Week 605

Sunday, 26th July, 2020

The last week of July. In fact August on Saturday. Summer is running away. I have to keep telling myself these things to maintain equilibrium and context. The first Test series of the Summer draws to a close this week and, hopefully, Manchester weather will allow England to bring it to a successful conclusion.

Fun in the Sun

At the same time, the government announce new travel restrictions and the pandemic which was said to be “contained very soon” and then “over by Christmas” is now triumphantly to be “over by the middle of next year”. The Transport Secretary had just got off a plane in Spain for his holidays and less than 6 hours later his own department announced a 14 day quarantine for all people flying from Spain. This type of action really undercuts the whole travel industry. If you can’t book with confidence then you are unlikely to book at all.

I’m going to clean the car, watch the cricket followed by the football and read the newspapers.

Monday, 27th July, 2020

Actually, I didn’t clean the car because today was forecast to be wet and I knew I had to go out and collect packs of wood. One of the things that interests me is the information bodies give out to ameliorate authorities and smooth their path through Covid-19 re-opening. We ordered the loft boarding from Jewson in Worthing. They told us that it would be collectable after 10.30 am on Monday. We would be sent a text to be told what time to turn up to collect so that social distancing could be maintained. By 11.00 am on Monday, we had heard nothing and I phoned them.

I was greeted by an incredulous voice saying, Just come when you like. We went immediately. The huge store was absolutely empty and the five assistants were without masks. Our packs of loft boards were stacked up waiting for us. There were no other orders left out. It looks as if there is little take-up currently.

We drove home and I spent the next 3 hrs in the garage installing the new ceiling, moving storage boxes and freeing up the parking area. It was an absolutely satisfying activity. I had offered the floor staging to my neighbour and he told me this morning that he would like it in his garage so that will clear some more space.

Last night we heard that the UK had scuppered travel to Spain and its islands by insisting on them quarantining on return to UK. It is a bit of a joke because, generally, UK has a worse Covid-19 incidence than other EU countries. We suspect another agenda but it was interesting how Brexiters and far-right Tories were already denying the facts. One of our relatives watched some pappy, ITV morning programme and insisted that this quarantine requirement was false. She had heard a contributor announcing that it could easily be subverted. Within minutes, government spokesmen insisted that it would remain in place.

There could be more quarantines to come.

I struggle to understand why people just swallow that nonsense without exercising some critical judgement but then that is what Brexit was all about.

Tuesday, 28th July, 2020

Up early at 6.00 am on a lovely morning. Out to Sainsbury‘s at 7.00 am and I did my walk. I admit, I have been a little disincentivised since last Thursday when Garmin Connect – the app/website that integrates my watch with my phone – was taken down because of an extraordinary outage’. I seems that they had been hit by a ransomware attack which freezes the company’s IT systems and demands payment to release them. That tells you everything you need to know about me. I am utterly target driven!

We have 8 months left of our 5yr warranty on this house. Any snagging/problems need to be raised with the builders before the end of March 2021. A house near us suddenly found a problem with their bay window roof and had a team of workers fixing it for 3-4 days recently. We have decided that we must really go for it.

Major Panic – a failing rubber seal.

Yesterday, a rubber seal on a pop-up sink waste valve split and fell apart. Last night the dual flush push button on one of the toilets sprang out and refused to go back. A small section had broken off.

Catastrophe – a broken toilet flush button.

Not on the scale of a leaking bay window but these niggly small things will be fixed by a little man in a builder’s van without causing us inconvenience.

Finished decluttering the garage, valeted the car and watched England win the Test series against West Indies. Garmin came back up for the first time in 4 days and registered that I had well exceeded my targets. A very rewarding day!

Girl from the past.

Totally out of the blue, I found a message from a girl I last saw in 1973-4. She was about 1-2 years old and her name was Julia. I have to admit that my memory is rather hazy but I remember snatches of it. It makes me a little shaky trying to recall those distant days.

Wednesday, 29th July, 2020

I must wish my skinny sister, Jane BG, a very happy 68th birthday. She is a champion runner and puts me to shame and, at her age, leads the way for all of us. 

A day at home in beautiful weather with blue sky and lots of sunshine. After breakfast at 6.30 am, we prepared to approach the nightmare that is an insurance claim. Today, it was dealing with a  Credit Card ‘Claim-Back’. After half an hour on the website  claim area going round in circles, we were seriously frustrated and decided to take our lives in our hands and phone up.

Jane B. G. – 68 today

Ignoring all the dire warnings that we couldn’t phone and should use the web; ignoring all the dire warnings about the effect of the pandemic on their phone service; ignoring all their dire warnings about the suggestion that we would be put on hold for hours, I went on hold and was answered within 2 mins. The lovely lady dealing with my claim apologised for keeping me waiting and promised a written reply within 24 hrs. This is all I was requesting and will fulfil my claim requirements immediately.  

I was so happy after this result that I set about mowing the lawns and pressure washing the car for the next couple of hours. We did our next round of smoked salmon. I have now refined it to just 3hrs of smoke. It is plenty and suggests those sites which talk about 24 hrs must be hard core smokers. I am pleased to say that my Garmin service is now fully restored and our exercise targets are fully restored. Life is back on an even keel.


In this week 5 years ago, we were just meeting a buyer for our Duplex Apartment in Surrey which, ultimately led to our purchase of this new home on the Sussex coast. Time just eats away at one’s life but we don’t regret this move at all.

Thursday, 30th July, 2020

Roadside Beauty!

Another wonderful day and we were up at 6.00 am, out by 6.45 am. Pauline was shopping at 7.00 am while I did my walk. I’ve been doing it so long now that I’m on acknowledging terms with lots of regulars. The man with the bobble hat and Dalmatian dog comes jogging past. We nod and say, Morning. It is only on a Thursday that we meet but the bond is strong. The nurse in her blue, linen coat with badge and name tag is getting in to her Ribena-coloured Ford Ka outside the block of flats. She doesn’t speak but her face acknowledges weeks of familiarity. Even the bent-over old man with a shock of white hair and face parallel to the pavement attempts to raise a smile. as he does his morning walk at 7.15 am. He is not giving up! Nor am I. look at this bearded clematis just woven in to the hedgerow on my walk around West Durrington this morning. Understated, roadside beauty.

The sun is increasingly heating up. It rapidly reaches 26C/79F. Pauline will be quite quick today because there are so few people shopping at this time. I don’t know why. It is a wonderful time to be out and about. I need 45 – 55 mins for my walk. I deliberately break in to a faster walk/jog in order to not keep her waiting too long. I am sweating by the time I reach the car and my legs are quite tired.

Doorside Beauty

We are home by 8.30 am and the day can start. Coffee for me and porridge for Pauline. An hour in the Office bringing the accounts up to date and following up emails. Then, outside to start our jobs. By 10.00 am, I am turning the automatic watering system to water the lawns. First the grass strip outside our property edging the pavement/road. Mine is the greenest most luscious section on the road. I even weed and feed it, mow it twice a week and water it as often as possible. Then on to the front lawn. and round to the back lawn.

While that’s going on, I start to clean the downstairs woodwork which is white and shows all dirt and stains around the ground floor of the house. I’m not going any higher. In fact I haven’t got a ladder for it. We will pay the window cleaner for that service. It is so hot that I tire quite quickly and by 12.00 mid day, we stop for a lunch of home-smoked salmon and garden peas in the garden.

I meant to say, we have had our Hybrid CRV for 13 months now and I am still learning its new features. We have only driven 5500 miles so far. Recently, I have ben getting myself used to Automatic Brake Hold. This is a cross between the facilities of manual and automatic driving. With a manual drive which I last had in 1984, a handbrake is essential. With an automatic, I rarely bothered about setting a handbrake ever. Just leave it in ‘Park’ and go! This hybrid which we’ve driven fore over a year and which straddles Manual/Automatic, has three buttons for braking.

Automatic Brake Hold

In the top centre, the ‘P’ you can see is the equivalent of ‘park’ on an automatic gearbox. The ‘P’ on the top right is a switch you pull and, in effect, is the old handbrake. The button below is the interesting one I am just starting to use. The ‘Brake Hold’ is fantastic. When you come to the lights and stop, you just press ‘Brake Hold’ and the car is in automatic ‘foot pedal brake’ but without exerting your foot. When you want to set off, you just depress the accelerator and away you go. At the next stop, you just bring the car to a stop with the foot brake and the brake hold takes over until you set off again.

Now I am comfortable with it, it is a delight. Why has it taken me so long to learn? I refuse to blame my age! Great news to end the day. Mastercard has written back to us confirming their rejection of our £4,000.00 charge back claim against them. Rarely has been a denial of liability been so welcome. This means that the last flailings of our insurance company have been satisfied and they must pay out. Can’t wait to get back to them tomorrow!

Friday, 31st July, 2020

For no reason at all, we were up at 5.45 am and drinking orange juice and tea before the 6.00 am Today programme had started. I had a list of jobs to complete in my head as I began to shave and, by 8.00 a,m., I had completed them. 

  1. Write letter to doctor asking for supporting letter to supply Insurance Company with reasons why we should not fly to Athens in three weeks time under current  conditions.
  2. Supply the final piece of evidence to the Insurance Company from our Credit Card organisation which should trigger the final repayment on our May/Tenerife break.

    (We have already received £1,250.00 from the airport hotel, from the villa rental company and from Easyjet.) Now we want £4,000.00 from our travel insurance for the loss of our villa rental. We should now get it this week and we can then submit our second claim for the August trip.

By 10.00 am, we were on the 5 mile / 8 Kilometre round trip to the Doctors’ Surgery and then on to Dunelm for an order that Pauline had placed on-line. The temperature had hit 31C/88F and the walk reminded us of exploring Greek islands in the early days when we were young and spent our whole time hiking in the baking sun.

Harvest done already!

We were amazed to see that the harvest was in already and it is not even August. The blackberries are in full fruit and huge and sweet. What a strange year it has been! 

Back home, I have mowed all the lawns including my elderly neighbour’s across the road and instigated a full, automatic, spray  watering programme that goes on all afternoon. Everything looks luscious in the sunshine. The grass is iridescent blue-green and the tomatoes are ripening rapidly to orange – red. 

Saturday, 1st August, 2020

Happy? August?

August already in this prison of a time and a country. We should be flying to Athens in just over a fortnight but we won’t. It is both too risky and would not be enjoyable under current conditions. Both Easyjet and our hotel – The Electra Palace – have, without our request, offered the possibility of re-arranged dates. We would prefer our money back and to re-arrange at our own behest.

Consequently, we have sought our doctor’s support in cancelling this trip. Actually, we are doing this in a climate of rising spikes and local lockdowns in UK and increasing outbreaks in Greece. There is still a chance that one government or another will take the decision out of our hands but we will prosecute our own case in the meantime. It seems daunting because we are still concluding a claim from a cancelled May trip to Tenerife but we don’t give up.

The summer is running to seed!

As we did our walk this afternoon past harvested cornfields and Anthriscus Sylvestris or Cow Parsley running to seed, I couldn’t help but reflect on my life losing one of its limited summers almost without acknowledgment. I feel imprisoned in a time and a narrow, illiberal country which still believes itself ‘Great’ even as it prepares to disintegrate. The poorly educated, ‘red top’ influenced, blue rinse brigade have brought us to this. There is one thing we are certainly not doing – Taking back control!

Week 604

Sunday, 19th July, 2020

Well, it’s wet but very warm this morning. Perfect for growing. We have changed our plans completely from outdoors to in-house. Pauline is touching up wall paint scrapes. I have been completing the resubmission to our insurance company. If I was skilled enough, I would rather have Pauline’s job. It is far less frustrating. I am trying to balance the need to express my frustration with my desire to move the process to a successful conclusion. I am being pragmatic by expressing compliance through gritted teeth.

I pinched this graphic from The Skiathan although I don’t know its true origin.

Something to gladden Brextremists’ hearts.

Our shopping jaunt in France last week reminded us of what we are missing. Getting away from this narrow, inward-looking, nationalistic, exceptionalist culture threaded through with naked racism felt such a relief. It has forced us to reconsider a home abroad once more. I only had to listen to Lord Botham talking about how proud he is of the island of England from his holiday villa in Spain to fall in to a deep depression.

However, for the near – medium term, we will remain cautious. Driving not flying. Tunnel not ferry. Renting villas not hotel rooms. Self catering not eating restaurants. Wearing masks in confined spaces and avoiding crowds. This will mean all our patterns of visiting friends and family will not happen this year. We may drive to a rented property abroad but we will not return to our Health Club here. It is disappointing but the consequences of infection particularly for me do not bear contemplation. 

Self Portrait with my wife – Symi, Kali Strata 1990

I thought James Collins from Symi Dream illustrated the dilemma we all have rather well. His smallish, Greek island is heavily dependent on Tourist income. We spent a few weeks there about 30 years ago. Most of you will be too young to remember but Tony Banks – one time Labour Government Sports Minister – had a house on Symi, was involved in the organisation of an annual cultural festival on the island and became an honorary Symian (or whatever they’re known as).

James’ Blog entry today expresses his worries which are undoubtedly reflective of other islanders’ concerns that the tourists who are arriving are not showing enough concern for Health & Safety – getting too close and without masks. Unfortunately, it is the nature of the beast. Those who have the confidence to travel abroad are the exact ones who won’t take other’s safety as seriously either. Who goes on holiday to a hot and sunny island to be clad in a face mask? The contradiction is obvious. In my view, that type of trip will have to wait.

Monday, 20th July, 2020

Beautiful morning … to put the bins out. We are confined to home until 11.15 am at the earliest because we await a delivery of two, huge outdoor storage boxes.

177 x 113 x 134 cm (L x W x H)

We are trying to declutter our garage and make some more space. We park our car in it every night and use every, single area for storage as well. The ceiling trusses are part boarded and store lots of stuff. I am about to order some more boarding to provide us with extra facility. These are the joys of pandemic time.

The packages arrived on time and two, tattooed gorillas cheerfully barrowed them into our back garden.After three hours in hot sunshine, we had assembled one complete with hydraulic roof lifts and hinged doors. We stopped about 1.30 pm for a drink and some salad. Unfortunately, the sunshine dictated that the drink was a chilled bottle of Sauvignon Blanc which made the afternoon a little less productive.

Actually, we started the second container about 2.30 pm and worked until 5.00 pm. I was in and out of the kitchen to keep an eye on how the cricket was going. Great to see England win and keep the series alive. We had only half finished the second container by the time we stopped after the electric screw driver ran dry. My body ached in places that it didn’t know it had.

Still, it was a satisfying experience and one which just serves to illustrate the strength of our marriage. Neither of us considered divorce throughout the construction process. Interestingly, this bottle of wine is marketed by Vivino in UK for £7.99/€8.84 whereas I bought it in France for £2.99/€3.31 per bottle. There has got to be something wrong somewhere.

Tuesday, 21st July, 2020

A busy day at home under a burning sun. We were up early and got on with completing the second storage container. As with everything, we were confident in yesterday’s experience of the first one and it was finished in no time – well, about an hour. By lunch time, I had filled both containers with lawn mowers, rakers, strimmers, hedge trimmers, etc. Out of the garage went long term storage of tiles for the kitchen floor, for the bath room floors and for the walls. Friendly builders left them for us as insurance. The hard standing in the back garden won’t even be started until the first week in November.

After lunch, I’ve mowed all the lawns, trimmed the edges and watered copiously. In this hot, dry weather it is badly needed. It is important to keep the property looking good. In 2013, we had just put our Greek property on the market. The house had been painted and decluttered. We had cleared the ground; Pauline had painted the heavy, sliding iron gate and I had attached a House for Sale sign on the front. It felt strange but right. It certainly worked judging by the number of people who stopped to take down the contact details although it took until the Summer of the following year to complete a transaction.

Wednesday, 22nd July, 2020

Frightening how one can fiddle & faddle a day away without trying or achieving much. It is not my style and I would normally be furious with myself but today is such an occasion. Up early to a beautiful day. As I drank breakfast, I started watering the lawns. It is going to be a long, hot day and every one needs a drink. While I was out there, I picked a few more, early-developer figs which are coming on strong now but with lots more developing.

We were waiting in for a delivery of fresh fish but they can’t source it all until tomorrow so that felt like time wasted but we did receive a visit from the builder with a contract to sign in readiness for the first week in November and we had another, on-line insurance claim form to fill out which takes some time and fortitude. We also had to renew our annual travel insurance policy which we get, largely ‘free’ through our bank account but my ‘conditions’ require a top-up and, half way through the next year, I will be 70 which also requires a top-up. I expected that to cost an arm & a leg but it only amounts to £75.00 extra and continues to include ‘pandemic inc. Covid-19 insurance’ which has surprised us.

Nowadays, they want to know every detail of one’s repeat prescription right down to the cream Pauline uses for dry skin and the drops she uses for dry eyes. Whoops, have I said too much? Anyway, let’s hope we get to use our travel insurance before I’m 70.

Thursday, 23rd July, 2020

Lovely, warm and sunny day which has one, central task concerning Rubbish. Pauline did our Tesco shop at 7.00 am as I completed my 5 mile walk around the West Durrington area. Shopping is so easy and relaxed now that Pauline is walking straight in without queueing at that time.

It’s all Rubbish!

After a trip to France produced another 40 empty boxes to dispose of plus we had two, huge storage boxes each of which came in carboard with polystyrene infills meant a trip to the tip was in order. I can’t quite rationalise it yet but since the reopening after lock-down, the queues of cars for the local refuse tip are enormous and growing. What is going on? Anyway, we had 30 mins to waste so we waited and our property is now breathing a sigh of relief as it is decluttered.

You can hardly find a seat on Sifnos!

Decluttering is not a problem Sifnos has at the moment. It is still so quiet that they will even entertain animals. The Greeks are not renowned as romantic about animals. Greek men celebrate their macho with gun dogs and discipline.

It is interesting how many still really believe that this season isn’t lost and, maybe, the next. If a second wave puts paid to next year, driving not flying, self-catering not hotels will be the order of the day. Ally that to the Brexit-induced problems of more expensive insurance, medical cover, pet passports, mobile roaming charges and European driving licences and that might really make Greece too unattractive for most UK travellers.

Friday, 24th July, 2020

Lovely breakfast from the garden today. We are so pleased that we decided to plant some figs even though we hadn’t too much optimism at the outset. 

Figs from our garden for breakfast.

We had set ourselves a series of tasks to achieve today and we both got up early thinking about them. One was to renew our insurance claim with new evidence. We did that together online. Next, we had decided to mow the lawns and trim the hedges. That took longer than expected. Lunch and then I tried to source some loft boarding to board up an area of our garage  to store more stuff off the ground and make more space. 

You would not believe how difficult it is to source basic, everyday items of building materials at the moment. The world maybe trying to move on but manufacturing is still lagging way behind. Recently, I was trying to find paving slabs for our patio extension. Non in stock and production had not restarted yet. Today, I tried to find simple, chipboard loft panels. Unless you want enough to do an entire house loft, you just can’t get them. I only wanted 5 packs each of 3 boards. They should have cost me less than £50.00/€55.00 but, unless I ordered a minimum of £100.00/€110.00, I would have to pay £30.00/€33.00 for delivery. I would not be allowed to Click & Collect.

We received an acknowledgement from our Health Club that we were resigning with immediate effect from our membership. It felt strange but absolutely right. We had asked our doctor to provide supporting evidence of our decision but, to David Lloyd‘s credit, it turned out to be unnecessary. Even so, after going there most days for 4 years, it is a wrench. The next thing will be our flights to Athens and hotel stay which has to go. Now is not the time to indulge ourselves and to take risks. 

Social Distancing at Heathrow yesterday.

You only have to consider the position these people travelling through Heathrow were put in yesterday. If they then disembarked in a steamy, hot Athens with a view to relaxation and enjoyment and you can see the contradiction. We will ask our doctor for support in an insurance claim on that one.

Friday, 24th July, 2020

This morning, we have woken up to light rain. It is quite a surprise because we didn’t expect it until this evening. It does illustrate why we need our own, home gym. The weather has persuaded us to stay in and do things out of the rain – house jobs. It looks like I might have found a Loft Board supplier where I can Click & Collect. I’m going to order from Jewson which is only 3 miles away and, hopefully, collect it on Monday.

We have owned 6 houses over our marriage. We were always looking to add value to them by improving and upgrading. We always bought and upgraded with a view to future saleability. It is hard to lose that attitude although we both know that this house will, probably, be our last before. We are trying to educate ourselves in improving for our needs alone. That is why we are preparing the ground for a home gym.

This morning David Lloyd, Worthing wrote to us acknowledging our resignations and wishing us well. It was only a couple of weeks ago that they were threatening to hold us to our contract. I suspect that they already realised they had no chance of doing that because so many of our age group were saying the same as us.

Ten years ago, after living in our Greek house just for school holidays for 5 years, Retirement and 6 month residency meant we needed to do some serious finishing.

It’s a bit like child birth (as if I’d know) in that the pain or inconvenience of the work is all forgotten in the enjoyment of the finished product. We know that, as they bring digging machines into our back garden and take delivery of packs of paving slabs which will have to be stored, our daily life will be a bit disrupted. We won’t be able to get the car in to the garage. We may have to park on the roadside. However, as soon as its over, life will be so much better.

Week 603

Sunday, 12th July, 2020

A lovely, Summer’s day with beautiful, blue skies and a few, high flying, fleecy white clouds with 22C/70F of warmth. After breakfast, papers and political programmes, we made a walk for ourselves. We need some more salad leaf seeds to keep us going through the rest of the season. Actually, they have been harder to source than one might expect. It looks as if lots of lock-downers have been doing the same thing – living on home grown salad.

One of four local Garden Centres.

We did a 5 mile round trip walk to Highdown Garden Centre which is one of four within easy walking distance of the house. They had a couple of packets of mixed, cut-and-come-again green leaves seed. and we returned to our house to cut the lawns, sow some beds of salad and enjoy the sunshine.

We drive across to France later in the week. It is no big deal. We have done it so many times that it is like driving to Sainsbury‘s. However, we haven’t done it for 7 months and not under these conditions. We have to stay in our car while travelling, to wear a mask in public and to fill out this form prior to approaching border controls.

UK and Greek newspapers/Blogs tell us what the Sunday Telegraph is trumpeting this morning:

Greece considers second lockdown after tourists bring spike of cases.

This was always going to be the danger for Greek islanders who had stayed safe throughout the height of the pandemic because of their location. Suddenly, they get what they need but don’t want – invading tourists some of whom are asymptomatic virus carriers. On small islands, this could run riot in no time. Nothing will be easy this year.

Monday, 13th July, 2020

Dad would have been proud of me. Actually, he probably wouldn’t. He never expressed an acknowledgement of pride in his son that I can remember in the whole of my/his lifetime. He was a builder and architect and wanted his son to grow up to take over the business. His son was a huge disappointment to him. He bought me MeccanoLeggo, a Draughtsman’s equipment (a special pen) but all fell flat. I had no interest in any of it. Now, Literature and Poetry and I was your man but construction? No! Only long after his death, I learned that he described my fingers as ‘sausages’. Although I wouldn’t disagree, I did find myself rather shocked. Could explain my love of pork bangers.

My Nemesis

My wife is the practical one. In Greece, it was not easy to get an odd-job man in. I took a box of tools including a drill to the island with the intention of doing my own jobs around the house. Of course, I didn’t do them. I paid someone else to. I brought the tools and drill back with me to Surrey and then Sussex where I paid someone else to do the work professionally. Today, I plucked up my courage, charged up the drill and set about fixing my wine racks safely to the garage wall. It worked! Flushed with success, I took on the more ambitious project of establishing door tie-back hooks on the Garage wall and the Laundry door. Of course, it went brilliantly although my wife was very nervous. She had images of having to rebuild the house after I had finished. I don’t know why I didn’t try all this before.

Tuesday, 14th July, 2020

We are feeling rather hemmed in and in need of some movement and European culture. The combination of the pandemic and these lunatic Brexiteers is combining to make it all the more difficult. We need to break out … and we will.

Poseidon Palace Hotel, Kaminia, Patras

On this day in 2014, we were spending it in a lovely hotel on the outskirts of Patras on the northern coast of the Peloponnese. We had stayed there for a number of years either side of our drive to Sifnos. The following day we were to sail down the Adriatic for 24 hrs to Ancona.

Giacomo Puccini’s birthplace in old Lucca

On this day in 2017, we were driving from Lucca to Bologna having spent the best part of a week visiting Torino, Genoa, Lucca old town, Pisa and Firenze. It was part of our month long grand tour which took in Coquelles, Reims, Dijon, Lyon, Moderna, Parma, Piacenza, round the Milan ring road, round Lakes Como and Lugano and in to Switzerland to Bellinzona.

From there we travelled through the Ghotthard and the Seelisberg Tunnels to Mulhouse at the start of the Alsace Wine Route. We went on through Colmar and Strasbourg and then down the A4 through Metz and Epernay in Champagne country. 

Finally, we drove through Saint Quentin, Arras, Bethune, St Omer and back to Coquelles. It was tiring but expansive, outward looking and optimistic and it emphasised our roots based firmly in European life.

Ribérac Market – July 2018

Two years ago on this day in 2018, we were in the Dordogne and returning from visiting my cousin, Sue and her husband Phil in Salles-Lavalette when we came upon a delightful market in the Dordogne commune of Ribérac. It is these vignettes of travel that make us what we are. I, for one, will never allow myself to be defined by Little England. To that end, we are going to make a brief foray into France once again on Thursday.

Wednesday, 15th July, 2020

Pauline had her hair cut on the last day before the official Lock-Down on Saturday, March 21st. We could see it coming and just got a last day appointment. Some 16 weeks later, this is what she looked like.

Tuesday, July 14th after 16 weeks without a haircut.

An hour in Worthing and £80.00/€90.00 lighter my wife looks younger and happier …. er, no. She now thinks longer looks better. I’ll leave you to decide. I daren’t say anything.

Wednesday, July 15th after a haircut.

This is Pauline almost 4o years ago outside our first house in West Yorkshire. She was only 29 years old. These photographs were taken on our new, Polaroid Camera.

I had a fascinating walk through the streets of Worthing for an hour which I would normally have spent in a coffee shop. The sea front is putting on a brave face particularly near the pier but the people are absent and the shops are in a dire state of abandonment and disrepair.

Our bustling seafront.

All the lovely, little eateries on the Italian row are grubby, isolated and depressing. It is open market day down the central street although there are no stalls today. There aren’t any shoppers. The multi-storey carpark which is normally full is absolutely empty today. Physical Commerce is on its last legs.

View from the (empty) carpark.

It’s all rather depressing really. One wonders how the streets of Worthing Town will ever climb out of this despond. It can only be by marketing itself as a very healthy, seaside environment where families will be safe to live and play, to have holidays and enjoy the coastline.

Thursday, 16th July, 2020

Past mid-July and it is becoming noticeable that mornings are a little darker and darkness comes slightly earlier in the evening. This is the downward slope into depression. To lift our spirits, we were up at 6.00 am and out by 8.00 am on the drive to Folkestone Eurotunnel. It is a couple of hours drive from here normally and we were travelling peak commuter time on the M25 so we have to give ourselves plenty of leeway. You have to check-in 45 mins before departure and we were crossing at 11.40 am so we thought we’d timed it right. 

We were shocked to find that there is no rush hour, no peak commuter time, no anything. The roads which are normally solid queues were all but deserted. 

Very quiet M25

We arrived with about 90 mins to spare which gave us time for Pauline’s wonderful coffee. The knock-on problem with that is that almost all public toilets are closed. The ones in the Tunnel Terminal were open but, in spite of social distancing rules and mandatory mask wearing, everyone in the toilets was washing their hands and then using air-blasting dryers which had the effect of launching droplets of potentially infected water vapour in thick clouds through the enclosed space. I drew the management’s attention to it but received a blank stare.

A regular haunt.

We drove straight from the Tunnel terminal in Calais to the Wine Store, collected our order, added some additions, paid and left. It took about 20 mins. We drove down through Coquelles village to Auchan and bought a few things – Cheeses, cold meats, mustards, garlic, duck breasts and legs, etc.. As we drove towards Coquelles, immigrants bands were sprinting across roads into woodland. Police cars were parked, slewed across roads to block them and, when we reached Auchan, small groups of immigrants were furtively checking out the carpark. It made us feel a little uncomfortable. We were leaving a £40,000.00/€44,000.00 car unattended and containing £1,000.00/€11,000.00 of wine as a prime target.

Why does French produce look more interesting?

Anyway, all went well. We were back at the Tunnel early and got on an earlier train. I always fill out the Advanced Passenger Information (API) on-line and we filled out a mandatory Covid-tracing form which we handed in to the passport agency. She immediately told us it was for the French side who had not asked us for it. There is a UK one to do which we had to fill out when we got home.

The drive home at 4.30 pm was equally quiet and we arrived relaxed and early. It was our first, moderately long journey -4hrs driving – for quite a few months and I was tired after unloading all the wine and racking it. We’ve got to be up at 6.00 am tomorrow for Tesco’s so we must be in bed by midnight.

Friday, 17th July, 2020

Up late after a hot and humid night. Getting up at 6.30 am was a struggle after yesterday. I drove to Tesco in West Durrington about 10 mins away. Dropping Pauline off at the door, I parked and set off on my 5 mile/8km walk in warm sunshine almost reminding me of our walks abroad – Canarian not Greek. Although I was tired as I started, I soon found myself falling into a really enjoyable rhythm and was almost sorry when I arrived back at the car to find Pauline loading shopping into the boot.

On this day 6 years ago, we we driving from our hotel in Parma down the Milano Ring Road, round the Italian/Swiss Lakes, through Switzerland and on to Mulhouse in Alsace where we stayed tonight. Puts our French trip yesterday and our drive to Tesco this morning in to perspective and I found that rather depressing. To cheer myself up, I’m going to rake the lawns and clean the car.

Saturday, 18th July, 2020

Lovely, warm and sunny day although only 23C/74F. I woke up early thinking about our latest travel insurance claim. We have been pursuing it for weeks and, each time we think we have reached the end, they put in another hurdle to get over. Having demanded and received every imaginable piece of evidence, they have demanded that we put the claim to the credit card company first.

This is underhand and, in our experience, unprecedented. It is calculated to wear people down and encourage them to drop their claim. Fortunately, we are not easily worn down and do not give up. If the principle wasn’t enough, there is £4,000.00/€4,400.00 at stake. Anyway, we a Black Account holders at our bank which also insures us and we pay £350.00/€385.00 per year just to finance the services. We refuse to be given the run around by them. These are the thoughts that I awoke with at 5.30 am.

After juice and tea, I took my coffee into the Office and started searching the website for a form to initiate a Section 75 Claim against our credit card company. I entered a maze. I had tried phoning them only to be told pandemic-hit staff shortages made it impossible to discuss anything. The website just mirrored and amplified the phone approach. After an hour or so we found a link to a page that led to a claim form. This is all carefully calculated. In our case, it made us more determined.

First figs of the season.

I know we are in to mid-July but that would be at least 4 weeks early to be picking figs in Greece. In an English garden, it is astonishing to be finding ripe figs. Admittedly, this variety is Brunswick which is better suited to our climate. However, we have a Brown Turkey fig absolutely laden in fruit this year. They keep you going through second wave lock-down.

Week 602

Sunday, 5th July, 2020

The weather is organising itself well. Rain overnight gave way to sunshine and blue sky with 22C/70F temperature. Regular readers will know the Sunday routine – political programmes, newspapers and then ….

Open dry the fish for 24hrs to produce the pellicle surface.

The salmon has been curing for 24hrs and it is time to wash off the cure, dry and replace in the fridge for another 24hrs to form the sticky texture prior to smoking. As the moisture has been drawn out by the salt, the fish has stiffened in texture. The next stage will see that increased.

Just perfect weather for our 90 mins walk with warm, sunny, dry but not to hot conditions. I don’t know why but I’m really tired after it every day. I thought my fitness level would increase and my recovery time with it but nothing seems to change and I hardly ever miss my target. I put it down to age.

Monday, 6th July, 2020

An overcast but warm morning which gave us lots of jobs. The first thing after breakfast was to start the smoker, get it going in the smoke chamber and then place the salmon on its trivet, adjust the bottom and top vents and leave to gently smoke away for the next 12 hrs. That’s why we were keen to start it by 8.00 am. It is sited in the back garden so the smell of smoke wafts away and doesn’t annoy any neighbours.

Next was my haircut. Of course, I’ve not been affected by the pandemic because min has been cut by my wife since 1978. She is brilliant at it and, more to the point, very cheap. She has all the correct equipment like cape, hairdresser’s scissors, electric trimmers, ear and nose hair trimmers (for the more sophisticated man), etc. It happens in the kitchen and takes about an hour by which time I am squirming to get away. At least I can watch the Sky Politics while I suffer.

Later, we trimmed up all the hedges which are growing non-stop at the moment, cut the lawns, strimmed the edges and swept up. Pauline griddled the most wonderful Tuna steaks in the garden and cut fresh lettuce which she served with griddled peppers.

Time on the Wall

Regular readers will already be familiar with my obsession with time and its graduation. For me, context is all. Our Office wall is plastered with graduations in time from our parents’ photographs to graduation certificates, houses we have owned and lived in over the past 40 years and other mementoes of times in our life. This week, marks 6 years since we sold our house and left Sifnos for the last time. Our house sale board has featured in Office/Studies ever since. We had intended to return this year. We won’t and very few regulars will. Optimistic tourist observers hope Greece will achieve 25% of normal business. Depending on conditions, we will look to returning in 2021.

Tuesday, 7th July, 2020

The smoked salmon was retrieved after 10 hrs last night and we tried it straight away. It is delicious but we both agreed that it would have been better with less smoking so the next one will be done for jus 6 hrs. Even so, it is a good first attempt and we won’t need to buy smoked salmon any more.

Shopping for the Few

I’m sure many, perhaps most of us have mused at some time or other about the [lack of] activity known as sleep. To think that every human being does it/needs it and we lie down in the dark, unconscious at the same time as all those in half of the globe. While we do it, the other half of the globe is walking round following conscious activity. The hinterland of this action, of course, comes at the variable start and finish. Some need 8 – 10 hrs, others need 5 – 7 hrs although we are told somewhere in the middle is best for our health.

All our married life, Pauline has had to put up with me sleeping for about 6hrs a night. To bed at midnight and awake at 6.00 am for the past 42 years and she is beginning to get used to it. When we were working, we were early embracers of the 24hr shopping revolution. After a long, working week, we were always early birds at the supermarket on Saturday and I was out at 6.00 am on Sunday to get the papers. We have bodies perfectly attuned to pandemic shopping. Miss the queues and get there early. This is what we did this morning. Up at 5.45 am, out 1 hr later and Pauline shops at Sainsbury‘s at 7.00 am while I go on my 5 mile/8km walk. Fortunately, once again it is dry and warm.

Life changed here 6 years ago today.

All week we will have Sifnos in our minds. It is 6 years ago this evening that we visited the little, white building you can see just beyond the wall. It is the office of our friend and Notary, Elerania Miliotie who had spent months guiding us through the process of selling our house. Six years ago this evening we received hundreds of thousands of euros that we needed to get out of Greece and back in to our UK bank. It was only because of the help of Elerania and the understanding of the local bank workers that we weren’t stymied by Greek tax avoidance/tax evasion red tape. Most of this was put through our long standing account at the National Bank but I also opened a second account at another bank – the Piraeus Bank – to separate and thus reduce the size of our receipts.

Our House in April 2002

Although we look back fondly on these times and are incredibly grateful for the experiences not to mention the financial security that the enforced saving through investment gave us, we are glad to have divested ourselves of the responsibility of Greek property ownership especially in these inauspicious times. 

Wednesday, 8th July, 2020

Woke up to rain again. Quite steamy warmth but wet early. Just as before, the rain stopped and we went for our walk in a beautifully clean-smelling world …. to Asda. It is a walk of about 35 mins each way which would take us 5 mins in the car. We were keen to be back for PMQs and the Financial Statement. 

As advertised, the lad has removed stamp duty from houses under £500,000.00/€556,000.00 which is pretty meaningless down here. Houses don’t cost under that mark. Still, if it motivates other parts of the housing market and keeps the builders working, it will have helped. We have received a very acceptable estimate for hard landscaping in our back garden. We are keen to keep the ‘economy’ patio paving slabs that we have already and considerably extend them. They are called Brett Economy Buff Riven. Brett is a company owned by Marshall‘s which is a long established West Yorkshire company we know well from an earlier life.

Marshall-Brett paving.

Although this is bog-standard, economy paving and many neighbours have ‘upgraded theirs, we actually like it. It is incredibly quick draining after rain and easy to keep clean. It is also cheap. Our extended patio will only cost £5,000.00/€5,560.00. The only downside is that groundwork companies are very much in demand after people have spent months locked down, saving money and thinking, If we can’t go abroad, we ought to develop our home. Ours won’t be able to start work until 9th November. For us, it’s not a problem. Currently, I think, they’re struggling to get the paving slabs as production cranks up again.

Actually, everyone is trying to look as if they’re back to normal but are paddling fiercely below the surface. We order and paid for outdoor storage containers from Homebase at least a month ago. They took our cash at £420.00 per container but now tell us that we are unlikely to receive them until October. We’ve asked for our cash back.

At least on this day 6 years ago we had our cash back and were plotting our course back to UK. It feels so far away now and yet so recent.

Thursday, 9th July, 2020

The world is really struggling to adapt to the new normal. The extension to our patio will need quite a few packs of Marshall-Brett paving flags. The builder has a flashy Marshall-Brett brochure but can’t get the flags because they haven’ been produced for months and manufacture is only just beginning to get going. They can’t do our garden until the first week in November.

We’d ordered some large, storage boxes for out in the garden. each one was £420.00/€470.00. We are hoping to declutter the garage by using them. The company took our cash but then told us that we wouldn’t receive the goods until late September because stock was not available. We have cancelled and asked for our money back. It was quite fortunate because we found almost identical boxes for almost half that price and they will be supplied by Amazon in a week.

We are going to France on a shopping trip next week. We have pre-ordered £550.00 of wine from our regular supplier – The Calais Wine Superstore. We have been buying there since the early 1980s. Then, we were driving Huddersfield to Hull and getting on P&O Ferries to Zeebrugge and on to Calais. For more the last 10 years, we have been going through the Tunnel on day trips. 

aka Mecca

Usually, a day trip would cost £60.00 return through the Tunnel. That was cheap enough to factor in. We usually save about 50% on UK prices. However, the wine store has long offered ‘free’ travel set against a pledge to buy £400.00/€450.00 worth of wine.  Since the pandemic, Tunnel crossing prices have gone up 3-fold or more. Next week, the wine store will cover our return tickets of £220.00/€246.00. Actually, I’ve pre-ordered £600.00 of wine with a UK saving of £500.00. We will aim to do a couple more trips before the end of the year.

Good job I don’t drink – just like Liz.

Just been told that the company buying our old phones will send the money to our bank account in the next few days.  Everything is jogging along nicely. Shame the weather has been so disappointing particularly as the south coast is hosting the Test Match. This morning was drizzly as Pauline shopped in Tesco and I did my 5 mile walk. Still, it was warm. I mused as I walked at 7.00 am this morning that I literally haven’t worn anything but shorts and tee-shirts since end of March. No wonder that I look like a leathery old prune.

Friday, 10th July, 2020

Lovely warm and sunny morning now England are doing badly in the cricket. We were going to do home work but have decided to walk along the coastal path from Goring Fishermen to Worthing Pier.

Beach Garden between Goring and Worthing.

Lovely blue sky and sunshine with 22C/70F with not even a hint of sea breeze made it a perfect day for the walk. It wasn’t too busy either although it was quite early in the morning and families were only just arriving as we walked back.

Pier café open again but outside.

Even so, virtually nobody wore masks. We didn’t because we were in the open air but the path goes quite narrow in places and distancing is difficult. I read someone on Twitter the other day asking if others were like her and held their breath while passing close to people and that is exactly what I do.

Social Distancing in Worthing – taken to extremes.

We got quite a shock, as we walked closer to the pier to see the Worthing Wheel had been put back up and already re-opened. Personally, I can’t see the point or the attraction in these things. When people raved about the London Eye, I had to stifle a yawn. I’m not a hampster!

Saturday, 11th July, 2020

An empty Kamares Port.

On this day, 6 years ago, we left Sifnos after 30 years continuous association with the island. Kamares harbour was bustling with cars and travellers. Our friends had come down to see us off. Little did we think that it would be so long before we returned. We are hoping it will be next year but Covid-19 will decide. Already there is rumour of Greece’s imported infection rate going up and of the closure of their land borders. KTG report 60 new infections on Friday with 42 found in tourists. Infection-free islands are torn between Scylla & Charybdis – between fear of infected tourists and fear of an impoverished winter. They will get Charybdis anyway. It is just a matter of to what degree. Reports out of Greece suggest that they think 25% of normal tourist trade will be a good result.

‘The Times’ cartoon.

As gyms announce their re-opening from July 25th, we have already decided that it won’t be safe to return until a vaccine is available. Gyms are particularly vulnerable areas with breath projected far and wide, with virus-laden sweat sprayed liberally around. We don’t want to wear a mask to exercise nor have to book specific times to attend. Type -2 Diabetes, overweight, and atrial fibrillation all combine to make me vulnerable and not inclined to take too many risks which is why we are developing our own, home gym.

Equally, if we visited Sifnos every year for 30 years and haven’t for the past 6, we have visited Greece every year for the past 40 but we will almost certainly miss this year. Fear of flying is part of it but the unrelaxing experience we would be flying to with great heat and face masks, difficult hotel conditions and in restaurants, one is left wondering what the point would be. We paid out over £2000.00 in for hotel and flights for 5 days in Athens so we will need a doctor’s letter to claim back from our insurance company.