Week 36

23rd August 2009

There is nothing else to say but – Yes, yes, yes. We won The Ashes. Fantastic!


Ruth kept me up to speed. The BBC were hopeless. They are the British Broadcasting Company. They told us more about Camel Racing in Sudan than cricket in England. They forget we finance them! CNN were better but what would we do without Ruth?

24th August 2009

Painting day today. Warm (only about 30⁰C) and fairly still. We painted the lower half of the house and rails round the patio. The house looks crisp and smart now – in our view.

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Today is Monday and Pauline has declared Monday the new Sunday because we get the Sunday papers and I am quiet for six hours.

Just driving down for our customary hour in the sea at about 4.30 pm when an animal hopped across our path. It had long, translucent pink ears and red eyes. Other than that, it was pure white. It was, we think, an albino hare/rabbit. The long ears made us unsure. Strangely, we drove right up to it on the mountain road, stopped and lowered our window and proceeded to talk to it for ten minutes without it being at all phased. We half wondered if it was someone’s escaped pet but the Greeks don’t have pets they can eat.

Watched Liverpool lose to Aston Villa. Who said Liverpool were going to win the League this year?

25th August 2009

Every year since 2000, we have started our trip home on this day. We would get a ferry to Piraeus and drive across Athens, across the Corinth Canal, on to the Peloponnese and round to the University port of Patras where we would have a couple of days in a 5* Hotel
re-acclimatising ourselves with the real world before boarding our ferry for Italy. Not today! We will do all that but not for another six weeks.

26th August 2009

Thankfully we got out in time. The spotlight is just about to fall on Public Sector pensions. Already, in teaching, new entrants have to make larger contributions and their retirement age rises to 65 but that is not enough, it seems. Now the attack will be on existing workers who will lose their current pension entitlement and will be switched to a ‘career average’ which will greatly reduce their pension. I find it hard to believe that one can enter a profession under certain, contractual conditions and have them arbitrarily swept away and have new contractual conditions imposed. It seems that can and will happen. It makes me feel desperately guilty for all my friends in their early 50s who will lose out at this late stage in their careers. Pauline & I really are the lucky ones. A year’s salary each plus final salary pensions at 58. You won’t see many like that in years to come in Public Sector employment.

27th August 2009

This time last year we were driving to ‘Sortir 40’ or, as Pauline calls it, ‘sorty forty’. This takes us off the motorway to an excellent supermarket in the town of Thionville. We fill up with 100 – 200 bottles of red wine and then belt down the motorway to Zeebrugge. Not this year.

By the way, I didn’t tell you about being caught speeding. It was at the last French toll stop before the Pyrenees and the Swiss border. We had just paid our toll when a delightful French police woman popped up and told us to park at the side. They had been timing cars between toll stops and she informed me that the speed limit was 120 kph and I was timed at an average 170 kph. I could have told her I was doing a lot more than that but this was a money-making exercise not a policing one. I paid my €70.00 fine and sped off down the road.

Pauline’s Mum’s birthday today. She is 95. Born in 1914 at the outset of World War 1, she has led a bitterly hard life for most of her 95 years but she has an amazingly indomitable spirit which is irrepressible. Pauline & I have spent the past 25 years away for both our Mothers’ Birthdays. And so it still is.

28th August 2009

This has been the most idyllic, day of the past couple of months. Still, clear, warm and brilliantly sunny. Our swim was wonderful. I spent two hours watering the fruit trees.

Tonight I took a few shots over the valley towards Kamares harbour as the sun went down.

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29th August 2009

Another glorious day. Up at 7.00 am as usual. After tea and BBC News we cleaned the car before the sun came up. If you don’t, the heat of the sun dries it too quickly and you might as well have not bothered. It’s covered in water stains. After that, we measured up the patios in preparation for ordering the tiles. The tile shop closes for the whole of August but reopens on September 1st so we want to be ready. The total area of patio around the house is 1502m which at €35.00 per 2m will cost us just over €5000.00 which will be about £4500.00. Still it is a permanent improvement. Went for a wonderful swim today. Weighed myself afterwards and found I had lost 3lbs this week. I have lost exactly 10kg so far. My courgettes are just about to flower. The salad leaves will be eaten for the first time tomorrow and the basil is almost ready to pick. I am perfectly satisfied with this first attempt.

Week 35

16th August 2009

Calamity! The newspapers were late today. High winds may have stopped the Hydrofoils docking. A trip to the Internet Cafe to post the rest of last week’s Blog. Stopped to talk to a man who was growing runner beans. It was an interesting conversation. My Greek is hopeless. He wanted to talk in Spanish. I last learnt Spanish in 1963. The conversation was fairly short. Nice beans, though.

Yesterday my satellite TV showed Chelsea – Hull, Arsenal – Everton and Man. City – Blackburn. Today it was Man. United – Birmingham and Spurs – Liverpool. For very little cash, the Sports Channel provides excellent coverage.

Today we didn’t go swimming for only the second time in exactly four weeks. It was windy and I wanted to watch the football. We have now been here exactly four weeks. We would usually be leaving a week tomorrow. As it is, we leave seven weeks tomorrow.

18th August 2009

You can tell a lot about a place by its cheese. I am a great fan of cheese. Rich and creamy Stilton; mild and crumbly Cheshire or Lancashire, strong flavoured Emmental, Gouda. I love them all. Unfortunately for Sifnos, they produce Feta which is alright in its place – garnishing a Horiatiki (Greek Salad) with plenty of olive oil and oregano over it. I don’t find it travels well though. Eating Greek Feta in Huddersfield just doesn’t do it for me. It’s like drinking Ouzo. The aniseed-flavoured aperitif just doesn’t taste quite right in the rain-swept streets of Yorkshire.

When we first came to Sifnos 25 years ago, there was no bank. There was a money changer who worked from a table in a shop front, He would exchange traveller’s cheques for cash. Do you remember traveller’s cheques? Nowadays, the island has three different Banks – Piraeus Bank, Alpha Bank and ours, The National Bank of Greece. In 1984, there were three public phones in the OTE building and two of them allowed one to dial out of Greece. We queued for ages to use one and then, when we had dialled a UK number, a recorded voice would announce: All lines to Europe are engaged. Nowadays, everyone goes around with a mobile glued to their ear.

Why cheese? Well, when we first came to Sifnos, the only cheese we could buy was produced on the island. We could have Feta or Misretha (a disgusting, soft goat’s cheese that is the consistency of scrambled egg) or Manoura (another very strong and smelly goat’s cheese) with a tough, black rind derived from soaking the cheese in red wine. We would pretend to delight in a piece of Manoura after dinner. Today, we went to the Supermarket 2 (keep up!) and bought Gorgonzola, Brie, Gouda, Camembert and Parmigiana Regiana. Can you believe it. It is quite expensive – about double the cost of UK – but the transport costs here add up. At least we can get it.

Watched Celtic lose comprehensively to Arsenal tonight.

19th August 2009

Pauline looks glorious in the morning.

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Of course, we pensioners, as Ruth will tell you, have to watch the pennies. Pauline & I don’t get our first pension payment until next month and don’t know, precisely, what it will be but, because of our settlement, we will be paying off our huge mortgage and our income will not really change much from when we were working. That in itself makes us feel bad. Maintaining our income while not working feels reprehensible. Anyway, we have never been profligate. We have always invested in property while not stinting ourselves. Pauline, as I have already written, has kept detailed, electronic accounts for thirty years. We have a £20,000.00 overdraft facility with Nat. West Private Banking but we have never been in the red.

However, we are looking at ways of economising as we deal with our retirement. Our BUPA medical insurance cost us £200.00 per month and that has now gone. I had never used it in 25 years. Our mortgage and mortgage insurances will go in October saving us £3000.00 per month. We have discovered that we are paying £100.00 per month for water whereas our next door neighbours are only paying £14.00 through a water meter. We will switch to a meter and save nearly £1000.00 per year. Every week at work we would fill up our car to the tune of £50.00. Now we are doing that once every 3 weeks. That will save us about £1500.00 per year. With one or two other small changes but without cramping our life style, we will save about £50,000.00 a year.

All of this is very helpful as we run two fully functioning homes. Thank goodness for teachers’ pensions. Mum warned me not to be a teacher. It wouldn’t pay. She wanted me to be an Estate Agent with John German’s! An estate agent?

20th August 2009

I might be a pensioner but I don’t really feel like one and certainly don’t want to sound like one. Do you remember how meat used to taste? Do you remember real meat? Do you Jane BG? On Sifnos all the meat we eat is raised in a field no further that 3Km from our house. The pork is unbelievable! It tastes of pork and cooks like a dream. It is soft, moist and succulent. Yesterday, we bought six massive pork chops (mprizoles coirino) the size of house bricks for €16.00 (£2.38 each). A beautiful 3lb slab of beef (moscari) for €18.00 (£5.35 lb). In preparation for her new Greek Life Cookery Book, Pauline has brought with her a meat mincer, Sausage maker, sausage skins, Burger shaper, pasta machine and a new food processor. If we weren’t on diets, life would be great.

Today Pauline has minced some of the beef and some of the pork. With the beef she is making meat loaf and with the pork she is making sausages. Sausages for tea. Wonderful. In her spare time, I instructed her to paint the base of the house – the water tank – white. She only managed half of it today but she really enjoyed it.

21st August 2009

Pauline was given a day off painting today because it is hot and windy. We had the meat loaf for lunch and it was wonderful with salad. Stavros came up and shared a bottle of wine with us in the evening.

I took a shot early in the morning over our gate over to Kamares. Thought it might brighten the page up.


22nd August 2009

Pauline finished one part of the painting today and then she cooked a lovely meal of Pork and Briam. Washed down with a chilled bottle of claret, it was wonderful.

If you’re interested, the courgettes are coning on well as are the basil plants. The mixed salad is virtually ready for cutting. The flat leafed parsley is planted out and so is the wild rocket. We have this tree fruiting which Stavros put in. Nobody knows what it is. If you have an idea, let us know.

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I watched Arsenal thrash poor old Portsmouth. I tried to keep up with the Test Match with Ruth’s help and then I watched Man. U. against Wigan.

It’s been a hard day!

Week 34

9th August 2009

Michael & Jane in Spain, Catherine & Caroline in Ireland, Liz in Portugal, Robert & Ruth on a narrow boat, John in Greece. What is the world coming to? No wonder we lost the Test. No one’s watching what’s going on!

10th August 2009

Fruit tree watering for me. Pergola painting for Pauline. It’s Monday so Sunday papers at 11.00 am and then off to the Windmill supermarket.

This is the paper shop. The name of the shop written in red is pronounced vivliopothio which means ‘book and everything shop’.


This is the Windmill supermarket. The white van is parked over the ‘No Parking’ sign.


This is Supermarket 2. We actually managed to buy Brie cheese here today. It came in a tin. The orange car is parked exactly in front of the ‘No Parking’ sign.


11th August 2009

Very quiet day today – painting the pergola, a little bit of gardening and a swim followed by a sloppy film on Nova satellite tv.

12th August 2009

Went up to the hardware store this morning and bought garden shears and loppers for controlling the bushes. We bought more paint for the pergola and a huge tub of external paint for painting the garden walls. It cost €75.00. It was so heavy I could barely carry it. By 9.00 am we were at the internet cafe to post the first half of the week’s Blog. This is what the Internet Cafe looks like:

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One of the beautiful things about where we live in Greece is the ability to star gaze. In fact I bought a telescope for partly that reason. When we eat out on our patio at night, we can see a skyful of stars. Tonight we were looking for the shooting shower of meteorites – Perseid. We saw two events. One was certainly a Perseid meteorite producing a long trail of light disappearing over the mountain. The other was Pauline’s torch.

13th August 2009

Ten years ago we asked our bank for a £50,000.00 ‘Bridging Loan’ to buy a field on an island in Greece. We were incredibly lucky to ask a bank manager who not only harboured the same ambition as us – to build a house in Greece – but one who knew our island and where the field was. She helped us have the confidence to go ahead with our project and commit some £200,000.00 that we didn’t have. We quickly paid back the bridging loan and now own the house outright. We retired this summer and, fortuitously, so did she. Sue Riding was lovely to us as Manager of our Nat. West branch. Soon after helping us, she visited our island. She then moved on to work for Coutts Bank. Today I wrote to her with pictures of the house and wishing her happy retirement.

14th August 2009

The painting of the Pergola is now complete. Eventually, we may have a solid roof but, for now, we have the traditional bamboo cane covering which filters the sunlight without completely blocking it out. We have a small, electric oven with grill and hot plates that we cook on out there. In fact, in the summer, we cook and eat out there. At the moment my favourite is griddled fish or chicken with vegetables done under the pergola. You can see our wasp-catching pots hanging down.

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15th August 2009

I picked up lovely emails from Bob and Catherine when I logged on at the Internet Cafe on Wednesday. It was nice to hear from them both. It made me very happy.

Week 33

2nd August 2009

Absolutely exhausted today. Got up early – 7.00 am – to go to the Internet Cafe before the World started to move. Home for coffee and newspaper followed by gardening and swimming. Ruth very kindly sent me the Test Match score. The text arrived about 9.30 pm which was about the time we decided to crawl off to bed. Oh, by the way, at the weigh-in this morning I was 15.25lbs lighter. (Yes, you read it right.) Pauline, almost unbelievably for such a skinny whippet, has lost 6.25lbs. The fight goes on.

3rd August 2009

Interesting day. It was my appointment at Huddersfield Royal infirmary. I did it by mobile phone. I’d had my blood INR tested on the island on Friday. Today at 17.30 (Greek), 3.30 pm (UK) time I had to phone the hospital with the results so that they could prescribe the warfarin (anti-coagulant) level for me to take. Everything was decided to be fine and my medication remains unchanged but it left me feeling very humbled after receiving such a wonderful service. People talk the NHS down but who could receive better treatment than being on a Greek island but getting consultation in Huddersfield? To console myself for failing to win the Test Match and, as it is Monday, I get the Sunday papers.

4th August 2009

Got up early to water the fruit trees. Last year we had one lemon from two trees. This year we have four. We have one orange tree and one tangerine but they are not fruiting yet.On the next level up the field we have about a dozen olive trees and on the level above that we have six peach trees, four apricots and three pears. On the level above that we have another dozen olive trees.Because we only visited eight weeks per year and Stavros is busy most of the time, they have been on an automatic drip-watering system. This has only really kept them alive and not promoted healthy growth and fruiting. We have some peaches and apricots this year but they needed real watering early in the season to full develop. They will get that next season because we will be here from March. The courgettes are ready to be planted out. Stavros thinks we will cut courgettes before we leave in ten weeks time. If we don’t, he will. The Basil, Rocket and Salad Leaves are still too small. The Parsley hasn’t germinated at all.We have employed a little man (an Albanian – pronounced Alvanian by Greeks) to help us clear the weeds from the fruit trees. He works in the Souvlaki Bar from 3.00 pm so he is coming to us at 7.00 am. We really will have to be up early. He will do an eight hour day for us for €55.00 or £49.00 for the day. That’s more than the Minimum Wage.

5th August 2009

Woke at 6.00 am and weighed myself. I have now lost 20.5 lbs. Waited for the Alvanian to arrive. By 8.30 am he hadn’t showed and it was a beautiful morning so we went out to the Internet Cafe to post the first half of the week’s Blog. Got lovely emails from Cal, Liz and Ruth. They made me feel happy. When we got home, the man had been, done half the job and left.

It is a very hot (35/36⁰C), still day. It is not one for doing a lot of work. We decide to relax, read the paper and do extra time swimming. The sea is so warm but, in this heat, still cooling.

Ten years or so ago, I advertised for an Attendance Officer – someone who would visit homes of children who failed to attend school. In the old days when we were at school they were calIed ‘School Board’ men. In modern education they work inside school as well as out, persuading parents and children of the fiction – education is essential to life chances. On this occasion, I appointed an ex-policeman, Brian Robinson. He had spent 30 years in the Murder and Drugs Squads. It seemed a perfect background for counselling errant school children.

Brian Robinson turned out to be the most wonderful man I had ever met. If you ever wanted to rely on one person for your life, Brian would be that person. He was absolutely dependable. We became firm, personal friends and I don’t do that easily. While we were building our Greek home, Brian was buying a run down cottage in the Dordogne. It came with a field which he was always trying to persuade me to build on. I must admit, I was tempted but it was a step too far.

Although about seven years older than me, Brian has retired at exactly the same time and in the week that we retired he finally plucked up the courage to go to the doctor about his ‘waterworks’ problem. An initial x-ray showed his prostate to be twice its normal size. A biopsy was ordered just as we were going away. Cancer was the fear. I phoned him today as he got his results. A urinary infection the fool. He has had it since March but daren’t go to the doctor. At least he’s alright.

6th August 2009

Up early this morning. Heard digging outside. It was the Alvanian. He was clearing another part of the land around the fruit trees. The sun hadn’t quite got up but it would be impossibly hot out there so I took him a large bottle of iced water. He was a youngish lad dressed in shorts and t-shirt. He had no socks and was wearing sandals. He bent down and lifted up a huge, dead snake. It was about two feet long and sandy coloured. It had run through his legs and he had stamped on its head to kill it. He held it proudly aloft. I don’t know if he realised but a bite from that snake would have made him seriously ill. Stavros confirmed for me that it was poisonous and that he had been trying to trap it only weeks before.All the scorched vegetation here is sandy brown just like the snake. In future, Pauline and I will wear wellington boots to garden.

7th August 2009

I looked at Pauline today. She is wonderful. I adore her. It is 31 years this summer that Pauline arrived in her battered, old, white Mini, knocked on the door of my flat and said, “Let’s get your things together. You’re coming to live with me.” I’ve been obeying her ever since. It’s interesting, now I think about it, that everything I owned would fit in a Mini but it did. We have come a long way in the last 31 years. Literally, we have come a long way to a small dot of rock in the Aegean.

My Courgette seedlings and Salad Leaves have been potted up and are romping away. The Rocket and Basil is still too small to move. Suddenly, after two weeks, the Parsley has germinated. I am using this as a learning process. Everything has to be shaded and watered at least three times a day. I’m really enjoying learning this all over again.

8th August 2009

Saturday should be a day of rest but, when you’re retired, you just have to push yourself on. I have to water the fruit trees, weed round the Bougainvillea (We have two just ready to climb up the new pergola. One is a pale peach flower and the other is a double graft of white flowering and crimson flowering. ) I then have to water all my plants and help Pauline clean the windows. The Test Match is going badly and, trust Yorkshire, the weather is fine. Ruth has texted me to give me the score and to tell me she is off on her swimming holiday tomorrow. Only this week, The Times reported a woman dying when she was opening or closing a lock gate. She fell in, hitting her head and drowned, (in Stoke, off all places.) Is this the sort of holiday a pensioner should be going on?