Week 84

25th July, 2010

A really hot one today and humid too. Even in the early morning it was 31°C. By swimming time at around 2.30 pm it had reached 39°C. Too hot to do anything so did nothing after a refreshing dip but watch the motor racing.

26th July, 2010

We are not sure exactly when Dimitris, the tiler, will start work but today, as we were painting the front of the house and I was covered from head to toe in white paint, a lorry drew up and delivered dozens of bags of tile adhesive. We can only paint at the front of the house because of the heat and then only until 11.30 am because the sun is so high and hot it burns your hat off.

27th July, 2010

As we furnished this house, it has amused us to include objects & pieces of furniture that are founded in our past. For example, we have a settle or bench which is solid oak, slightly ecclesiastical in style and dates back to 1850. It was made for Oldham Town Hall Council Chamber and I bought it for Pauline for her 30th birthday – nearly thirty years ago. To have that in a house on a Greek island rather stretches the connection but amply illustrates a segment of our life. In just the same way, we have a trunk that Pauline had as a student when she went up from Oldham to her College in Tottenham in 1970. Her Mum, who literally had no money, had to save hard to buy her the trunk but was determined she should have everything other students would have. This trunk represented a considerable sacrifice on her part. 


It is on its last journey and is used to store things here in our garage but it maintains that sense of obligation that Pauline has always carried around with her and links her strongly with a wrinkly, little old lady still fighting the fight in a warden-assisted apartment in Oldham.

28th July, 2010

Won’t bore you with the monotony of it but carried on painting. I’m really beginning to enjoy the achievement. The house is so sparkling white that I need to wear my dark glasses. We have been working for a week now – painting hard in the morning and swimming hard in the afternoon. It has been so hot that it has been difficult to eat too much. By lunchtime today, I said to Pauline, “I think you’d better weigh me.” When I stepped on the scales, we found I had lost a stone in a week. I must be careful. I’ll be making Jane (2) look fat.

Another strike has started in Greece today. We’ve had the civil servants, the lawyers, the tourist workers, the seamen, the airport workers, the taxi drivers. Last week all hospital doctors were on strike for a week. Today, the lorry and petrol tanker drivers went on strike. Within hours, petrol stations across the country had run out of fuel. Queues of cars formed along roads leading to petrol stations. Fortunately, our island has just had two petrol ships in to replenish the two petrol stations on the island.

petrol.jpg  petrol21.jpg

29th July, 2010

The downside of the petrol strike is that no supply lorries can get to the island. We are almost out of Mythos. I’ve still got plenty of French & Italian wine but I’ve been trying to eke it out with iced Greek beer. Mythos is the beer of choice in Greece. When I first came to Greece nearly thirty years ago it was dominated by Fix Beer and that has just been relaunched. They all taste the same to me. 

Only 33°C today. I’ve had to put my coat on. Don’t need so much iced beer, fortunately. The tiler arrived tonight to say that he would start work tomorrow. We are looking forward to having the work done but not to the disruption which will probably last a month.

30th July, 2010 

Received a lovely email from Jane (2) this morning. She is a nice girl for someone so skinny and fit. 

Hi John
I missed your email a couple of weeks ago, so read the blog and found out why. I will continue to read it as I like to see your news. Hope it doesn’t get too hot out there though. 39 is pretty warm! (see global warming article in Times today!)
Take care
Love Jane

I replied:

How lovely of you to find the time to write. I really appreciate it.  Have you retired yet? You must be old enough now! You need to do it before your legs give in and you’ve overused them already. I can tell you, it really is fantastic. I read the article in the Times yesterday and noted that it came from the Met Office who forecast the ‘barbecue summer’ and the ‘mild winter’ both of which turned out to be totally wrong. Maybe third time lucky …

Are you having a holiday or is Farnham all the holiday you need. I don’t want to alarm you but a number of interesting properties have come up in Farnham recently. We might be neighbours after all. There’s a reason not to retire. Thanks for the email.
Love John

30th July, 2010 

Very hot day today. Four young men were barrowing liquid cement up the banking to level up the patio prior to laying the tiles. It is so hot, four or five inches of cement is dry enough to walk on in half an hour.

t_1.jpg  t_2.jpg

Week 83

18th July, 2010

Interesting day. In the morning, Pauline repainted (touched up) the pergola before the tiles are laid. She is going to hang a considerable number of floor to ceiling curtains in a tent effect which will cut down on sun glare and overall heat. While she was doing that, I was doing a bit of gardening. I dug up one root of Maris Piper – 7 or 8 huge, white fleshed potatoes; one root of King Edward’s – 6 small new potatoes with characteristic blush. They will be ready in about a month; similarly with Anya salad potatoes. I cut another four courgettes. We can’t cope with them at the moment. I picked a huge mound of broad beans which took me about an hour to pod. I thinned out the carrots and I took 8 or so baby carrots and I pulled one white and one red onion.

It is a hot one today – 37⁰C – and we went swimming by 2.00 pm. We go swimming every day. The water was crystal clear and wonderful. We swam across the bay and back as we try to do each day. After swimming we got home and showered and then I scrubbed and boiled 8 or so of the smallest new potatoes and we ate them covered in butter from a bowl. We ate all the other vegetables for dinner along with griddled, spatchcocked chicken which had been marinaded in herbs, yoghurt, mustard and garlic.

19th July, 2010

My back has come out of spasm and my chest infection, although not gone, is being controlled enough to let me sleep. Received a couple of lovely, supportive and encouraging emails from Ruth over the past two or three days. Had some fantastic experiences today. Fulfilled every man’s dream when I met a Swedish model. Mind you, she was about 70 and in a petrol station but it was fun. At Elinoil we drove in to fill up with petrol. It cost €69.00 – £58.50 – although it was the first fill up in three weeks. The garage is run by a wonderful family – Father and Mother with 16 year old son and Mother’s sister. They tried to get a new tyre for us but couldn’t. We sent one from England. They thought that we’d be straight up to get it fitted but we’ve decided to make do with the temporary repair until we are ready to travel. Explaining that to them was not going well until, suddenly, this statuesque lady intervened. It turned out she’d been living on Sifnos since 1971 and was married to a Sifniot. She spoke fluent Greek and English as well as Swedish. I told her the tale and she related it in Greek. Problem solved.

I had gone up to the Medical Testing Centre to have my monthly blood test – INR – at a cost of €16.00. It is done by the Baker and he was much less of a Butcher this month. Before he started I said, I would like use my arm tomorrow if possible. My reading was too high at 3.9 but it may have been affected by paracetamol which I needed for my bad back. We walked next door to the Bank. Pauline went in and took out some money. Monday morning and there was a big queue. I sat on the stone seat outside in the sunshine. I was there for ten minutes and must have said good morning to twenty people in that time. Some of them I wasn’t even sure who they were but they knew me. It was a nice feeling to think we had made so many friends and acquaintances on the island.

As we drove home at about 11.30 am, we stopped at the paper shop and bought The Sunday Times and The Sunday Telegraph. The rest of the day was guaranteed!

20th July, 2010

Got up feeling very optimistic after a reasonable sleep but still with some unpleasant dreams. After doing a few jobs around the house, we went for a swim. Once again, the water was absolutely wonderful – warm, tranquil, crystal clear, studded with little fish. I more than 25 years of coming here, we can’t remember it being more wonderful.

Phoned the lab at Huddersfield Royal. I told them my figures and said it was too high. I said I had been using paracetamol which might have affected it. “No”, said the technician “but like my last caller from Spain, you’ve probably upped your alcohol intake.” So that was me told.

21st July, 2010

Wonderful day today. We have about a fortnight until the tiler comes so we thought we would get stuck in and freshen up the white paint on the outside of the house first. Pauline has re-painted the pergola and between us we have re-painted one end of the house. We were supposed to go out to eat tonight but, after another magical swim, we made a quick tea at home and prepared for an early night.

22nd July, 2010

Wonderful day again today. After working hard yesterday, we decided to have a rest day. We drove up to the supermarkets to do a bit of shopping. Pauline had to make bread and biscuits. Had lots of banter with the wife of the owner of the supermarket. She tries so hard to communicate and we have good fun. Then we drive down to Kamares port.  As we walk back to the store, we stop to talk to Rania at the restaurant we enjoy. We drive back and are waved to or tooted at by so many people on our route. I am left consider the simple and unvarnished friendship and respect these people offer up instinctively and to compare it with those who are connected to me by accident of birth.

23rd July, 2010

A painting day to day. We did one third of the front of the house and were shattered at the end of it. Half way through the morning, Stavros brought the tiler, Dimitris, and his mate up to the house to measure up in preparation for tiling the patio and kitchen. I’m expecting a bill of about €10,000.00 for all the work we need. After painting we had another wonderful swim and then Pauline cooked Apostolis’ beef in a bottle of French Rosé wine with our own potatoes and broad beans. It was a meal to remember.

24th July, 2010

Went up to the DIY shop in Apollonia early this morning while it was quiet and cool. We bought two more huge tubs of Dulux exterior maisonary paint at €76.00 per tub. We also got a spool of wire to encourage the bougainvilleas to climb the pergola. We went on to the electrical shop to buy two lights for the pergola and eight moor to go around the outside of the property. Frangiskus, the electrician will be back shortly to do the electrical work.When we got home, we worked on retraining the bougainvilleas but they are stubborn, dry and full of spikes. We have two and neither are really typical of the island. These are the ones we have:

miss_manilla.jpg  b_begun_sikhander.jpg

Week 82

11th July, 2010

I’m not well. I wouldn’t normally broadcast that but it is remarkable in being my first illness since finishing work 16 months ago. It may be related to the stress of the past few weeks moving house but I have a deep chest infection. I am not sleeping well and, consequently, neither is Pauline. To add to this, my back, which I injured in the move, has gone into very painful spasm and hurts in every action from sitting down to standing up, from cleaning my teeth to driving the car. Most of all it hurts when I cough and, with a chest infection, it’s agony.

12th July, 2010

I hardly slept again. Therefore, nor did Pauline. I am a typical man in that I am rarely ill but, when I am, I don’t do it by halves. I am never aware of dreaming and haven’t been throughout my life. I get in bed, put my head on the pillow and I am asleep. The one exception to this is when I am ill. In my youth, I would dream of perpetually being about to fall off a very tall building. As I’ve got older, this has transmogrified to coping with intricately linked but progressively complicated computer screens that never resolve themselves. They just go round and round without apparent logic. Last night was filled with such screen dreams. The day time temperature had reached 37°C and at this time of year the night time temperature doesn’t fall much. The airconditioning was on but it can be difficult and drying if left on all night.

I got up to find Jane’s email with its throw away

PS – Mike is fine by the way for all who have not been in touch with him.

I assumed that was aimed at me and the human mine field of contradictions that is Caroline which I blundered in to in openly teasing Mike – as brothers will –

I wrote back to Jane immediately saying:

How do you know about Mike? Have you phoned him? I’ve lost his number when my PC went down. Can you give it to me?

The last time I had spoken to Mike by phone, you may recall from the Blog, was when he turned out to be in the middle of a game of Bridge. I expected him to phone me back later but he didn’t and that started my campaign to get him in contact. I was shocked, perplexed, disappointed and hurt by Caroline’s reaction but, clearly, we all have our problems.

When I got this back from Jane it touched a raw nerve which most of you will know takes some doing for a placid and mild mannered boy like me:

I called him and we chatted as I could not email him. We keep in touch by phone and speak every couple of months.

I don’t know what you would think but my immediate response was: why, when John was asking about anyone having contact with Mike did you just not say – Oh, We keep in touch by phone and speak every couple of months.

I wrote back just saying:

Thanks. I wish you’d said before.

13th July, 2010

I got this reply today.

Hi John
Not sure what you wished I’d told you? That I was in contact with Mike or his number? I thought you knew the former and had the latter. I am in regular contact with everyone with the exception of Liz. Ruth, Cathy, Cal and me all txt each other frequently and have met up annually since before Mum died – though Cal can’t always join us. I was due to see her and Les in April in Kerry but the volcano intervened. David and his Mum saw them as they had gone by car and ferry and were renting a house for the three of us near Kenmare. David and I meet Ruth and Kev fairly regularly. Bob and Jane have met with us in London around Xmas time again going back to before Mum died and have done so since. Jane and Christina have met up/ stayed in London with me a few times. Mike keeps in sporadic touch and often does not respond when I leave him messages but does eventually. He is very private and his own person and will only be in touch on his own terms.  I don’t think he’s in contact with anyone else though he may communicate from time to time with Cal.  Jane G and I have contact when we need to usually by email.

And I have been a very fond Auntie to my nieces and nephews for years – and now great nieces and nephews – only recently Jamie stayed here in London for the weekend. And you keep us all connected via the blog. So there you have the family connections from my perspective. Our siblings will all have their own version and I don’t know how much each connects with others other than when I am involved.

I wrote back that night:

What I meant, was when I got into those shenanigans with Caroline about Michael after I had written to him a number of times without reply, I wish you had told me you had phone contact with Mike every couple of months. I’d had quite a lot of phone contact with him and he had taken to texting me and phoning me. One night I phoned him to say I was going away and he said, “I can’t talk now I’m playing Bridge.” and he put the phone down. I thought he would do the normal thing and ring back when he could. He didn’t. I couldn’t email him even though I suggested he take Mum’s computer and desk. I wrote him a jokey letter looking for a response. As I understand it, Michael is a people person. His job is caring for other people. They rely on him and his arrangements. Why can’t we? I had thought that the minimum I could have expected was a contact. I got nothing.

I thought Mum’s death had hit Mike quite hard and he had no other close family member to share his feelings with. As his bullying older brother, I thought he might appreciate some discussion. When I was asking in my emails, ‘Does anyone know anything about Mike?’, you didn’t say, ‘Oh I speak to him every couple of months.’ It might have saved a row with Caroline although that was bizarre in itself. (By the way, why does she write as if she is a sixteenth century Irish bog monster? She is as English as the rest of us.) I have contact with Liz who clearly has her own issues. I have renewed my relationship with Ruth which I am pleased about because she is so, apparently, normal. I’ve had a contact from Catherine who told me it would be the only one because she ‘doesn’t do family’. I don’t hear from Bob but I do from Jane (2) which is an interesting observation in itself. I had contact with Caroline until I didn’t do or say what she wanted of me and I haven’t heard since. The thought of being an Auntie fills me with dread. I have a pathological disinterest in my brother’s and sister’s children which probably gives you an incite in to me.

As I’m writing this, two thoughts strike me:
How was it possible to get a family so wrong?
How safe a blob of rock in the middle of the Aegean feels.

Mind you, tonight it is 35C and there is no breeze. The air conditioning is on full. The cicadas are making a row outside. I see rain is forecast for London tomorrow. We would love it here. We are forecast three days of 38C. We will probably just sit in the sea. I will phone Michael tomorrow.
Love John

14th July, 2010

Today I got:

Hum.. Not a very easy conversation by email but you ask me several questions, only some of which I can answer. Mike will speak for himself – as I said he often does not return calls; when he does it to me I think it’s  about him not me and I leave him alone for a while. If you want contact with Mike you will have to make the running and develop a relationship with him. I can’t explain anyone else’s motives or behaviour in their family relationships.

You ask why I  didn’t reply to your question about Mike and suggest it might have prevented the shenanigans with Cal. There’s a complex set of answers which I can’t easily explain by email. But my relationship with Mike is personal to him and me and not something he wants me to share with others in the family – he has said so explicitly. I did not intervene in your and Cal’s exchange as I thought it was ridiculous and I had no patience to be bothered with either of you. I deal with hostile, angry people day in day out – it’s my job and I love it. I am paid a lot of money to take responsibility  for resolving problems but I don’t want those kind of relationships with my family and friends. I have found in the past that playing mediator in my personal life is not wise so I choose not to do so. I have pondered your rhetorical question – how is it possible to get a family so wrong –  many times over the past 35 years and have my own view – I guess we all played a part and continue to do so. Maybe one day we could talk about it?

Meantime enjoy your safe blob. I am off to see my staff in Cardiff tomorrow and for one of my regular meetings with the Welsh Assembly members who are keen for me to reassure them that the Westminster Govt’s proposed cuts will not affect the IPCC’s work in Wales – so the weather won’t be remotely relevant.

As with all these things, it is not the text but the subtext that one needs to read. I am tempted to spell these under-strands out as they apply to each member of the family in all their ugly fascination but I’ll hold on that for a while. Suffice it to say that here you can read the claims to centralised control through the complexity of understanding and the assertion of a higher plain of activity which makes mere mortals quite beneath one and ‘ridiculous’.

I will sleep on it – I hope.

15th July, 2010

I have awoken with my decision. For nearly forty years I have thought that there was little hope of our family maintaining a working unit. For most of my life, Mum discouraged it as well. It was only in those latter years that she tried to reverse her policy a little and by then, for me, it felt too late. However, with Mum’s death, I felt a twinge of responsibility and have used the Blog and Website to at least contact each member each week. I have done that without fail for 81 weeks. I have been aware that some are not interested, some vaguely interested, some interested (some requests to be included have been made) I have been aware that Jane felt a little threat to what she thought was an established position of authority at the hub.

Whatever camp you fall in to or out with, you will rejoice to hear that I will bother you no more. I will not send out the weekly newsletter or anything else. I will continue to maintain the website and the Blog for my own records and amusement. Feel free to drop in or not as you see fit.

16th July, 2010

It may sound pathetic but I am a man of principle. I think my position through, formulate my policy and then stick to it. I have reviewed my policy in the light of a (coughing) night’s sleep and I’m sure it is right. Onward.

A man appeared at my front door this evening. He announced that his name was Dimitris and that he was to be our tiler. He had been sought out by Stavros on our behalf. He will put 5mwall tiles in the kitchen and then 200m2  floor tiles on the patio around the house. He can start in three weeks and it will take him about a month. He should be finished for September. That will leave us five or six weeks to get all the additional electrics done before we leave. Couldn’t be better!

Today I’ve been making my first paper logs for the fire next year. Having made them, they will sit on the patio in the sun to thoroughly dry out. I was amazed how little newspaper is required for each one and how easy it was to make.


In a week or so, when thoroughly dried out, these logs will be stored in the garage for next spring. Ironically, in order to store them safely from the mice, we will keep them in Pauline’s student trunk. I love things like that. A trunk, bought in Oldham 40 years ago by a brave lady who had to borrow the money to buy it and spent the rest of the year paying it back, is now giving service on a rock in the Aegean so divorced from Oldham & Manchester as you could imagine.

17th July, 2010

The best ideas come at the last moment. It hasn’t been my best week as I think anybody who bothers to read this Blog would agree. Still under the cosh of this chest infection although with my back problem easing, I sat with the patio doors open, contemplating my courgettes. This chap (Who knows?  It could be a girl!) skittered across the scorching concrete and off under a bush. It stopped only long enough to stare at me through the mosquito screen. Beware snakes coming out of the grass!


Stavros says this is one of the good snakes – but they still bite you!

Week 81

5th July, 2010

I have always been prone to introspection, self analysis, list making, daily, weekly, monthly, annual, five-year and ten-year planning. I have never known why or where it came from. I would be interested to know if anyone else is as anal as me. If you look at those proclivities as a spectrum you will see that they move from negative to positive, from reflective to activating, from passive to positively pushy. This latter end of the range is particularly helpful and to the fore in the world of work. The former traits are pushed in to the background and labelled ‘self indulgent’.

When you are retired, of course, there is so much time for reflection, for analysis, for indulgence that it can hurt. If left unchecked, thoughts can destroy one. I need little encouragement for self destruction. I have worn my heart on my sleeve all my life – and proudly. Ruth will tell you that I am ‘soft’ and I wouldn’t argue. In softness sits compassion, charity and love. I hope the truth is also to be found there.

Tonight I sat outside under an ink blue sky studded with stars, listening to the owls calling against the backdrop of the gentling breaking waves and wept for the times I have known but will never know again, for the people who have walked through my life but are no more. Sometimes the pain of loss seems almost unbearable.

6th July, 2010

Drove up to Apollonia to the Post Office. I was expecting an invoice for my Broadband supply from Cosmote. The PO said they had given it to Stavros ten days ago. (Turns out he had paid it for me ten days ago as well.) However, one of the two huge boxes we posted from Huddersfield five days ago had arrived. Two burly postmen carried it out to my car. Well, I have got a bad back. The box weighed 26Kg and was full of things that came to mind as we packed up the house – for example, a watering can, a multiple tap connector, our best kitchen knives, all that half price, all-day sun cream that Pauline purchased, etc.. The second parcel – the tyre – hadn’t appeared which rather worried us.

Swimming was such a delight. The temperature was in the 30s, the sun was beating down, the sea really was azure-blue reflecting the cloudless sky and a gentle breeze kept everything under control. Of course, it is pre-tourist season so beautifully quiet. Pauline and I swam for an hour, drove back to the house and, after showering, checked the bank account. The money from the house sale was just arriving. We dressed and drove into the port for lunch. During lunch of Greek Salad, fried Kalamari and potatoes washed down with ice-cold house white wine, my phone rang. It was our Bank Manager to confirm the money had arrived and that it was being distributed to the accounts I had specifically set up.

  fried_calamari.jpg  milos-greek-salad.jpg  ww.jpg

Really enjoyed the match tonight. Holland deserved their victory without question but I felt sorry for Diego Forlan. He ran his heart out throughout the tournament. He didn’t cheat. He showed English players what you can achieve with effort. He also asked some uncomfortable questions of Alex Ferguson who never got anywhere near the best out of a talented and committed player who really could have fitted into the Man. U. style.

7th July, 2010

Went out early this morning to the Post Office and there was the parcel containing our new, CRV tyre: Dunlop ST30  225 60 R18 100H Grand Trek. You can’t get them in Greece. We bought it instantly at Quickfit in Huddersfield for £183.00. What a price and then we had to pay postage! At least we now have our new tyre.


When we got home, we were just having coffee when Frangiskus, the electrician, arrived to move a couple of electrical sockets in the kitchen before the tiler does his work. It was a major job with drilling and plastering but, when he’d gone, we started to get phone calls from Banks to confirm that monies in £100,000.00 lots had been arriving. We can now sit back and let events take care of themselves for a few months. We went swimming at about 3.00 pm and the temperature was 36. The water was wonderful and we stayed in for nearly an hour and a half.

Spain easily outclassed Germany tonight and deserve a final place.


8th July, 2010

Today a huge lorry with lifting gear backed up our drive. On to the ground they proceeded to lift pallets of tiles – 200 sq m for the surrounds of the house and 5 sq m for the kitchen. It also deposited new dining chairs and a table for the patio. I like the furniture style and quality but I ultimately chose this furniture from a French company in Greece because the style was called Burton. There is nothing like going for a Burton. Stavros will book a man to come and build perimeter walls to edge the walk ways round the house and a tiler to complete the job. Let’s hope we get it done this year.

tles_1.jpg  tc.jpg tile_2.jpg tile_3.jpg

9th July, 2010

Now I’m cash rich and property poor, I’m hoping for a severe double dip recession. I really need house prices to drop another 20% and then I can go in with cash in hand and drive a hard bargain. According to The Economist magazine, US house prices have fallen every month for the past six. I need that trend exporting to the UK now. According to The Guardian, that is just what is beginning to happen as house prices have fallen for three consecutive months.

I’m really enjoying Oldham’s embarrassment at providing ridiculously generous redundancies to people like Pauline & I only to find their Academy plans back up ‘for discussion’. Does Gove know what he is doing? On Friday my old school held a valedictory reunion for ex-staff and on Monday heard that they will remain as they were for the foreseeable future. Actually, I don’t blame the government for cutting the funding. They should be saying that it will come but not yet. I’m advocating a 40% cut in Public Sector wages frozen for ten years. In Greece, they are even cutting and freezing Private Sector wages.  On the other hand, if you are going to do something potentially, harsh, controversial and unpopular, you check every word of your communication minutely because anger will settle on the slightest weakness. Has Gove actually got it in him? I don’t think so. He could even be a Liberal Democrat in disguise.


10th July, 2010

Lovely day – a little cooler – only 26°C Pauline’s been cleaning the windows while I’ve been sowing the next batch of lettuces. We had lunch on our new table and chairs today. We covered the table with the tablecloth Liz gave us for a wedding present 32 years ago. I like things like that. Went up the land to check out the Fig Trees and was pleasantly suprised. They are laden with fruit.