Week 41

27th September, 2009

The log burning stove was installed in May this year after a six year wait. From the moment we arrived in July, temperatures have precluded trialling it. Tonight the temperature went down to 22C (70F) and we thought we had better take the chance while we could. I had been chopping up wood and filling the baskets. The stove is a clean-burn Jotul wood burning stove that hardly emits any smoke. The gases that are produced by burning the wood are used in the second burn which makes it much more efficient and environmentally friendly. Not that I’m bothered about the latter at all but, if it gets one extra points and points make prizes, I’ll have them.


28th September, 2009

We leave the island on this day next week. That fact rather drives our agenda from cleaning and servicing the car to eating up the freezer. I am being forced to have pork chops twice in a week, Bolognese Sauce twice. Pauline says I’ve got to have at least two and possibly three Rocket salads before I go. All the windows and doors have been cleaned and oiled. The tree watering is tapering off now. Come to think of it, I haven’t heard from the OTE about my telephone line. I was told it could be two weeks or two years. It’s two weeks on Friday. I’m starting to get a sinking feeling.

30th September, 2009

Wonderful day today. 29C (85F). The beach and the sea were lovely and quiet. The swimming was fantastic. Across the bay and back now only takes us forty minutes because we are getting so fit.


This is a picture of Miss Last Day of September.


1st October, 2009

If anything, the weather was warmer and more perfect today. All looks set fine for the rest of the week, for the Elections on Sunday and our departure on Monday. It is always a bit of a worry when leaving a Greek Island. Sudden strong winds can blow up and all boats are cancelled leaving one stranded and isolated. This is particularly true of the recently introduced and much faster Hydrofoils. They are less stable than the huge, ex-British Channel, Ro-Ro ferries. Ferries are usually cancelled when the wind gets to 9 Beaufort. Hydrofoils can’t really cope with 8 Beaufort. On Monday, October 5th the only vessels going are Hydrofoils so the strength of the wind is crucial. It is forecast to be 4 Beaufort which will be wonderful.

This is a picture of Mr First Day of October drowning. It is not clear which will save him first – the boat or the church!


Today we picked and bottled our first jar of olives to take back to England. Pauline is very proud.


2nd October, 2009

A notice went up on a post down the road from our house. It was from DEH. You won’t be surprised to learn that it was all in Greek. I can read some Greek. In fact, I am better at reading it than speaking it but this notice was part hand written and contained words I had never seen. I was my usual anti-social self. When we drove back from swimming yesterday, I took the notice off the post so that I could go through it at home with my Greek-English dictionary.

I forgot about the notice until this morning. We got up at 7.00, as usual, and over a cup of tea I was just struggling with the notice and saying to Pauline that I thought it was from the Electricity Company, when the power went off. DEH is the Public Electricity Company and the power went off across the island for four hours this morning. It is amazing how much one misses such a service particularly on a Greek island where it is the main source of so much. All our water is pumped by electricity. All our heating, lighting and cooking relies on it. There is no gas on the island apart from in bottles. For four hours we couldn’t flush the toilets, make a drink, cook bacon & egg or watch the BBC News. The world just imploded. We had to sit outside in the sun until normal service was resumed.

3rd October, 2009

The big day has arrived – I have to watch Pauline cleaning the car. She’s also good at checking the oil and tyre pressures. Most people on the island think she drives the car as well and are shocked to see she’s not watching the road. Most of them have never seen a right-hand drive car before. Fortunately, that means I can cut them up and Pauline gets shouted at. Anyway, the car is the order of today because the house will have to be packed up tomorrow ready for leaving on Monday morning.

Below is the view from our patio where we drink our first coffee of the morning and our last coffee of the evening. This is a view we won’t be seeing for six months. The next Blog entries will be posted somewhere in the University town of Patras and then again on board Superfast in the middle of the Adriatic.


Week 40

20th September, 2009

There can be only one item – Man. United 4 – 3 Man. City. I felt sorry for City but only a little.


21st September, 2009

This is officially the last day of Summer in the Northern Hemisphere and, right on cue, the weather got cooler. Today it was only 26C and, as the sun went down, so did the temperature. Of course, being Monday, today is Sunday so we spent the day reading the papers. This is how the day ended over Kamares:

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22nd September, 2009

I have cleared 402m of virgin land for cultivation next Spring. I will cover it with weed-suppressant fabric to keep it weed clear over the Winter. If I don’t do that, it will be carpeted with flowers by the time we return in March/April time and Pauline will make me leave them until they have finished flowering. I am still watering the fruit trees because of the hot sun during the day. Today, the first official day of Autumn in the Northern Hemisphere, we picked our first peaches. We have six this year all on one tree and we ate the first one straight from the tree. It was a delicate, scented, sweet flavour that I have never tasted before. Of course, one’s own children are always the most gifted, aren’t they?


23rd September, 2009

Pauline has spent the last two days minutely cleaning and the oiling every window and door in the property. When we first had it built, now over five years ago, Stavros said that we had a big decision to make about the windows and doors. We could have Sifnos windows and doors made by the woodman and costing about £5,000.00. They would need painting every year because of the intense sun and would rapidly shrink allowing the wind and rain through the gaps. Alternatively, we could have industrially made windows and doors which would have none of these problems. The downside was they would cost £25,000.00. We gulped but chose the latter.

The windows and doors were ordered from an industrial producer in Northern Greece called Sylor. They are unitary items with three parts – hard wood, double glazed window/door that opens normally or on a tilt and incorporates an insect net that pulls down like a roller blind and, on the outside, a shutter which pins back to the wall when open and locks when closed. It is a fantastic piece of kit that was well worth the money. The warranty is for 10 years and they are guaranteed not to need painting in that time. This is unheard of in Sifnos where the paint is peeling off ordinary objects after one summer of hot sun. The shelf above the window is typical of Sifnos architecture. It is intended to deflect rain. We don’t really know if it works. Every door or window has an external light above it. Not only do we look like a power station with them all on, we need a power station to keep them running.

After five years, everything is perfect and Pauline intends that they stay this way. The manufacturers give us each year a free bottle of detergent and a free bottle of oil to clean and treat our casements. Pauline, true to character, does this painstakingly and methodically every year. I know this because I watch her while I am reading the paper.

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24th September, 2009

The swimming over the past two days has been wonderful. The beach and the bay have been virtually deserted. Everyone seems to have gone back to work or to school. Pauline and I spend an hour swimming from one side of the bay to the other each day. I remember being absolutely knackered the first time we did it three months ago. Now I am just warming up. I made the mistake of taunting Pauline that she just wasn’t fit enough and suggested we double the swim. We did and I couldn’t walk the next day.

Now that the tourist season is over, the ferry service is severely cut back. Tomorrow, for example, the only one comes in at 9.00 pm. I think we are nearly the only foreigners left on the island. It was a lovely morning this morning – about 73F. We decided to go out for a drive. We went to Kastro. This is one of the oldest settlements on the island. It is the castle hill where a fortress was built to provide safety for the islanders against invaders – notably Venetians and Turks. It doesn’t look particularly secure now but it is full of dark passages and hidden doorways.


26th September, 2009

Courgettes appear on Greek menus a lot. In the English version they are called Zuchini and in Greek they are called colochqaci. Robert kindly sent me a recipe cooking courgettes with feta cheese. It sounds very healthy. Catherine sent me an email telling me she had been growing them in England. Courgettes are clearly headline news at the moment. I’ve grown them in England many years ago and the danger is having a glut at the end of the season. Growing them in Greece is a different thing altogether and I wouldn’t say I have been brilliantly successful. At least I’ve got some.

Of course, my memories have always put me off eating courgettes. I don’t know how many of you remember ‘stuffed marrow’. I remember it as the most awful, retch-inducing thing I have ever been forced to eat in my life. The disgusting, sloppy-wet texture of cold, baked marrow stuffed with minced meat will stay with me for ever as will Dad’s intention that I sat at the table until I had eaten it. I have long had a horror of courgettes for that reason. I once came back from a holiday to find a courgette plant had to continue to ‘fruit’ and they had developed into marrows. I had to get Pauline to dispose of it I was so scared.

Unfortunately, I seem to find that the vegetables I least enjoy are the ones that I grow most successfully. I have never been particularly fond of cabbage but I can grow them for fun. Similarly courgette. However, the Greeks have taught me to love it although the healthy eaters among you (Jane BG) will almost certainly not approve. Thinly sliced, dipped in egg and flower or light batter and deep fried is my favourite way of eating courgette or aubergine (another sloppy-textured vegetable).

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Interesting football today. Came back from a long swim to watch Chelsea lose to Wigan, Man U. win at Stoke and Everton beat poor old Portsmouth. Tomorrow I will be able to watch the F1 race with Hamilton on pole but hoping Jensen Button came get enough points and follow that by watching Sunderland – Wolves. On Monday we’ve got Man. City West Ham and on Tuesday Fiorentina – Liverpool. It’s going to be a busy week!

Week 39

13th September, 2009

Watched Birmingham – Aston Villa and Fulham –Everton. I don’t know why I bothered. These are also-ran teams and I was bored. Booked our tickets for the return journey from the island on October 5th. We get home to England on the 10th. We will spend a couple of nights in our favourite hotel in Patras – The Patras Palace. Great buffet breakfasts. We can spend some time exploring the Peloponnese before getting on a Superfast Ferry bound for Ancona in Italy. It may seem early to be booking our tickets but it is just our luck for Karamanlis, the Greek Primeminister, to call a General Election for October the 4th. Everybody registered in Sifnos has to return to the island to vote which will mean the ferries get booked up quickly.

14th September, 2009

The island is showing subtle changes. The temperature has settled at 80F rather than 90F. The sea is, if anything, a little warmer than in August. The beach is almost deserted save for a few, older couples who can come out of peak season.

15th September, 2009

Thought you might like to see some different shots. This is looking down the land to the house.

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It is 80F today. The sea is like a mill pond and warm. We swam for an hour and then collected the paper before lunching on garlic pizza made by Pauline with a chilled bottle of Orvieto Classico. Tonight we will post this on the internet at the cafe and then come home to watch some European football. I hope Ruth & Kevan haven’t drowned. The Times was late today. This is Pauline looking out for it.

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17th September, 2009

Big day today. We went to the OTE – the Greek equivalent of BT – to apply for a phone line and ADSL connection. My friend from the internet cafe will help me set up a wireless network and a proxy server. This is necessary because the BBC have scrambled the signal from the satellite so we can’t get Radio 4 through our TV like we used to do. They have also blocked access to the radio channels across the internet if you are using a non-UK service provider. To get round this, you need a proxy server which makes it look like you are in the UK.


When I got to the OTE building, there were two men sitting at desks doing nothing. I had to fill in a form which included my passport number, my Greek insurance number and my father’s first name. Anything official in Greece demands my father’s first name. I am always John Richard Eric Sanders. Pauline is always Pauline Philip Sanders. I might get my phone line in two weeks or two years depending on the engineer’s report.

Nearer 90F today. Spent our customary hour swimming across the bay and back and then staggering back to the car. Started to mark out a patch of land – 402m – which we will develop immediately for vegetable growing next spring. People here grow tomatoes, peppers, aubergines, cucumbers, melons plus onions & garlic, potatoes & broadbeans, etc.

18th September, 2009

Fabulous day today. The temperature was 92F. The sea was crystal clear and warm. The hour we spent swimming was quite magical. Today I worked up a sweat chopping wood for the log burning stove. A couple of years ago I bought two lovely log baskets that I watched a man weave in the carpark in Kamares. They have been standing empty next to the log burning stove which has been waiting for installation. Now that’s been done, I’m determined that, however hot the evening, we will test drive the stove before we go. We have just over two weeks left before we leave for Italy.

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We bought a new desktop computer to add to our laptop and brought it with us. I installed Pauline’s accounts programme on it. It is an integral part of our lives and may become more so in retirement. Pauline tells me today that our expenditure over these nine weeks averages £192.00. We are both amazed. We thought that prices were quite high this year and, of course, the pound is quite weak. We haven’t been extravagant but nor have we denied ourselves. £1700.00 over nine weeks is quite extraordinary.

19th September, 2009

One of the things we have tried to do in this Greek house is include things which have a tie-in with our past lives and our houses. For example, for her thirtieth birthday present, I bought Pauline an oak settle or bench which she had been admiring in a Saddleworth Junk/Antique shop we frequented in those days. This settle wasn’t just any old item but it had real meaning for and connection with Pauline. She is from Oldham. The settle – looking rather like an ecclesiastical object – was from the old Town Hall in Oldham which closed at the end of the 1970s. As you can probably see, it has churchy overtones in its design and one of those arched ends was damaged in its removal from the town hall. Pauline was 30 in 1981 and an old woodwork teacher, Wilf Hall, who was just about to retire repaired it with a replacement carved oak piece that is almost perfect. It is nice to have such a connection in Greece. The photos above it are of Slade House and Quarry Court.

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Week 38

6th September, 2009

Hot and humid day – 33⁰C left us feeling lazy and tired. The Greek TV is advertising back-to-school products. They start on Tuesday after finishing in the middle of June. People think British teachers have it easy. Continental Europe is way ahead of us. Anyway, I am starting a campaign to take a fresh look at teachers’ contracts of employment.

  • School holidays should be set at 6 weeks in total per working year.
  • The working day should be from 8.00 am – 6.00 pm (Monday – Saturday)
  • All working teachers should take a 10% cut in salary to help the economic recovery
  • Pensions for all working teachers should cease to be Final Salary with immediate effect.

I think it is ridiculous what these teachers think they can get away with. Let’s give them a dose of reality. The job is so easy compared with sitting in an air conditioned office drinking coffee. Why do teachers think they should be cosseted with special conditions? After all, half of them can’t spell. Some of them can’t even use an apostrophe.

7th September, 2009

The Teachers’ Pension Service is a wonderful organisation. They are giving us money for not working. Not only that, they are giving us much more money for not working than we had when we were working. Admittedly, their lump sum has paid off our huge mortgage and that is why we feel so well off but it also feels totally immoral. For months we have not known what position we would be in and, suddenly, we have all our anxieties removed.

To explain, we went to the internet cafe today and, in doing so, checked our bank account. The TPS had put more money into it and we could, at last, work out what our monthly pension would be. Everything happened so quickly when we finished that these finer details had not been elucidated. Our pensions were only supposed to be paid from August 31st and we were a little unsure how much it would be. Knowing nothing about retirement other than the apocryphal stories of belt-tightening and reduced circumstances, we expected the worst. It has turned out to be the exact opposite. We are 25% better off than when we were working. And we get to swim every day in the sunshine. Lovely people at the TPS. Lovely people in the Oldham LA.

Went out for lunch at a taverna by the beach at a little fishing village called Vathy that has only become accessible by road in recent times, to celebrate our good fortune and then came home to read the Sunday papers and pretend it wasn’t Monday.

8th September, 2009

I was reading the Teachers’ Pension website – as you do when you are retired – and discovered that, in future, teachers retirement age will move to 65, they won’t be able to take a lump sum and their pension will not be based on their best salary in the past ten years as ours is but on a salary average over their career. All of these things would have severely worsened our position. To add to this, the Labour Party’s Works and Pensions guru has proposed a £50,000 cap on all Public Sector and Quango pensions. Soon, you will not be able to afford to grow old under Labour. Soon, you won’t need to!

9th September, 2009

Enough about pensions. We actually got rain in the night and, when we woke up at 7.00 am, the temperature had dropped to a mere 70F. The Greeks were wrapped up for a trip to the Antarctic. The tourists were naked on the beach determined to get a tan. Pauline and I had no idea what to do. We are not Greek and we are not tourists.


10th September, 2009

Where ever we live, my favourite room is the study. In Quarry Court, Pauline and I sit back to back each with a computer on a wireless network sharing colour and mono printers. In Greece, featured in the photo, we have a desktop and a laptop but no wireless network. It is a real frustration to me that we cannot get a telephone line easily installed and so get a broadband, wireless network. I have to do everything off line, save on my stick and go up to the internet cafe in Apollonia to upload everything at €3.00 per hour which is not a bad price but it is inconvenient. This will be one of my targets for next April.


11th September, 2009

Woke up in the middle of the night to the sound of a 1000 marauding monkeys on the roof. I don’t wake easily. A couple of years ago there was an earthquake in Staffordshire which rattled our garage door in Yorkshire. Apparently, Pauline shot out of bed thinking someone had crashed into the house. She ran round the rooms looking for signs of damage and, after half an hour returned to bed. She told me about it the next morning. I was really disappointed to have slept through the experience. I always wanted to know what and earthquake is like. Anyway, on this occasion, it was absolutely torrential rain accompanying a thunder storm. It was wonderful. No fruit tree watering for a while.

We think we’ve solved the mystery fruit. If you saw the photo a week or two ago, we asked if anyone knew its name. A Greek in a restaurant in the port told us its Greek name – Kidoni – and said we had picked it too soon. It should be left on the tree and would turn yellow when ripe. Even then, it would be too sharp to eat. We had to cook it with plenty of sugar. That triggered in my mind the Medlar Pear. I am going to check it out in the internet cafe when I post this. It turns out it is a variety of Quince.

12th September, 2009

The wonderful thing about Greece is that it can rain torrentially for half an hour and then be brilliantly hot and sunny immediately afterwards. In this photo taken the morning after the rain you can see some of the rubbish washed down the mountain on to the road but you can also see what a wonderful morning it is for taking your breakfast outside – if you were allowed to eat breakfast.


Of course, rain and 80F warmth means growth. I thought you might like to see some items from the garden. Courgettes and cultivated wild rocket, for example and the olives swelling nicely.

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This is a rocket, basil and salad leaf salad all home grown and dressed with olive oil, lemon and Dijon mustard.


Then there are the flowering plants we are working on like bougainvillea. We have a white/red mix and a beautiful translucent faded orange colour. We also have a number of Bottle Brush of Callistemon bushes. The name is Greek Kali Stemon (Beautiful Stamon).

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We also have this beautiful Yucatan Palm at the edge of the gate.

Week 37

30th August 2009

Lovely day today. Went to the Internet Cafe to post my Blog and send some emails to friends who are going back to school on Tuesday. Checked our bank account and found that the LA had placed a life-changing amount of money there to say thank you for all our hard work. That’s nice and rather comforting. Lovely people the Local Authority.

We have now done 155 weeks in Greece or 3 years since we first spent 3 weeks in Zakynthos in 1981. Most of that but by no means all has been spent on Sifnos. Today, we witnessed a most unusual weather condition which would be normal for us in Huddersfield in Autumn but not in the middle of a Greek summer.

Often, as we drive across the Pennines, descending steeply and rapidly from the M62 (the highest stretch of motorway in Britain) into Saddleworth we are above the clouds which have settled on the moor below. We can go from clear blue, sunny skies into darkest winter in the matter of a few yards. Today, in Kamares, it was 31⁰C and absolutely still. High humidity had made it a bit sticky. As we set off down to the beach to swim and cool off, thick mist/cloud/fog rolled off the sea and turned the beach into night. There was the bizarre sight of sunbathers laying on the sand under a dark sky. A ferry coming into the harbour took five times as long as it felt its way to the jetty, hooting out warnings as it came. It was so unusual and so hot we continued to swim but couldn’t make out our usual landmarks as we swam across the bay.

We finished our swim and walked back to our car. We couldn’t see the ferry because the fog was so dense. Our car was a hundred yards away and, by the time we got there, the fog had rolled away and left just this view from our house.

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31st August 2009

Today we got our first piece of junk mail. I was so excited for lots of reasons. Firstly, as Pauline, will tell you, I love opening post – any post. I open everything that arrives at our house. I love getting the most basic and inappropriate junk mail – cashmere pashminas, incontinence pads, hearing aids, Viagra – I love them all. Secondly, for a long time we have been asking Stavros where we live. Nobody seems to know, including us. Thirdly, it just marks us out as members of the community to have letters delivered to our house. This particularly piece of junk mail was from Nova Satellite TV inviting us to spend more money with them. I won’t be but I shall keep their letter pinned to the notice board in my Study here for some time.

We have had one other letter delivered. It was from me. I sent it to myself to find out where I lived. I had a rough idea and Stavros and I worked out a rudimentary address. I wrote ourselves a letter saying “Dear Us ….Love Us”. We posted it in a box 500m away from the house and it was delivered one month later by a postman who lives next to the post box. Anyway, this is our address:
John & Pauline Sanders                      John & Pauline Sanders
Kavalaris                                                Kavalaris
Kamares 840 03                                   Kamaron 840 03
Sifnos                                                      Sifnos
Cyclades                                                 Kiklades
Greece                                                    Hellas

I’ve only got five weeks left this time but, next year, it would be nice to hear from you.

1st September, 2009

White Rabbit. I have been in Education since September 1956. On the first occasion, I went to school without being taken and managed to remember my name, my date of birth, my address and whether or not I was staying to school lunch. I wasn’t but how I wished I was! This is the first of 54 Septembers that I will not be packing my bag, trying to remember my name and date of birth and trying to get ‘Seconds’ if not ‘Thirds’ for school lunch. Already, I feel strangely isolated and out of the loop. I will sit in the sun up a Greek mountain and cry into the wind as I listen to Donnizetti’s ‘Lucia de Lammermoor’ at full volume to drown out the memories.

I have become a strangely maudlin man, prone to tears at the least predictable moment as a memory creeps past the firewall. Are all old men like this or just the odd ones? I can cry on reading an obituary in ‘The Times’ or thinking about someone from the past. Not a day goes by when I don’t think of Mum. I don’t think I am depressed. I enjoy almost every bit of every day. I particularly enjoyed watching United beat Arsenal last weekend. I am very optimistic about the future. But Mum’s death has exposed something very vulnerable in me that I knew was there but didn’t acknowledge.

2nd September, 2009

Received emails from Ruth and Jane this week. It was nice to hear from them. Ruth sent me photographs which were interesting. They showed Bob & Jane on holiday.

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Jane and some other chap and Ruth with a gang of hooligans.

3rd September, 2009

Until recently and certainly when I was younger, I thought my work was really important. I would work all day and stay up half the night analysing data, writing reports, developing new policies. I spoke at meetings with commitment and enthusiasm. I encouraged my staff to embrace new ideas and try out new methods. Particularly, I encouraged staff almost as old as me to adopt new technology to do their job better. What first hits you when you stop doing it and stand back is ‘What a lot of bollocks it was’. Life’s like that. They don’t miss you. There is always someone else available to stand up and spout bollocks enthusiastically in your place. Nothing is that important but, while you are doing the job, it is often not easy to see.

4th September, 2009

Travel can be undertaken in two ways. One can either move or one can stand still. In our younger days, Pauline and I were committed to movement. We would book as many holidays as we could, ticking places off our cultural lists. Paris, Arras, Lille, Milan, Rome, Venice, etc – we spent four or five days doing them all. We did the Canary Islands and Cyprus, Belgium, Luxembourg, Northern France, the Alps, the Italian Lakes, Switzerland, Scandinavia. In between, we visited twenty different Greek islands. We were always on the move. Our lawns never got cut because we were always away in our time off.

Eventually, travel, the symbol of cultural enterprise and enjoyment, began to pall. We decided to build the house in Greece and stop moving so much. Of course, we have to get here and return to England and, of course, that involves movement and travel but it also involves a lot of staying still. They say that if you stay still, the world will come to you. I can believe it. Certainly, here on our island, you observe the whole gamut of human relationships in microcosm. It is quite amazing how many people I meet who have a connection with my other life, however tangential. Two or three years ago, we met a family out walking on Sifnos. Within five minutes we had established a common acquaintance although they lived in Ipswich and we in Huddersfield. Richard turned out to be a Geography teacher who had once worked with a professional who subsequently worked in our school as an advisor. Not earth shattering, I know, but a lovely feeling of common bond.

5th September, 2009

Nikos the tiler came to our house today. He doesn’t speak any English but his wife who runs the tile shop speaks it perfectly. Last year, we drove up to see her one day in our shiny, black Honda CRV. The next thing we know her husband has bought her a shiny, black Honda CRV. It is the only CRV on the island and she hardly ever drives but it looks good in the garage. Anyway, Nikos came and measured up our patio. It amounts to about 1402m.

We have already chosen the tiles. It will cost us about £5500.00. He also measured the kitchen which will cost another £500.00. So £6000.00 for the tiles this winter and I’m a pensioner!

Went up to a lovely little village today called Artemonas. They had hosted a food festival featuring the produce of individual Cycladic islands. Represented were Serifos, Sifnos, Milos, Santorini, Paros, Andros, Kythnos, Syros. Pauline and I have visited every one of these islands. Each had a booth and brought food or produce particular to them. Live bouzouki music was played at full volume. It started at 7.30 pm as the sun went down and the scene was magical.

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I’m amazed to report that, in spite of visiting the Food Festival, I have lost 4lbs this week.