Week 457

Sunday, 24th September, 2017

Another lovely day of warmth and sunshine. We’ve spent quite a bit of it – after three political programmes: Marr, Peston and Sunday Politics – outside in the garden. The topic of conversation today has been an alternative to our cancelled trip to Gran Canaria. At this, fairly late stage, it hasn’t seemed possible to find a good enough hotel with a room for the month of November to make us book again.

Actually, having planned out our year’s activities, I was feeling a little disorientated by the late cancellation. Pauline has sensed that and come up with a real plan. We wanted sun and warmth in the winter months. The Canaries almost guarantees that which is the only reason we chose it. Pauline has suggested an ambition we shelved a few years ago while tied up with our Greek home. We are seriously considering going to Australia for the month of Jan/Feb 2018. We would fly to and stay in Melbourne. It happens to be where two of our oldest friends from school have moved out to be near to their son. It also happens to be somewhere Pauline has family connections.

Monday, 25th September, 2017

A warm night – 16C/61F – ended with a warm but damp morning. Weak sunshine arrived in early afternoon and a temperature of 21C/70F. We did our first full gym session for over two weeks and it felt hard. We did the full 60 mins in the gym and followed it with 30 mins in the outside pool but I had to push myself each bit of the way and I’m sure I’ll feel it tonight.

Watched a fascinating speech by the Labour Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell, at the start of the Labour Party Conference. There really does seem to be a lot of optimism around that the Tories are falling apart and that Labour’s time is coming. There certainly doesn’t appear to be much to beat at the moment.

This day in the afternoon 5 years ago we boarded Superfast IV in Patras to sail overnight to Ancona as we left for the winter in Surrey. There was a seamen’s strike about to start and we were on the last ferry out before everything tied up for 48 hrs. On board, we dined on grilled salmon with a bottle of red wine and failed to stay awake long enough to see the ship dock at Igoumenitsa en route to Ancona. Only 5 years and yet so long ago. So much has happened in that time. Calculating the ledger of experiences, we are definitely in a better place. Fitter, healthier financially and physically. So much to look forward to.

Famous last words!

Tuesday, 26th September, 2017

We were up an out early for Pauline’s annual health check at our local doctor’s surgery. It was amazingly busy for 8.30 in the morning. It is one of the problems with the burgeoning development around here. Infrastructure rather lags demand.

Another lovely day of warm sunshine reaching 22C/70F by mid afternoon. We have just finished our second day returning to our exercise routine and I’m absolutely knackered. Pauline griddled the most wonderful Tuna steaks out in the garden and topped it with a delicious Balsamic reduction which was accompanied by tomato salad and cannellini bean salad dressed with garlic, lemon and olive oil.

In free time, we have been continuing to research a trip to Australia. We have decided that spending a month in Melbourne would be more rewarding by renting rather than staying in a hotel. We have found a lovely apartment overlooking the harbour and which has a pool, gym, all our home facilities including Wi-Fi and allows us to control our own food and cooking. It is near the ‘free’ tram system so we can have easy travel most of the time and just rent cars for special visits.

The flights, on the other hand, are difficult and complex choices. There are 33 different airlines that fly London – Australia. They have different and different number stopovers . Most do 1 or 2 stops of differing lengths of time but some do 3. Seat comfort is clearly important and seat width and legroom differ quite a lot. Luggage allowances are fairly similar but some offer free Wi-Fi and free film choices. Some agents mix and match airlines over 2 or 3 legs and prices vary massively. For someone who likes to be in control of all the facts, to feel organised and make rational and informed decisions, this is quite mind blowing. Must try harder tomorrow.

Wednesday, 27th September, 2017

Out early on a pleasantly mild morning which reached 21C/70F by mid afternoon. Pauline had been urged to have a chest xray during her GP annual review. Worthing Hospital has plenty of parking which is unusual and it is very cheap to park in it.

The one thing it isn’t is quick to get to from our house. On-line route planners say it is 7.5 miles away and would take 21 mins which is bad enough in emergency. Drive through early morning rush hour traffic and you can add half that time again. This doesn’t feel comfortable if you are rushing a critically ill partner to A&E. When we got there, the service was fantastic. We didn’t have an appointment. It is a walk-in service. We were directed straight into the Radiology Dept. and asked to sit. There were about 5 people also sitting and waiting. After 2 minutes, Pauline was called and she returned 5 mins later smiling and ready to go home. What more can you ask of a Health Service which is free at the point of delivery?

I drove home to cut the lawns, watch Corbyn’s quite impressive speech to Conference and then set off for another 90 mins full-on exercise. The last 30 mins outside in the pool were, once again, delightful, refreshing and relaxing. I can’t think of a nicer way to exercise. I always finish with 20 mins of Jacuzzi and water jet massage. As I drive home, I feel really good but, after a couple of hours my body acknowledges what it has done. Today it did 15,000 paces.

Thursday, 28th September, 2017

Out early again for a trip to the Doctor for my Annual Review. My appointment was for 8.40 am but I wasn’t seen until 9.20 am. The doctor didn’t get in until 10 mins after her first appointment. This was the repeat of the pattern on Tuesday when Pauline had her review. When I got to see her, she asked me what she could do for me and, after I had pointed out that she had requested the meeting, demonstrated repeatedly that she hadn’t read my notes and was ‘winging it’ a bit.

I’d had a fasting blood test a week ago and my results were excellent. My diabetic results for blood sugar were even better than last year. Liver and kidney function were excellent which is surprising although I have stopped alcohol which will have helped. I had to talk about the persistent pain in my upper arm. I had asked this doctor about it a year ago and she had sent me for physiotherapy. It really had no effect.

The arm improved over the summer but, what I had thought was a muscle tear or a trapped nerve, spontaneously returned about a month ago and is currently limiting and debilitating. I did some research of my own and came up with the diagnosis the doctor gave me this morning. I am suffering from ‘frozen shoulder’ or adhesive capsulitis and it is particularly prevalent in Type 2 Diabetics although no one really knows why. It can last up to 5 years and there are very few effective treatments.

I can have no complaints. Type 2 Diabetes, Atrial Fibrillation, Hypertension and now Frozen Shoulder are all my own fault – the wages of a dissolute life, eating and drinking too much and not getting enough exercise. I clearly deserve all I get. At least I won’t let them beat me. I have already had all Type 2 Diabetes medication removed. My diet and exercise has meant my Blood Pressure is well under control to the point of being on the low side and my medication is all but removed. I am not allowing this latest diagnosis to limit me. We did our 4th consecutive 90 mins routine at the gym and in the pool. Today, we swam under the sun in a temperature of 21C/70F. Quite delightful. It feels like being on holiday.

Friday, 29th September, 2017

Hot, muggy night has opened to a very wet day. Typical after such lovely weather of the past week because three of my sisters are coming for coffee this morning and then back for Dinner this evening. It is an historic day. Ruth is staying with us for a couple of nights. It will be the first time we have slept under the same roof for nearly 50 years. No gym for a couple of days but I have done the vacuuming which was exhausting and, in this extremely humid atmosphere, rather moistening.

When shall we three meet again?

The girls arrived just after mid day and had coffee before being taken by Catherine to look around the coast and beaches.  We had Dinner shortly after 7.00 pm and it was strange to sit around a table as a family albeit part of what we knew 50 – 60 years ago. Missing were the twins, Liz & Mike, and Caroline. Pauline cooked a very pleasant meal which centred on salmon in filo parcels with pesto. Strange to eat pastry even if it was just filo after all this time. She had spent many hours researching alternative dishes for Catherine who is a vegan and I think that went down well.

We have met and talked so rarely over the years and, when we do, I am always amazed by the blood-letting tone that the conversation turns to. We have all carried similar if different bundles of angst around with us over the years since our childhood. I always thought it was just me. If I had met them more and talked about it, maybe it would have faded in time. There again, it is so embedded, maybe it wouldn’t. I am past caring now. It is what it is and will remain.

Saturday, 30th September, 2017

The girls are going to Brighton today. Unfortunately, they are too late for the Corbyn rally but they are visiting the Pavilion and then going up British Airways Brighton i360 which is like a vertical cable car with viewing platform, bar and restaurant. I must admit, we haven’t been there ourselves and it doesn’t particularly interest me but I’m sure they’ll enjoy it. I drove them to the station for 9.30 am to catch the train. They won’t have to worry about parking or driving.

Flowers from Catherine

Back home, I am going to carry on researching flights to and from Australia. We are a little daunted by the length of time in the air and think we may aim to break it up with a couple of days in Singapore so that is my job to investigate this weekend as we see September out. The girls are having Dinner in Brighton this evening so I can indulge myself with a couple of hours of fantastic football – Chelsea v Man City. Ruth has texted to find out the results but she doesn’t want to know really because she is a Bolton fan and her team have just lost their 8th consecutive match and gone 8 games without scoring a single goal.

As I suggested, we have done some more ‘Australia trip’ research today and think the only way we will cope with flight length is to break it in Singapore and have a few nights in Changi. A 12hr flight followed by 2 or 3 days relaxing in a super technology city like Changi would be interesting and give us time to get out of our ‘compression socks’ and re-channel the blood supply around our bodies.

Week 456

Sunday, 17th September, 2017

Oh….Oh….Oh….Oh….Oh….Oh….Oh….Oh…..Oh….Oh…. I’m not well. Oh….Oh….Oh….Oh….Oh….Oh….Oh….Oh….

Why do we always feel worse at night than in the morning and worse in bed than when we get up and move around. Last night the ‘flu’mist descended with a vengeance after I had spent the day thinking I had thrown it off. I woke with a sore throat and a snuffle which was an improvement on last night and, now I’m up, I feel a little better again……. but still very ill! Oh….Oh….Oh….Oh….Oh….Oh….Oh….Oh….

Looks like we were lucky in our choice of weeks to go to Athens. The previous week was windy and wet and next week is forecast to be another heatwave. KTG reports that temperatures could reach 40C/104F by Wednesday and that won’t be comfortable in Athens. In fact it will be unbearable. At the same time, it is forecast that we will return to warmer days but it is all relative. My figs are rejoicing at the news.

Monday, 18th September, 2017

Glorious, sunny morning. My synchronised, on-line calendar says I only have one bin to put out this morning so I’ve done that and everything is under control. We are holding a Lunch Party for neighbours on Wednesday so today is an interim shopping day to source ingredients. Cutting the lawns, cleaning the car and going to the Health Club for the first time in 10 days will follow. The hectic life of a retiree is never easy.

Mowed the lawn and then we had a knock at the door and a plasterer had come, quite unannounced, to do some ‘snagging’. It meant that a chunk of our day was looking after him and not going shopping or out to the gym. Watched the Daily Politics on which IDS deliberately, knowingly and quite fallaciously tried to argue that Boris Johnson’s £350 million for the NHS was accurate in the face of all the National Statistical Authorities. By 2.00 pm, we were free to go shopping.

Do you remember Damsons? As we went to Tesco, Pauline said she wanted to make damson jam and they were advertising them. No damsons. We collared the Fruit & Veg. buyer and asked him about them. He wanted to know what damsons were. He checked his database and could find no mention of them. We knew already that Tesco say they sell them. We rather gave up and came away. Unfortunately, one thing I don’t like doing is ‘giving up’.

As soon as I got home, I phoned Tesco Head Office and asked where I could buy the damsons they were selling. I found I was speaking to a special needs, work experience girl who was partially deaf and had a speech impediment – ideal for call centre/customer relations work. She had never heard of damsons and asked how to spell it for her computer search. She was quite buoyant after she had written down the six letters in the right order. She found them on her Tesco Central Store database and she asked me where I lived. That took another 10 mins. explanation and spelling out. I told her I had just come back from the store but she insisted on putting me through.

The lady at West Durrington Superstore Customer Relations was very pleasant. She asked me what damsons were and how to spell it. I told her and that they were on her database as 300 g pks for £2.00. She then said, And were you over charged?  As patiently as I could, I reiterated my earlier explanation that I had been in the store 20 mins ago and could find no damsons, that their specialist on that area had never heard of them and could find no mention of them on his database. Then, just as I was really in despair, as if in a blinding light of epiphany, her voiced returned to the phone and said calmly as if everything prior to this was wiped clean, We received 6 pks this morning, Sir. The next delivery will be on Wednesday.

Tuesday, 19th September, 2017

Gorgeous, sunny morning if only 11C/52F. We are told that temperatures will be returning to the low 20Cs/70Fs in the next few days down here. I’m beginning to feel a lot better today. Thanks for asking. Oh, you didn’t. Optimism is starting to reassert itself. I’ve even been entertaining the idea of buying a small property in the south of France and started to browse possibilities. If only Brexit wasn’t such a sticking point.

Currently, the Commons Treasury Select Committee have warned that British Expats with pensions and insurances are threatened as the Financial Times amongst a number of media outlets reported. This is down to the potential loss of ‘Passporting Arrangements’ which allow pan-European contracts being enforced. It could also seriously affect flights in and out of UK. As the British Chamber of Commerce is warning:

Upon ceasing to be a member state of the EU, the UK ceases to be a beneficiary not only of the Customs Union and the Single Market, but also (i) the European Single Sky; (ii) the European Common Aviation Area Agreement; (iii) all Comprehensive Air Transport Agreements the EU has entered into with a number of other countries like the US and Canada, as well as (iv) all Horizontal Air Transport Agreements the EU has entered into with other countries around the world.

As things currently stand, on 30 March 2019 there will no longer be an Open Sky for the UK other than to the extent provided in pre-existing “old” bilateral Air Services Agreements that the UK entered into and which may remain in force or any newly agreed bilateral Air Service Agreements, and other than as agreed in the Withdrawal Agreement (if any) or otherwise agreed with the EU and the other participating states in the European Common Aviation Area.

Avoid being late by not flying at all. Brilliant!

This scenario is currently being tested out for the government and British people by Ryanair. They appear to be parking their planes at airports rather than flying from them in order to avoid delays and improve their punctuality. They should take a look at the EasyJet method.

Wednesday, 20th September, 2017

A grey day although fairly mild. Had to be out for a blood test this morning prior to my annual review next week. Went on to Tesco and managed to corner the market of Damsons. They had 2 kilos delivered over night and we bought them all. Many jars of damson jam will follow over the next few days.

We have friends coming round for Lunch and have decided to put on Mεζέδες (Mezethes). We are going to eat Χταπόδι Σαλάτα (Octopus Salad), Mαρίδa (Whitebait), Σολομός σε φιλό (Salmon in Filo), Pεβυθοκεφτεδες (Chickpea Balls), Σκόρδaλia (Garlic Sauce) Σπαράγγι (Asparagus) and Χωριάτικη (Greek or Village Salad). No Greek wines, I’m afraid, just Italian. Of course, everything is cooked by Pauline. My jobs, as menial support, have been to do the vacuuming and lay the table which I have done expertly. Our figs and olives outside are getting decidedly excited.

The meal was really enjoyable not least because I hadn’t eaten for 18 hrs having submitted to a 12 hr fasting blood test this morning. The company and the conversation was fascinating. Our friends have done very different and interesting things and lived in a number of different places. I do find these things quite stressful and tiring because I don’t do them very often. Maybe I should but I’m lazy in that respect.

Thursday, 21st September, 2017

A lovely morning which reached 21C/70F but turned wet in late afternoon. We had three tasks to complete this morning as we went out into the sunshine. We had to buy jam jars for Pauline’s afternoon project of making damson jam; we had to find a new dentist and had chosen a practice which has opened inside our local Sainsbury’s store; we wanted to buy some more cyclamen to supplement the ones that Catherine had bought us this time last year.

In Hobbycraft we found the jars – 2 dozen for £20.00/€22.70 – for jam and some more for chutney later. On to the dentist. It is in demand and appointments are not readily available. Good or bad sign? At least people go there in numbers. We signed up for an Annual Plan which cost us £100.00/€113.60 per year each and allows for two check ups per year plus 20% off standard treatment charges. We have no idea if that is good value or not but we will see if we live for another 12 months. Finally, we went on to the garden centre and found an amazing array of cyclamen – 8 different colours in three different sizes. We always go by the mantra – If you’re going to have one, have a big one. – and bought 3 large white and 3 large red for £20.00/€22.70. Planting them will be a weekend job.

My cold symptoms have returned with a vengeance over night and Pauline is in the middle of infection too so we are in a sorry, wheezy state. I really thought I would have fought it off much more quickly than this. It is now a week since I first felt symptoms. The trouble is that, because we were away for a week prior to this, it is now two weeks since we did gym work and we are becoming rather stir crazy.

Friday, 22nd September, 2017

Sunrise on the shoreline this morning.

Up at 6.30 am. The plasterer arrived an hour later to do some ‘snagging’ work. The painter will appear to complete the job some time this morning. We have a 5 year warranty on everything in and outside our new house including the white goods, kitchen units and fitted furniture that came with it. We have just over 3½ years left. It is rather reassuring. Unlike other new-builds we have bought, we have had remarkably few problems and, unlike our previous, Taylor Wimpey property which only had a 2 yr cover and in which we had to fight like mad to get things done, David Wilson Homes are a dream to work with.

Heuchera Rio

This is the start of the Autumn Equinox. Day and night are equal in the sense of daylight and darkness. Ironically, it was our coldest night of recent months going down to 8C/46F. The sky was clear and sparkling with stars and the morning has brought blue sky criss-crossed by plane trails lit up by gorgeous sunshine. If the painter arrives early enough, we are hoping to walk on the beach and shop at the fisherman’s hut.

As the day developed, our plans changed because the painter kept us waiting all morning. Eventually, we had to cancel the coastal walk and settle for a trip to the garden centre nearby. We wanted something colourfully leaved that will manage partial shade. We settled for a collection of Heuchera. They have really been developed since we first used them nearly 40 years ago. We chose Rio (illustrated), Marmalade and Lime Marmalade. They will be a useful addition to our driveside beds.

Saturday, 23rd September, 2017

This has been the most beautiful day of warmth and sunshine. We went down to Littlehampton Beach to buy some fish. The sun was delightful and the beach deserted. The occasional person passed us as we walked down the Marina but, essentially, we had it to ourselves.

We walked for a while and it felt good to be out in the sea air and the sunshine. A couple of older men were fishing under the board walk. A family of Mum, Dad, two kids and a dog were walking with a pushchair on the beach at the edge of the water enjoying the freedom of a huge, open space.

Walking here in these conditions make us reflect how lucky we are. Prime Location the property selling site today listed the top ten places to retire to. It placed West Sussex at the number 1 spot saying it is ranked strongly for good weather and disability-free life expectancy.

We walked back to the fishermen’s shack to buy some fish from the fresh catch. Littlehampton Lobsters, Brighton Crabs, locally caught Sea Bass, Brill and Turbot lay on ice along side Monkfish with their mouths agape and silent, silver Mackerel. It is lovely to see and it had quite a crowd of shoppers outside.

Week 455

Sunday, 10th September, 2017

An alternatingly grey and damp/warm and sunny day. As the day has developed, the former has disappointingly ousted the latter. I have been doing the usual Sunday things – political programmes, newspapers, household chores. I even vacuumed the house from top to bottom. I also think I’ve found a replacement hotel for November but, as we’re going away, I’ll ponder it for a while. If it’s gone by the time we get back, so be it.

The government continues to oscillate over its Brexit policy but there is one thing it seems fairly settled on – The British people voted against ‘free movement of people’. Europe says that the corollary to this is exit from the Free Market and the Customs Union. It also means that there will be an equal and opposite reaction from Europe. Travel and work for the British in Europe will be equally difficult. It may involve other reciprocal rights we currently expect like medical treatment. This is not going to be a comfortable settlement although the Little Englanders will be happy. Expats won’t!

Monday, 11th September, 2017

Up at midnight to drive to Gatwick for our flight to …. (whisper it) …. Europe. We have an early flight and arrive in Athens just after 11.00 am. Snatched a few hours sleep and will make the rest up on the plane. It is a blustery but dry and moonlit night. Should be a fun drive.

Really enjoyed the drive to Gatwick Airport Long Stay Carpark which took about an hour. We were picked by the circular bus immediately and whisked off to the North Terminal. We were flying with EasyJet which has the UK’s worst record for delays. The service today was wonderful, slick and impressively quick. We had booked our seats in advance on-line as we had checked in on-line. All we had to do was drop off our bags. We did that ourselves  at the automatic machine which weighed our case, printed out our luggage label and despatched our case for loading on the plane. The trip through safety checks was swift – although it was 4.00 am admittedly.

We went straight to No 1 Lounge on airside where we got fast broadband, coffee and bacon sandwiches in delightful comfort and peace. We were so relaxed that we almost forgot to go to Gate which was a 10 mins walk away. We walked straight on and sat down in seats with ‘extra leg room’. We took off right on time for a flight of 3 hrs 35 mins. Which landed 10 mins early in Athens. The only hiccup was the really bad turbulence as we crossed the Alps.

As we queued to get off the plane, I got into conversation with a couple who said they were staying in Athens for a couple of nights before setting off for the islands. Where are you going? I asked. You won’t have heard of it.  they said. It’s a small island called Sifnos.We’re staying in a little, 2* hotel in Kamares. We told them that not only did we know it but we knew the Poison Dwarf who runs it. Having done our job for the day, we collected our bag and got on the first Metro train that arrived to get to Syndagma. It was quite busy.

We walked through the Autumn sunshine – 29C/84F – to our hotel which was just being completed this time last year. The Electra Metropolis is one of three we now use in Athens along with the Electra and the Electra Palace. We checked in to our room and went for a swim. Delicious! After that, we had a snooze and then went out for a walk. At 9.00 pm, we went out to our favourite, street corner taverna. Eugenia’s Taverna on the corner of Voulis Street.

Greek Salad with griddled Sea Bass and Sea Bream was a wonderful way to finish the day and we waddled happily back to the hotel and had coffee. Tomorrow will be a big, walking day so we need an early-ish night.

Tuesday, 12th September, 2017

Up at 8.00 am (6.00 am BST) to listen to Today. Outside, the temperature was 23C and, by the time we went for Breakfast had reached 25C. I took this photo on the Breakfast Room balcony. By the time we had gone back to our room to prepare for the day, the temperature had reached 27C. We slapped on the sun cream and asked the hotel to get us a taxi to Lycabettus Hill funicular.

Arrived at the Furnicular/Teleferik which goes up the hill every 30 mins. It was leaving in 5 mins. We bought return tickets for both of us coming to 15 Euros. The journey is 90 secs. The view as you step off the train is spectacular. With Athens laid out before us and the Parliament building next to the National Gardens in the foreground, Saronic Gulf in the background, it is a delightful sight.

We spent half an hour or so walking round and taking photographs and then took the furnicular back down. We are not natural sightseers and rarely stay long. We decided to walk back to our hotel – down the glassy, marble steps to Kolonaki and past the Embassy area where something was happening and forcing the police to close streets to traffic, local television companies to send out news gathering teams with small groups being videoed for the news. It might be just the upcoming transport strike but it could be something more sinister.

The walk back took no time at all – maybe 20 mins although it was hot and sweaty work in strong sun and 33C/91F temperatures. We stopped off at the periptero to buy iced bottles of sparkling water to replace and rehydrate.

We went to sit round the pool at the top of our hotel where we relaxed and enjoyed the sun. Later we went back to our room for a shower and to read our iPads. It really is annoying that the iPad is virtually unusable in sunshine.

Wednesday, 13th September, 2017

Up and outside for Breakfast in 28C/82F this morning. The bad news is that there is a transport strike here tomorrow. We will have to go by taxi. Still that is cheaper and more reliable in today’s Athens than it was even 5 years ago. Today is a wandering, shopping, mooching day.

We started our meandering walk towards Omonia Square at about 10.00 am. The temperature had risen to 31C/88F and a little more humid than yesterday. We walked down  Mitropoleos Street and past the Cathedral/Duomo that has been under reconstruction for many, many years. Lo and behold! It was free of scaffolding and restored to the building that we first viewed in 1980.

We walked through the streets of hawkers pedalling tawdry goods to people who couldn’t really afford them. We revisited haunts that we used to visit when we were furnishing our Greek house. Little has changed although there did seem to be an increase in tourist eating places. There are noticeably less beggars on the streets although there are still some. There are lots of Chinese and Japanese tourists and many less Americans than usual.

The city is still that awkward mix of ancient and tawdry. Our hotel, The Electra Metropolis,  is a brand new 5 star hotel in the heart of the city. It is situated at the beginning of Mitropoleos Street next to Syntagma Square. We have known the building for many years as the Ministry of Education. We have seen hordes of teachers protesting outside about their pay or lack of it. The building was designed by the famous architect Patroklos Karantinos. The basement of the building houses its own remarkable cultural attraction viewed through the glass pavement – the remains of the Themistoclean Wall which surrounded ancient Athens.

Thursday, 14th September, 2017

Up at 6.00 am and Breakfast out on the terrace looking over the city at 7.30 am. We would normally walk up to the Syndagma Metro Station and catch a train to the airport. This morning, we know that a strike means the metro stops at Dukakis Plakendias and the whole world would be looking for taxis on to the airport so we asked the Doorman, as we checked out, to get us a taxi all the way. The price is €40.00 – almost twice the cost of the train – but it was an enjoyable and quick journey.

It was a warm morning and the driver had his sun roof open. Outside the airport, the temperature was already 30C/86F at 9.00 am. Everything having been done online like check-in and seat allocation, boarding passes printed out, all that was left was ‘bag drop’ which used to be done separately for each flight but is now done centrally and in an integrated way.

We got that through quickly and walked down to the Goldair Lounge. This is quite a long walk through those ‘fake duty-free’ shops selling Toblerone and perfume and tourist tat packaged as Greek specialities. It was busy and we had to force our way through the crowds. Life would be so much easier without people wouldn’t it? Our EasyJet flight was due to take off at 12.00 mid-day. We drank some fresh orange juice and used the Wi-Fi for our iPads. Pauline looked for the ‘Gate’ number an hour before departure and it said Already Boarding at gate 34. We didn’t really believe it but we walked straight there and they were, indeed, really boarding. We went straight on and sat down in our ‘extra legroom’ seats.

EasyJet have been reported to be the worst airline in Britain for punctuality and delays. They have clearly reacted positively. Our experience out and back to Athens has proved the most smooth, hitch free experience we have had for some time. Today, we took off exactly on time and landed 20 mins early. You can’t ask more than that. In addition, all the reports about increased security creating extra delays haven’t proved accurate in our experience. In Athens Airport, our identity, passports and Boarding passes were checked five times before we got on the plane. At Gatwick, we followed massed throngs of passengers from various flights as we came back through passport control. We went through the automated system and it proved so much more efficient than the manned system. We left Athens at 12.00 mid day and back home in West Sussex at 4.00 pm.

Friday, 15th September, 2017

Half way through September already. Real signs of Autumn and a distinct nip in the air this morning. Breakfast will definitely not be served on the terrace. It is very sunny with blue skies but only 8C/47F. Our figs are beginning to get the message that their fruit was just produced too late this year and is unlikely to be picked and eaten. The photograph on the left illustrates the scene in a Sussex park as it musters itself for Autumn.

I don’t know if I picked it up on the plane on the way out to Athens but, last night, I was hit by a violent sore throat, a headache and a cold. I hven’t even had my ‘flu jab yet. Actually, the Health Ministry is warning of a potential ‘flu epidemic causing chaos in the Health service this winter and issuing an ultimatum to hospitals to clear their wards of ‘bed blockers’ in preparation. I haven’t heard the term ‘euthanasia’ used yet but it will surely come from this government

Saturday, 16th September, 2017

It won’t be like this!

Wanted to start back at the gym this morning but my man-flu is still raging so decided to give it a miss. Sat outside in the glorious sunshine for a while. We have finally decided (I think) to go ahead with hard landscaping the back garden. It will mainly feature extending the patio in all directions but also installing a canopy over the cooking area along the garage wall. It’s been made clear to me that it won’t be like the first one pictured here. My darling wife has just called it ‘gross’! And that’s an end to it!

Maybe more like this.

Yesterday, Pauline was griddling mackerel outside when a short, sharp, rain shower thought it would be a good idea to put in an appearance. I had to hurriedly erect a giant, garden dining table umbrella but something more permanent would be preferable. We are going to do some local research and get quotes.

Quite by chance this morning, the subject of comics and their one-liners was featured in the paper. Tim Vine is always talked about as the king of this genre :

Conjunctivitis.com – that’s a site for sore eyes

but the report had two other crackers both from yesteryear. Tommy Cooper:

Police arrested two kids yesterday. One was drinking battery acid, the other was eating fireworks.

They charged one and let the other one off.

and to my own surprise my personal favourite from Ken Dodd:

I have kleptomania, but when it gets bad, I take something for it.

When man-flu strikes, you have to lift your spirits somehow. There again, you could always listen to Boris Johnson flailing about and screaming, Pick me! Pick me!

Week 454

Sunday, 3rd September, 2017

From the Sunday Times – 3/9/17

A grey day with an Autumnal chill in the air and a spit of rain. After last night’s escapade, we were tired when the radio went off at 6.00 am. We were still up and about around 7.00 am but rather tired. Newspapers this morning just increase the sense of mayhem and incompetence surrounding BREXIT. I really despair.

The government are trying to appease the electorate. The prime minister is trying to appease the Cabinet. The Cabinet is trying to appease sections of the Tory Party. The Right Wing ‘Fruitcakes’ are trying to intimidate the centre right ‘Remainers’ who are beginning to lean towards the Liberal and centre left ‘Remainers’. Basically, everyone is stabbing everyone else in the back, the front or stabbing themselves.

Went to the gym and did a full session including a long, outdoor swim this afternoon. The water was noticeably warmer and the outside air noticeably colder than it has been since the Springtime. The world is changing. Gran Canaria is starting to feel a really good idea.

Monday, 4th September, 2017

A warm and humid, sweaty day even though the temperature didn’t get above 21C/70F. Pauline is going shopping in Guildford with her sister and niece tomorrow. We drove to the train station to buy her a ticket. It’s lucky she wasn’t going today because they are on strike again. Unfortunately, she has to change at Havant which means her train will take 90 mins but she is happy to do it.

Angmering Station

The railway is huge business particularly down here. As workers are forced out from London by housing prices, our region which is about an hour from the city where they work is increasingly attractive. Lots of people use the train to get to work and back. It is not cheap if you’re doing it every day.

Most businesses feel the need to invest and keep up to date to retain their customers. Not the railway. They are blasé and take their clientele for granted. These buildings do not seem to have seen much modernisation since Beeching in the 1960s. Angmering is growing enormously. The number of passengers they can expect to carry will equally grow. They will not be satisfied with 1950s furniture and 1960s services.

The service is still the ‘cheery’ staff-heavy process of the past. There is a large, middle aged lady in the tiny ticket office behind the arched glass window. There is the station master with mutton chop sideboards and braces. The entrance/exit is cramped and suited to passage of a handful of passengers an hour. The generation of profit from the through-flow of passengers does not seem to fit with this scene from yesteryear.

Tuesday, 5th September, 2017

My wife has left me….. to go shopping in Guildford! Can you believe it. She’s already had a problem and been re-routed on the train from Angmering to Guildford. Yesterday, she was told she had to go via Havant at 9.05 am. I took her to the station early because of all those little bastards going back to school and she was told that the only train she could get out was at 8.50 am via Barnham. What a way to run a railway. The sooner Jeremy nationalises it the better!

I’m doing IT work this morning. Reinstalling MS Office on Pauline’s laptop which seems to be playing up with some software after upgrading to Windows 10. It is extremely warm but grey outside and very warm in the house. The figs are still swelling but I don’t think they will make it this year.

Good to see at least one area of society is moving the right way. As a confirmed atheist, I rejoice in the British Social Attitudes Survey into religious faith which found ‘No Religion’ in the majority and climbing. It’s always reassuring to find one’s fellow citizens seeing the light. It’s all down hill for religion now!

I was reminded this afternoon about something I got involved in 46 years ago this summer. I was in college and doing Subsid. Drama. It was never my thing but I had to do something. A call came out for extras on an ITV police drama which was being filmed in Yorkshire. The name of  the drama series escapes me – might have been called ‘Villains’ or something like that. The star of the drama was a young Alun Armstrong who must have been 25 years old at the time. We spent most of the day sitting on a grass bank with Armstrong as he kept us entertained with stories and jokes that appealed to our age. We all got an Equity Card and £10.00 for a day’s work. If you got to speak, you got £25.00 but I didn’t.

I have followed his subsequent career keenly and dined out on my tenuous connection with him ever since. I do know that I got arrested in the filming and Mum had concerned neighbours ringing up to tell her that I was in trouble. She had only just got a television in 1971 and certainly didn’t watch anything as downmarket as ITV. She didn’t see my starring role and nor did I.

Wednesday, 6th September, 2017

Last night looked as if it was full moon and we have woken to quite a chilly feel outside and a temperature of 14C/57F with weak sun. Pauline is tired after her travels yesterday. Even the return trains were delayed but not by much. It does leave one feeling that train travel is a step too far. Go by car!

Perfect Student Uniform!

When I left for college in September 1969, my Mother insisted, against all my protests, that I go dressed appropriately like the country gentleman she saw me. I was embracing my ‘calling’ in training as a teacher and high standards would be expected of me. She marched me off to a gentleman’s outfitters in Burton and insisted on buying me the most expensive, green country jacket with wide, red check she could find. It was exactly like the one pictured left only that it had leather buttons. I hated it especially when she teamed it up with a striped shirt and yellow cravat! How many students in the steamy, protest years of 1968/69 went around wearing a cravat?

Dressed like that, I arrived in my first, student digs and, immediately,  my worst fears were confirmed. I was not expected to be a country gentleman but a 1960s, protesting student. Within a week, I had traded my very expensive jacket in for a secondhand, green flap jacket which my Mother immediately denounced when she saw it as a toilet attendant‘s jacket.

A screen shot from ‘Villains’ – ITV 1971 starring me and Alun Armstrong.

This morning, I found the episode of Villains starring Alun Armstrong in which I was an extra. If you want to see the beautiful acting talent I was 46 years ago, you can watch it here. We were playing ourselves, students protesting about hare coursing. We were in a ‘demo’ van and confronted by the police. This link is for the episode 6 in which I appeared and it is on YouTube: Villains, Episode 6: Sand Dancer. Although I know there will be a few Alun Armstrong fans, most of you will be impatient to see me so you just fast forward to these locations:

  • 27 mins.44 secs – John is in ‘Student Demo Van’ travelling down the road when we stop to pick up a hitch hiking Alun Armstrong.
  • 28 mins.41 secs – John is seen getting out of van wearing green, toilet attendant‘s jacket.
  • 28 mins.52 – 55 secs – John is seen in fore shot – still in green, toilet attendant‘s jacket – carrying a placard. Best man at my wedding, Kevin Dagg, is next to me.
  • 28 mins.59 – 29 mins. 04 secs – John is seen going for the Oscar in fore shot – still in green, toilet attendant‘s jacket.
  • 30 mins.33 – 49 secs – John almost clinches the starring role as he stands in line, waiting for a caution while he dabs, expertly, at his bloody nose. Unfortunately, Kevin steals the show by smoking and giving his real name to the Sergeant.

Of course, I went on to selflessly devote myself to education and stood aside to allow Alun Armstrong to enjoy the television limelight. I really didn’t want to overshadow him!

Thursday, 7th September, 2017

The problem Greece has always had is ‘extending’ the amazingly short holiday season. Why is it a problem? Because September weather in Greece is increasingly unreliable. It can be absolutely wonderful with warm days and warm seas. It can be wet, stormy and difficult for transport.

Four passengers injured as Sea Jet 2 collides with pier at the port of Sifnos

This week, there have been some stormy days in the islands and strong winds have done some damage. When we were living half the year on Sifnos, locals would tell us that September, when the tourists had largely left, were special with great weather and quiet beaches. We did 6 Septembers and can report that the weather seems to know when September has arrived. It is a marked change with cool nights and less than reliable days. The winds are increasingly strong and ferry timetables threatened by the difficulty in crossing between Cyclades and Piraeus.

This week, the weather illustrated the islands’ problem. We often worried that our ferry to the mainland would be disrupted/cancelled by September weather and make our Superfast connection to Ancona difficult. Yesterday, the Sea Jet 2 jetfoil ferry, on the way to Folegandros, collided with the harbour in Kamares, Sifnos. I am told it drifted in high winds. It suffered a large gash to its hull and four passengers were injured and taken to the Medical Centre in Apollonia which is a fairly rudimentary place.

All passengers were disembarked, the ferry was suspended from scheduled sailings until repairs had been completed. As a result, dozens of passengers on board will have required emergency accommodation and those from Sifnos will have had their travel plans thwarted. When one goes on holiday, that uncertainty is not what one wants. Travellers with unlimited time can cope but holiday makers need more surety.

Friday, 8th September, 2017

I love the new and innovative. I am an ‘early adopter’ of new gizmos, processes, etc. However, I also like to plan my life well ahead and not have circumstances forced upon me unexpectedly. Pauline and I maintain synchronised, on-line calendars which tabulate everything well in advance – even fairly immaterial things like which bins to put out each week and when to re-order prescriptions. I like to act within a self-controlled context.

Long ago in January/February we agreed travel plans for the year. Trips to France, our European Drive in July, our trip to Greece in September, our short trip to Yorkshire in October and a month in the Canaries in November. There are still spaces to slot things in – impromptu, spontaneous things but the main framework of my life for the rest of the year is fairly organised and known. I am looking forward to our flight to Athens this weekend and getting back in to the Greek milieu. I am looking forward to spending November in a 5* hotel in Gran Canaria being pampered and fed but with all the exercise facilities we have at home.

Well, I was until late last night. I received an email to say that a problem had arisen in the total renovation programme of the hotel and it could no longer be available. We were being offered another hotel in the same chain which they said was of equal quality but in a slightly different area. We were aware of this hotel and had rejected it in our original search. We rapidly re-read our contract. We had paid £6000.00/€6,600.00 up front in good faith. The small print said explicitly that the company held the right, in extreme circumstances to move us to another hotel of equal standard in their chain .

I quickly checked case law advice for such a circumstance and it seemed the company had that right. We went to bed depressed. This morning, I took the bull by the horns, phoned the company and told them that we had received their email. I told them that we specifically rejected their alternative hotel and took a deep breath. The reply came back immediately, No problem, sir. We can look for an alternative hotel for you or give you a full refund. I felt my body and mind relax. I had been expecting a serious battle and had ben preparing my armoury. Suddenly, £6000.00/€6,600.00 was winging its way back to our account and we can make new plans. We had booked a hotel for the night at Gatwick Airport which we’ve had to cancel as well.

After that, the day seemed strange. Suddenly, the future was uncertain. I began to look for an alternative trip for November but couldn’t settle to it. We distracted ourselves by booking a couple of nights in a hotel in Poole in Dorset at the beginning of October so that Pauline and I can meet up with an old, school/work friend who we’ve not really seen for 40 years. Even so, the uncertain November is nagging away in my head and it will be over night.

Saturday, 9th September, 2017

It has been the most delightfully warm and sunny day here – not quite what was forecast. I have been really lazy and watched England finish off the W.Indies and clinch the Test series followed by two Premier League matches. My dear wife, on the other hand, has been working all day making sure everything we need is ironed and packed. It is a major job!

The weather in Athens is forecast to be around 32-33C/90-91F. That is warm but manageable. Greek Meteorologists have announced this week that July 2017 was the hottest since 1880. Temperatures reached 46C/115F on Crete. Can you imagine it? The hottest I have ever experienced is 41C/105F and it nearly killed me.