Week 167

26th February, 2012

Pauline & I sat outside to read The Sunday Times. It was delightful. The sun was surprisingly hot and my face and arms are instantly recognising the signs. In fact, they are both surprised to hear me still speaking English. The temperature was a pleasant 17C but soon chilled as cloud came over.

Quite an enjoyable football afternoon. It was a joy to watch Arsenal humble Redknap and that was elevated to another level when I saw Scholes and Giggs bring United three points although I felt sorry for Ruth whern I heard of Bolton’s battering.


27th February, 2012

A grey day. Heavy cloud but mild. In Greece, it is Clean Monday – a National Holiday marking the start of Orthodox Lent – when believers are meant to start the cleansing of their bodies and souls by denying themselves meat and meat products. Traditionally, cooks devise ever more clever ways of using fish and shellfish with vegetables. On this day, which is usually blessed with warm, Spring sun, the landscape is carpeted in a blaze of Spring flowers and Greek families take a picnic up on to a high point where they fly kites.


Unfortunately for the Greeks, it is not their year. Today, snow has carpeted Northern Greece. Torrential rain has drenched much of Greece. Gale force winds have kept all ferries in harbour. Happy holiday. May your God go with you!

28th February, 2012

Today is box day. Regular readers will be sick of hearing that, each year, our journey to Greece is preceded by boxes of items we can’t fit in the car being despatched by Parcelforce. In the past few days, Pauline has reviewed more box sites than I knew existed. It is time to buy them. After all the research, we order them from Amazon. They were the cheapest and certainly the easiest to oder from. That is happening so much now. Amazon are beginning to beat the High Street even on price. Delivery is free and the wait is less than three days. The High Street are going to have to beat that or die. Pauline has forward bought most of the things that we need to send – bulk buying when they are on special offer. We use a supermarket comparison site and savings are quite incredible. The boxes, totalling 60 – 80Kg, will be despatched on the Tueday as we set off on the Wednesday morning. We arrive on the Sunday and the parcels will be waiting for us in the island Post Office on the Monday morning. It is a fantastic service.


29th February, 2012

Big day today. We gave the garden its Spring clear-up prior to leaving it for six months. In Slade House our acre of garden would have taken the whole of March to tidy. In Quarry Court, it would have taken two or three days. In our new property where we own a patio and a strip of garden bordering it, two hours was all it took us to prune back and clear. Everything else is taken care of under the Service Agreement which pays for cleaning gutters, sweeping paths, cutting lawns, etc.. It was soon all finished and we were sitting outside with a cup of tea in the sunshine.

Watched the England match – interesting but, ultimately, depressing.

1st March, 2012

Happy first day of March.


Up before 6.00 am this morning. By 6.45 am, we were standing outside Woking Walk-in Hospital entrance for yet another blood test. It is incredibly light, suddenly. Clear blue sky and early sun promise a beautiful day. Usually there are a couple of commuters and a dog waiting for the doors to open at 7.00 am. Today, I was 10th and there were at least another 20 behind me. What is happening in Woking? There must be too much blood around. Last week was the first that my INR was almost correct – 2.7. Now I have to keep it there. Pauline finally persuaded me to like salads, green vegetables, lots of fruit berries. She thought it would help me lose weight. Shortly after the breakthrough, we were instructed not to eat them because the are high in vitamin K which mitigates Warfarin. What a nightmare – a life condemned to meat and roasted root vegetables!

A lovely, mild, sunny day in Surrey. Greece, on the other hand, is suffering a terrible winter. A blogger on the Greek island of Skiathos writes this morning: March has arrived like the months before it, Cold Grey and very wet …In fact it’s tipping it down once again. They had snow two days ago. Greece is really going through it, hence the gallows humour below:


2nd March, 2012

Another absolutely beautiful day that started off a little foggy but soon saw the sun breaking through and the temperature rising to 16C by the time we went out shopping after lunch.

Found this wonderful photo in the paper today.


Thought of pretending it was mine but no one would believe me.

Our development is supposed to be heated by Biomass. This was a condition that the eco-warriors of Woking placed on our builders. Of course, the builders were only bothered about profits and factored in the instalment of this technology. Running costs were worked out on the back of a fag packet and put in the literature as fact. As soon as we moved in, the Management Company told us that the builders had grossly underestimated the costings which would be at least double. A Residents meeting immediately decided to drop use of the Biomass but it remains as a back up. This week, a huge fire broke out in a power station in Tilbury, Essex.

The biomass fuel is usually pellets made from waste sawdust. It is poured down a hopper into the burning chamber. Obviously, a large store of such material is required but it is, by definition, highly combustible. Some say it is even prone to spontaneous combustion like a compost heap if it gets a little moisture in it. Our biomass store and burner is in the undercroft carpark. Pauline & I think that is a bit too close for comfort and we’ve begun to agitate for its removal.


2nd March, 2012

Pauline is leaving me. Well for a couple of hours. We have hardly ever been apart for that long over the past two or three years. She is going ‘girl-shopping’ with her sister and her niece. It will do her good. I am going to watch Liverpool v Arsenal.

Week 166

19th February, 2012

Happy 60th Birthday, Bob. Received a nice email reply from Bob and I have suggested Pauline & I will take him & Jane out for dinner when we come back from Greece in October.

20th February, 2012

One of the things that exercised us when we decided to spend 6 months of the year in our Greek house was Health cover. We both have EHIC (European Health Insurance Cards) which, nominally, entitle us to treatment under the National Health Service of the country we are in. Greece has some fantastic Hospitals to rival many UK facilities but they are not in the Public Service. They are privately owned and funded. Here, for example, is the Onasseio Cardio-surgical Centre in Athens. As its name suggests, it was initially financed by Aristotle Onassis but now charges big fees paid by medical insurance companies.


Most wealthy Greeks take out insurance policies. We enquired about the cost. It would have been £5,000.00 per year which is rather steep for six months each year particularly when we are entitled to free treatment. We don’t want to become American, do we? As a compromise, we take out six months travel insurance which will cover us in a private hospital if anything serious happens and repatriates us if that is appropriate. The cost for two of us over 180 days in Europe is just under £300.00.

21st February, 2012

It is getting warmer – 12C today with 16C predicted for Thursday. The lady across the way with the fat, black cat, moved out today. I will miss the cat!

I tied up the rest of our Greek trip today. I booked the Tunnel crossing for early morning April 4th. I booked the Holiday Inn, Mulhouse, Alsace for that evening. I booked the Holiday Inn Express in Parma, Italy for the next night and the next day we board Superfast Ferries.

22nd February, 2012

After breakfast, we looked through our accounts for the last six months in Greece. Apart from extraordinary items like building work and a trip to Athens which we accounted for separately, living at the Greek house, cost us just £4000.00 for the six months. Even though the Euro settlement has been signed, we don’t trust the probity of Greek Banks and will carry all the cash we will need with us. I ordered another £3000.00 of euros from the International Currency Exchange and got them at £1.00 = €1.175. An hour later, the rate dropped to €1.16. This would have provided us with €45.00 less. I expect the rate to fall more in the next few days.

23rd February, 2012

After Breakfast, we drove to the Farm Shop in Chobham. Pauline and I had discussed the importance of reinforcing and forwardly oiling the wheels of the people who provide us with services in Sifnos. Panos & Rania at our favourite restaurant, Nikos & Chrissopigi our electrician and his wife, Giannis & Poppi, our plumber and his wife, Kostas & Maria, the woodman and his wife, Moshka & Apostolis who own the supermarket and the ladies in the Accountant’s office. We had discussed the possibility of Pauline making some jam and some chutney but time has run out so quickly that she’s not going to manage it. Instead, we resorted to farm shop produce. We hope to give each couple a little bag with one sweet and one savoury jar. Victoria Plum, Raspberry, Rhubarb & Ginger are the sweet offerings. Beetroot, Apple and Rhubarb & Chilli are the savoury choice all badged with an English Farmshop label.


The weather was so warm for mid – late February that we went out and bought a garden table and chairs. I opened a chilled bottle of Pinot Grigio and we drank it outside with a bowl of peanuts in 17 – 18C. We have forecasts in the papers today that we will reach 28C in the next few days. Thank goodness for global warming!

24th February, 2012

More shopping today. We managed to secure the last leg of our journey out to the island. April 8th, 11.00 am we will have driven down to Piraeus harbour and boarded a catamaran ferry which will do the journey in 3 hrs 15 mins. Aegean Speedlines will charge €159.00 for the privilege.


Later in the day, we went to transfer two cash ISAs from Santander to the Halifax. They matured a couple of days ago and were being downgraded to about 2%. It’s still not great but 3.5% at the Halifax may look quite good soon as inflation falls rapidly.

25th February, 2012

Wonderful sunshine again today and our courtyard reached 24C (in February!). We read the papers outside as the sun shone. Lunch – salmon and smoked haddock fishcakes with haricot bean salad and garlic bread – with a delicate bottle of white wine. At this time of year, the sun is low and, by 3.00 pm had started to go behind the trees. We went inside and I watched England narrowly lose to Wales at Twickenham and then flicked between Man. City thrashing Blackburn and England thrashing Pakistan. I only watched the cricket at all because Ruth kept texting me about it.

ew.jpg  c.jpg  ep1.jpg

While I was lazing around watching sport and reading the paper, Pauline was researching box sizes on the internet. In the days before we set off, Pauline will pack two, large boxes full of things that we don’t have room to carry and we will take them down to the Post Office for shipping by Parcelforce. We have been doing this for about the past seven years and this is by far the cheapest carrier. We have never lost a parcel and they are in our local island post office almost before we are.

Week 165

12th February, 2012

It was -4C in the garage when I went down to the car at 8.00 am. to go and get the papers. The air took my breath away as I go out of the car to buy the papers. I bought the Sunday Times and The Sunday Telegraph but I’m not going to do that any more. They just take too long to read. I will buy the Telegraph on Saturday and the Times on Sunday.

Watched Wolves destroyed by West Brom and felt sorry for Mick McCarthy. Felt really miffed that City managed to nick a goal against Villa.

Spent the day listening to Greece and the decision in parliament. The nonsense by a few anarchists was predictable but will still put tourists off this summer which is exactly the opposite of what Greece needs and wants. The decision will be at midnight, our time, and will almost certainly be in favour.


13th February, 2012

It is mild Monday and the temperatures are due to get warmer as the week continues. As we are off to France, that is pleasing.

For some insane reason, Nat. West have always put us on the highest category bank account. It has a qualification of earnings way above our pension but it has numerous benefits that are helpful to us. We get free:

  • European Green Flag Breakdown Cover
  • Annual Travel Insurance
  • Worldwide VIP Airport Lounge Access
  • Mobile Phone Insurance for 4 phones
  • Card & Document (i.e. Passport) Protection
  • Identity Theft Protection
  • Home Emergency Cover – burst pipe, boiler breakdown, etc.
  • Automatic £10,000.00 overdraft facilities

I spent the day bringing these things up to date, registering our mobiles, our changed credit and charge cards, our new passports, etc.. It’s amazing how time consuming it is. How did I do these things when I was working? Well, I neglected them most of the time and then jammed it all into a weekend.

14th February, 2012

Positively balmy 6C today. The sun is even trying to break through. In Athens it is 16C. I might pop over for a coffee. I could afford the flight but €5.50 seems a bit steep for a capuccino and that’s what they’re charging in Athens currently.

The foreign currency arrived this morning in three, small, 1st class Parcelforce packages. We immediately counted it out and everything was perfect. £5,000.00 bought €5875.00. We will use them again and buy another £5,000.00 now we know it works.

Just remembered that it’s Valentine’s Day. After 34 years together, we really are past all that and that is a nice, warm feeling!


15th February, 2012

We heard last night that the Greek deal was unravelling. Other Europeans were making bellicose remarks about preparing for Greece to leave the Euro. We think that they are negotiating positions but it is all taking too long for us.

By 6.45 am, we were standing outside Woking Walk-in Hospital waiting for a blood test. The lady who did mine, turned out to have lived and trained about a mile from where we used to live in Huddersfield. No wonder she did such a good job.

Decided to book our Ancona Patras return ferry tickets today. Last year we go a 50% reduction for booking early. This year it’s only 10%. We get an extra 10% for being over 60 and we always save 30% for booking the return journey at the same time. I’ve written before that we always treat ourselves to a Luxury cabin for the 20hr crossing from Ancona to Igoumenitsa (in Greece) to Patras on the Peloponnese. Last year, the return trip cost £493.00. This year it will cost £967.00. Thank goodness Pauline’s rich. The boat is lovely with excellent cabins, swimming pools, shops, restaurants, etc. but it is still a huge price hike which I think they will come to regret.

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16th February, 2012

Up even earlier today – 5.00 am. We want to beat rush hour traffic because we are off to the tunel. Out of the house by just after 6.00 am, we were checking in by 7.15 am. It is all done automatically by numberplate recognition these days. The return trip for the car and up to nine passengers cost £22.00. We rolled on at 7.50 am and off at 8.20 am – (France 9.20 am). We went to our wine store and bought 200 bottles. That is 18 bottles  for Phyllis and Colin and 182 for us. Sounds reasonable really. Ours will be packed in the car and taken to Greece – one bottle for each day we are there. We went to Auchan in Coquelle to buy some groceries – smoked and garlic sausage, packs of rabbit joints, duck joints, duck breasts, jars of Dijon mustard, some wonderful cheese, etc.. We had a coffee and ham & cheese sandwich in a little cafe and then set off back to the tunnel. We were back home and unloaded by 2.00 pm.

17th February, 2012

After breakfast, Pauline cut my hair as she has done exclusively since 1978. I wouldn’t know what to do at a barber’s now or how much it costs. Signs of grey are increasingly threatening to break in. If Pauline cuts it short and controls my tendency to bushiness, then she maintains what she endearingly calls ‘pepper & salt’ colouring. Even so, I don’t think I’m doing badly for my age and I haven’t gone bald like Dad which has always been my greatest fear. I will be 61 in seven weeks which means Bob is coming up to the big celebration of 60. Always makes me feel better! As you can see, he may be a year younger and a few pounds lighter but he’s had to resort to a comb over. Perhaps if he did’t drink so much…Happy birthday for Sunday, Bob.


18th February, 2012

The morning started beautifully in full sun and blue skies but soon greyed over and started to rain. Anyway, after getting the paper, it’s a day in for us. I’m doing slow-cooked rabbit with shallots, carrots and celery. It is braising in a bottle of red wine along with some chicken stock, fresh rosemary and flat-leaved parsley. Towards the end it will have harricot beans stirred in which will help to thicken the sauce. It is already smelling great. I’ve even put the head in to the slow cooker for flavour but I will take it out towards the end.

Now I’ve fixed the dates for going through the tunnel – April 4th, the date for getting the Ancona ferry, April 6th, I can book two hotels – one in France and one in Italy – for the journey down. The distances haven’t changed so we are going to structure the journey in the same way as last year:

  • Day 1 – 7 hrs driving to Mulhouse in Alsace.
  • Day 2 – 5 hrs driving to Parma in Italy.
  • Day 3 – 3 hrs driving to Ancona in Italy to get on the boat.

This is a job for Saturday or Sunday. I will use Booking.com.

It is Bob’s 60th birthday tomorrow. We are the same age for a month and a half. I sent him this:


Week 164

5th February, 2012

Quite a bit of snow fell over night. Well, a couple of inches. In Yorkshire, it would just have been a normal May morning. In Surrey, it was akin to walking to the North Pole. We drove out for the papers. Hardly any one was on the road.

Watched Man. U. draw with Chelsea in a match which they should have won easily.


6th February, 2012

The snow is disappearing rapidly. As we waited for a settlement to the Greek bailout negotiations, I spent time researching and reading up on how the Greek economy had been allowed to get to this state. It will form the next chapter in my other, much neglected Blog – Living on a Greek Island. It will be completed and published this week, hopefully, to coincide with the Greek bailout success.

Merkel and Sarkozy have been very reassuring this morning. Germany will not accept Greece going bankrupt, Chancellor Merkel said in an interview this morning. ”We refuse to (accept) a Greek bankruptcy. We can’t accept that,” she told ZDF German TV.

7th February, 2012

Glorious, sunny day. The big, black cat who lives across the courtyard seems happy for the first time in weeks. We are going out for a walk this afternoon.


It was still -3C when we set out for our walk but lovely and sunny. The neighbours black cat kept trying to walk us to his door in the expectation that we would open it and looked quite crestfallen when we didn’t.

Next to our development which is red brick, is the convent building. It looks 1890s – 1900s in style and is built in a yellow ochre/orange brick with some pretentions to neo-Gothic which was popular at that time. It is surrounded by huge fir trees and rhododendrons. In the low, winter sunlight it looks beautiful. Next to it is a wreck of a house with white, painted pebble dash walls, peeling, broken window frames, a botched lean-to-cum-car-port and greying net curtains. It is on the market for just under £600,000.00. You couldn’t buy a garage around here for under half a million and the weird thing is, that hit us as soon as we came down, people don’t seem to care about or look after the outsides of their homes at all. They may do with the insides but they certainly don’t go for curb appeal.

The other strange thing is that we constantly get people trying to sell/buy our property. We get flyers or tatty pieces of paper through the door asking if we would like to sell because buyers are actively looking in the area. You would never get that in Yorkshire. It took us a year to get a viewing. From advertising to sale takes about six weeks around here.

8th February, 2012

One of the things we like about our development is that, even though we are a duplex with our own external front door, we don’t have to have those dreadful ‘wheelie bins’ outside our front door. There is a bin store with about ten, black, mobile refuse bins which are for general rubbish and ten more with blue tops for recycled stuff which I don’t really understand but Pauline tells me that I can put plastic, paper and cardboard in them. Fortunately, there is always space so you can dump anything you want. For example, we were getting rid of an old coffee maker. You just put it in a plastic bag, leave it at the side of the bins in the store and the rubbish men will take it. We had a mattress to be taken. We phoned the council, paid £10.00 over the phone and left our mattress in the store ready for collection. All rubbish is kept discretely out of sight then taken away and dumped on China or Africa or somewhere else.


Today, we have had a scandal. Somebody was spotted – not a resident – dumping a mattress and a large, pink, plastic slide in the store with no prior payment for collection. Fortunately, one of the residents is a private detective and he apprehended the miscreants who admitted they weren’t residents but were related to residents. They just wanted to avoid the charge. We are waiting for action to be taken over this by the Management Group. Oooh!

9th February, 2012

Another Thursday, another early morning at the hospital. Standing, queuing in freezing temperature at 6.45 am is not my idea of fun but it beats sleeping. More blood given. Woking Walk-in Centre have more of my blood than I do now.

Greece tentatively agreed a debt settlement last night. We might be in the clear for a while. It has come at a huge cost to the Greeks, however, who have had to take even more cuts to wages and pensions.

We were visited by Ms Lise Andreassen from the University of London this afternoon. She is doing her Doctorate on people’s adaptation of green technologies that are required in the building of new homes. We tried to convert her to our scepticism of climate change but we didn’t really succeed. Anyway, she is Norwegian.

10th February, 2012

It started to snow here about 7.00 pm last night. It was still snowing at 3.00 am. When we go up this morning at 7.00 am, it was melting in the weak, winter sunshine. This was the scene from our front door:


If you ever read The Magic Far away Tree by Enid Blyton and I lived in it for a week or two when I was six, below is how I imagined it to be:


Because we have some building projects to pay for in Greece when we get back, we will need finance above living costs. Normally, we would electronically transfer money from our English currrent account with Nat. West to our Greek Account with NBG (The National Bank of Greece). With the instability of the Greek economy at the moment, we don’t want to stick £10-15,000.00 in a Greek Bank which might crash so we have had to consider alternative ways. We will buy euros in UK and carry them in big denominations to Greece. When we have had to send large amounts of money (£20,000 – 50,000.00) in the past, we would use Nat.West Standard Transfer for which the would charge £20-30.00 but give us only marginally above tourist rate even though, as Private Banking customers, we were supposed to get preferential rates. Today, I have decided to take the plunge and use a Forex specialist. I bought £5000.00 at €1.1742 which is so much better than Nat West’s €1.12. So I got €270.00 more from I.C.E. (International Currency Exchange) than I would from Nat. West.

11th February, 2012

Got up to a lovely, sunny day with an outside temperature of -11C. This is the lowest we have experienced down here. It will be interesting driving out for the paper.

It was -4C in the garage but the roads were fine. The lady who served us in Asda had come to UK from Tanzania (made up from Tanganyika and Zanzibar) more than 30 years ago. Its first president was Julius Kambarage Nyerere who was very a very forward thinking, Marxist-based, political philosopher. I had to study his Education policy in my first degree. I think she was rather surprised I knew of him. The cosmopolitan nature of society down here is incredible.

Just watched Man. U. cruise past Liverpool like a Mercedes S-Class past a VW Beetle. Very childish behaviour from Suarez but also from Evra at the end.