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.