issue for us then. We’ve since discovered that both units were faulty, and the engineer who came out managed to get the bedroom one working by stealing parts from the one in the lounge, which he said was beyond rescuing anyway. Oh dear, I said I wouldn’t got into it now, didn’t I? Anyway, of course we debated whether to have it out with the seller but, frankly it would have gained us nothing. The chances of getting anywhere (leave alone any cash out of him) were as likely as a wooden shed surviving a forest fire. Why add to your stress levels when you won’t see any benefit, eh?

Let’s be honest, these days when my ’employer’ is that grand old lady in Buck House, down the end of the Mall, who pays me very reliably, and we don’t have to set alarms and rush off to work any more, spending a day in “John and Yoko” mode is OK, even enjoyable. Plus, although it’s too hot for comfort all day, the evenings are lovely. Last night we ate at one of our favourite waterfront restaurants in Ierapetra (L’Angolo), and all I needed to wear was a vest top [OK, yes, I did have something on from the waist down too. Honestly, some people…). People were strolling the waterfront and the stars twinkled above. The lights around the bay reflecting in the surface of the water were magical and all was right with the world for a while.

Hopefully, it’ll be cooler from tomorrow onwards. Meanwhile, here are the customary few photos to finish off with…

Two above: I took these two while waiting for the cheese man last Thursday. Nothing more to say really, except for the dramatic crag that towers above the village is home to a colony of Griffon Vultures. Our house is just above and to the left of the mustard-coloured one in the first photo.

Above: That restaurant just beyond the dolphin statue is the L’Angolo. In the middle of the day at the moment though, things are a little quiet, as it’s just too hot out there.

Those three in the ‘gallery’ are all of our new little friend, whom we simply have to call “Mavkos,” since he’s the dead-spit of the cat we’d kind of adopted back on Rhodes. It’s almost uncanny how he’s taken to us though. There are at least a dozen feral cats around here, and all the others run a mile if we so much as look at them. Mavkos, however, approaches us and sits and watches us curiously. Next visit to the supermarket may well result in him receiving a few little puddy-tat treats.

Ah, well, time to read some more of my book. BTW, I am still writing a new one (Greek Oddities), as I mentioned some time back. It’s just that it’s not progressing very fast right now. I’ll get there though.

Read about the books: https://johnphilipmanuel.wixsite.com/works

Keeping it Dark

In the house right now, at around 12.30pm, Saturday 31st July, it’s 29ºC, or 84ºF. Sounds warm eh? Yet, outside on the veranda it’s 38ºC, or 100ºF. So from that you can tell that it actually feels quite cool indoors. I touched on this subject in one of my “Ramblings from Rhodes” books (can’t remember which one right now), but in high summer you’ll notice that Greeks as a rule, with temperatures at the level they are in summer, keep their windows closed and their shutters tight, making the interior of their homes dark during the daylight hours.

Back in 1977-78, when as a young inexperienced traveller, I first stepped out of an aeroplane in Greece, and immediately thought I’d stepped into my mother’s oven while she was cooking the Sunday roast, I knew nothing about the best way to keep cool in a Greek summer. I’d boarded the plane in the UK with the thermometer reading about 18ºC and wearing a fleece over my t-shirt – and vest. The skies had been largely cloudy with perhaps a ‘pair of jeans’ worth of blue sky above. Just to digress (I know, I do that a lot), the ‘pair of jeans‘ thing has stuck with me for decades, ever since visiting a friend who lives in Irvine, on the south west coast of Scotland. We’d gone up there in August from our home in South Wales when, as it happened, the weather was rather good in the Vale of Glamorgan. In Irvine it was a different picture and we felt as though we’d gone into late autumn in just a few hours of driving the car. Our host, Eleanor, had told us during an afternoon walk under stormy skies while we shivered in our light summer clothes, that they had a saying up there that, if there was a patch of blue sky as big as a pair of jeans, then they considered it good weather. Ever since then I’d applied the principle down in South Wales, but it didn’t really work, because the weather was a lot better there anyway. And that’s saying something.

Anyway, where was I? Oh yes, We arrived at my wife’s relatives home in the suburbs of Athens to find it shut up tight against the Greek sun. There was I, a very wet-behind-the-ears young English lad, asking, “What, are they all mad? Don’t they appreciate what lovely weather they enjoy in summer? Back home, if we had weather like this we’d throw all the windows open wide (we didn’t have any shutters anyway), pull back the net curtains and let the summer into the house.

Of course, following our move out to Greece in August 2005, I very soon began to ‘get it’, as it were. If you open the house up when it’s scorchio outside, it’ll very soon become scorchio indoors too. The best solution, if you don’t want to have the air-con tanking away for hours and hours, is to close the apertures to the outside, and keep the house dark. It works, believe me. Sitting here writing this, even though it’s, like I said, nudging 30º in the bedroom, it still feels tolerable by comparison to what’s it’s doing outside, where – although I admit to being an Englishman – I’m no mad dog and will not venture out before dark this evening today.

Just to round this one off, here are a few photos…

Above: Sorry about the quality of this one (and the one below) but it was taken through the mozzie net from our side bedroom window. Our bird box is attracting the attention of a pair of Great Tits, who’ve visited quite a few times now. If I’d opened the nets, they’d have scarpered sharpish. Look closely enough and you’ll see one to the right and slightly below the box. In the one below there’s one in front of the box, bottom left. What’s astounding us even more than the fact that they’re investigating this possible nesting opportunity, is the fact that in high summer we even see Great Tits here at all! But they do appear to be year-round residents in this area. We got really excited when they’d hop on to the aperture and peer around the interior, as if they were having a ‘viewing’. I read somewhere that Great Tits will always check out several sites before actually deciding which one to set up home in. Here’s hoping.

Above: Just an old doorway that took my fancy in the village of Meseleri.

Above: A small corner of our village, just a few metres up from our place, at 7.00am., as I was returning from a power-walk.

Well, that’ll do for now. Time for yet another shower. Talk soon, metaphorically, of course.

Read about the books: https://johnphilipmanuel.wixsite.com/works

Getting lazy, but fired up?

I must be getting lazy. I thought, ‘Maybe it’s time to write a post, it must be four or five days since the previous one.‘ Where had that time gone, then? It’s actually 9 days ago when I wrote the last one. A lot’s happened since then too. Most notable of which was the wild fire that broke out rather too close to the village for comfort, or so we thought at the time. It was about 7.30pm in the evening on Thursday July 22nd. We’d been sitting in the upper garden (sounds grand doesn’t it? It’s not though) having a quiet evening drink in the much more pleasant evening temperatures, when we saw a couple of fire tenders haring up the valley below us, all lights flashing. At first we thought maybe there’d been an accident on the road somewhere further up the valley but, when we walked around to the other side of the house, it soon became apparent that it was something worse than that, or at least, something with the potential to be much worse. I took the shot below from the lane at the very top of our village, looking west…

That’s not a sight you want to see at any time, but least of all when you only have at most an hour of daylight left. The photo at the top of this post was taken about 45 minutes later, on the road back down from Meseleri, where we’d been to check up on an elderly couple of friends of ours who hadn’t answered their phone when we’d called. There were only minutes of daylight remaining. In fact, the shot makes it look lighter than it actually was. Credit where it’s due, because the fire services were on the scene within 15 minutes of the fire breaking out, including a helicopter with a huge sack suspended by a cable beneath it to scoop up water and drop it on to the flames, plus a couple of Canadairs which were scrambled from Heraklion airport. We know exactly what a Canadair sounds like, because during our 14 years on Rhodes, we heard them most summers at least once or twice. They’re the standard turboprop-engined fire-dowsing aircraft and they do an incredible job during the hot summer months.

After we’d made our way to the ridge at the top of the village to see where the fire actually was, we went back down to the uppermost houses of our neighbours, where everyone and his wife was outside, watching the spectacle with a fair degree of anticipation.

That’s the setting sun struggling to show itself through the smoke.

The shot above shows just how close to the village the fires seemed to be, although, once we’d driven the five or six kilometres from Makrylia to Meseleri and back, we could see that there were several deep valleys between the flames and us. The wind was blowing about 7 on the Beaufort scale and it was almost exactly from the north. Had it turned to the west we’d have been most definitely in a spot of bother. I mentioned above that you don’t want to see something like this break out as the sun is near to setting, and the primary reason is that the aircraft can’t carry on dropping water once darkness sets in. If they don’t have the fires under control when it gets dark, it’s down to the firefighters on the ground to do what they can until first light, which is a mammoth task for them.

The local firefighters, along with some volunteers, worked all night and, by morning, thankfully, the smoke had all but disappeared. The aircraft did return at first light, however, because an important part of their work is to continue dowsing after it looks like the fires are extinguished, because re-kindling often occurs, often when there’s a strong wind. Local bakeries and stores in the town of Ierapetra very quickly got together and sent free snacks, sandwiches and drinks up to the firemen, who were coming back completely exhausted, having accomplished a major success in containing the fires during the long, dark, windy night hours.

All in all, it was a ‘hairy’ situation that could have been a lot worse. There’s no word yet on what may have started the fires, but on Tuesday evening we took a drive up around the area and passed a fire engine parked beside the road, up in the hills, at the spot where it looked as if the whole thing had begun. If we’re right, and that was the spot, then it’s highly likely to have been a careless local throwing a cigarette end out of a car window. Happens far more frequently than it should, sadly. Fortunately, the fires skirted the village of Prina, which we drove through, and no properties in the end were lost, no lives either. The next three shots were taken during that drive. Look at the first one carefully and you can see the burn damage…

This one was taken between the villages of Prina and Kalamafka. The coast shows the entire village of Gra Ligia, towards the right, and the town of Ierapetra, middle to centre-left.
More burn damage in evidence.
Kalamafka village as you approach from the other side of the valley.

Earlier, as we stood there in the village gawping at the smoke, just as the sun was going down, right back when it all broke out, just about everyone in the village was out. There were dads in their vests with a couple of kids tugging at their trouser legs, old ya-yas tut-tutting and using colourful language to describe the probably negligent culprit/culprits who’d started the whole thing, and women wiping their hands on their aprons as they took a pause from working in the kitchen to gaze in worry at the unexpected and unwelcome sideshow. Although we’d much rather not have had the experience, at least it gave us an opportunity to make the acquaintance of a few more of our village neighbours, whom we hadn’t as yet talked to. Everyone wanted to express an opinion as to whether we needed to panic or not.

Before retiring for the night, at somewhere around 1.30am, after a long evening of going outside again and again to look and see what was happening on the western horizon, we walked one more time back up to the top of the village to see what was happening. Friends in town had been phoning us all evening too with offers of accommodation, should the worse happen, and the fires come towards the village. The first of our friends who called us, George from Gra Ligia, simply told me: “Grab the essentials, chuck them in the car and get yourselves down here!

These next few shots were taken as we walked back home for the last time before nervously getting ourselves off to bed…

A fine figure of a man, eh? Do I look worried?
The better half, outside our side entrance.

I can’t begin to understand how those poor folk in California feel as the fires sweep through their homes and devour them in seconds. Plus, a couple of years ago here in Greece, there was a really bad fire on the mainland, at Mati, almost due north of the new Athens airport, where an entire village was destroyed and people lost their lives. The village is on the coast and people threw themselves into the sea from rocks to try an escape the flames as they got cut off by them. The really terrible thing about such fires is that they are almost always started either by negligence, carelessness, or idiots committing arson, with no thought to the consequences.

We live to fight another day, and we do so in the hope of not having to hear the drone of a Canadair or a helicopter again this summer.

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In the frame

Thought I’d do a photo-post this time. the above shot was taken a few days ago, obviously on the waterfront, as we were enjoying a Freddo espresso and some people-watching. Can never get enough of this place, to be honest.

Above: The roof of a house at the top of the village, next to the tiny church. Looks like snow, doesn’t it? Either that or some seagulls had gastro enteritis. It’s actually that white cement they frequently use, chucked over the ageing ceramic tiles to help keep the rain out in winter time. Not exactly the best quality repair job, but probably works nonetheless.

Above: Here’s the better half outshining a beautiful bougainvillea that we often walk past when taking a gentle stroll around the village.

Above: This is just around the corner from the bougainvillea shot, where a grapevine hangs all across the lane. Tempting…

Above: Just passing Angla’i’a and Giorgo’s place. I like that plant with the red flowers. The quad bike belongs to Dimitri (one of Maria’s lovely family, living in the house below ours), who uses it daily to get around between the family’s horafia. He often turns up at the front door with a bottle of fresh goat’s milk or some vegetables for us.

Above: This is Giorgo’s front door, the man who lives alone in the house above and behind ours. That stone plaque is a fascinating account of the history of the house and how it’s been passed down through successive generations. Must ask him one day how he got it made.

Above: The apothiki of Gianni’s house, the other chap who lives up the hill behind us. This was taken at around 6.30am as I was going for a power walk. He’s already got a good supply of wood for next winter, eh?

Above: This is our very own modest little sundeck (or rather: ‘shade-deck!’), complete with ‘sail’, a three metre square one we ordered especially. Plus the area now boasts our posh new loungers, which I have to admit we did splash out for somewhat. But having bought some white plastic ones years ago on Rhodes, and watched with dismay as they cracked and flaked in the sun, we decided that the extra outlay was worth it. They’re dead comfy too. This is where we take our morning coffee when we’re at home. Tough life, I know. That square thing sitting inside the left-hand lounger is the base we put down when taking an outdoor shower, resting there to keep it out of the sun.

Above: Further to the previous post about my early morning power-walks, here’s another I took slightly later (around 7.00am) the day before yesterday. Once again, the village is centre shot, with our house visible – if you know where to look!

Above: A carob tree that I pass on my power-walks. Reminds me of holidays on Poros (Saronic Gulf) way back around forty years ago, when we passed one of these for the very first time in my life. As you may know, the pods are a good chocolate substitute. You can pick one and suck it. Try biting into it too, but watch out, it may incur a visit to the dentist to sort out a broken tooth!

Above: The terrace at the Monasteraki Taverna, where we went for a lovely meal last night with some neighbours, Sylvia (who owns the house next-door but one to ours), her daughter, Sylvia’s friend, who’s an opera singer, and her daughter too. The lights in the background are the village of Pachi Ammos (lower lights) and Agios Nikolaos (across the bay). The taverna has the same name as the village, and enjoys spectacular views. The next few below are of the approach to the taverna from the bottom of the village…

This one was taken from the taverna terrace before darkness fell…

There you go folks. Hope you liked that little lot.

Read about the books: https://johnphilipmanuel.wixsite.com/works