Tuesday, 17 December 2013

The world is my banana

Behold the mighty banana.

Breakfast, the most important meal of the day I've always been told. Actually, I'm inclined to think every meal is important, but that's for another day.

So, back to breakfast. Considering it is such an important meal, it is slightly odd how many of us - me included - stick to the same thing most days. For me breakfast is likely to feature a banana, yoghurt and honey. All washed down with strong, black coffee.

It was while eating my breakfast this morning that I had one of those moments of wonder that in the bowl in front of me was the result of many, many people's hard work which should make me savour my breakfast rather than regard it as something to stop me feeling hungry before lunchtime.

That realisation was brought about thanks to a small sticker on the bunch of bananas I bought at our local supermarket. The sticker from the Dole banana company (not a very inspiring name for someone from England) said "Visit my farm". All I had to do was go to a web address then tap in the code number on the sticker.

By doing this I found that my bananas came from the El Nilo Gorita De Ingr Farm in Ecuador. The farm, which covers an area the equivalent of 1,000 football fields, employs 700 people and ships out 4.5 million bananas every week. It almost seems a shame to chop up one of these bananas to have for breakfast, but needs must etc etc.

Hopefully the banana has a fitting end seeing as I eat it with Olympus Greek yoghurt (definitely not skinny low-fat gunk) and wonderful honey produced by those very busy workers, the bees of Skopelos. Καλή όρεξη.

Skopelos honey, seriously tasty.

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Words we get from Greek: Meteorology

That's the thing with an occasional series, which "Words we get from Greek" most assuredly is, it just happens occasionally. Anyway, to business, meteorology is, as you undoubtedly know, the study of weather and climate. It's Greek roots are τα μετεόρα (things on high) and λόγος (basically word).

I used to think it was only the British that went on about the weather as in the joke that Britain doesn't have climate it has weather, but here on Skopelos people pay great attention to the weather.

It's not surprising really, a lot of Greek life is spent outdoors, tending olive trees, growing vegetables or even just sitting outside drinking coffee or eating. The weather has a bearing on all these activities. Will it rain? When will it rain? Will it be enough rain? People also go on about whether it's too hot or too cold. I suspect it's only human never to be completely satisfied with something such as the weather over which we have no control.

Definitely the wrong sort of rain. A storm in September, 2012.

Of course, it's not just landlubbers who worry about the weather, seafarers also pay great attention to the forecast. Skopelos is an island and the only way to get here, other than for a few exalted types who have access to a helicopter, is by sea. If it gets stormy then shipping can't get through, certainly not to land cargo and passengers and so we go without.

As I write this, we are awaiting high winds and possible snow (more likely to be rain). Friends who needed to get to Athens for a flight left a day early in order to be certain that they could get off the island. As I said, people pay attention to the weather here. On Sunday, the views were crystal clear and we could see all the way to Mount Olympus, the top of which is covered in snow as are the peaks on the nearby island of Evia.

A light scattering of snow from January this year.

The use of the word τα μετεόρα might just have rung a bell with some of you, particularly if I type it as Meteora. This is the site in the middle of Greece famous for its monasteries which are built on top of rocky outcrops. I don't know for sure, but I presume the name derives from "things on high" as does meteorology. Certainly I imagine the monks in their lofty homes paid great attention to the weather, I know I would.

The Holy Monastery of Rousanou at Meteora.

Friday, 6 December 2013

And then someone asks THAT question

The island is quiet at this time of year.

In my life I have been asked some tricky questions, generally along the lines of "What the hell do you think you're doing?", and usually I've been able to give a good account of myself.

But since living here there is one question that leaves me tongue tied and often trying to find a way to change the subject. The question in question, as it were, tends to be along the lines of "And how do you spend your day?"

To be frank I blame the Protestant work ethic for tripping me up here. I cannot help feeling that in answer to the question "What do you do on Skopelos?" I should reel off a long list of improving tasks that I complete each day. Instead of which I reply with a few ums and ers and then go "Well, I always find something to do." This is a weak and ineffectual answer and I can see the other person thinking "Ah ha! Late riser, boozy lunch, snooze in the afternoon, evening meal, rest of the day spent slumped in front of the telly."

To counter this completely false notion (for instance we don't even have a telly) I now offer my account of a fairly typical day written with a nod to those articles in Sunday newspapers in which the great and the good explain how they pack so much in to 24 hours. Thus:

"It's winter now, so although I usually wake at about 6am I lie in bed waiting for it to get light enough to take the dog out and listening to the bloody cockerel going on and on. As soon as I judge it to be daybreak, I stagger downstairs to be greeted by black Labrador Bonnie, who is keen to get on with things. But before I can do that I have to deal with three raucous cats who have gathered outside the kitchen door and are determined to be fed.

Bonnie considers entering a monastery.

Then it's off, usually to some nearby woods, to let Bonnie have a run. During the course of this walk, I might well collect pine cones which make wonderful firelighters. On the drive back I am likely to encounter at least one herd of goats on the road. Giving the goatman a cheery wave, I steer my way through the herd. I used to wait for them to clear the road, but realised this is not the Greek way. With care and determination you will find a way through that does not involve running over livestock.

Once back home I feed Bonnie and usually let out Kevin the endangered cockerel to have the run of the land on his own. He used to be with all the other chickens, but they were attacking him and so he now lives in isolation. The other chickens will come out when Kevin, who is not the crowing cockerel, is safely back in his own quarters. Recent experiences have led me to have a rather jaundiced view of chickens, they are not my favourite creatures.

Then it's a leisurely breakfast for me, during which I read. My other half is not a morning person so breakfast is a solitary occasion, hence the reading.We probably both prefer it that way. Often just before breakfast I'll spend a little time using my Greek language CDs. I am confident that if I live to be 100 I should be quite fluent.

Usually by this time herself has arisen and come downstairs for her first cup of coffee, cigarette and initial inspection of the garden. There is a clear division of labour here. She gardens, I bask in its glory.

We then move on to one of the trickiest jobs of the day - deciding what we shall have for our evening meal. In the summer it is easy enough to eat out, but during the winter there is only a handful of tavernas open and going out means leaving the warmth of a log fire so we plot a tasty dish for the evening and then go out to buy supplies.

It is then that one of the most important lessons of island life is reinforced. If the weather is bad and boats can't get through then some food stocks are going to run low and our "best laid plans gang aft agley". This requires a rethink on the food front, all of which takes time. I should add here that we have never gone hungry and we do eat well, but you have to like what you get, rather than expect to get what you like.

While out we might stop off for coffee, which in Greece is not a hurried thing, or bump in to friends and exchange news. This, too, cannot be done quickly. Topics to be addressed will be the weather, what vegetables they have growing in their garden, places they have eaten and what said meals were like, pet welfare and will the boat get in? Depending on the time of year, other topics might include family visitors heading for Skopelos and the scandalous prices charged by airlines for flights to and from the UK.

By now it will be early afternoon, so time for a light lunch. Not too light, though, food is important here. This is likely to be followed by more reading and maybe, just maybe, a short siesta, although these are better left for the hot afternoons of summer.

Currently, we are trying to learn French if for no other reason than we think it's a good thing to do and I am acutely aware that I didn't make the most of the opportunity I had to learn the language when I was at school.

A rare moment of peace from the cats as they stuff themselves.

As the afternoon goes on, it's time to take Bonnie out again while fending off ravenous cats. There is also the question of lighting the fire. Having a log fire is a great thing, arguably better than the telly on most nights, but if you have an open fire you have to learn its ways and prove your commitment otherwise it will smoke sulkily and then go out. You've guessed it, all this takes time.

The evening is spent eating, listening to The Archers online and surfing the net looking for pictures of dogs with funny faces or cats sleeping in odd locations. There is also more reading to be done and tackling the fearsome Times Jumbo Cryptic Crossword. By now you should be getting some idea of just how packed the day is. I roll in to bed around 11.30pm when I read some more and then turn off the light, pausing only to count my blessings, which I know are many."

So there you have it, my "Day In The Life" and I haven't even mentioned chopping wood, rescuing cats from trees, or chasing chickens off the flower garden before they eat all the seedlings. Not to mention staring out of the window at the house over the road and wondering when it will be finished (not any time soon, the most work that has been done on it since we've been here followed a direct hit by lightning).

Anyway, in answer to the question "How do you fill your day?" rest assured I always find something to do.

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

It's always lighting-up time

Cigarettes are relatively cheap here.
Greece is a bit of a smokers' paradise really. Tobacco products are quite cheap, particularly for people used to paying UK prices, and there is no smoking ban as such.

Actually, that last bit is a lie. Greece has quite Draconian no-smoking rules which carry heavy financial penalties if they are broken. But no one gives a toss.

Seriously, the rules concerning where you can and cannot smoke in Greece are every bit as rigid as those in force in the UK, but, as I have already said, no one gives a toss.

At the weekend I was in a taverna with my other half and three friends. I was the only non-smoker and strictly speaking smoking in an enclosed place such as a taverna is illegal, but they all lit up as did other people in the room. You get the idea, no one gives a toss.

Yesterday, I was in the town post office which displays a sign saying "no smoking", but the man behind the counter was puffing away on his Karelia or some such Greek ciggy in between serving customers. To be fair nobody on the public side of the counter had a cigarette on the go so I suppose the sign was partially successful.

I've been with our lawyer in a notary's office, again with the obligatory "no smoking" sign, and to give our lawyer his due, he did at least flick his cigarette ash out of the open window, but that was as far as it went.

I have never actually seen anyone try to enforce no-smoking legislation although I have been told that occasionally the police will go in to a café and suggest it is a bit smoky inside.

I am every smoker's biggest hate figure, an ex-smoker, but I am conflicted because I don't like to see the full force of government used to tell people what pleasures they can enjoy. Having said that, since living here I have come perilously close to taking up smoking again. Everyone does it, why shouldn't I?

Well, put simply smoking is disgusting and dangerous. After my night at the taverna I coughed my way round my early morning walk with the dog. I suppose I shouldn't complain, I got a smoker's cough for nothing.

More seriously, Greece has one of the highest rates of death from lung cancer in Europe. The highest rate is in Hungary - Yay! Go Hungary! And yes, I know, as every smoker says, usually as they're puffing away, "You've got to die of something." Maybe so, but if possible I'd give lung cancer a miss.

This sign tells you not to smoke, but it doesn't matter,
you can ignore it - everyone else does.

Friday, 29 November 2013

You want churches, we got 'em

A church in Skopelos town centre.

Apparently a whopping 98 per cent of people in Greece give their religion as Greek Orthodox. I read this in the CIA World Factbook so I'm taking it as sort of correct. What I didn't read in the Factbook is that here on Skopelos there is one church for every day of the year. The source of this "fact" falls in the category of something someone told me or I might have read it in a local guidebook.

The two facts - if facts they are - do seem to lend credence to each other. I would even go so far as to say that I think there might be enough churches on Skopelos for there to be several for each day, although I admit this is just an impression I have.

Anyway, rest assured that religion and principally the Greek Orthodox church is a big deal here. By no means is everyone a die hard attender of church, but it really does seem that very few Greeks will go through the course of a year without some attendance at church or acknowledgement in some way of their religious roots. And on Skopelos it's not difficult to go to church because, as I have said, there are loads of them ranging from sizeable concerns that could hold a good crowd to much more modest affairs about the size of a household garage.

As I type this, I am looking out from our house on to the rest of the olive grove and sure enough there is a small church used by the family who own this land. Most of the time it's locked up and left alone, but every now and again a small army of Greek women (never men) descend on the church to clean it up in readiness for a service. If I look out of the window to my left I can just see a small chapel in the grounds of a holiday village on the other side of the valley and if I crane my neck right round I can see the imposing walls of a monastery with its church.

A small church, but by no means the smallest.

So you get the idea, churches are to be found everywhere here and a lot of them, possibly even most of them, are not built by the church but by anyone with a bit of land and the desire to express their devotion to their faith. I suspect that's why you get so many small churches, it takes a lot of money to build something big, but maybe it's better to do anything rather than nothing.

As someone with little that I could call religious faith - other than a constant feeling of trying to get a grip on what life's all about - I find religious life interesting, but perplexing. Greek Orthodox priests are a striking sight in their black robes and lofty hats and there are few, if any, occasions of any significance here at which a priest will not be called on to attend. You certainly wouldn't launch a business without having at least one priest help get you on the right side with the Almighty.

Our neighbours, who are neither Greek nor members of the Greek Orthodox church, had a priest in to bless their new house when building work had ended. Later one of the neighbours admitted remonstrating in what he claimed was a light-hearted way with the people who organised the priest's attendance after the house was struck by lightning. "I told them the priest can't have done a very good job, but they just said if he hadn't blessed the house I might not have been here at all," our neighbour recalled, facing up to the unshakeable logic of the faithful.

Priests taking part in the Οχί day parade.

Recently I heard one member of the expat community here say: "Do you understand what Greek religion is all about? It's just superstition, isn't it?" At this point I was about to ask him to explain the differences between superstition and faith, but good manners and the desire for a quiet life intervened and I kept my mouth shut (first time for everything etc etc). Maybe the two merge in to each other and then again maybe faith is something much more important than mere superstition. And maybe the question would seem completely irrelevant to the faithful here as they kiss an icon or cross themselves on passing by a church. For them, it is not only a way of life, it is a way of expressing their Greekness which is immune to the problems currently besetting this country.

The interior of a church dedicated to St Rafael.

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

I'm sorry, I must have nodded off for a while

So, where was I? Wherever it was, it wasn't in front of the keyboard writing this blog. Many apologies for the gap, sorry, that should read yawning chasm, in service. You know what they say: you pay peanuts, you get monkeys.

Anyway, the seasons are showing signs of changing. Things are, how can I put it, modestly autumnal here. There are still days that are warm enough to sit outside and drink coffee and say rather smugly to one's companions "Yep, it's incredible, isn't it.....November 25 and we're on the terrace."

But then every now and again we have a day to remind us that when winter does get going here in a few weeks' time it is likely to be cold, wet and windy with the possibility of snow. A local shopkeeper recently regaled me with tales of a winter only a few years ago when there was thick snow on the ground for two weeks and no power for days on end.

After a pep talk like that I always check to see that we have plenty of logs, candles and gas canisters for our camping stove. A reliable electricity supply to this island is still quite a recent innovation and it is best to have some sort of alternative should the worst happen. Until then, though, I try to make the most of living in such a beautiful place and here are some pictures to show you what I mean. All were taken in the last month or so during various walks around the island.

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Bye bye Bee-eaters, missing you already

The Bee-eaters are going, as sure a sign of the changing seasons here as the sudden departure of Greek tourists. The birds fly high over Skopelos making their distinctive call which my bird book describes as "quilp" and indeed it is the sound you hear long before you see them heading south back to warmer climes.

I, too, am on the move, even if only temporarily, but unlike the Bee-eaters I shall be heading north to the UK. The Bee-eaters are after winter warmth, something which I fear I am unlikely to experience during the next fortnight. I have been advised to bring layers of clothing and I am more than a little daunted by the number of people I see on Twitter bemoaning the cold and talking of switching on their heating.

As I write this I am wearing shorts and a T-shirt, my standard items of clothing for so long (not the same ones, you understand) that I can't remember the last time I wore a pair of long trousers. Temperatures today are in the high 20s and it is very humid, although none of this seems to have persuaded the Bee-eaters to put off their departure. When I get back to Gatwick tomorrow evening I suspect the temperatures will only just have crept in to double figures, but then as the saying goes "there's no such thing as bad weather, just wrong clothes", so layers it is.

Aside from the weather, I'm not really sure what to expect. It's more than a year since I set foot on UK soil and that time has been spent only on this island with its one-and-a-half main roads and intermittent ferry service. I don't think I'm putting it too strongly when I say I am quite troubled at the prospect of huge numbers of people rushing around.

In addition, for the most part these will be people I can understand. My Greek is coming along painfully slowly. When I hear Greek people talking near me, rather than to me, it is a bit like listening to a badly tuned radio, I get some of it quite well, but I can just as easily let my focus drift and lose myself in my thoughts. No such chance when it is your native tongue and you are quite likely to find yourself privy to a conversation about the rubbish on last night's TV or the goings-on at the local pub. I suppose if these are the biggest problems I encounter over the next fortnight I'll have little cause for complaint.

As for the Bee-eaters, we should see them again around April/May indicating that summer has returned. I may not speak Bee-eater, but I do understand what they say.

A Bee-eater practising saying "quilp".
Pic by Spacebirdy.

Friday, 6 September 2013

Parting is such sweet sorrow

Our old friend Shakespeare comes to the rescue for the title of this post. He's got a phrase for almost every occasion and the occasion this time is saying goodbye, which to be honest I'm not very good at. I'm even worse when it comes to seeing someone off on a boat.

So this morning we had to wave off one of our daughters who has been staying with us for a fortnight and the only way off this island - unless you're a well-heeled type with access to a helicopter - is by boat. Consequently we all drove down to the harbour for the early Flying Cat and although I always try to put a brave face on it I can't help but shed a few tears whenever I'm seeing someone off from the harbour.

What is it about waving goodbye to someone who is leaving by boat? Does it stir up emotions that go back to the time when the only way to travel long distances was by sea and when someone left on a boat they very often would be gone for a long time? Or is it just that I'm a bit soft and feel a wrench when I say goodbye to someone I love? I don't know and to be truthful I'm writing this more as therapy to take my mind off my gloom than to psychoanalyse myself, but there's no getting away from it that for me seeing someone leave on a boat gets to me much more than watching them drive off down the road or disappear through an airport departure gate.

Anyway, you'll have to excuse me now as I'm going to sit around and be a bit doleful for a while. 

Sunday, 11 August 2013

Psst! Anyone know where I can score some dum-di-dum-di-dum-di-dum?

My name is Mark Clough, I am an Archers addict. This is my story.

When I started using The Archers I didn't think much about it. Just occasionally after a long day it helped me to relax on the way home from the office. The timing was often perfect, leave the office in a frazzled state, get in the car, put on the radio and it just seemed the natural thing to do. Fifteen minutes or so of goings on down Ambridge way.

I was a very irregular user. I could handle it. And when I changed jobs and my frazzledness was massively reduced I often didn't bother. I could take it or leave it.

Strangely enough what has increased my addiction to The Archers is moving from the UK to Greece. Here in the land of olive trees, ouzo and a family of four on a moped I thought I'd just try The Archers again. What harm could it do? But then I made a dangerous mistake - I started mixing The Archers with Twitter. Let me warn you now it is an incredibly potent combination and there are thousands of Archers addicts out there who find themselves unable to resist the temptations of the Tweetalong. We are all in a hell of our own creation.

All right, enough of the "Archers addiction" schtick, but you get my drift. I like to listen to Radio 4's popular daily radio drama The Archers and while doing so I like to Tweet my comments on the characters and what they are getting up to. And, I'm glad to say, because it means that I am not alone in this recherché taste, so do many other people. It is a wonderful combination, a radio drama and a micro-blogging site. Something old, something new.

It works well for me. Fire up my computer so I can listen to each evening's broadcast (7pm in the UK is 9pm here in Greece) and then blast out a few smart Alec comments on Twitter as I listen. The headmaster of my secondary school once took me outside the classroom to give me a bit of a ticking off. "The trouble with you," he told me, "is that you like to play to the gallery." Spot on. I do find it difficult to resist making smart arse remarks if the opportunity presents itself. It's a failing I am guilty of at even the most inappropriate occasions. I should add here that I do actually like The Archers for what it is - a daily radio drama set in a rural county - and I admire the skill and hard work of the script writers. But there is no escaping the fact that my enjoyment is increased by taking part in the Tweetalong.

However, lately something has intervened, namely the hot Greek summer. I like to listen and Tweet "live" and 9pm here is just too hot to sit with headphones on (my wife does not appreciate The Archers). That time in the evening is a good time to be out watching the world go by while sipping on a cold beer or enjoying an ice cream. As proof of this I should admit to starting to write this posting in July and we are now almost two weeks in to August.

Despite this, I endeavour to keep up by listening to broadcasts when I can, but it's not the same if I don't mix it with Twitter. Even so, I'm sure I'll revisit my "addiction", even in Greece summers don't last for ever, and by the time I do get back to my habit my need to fulfil my headmaster's prediction will be even greater. Watch out Sausage Boy, Titchynob and Fagash Lil, I'll be gunning for you.

"You are listening to the Home Service."

Saturday, 10 August 2013

Words we get from Greek: 4 - xenophobia

Earlier postings in this strand have all been from near the front end of the alphabet (another word we get from Greek) so for this one I've dodged to near the end of the alphabet, but only of the Latin alphabet as the x of this posting's chosen word is found more or less in the middle of the Greek alphabet. Complicated, no? To add to the complication Greek has another sort of X pronounced more like the ch in words such as loch and that does come near the end of the Greek alphabet.

So anyway xenophobia, which in Greek has an x as in fix rather than a z sound (look, just concentrate) is fear or hatred of foreigners. Xenos is the foreign bit and phobia is the fear bit. I suppose it could be racism for posh people. Anyway, I'd be lying if I said that there were not instances where some Greek people didn't like some foreign people, but then, sad to say, that is true of any nationality.

The crisis has certainly played its part in creating xenophobia and naked hostility to people from other countries has been displayed in parts of the country, not least Athens. The rise of Golden Dawn, a political party which denies being neo-Nazi, but which has more than a whiff of the jackboot about it, has coincided with a rise in attacks on people from other countries, especially if the colour of their skin marks them out.

All of this is rather depressing but I would say that broadly speaking most Greeks I have encountered are prepared at the very least to be "live and let live" and many are friendly to you whoever you are (especially, surprise, surprise, if you are friendly to them). This, in turn, brings me to another word linked to our posting's title but which is one of my favourite Greek words....filoxenia (φιλόξενια). This is the spirit of hospitality, friendliness to foreigners, and as we are all foreigners somewhere let's hope for more filoxenia and less xenophobia.

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Death in the afternoon

The phone went, it was the landlord. "Mark," he said, "John will be coming to our land soon to kill Big Whitey."

I'd been expecting this. Big Whitey was the last of the cockerels introduced to the olive grove more than a year ago. The unfortunate Eileen (about whom I have written before) was another of the cockerels. Others rejoiced under the names of Chuck Norris and Christmas Dinner. Slowly their numbers have dwindled as they met the fate which seems to await all cockerels. Surely a warning for males of the species everywhere?

Anyway, Big Whitey, so called because he was big and white, had an appointment with a soup pot courtesy of "John" who is in fact Ιωάννης. Usually, the landlord is on hand to help Ιωάννης  when it comes to killing cockerels, but this being summer the landlord is busy doing other things. I also suspect he is slightly squeamish when it comes to the moment of truth for the cockerels. I have a feeling this means I may be called on to be the slaughterer's apprentice. My intended appointment with a cold beer in town will have to wait.

Sure enough in a couple of minutes I see John ride his motorbike on to the land. I've known him a while now and met him last year before I found out he knew the landlord, but then on this island almost everybody knows everybody else. Ιωάννης has a small café in town and his father was a butcher which is where his knowledge about despatching cockerels comes from. As usual he has the stump of a cigar clamped in his mouth. "Ah, Mark, you are here. Good." That pretty well confirms for me that I'm likely to be called on at certain points in Big Whitey's demise.

We shake hands and I see that in his other hand Ιωάννης/John is carrying a bag containing a butcher's steel and a knife of which he takes great care. I know from previous occasions this knife is very sharp. I confirm for John that I know which bird faces the chop - not difficult, he is the only remaining cockerel. John gets a small fire going under an old feta cheese can full of water. This will come into play later on when the time comes for Big Whitey to be plucked. As we wait for the water to get hot, John inquires if I have any tsipouro (a strong Greek spirit). I do not. He then asks if I have any ouzo (another spirit). I sense a certain disappointment when I say no again. I tell him I have wine. "Some wine, then." Clearly the executioner has to be refreshed. We both have a glass. I, too, feel the need of a little alcoholic fortification.

I have a vague feeling of treachery as I accompany Ιωάννης to the chicken coop to identify Big Whitey, but we don't want any mistakes and, to be frank, Big Whitey's seemingly non-stop sexual demands on his flock of hens have become burdensome for them. With a surprisingly swift move, John gets Big Whitey by the feet and he is swept out of the coop. Very sharp knife in hand, John carries the ill-fated Big Whitey to a tree where his throat is cut and his blood spilled on the roots of the tree. According to John it is good for the tree. This sounds a little pagan to me, but then why not? There is something of the cycle of life in all of this.

The very dead, and headless, Big Whitey is then plunged into the hot water which makes it easier to pluck the feathers. It is at this point that I am called on to assist by holding various carrier bags. One holds feathers and bits of Big Whitey's insides judged to be of no use, another holds body parts that I think - although this is only through the filter of John's slightly eccentric English - will be used for stock, and the last one contains the body and a small plastic bag of golden fat from the late cockerel which John assures me is absolutely wonderful when used for frying eggs.

Job done, Ιωάννης settles down for a couple more glasses of wine. He then reveals that some turkeys he has on his land have been ill (or are dead), as I have said his English is slightly wonky, although much better than my Greek. John then moves on to what seems to be one of his favourite themes, which is food. No visit to our house by him seems to be complete without long and involved instructions on good ways to cook things. The instructions usually involve miming and sound effects, which may go against the spirit of mime, but adds immeasurably to the overall performance.

With a flourish, John then finishes his wine and bids us farewell, pausing only to inquire what are the various words in English used for prison. Why? Who knows? I tell him that prison is probably the best word and there is also jail. We didn't get in to the spelling otherwise we might have tackled the mystery of gaol. This seems to satisfy Ιωάννης and he wends his way in to the evening, leaving our land a lot quieter without Big Whitey.

Mornings won't be the same without Big Whitey around, but he and the late-lamented Eileen both managed to do the deed with numerous hens whose eggs were hatched out and whose offspring, still youngsters, will soon be free to roam on the land. The quiet of our Big Whitey-less mornings will not last for long. The cycle of life rolls on.

Thursday, 18 July 2013

In praise of holidaymakers

Long time, no see. I've been here all along, but I've been in holiday mode. It's that time of year when Skopelos becomes busy with people intent on kicking back and having a good time and, to be honest, I've sort of been swept up with that feeling.

I know some expats here who moan about holidaymakers. These expats complain that the cafés and tavernas are full, the beaches are too busy and the roads are congested and it's all down to holidaymakers. Well, yes, but I think I can say without fear of contradiction that these selfsame expats were also once holidaymakers. Skopelos is not the sort of place you'll just happen to pass through on your way to somewhere else. So for most people, and this includes a lot of Greeks as well, the only reason you come here is for a holiday. Oddly enough I have also heard some of these expats moaning that it gets too hot here in the summer.  Mmm, I wonder what it was that drew them here in the first place.

Anyway, back to holidaymakers. I like that whole aspirational feel about being on holiday. This is how we might live our lives if only other things didn't intervene. So our holidays give us time to sit and watch the world go by, stare at the sea, let our minds wander and our bodies soak up the heat. Although I'm not on holiday here, even if my lifestyle doesn't make that readily apparent, I, too, like to watch the world go by. And in watching that world, I study, hopefully not too obviously, holidaymakers.

I like to see the families who find time to be with each other (even if that sometimes ends in bickering), I like to see the loved-up young couples who only have eyes for each other, the children given the chance to enjoy more freedom than they are used to in the busy cities they come from. All in all I like to see people on holiday showing every sign of feeling the weight of everyday life lifting from them for a little while.

To be truthful I wouldn't like Skopelos to be this busy constantly, but for these few weeks at the height of summer I think it's only polite to share what I am lucky enough to enjoy all year round. Happy holidays!

Thursday, 13 June 2013

Words we get from Greek: 3 - anarchy

Anarchy, from the Greek meaning no government. A strange word because it holds several, quite opposing, meanings. For some it means an absence of government because humanity has found a way of living harmoniously without the need to be governed. For other people anarchy means chaos and lawlessness and has a definite whiff of terrorism about it.

I don't know where the anarchy symbol of the capital A almost contained within a circle came from, but you do see it in all sorts of places - even here in this blog. Thus:

For me, the word anarchy is inextricably linked with my teenage years and those masters of getting up people's noses, the Sex Pistols. Here in my tiny home in Greece, where we do not have anywhere near enough room, I have somehow found space for a carrier bag full of old singles, yes, those black vinyl things, about seven inches across with an A and a B side, and in among all the weird and wonderful stuff I bought all those years ago is Anarchy In The U.K. by the Sex Pistols. The single was released in 1976 on EMI records, from whom the Sex Pistols soon parted company, and the B side is called I Wanna Be Me. I'm not sure the Pistols were exactly making a political statement with Anarchy, but for a spotty yoof as I was then it was a great single to bellow along to.

Punk rather got nipped in the bud as record companies realised there was money to be made from bunches of spiky-haired dorks shrieking and battering guitars and drums within an inch of their lives. It all became very corporate, but just for a little while punk music seemed to suggest that if you wanted to do something you didn't need the approval of Megabucks Records, you just went out and did it. And somehow that reminds me of the anarchists' dream of a harmonious society in which government is abolished because it is unnecessary. Ah well, you've got to have your dreams.

Friday, 7 June 2013

Timewasters welcome

Watching the kittens skitter about is a great way to pass/waste time. You're on your way to do something else when they suddenly emerge from behind a flower pot and 15 minutes later you're still watching them leap about.

Anyway, I have wasted even more time videoing them prancing around and this unedited film is the result. I tried to post it on my blog a few days ago, but technical difficulties intervened. I think I have solved these problems now, at least to some extent.

Anyway, enjoy the film. Parental advisory: This film opens with a scene in which Merkel, the kittens' mother, is licking her nether regions. Sorry about that, I was so intent on trying to catch the kittens on film that I never really noticed what was going on until I'd finished. There's more to this animal photography malarkey than meets the eye. Also the film goes on a bit (4 mins), next time I intend to get to grips with the editing process.

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Trust me, I'm a musician (sort of)

It was Shakespeare - he gets everywhere, doesn't he? - who said that we should not trust "The man that hath not music in himself". So here on Skopelos we've just gone through a great exercise in demonstrating our trustworthiness by having the first Skopelos Music Festival and a good week it was, too.

I admit to being slightly biased in that I took part in the festival as a member of a choir which formed and rehearsed over one weekend and then launched in to a series of performances. For those of you who are now shuddering having heard me sing solo (in the office, supermarket and pub) let me assure you that with a choir to sing with it's all fairly painless for the audience. Credit is due here to our choirmaster/musical director  or whatever, Rod Iliffe, a man of seemingly infinite patience and tact. My favourite phrase of his is: "Well done, you've got that half right". Hopefully, it was all right on the night.

Anyway, the Skopelos Festival Choir as we were rather grandly named, was but one part of seven evenings of performances of all kinds with a lot, and I do mean a lot, of the talent coming from local musicians who are already here on the island. Those of us who live here and frequent some of the tavernas can often see these musicians perform, but it was good, I think, for them to have the chance to show off their talents to a wider audience. The picture below shows the musicians who can often be seen at the Molos Taverna.

It's not my intention with this posting to offer a critique of the festival, as I have said I might be a little biased, but I really did enjoy the performances by Greek musicians. Ever since my first visit to Greece almost 30 years ago, it is the music of this country which, even on a rainy day in England, can transport me to this magical land. I may not always fully understand the songs of love, loss and longing, but they almost invariably score a direct emotional hit.

I was also quite impressed with the way the island's mayor, Giorgos Michelis, (yes, that does really come out as George Michael) took to the stage and sang. He's the gent in the grey suit in the picture below and he's pretty good. Maybe more civic dignitaries could follow his lead.

So that's really all I have to say on this first festival. I think it is an event that will be repeated and preliminary discussions have already taken place with the local authority so things are looking good. And, who knows, if there is another Skopelos Festival Choir I might even be tempted away from singing in the shower to join in again. And if you happen to be on the island then why not join in? You might surprise yourself.

I have no pictures of "my" choir so here is one of the Skopelos
Primary School Choir who were very good.

Thursday, 30 May 2013

Busy, busy, busy in a not very busy way

It was someone's "law" that said the amount of work expands to fill the time available so even when I'm not very busy I still feel that my days are full.

That has been even more the case this week because I've been taking part - only in a small way - in the first Skopelos Music Festival, which all seems to be going very well and about which I will write more later. In addition, a friend who drives back and forth to Greece from the UK carrying goods has been here for a while waiting for his van to be fixed. I keep pointing out to him that waiting for a repair here has got to be better than being stuck at the side of the M62 in pouring rain, but I suppose he'd prefer not to be waiting anywhere. While he's here, I've been trying to help him get a few things sorted out.

If that doesn't sound as if I'm very busy, well believe me, as far as I'm concerned I'm being rushed off my feet AND there are also the kittens to consider. Mimi and Daisy are coming on in leaps and bounds (literally) and somehow I have found the time to film them larking about. It's quite a long film considering it's just them jumping about, but once I started I found it difficult to stop so it could have been even longer.

What's that other thing people say...? Oh yes, if you want something doing, ask a busy person. Well ask away and I'll try to fit you in to my busy schedule. But first, enjoy the film. (We interrupt this posting to tell you that owing to technical difficulties beyond our control we cannot bring you this film. Instead here is a picture of Merkel and her kittens doing nothing because it is so hot. We apologise. Normal service will be resumed one day, maybe).

Thursday, 23 May 2013

To be honest I preferred the walk to the book

In the course of my life I have bought hundreds, possibly even thousands, of books. Usually I bought them to read them straight away, sometimes because I intended to read them "one day" and sometimes for reasons I can't quite recall.

The upshot of this is that I accumulated a LOT of books and when the great move from the UK to Greece was planned, I had to accept that some of them would have to go. And go they did, some to members of my family, some to charity shops and others in book banks. At first it hurt to do this, but then I began to realise they are only books. You can always get some more books and you can also get the same books again. Sacrilege some would say, but honestly, attachment to material things really isn't going to make you a happy bunny.

Among the books to survive the cull (I think modern management refer to such cuts as "rationalisation") was one rather hefty volume called 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die. The book, which is edited by Peter Boxall, suggests 1001 books you might be interested to cast your eye over although I don't think that he and his colleagues are seriously suggesting it is an imperative before you cash your chips in. The book itself is an interesting read and great to dip in to and see what you make of the selection.

Recently (and this may make you think I have too much time on my hands) I decided to work out how many of the 1001 books I had read. As of now, the answer is 116, so I am more than ten per cent of my way through this literary bucket list. All of those 116 were read by accident, as it were, before I laid hands on 1001 Books You Must ... etc etc so at this rate I'll have to live to be about 500 if I'm to read all of them. I suppose if I target my reading a bit more I could get through more of the list, but it's not something I'm going to lose sleep over. I am, as they say, quite relaxed about it.

And some of the 1001 on the list that I have read I almost wish I hadn't. Among them is To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf. It is, apparently, an "experiment in modernist narration" - well done, very clever, Virginia. I can see that VW was shaking the idea of novel-writing around until she came up with a way she wanted to do it, and although it is a while since I read To The Lighthouse I do recall finding it just the teensiest bit dull. Maybe I should give it another go and then I could compile a book called 1001 Books You Should Give A Second Chance Before You Nod Off. We'll see.

The title of this post refers to a walk and earlier this month I walked with the Skopelos Scramblers, who really should call themselves Amblers, to the lighthouse at the northern end of the island. Here are some pictures of the lighthouse at Cape Ghourouni (Cape Pig).

Once we got to the lighthouse we had a picnic and then we ambled back and it was almost at the very end of the walk that someone mentioned To The Lighthouse and never having read it. It was suggested by those of us who had, that she wasn't missing much and it was then claimed by one of the Amblers that Virginia Woolf had written one book that was worth reading. This particular book is called Flush and is not VW's account of the menopause or using a modern lavatory. Instead it is a biography of Elizabeth Barrett Browning's spaniel. How sweet. Whether Flush has lots of stream of consciousness going on I'm afraid I'm unlikely ever to find out. It will probably be one of the many, many books I shall never read before the Grim Reaper calls. Sorry Virginia.

Virginia Woolf: "Loved a joke".

Saturday, 18 May 2013

I blog, therefore I am

I've been a bit quiet on the blogging front recently and this is for no more sinister reason than that I am a lazy arse who can almost always find something else to do other than what I'd set out to do a couple of minutes before.

So the usual thought process when it comes to writing a blog posting goes something like this: "Shall I write something for my blog? Yes." Then: "Hold on a minute, I'll just look in this cookery book for a nice recipe for tonight's dinner." Or: "Why don't I wander round with the dog for a while in case she needs a pee before I sit down in front of a keyboard." Or even (to my significant other): "Shall we just nip into town for a frappé?"

Be that as it may, I'm still around and still coming up with the insights that can leave lesser mortals questioning  the validity of their existence. One such insight is "Who on earth am I writing for in any case?" Actually, that's not an insight, it's a rather vapid question, but let's not get bogged down in details. The answer to that question is, of course, I'm writing for you, and you, and you, and you and anyone else who cares to pass by. And possibly most disturbingly of all I'm writing for me, yes ME. And why not?

Many moons ago, and in a past life, I used to work for a man whose favourite phrase to employees seemed to be: "If you don't like it, you can fuck off." I found it to be a dispiriting attitude, but time has passed and I bear this particular ex-boss no ill will, he was what he was. However, sometimes when I write this blog I recall his less than motivational phrase and think "actually readers if what I write is not to your taste well, you know what you can do". You see how naturally I adopt a more polite approach.

But actually what I would much prefer from those of you who dislike what I write, or those of you who enjoy it, is to respond, reply, participate, take part, follow by email. Talk to me, tell me what you would like to see here. I may follow your suggestions or I may follow the line of my former boss and tell you to Foxtrot Oscar, but that's a risk you'll just have to take. After all what have you got to lose and, if you're as feckless as me, you probably won't even give a toss in any case. In the blogosphere, no one can hear you scream.

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

You only sing when you're winning

Some months ago in Greece there was consternation at the news that the country could not afford to take part in this year's Eurovision Song Contest and so would not be competing.

This announcement prompted both joy and despair, depending, no doubt, on your view of the contest which has been running for more than half a century. Many felt that by not taking part Greece was displaying commendable fiscal restraint and in any case who gives a monkey's about such a musical dog's breakfast.

I can only presume there were others who may well have felt that if for no other reason than national pride, the country should be represented at this year's contest which takes place in Malmo on three days next week culminating in the final on Saturday, May 18. I further presume that these people are now delighted that somehow it was decided that after all the money could be found for Greece to do Eurovision battle.

Maybe this was not so surprising when you consider that within the last few years Greece was talked into buying two slightly soiled submarines from, now, who was it?...oh yes, Germany, the country that is always telling Greece to tighten its pursestrings. Perhaps that is a digression and I admit I'm not entirely certain how Eurovision entries are funded, but submarines and song contests are a long way down my shopping list.

And so it is that Greece will be represented by the group Koza Mostra together with the popular rebetiko singer Agathon Iakovidis to perform the song Alcohol Is Free. Here they are in a special Eurovision picture:

The song Alcohol Is Free is a comment on the tough times Greece is going through. Strictly speaking, the song title lies, alcohol is not free here although I can confirm it's a lot cheaper than in the UK. Anyway, the song is a pretty frenetic crash, bang, wallop sort of a job by Koza Mostra who are described as practitioners of "Balkan ska". I've only listened to it once and it's the sort of thing I imagine I'd jig around to if I'd had a couple of drinks, free or not.

You can make your own mind up by watching the video. Nifty kilts, aren't they?

So there you have it, a rather nicely bonkers entry for a completely bonkers competition. As someone who doesn't even have a television I won't be watching what happens next week in Malmo, but I wish Koza Mostra well, in fact, I wish good luck to all contestants. Let's face it, at least while countries are singing at each other we can reasonably hope they're not gearing up for invasion.

Monday, 6 May 2013

Words we get from Greek: 2 - catastrophe

Straightforward enough, catastrophe in English is a sudden disaster or misfortune and καταστροφή in Greek is destruction, collapse, disaster. Clearly not a word that has changed much in moving from one language to another.

My Chambers dictionary says catastrophe derives from κατά, the Greek for down, and strophe, in Greek στροφή, meaning turning.

My favourite use of the word comes from a plumber I know here on Skopelos who describes difficult plumbing situations as a catastrophe. Particularly difficult plumbing situations he describes as "the full catastrophe". One hopes to avoid those wherever possible.

This particular plumber once explained to me his theory on learning English. "When you have listened to Eric Clapton, Elton John and Rod Stewart, then you can speak English," he stated with absolute conviction, at which point his apprentice added "...and Rory Gallagher". This idea of teaching English using ageing, and in one case dead, rockers is a new one on me, but it's certainly worth a try. What do you think, Mr Gove?

Sunday, 5 May 2013

My big fat Greek Easter Sunday lunch

The harbourside taverna Molos is a good place to eat
and watch the world go by.

I suspect that for some Greeks Easter Sunday is the highlight of the year, combining as it does for many of them two of their favourite things - food and family.

For those who have been following the Lenten fast today will have been the first time in several weeks that they will have eaten meat. For the less devout, ie me, today was another good reason to continue eating meat, this time at the Molos taverna on the Skopelos waterfront.

But first we must have our drinks.

Then we must have our starter. A mixed platter of cold starters ideal for a day when the temperature in the afternoon must easily have reached 25C.

Then our main course. By tradition, many Greek people will insist on having either lamb or goat roasted on a spit and while that was available at Molos we moved away slightly from tradition by having goat in a tomato sauce and excellent it was too. Oh, and a Greek salad, too.

We were pretty full by this time, but managed a short stagger to the International Café, known locally as the Brown Chairs, where we polished off two coffee ice creams. I regret to say I forgot to take a picture of those, which was probably due to the earlier intake of food and wine taking effect. I'll try to do it another day when I write about the Brown Chairs' delicious walnut pie. I know, it's a hard life, but I soldier on the best I can.

Saturday, 4 May 2013

Easter in Greece

Good Friday, Skopelos

Easter in Greece is a BIG thing. It's religion, family and Greekness all rolled into one.

This year the timing of the Orthodox Easter and Easter in the Western church have differed by almost a month so while Easter in much of the Christian world is largely a receding memory, here and in other Orthodox countries we are bang slap in the middle of it.

This blog is not intended to offer theological instruction and if it did it would be pretty useless instruction, but the events of yesterday, today and tomorrow (Easter Sunday) carry huge significance to many people in Greece.

On Skopelos, the evening of Good Friday sees the procession of four Epitaphios (I'm unsure of the plural) which are funeral biers. It is a solemn occasion, but I was surprised to find the arrival of each Epitaphio preceded by bangers. I was also surprised, and probably shouldn't have been, by the huge number of people  from the island who take part. Entire families including very young children walk behind the biers while carrying lighted candles. I'm not religious, certainly not in a way I can articulate, but I did find it all rather moving.

My rather poorly lit pictures show each of the Epitaphios.

I'm writing this on Saturday so tomorrow is Easter Sunday by which time those Greeks adhering to tradition will have eaten some lamb's intestine soup (yes, really). During Sunday itself families will gather and feast upon spit-roasted goat and lamb. As I said, I'm not offering theological instruction but I do know what's what when it comes to eating, which reminds me....my wife is waiting for me so we can go out to dinner. Καλή όρεχη.

Friday, 3 May 2013

The law of unintended consequences

Oh dear! Sometimes you think you're doing the right thing and then it all goes horribly wrong. That, on top of my natural indolence, is why I haven't posted anything on this blog for quite a while.

Let me explain. Late Sunday evening I'm out in the olive grove with Bonnie giving her a last chance to sniff at things etc before bedtime when I spot a shadowy white shape and two bright eyes down by one corner of the small church that sits in the olive grove. Bonnie whizzes down there and the shadowy white shape transforms in to a dog that is clearly in a bad way. There is no aggression between the two dogs and the white dog shambles up the path behind me on to the terrace.

In better light I can see that the dog is the sort used for hunting on Skopelos. Quite long in the leg and a bit whippet/lurcher in appearance. But this one is stick thin with very prominent ribs and backbone. She, for it is a she who has clearly raised at least one litter of puppies, cringes horribly as she gets closer. This is a dog who has not had the happiest of lives.

So I put down a small bowl of dog food and a dish of water and she tucks in. All the while I'm trying to complete the head v heart equation with them both coming out about equal. I can't ignore a dog in such a condition, but I really don't need another dog. So as she would undoubtedly have lived outdoors (see an earlier posting about dogs in Greece) I have no qualms (all right I have some qualms) about leaving her outside and I would be lying if I said I didn't secretly hope she would move on overnight.

Such hopes are dashed on Monday morning when it turns out she is still here and - this is the bit where the law of unintended consequences kicks in - she has attacked our pet cockerel, Eileen. Yes, it is a girl's name, but it seemed the right name for him from the time when he first went on the run from the other cockerels who had bullied him. I check out Eileen, but it is clear that he is injured beyond all hope of recovery and so it falls to me to put our handsome and somewhat eccentric cockerel out of his misery - a job I do with a heavy heart.

By this time the dog, which I resolutely have not even given a temporary name in order to avoid any more attachment than I already feel, has reappeared near the house and displays a very friendly disposition and remarkable obedience. Understandably this carries little weight with our landlord who is concerned for his chickens and he takes the dog away. The hope is that moving her away will lead to her settling elsewhere. If this raises questions about looking after animals in Greece I understand and I am afraid I probably have no answers to those questions. I have been told the dog is being fed and watered to encourage her to stay where she is.

So this week I have been feeling upset about poor Eileen, whose demise I feel I inadvertently precipitated, and an anonymous dog, who I keep feeling deserves a better life than the one she has.

Yesterday I told someone who has lived here a lot longer than I have about our poor cockerel and the dog and she said that much as you would like to, it was not possible to help out every animal in a bad situation. In my head I know this true, and in my heart I feel sad because of that.

Eileen the cockerel tapping at our kitchen door.

Monday, 15 April 2013

Mrs Thatcher: still dead

So we're one week on from the death of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and I can honestly say that in those seven days not one person on this island - Greek, British or any other nationality - has mentioned the Iron Lady to me.

I suppose that seeing as we are on a small Greek island where people have more pressing problems than the death of someone who hasn't been in power for the best part of two decades that might not be so surprising. Unless, that is, you look at the furore going on in Britain about her death, her life, her funeral and anything else to do with her.

To avoid confusion among people who are not in Britain I thought it might be helpful at this stage to put up a couple of pictures, a sort of Mrs Thatcher identification guide. And here it is:

Above we see two thatchers. For the avoidance of doubt, Mrs Thatcher is the one on the right (naturally). Yes, I can almost hear your chuckles from here. So why am I, living in a little house in an olive grove on Skopelos, writing about Mrs T? Well, I suppose if for no other reason than it pleases me to, everyone else has and this is my two penn'orth. I think at this point in a piece like this it is customary to nail your colours to the mast so far as your view of Thatcher goes. And so....I've never voted Tory in my life and I cannot foresee any situation bizarre enough for me to do so. Is that clear enough for you?

In some ways politicians remind me of surfers. Surfers don't create the waves they ride, but a skilled surfer will get the very most out of a wave and is adept at spotting a good one. Likewise with politicians, I think Mrs Thatcher caught the wave of public opinion sufficiently well to secure three general election victories on the trot.

Tragically, it seems to have led to the rise of a way of thinking where money became the only means by which something's worth could be assessed. While the haves prospered, the have nots found their outlook became increasingly grim, something the present bunch of multi-millionaire chancers now running the country seems happy to perpetuate. It was a way of thinking that also seems to have diminished Britain's capacity for compassion.

Despite all that, I have to admit to having found the celebratory nature of some people's reactions to Margaret Thatcher's death quite unpleasant and the campaign to download the "Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead" song quite puerile (although someone is making some money out of it, so it's an ill wind etc etc). The very compassion which she is said to have lacked is now being denied her and frankly I'm not sure that's anything to be proud of.

I suppose what I have to say on this doesn't amount to a hill of beans (although I always think a hill of beans would look pretty impressive), but even so it's worth bearing in mind that powerful as she once was Margaret Thatcher was still merely mortal which puts her on a par with the rest of us. If you really want to hit back at her legacy forget about burning an effigy or chanting a slogan, instead why not go out and do something nice for someone else? Remind them that there is such a thing as society after all and we would all do well to remember that there are no pockets in shrouds.

Friday, 12 April 2013

The generation game

It's that time of year when the word fecundity springs to mind. The olive grove where we live is brimming with wild flowers and blossom is bursting out on trees.

Wild flowers among the olive trees

I have pointed out before that most visitors who come to Greece during the height of the summer are probably completely unaware of the wealth of wild flowers that grow here. They miss out on a spectacular display which is brought to a rapid end by summer's brassy heat.

Orchids and, er, other flowers. I don't know the names, but I still enjoy them.

The fruit trees are continuing to show off with glorious displays of blossom. The large blossom below is on a quince tree and below that is cherry blossom.

And to top it all off, Merkel, our landlord's cat, who lives on the land here, has finally had her kittens. Five of them, and here she is about eight hours after giving birth.

Merkel with her kittens. They take after their mother and their numerous fathers.

Thursday, 11 April 2013

Words we get from Greek: 1 - economy

Oh dear! Possibly not the best choice with which to start this occasional series designed to show all manner of words the English language has gained from Greek.

Economy in Greek (οικονομία) is used in the same way as we use it in English, to describe the overall financial system and also as a word for frugality. No surprises though that it is the first use that is at the forefront of everyone's mind. Without wishing to sound too harsh the Greek economy is a train wreck.

Last December 26.4 per cent of the workforce was unemployed, up from 10.5 per cent in the same month in 2009, and youth unemployment now stands at 58 per cent. The infamous troika - the European Commission, the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank - has called for stringent austerity measures before it will approve bail-outs running to billions of Euros.

In the last 12 months, the minimum wage of €751 has been cut by 22 per cent (or 32 per cent for under 25s), and the government also cut the basic rate of unemployment benefits from €460 to €360 a month. Most of those receiving such benefits will only do so for a year after which.....?

So all in all not good, but there are said to be the tiniest signs of hope, although to be honest these are usually announced by politicians seeking to justify continued austerity. If people in Britain feel hard done by with a political class which seems to have little understanding of the realities facing "normal" people, then it would be fair to say that many Greeks have a burning sense of grievance at the behaviour of some of their politicians.

Sometimes I suspect that what happens in an economy is despite the activities of politicians, not because of them. I was talking to someone about the Greek economy the other day and he felt the world economy would gradually improve and then, to offer hope for Greece, he said: "And all boats float on a rising tide". The cynic in me wondered what might happen if the hull of the Greek economy still had a massive hole in it. Fingers crossed that it hasn't.

Money: It doesn't grow on trees, you know.
(Picture posed by models)