Week 314

28th December, 2014

The Greeks are doing their level best to see the year out with a major disaster. We woke to the news of a ferry on fire in the Adriatic. It is a vessel chartered by ANEK Ferries who, along with Superfast Ferries run a joint Ancona-Patras-Ancona car ferry trip up and down the Adriatic.  We have done that trip thirty times in the past fifteen years and have almost always used the Superfast/ANEK consortium. I have to admit that this kind of accident does cross one’s mind but is forcefully pushed to the back. The vessel is a smaller, leased one for reduced winter traffic. It is the F/b Norman Atlantic which was built in Italy in 2009 as F/b Akeman Street  and later rebadged F/b Scintu.


Passengers had left Patras at 17.30 (Greek Time) on Saturday and were called on to the top, outside deck in the early hours of Sunday morning as they were going through the Corfu-Albania passage. This was in complete darkness, extreme cold and gale force winds which meant lifeboat launch was too dangerous. Can you imagine it?

At the same time, there is still a credible and tangible danger of the Coalition losing the Presidential vote on Monday with the subsequent snap election triggered in February. This leaves the country prey to Tsipras and his anti-European stance. Samaras made an appeal to the undecided MPs on state TV NERIT on Saturday evening. Will it be enough? Fortunately, it doesn’t matter to us anymore but it will affect our friends.

29th December, 2014

What a fantastic morning. Brilliant blue skies and strong sun on sharply frosted lawns make a beautiful, Winter scene. My thoughts have been with those stranded outside in the freezing cold, wet and gale-force winds curdled with acrid smoke on the ferry in the Adriatic. Where else in the civilised world would deliverance from this emergency be so prolonged? I was living the agony they must have gone through in my head all night. How would Pauline & I have coped?

Woken from sleep in the early hours of the morning, waiting for the tannoy announcement to be translated into English. Scrambling into clothes. What to wear? Getting out on top deck would be easier for us because that’s where Luxury cabins are already. Out on deck in the pitch black, freezing, wet wind; breathing in thick, black smoke; hearing Greek voices jabbering and panicked. Where to stand. Nowhere to sit for hour after worried hour. No news apart from a few people being winched off by helicopter. That looks almost more dangerous than being on board.


The BBC are now reporting eight dead bodies have been taken off the ferry.

Now, at 10.30 am (GMT), the Greeks have voted for elections in the next month (Jan, 25th) and the possibility of Syriza, rejection of Austerity, rejection by the European Union, exit from the Euro, downward spiral. If the sea doesn’t get you, the economy will. How lucky are we to have sold our house and be out of it? It’s getting better all the time. Happy New Year! Don’t forget to book your restful, Greek holiday.

30th December, 2014

Thank you for your Congratulations on our 36th Wedding Anniversary. This day in 1978 was thick with overnight snow. The Pennine routes were almost impassable and the Council Gritting Teams were on strike. Oh for the good old days! We had a wonderful day and we will again today. We’ve been to the Gym to celebrate and earn our bottle of champagne and roast pheasant Dinner.

Have to share with you a story that my recently lost hero told some 20 years ago. Tony Benn recounted this:

The NHS held a boat race against a Japanese crew. After Japan won by a mile, a working party found the winners had eight people rowing and one steering, while the NHS had eight steering and one rowing. So the NHS spent £5 million on consultants, forming a restructured crew of four assistant steering managers, three deputy managers and a director of steering services. The rower was then given an incentive to row harder. They held another race and lost by two miles, so the NHS fired the rower for poor performance, sold the boat and used the proceeds to pay a bonus to the director of steering services.

Not a lot has changed in Britain 20 years on. Exactly the same can be said about Greece. We could have told you that the ferry’s manifest would not marry the reality. Only 40 names under-recorded. That was quite accurate then.

31st December, 2014

Farewell to 2014! Hello to two, lovely readers of the Blog – apparently pictured in the Hilton Hotel, Manchester. Good of them to get in touch and supply a photograph.


The Orwellian 1984 and the Millennium (Bug) 2000 have both passed and here we are welcoming 2015. My long term aim is to break the 2050 barrier but I have a feeling this immediate new year is going to be a really good one. Lovely story in The Times today with more than one Poison Dwarf found in East Yorkshire.

The British chap who seems to have achieved ‘hero’ status from the Greek ferry disaster is quoted in The Times today saying:

In high seas and amid darkness and thick smoke, he and five other passengers stayed below to lead the task of connecting the stricken ferry to a tug boat sent to tow them to shore.

“There were no crew members down there — it was just us. I couldn’t work that out. From what I understood, some of the crew members bailed out at the beginning. They got off with the first lifeboats. There were so many women and children left on the boat. Why were they not the first in line to get on the lifeboat? It was just chaos. I think there should be a few people with their heads a bit low.”

f3 f4

Why are we not surprised?

1st January 2015


If you like fireworks, click the graphic. This is going to be a brilliant, new year. Hope you enjoy it. The weather outside is mild but grey. Inside it is lovely. I started the morning by unstacking the dishwasher to the strains of the Berliner Philharmoniker’s New Year’s Eve concert conducted by Simon Rattle. Life doesn’t get more sublime than that. New Year’s Day will feature rabbit stew and the last bottle of wine for a while – maybe a month or, maybe, three months.

I sincerely wish Skiathan Man and his family a happy and increasingly healthy 2015. They’re going through a tough time. Happy New Year to Barty Simpson on Paros, to the Simi Boys, and the dwellers on Democracy Street. Looks like this is going to be an interesting year for those with Greek connections.

2nd January 2015

2014 is so last year. So is the Euro. Greek instability is moving the £1.00 towards €1.29. If they vote for Tsipras, it will weaken still more and make island life increasingly expensive. Our petrol today is down to £1.11 per litre/€1.43. Must ask our Sifnos friends what it is there. Our analysts are predicting the £1.00 litre soon.

Glorious sunshine and quite mild today. We are reaching 13C/55F which is not too bad for mid winter England. Just been checking the Superfast Ferries site and our tickets this year will be €985.00 / £770.00 return with car in a Luxury Cabin. (Don’t know if that includes a life jacket!) To add to that we’ve got three or four hotels costing around another £500.00/€640.00 each way plus return Speedrunner cost of about €450.00/£350.00. Add another £150.00/€200.00 each way for petrol and £500.00/€640.00 for meals. The total cost of the week taken traveling each way comes to circa £3000.00/€3845.00.

3rd January 2015

Got a bit of a shock today as I watched the BBC News in the peace of my Study. There was a news item about the convicted rapist footballer being rumoured to be about to sign for Oldham Athletic. The cameras were out seeking vox pop clips for the news bulletins with the opinions of Oldham’s finest for or against the controversial decision. Suddenly, in huge high definition, came a face that took me back years. The one person interviewed was a young man who I hadn’t seen for six years.


Andy was I.T. Manager and helped me introduced wireless networks across the school allowing the community to access a digital curriculum, an intranet and all management documentation and communication across the institution and from home. We revolutionised working practices in a very few years. It was lovely to see him again.

Week 313

21st December, 2014

Happy Winter Solstice and welcome to the first week of the Blog’s seventh year on the longest night and shortest day. It is one of the oldest winter celebrations known to man (and woman) and celebrates the rebirth of the sun and beginning of winter. In ancient Rome, the week-long feast of Saturnalia honoured the sun god Saturn. They’d have a job here because the sky is grey and heavy. At least it’s all downhill from here. Already looking forward to Week 364 this time next year.

22nd December, 2014

Already the days are getting longer. Optimism abounds and we look forward to the Spring. This morning we were up at 6.00 am and shopping in Tesco at 7.30 am. Even so, it was very busy. Pauline is cooking for nine on Christmas Day so this morning was sourcing of final preparations. Christmas does very little for me and I often feel that we are going through the motions. On Christmas Eve, all nine of us are going out to Valentina’s – an Italian restaurant in Weybridge and then we will have the traditional meal in West Byfleet on Thursday. Pauline and I then try to eat and drink as little as possible after Boxing Day because the next celebration is on December 30th which this year will mark our 36th Wedding Anniversary followed the next day by New Year’s Eve. Found a couple of delightful, sparkling wines in our French vintners. They are from New Zealand. One is a sparkling Sauvignon Blanc and the other is a delicious Pinot Noir-Chardonnay blend.


In England the sell at around £14.00 a bottle and in France they cost just under half that.

Unfortunately, immediately after all the Christmas and New Year festivities, I have my annual INR and Diabetic reviews. I need good numbers in spite of the alcohol so must go easy. For the first time, my reviews will be conducted over the phone with my doctor. That’s an economical first.

23rd December, 2014

A lovely sunny and mild day opens on this Tuesday. We were warmer than Athens and Sifnos yesterday and are pretty much the same today. I bet the new owners of our house are using the underfloor heating in the evenings now. Pauline is busily preparing things for the Christmas meal. Cranberries have been stewed and bottled. Three sorts of stuffing – sage & onion, forcemeat and chestnut have been prepared and set aside. The Christmas cake and Christmas pudding were completed and ready long ago. An orange sorbet and a lemon posset and meringues are in the process of being made ready. The turkey will be delivered tomorrow, prepared by Pauline and then set aside for Thursday morning.

turk1 turk2

I just sit by quietly and ‘taste’ on command.

It’s still touch and go whether the Greek Government will reach the required 180 votes for their Presidential candidate in the final vote. They need to bribe another dozen and still rely on the mad men of Golden Dawn. Even so, Samaras has had to promise early elections before the end of 2015. Going to be an interesting holiday!

24th December, 2014

Christmas Eve has opened a little grey but mild. Phyllis & Colin are coming round this morning to deliver the turkey. Pauline will dress it and give it back to them along with the Christmas cake and puddings. We are picking them up this afternoon to take the to Valentina’s Italian Restaurant in Weybridge for a family meal. I might have pasta for the first time in two years. We’ll see. Maybe that’s a step too far.

Just been contacted by friends to say that my old school which I left nearly six years ago and which was demolished and reborn as an Academy has just been put in to Special Measures after the injection of something like £6 million. Nothing really changes. No amount of money really redresses inequality. We’ve been trying to do it all of my working life. Happy Christmas!

25th December, 2014


Click to animate the graphic.

Exactly six years ago I wrote:

Welcome to the Hellas Blog on Christmas Day 2008. A particular welcome to all the Sanders Family and those closely associated with them.

We’re still here and will be for as long as there’s breath in our body. Long live the Blog!

Lovely day with lovely company and many nice presents but my favourite was from a little lad who I have called ‘bumface’ since he was two years old. This morning he presented me with a bar of soap which has the word BUM on one side and FACE on the other. bfsoap

You are supposed to use each side to wash the appropriate part, he tells me.

26th December, 2014

Boxing Day is great when you’ve got everything you need in the world. Everyone else is out struggling for ‘Bargains’ on the High Street while I am stripping the turkey and making stock. Pauline cooked the most wonderful meal for all nine of us yesterday. It really was the best ever. We had:

  • Baked cured salmon on a bed of beetroot puree and dressed with parsley and garlic oil.
  • Turkey with three stuffings – Sage & Onion, Chestnut and Forcemeat. This was accompanied by pigs in blankets, roast potatoes, baby carrots and green beans and completed by cranberry sauce and apple sauce.
  • Sweet was her fantastic Christmas Pudding with custard and clotted cream and/or Lemon Bavois with fresh raspberries and/or Orange Sorbet.

Now in the aftermath of Christmas Day, I’m thinking of Turkey Stock and Turkey Soup. I love it. I think I’ll open another bottle of Champagne.  Well, it is Christmas.

27th December, 2014

We haven’t had the heating on and we stepped out into a lovely, sunny morning to go shopping although it was bitterly cold in the breeze. The news bulletins were full of last night’s snow which hit Wales, the Midlands and the North of England. Liverpool and Leeds airports were closed for a while; motorists were stranded on the M1 in the Midlands.


Phyllis hates shopping so much that she has taken desperately evasive action. She has jumped off the stair and broken a bone in her foot. Not good for an 89 year old. Still, it will save Colin some money! We, in the meantime, are off to the gym and then back to the (Turkey) soup diet. Looking forward to it.

Week 312

14th December, 2014

This is the final week of the sixth year of the Blog. As a result, I am reviewing everything that has happened in that time and preparing to make resolutions for the next six years which will take us to the brink of 70 years young. Today, has opened with a heavy frost and strong sun. A totally still day. Those leaves still on the trees are static. In fact, this Autumn has been notable for its lack of seasonal winds which usually help to denude the trees and herald winter.

Resolution No.1: Must get back in to Opera. I used to spend all my leisure time listening to it when I was working but, now, with all the time in the world, I’ve left it on the shelf. Pauline’s favourite is Bizet’s The Pearl Fishers. I prefer Puccini anything. Living in an apartment doesn’t help but we’ll have to go to the opera. I’m going to start looking for it. The E.N.O. have Verdi’s La Traviata on in February. That would be a start.


15th December, 2014

The beautiful days just keep coming. Sharp temperature under blue sky and strong sun this morning. The sun is so strong, even next door’s cat is squinting. Pauline is busy curing salmon in preparation for Christmas while I’m reading and writing.

The Bank Deposit Protection Scheme guarantees finances only up to £85,000.00 per person. Although it is not a major amount or really likely to crash about our ears, as soon as the interest takes us over the limit, I transfer it to another account. I was just musing on the changes that have taken place with this in such a short time. In the past, one would have gone to a bank in the High Street, filled out multiple forms, gone home and waited for a week or so before a letter arrived informing one of the completion of the process. Now, in a couple of clicks, the procedure is completed and seen to be completed on screen. There is still the scary thing of losing thousands – in our Greek sale terms hundreds of thousands – by entering a wrong digit for the receiving account but it is wonderfully easy.

Resolution No.2: Must get on with reading around the subject – The History of Political Ideas. It formed the basis of my Masters Degree some thirty years ago and I was about to return to it this Summer when events took over. I was looking forward to discussing it with that arch Machiavellian and intellectual – The Poison Dwarf – but other things intervened.

16th December, 2014

Because it is the most wonderful morning of bright blue skies and strong, low sun, we have decided to drive down to Sussex to view a house. The builder has not yet finished but it will be available from early Spring 2015. We drive down the M23 and A23 through Pease Pottage and Handcross to Sayers Common and Hurstpierpoint.


The location was lovely with facilities close by in Brighton (south) and Burgess Hill (east). The house was well built but the rooms were just too small. We weren’t deflated at all. At lest we had found an area that really appealed and where we will continue to look.

Resolution No.3: Must find a new house and sell this Duplex within the next, twelve months.

17th December, 2014

We have taken our property off the market over Christmas and will re-launch it with a new agent in the Spring. We can’t face inviting viewings which may be extremely speculative over the Christmas Holidays. We contacted the Estate Agent requesting the return of our house keys and received this considered reply.

Dear Pauline and John

I hope your well. We have drop the keys back to the house at 12.20 today. 
Have a wounderfully christmas

I, for one, expect to have a really wounderfully christmas! What are English teachers doing these days?

Resolution No.4: Must proof read my Blog before pressing Publish whatever time of night it is.

18th December, 2014

Resolution 4 doesn’t come in to force until January 1st. Perhaps I’ll get the dates right by then. Picked up a free prescription from my wonderful doctor for 24 INR testing strips which would otherwise have cost me £85.00. Did a supermarket shop. Around 9.30 am, Tesco was pleasingly quiet so close to Christmas. Filled up with petrol at £1.13 / €1.44 per litre, had the car cleaned for £10.00. Called in to see Phyllis and Colin and then returned home in time to thank the gardeners for their excellent work on the grounds over the past twelve months.

Pauline took at least three phone calls from Developers who are getting increasingly desperate at this time of year. I had a long phone call from Dave Beasley in North Wales. He is an old friend from my home village, Repton in Derbyshire. I haven’t seen him in the flesh since 1972. That reminds me of

Resolution No. 5: Must reacquaint myself with long lost friends in 2015.

19th December, 2014

When one is given the time to reflect on one’s existence (and if you think that sounds pompous, maybe it is) one can oscillate between two diametrically opposed states. One of my ex-colleagues reported recently her little daughter asking, Mummy, are we in a story or are we real? It is far more profound a question than it first appears. On the one hand, we have that old aphorism about life not being a rehearsal. On the other we have the Live for the Moment philosophy – Carpe Diem. I have a real problem with doing things for their own sake as opposed to doing them to get to somewhere else in the future.

I am constantly asking myself what I will achieve or gain by doing something. How am I growing, developing, gaining by doing something? While enjoying a beautiful sunset or a wonderful opera, I am asking myself whether I am deriving personal profit or human capital from the experience. When I was younger, I justified ephemeral experiences by a belief in the cultural capital I was accruing and the belief that it would inform and deepen future events in my life. In the final third of my life, I find that increasingly spurious but I still have to tell myself that so many of these experiences are my only chance.

Resolution No. 6: Carpe Diem – Sieze the Day!

20th December, 2014

Lovely day. We drove over to Godalming – only about 12 miles away – to meet Jill Storey née Fisher. She was Pauline’s best friend 35 years ago and taught in the same school back in Lancashire. Jill moved south and so have we. We met at her brother’s house in Godalming. He is a Patents Lawyer and his wife is a City Banker. It is a huge old house which was previously owned by Rick Parfitt of  Status Quo. It has a tennis court and a Gertrude Jekyll garden. The reunion was absolutely delightful.

Jill1 Jill2

Must do Resolution 5. It’s great!

Tomorrow will start Week 313 of the Blog or Year 7. The final resolution of this year is:

Resolution No. 7: Complete Year 7 of the Blog culminating in Week 364.

Week 311

7th December, 2014

A lovely, sunny day today and much warmer in spite of the red-top newspapers bleating about ‘Arctic Blasts’ and ‘Eight Feet of Snow’. Pauline has gone shopping with her sister while I am completing my Christmas Newsletter. All communications with Greece have to be posted today if we wish them to arrive before Christmas. I’ve just been checking Superfast Ferries 2015 prices and, even though oil prices are down by 30%, their ticket prices will cost us 15% more. I predict that will change as the season starts.

8th December, 2014

A quiet day finishing off and printing my Christmas newsletter. The North of the country, where we used to live, had its first taste of snow overnight and the trans Pennine routes were being cleared, salted and gritted. Certainly, it is nice to be more comfortable down here in relative warmth.  Did a good hour at the Health Club and dined on Pauline’s wonderful Fish Bisque. The evening was enhanced by a United win away to Southampton. Life is so good!

9th December, 2014

Quite a cold but bright and sunny day. Even Sifnos was cold today we were told. We were out shopping. I went to M&S and overdosed on socks. I couldn’t resist them.


Nineteen pairs for £30.00? You can’t say fairer than that! Clothing is so cheap in Britain at the moment. And they gave us a £5.00 voucher for use in the Food Hall. Filled up with petrol in Tesco on the way home. The cheapest I can remember for a long time. We paid £1.05/€1.33  per litre. I forced the car to take fifty litres.

For our meal today Pauline cooked Braised Pheasant with fennel and shallots. It was out of this world. They could have done with it up in our old haunt of Yorkshire where snow clearing was the order of last night.


We definitely don’t miss it at this time of year although we are getting close to starting the heating up.

10th December, 2014

On Monday night going into Tuesday, gale force winds and torrential rain hit Sifnos but it is nothing to what is about to break over their heads. International observers are talking about snatching defeat from the jaws of victory as they watch the Greek Coalition as good as invite Tsipras and his left wing alliance to take over the government of the country. All the pain and all the gain could be for nothing if Tsipras follows his rhetoric through. Indeed, many believe that this is a Samaras calculation to give the left wingers a hot potato to juggle and drop before the Right take over again. It is typical Greek duplicity. We feel so fortunate to be out of it!

Britain is just beautiful at the moment – well, Surrey is. This morning is still and clear with blue skies and bright sun. This glorious sunrise featured in The Times this morning is worth being alive to wake up to.


Pauline is icing the Christmas cake and, although I won’t be eating any, all is well with the world. Just before we left for the Gym, the postman delivered an unordered parcel. It was from our friends, Margaret & Tony in Huddersfield who also have a property in Murcia, Spain.


It was a lovely present and a gentle hint that we agreed to go to Spain for the first time.

11th December, 2014

Beautifully bright, sunny day today. The gardeners have arrived and are mowing the grass, sweeping up leaves and clearing moss from the paths. If you are a weather geek like me – and I know one or two of you have weather stations – I have some stats. for you this morning.

Currently it is 8C/46F but will reach a magnificent peak of 9C/48F. The average high in Surrey on this day over the past 30 years is 7.8C/46F. The record high is 14.3C/58F (in 19945) and the record low -8.9C/16F (in 1991).

Did my INR this morning and was really pleased to find it back on track at 2.7 (2.0 – 3.0 range). I only have 3 test strips left. They are quite expensive at £160.00 for 48 but I managed to persuade the doctor to prescribe them last time so they were free.


I’ll be off to see the lovely doctor again soon!

I’m arranging the movement of ISAs that have matured at 4.0% into this year’s ISA pot at 1.45%. Thank goodness I don’t have to pay for prescriptions! Pauline is busily marinating pork ribs Chinese-style for our meal after our exercise.


Don’t drool. You wouldn’t like them. What a lucky man I am and no weird tourists to consider. Now writing at 10.30 pm it is 10C/50F. Sifnos is 11C/51F.

12th December, 2014

Damp but very mild start to the day but it had dried up by we ventured out at 9.00 am. Sainsbury’s was busy but manageable. Pauline had a Christmas Lunch Needs list and there were a lot of old and very doddery shoppers to negotiate but we were home before mid day. Rabbit soup for lunch followed by smoked salmon and garlic prawns accompanied by the ubiquitous Waldorf Salad.

All the Christmas cards have gone out now and ours are featuring robins – a traditionally pagan scene. That’s what Christmas means to us.Let’s hope the snow stays oop North.


Meanwhile, Greece is well on the way to imploding. Credit rating agency Moody’s has warned it might downgrade Greece in case of snap polls, while investment firm Goldman Sachs said there is a possibility that a cap will be set on bank withdrawals in Greece, as was the case in Cyprus. Thank goodness we got all our cash out in time! According to the Tourist Organisation, Hotels are already reporting a slowdown in the rate of bookings, while the representatives of foreign tour operators are expressing concern to Greek hoteliers regarding the deposits they have paid in case the Greek banking system is affected by developments in the country. Happy Days!

13th December, 2014

The week is ending on the most glorious day of clear blue skies and strong, low sun. A bit of a frost sparkled the lawns at 7.00 am but was soon burnt off by the sun. Greece has continued to be hit by storms and strong winds – meteorologically, economically and politically. We have spent the whole week thanking our lucky stars.

One of our relatives has complained that we are exhausting their ‘S’ in the address book by moving too often. They’re going to have to buy a new book or go digital. We have about three more moves in us yet – not to mention a little place in Europe!