Friday, 30 January 2015

Ooh, you are offal, but I like you!

MIGHTY ORGAN: Lamb's liver.

Sorry for the title of this post, it reflects my unhealthy addiction to puns. Some of you may realise that it is a play on a catchphrase from British comic Dick Emery.

He died more than 30 years ago, but his popular TV show seemed to form a permanent backdrop to my childhood and beyond. The show aired irregularly from 1963 to 1981, which is testament to Emery's comedic staying power - or maybe there was nothing else good on the box.

Strange to think that Emery's cast of characters took us through the Swinging Sixties in to the industrial unrest of the 70s and sputtered to a halt in the 1980s by which time Mrs Thatcher was in power, smacking people's heads together.

The catchphrase to which this title refers was in fact "Ooh you are AWFUL, but I like you!" It was said by Emery, who was dressed up as a busty blonde called Mandy. After uttering the phrase she shoved a hapless interviewer in the shoulder and then wobbled off down the street. I don't recall ever thinking it was funny, it was just there.

I'm afraid this post has meandered a long way from what I intended and there is a reason I gave it this title, which is that tonight we are going to eat steak and kidney pie. Yes, kidneys...offal...making one of the tastiest pies known to humankind.

Some of you may not be that impressed, but our butcher does not routinely stock ox kidneys, the type you want for steak and kidney pie, so we had to wait for them to arrive in a special delivery from the mainland. There were a few hitches along the way so my anticipation is now at fever pitch. Mrs C has already made the filling for the pie, which I have tasted. It is glorious.

Leaving aside vegetarians, there are some people for whom the idea of  eating offal can bring on a case of the dry heaves. Sorry if that is the case for you, but I am of the opinion that if you are going to eat animals, you should try to eat as much of what they provide as you can. Just eating fillet steak is all very well, but it does mean there is a lot left over of a beef animal.

On that basis while we were in the butchers picking up our ration of kidneys we also bought some liver. Lightly fried with some onions and green peppers, to which you add some paprika, seasoning, red wine, let it reduce, add a  bit of sour cream (I use yoghurt) and there you have a yummy dish - unless, that is, you think offal is awful.

A bit tricky coming up with some music to go with a post about offal, but I've plumped for Timmy Thomas performing Why can't we live together?  because - brace yourselves - he played the organ. You're right, that's an offal joke.

* Top picture by Beck (originally posted to Flickr as Lambs Liver) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

A Fistful of Euros

Cash in hand.

Yesterday I went to the bank and was pleasantly surprised to find that my visit was completely routine. You'd never have known that people in some parts of Europe are waiting for Greece to tumble in to the abyss.

There were no queues around the block of anxious Greek people emptying their accounts of every last Euro in anticipation of a Syriza-led plunge in to an unknown Drachma-based future.

This was very much business as usual. The Skopelos branch of the National Bank of Greece is basically a large office. It's only recently that the branch has installed one of those security doors where you have to press a button and wait for the green light before you can enter.

Once inside there is a machine to issue you with a number marking your place in the queue. In that sense it's a bit like waiting to be served at the deli counter in a large supermarket.

Going to the bank here is a lot like many other activities carried out in public, it's a chance to be social. There's almost always someone you know in the queue so you can smile and nod to your acquaintances while at the same time keeping an eye open for those crafty Greek grannies who view queuing as something other people do. The truth is that if one of those grannies, a γιαγιά, does jump the queue there isn't a lot you can do about it. People here are generally pleasantly respectful towards their elders, something which, as I get more grey hair, I find I welcome.

Anyway, I withdrew the colourful bits of printed paper - well isn't that all money is? - I required and set off to do my bit to boost the local economy by spending it. For the time being I don't think there's much more I can do.

Some people have pointed out to me that they can't see/hear the music I like to add at the end of each posting. I thank them for pointing this out as I really do like feedback. I think the problem lies with whether or not you have a flash plugin, but I wouldn't want you to read this and think I actually know what I'm talking about. There's probably a setting you need to adjust or something. Maybe it's the flux capacitor.

I was thinking of choosing The Clash performing Bankrobber to go with this post, but instead I've gone for something a bit more upbeat with Shalamar and Take that to the bank.

* Picture of Euro notes by Usien, used under Creative Commons Licence.

Monday, 26 January 2015

Merkel unmoved by Syriza triumph

What, you say, after all those warnings of dire consequences should Syriza win in Greece and Merkel is unfazed by this key moment in modern European history?

Absolutely. In fact, I happen to know she ate a hearty breakfast and then went for a little nap. AND I have photographic evidence, which I present below.

Merkel enjoys her breakfast.

Yes, what a laugh, I've been pulling your leg. The Merkel I'm talking about is the cat who lives on the land here. Named by our landlord several years ago, Merkel has little in common with the German Chancellor who I suspect might not have such a good appetite for breakfast this morning.

And really, that's about as much as I can tell you about yesterday's election. Syriza won as expected, but fell just short of an overall majority so Alexis Tsipras will now have to find a partner, or partners, in what promises to be interesting times for us all.

I hope all goes well for Greece, and for the rest of Europe, actually, and I hope I don't sound too much like Eeyore when I urge people not to get their hopes too high, it's just I have an innate distrust of politicians and their capabilities. I have felt optimism at election results before and then been bitterly disappointed.

Oh dear, that does sound so gloomy, doesn't it? I think I'll have another cup of coffee and go talk to Merkel for a while.

Today's music rather reflects my scepticism and is most likely to resonate with Brits with a reasonable knowledge of their country's political history. So here we have it, Things can only get better by D:Ream.

Friday, 23 January 2015

Get your vote, you've polled

What a load of ballots. For attribution, see below.

Less than 48 hours to go and Greeks get to go to the polls to elect a new parliament. It's not for me to call it as to who will win. I'd like to think the winners will be the Greek people because they vote in an effective government capable of restoring hope to this lovely, but decidedly careworn, country.

We are told there's a lot riding on the outcome of Sunday's vote, not least Greece's future in the European Union and membership of the Eurozone, While I believe that voting in elections is probably the best shot most people have at influencing the future of their country, part of me also believes that ultimately none of it makes much difference. In a world where money knows no boundaries and seems to have no limits to its power, what chance do voters have?

Cynicism is corrosive, but we all need a bit of scepticism to safeguard us from the effects of pinning too much hope on the blandishments of politicians seeking our cross next to their names on the ballot paper. Politics is sometimes described as the art of the possible, to which a sceptic might add that it is the art of politicians finding out what it's possible for them to get away with.

Anyway, until such time as we come up with a better system for choosing governments the humble act of voting will have to suffice. Greece, I wish you good luck on Sunday, I think you're going to need it.

I was torn as to which piece of music I would choose to accompany this post. Alice Cooper's Elected seemed an obvious option and I was taken with the Bonzo Dog Band's No matter who you vote for, the government always gets in. However, in the end I opted for the song below as it at least urges people to vote, albeit with a degree of care.

* Ballot box photo by Rama (Own work) [CC BY-SA 2.0 fr (], via Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

The glory that was Greece

Much is rightly made of Greece's architectural heritage. When you've got the Parthenon in your back catalogue, you can justifiably feel a sense of pride.

But - and there's always a but, isn't there? - surely something as splendid as the Parthenon should be the precursor to something even better. After all, we are centuries on from when the Parthenon first appeared on the Acropolis.

Well, yes and no. I have no doubt that some wonderful buildings have gone up in Greece in the ensuing centuries, but there have also been some complete and utter clunkers. For example, exhibit A pictured below.

Not the Parthenon.

The concrete framework in the picture has graced the seafront of Skopelos town for a number of years. It's horrid, isn't it? To be honest, it's been there so long I don't even notice it any more. Viewed from some angles all you do is see through it so that your view of the building is a sort of framed version of whatever is behind it.

I have been told that the building was destined to be the new home for the Skopelos branch of the National Bank of Greece combined with new police headquarters. That seems quite possible as the two bodies, bank and police, currently share a home elsewhere in the town. No doubt the crisis, always the crisis, put paid to the plans and it is quite possible it was thought better to drop the scheme mid-project rather than spend any more money on it. Whether it will ever reach fruition is anyone's guess, but pretty it ain't.

And if you were looking at the picture above and thinking, "Well, I don't it know, it's not that bad", here's a picture of the Parthenon. Crumbly as it is, even a combined bank and police station would look pretty glorious in that, you'd have to agree.

The Parthenon. For full attribution see below.

For my musical sign-off I started thinking about police and banks and somehow this came to mind. Strange, but true... If you work in a bank, please don't take it personally.

* "2006 01 21 Athènes Parthénon" by Harrieta171 - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons 

Monday, 19 January 2015

They'll be back

Des res: An empty wasps' nest

I took this wasps' nest down today. It was empty and they had finished with it long ago and I couldn't help marvelling at the intricate construction. All those hexagonal cells made by creatures that many people would quite happily squash with a rolled-up newspaper.

The wasps build a nest in the recess of one of our living room windows every year. It's outside and even when the window is open, which it is for much of the summer, the wasps stay outside, too. Although I've taken down this nest, I fully expect wasps to build in the same spot this summer, it seems to be a prime location.

Some visitors to our house express horror that we don't take the nest down before the wasps have completed it in order to discourage them, but to be honest they're not bad neighbours and wasps perform a vital function in "the grand scheme of things" which is more than can sometimes be said for humans.

I fully accept that some wasps can be a nuisance, particularly when you're eating, and others have a painful sting. In outdoor tavernas, one way of dealing with nuisance wasps in the summer is to light a small pile of ground Greek coffee. This then smoulders away and, at least in theory, drives the wasps away. I have to say that so far as this customer goes, the smouldering coffee trick also comes close to driving me away, too.

There are well over 100,000 species of wasps and I have absolutely no idea what sort are the wasps who live just outside our living room. Whatever they are, they get on with their lives and seem quite content to let me get on with mine, which is largely the way I approach most of my life.

Finding music to go with this posting wasn't straightforward and then I stumbled across this little ditty, which I rather like.

Friday, 16 January 2015

Birds of a feather

On New Year's Eve we had something of a disaster here in the olive grove when a dog killed almost all our landlord's chickens.

Initially we thought the dog had killed the entire flock, but the next day - not such a happy new year - we discovered that two of the cockerels had survived.

Quite how they managed this we don't know. They were very shell-shocked and extraordinarily quiet, so it seems that they realised they had come close to meeting their maker.

Anyway, that was just over a fortnight ago and now the unlikely pair spend a lot of time together. The two survivors were the lead cockerel, undoubtedly the big boss, and his deputy. So far as we know that deputy is the grandson of Eileen.

Readers of this blog with a long memory may well recall that Eileen was a cockerel from the first cohort of chickens here who went on the run from the chicken house and became my wife's firm favourite. Sadly, he was attacked by a dog and I had to put him out of his misery. Eileen, so called because at first we thought he was a hen, did at least get the chance to procreate and we are fairly confident that one of the two survivor cockerels is one of his grandsons, hereafter known as Eileen the Third.

Two cockerels on their own are not a lot of use. Our landlord hopes to replace the flock so maybe one day soon the cockerels can get back to doing what they do best, which is jumping on unsuspecting hens for a bit of "Wham! Bam! Thank you, Ma'am".

Until then, they are intent on staying pretty close to our house, peering in through the windows. We suspect they would like nothing more than to be allowed in, but their main tactic to gain our attention is episodes of manic crowing and carpet bombing our kitchen doorstep with their droppings. Believe me they are not making any friends this way, but for the time being we admire their powers of survival.

Eileen III at the front with Big Boss at the rear.
The picture shows the two cockerels on the terrace outside our kitchen. The pole running in front of Eileen III is the handle of the broom which is in constant use to sweep away the massive amounts of ordure the birds present us with.

Not difficult to choose a piece of music to go with this post, although neither of our roosters are particularly red or little.

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

When the wind blows...

Tower of the Winds, Athens, on a not very windy day

The Sporades - the island group of which Skopelos is a part - is known as the "gates of the wind" and for much of this month it has lived up to its name.

Right now, as I write this, it's dead calm and the sun is shining, but we've had days of strong winds, often Beaufort force six, seven and occasionally eight. The olive trees in the bottom of the valley have been swaying and swinging and reminded me of weed swirling around in a river.

The worst thing about these winds is waking up in the night and hearing the wind roaring and unidentified objects blowing around outside. From that it is only a small step to worrying about the roof, which so far has stayed exactly where it should.

The prevailing wind has been from the north which has reduced temperatures quite drastically (for here) although on the plus side strong winds do clear out all the muck from the atmosphere and have made it possible to see Mount Athos - the Holy Mountain - quite easily. In a straight line this is about 80 miles away on the Halkidiki peninsula.

Such constant strong winds inevitably cause damage to properties and boats, so it was good to see that the forecast for the next few days is for the winds to abate, but I'm sure they'll be back.

The music for today's post reminds me of my father, who liked this particular piece. I only recall him mentioning it once, but it stuck in my memory. Its title seems appropriate.

  • Photo of the Tower of the Winds, Athens, taken by Georg Zumstrull) [CC BY-SA 2.0 de (], via Wikimedia Commons

Monday, 12 January 2015

I resolve to do whatever I want

How are you coming on with those New Year Resolutions? As good as that? Well, a week's not bad. To be fair, I didn't bother making any resolutions so that now, nearly two weeks in to January, I'm not sitting around feeling bad at my lack of purpose.

But, hey, if you did set yourself a range of targets for self-improvement then go for it. It is entirely arbitrary that just as the Earth reaches a certain stage in its orbit around the sun we decide to instil a bit of moral fibre in ourselves, but why not? Broadly speaking it's better to try and fail than never try at all.

So if you're trying to give up the ciggies, rein in the drinking and take up regular exercise more power to your elbow. I suppose it's only fair for me to point out that by the end of the month you're likely to feel a complete sense of failure and be full of self-loathing at your inability to exercise even the slightest bit of self-control, but really I don't want to discourage you.

It's easy for me, I'm an ex-smoker so I don't need to give that up and forswearing alcohol in January seems completely nonsensical to me. January is precisely the month when you need a little alcoholic fortification.It's dark, it's cold and spring seems a long way off. I take my break from the electric soup during Lent. No booze from Ash Wednesday to, er, it depends how I feel, but it is usually Easter Day itself.

Anyway, enough of my moral high ground. If I did have any New Year resolutions to make what would they be?

Well, as ever, improve my Greek. This actually has nothing to do with New Year and everything to do with being a lazy arse who should by now be speaking, reading and writing better Greek than he does. To some extent this does take us back to the idea of failure, and to be truthful beating yourself up about your own shortcomings isn't very productive.

Despite all the above, this year I have got two resolutions that I think are worth doing, mainly because they might be judged to be completely pointless. Having said that, I think I can give them a go. They are to read more poetry - let's say one poem a day, and to learn to juggle. I've had a go at the juggling before and gave up just as I was achieving proficiency with two balls - no jokes please.

Question: Can you juggle? If so did it make you want to run away to join a circus?

I like to end with a bit of music and my selection for this posting ties in with my belief that one resolution we could all do with is to watch less television.

Friday, 9 January 2015

When we want your opinion we'll give it to you

"Too bad that all the people who know how to run the country are busy driving taxicabs and cutting hair." That is one of my favourite one-liners from American comic George Burns to which these days would have to be added "or commenting on websites and writing blogs". To the latter indictment I plead guilty as charged.

However, if you are in Greece you might also wish to add "or being German" because as Greece heads towards parliamentary elections on January 25 there has been no shortage of advice coming from Germany on the potential impact of how Greeks might choose to vote.

What seems to give everyone a fit of the vapours is the possibility that the left-wing Syriza party would gain control. Party leader Alexis Tsipras, who I have seen described by the BBC as a "firebrand"...oo-er, has pledged to "condemn the failed memoranda of austerity", which some feel will lead to Greece defaulting on its debts and then leaving the Euro - the dreaded "Grexit".

No fan of austerity: Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras.
Picture used under Creative Commons licence.

German politicians and media organisations have all been quick to suggest to Greece that it's time to shut up, pay up and keep on paying up and that the best way to go about this would be to elect politicians of much the same political hue as we already have.

One very understandable reason there is so much interest in Germany in what goes on in Greece is that German bank exposure to Greek debt comes in at a whopping 23.5 billion Euros. That would give anyone cause to think, but does it give them the right to tell/suggest/politely hint to Greeks how they should run their country? I suppose in the global economy in which money swoops and swishes around the world, the powerful and rich feel that, yes, they can tell the poor and ailing how they should mend their ways.

Until recently the prospect of Grexit, such an ugly word, has been viewed with dismay, but now many leading German politicians, not least Chancellor Angela Merkel, have said that Greece leaving the Euro would be manageable and the prospect of "contagion" spreading to other troubled economies, namely Portugal and Ireland, was reduced because those countries are considered to be "rehabilitated". So it's off the naughty step for the Portuguese and the Irish and a case of "go your own way" for Greece...maybe.

There has been talk of the use of fear in this current Greek election campaign, much of it along the lines of "You think things have been bad, well, vote in Syriza and you'll be squealing to have the old guard back in power". Opinion polls place Syriza in a comfortable lead and it's plain to see that waving a big stick around in the face of Greek voters is having little effect. Unemployment is around 25 per cent and many Greeks have taken pay cuts while at the same time being faced with tax increases. I suspect that quite a lot of Greek people doubt that anything could be worse than what they are going through now.

Blogger or not, I wouldn't pretend to know what Greece ought to do for the best. Like the joke about the lost motorist who stops in the countryside to ask a yokel for directions and is told "You don't want to start from here" Greece could do with being somewhere completely different before embarking on its journey to economic and political stability. Distrust of politicians of all kinds is rife in this country which seems to have really sapped hope among voters. And it would be an optimistic person who claimed that all Greek taxpayers were ready to do their bit and pay every last cent that they owe.

Be that as it may, I am a great believer in allowing people to cock things up for themselves. So the country which gave us the words politics and democracy, not to mention drama and chaos, should be allowed to make its own choices. For the time being, Mrs Merkel and her colleagues will have to resume their seats and wait to see how this latest moment in Greek history pans out.

* What do you think? See if the Greeks can muddle through or make them toe the line? There could be a drink in it for you if you come up with a startlingly brilliant idea, but you'll have to come  here to collect it, he added hastily.

All that quasi-serious stuff above could do with a bit of light relief so how about this from Fleetwood Mac, which I was inspired to choose from a line in the posting.