Week 228

28th April, 2013

We have another gorgeous morning. The temperature is reaching 25/26C (77/79F) which is absolutely lovely but Skiathos must be a lot warmer than Sifnos at the moment. Skiathan Man talks of the children swimming for hours today. I suspect we would be fishing them out comatose if they’d tried it in Kamares Bay. We were talking to a hardy, all-year-round swimmer yesterday and she said it is absolutely freezing so, believe me, it is.

The plumber who kept our pumps ticking over during our winter break, walked past in his Sunday best early this morning, probably on his way to a Palm Sunday service, and we thanked him for all his good work he had done for us. He is a huge, kind, gentleman.

I’m growing tomatoes, peppers and salad things this year to supply my diet. We are also sowing parsley, dill, chives and sweet basil because we use so little salt these days we use herbs to do the job instead. I am, once again, going to try French Tarragon. I tried last year and failed hopelessly.

Can Man. U. maintain their intensity having already won the League title or will a little loss of edge allow Arsenal to beat them and move closer to European football. The match kicks off at 6.00 pm (Greek time) and I’ll be watching.

29th April, 2013

What a wonderful day for the penultimate one of April. Scarcely a breeze, a beautiful blue sky and strong sun taking the temperature to 27C/81F. After a lazy start to the morning over my usual fresh orange juice ( two, freshly squeezed, Cretan oranges) and bucket of Yorkshire Tea followed by a nice cup of Colombian coffee, we went out to the supermarket and had a chat with Flora & Mario. What delightful people they are!

After unloading our shopping, we spent the morning chatting and reading under the pergola on the patio. If feels like we are on holiday. Well, it always feels like we are on holiday these days. We ate a crab salad for lunch while we listened to Miliband bungling an interview on the One O’Clock News (at 3.00 pm). He really is going to have to get a grip of Labour’s policies without giving too much away too early.

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After lunch and a snooze, we potted up our Sweet Basil plants and some Pelargonium cuttings. We dug up the Pelargoniums we had over-wintered in the garden. One of the three had died but the other two are enormous.

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30th April, 2013

What is happening? Mid-Summer and the end of April converge. By 10.30 am, the temperature had reached 29C/85F. We went down in to the village, calling in to talk to Panos & Rania who were busily turning their restaurant from its winter to summer version by removing the windows and doors.

We went on to the café for coffee and spent half an hour talking to Christos and his father, Vangelis. Christos, who speaks excellent English,  was  telling us about all the work he had done at his house over the winter including walling and tree planting. It seems no time since he got married but his child is walking and talking now. Vangelis, like me, is trying to lose weight and finding it hard. Of course, he has to lose a lot less than me but is still worrying about it. While we were having coffee, Luciana, our Albanian friend, came over to say hello. We exchanged winter stories which was nice.

We went in to the supermarket to collect our half a lamb. Nikos cut the carcass down the centre with a cleaver as we stood there. It looked a fine beast. He continued to joint it for us until we had about 6 or seven elements separately wrapped. He weighed it and the price was just €50.00 which was excellent for the amount of quality meat. We asked for a white (fresh) Manouri cheese and were given it as a gift.

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The temperature was still 25C as we sat on the patio at 8.30 pm. We had just finished listening to the Six o’clock News. The sun had gone down and all that was left was the after-glow. I saw a shape move in the road. I knew in an instant what it was. Mother Cat. Regular readers will know that Mother Cat adopted us in April 2011 and foisted upon us Grand-parenting duties for her two kittens, Ginge & Tabs, born in our garage. We spent the most wonderful summer with them as they grew up to be as big as their Mother and then we spent an angst-filled winter as we deserted them for six months.

Last April, after we had been in the house for eight days, Mother suddenly appeared at the back door and we enjoyed her company for a second six months. We were so pleased that she had survived the winter and our desertion. This evening, as I saw her shape appear in the road below our house, I said to Pauline, Mother. I’m sure that’s Mother. Call her! Pauline had a special intonation for calling her (nothing remarkable) and she called again, Pu-uss, Pu-uss. Like all the best Hollywood animal reunion films, Mother looked up and shot over the wall, ran across the garden shouting, up a flight of ten steps to the patio where she greeted Pauline with loud cries.

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After a brief conversation, Pauline went in to the house while Mother shot round to the back where she has always been fed. Bang went my chicken salad. Mother ate all the chicken. I didn’t begrudge her a mouthful.

1st May, 2013

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Happy May to you all.

Fighting our way through another gorgeous day, we made our way up to the supermarket for emergency tins of cat food. I’m not giving up my chicken again. That will be Mother Cat sorted out for a day or two. I have to admit that we didn’t go for the gourmet choice. She is, after all, a semi-ferrel cat.

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Well, we got a mixture of flavours – chicken, beef, fish, rabbit. The only problem is that they’re all in the same tin. We know she loves them from previous experience.

We, on the other hand, also chose best value but at the other end of the scale. Pauline has been using a particular Athens hairdresser for a number of years and has made an appointment to visit them. We like to make a trip of it so we will have a couple of nights in our favourite central Athens hotel – the 5* Electra Palace Hotel in the Plaka area. It has wonderful rooms and gardens, a ‘Wellness Health Centre’ with indoor and outdoor pools plus gym and spa plus a Fine Dining Rooftop Restaurant. Maybe because of the downturn, they even have a special offer on this summer which gives a 10% room discount and a €35.00 per person Fine Dining experience. We couldn’t resist.

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2nd May, 2013

Just as hot and sunny but slightly more breezy today. It is one of our busier days. Down to Panos & Rania’s at just after 8.30 am to find Rania has been up half the night painting the restaurant floor in preparation for Orthodox Easter celebrations on Sunday. We have a brief chat with a very tired but lovely lady. I download my newspaper and then we go off to collect the post – just one from Cosmote. Back home for coffee and to collect the Easter presents that Pauline has prepared. We brought dozens of chocolate easter eggs from UK. Pauline made pots and pots of orange marmalade with a hint of whisky last weekend and then spent all afternoon yesterday making dozens of specialist biscuits – shortbread, Strasbourg, Madeleines & Shrewsbury.

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We had bought special bags in UK for this purpose. We made up cellophane wrappers of collections of assorted biscuits and put them in a bag with a jar of marmalade and some easter eggs. They are intended as Easter gifts for friends &/or helpers.

We have had some amazing help over the past twelve months, sometimes from the most unlikely quarters. Orthodox Easter is the time that we feel least in touch with Greece. We are not Christians and, even if we were, we do not feel that culturally inclusive frisson of excitement that Greeks appear to collectively feel at this time. Having said that, we completely respect our host nations celebrations and thought that we could contribute by giving gifts. We started with  Giannis, the plumber and his wife and children followed by a bag for Moshka and one for Margerita. A gift bag went to Kiki who has been friends for twenty years and who toots every time she passes the house as she drives up to her husband’s farm. Of course, there was one for Panos & Rania and a separate one for the lovely Anna.

After that, we drive up to Apollonia to visit Flora & Mario at their supermarket to deliver a bag and on to Olga’s restaurant nearby to take their present. On to Costas & Maria, the woodman and his wife. Usually, they insist we stay for hours over bottles of wine and cheese and we leave laden down with bags of vegetables from Costa’s garden but, today, we are giving. We have a chat but don’t stay too long because we have other people to visit. Pauline popped in to the National Bank and saw Chrysopiggi, Nikos’ wife, and then we were off to Kastro where we spent lunchtime with the Notary and her family. As we drove back, we called in on Nikos & Luciana who we have known and befriended since the first day they arrived on Sifnos as keen, young things almost twenty years ago.

What a day! We are exhausted but happy. It is lovely to have a network of delightful people in our lives. There are more, of course, but you can only make so many biscuits.

Mother Cat called again for another couple of dollops of chicken-fish-beef-rabbit mousse. She stayed chatting for an hour after Dinner and then took off down the road to goodness knows where.

3rd May, 2013

Watching the really comprehensive weather forecast on ET3 last night, we were told that the sea temperature around the Cyclades is 19C/66F. That’s still a little cool for us but not far off. We’ll have to try it soon. Certainly, the weather is putting us in holiday mood. By 10.00 am, it was 24C/75F outside and we were cleaning our car for the first time since our long journey. Pauline & I spent an hour doing that with our pressure washer, bug remover/dissolvent and chamois leathers. So rarely do we do that in the UK. We nip in to the carwash while shopping in Tescos. £11.00 later, it is reasonably clean for another week. We both found it a pleasure  to do ourselves. While the Orthodox Christians attended church this morning to cleanse themselves, we cleaned Mammon. The word, Mammon, derives from the Greek, μαμμωνάς. It was used in the Sermon on the Mount to mean riches.

Our special friend and amanuensis phoned to thank us for her Easter gift. She is very partial to butter fudge and we gave her a big box of it along with biscuits, marmalade and eggs. She certainly deserves it. What would we have done without her? Got through, probably, but with much more trouble.

Those of you who are regular readers will know that we pretend to be financially savvy. We do everything concerning our income and expenditure, including tax, on-line. I check the Bank account and Credit Card accounts on-line two or three times a week. Pauline maintains tight financial records using an accountancy program on her laptop. I monitor and pay our outgoings – utilities, council tax, even window cleaner – on line. We follow our State and teachers’ pensions on-line and the tax we pay on it as well. Our road fund licence and insurances, our Health Club subscription, our Sky subscription and telephone bill are all paid over the internet. And it can all be done from a small and relatively remote Greek island. I also check my Greek bank account on-line to make sure the electricity bill is being deducted.

On Tuesday, the window cleaner emailed to say that they would clean our apartment windows in Surrey. On Wednesday, sitting in my Study in Sifnos, I paid him over the net. This morning, I checked the British bank account to find how much pension we had both been paid. This month, it had gone up by 2.8% and our tax-free status had increased to £9440.00 each allowing us to earn £18880.00 tax-free . Because Pauline also got her State Pension, her tax was more complicated. The HMRC don’t tax the State Pension; they count it as additional income and deduct tax from main earnings – ie. Teacher’s Pension. We spent half an hour on the Teachers’ Pension site, the State Pension site, the HMRC site and our UK bank site to make sure everything was in order. Previously, we have been stung with a large repayment sum of ‘underpaid tax’. When we complained that it was all done through PAYE, they said the onus is on us to make sure that our tax rate is correct. As a result, I always double check.

4th May, 2013

If ever there was a day when one is glad to be alive, it is today. Absolutely still outside with clear blue sky and strong sun. At 1.00 pm, it is 27C/81F and, under the pergola for shade, it feels idyllic. Looking over the valley and to the harbour everything is quiet. Sheep graze and kestrels hover.  We were out early this morning to do some grocery shopping and to download the newspaper. Now, the day with a cup of coffee and The Saturday Times looking out over the view below before Lamb supper and a couple of football matches. What more could one desire?

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Our missing box is on its way at last. It contains, amongst other things, six month’s supply of Ese fresh coffee pods and will be very welcome and make life in Greece even more palatable. What it no longer has is two, small bottles of aftershave which were found on the parcel scan and deemed prohibitive. We won’t make that mistake again. Posted on Wednesday, it probably won’t arrive on the island until the end of the week because of the Easter break here in Greece. We certainly have to be extremely thankful to Phyllis & Colin for making sure we get it.

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