Week 141

28th August, 2011

We have 34 days left on the island. At night time now there is a slight Autumnal feel. The temperature goes down to 22C/70F which feels freezing.

Pressure cleaning the patio this morning. The pressure pipe burst. It is a Black & Decker I bought on the island. I use it for cleaning the car and the tiled areas around the outside of the house. This latter job takes four or five hours even with the machine. I am forced to take the rest of the morning off.

I don’t think I have ever felt sorry for Arsenal but I did today. United made them look a complete shambles.


29th August, 2011

The trouble with island life is that most commodities have to come from the mainland which will take a long time and cost more money than it’s worth. We know before we set out this morning that a replacement pipe for the pressure washer will not be obtainainable until we are close to leaving. We go to the two DIY shops and the two electrical shops. They have only one pressure washer between them. We buy it for €70.00 because we need one and we’ll source the  broken part in UK in the winter. Then we’ll have two pressure washers. How exciting!

My stomach is a little upset today. I either ate too much olive oil or drank too much wine yesterday. I decide to do computer today. We are in the process of creating a contacts book. We have built up a network of trades people from plumbers and electricians to wall builders and tilers and we need to record them all.

30th August, 2011

Lovely day. Quiet, warm, still. The final, big batch of holiday makers left last night. The island is returning to normal. Of course, there will always be some tourists around and this, particularly, is a time for the ‘Wrinklies’ to come on holiday. Still, it will be much quieter and particularly on the roads.

31st August, 2011

Can you believe it is the end of August? Another beautiful day. Hot, still and quiet. The cats have had their breakfast – dried biscuits and skimmed milk – and are now playing with a ball on the patio. We have had our breakfast – Yorkshire Tea & toasted homemade bread and homemade marmalade – and will soon be out patio cleaning and window cleaning before swimming.

1st September, 2011

Once again, White Rabbit Day.


We went out into an upper level of the garden (field) to clear over grown and dead grasses and weeds. We were using the electric brush cutter we bought in Athens in June. After twenty minutes of useful work, the cutter just refused to start. We check all the connections but, ultimately concluded that the internal motor was at fault. Once again, this immediately illustrates the dilemmas of island living. In England, we would take a nearly new machine back to the shop and either get a replacement or our money back. Here, it would cost us more than three times the value of the machine just to get to the shop and back. It would also take a couple of days. We thought we might look at it ourselves but soon gave up when we found the casing itself was sealed with some fifteen different sized screws. We will take it to the electrical shop and see if someone is prepared to take it on. Failing that, we will have to wait until next year and a new machine. The current one is a Nakayama XH1000 and is only sold in Greece as far as I can find.


2nd September, 2011

Absolutely lovely day today. The whole family had breakfast and then cats stretched out under the dining furniture on the patio and slept for about six hours while we went out to see people. We took our brush cutter to the electrical shop and they will try to repair it. On to the Accountant who will know by Wednesday about our electricity supply. On to the Woodman who has to go to the island of Folegandros tomorrow but will start work at our house next Thursday. He will put lots of shelves up in the laundry, put a solid roof on the pergola and measure up to produce doors for the garage. The woodman, Kostas, is a lovely chap but it is impossible to go there without him getting out alcohol – today it was two types of wine – and homemade cheeses. At 11.30 am we were full and drunk but we fixed a date for the work.

By 2.00 pm we are on an almost empty beach and swimming in an empty sea. It is the most wonderful condition. The air temperature is 32C/90F. The sea temperature is 23C/70F. The water is sparkling and so clear I want to drink it. The sand is still a bit too hot to stand on for any length of time but we don’t stay on the beach. We walk on to the beach and straight in to the sea. We swim across the bay each way which takes just under an hour. We get straight out, walk to the car and drive up to the house, shower and then prepare a meal. Because of all the cheese & wine from the woodman, we weren’t very hungry.

3rd September, 2011

Something strange has happened with my weight loss. Our diet has drastically reduced over the past six months. This was not a conscious decision but conditioned by the weather. I weighed myself in July and found I had lost two stones in weight. I didn’t change my regime and lost another half stone or so. Since then – for the past month at least – I have not lost a single pound. Pauline has continued to lose weight.

The new growth on our lemon trees is producing gnarled and blighted leaves. I discussed this with the woodman yesterday and he said I need to spray them with something which I can buy from the local garden centre which is owned by his wife’s brother. I am off there today to nip this problem in the bud.

Stavros has four guinea fowl and they roam the rough areas of our land pecking for seeds but also performing the useful operation of irradicating the snakes. They are large, turkey-sized birds to look at although the don’t appear so in the supermarket. Today, when we got up, we were so proud to find our kittens stalking two guinea fowl. Little Ginge leapt at one from behind a bush but soon found herself being chased. Little Tabs had a go and managed to drive the birds down the bank and away. Both kittens strutted for quite a while until Pauline called breakfast.


Week 140

21st August, 2011

Thought it had all been going too well. Got up in the middle of the night to find the floor of the en suite bathroom soaking wet. The water boiler had sprung a leak. We had been warned that they only had about a five year life span because of the hardness of the water but one normally dismisses those things until they happen. Unfortunately, the second boiler is in the laundry room so we will be expecting that to go now. We have turned the water off to the boiler and the electricity. It is still dripping a little but we can cope with that and we have the main bathroom for showers, etc. It would happen on a Sunday but we have gone down to our nearest neighbour to see if he can help us get a plumber. We have been told that one will arrive in a couple of hours but we haven’t been told which day.

22nd August, 2011

Mum would have been 88 today. Happy Birthday, Mum. I am away as usual.


A man did arrive and said he was a plumber but he was rubbish. Things went from bad to worse and now we have no pump to send water around the house. We bought a new water boiler from the electrical shop for €137.00.


The rubbish plumber who was an Albanian called Thomas and didn’t speak any English, turned the water off but forgot to turn the pump off. Consequently, the pump’s chamber ran dry and now needs a proper plumber to reprime it. We are fetching well water in buckets to flush toilets and heat up for washing. We are drinking just bottled water at the moment. Stavros has phoned the real plumber to see if he can come out on emergency but he hasn’t turned up.

23rd August, 2011

We went to bed stressed. Woke up in the middle of the night with cramp in my leg, shot up and the base of the bed collapsed. We put the light on, looked at each other and thought, Can this really get any worse? Our lovely, big, pine bed that we had had expensively made in Huddersfield six years ago had suddenly failed us. The runner that held the planks of mattress support had obviously dried out in the Greek weather over the past six years. It had been glued and screwed but the glue had flaked, the wood had cracked at the screw points and, with Pauline’s weight, it had given way. Sometimes even a fantastic England cricket performance and an imperious Man. U. destruction of Spurs can’t raise the spirits. It would be fair to say that we are a little down today.

24th August, 2011

To just add to our misery last night, the cats turned up at 7.00 pm for their evening meal and Little Tabs – the male (teenage) kitten – had an unrecognisable face. It was hugely swollen. Wasps do plague them when they eat so we thought it might be reaction to a sting but he was so swollen, we believe he had been bitten by a snake. When the cats didn’t arrive for breakfast at 7.00 this morning, we thought the worst. Fortunately, they all arrived an hour late without explanation and Little Tabs’ face had returned to normal.

Nice pictures in the paper this morning. The first is from Greece. The second is not:

advert.jpg  adver2t.jpg

We went up to the Accountant’s Office to ask about our electricity account. They had heard nothing about it but they had a ‘special’ bill for us to pay. One of the Greek Government’s austerity measures is to levy a one-off tax on property-owning non-Greeks. Between us, Pauline & I had to pay €700.00 or just over £600.00. It wasn’t desperate but it was money we could have used elsewhere. We went to the café for a Frappé and a Bougatsa (sweet pie).

bougatsa.jpg  frappe.jpg

And then, with one bound, we were free:

We went to the Bank to pay the tax bill and then on to the Medical Testing Centre to have my INR anti coagulation test. Last month it had suddenly doubled inexplicably. Today it was entirely back to normal. One problem solved.

We went on to the woodman to talk about Pauline collapsing our bed. No problem, he said. Bring the two sides in and I will repair it immediately. We did exactly that and will collect them tomorrow. Two problems solved.

For weeks now we have been looking for Luciana & Nikos, a Romanian couple we befriended when they arrived in Sifnos in 1994 looking for work. We want them to look after our land while we are away in the winter and we want Nikos to supervise a team to build about 40 metres of walling in front of our property. As we drove home, we spotted Luciana and asked her to bring Nikos to our house. He came up at 5.00 pm and agreed to do the work. The wall – all 40 metres including digger hire, cement and stone plus labour will only cost €4000.00. I was amazed. He will do it in November while we are away. Three problems solved.

For three days now we have been washing and flushing toilets with buckets from our water drill. We haven’t enjoyed it and it has felt like a life time. We haven’t been able to use the dishwasher or the washing machine. Yesterday, the plumber said he would have to send the pump to Athens to be repaired. It would take about a week. He obviously saw our faces at that news because he arrived at 6.00 pm this evening with a brand new pump. It took twenty minutes to fit. Ok the cost of the pump was another €700.00 but who cares. We have water. Four problems solved.

Little Tabs came for his tea tonight and his face was beautiful and normal. His coat gleams with health. He could feature in a TV advert. He ate all his food and drank his milk and then went off to play.

Life is so wonderful. We are walking on air.

25th August, 2011

Picked up the repaired sides of our bed. We don’t have to sleep in the spare room tonight. The woodman said, No Charge. We bought him a bottle of wine.

We’ve paid out a lot of money, unexpectedly, recently so we had to phone our Bank in UK to send more funds. Of course, the £/€ exchange immediately weakened against us but it always does.

26th August, 2011

Went out to find the plumber’s house to pay his bill. We found his apartment where his wife, Poppy, and his two little girls, Irini and Katerina were in the kitchen. Poppy and the girls invited us in, sat us down and immediately started offering us coffee, cake, anything they had on the table. These are the genuine Greek people.

27th August, 2011

When Pauline & I took redundancy two and a half years ago, we had been working with our third Headteacher in as many years. It had been incredibly stressful and we were glad to be out of it. The Government’s solution to the racial divide in Oldham was to socially engineer through creation of an Academy. Weeks after we left, a fourth Headteacher was appointed and resigned within ten months. This week came the news that the fifth Headteacher had resigned, 25% more staff had been made redundant and the rest had had to reapply for their own jobs, some up to three times. And against this backdrop, they were expected to teach, perform miracles and obtain the best exam results ever. We are happy coping with water shortages, bust beds and cat’s faces.

Today would be Pauline’s Mum’s 97th Birthday and we miss her dreadfully. Happy Birthday.


Week 139

14th August, 2011

A quiet day of swimming and watching football. It was good to see Chelsea held to a draw by Stoke although it wasn’t a particularly good match. It was great to watch United get the winning goal against West Brom. It was a bit lucky but the Rooney goal was excellent.


15th August, 2011

A difficult day. Soon after toast and tea and before we got out in the garden, Pauline began to feel unwell. She felt rather faint – a little dizzy. She lay down on a settee and slept all morning. She had no interest in lunch and still felt unwell. She looked unwell – drawn and lacking in colour. Her condition was unpleasant although not desperate but it presents one with an awful dilemma. In a foreign country on a little island with two, young doctors who don’t speak English, what do you do for medical advice? Today is a National Holiday and the Medical Centre will be closed. All I could do is call an emergency mobile number. Pauline’s condition was not an emergency although I didn’t know what to suggest to help her feel better.

Although her condition continued throughout the afternoon, she felt well enough to eat my meal of 3Ps – Pork & Peppers with Pasta. We bought a lot pasta in Italy on the way down and we have really enjoyed it. It may be all in the mind but the pasta we bought in Italy seems to be far more flavoursome than that bought in Sainsburys. Of course my meal really perked her up and I allowed her to stay up to watch the first goal by Man. City before sending her off to bed.

16th August, 2011

We both got up feeling well today. After breakfast we went out to do a morning’s gardening. By mid day we were shattered in the heat and came in for a shower and a huge bowl of fresh fruit salad. We have been eating this once or twice a day for the past few months. Peaches, nectarines, huge purple plums, grapes, pears, strawberries and bananas all cut up and mixed in a juice. It is like eating pure summer and so refreshing.

Lovely long swim this afternoon and then I made rissoto for our meal. Tonight I’m watching Arsenal trying to qualify for the Champions’ League. Thank goodness Joey Barton isn’t there.

17th August, 2011

A hot blowy day today. We went out early and worked ourselves senseless in the garden. We have about three acres of land planted with trees – olive and fruit. It sounds nice but it is incredibly hard work to keep under control. Every tree and bush is fed by a leaky pipe system. It was laid down five or six years ago when the trees were planted. It is fed from a central system that I control manually when we are here and automatically when we are away. A lot of it has become overgrown because, in the early years, we were only here for five weeks at a stretch. Now we are trying to get to grips with it – clearing pipes and repairing any splits, making sure sprinklers are not clogged, taking out weeds from around the base of trees, etc. Soon we will have to get a little man in but, at the moment, the effort is doing us good.

Fantastic swim after we had recovered from gardening and then Pauline found the energy to cook Rack of Lamb with a wonderful barbecue sauce and roast potatoes. I contributed roasted peppers stuffed with two cheeses – Feta, Danish Blue and then coated with Parmigiano. Lovely!

lamb.jpg  peppers.jpg

18th August, 2011

Another lovely day but we have 35C/36C (95F/97F) forecasted as maximums for today and tomorrow. Gardening, shopping, swimmming, eating, Test Match will all fill the day. Had a horrible dream that I hadn’t done my marking last night. I suddenly woke up telling myself – John, you’re not a teacher any more and you never did your marking when you were. So that was alright.

Lovely report in the newspaper this morning about the top ten strangest items left in a rental car from Europcar. All the usual suspects appeared like false legs and furry handcuffs but what amused me was an ammunition case and a stretcher in Bradford, a wheelchair in Sheffield and, the best of all, half a pint of beer with a CD titled The Art of Speed Seduction in Reading. Priceless!

19th August, 2011

Coincidence is a surprising and barely explainable meeting of occurrences. Pauline & I have been together for 33 years and you would expect, after that length of time, for our thought processes to mesh at times. I had been thinking about what I fancied for Dinner and garlic chicken sprang in to my head. I don’t know why. We hadn’t eaten it for months. Pauline walks in to the lounge and says, Do you fancy garlic chicken for dinner? I am surprised but not absolutely amazed. A few days ago, I woke up thinking about the keys to our Greek house. We have a front door key on the ring and a small, silver one which we haven’t used for five years. It opened the temporary garage doors which no longer exist. As we lock the door to go swimming, Pauline asks, Can you remember what this little, silver key was for? Now I was really quite taken aback but an event this morning really took my breath away.

We swam in the sea for an hour, walked back to the car and, as we did so, I said to Pauline, I wonder what Lisa Mills is doing now? Lisa Mills was a girl we worked with in School for about ten years. We weren’t particularly friendly but she was a good teacher and I cultivated her for a project I was launching. Pauline said, Did you see her in the sea? Which, of course, I had. We had both seen a woman in the sea who bore a strong resemblance to Lisa Mills. There is nothing very surprising about that although neither of us had seen her for two and a half years. However, I could not believe it when I had an email from Facebook this morning – It was a ‘friend request’ from Lisa Mills.


20th August, 2011

Blowing a gale this morning although hot and sunny. Swimming is going to be ‘choppy’. Test Match and Football will dominate the afternoon. Four matches today, three on Sunday and one on Monday night. I will be exhausted!

I can’t believe it’s Saturday again already. We only have six weeks left before our journey back. We are already looking at dates and routes for our return next April. We may sail from Venice to Patras next year instead of from Ancona.

Week 138

7th August, 2011

The strangest thing happened to us today. We are sitting in our house, thousands of miles from UK, watching BBC Current Affairs. Suddenly, the school which we left two years ago, the staff which we worked with until two years ago, the doors we went through and the corridors we walked along for almost 40 years popped up on our screens. How far does one have to go to get away from it all? The BBC have been following our school as it combines with an Asian school across the town in an experiment of social engineering as an answer to the race riots of ten or so years ago. It is an experiment doomed to fail as the BBC were keen to highlight but Oldham LA don’t get much of the spotlight and when a running documentary following the experiment was proposed, they jumped at it. Soon it became apparent that the publicity was not going to be as positive as they had hoped and, before the second term was completed, the schools were refusing to co-operate with programme makers. They continued to report but from outside the school. Interviews with pupils from both schools appears to be establishing entrenched views which will take generations to wear down and evidence from the schools were not very positive. This conclusion had been arrived at by the staff long before the merger took place. What was most striking was the stressed and drawn faces of the staff, those very people who we had seen fall short or fail over the years, as they sat in the school hall after a long day teaching. They were listening to Sir something or other as he lectured them on his experience in uniting Protestants & Catholics in Northern Ireland. I could see exactly the spot on their heads over which it was all flowing and we rejoiced to have spent the last two years elsewhere.

8th August, 2011

The Greek Government, as it flails around and tries to solve its economic problems is caught between a rock and a hard place. While liberalising the guilds or closed-shops like the taxi drivers, they are using classic toools of the command economy. Today, their reaction to a rising oil price has been to set a ceiling on petrol prices in different areas of the country. In our group of islands, the Cyclades, the ceiling for Unleaded has been set at £1.49 per litre. Unfortunately, the price was lower before they set the ceiling and it was immediately put up. Quite the opposite reaction than they had intended.

9th August, 2011

Supposed to be the first day of our next heatwave with 40C/104F forecast. We had a busy morning planned. Fortunately, the forecasters were all about 24 hrs premature and we were able to conduct our business in a mere 30C/86F. After watching the third day of rioting, arson and looting on the BBC News, we watched it all over again on the Greek News. The Greeks, of course, find it highly amusing. Their riots were minor squabbles compared to these.

At 10.30 am, we drove up to Apollonia. We went to the Post Office and there was a letter from my friend and ex-colleague, Brian Robinson. He had posted it on June 7th but it was delivered to Sifnos Post Office on August 7th. We were probably lucky it was delivered at all. We went across to the cake shop and bought a selection of delicacies for Nikos & Chrissopigi. Nikos was our electrician on the house. His wife, Chrissopigi, works in the National Bank. They have been helping us with advice so we thanked them with some cakes. We walked on to the cafe for a frappe and I read Brian’s letter to Pauline. It was lovely to get it and filled me with a warm glow of pleasure. We then went on to the Woodman. He will come to do our work after the holiday on August 15th. When exactly he didn’t say but, as we were there, I remarked on the wonderful success he was having with his vegetables. I was about to ask him about watering when he took a knife and cut huge tomatoe, aubergines, cucumbers and peppers, stuck them all in a plastic bag and insisted that I take them. We were supposed to be going to the supermarket but we hardly needed to go now.

10th August, 2011

The Test Match starts today and I’m looking forward to it. Rioting will not stop it but rain might according to the forecast. Yesterday I enjoyed a letter from old colleague, Brian, and this morning I received a lovely email from another ex-colleage, Rizwan, who is now teaching in Saudi. He sent me a photo of him and his wife and child on holiday in Paris.


Phoned Ruth yesterday to find out how she enjoyed her holiday. Of course, she wasn’t in. She was at the supermarket but Kev was there and told me they really enjoyed Slovenia. Not only that, he told me the fantastic news that they had two buyers for their property in Bolton. Just as with us, information came through while they were away. The answer is there. If you want to sell your house – go abroad!

Made a real breakthrough today. I was desperate to watch and not just listen to the Test Match. I found a free streaming download site that gives me all Sky Sports. On this occasion, Sky Sports 1 was streamed from India to my computer in Greece. Great, I saw all the India wickets fall and couldn’t believe it when I watched Cooke & Strauss not just survive but make 84 before the close of play. Once again it was Broad & Bresnan did the damage with 4 apiece.


11th August, 2011

Wonder of Wonders – we have woken up to cloudy skies and a cool breeze – after months of sunshine the cavalry has arrived. I took the opportunity of watching the Test Match most of the day. I had an Australia ‘stream’ of Sky Sports which was fantastic. The only two downsides were that I used 670 Mbs in one day of my allocated 10 Gbs for the month and I felt heavy and lazy from inactivity.

12th August, 2011

Unbelievably low temperature today – 25C/77F – which make life quite delightful. We have luxuriated in it. Today is the official Greek Exodus when the townies leave their hot homes and head to the breezier islands. It all centres around August 15th which is the the Ascension of Virgin Mary. A few old people go up to the Monastery to give thanks while they majority gorge themselves on sun, sand and white wine.

13th August, 2011

A busy day today. Breakfast – Gardening while it’s cool – coffee – swimming – food – Cricket (Maybe we’ll finish them off today!) – Football (Liverpool v Sunderland / Fulham v Aston Villa / Newcastle v Arsenal) Exhausting! You really have to be fit for this regime.

Great win for England. I’ve really enjoyed it. The football was fairly pedestrian by contrast.