Week 187

15th July, 2012

A reader contacted me the other day, touchingly concerned about my state of mind. One of the things about my sort of Blog is its stream of consciousness character. In a limited sense, I am living my life in full view. I try to be honest. If I am angry, happy, sad, I write about it. If I cry, I report it. I hope I am big enough to expose myself in that way. In the quietude of Greek island life, reports of these passing emotions can appear dramatic in cold print. In some respects, the backdrop and calm disposition of island life sets human emotions into sharp relief, exaggerating them and their importance.

We started this project in Greece in 2000 as part of our ten year plan towards retirement. I was quite determined not to fall into the lean and slippered pantaloon, with spectacles on nose and pouch on side syndrome. Actually, there is no danger of me falling into the lean anything but you get the point. I wanted us to have something to stretch us, to fully challenge us, to occupy us as we entered retirement. We have not been disappointed. Having said that, there are highs and lows to every project. Sometimes we sail along on the wind of success and more to come. Sometimes we bemoan the difficulties that life throws at us. Last week some people came past and told us they were interested in buying our house and we will consider their offer fully but, if no sale takes place in the next ten years, we will enjoy our Greek home hugely.

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Anyway, if we are offered €500,000.00, we will seriously consider it.

16th July, 2012

Incredible temperature today as we had men from the electricity company, an independent electrician, two stonemasons and our amanuensis. We were discussing walling, re-laying electrical cable, re-connecting our mains supply to new meters with the water pump control locked away behind a metal door so that our neighbour can’t steal water while we are away.

By 2.30 pm, everyone had gone and we were able to have a bit of lunch. Some bruschetta soaked in garlic olive oil with Parma ham, Greek tomato and Parmigiano shavings all washed down with ice-cold white wine & soda spritzer. After a pensioner’s snooze, we got ready for swimming. As we stepped outside at 5.00 pm, the temperature showed as 37C/99F. It certainly felt warm and made the sea even more inviting. We spent an hour bobbing and swimming in crystal clear water at a sea temperature of 26C/79F which made it feel deliciously cooling.

The latest Ferry Timetable looks positively busy.

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17th July, 2012

Downloded The Times on my iPad to accompany toasted homemade bread and liberally spread with homemade marmalade. What a lucky man I am! Pauline spoke to her sister in Surrey. The weather isn’t good. We did learn that our neighbour in a similar Duplex Apartment has put her’s up for sale at something like 13% above her purchase price only a year ago. We won’t be at all surprised if she gets it. We are constantly being bombarded with requests to purchase our property and sales go through at lightening speed. Everyone, it seems, wants to live within a few minutes of the centre of London which is why we saw the purchase as very safe at the outset.

We had a good, long chat about legal matters with our new and wonderful Notary. The advice is absolutely clear and invaluable. Went on to the DIY shop to buy more paint. The owner had sold out and was saying he wouldn’t get any more until next year. As soon as we said we wanted 3, 10 ltr.tubs at about €80.00 each, he thought he’d be able to order some. Off to the supermarket and home.

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The day is a little cooler because there is some breeze. Only 33C/91F today at 4.00 pm as we walked on to the beach for a swim. The breeze had brought in cooler water and the large fish had disappeared. Got in to conversation with a Greek Grandfather obviously enjoying throwing his grandchildren – two young boys – over his shoulders in to the sea. He had been a marine sea captain and had visited most ports around Britain’s coastline at sometime. He was now retired because he had done twenty years at sea. Must be hard.

My turn to cook today because Pauline has to make bread. I have prepared a beef casserole for tomorrow with celery tops to flavour it. Large chunks of beef are slow cooking in beer, onion, tomato, pepper and mushroom. As it develops, I stir in a large dessertspoonful of Dijon mustard. It will be left to go cold, develop flavour overnight and then be eaten tomorrow. Tonight, I am cooking a risotto of Arborio rice with prosciutto ham, garden peas and fresh mint leaves. It is making me hungry just thinking about it.

18th July, 2012

Just as we consider selling the house, the pound strengthens considerably against the euro. For months it has been hovering around £1.00 = €1.21 and suddenly it has leapt to €1.27.  For every €100,000.00 we get, we currently will lose €4000.00. What am I going to do? Spare a cup of soup, Gov’. When we started our Greek project, my abiding principal was that it should not in any way compromise our finances back in England. To a large extent that has beeen true. For the first five or so years when we just used it as a holiday home, we completely forgot about it as we threw ourselves back in to the hurly burly of work. That is how I wanted it to be. Now, in retirement, our view is rather different and, as we think of selling, thought of maximising profit begins to surface. We are not needy or greedy but we intend to enjoy our last thirty or so years in comfort.

19th July, 2012

The meltemi winds battered the house and gave us a fitful sleep. I awoke tired. It reminded me of the Ted Hughes line: This house has been out at sea all night… The amazing thing is that everything survives – the olive trees, the satellite dish, the patio furniture.

Because of the wind, it is a little cooler. Top temperature today – 29C/85F. It feels delightful after the heatwave. Tomorrow, a group of men will arrive at our house at 7.00 am and disconnect our electricity. They will build a new meter box out of stone on the boundary wall of our land and redirect the supply to it. In order to do that, they will dig and create new ducts in the land.

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They will then remove all the concrete pillars that you can see in the picture and which have been used for electricity in the past and they will, they promise, reconnect us to the power before they leave. Everything we do in the house from pumping water, refrigeration, cooking, air-conditioning, computing and watching the golf all depend on electricity. We are keeping our fingers crossed.

20th July, 2012

When I told my friend, Panos, about the electricity work going on today, he laughed at my optimistic view of its completion in one day. Of course, he was right. The electrician arrived at 7.00 am with his son. The stonemason arrived at 7.05 am with his two mates. Our amanuensis was brought over by a man from the Electricity Shop. The only person who didn’t get here on time was the digger owner/driver. He arrived in mid-morning minus digger. The work went on relentlessly from 7.00 am till 3.00 pm. It finished with the digger owner promising to bring it by 9.00 am on Saturday. The people working for us, good, down to earth, honest Greeks, were so enjoyable to be with that we couldn’t feel disappointed.

We were filthy from the dust of the day and went off for an afternoon swim which left us feeling wonderful. We came home and watched the Open Championship from a rather dull and damp Lytham St. Anne’s and Pauline roasted chicken breasts wrapped in prosciutto ham with oven cooked potatoes and onions. This was accompanied by a lovely, chilled bottle of Montepulciano d’Abruzzo. (Oh, my store of French and Italian wines is rapidly running down. If we stay on after September, I will be forced to drink Greek.)

21st July, 2012

I was brought up as a Roman Catholic but, from the age of 11/12 knew that I couldn’t believe in any God. I am a staunch atheist even in moments of crisis. As a school teacher, I was absolutely clear with kids that I could not pretend about something as important as that. It was a source of tension, debate, even conflict with my Mother right up to her death but I have always subscribed to James Joyce’s alter ego, Stephen Daedelus’ quotation of Lucifer: Non Serviam!

I have to say that after six years of asking and trying, after countless attempts to get the person I had thought was my friend to facilitate this process, after the past twelve months of pushing various parties, the pictures below depict as near as one can get to a ‘God’ experience.

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Can you see the celestial light? Is it not heaven on earth?

Today, by the appointed time, the electrician had arrived and so had the digger along with three additional workers. By the time they had finished, everything had been done prior to the Electricity Shop disconnecting and reconnecting our mains power. It has already been agreed that we won’t be without power for more than a couple of hours. We are almost there. Our nice neighbour who owns the land across the road in from of us called round to celebrate with us the end of our sojourn.

We went out for a lovely lunch at Captain’s restaurant. We had fish and garlic sauce. It was delicious. We met the Sifnos Mayor there and he was telling us he had been on a trip to Syros on island business. Last time we met him – a month or so ago on a ferry back from Athens – he was returning from island business in the capital. He is obviously really enjoying his job and it is lovely to see. We first met him when he was 12 or 13 years old more than 25 years ago, still in stretch pants, serving at table.

Today we solved a riddle that has been puzzling us for a year or two. We may be slow and thick but we have got there in the end. Click on the picture below to enlarge it and then say what are all the little black dots?

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The photo is of small leaved basil plants growing in a clay basket at out front door. By now, Sarah, one of our more recent readers will have guessed exactly what it is. She is adept at stirring this stuff. We have recently removed all these marks, thinking they were bird droppings. We even repainted in brilliant white. Back they have come just as they have for the past three years. Suddenly, two days ago Pauline saw a huge, bright green grasshopper living inside the basil bush. We had seen it before and laughed about it. This time, we realised the basil was being eaten from underneath. I took the grasshopper out and threw it towards the field. It landed on a small, white wall and proceeded to pass out of its rear end a measured dollop of dark, green excrement which dried black just like the others. Hands up if you got it.

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