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 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.