Friday, 27 February 2015

Food, not so glorious food

Ah, surveys. Where would be without them? PR companies churn out "findings" which are then very often regurgitated by various parts of the media as "proper news". Of course they aren't, but where there's muck there's brass.

Hence I was slightly taken aback to read of a survey of the five foods British expats most miss when they live abroad. A foreign exchange provider did some research with companies that sell food to expats to determine which were the goodies that had people thinking fondly of home.

I'll be honest, as soon as I read what came in at number five I almost instantly lost interest. This was because the fifth most missed food for British expats was Bisto gravy granules. God's teeth, I don't think you should even be allowed to count gravy granules as food. They're just gunk you add water to in order to make something you try to pass off as gravy....and it ain't. Are we clear on that?

Gravy, I think.

In no particular order the other four missed "foods" were Cadbury's Dairy Milk chocolate, McVities Digestive biscuits, PG Tips teabags and Twinings English Breakfast teabags.

Right, so as I write this I am on a small island in the Aegean for which most food comes by sea, which means that sometimes in winter not everything gets through. But even so, broadly speaking it is possible to get milk chocolate, digestive biscuits and teabags. I've never even looked for gravy granules.

I happen to know Dairy Milk is available here because Mrs C likes it. As for digestives, fret not. In Greece we have Papadopoulos's wonderful biscuits of all kinds. And I've definitely seen Twinings teabags here.

Granted, I am sure there are some far-flung places where British expats sit and drool constantly, tormented by the knowledge that they are so distant that none of the so-called delicacies of home will ever reach them. To them I can only offer one of my favourite pieces of advice: "If you can't get what you like, then you'll have to like what you get". Chin up, I'm sure there'll be a boat along in a few months.

For music to go with this I nearly, but only nearly, chose Food, Glorious Food from the musical Oliver. And although it's not a bad idea, instead I went for Hungry Heart by Bruce Springsteen. It's not about food, but I refer you to the advice I mentioned in the previous paragraph.

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it's a saint

Miracle worker: Agios Riginos

Today's the day everyone on Skopelos goes "three cheers" for Agios Riginos. That's St Riginos, the island's patron saint, in case you're wondering.

It's a big day here, in fact, it's such a big day people get the day off. So what happens is that the devout and others who sort of go along with that kind of thing will gather at the monastery of Agios Riginos a little way out of town and then process in to town. Throughout the day other people will visit the monastery where it is possible to view Agios Riginos's relics.

Riginos lived in the 4th century. During his time on the island it was threatened by some sort of dragon/monster. Although Agios Riginos didn't do the St George dragon-slaying thing, while he was sorting matters out a huge chasm opened up and the monster was consumed. Result: everyone happy and pleased that Riginos was the man. If you need proof, the chasm is still there which means it must be true, mustn't it?

Now I know that some people will be sniggering a bit at this story and doing the old eye-rolling bit about susceptible dimwits who will go along with any old story. To some extent I sympathise, but truth be told we all need some sort of hero in our lives and Agios Riginos is very much the man for Skopelos. Who am I to argue?

If there are any songs about Agios Riginos I've yet to find them and songs about dragons etc's all getting a bit odd. So instead I've plumped for Fontella Bass and Rescue Me which might have been what the inhabitants of Skopelos were singing when our brave saint showed up.

Monday, 23 February 2015

Time to ease up on the kicking

So today is the day the Greek government submits its package of reforms to international creditors who are meant to go "That's all right then, here, have another four months to start getting yourself back on your feet".

Or will they? Who knows? Certainly not me. As I write this what does seem clear is that as far as the government here is concerned bending over backwards is only ever going to be half the battle. In fact, as far as certain other European governments are concerned bending over backwards will be regarded as being rather limp-wristed. Disappearing up your own backside would be their preferred option.

Now, please note, I haven't specified any government as being particularly disposed towards making Greece jump through ever more fiery hoops. However, can I just say at this point that I am currently reading a history of the hyper-inflation which afflicted Germany in the 1920s.

Have you got anything smaller?: A 1923 5 million
mark note from Germany.

It is chilling reading. In the wake of the First World War, Germany's economy tanked and to exacerbate the situation increasing demands were made of Germany for reparations. Every time the Germans looked as if they might just have a moment to catch their breath, fresh demands were made for them to cough up money or other benefits to another European nation. Let's not mince words, generally it was the French who made these demands.

I'm only part way through the book so I don't know how it ends. Oh, all right, I do know how it ends. It ends with things becoming intolerable in Germany, the rise of the Nazi party and the start of the Second World War. Happy now?

Let's be frank here. I'm not sure we can say there are direct parallels between Germany in the 1920s and Greece now. Their particular situations arose in different ways, but if you kick someone when they are down and you keep on kicking them and then for good measure give them another kicking, it is entirely likely they won't be able to get up again. And that can't be good.

Funnily enough, I couldn't find any music about hyper-inflation, so I've settled for the Flying Lizards' version of Money. Many of you will be familiar with Barrett Strong's original version and also one by the Beatles, but maybe the dispassionate tone of the demands for money in the Flying Lizards' version fits in with the posting. See what you think.

* Banknote picture by Boeing720 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Friday, 20 February 2015

All I've got to do is say "No"

It dawned on me today that Lent is just around the corner and that customarily I knock booze on the head for that period.

I don't do it on what might be considered religious grounds but more as a useful reminder that occasionally I need to exercise some restraint in my life.

In any case, giving up booze for a while might not be such a bad idea seeing as the way the Greek economy is shaping up we could all soon be giving up money.

In case anyone is confused about the timing of Lent you need to remember that Easter can fall on a different date for the Orthodox church as opposed to the Western church. This year Orthodox Easter falls a week later than in the Western church, hence Lent starting next week.

Devout members of the Orthodox church follow some quite strict dietary rules for Lent which forbid eating meat among other things. By the time they get to Easter they are probably champing at the bit for a hearty meal and certainly Greek Easter is a BIG celebration of family and togetherness. I am sure it will be this year even if we are in some sort of monetary wilderness.

As for me, during Lent I will be politely declining wine with my dinner and smiling politely when people say "You're just being boring" when I stick to Adam's Ale. Let's face it, if I can do it, anyone can.

As I've still got a few days to go until my period of abstention I thought George Thorogood's One Bourbon, One Scotch and One Beer would be particularly appropriate. This is a short version, other, much longer, renditions are available. Cheers and στην υγεία σας.

* Prohibition sign by GALAXY1405D (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Shameless exploitation of kittens

Pretty kitty.
 I suppose by rights I ought to be writing about the impending cataclysm/last minute agreement of the Greek economic situation, but thinking about it makes my brain hurt and then I found these pictures. They're not new, but I still like them. Pictures of kittens are very popular on the internet so I'm hoping they'll work for me to attract followers.

The one above shows our cat Mimi when she was still a kitten. The furry shape on the left of the picture is Merkel, Mimi's mum. The picture was taken two summers ago and here's a pic showing Mimi with her sister, Daisy, (in the middle) and Merkel.

Taking it easy.

 Sadly, Daisy died last year and in some ways it was surprising that Mimi was the kitten who survived and thrived, not least because only a few days before the pictures above were taken she managed to get her head trapped in a picnic table.

The next picture shows the hole through which Mimi managed to force her head while playing a game with Daisy. We tried soapy water and olive oil to free Mimi, but it was only thanks to some pretty brutal woodwork with a chainsaw by our landlord that we were able to save her from a gruesome death.

Wood you believe it?

The piece of wood with the hole is what Mimi squeezed her head through. The wood underneath is what remained of the plank after our landlord came to the rescue with his chainsaw.He then used a hammer and chisel to split the piece with the hole and free Mimi. I reassembled it for the picture.

Mimi seems to be none the worse for her ordeal all that time ago and as I write this she is curled up fast asleep in the sitting room, although I do wonder whether cats can suffer from some form of post traumatic stress disorder. She can sometimes be a little weird. Who knows?

This post has been all about kittens, but while looking at these old pictures I found some of Bonnie, my much-missed Labrador. So here's a photo of her.

You lookin' at me?
Music to go with this was easy. It's Lovecats by The Cure.

Monday, 16 February 2015

Doing our bit with books

Some weighty reading.

The first book exchange to help raise money for a charity here on Skopelos was held at the weekend. The idea is simple. People bring books and then other people - or even the same people - take away books pausing only to make a donation to charity.

We were keen to take part because reading is big in our house and it's surprising how many books you can get through when there is nothing tiresome to interrupt your day. Also the palliative care charity, Faros, is a good cause. 

It is, as they say, a no-brainer. We avoid the risk of swamping our house with books while at the same time refreshing our stock of books AND we help a charity which does important work here.

It got me thinking that a few years ago I would have started hyperventilating and having nosebleeds just at the thought of getting rid of any books. I am still with Cicero, who is reputed to have said: "A room without books is like a body without a soul", it's just that I no longer feel it is necessary to fill the room to capacity. Some books will suffice, especially if they are good books that have become well-loved friends.

I suppose it's time for me to commune with some of those good friends, but in the meantime here's the splendid Book of Love by The Monotones.

* Picture of book sculpture in Berlin by Lienhard Schulz (Own work) [GFDL (, CC-BY-SA-3.0 ( or CC BY 2.5 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Friday, 13 February 2015

At long last, the fat lady sings

SATRIALE'S; You'll meet a better class of mobster here.

Finally, finally, finally, I've seen the entire series of The Sopranos, HBO's drama of the ups and downs of life for New Jersey mobsters. It is over, the fat lady has done her bit.

I was watching The Sopranos some years ago when it was broadcast on British TV, but for reasons I've never fully fathomed, I stopped just as the show got in to its sixth and final season.

We don't have a television now, but we can watch DVDs and thanks to the kindness of a friend who lent us the entire boxed set, over the last few weeks we have waded our way through the whole show. We have seen every last bludgeoning, whacking and routine trip to "the Bing" to catch up with the antics of pole dancers.

It has been a remarkable experience and demonstrates that good storytelling makes good television. The programme was heaped with critical acclaim and even received the accolade of best television series of all time. Only as an aside, but where does that leave Triangle? (Just a British TV joke).

The thing that struck me about The Sopranos is that for all the thumping and whacking - surely at least one killing an episode - the programme was an allegory of what life is really like. Yes, really.

Mob boss Tony Soprano loves his family and at the same time wants to do the best he can in his "work". Inevitably there are tensions as the demands of family life conflict with the pressures of being an effective performer in the workplace. Family v work or family plus work or what? It's an age old problem and one that increasingly is not just something for men to wrestle with. In fact, it probably never has been one for  men alone to resolve.

You think I'm being a bit far-fetched about similarities between life in the mob and most people's day-to-day existence. Well, how about this? What is organised crime but capitalism without restriction? In an office if there's an employment problem it's time to call on the human resources department. In the mob it's time to make a bogus appointment, then bang! bang! bang! before either burying the body in the New Jersey marshes or weighing it down and tipping it off a boat at sea.

And forget mergers and acquisitions, and all that leveraged buy-out malarkey. If you're an up-and-coming Mafia capo then the trick is to point out to the hard-working schmuck who has spent years building up a profitable business that he'd be much better off taking you on as a sleeping partner than risking having his business burn down with him in it. Literally you make someone an offer they can't refuse. Take away the rules and you're free to do whatever you want if it turns a profit, which is, after all, the name of the game in business.

Whether or not The Sopranos was a masterful evocation of the struggle we call life, it remains as a solid piece of proof that entertaining television and intelligent programme making are not mutually exclusive. I'm missing it already.

Well now, there was tons of good music from The Sopranos and its theme tune, Woke Up This Morning by Alabama 3, is deeply embedded in my memory, but sometimes I like to be a little contrary. I have chosen the Flower Duet from Léo Delibes' opera Lakmé. It's not being sung by two fat ladies, but Anna Netrebko and Elina Garanca certainly are sopranos. Opera is not really my thing, but give this a chance, it's beautiful. To many of you it will be familiar as advertising music, but it's so much better than that.

* Picture of Satriale's Pork Store from The Sopranos by Stephen Hanafin [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Escape from the goatshed

I wouldn't want you to think I'm obsessed by the weather, but it's been cold, wet and generally miserable for the last few days.

Yesterday, we had snow - not much, I grant you, but as a rule I don't "do" snow, or rain, for that matter. Consequently, we've been hunkered down in the goatshed for three or four days and today we're going to emerge blinking in to the light, whatever the weather.

We need to get in some food and some other supplies, otherwise we'd probably stay close to the fire because the forecast for today suggests that the Force 6 northerly wind will give us a wind-chill of -4C. Some of you may be muttering "wimp" when I use this as a reason why I'd like to stay indoors, but cold is cold as far as I'm concerned.

I should point out that we don't really live in a goatshed - it's actually a very nice little house - although we quite often have goats wandering across the land. They are NOT welcome visitors and while it is sweet to see the babies, goats in general can be quite destructive. They are browsers rather than grazers so are quite keen on tucking in to our landlord's lovingly tended olive trees. Bad goats.

GOATS: These aren't on our land so are good goats.

I was a bit stuck for some music to go with this and was surprised how many songs have had goats making odd noises added to the song video. Anyway, because we're heading out for the first time in a few days I've chosen Steppin' Out  by Joe Jackson. Our trip out will be nothing like as sophisticated as the video, but it's a good song.

Monday, 9 February 2015

Weather or not

A weathercock at Limbergalm, Austria.

Last week the weather forecasts for this week were dire. We were due snow, force 9 winds and below freezing temperatures.

Today, I look out of the window and, sure, it's not nice out there - rain and a cold north wind - but it's not what we were bracing ourselves for last week.

As I said in an earlier post the word meteorology, the study of the weather, comes from the Greek for things from on high. That doesn't make Greek weather forecasts any more accurate in the long term than any others.

Even so, I have a certain amount of sympathy with weather forecasters. They are frequently held up to ridicule - just mention Michael Fish to British people - and accused of "never getting it right".

That point of view largely ties in with most people's idea that everything is all about them. In other words, a weather forecast should relate specifically to us precisely where we happen to be. This follows from so many people's belief that they are the centre of the universe. I'm afraid it's time to break the bad news to those people that they're just a few random atoms loosely agglomerated somewhere in the universe and almost certainly not at its centre.

Anyway, if you really want an accurate weather forecast, just look out of the window. That's what I do and that's why I'm just about to light the fire.

There are lots of songs about the weather and it was difficult to make a choice. However, I opted for Crowded House and Weather With You because as the chorus says "Everywhere you go, you always take the weather with you". Not entirely accurate, but the weather is definitely always there.

* Picture of weathercock by Peter Haas / , via Wikimedia Commons

Friday, 6 February 2015

The law of the playground

YOU LOOKING AT ME?: Yanis Varoufakis

OK, I know this is childish, but I reckon Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis could duff up any of his counterparts in the rest of Europe.

The Belgian one and the Dutch one and the German one AND especially George Osborne, the British Chancellor of the Exchequer. Mr Varoufakis would give them a couple of slaps and they'd be off and running.

All right, I know I'm being silly. I know Greece will not settle its problems in Europe by having its finance minister giving his opposite numbers a Chinese burn and sticking their heads down the toilet (although I wouldn't argue too much if he did that to that tosser George Osborne).

TOSSER: George Osborne

In fact, Mr Varoufakis comes across as a charming and bright individual, who genuinely wants to resolve Greece's economic woes without upsetting the European applecart. Can it be done? Well, we have to hope so.

George Osborne, a man who has a face you'd never tire of slapping, warned a few days ago that the standoff between Greece and the Eurozone was "fast becoming the biggest threat to the global economy". George, George, if I've told you once, I've told you a million times, don't exaggerate.

If the British Chancellor is correct, then the global economy must be in a pretty parlous state and I can't help feeling the finger of blame ought to be pointing at something else other than the admittedly wonky financial set-up in Greece. How about we get the banks and all that toxic debt they created to bow their heads in shame?

Anyway, what do I know? My theory of economics allies with that of Mr Micawber in Dickens' David Copperfield. His Micawer Principle runs thus: "Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen pounds nineteen and six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds nought and six, result misery."Seems eminently sensible to me, I wonder if George Osborne has read it?

As for music to go with this post, I'd like to respectfully dedicate Money's Too Tight by the Valentine Brothers to Yanis Varoufakis. Let's hope that one day soon money is not "too tight".

* Picture of George Osborne from HM Treasury and used under Open Government Licence.

Wednesday, 4 February 2015


BIRDBRAINS: The roosters looking through out kitchen door.
,A little while ago I wrote about how a dog had killed all but two of our landlord's chickens, the two survivors being the cockerels pictured above.

At the time it seemed like a piece of good fortune that the two birds, initially quite shell-shocked, had survived. Lately, though, I've been having murderous thoughts and almost found myself wishing that the dog would pay a return visit.

The trouble is that the cockerels have abandoned their former accommodation, a chicken coop some distance from our house, in favour of anywhere they can roost right next to our house.

Their latest spot is a window ledge probably less than six feet from our bedroom window. Praise be that our bedroom window doesn't have a ledge big enough for two demented cockerels to roost on.

Even so, the ledge they have chosen is so close that at around 5am - yes, that's the 5 o'clock when most of you are still fast asleep - the two feathered maniacs start their moronic chorus. It is odd, because they do this for a while and then they shut up and I will admit that I can usually get back to sleep, but even so...

In a bid to head them off - as opposed to take off their heads, which is what increasingly I'd like to do - I put up a barrier which I hoped would stop the birds roosting in their chosen window. Sadly, it was not to be the case. Eileen the Third, the bird on the right in the picture, conceded defeat and found a spot at the opposite end of the house to our bedroom. However, his partner in crime, Big Whitey (possibly the Third or Fourth) just clung on to the barrier.

Like a mountaineer who has to bivouac on a cliff face halfway up a mountain, Big Whitey spent last night hanging on, having to make occasional noisy adjustments to his position. While I admire his tenacity, I cannot put up with much more of his crowing only a few feet from where I'm trying to get my much-needed beauty sleep.

Today I come up with Plan B to keep the roosters at bay. I have no idea what it is, but it had better work.

The music to go with this post comes from Wynonie Harris and is called, appropriately enough, Cock A Doodle Doo. He sounds quite cheerful about early morning crowing, but I think in his case it might mean something else. Such energy, how admirable, how unbelievable. Can I go back to sleep now?

Monday, 2 February 2015

Your mission, should you choose to accept it...

Sculpture Oude Groenmarkt Haarlem, The Netherlands, 2007
That's it. I've only gone and signed up again for the Blogging from A to Z April Challenge. I did it last year and I'm going to give it another go this year.

It was fun last year and I thoroughly enjoyed it, but now I've signed on the dotted line I've got a slight case of the collywobbles. To complete the challenge requires a certain amount of self-discipline and planning. Last year I signed up at the last minute and with a mix of brute force and ignorance successfully wrote from A to Z through April.

But last year ignorance was bliss. I didn't know then what I know now, which is that it's easy to say "Yeah, I'll do that" and even easier to cock it up through a mix of laziness and ineptitude. Doing the challenge is not like swimming the Channel or climbing Everest, but it's still doing something in public at which I do not want to be seen to fail.

So it's thinking cap on as I try to come up with a theme around which I can work out my schedule of alphabetical postings. I've got a rough idea, but if any of you bright sparks out there have got a suggestion I'd be pleased to hear from you in the comments section of this posting.

In the meantime, if you want to find out more about the Blogging from A to Z April Challenge you can click on the badge at the top right or click here. And if you blog why not give the challenge a go?

If you need a reminder of the alphabet in all its glory here's the ABC RAP.

* Picture of sculpture by Tasja (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons