Week 19

26th – 28th April, 2009

Mowed the lawn, spent time tidying the garden up. Visited endless Garden Centres looking for ‘highlight plants’ to freshen up the front of the house. In a week we will seek valuation and make a decision about a way forward.

Received nice emails from Ruth and Liz. Liz has already been to Mum’s grave. Ruth is going with Jane & Catherine in a fortnight. The centre of gravity is visibly shifting. What hold will Repton have on any of us after this? It will be interesting to see.

Watched Chelsea hold Barcelona to a 0-0 draw in the Nou Camp. Not a brilliant game but a creditable result.


29th April, 2009

Had to take Pauline’s Mum to hospital today to have her small cancer operation checked on. She had three growths removed from her nose a week ago. Everything seems to be knitting back well. Beautiful day. Spent the afternoon in the garden.

30th April – 2 May, 2009

Retirement is so tiring! I don’t know how to get all my jobs done. Spent most of the week in the garden and, finally, it is looking delightfully controlled.  This time of year really brings so much colour. We haven’t really seen it in mid-summer because we’ve not been here in mid July to early September since we bought it. And now we almost certainly never will. But May is perfect.


I cannot believe Mum has been gone for a whole year. I believe it has been one of the saddest of my life. Certainly I have rediscovered how to cry. I miss her massively and I know many of the rest of the family do also. I some respects, I don’t want that hurt to go away. I want to stay at the raw edge of missing. She deserves that.

Week 18

Usually, the Sunday after an Easter in Greece is full of depression and recrimination. Why do I have to go back to work? I should have stayed at home and written that report or done that marking. Not this year. Up early (body clock still two hours on.) and out for the Sunday Papers – Times & Telegraph. Football in the afternoon while our neighbour cuts our lawns. Well you wouldn’t expect me to do it so soon after my holiday would you? Luxuriate with all the Sunday papers and plan the week ahead.

20th – 23rd April, 2009

Spent the week playing at being retired: getting up after 7.00 am, reading the newspaper, gardening, shopping off-peak, popping out to the Garden Centre.


Armitage’s Garden Centre

24th April, 2009

It was found that Pauline’s Mum had a number of cancerous growths on her nose. We took her into hospital to have them removed. When the growths were cut out, the wound was to be covered by skin taken from her shoulder. It was all done under local anaesthetic. As you can see from the picture, she had a patch stapled to her nose when she came out. We told her to sleep with the light on because the patch was luminous and would glow in the dark.


After taking Pauline’s Mum home, we drove down to Repton to view Mum’s headstone. It is clear and simple and right. My only concern is that there is no mention of Gordon. I know he is buried elsewhere but it is as if he didn’t exist.


It was nice to see Nana and Grandad fitted in and Nellie & Herb nearby.

nanagrandad_headstone.jpg                nellieherb_headstone.jpg

Had lunch at the tea rooms previously owned by Sue Deacon with all the other retired couples and then down the High Street – I think for the last time – to No. 81.


The Bull’s Head carpark was full of cars and both sides of the street were lined with them. It’s strange because I hadn’t announced that I was going. 81 is still dominated at the front by Mum’s tree although ivy has replaced that straggly rose around the door. The privet hedge has gone – replaced by some quite smart railings – and the semi-detached ownership is emphasised by different colour washes splitting the property in two. I don’t like to mention it but the windows are UPVC – I ask you, Catherine!

You all probably know that the Builder’s Yard is a gated community now. I hadn’t bothered to look:


I don’t think I would want to live there. It’s very cheek by jowl!


Week 17

12thApril, 2009

We pledged to get up earlier today. We managed 8.30 am. Pauline had made new bread with a different flour and it was delicious toasted with cherry and fig jams. Freshly squeezed orange juice with Cretan oranges and Twinings Breakfast tea. Great start to the day.

BBC announces that Brown’s spin doctor has been caught sending false and malicious emails about Cameron and his Shadow Chancellor and has been sacked. Politics is ever the same. Later there is a Rugby match to watch and Aston Villa – Everton. The Arch Bishop of York is complaining that they are being played on Easter Sunday. Until then, I had completely forgotten that it was Easter Sunday. Weather doesn’t seem much different – warm & sunny. Going out for a drive to Faros – a fishing village – where Vivi, an ex-BA hostess has a house she shared with her mother. Her mother died some time ago and Vivi is not well. She is selling up for £500,000.00. We are going to see if she’s managed it. After that we are going to Platys Yialos – a more tourist area – to see how preparations are going for Greek Easter. We have a friend called Stellios who lives here. He used to own a restaurant in Yorkshire but he has come back to his native Sifnos. He and his family spend time split between England and Sifnos.

Sky a little hazy as we drive out this morning. Faros is beautiful but deserted apart from fishermen mending their nets on boats bobbing in the bay. They shout to each other as they haul their bright yellow nets about. There are two pairs of tourists – both walker couples with boots and knapsacks. We tend to look disdainfully at tourists nowadays and they look mournfully at us.


We drive past and home. As we drive, we decide Stavros is most unlikely to want to eat out on Sunday evening. It is usually Family Day. So, we decide to have a roast dinner with Fresh Chicken and Cyprus potatoes, roasted red onions and peas. Pauline made crème caramel for sweet and we were both stuffed and in pain when we had finished. Just as we staggered outside with our cup of coffee, Stavros phoned to invite us out to Dinner at Miroppi Restaurant.


We couldn’t say no because there were lots of things we wanted to talk about. It wouldn’t be for five hours.

Five hours later, we staggered down into Kamares and met Stavros. It was 9.00 pm and dark. We took a table under the lights outside next to the sea. We ordered:

Fava – bean dip
Fried courgette
Merithes – small silver fish deep fried whole
Green Salad – to be healthy
Fried Calamari
Litre of white wine

We ate and talked until 11.30 pm. Particularly, I was pressing Stavros to get jobs finished on our house:

The exit pipe for our log burning stove has to be completed
Then the pergola can be installed
A canvas roof over the pergola can be fitted.
Telephone line – this is the most important of all so I can install broadband internet

Parted company at 11.30 pm. We payed the bill at 62 Euros. Drove back to the house and had coffee, bath and bed by 12.30 am

13th April, 2009

We said we could sleep in today but we were up by 8.30 am just the same. Tea and toast and out. Before we left, I finished a letter to my old friend, Caroline. She sends me twenty or more postcards every year from all over the world. I have exhausted all the cards of Sifnos so I write letters. Anyway, there is a lot to say about our changing situation. We go out to visit the new Post Office which has just opened just down the road from our house. We pledge our support by buying one stamp for UK.

We then continue on to the Medical Centre in Apollonia. I have Atrial Fibrillation and have to take an anti-coagulant called Warfarin. For some reason, this has to be intensively tested for its blood thinning effects. At first, I was having to go to the hospital every three days. Eventually, that has stabilised at every month. I have to have my INR established by this test and it should be about 2.1. This looked like being a problem on Sifnos where doctors speak little English and tend to be the youngest and least experienced. We are really beginning to worry about this when, suddenly, up pops a new Medical Testing Centre run by a chemist by training. He worked in Brussels for two years but he was born and brought up on Sifnos. He cannot stay away. Who knows? One day he may save my life.

We are cockahoop and go a few metres down to the local Cafenion to celebrate. A cup of rich, sweet coffee looking out across the sea to the island of Serifos which is very clear today and then home for lunch on the patio – cheese and biscuits and white wine. The afternoon is spent reading and snoozing. I do a little writing. As the sun goes down at around 7.30 pm, we go in a start to prepare dinner – Chicken casserole and potatoes. The new, Cypriot potatoes are bursting with wonderful flavour and compliment the oregano & garlic flavour of the chicken. A bottle of claret helps it down. We watch the late evening news on Mega and then Pauline runs a bath while I catch half an hour of Bath v Leicester Tigers rugby match before following Pauline. Being retired is so stressful.

14thApril, 2009

Pauline springs out of bed at 8.30 am to make tea & toast. It is blue sky with sunshine and high, fleecy white clouds but freezing this morning. The moment we are in the shower – we each have our own – Pauline’s Mum phones. She seems to time it each morning. We potter around for an hour, me writing and Pauline doing some washing. A knock on the door reveals Margharita, Stavros’ Mum, with two bowls. One is Gigantis (a cross between giant baked beans, hence the name, and bean soup) and the other is Crème Caramel. As she is leaving, a gang of men walk past the bottom of our drive. Margharita says they are Ashphalters come to quote for working on our road. This would be excellent news. Unfortunately, they turn out to be film makers. Our house will feature but can’t find out where it will be shown.

We go out for a drive to Platys Yialos – the tourist centre of Sifnos – to find they are being typically Greek. They have all winter relaxing and then a few days before the Easter influx they start relaying all the pavements. Total disruption for everyone. Nothing will ever change. Drove back through gorgeous sunshine and had lunch followed by one of my senior moments – an afternoon nap – which I call a siesta. Later went out to check the Ferry schedules for our return to Piraeus on Thursday. They change a lot around Easter. We go to Aegean Thesaurus, the ticket agency. We will leave Sifnos on the High Speed catamaran service at 6.30 pm and arrive in Piraeus at 9.30 pm. This is a cut in the Ferry journey of two and a half hours. It costs 60 Euros.

As we are in our last couple of days in the house, Pauline tries to use everything up. She has two tomatoes, one onion, some garlic and herbs and turns them into the most magical Bruschetta using her own bread. This with a bottle of red wine makes a wonderful evening meal leading up to the Liverpool – Chelsea Champions League match. So many goals but, unfortunately, Chelsea just scraped home.

15thApril, 2009

8.30 am up, shower and breakfast. BBC announces signs of economic recovery in Britain and America. Certainly, Sterling is strengthening against the Euro which makes me feel good. I don’t want everything, just a reasonable balance – £1.00 = 1.2 Euro would be fine. Recently, it has sunk as low as 1 = 1.05 but now stands at 1 = 1.12. I have a massive Euro asset in my house so I want a balance. Yesterday, Stavros told me that two plots of land each sold for 150,000 Euros for 4000 sq m.. This is fantastic news. In 2002, we bought 19,000 sq m for 70,000 Euros. We really could be sitting on a goldmine. If and when we sell, it will be in Euros and we want its value to hold up but not cripple us while we are living here and having our pension paid here. As the day progresses, the £ / Eu moves on to 1 = 1.45. Economists do say that the Euro is over valued. We may see my target sooner than later.

We are just having coffee around 11.00 am when there is a knock at the door. It is Stavros’ Parents in Law, Professor and Mrs Toyne. Ken and Jennifer arrived on Tuesday evening. The looked fit and well. They had come for Greek Easter which starts on Saturday just as we leave and will stay for a month. We talk for an hour or so and they walk back to their house. Ours returns to its solitary quiet. We make a bacon sandwich and do a few jobs around the house. We have decided to go out for an early Dinner this evening because of THE BIG MATCH.

We drive down to the harbour and park and walk all of fifty metres to Sophia’s restaurant, Posidon.  We had an excellent meal:Revithia Keftedes – Chickpea balls with mint
Fried Potatoes
Stock Fish with Skordalia – thick white chunks of fish fried in batter & served with Garlic Sauce
Fried Liver and assorted Offal.

Sophia gives us a little, crumbly cake to leave with. As we walk to the car, we come across the insurance agent and his wife. We have wanted to see them about the quality ceiling fans they have in their house. They invite us to see them tomorrow.

We are back at the house in time to watch Mega Weather at 9.15 pm – lovely and settled and warm tomorrow for our trip. Then we switch to Sport 1 where they are previewing the Arsenal match and Net where the Man. U. match will be shown. Not long into the match, Ronnie Renaldo scores a dream goal and the game is all but finished. Porto were disappointing and United didn’t over stretch themselves.

16thApril, 2009

8.30 am up and there is a sense of leaving. It doesn’t matter that we have been travelling to this island for almost twenty five years or that we will be constantly arriving and leaving, we both still get a slightly raised pulse about the process of travelling. We are both feeling it this morning. We are not sailing until 6.30 tonight but we are feverishly formulating plans for what we must do and fit in. We have to go to the Insurance Agent’s house this morning. We want to see the ‘American’ ceiling fans they have found because ours aren’t good enough.

The day is absolutely scorching hot and we feel it as we walk from the car to the Agent’s house. It is a small, new house built in the old style. It has lovely views of the harbour. The fans are not suitable although we say they are lovely. We drive back to the house and sit out reading in the sun for an hour then go out for lunch. Pauline has Moussaka and I have chicken with oven potatoes. We share a Greek salad. The floor show is our friend, Podotas, having a new sign put up over his office. It is gaudily painted to catch attention and it takes four men up on the balcony and two men down below to do the job. Roping and dangling the sign, lining up and checking the level, drilling and screwing the board. It took an hour for lunch and an hour for six men to hang a sign. Great fun and lovely meal.

Stavros joined us for a few minutes and shared a glass of wine before shooting off. He will meet us before we go. We drive back to the house to pack up. All the outdoor furniture put away. All the windows and shutters closed and locked. The fridge-freezer defrosted. The dishwasher emptied and cleaned. All electricals disconnected. We drive down to leave the car in Stavros’ carpark and then sit in the café until High Speed arrives. Stavros is nowhere to be seen. It doesn’t matter. We will speak to him soon. We walk swiftly down to the jetty. We are just about to board when we hear Stavros shouting. We kiss and part.

Once on board, we find a window seat shaded from the sun and read our magazines until Serifos comes up. We stop and watch the hustle and bustle as people board. Then on we go for another two and a half hours, drinking coffee, snoozing, watching TV, etc.. Finally, we arrive in Piraeus. Frustratingly, we are held in a queue for ten minutes but eventually dock and spill out in to the slightly chilly, Athens evening air. A short walk to the Metro Station and twenty Minutes to Syndagma Square. Our Hotel is five minutes walk away. En route, we call at a periptero and buy our first newspaper for ten days. What a delight!

No dinner tonight just coffee and biscuits. Bath & Bed.

17thApril, 2009

Delightful day in Athens. After a gargatuan breakfast, we go to an internet cafe near the hotel and catch up on news, emails, gossip, everything. It is Greek Easter Friday and all the shops are closing early but Pauline manages to fit one or two in on Oxford (Ermou) Street. Breakfast lasts us throughout the day but in the evening we walk up towards the Acropolis to one of our favourite restaurants. It is so warm we sit outside. We share a Greek Salad and then Pauline has Veal with potatoes while I have Loin of Cod with Garlic Sauce and rosemary. It is washed down with a lovely half litre of Red Wine. (The management send us another half litre free.) We are given a plate of sliced fresh fruit gratis at the end.

Trudging back to the Hotel, we pick up a copy of The Times (£2.50) and make a cup of coffee while we discuss the news. Bath & Bed.

18thApril, 2009

Leaving days are always strange.

Week 16

5th April, 2009

Landed at 4.00 pm. Were intending to get the Hydrofoil service, Aegean Speedlines, at 7.30 am from Piraeus but they had emailed me on Saturday morning to say that they had to cancel. We went to our Hotel on Ermou Street (the Bond Street of Athens).


We arrived at 6.30 am only having slept on the plane. We fell asleep on a settee in the Lobby until, at 7.00 am, someone suggested complimentary breakfast in the restaurant. You can’t beat the Electra Hotel’s breakfast:

Fresh Orange Juice (Cretan Oranges)
Fresh Fruit & thick, creamy Yoghurt
Bacon & Egg with sausages & scrambled eggs
Toast and Jam
Croissants (Chocolate)
Endless pots of Coffee & Tea

Stuffed as ducks, we take the lift to our room at 8.30 am and shower before falling in to bed. We get up about 2.30 in the afternoon. A cup of tea and another shower and it is 4.00 pm. We stroll out into the Athens sunshine to a local restaurant.


It is Sunday and Greek Family Lunchtime. The restaurant is heaving. Fortunately, the owner recognises me. There are one or two benefits from being big and we have been going there for years. We order:

Greek Salad,
Gyros (slices of Pork with Pitta bread)
Half a Litre of House Red

Ten minutes later, another Half a Litre of House Red comes over from the owner and a plate of cooked meats to help it down. We didn’t need it but couldn’t refuse it. By 7.00 pm we were strolling back to our Hotel. Coffee in our room with the Greek TV News and then, at 9.00 pm, off out to the News Stands (Periptero) to buy the Sunday Times and the Sunday Telegraph. Back at the hotel, we crash out for the night, catching up on lost sleep.

6th April, 2009

Woke up late – about 8.30 am – and showered. Pauline made a cup of tea. Down on the lift to Breakfast. I won’t bore you with the list again but we went through it. Suddenly we realised it was my birthday. Mum never forgot my birthday until last year. I should have realised something was wrong. Pauline’s Mum has never forgotten my birhday….until this year. I hope nothing is wrong. Well she is almost 95. It is raining outside in the Athens streets. We return from breakfast to our room and Sunday newspapers with coffee. There is no better way to spend a Sunday morning. BBC World, CNN & Mega News keeping us up to date. At 11.30 am we check our bags and go down to settle our bill. Then we go out into the damp Spring air of the Greek capital. I have to buy Pauline a €5 umbrella from a passing street hawker.

Our hotel is on the edge of Syndagma (Constitution) Square where the Greek Parliament buildings are.


It is immediately obvious that there is a huge demonstration going on. Vans with multiple tannoys are being screamed from by extremely angry men and women. En route to the Metro station which is only a couple of hundred metres away, we call at the Post Office for some stamps. The noise from the demonstration is so loud it is difficult to hear what the cashier says. I ask a young man standing in the queue what the demonstrators are saying. He tells me they are from a factory in Northern Greece which is closing down. They have come to lobby the Minister. The Greeks are big on Democracy and instinctively opposed to Government and Authority. There is an in-built logical fallacy here that is never really acknowledged.

We take the Metro down to Piraeus, buy our ferry tickets and sit with cups of coffee in a portside cafenion until it is time to board.

   ferry_ticket_office-piraeus.jpg     ptrainstation.jpg

We get on at about 1.30 pm. The boat sails at 2.30 pm and calls at Kithnos, Serifos

Serifos Harbour

and reaches Sifnos about 8.30 pm.

Sifnos Port

We spend our time reading Sunday papers, drinking coffee and snoozing. Even so, the trip is quite tiring.

Ferry Interior

We walk off the ferry and down the main street of Kamares, greeting locals as we do. Stavros is waiting for us in his Office about 200 m from the dock. He has a small Fiat car ready for us. He has to dash off to find Oscar, the family Labrador, who decided to make a bid for freedom as he left the house. We drive the Kilometre round the bay to our house.


Everything is exactly as we left it. Stavros has sent a girl (Luciana) over to clean our house.  We turn the electric blanket on to air the bed and set off to Simos restaurant at about 10.00 pm for dinner

The menu is simple: Salad, Potatoes (Roast or Fried), Home-Reared Beef or Pork, Chicken in Lemon Sauce. I have Pork, Pauline has Beef. We toast my birthday wih a litre of House Red.


We drive back to the house and turn the TV on only to find the satellite service isn’t working. We can’t get BBC or CNN. More importantly, we can’t get Sport channels and there are two Champions League matches this week. All we have got is two Greek channels: Alpha and ET3. This latter gives a very detailed, five day weather forecast. We learn that the weather should be good until Thursday and then a bit of rain will arrive. We are happy. After a litre of wine and a long day of travel, we are tired and ready for bed. Pauline has aired the mattress with an electric blanket for the past few hours. The bed linen is aired and warmed in the tumble dryer. We have a warm bath and fall into bed. Shutters closed; everywhere is pitch black and silent. We sleep like logs.

7th April, 2009

Waking at 9.00 am (7.00 am British time), we make tea and toast with Pauline’s Fig Jam made last Summer. We shower and greet blue skies and sunshine. I phone Stavros and tell him about our problems with the TV and the window closure. Normally a Greek will answer, No Problem and come round a week on Thursday to look at the task in hand. Within a few minutes, Stavros phones back to say Katerina’s husband will be round to check the Satellite dish and Nikos, the woodman would send someone round to deal with the window. Stavros is no normal Greek. Unfortunately, the TV man and the Woodman are. They don’t turn up until Wednesday and Thursday respectively

We go to the local ‘supermarket’ – well, large corner shop. Because we will soon spend long periods in Greece and because the Euro is strong against the pound, I have set up an accounts program so that Pauline can record each purchase and its cost in Euros with a Sterling conversion. It also has a Daily Spend model. The idea is that we track our Daily/Weekly outgoings in order to budget more efficiently and we run a comparison with UK prices to inform our spending.

As this develops over the week, it is clear that the overall spend Greece-UK is very similar but some items are very expensive on the island. For example, a 250g pack of Country Life butter in Sainsbury’s is currently £1.00. In contrast, a 250g pack of Lurpack in Sifnos is €3.25 or £2.95. It will do me good to cut down on butter. On the other hand, two plaice fillets which we estimate would have cost us £4.00 in UK cost only £2.20 in Sifnos. I need to eat more fish.

This evening, Pauline makes fish pie. It is out of this world. It is washed down with a delicious bottle of chilled Italian white wine we bought on our way over last Summer. I’ve only got sixty bottles left so we’ll be shopping on the way over this summer. We sit outside with coffee watching the full moon rise over our house. We read our magazines – brought with us for exactly this eventuality and have a hot bath before sneaking off to bed early.

8th April, 2009

All things come to he who waits. Today the TV man came. He looked at the lack of programmes without speaking for an uncomfortably long time and then wearily decided he would have to climb the stone steps to the roof of our Cycladic house where the satellite dish was mounted. We have an unusually large dish – three feet in diameter because we had tried to get Sky. Unfortunately, we are so near the edge of its footprint that we would need a dish the size of Joderel Bank at huge cost to achieve an even intermittent service. However, because of the size of our dish, the strong winds had bent the mount. It all needed reseating. That done, we were soon watching BBC News and getting excited about Liverpool-Chelsea live this evening.

Pauline had been to the Butchers and bought Pork Chops as big as houses. We prepared these for dinner accompanied by Lyonnais potatoes. It was absolutely wonderful washed down with a bottle of claret. We watched Mega News and weather which said that Thursday would be warm and sunny again. The football came on at 9.45 pm (7.45 pm English) but it was a disappointment. Despite scoring an early first goal, Liverpool didn’t play well and lost 1-3. I hate Chelsea!

9th April, 2009

The window man, Adonis, came today on his bright red Yamaha. He fixed the window in no time and went away with a bright, Yassas. The day was scorching hot. We had lunch on the patio – cheese & ham Panninis. (We brought out Pannini maker to Sifnos with us.) Unfortunately, we wash this down with ice cold Italian white wine and, subsequently, I fall asleep. I awake red faced and slink away to find After Sun to soothe me.

10th April, 2009

We pledged to get up earlier today. We didn’t. It was 8.30 am. We have set certain rules for ourselves. We will have a shower every morning. I will have a shave. We will have a bath every evening irrespective of how tired we are. After shower & shave, Tea & Toast (Pauline made bread yesterday and the toast is wonderful.), we go out for a drive to Vathi.


We walk along the deserted beach in hot sunshine. It is heaven. On the way back we call at a shop and buy packets of seeds while they are still available – Rocket, Radishes, Sweet Basil, Flat-Leafed Parsley. All these things can be sown in mid-July and harvested before we leave at end of October.

Cheese & biscuits on the patio for Lunch with a bottle of chilled Orvieto Classico. Same routine, fell asleep, hot sun, red face, after sun, etc.. Later, did some walking in our grounds. Shattered by the time we get back. Need another sleep. Watched Animal Rescue on TV and the 8.00 pm Mega News. Fell asleep and missed the weather. Had to watch Net News just for the weather. Bath and bed. I seem to spend a lot of time sleeping. I don’t know why.

11thApril, 2009

We pledged to get up earlier today. We didn’t. It was 9.00 am A few clouds in the sky. What’s happening to the weather nowadays? Actually, by the time we have had tea & toast, the sun has all but burnt off the cloud. We are going to the hardware shop today to look at gardening tools. It doesn’t get much better than this.

We drive up to a small village called Artemonas.


We’ve only been there ten minutes when Stavros arrives in his lorry (bought in Hull five years ago and still under UK plates.) He has come for some fresh gravel to lay around his apartments. He has Nikos with him. I steal Nikos’ cap and make him chase me for it. We tentatively agree Dinner out tonight with Stavros (if Sarah allows him out.) but buy a chicken in case it doesn’t happen.

Back to the house for coffee and biscuits with a magazine. Lunch of Bacon & Eggs on the patio in rather hot sunshine and then an afternoon of sport. Nova TV show live Blackburn losing to Liverpool, Chelsea just beating Bolton, 4-3 and, later, Newcastle drawing 1-1 at Stoke. Stavros doesn’t make dinner and we settle for cheese on toast. Early night tonight. Bath and bed at 11.30 pm.