Monday, 30 March 2015

Easy as ABC, my Blogging from A to Z Challenge reveal

Those wise and wonderful people who organise the Blogging from A to Z Challenge ran a day last week in which participants could reveal what they intended to write about over the 26 days of the challenge in April.

Guess whose good intentions to take part in the reveal fell by the wayside for reasons I can't really explain? For that I apologise, but I'm using my regular Monday slot to post an explanation of my plans for April.

People who take an obsessive interest in what I write in this blog may be aware that one of my favourite musicians of all time is the late Ian Dury. His music meant a lot to me when I was a teenager and I find that when I listen to it now I'm "all grown up" there is still much in it that I like.

One of my favourite songs performed by Ian Dury and the Blockheads is Reasons to be Cheerful, Part 3, which was a chart hit for them in the late 1970s and so "Reasons to be Cheerful" is my theme. An A to Z of things which cheer me up, some of which I suspect might look quite odd, but then it takes all sorts, as they say. Needless to say, it differs widely from the list Ian Dury put in his song.

Some people might know the single on which my theme is based, but for those who don't here it is. I hope you enjoy it, it's a fine piece of music.

So that's it until Wednesday, when as is the nature of the challenge we start with the letter A. What will it be? I should add that I will be encouraging you to comment which you can do at the foot of each posting. Also to make sure you never miss out on a posting you can sign up to get email alerts or become a follower of the blog. Both are easy things to do.

I hope to keep doing some general blog posts during April as well as the A to Z Challenge posts, so this coming month could be pretty busy. What's that saying, oh yes, I remember...The devil makes work for idle hands. How true, how true.

Friday, 27 March 2015

You hum it, I'll join in

It was Greek Independence Day on Wednesday which got me thinking about the Greek national anthem and something I knew, but needed to confirm. Namely that the Greek national anthem is the longest in the world and possibly even the universe.

I say this without fear of contradiction because the Hymn to Liberty has no less than 158 stanzas. Extraordinary, isn't it? I have no idea how long it would take to get through the whole lot, but we are unlikely to find out because in the 19th century it was decided that just the first two stanzas were enough.

The Hymn to Liberty was written by Dionysios Solomos and set to music by Nikolaos Mantzaros. I should think by the time they'd done that it was time to put their feet up.

I'm not going to go on too long today because I'm getting ready for the A to Z Challenge which begins next week.

Just so you know what to listen for, here's the Greek national anthem, but not all 158 verses. A Greek transliteration and lyrics in English are also included, which I'm sure you'll agree is just the sort of informative service you're looking for from this blog.

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

An expression of independence

Today is Greek independence day, which probably has added significance bearing in mind this country's current difficulties.

It says somewhere at the top of this blog that no man is an island (thank you, John Donne) and by the same token no country is really independent.

We all, to varying degrees, depend on each other and who depends most on whom establishes the nature of the relationship between countries. Hence, the rather frosty feelings between Greece and Germany at the moment.

It would seem that Greece needs Germany to "play nicely" which is something that German politicians don't seem entirely willing to do at the moment. What Germans might well see as being fiscally rigorous, Greeks could see as intransigence. Time will tell.

In the meantime, today will see a parade along the Paralia in Skopelos to celebrate Greece gaining independence from the Ottoman empire in the 19th century. To say that Greece has had a tumultuous history since then would be an understatement and in many senses the fight for independence continues.

Part of the Independence Day parade in Skopelos
a few years ago.

Today is also the celebration of the Annunciation in which the angel Gabriel told the Virgin Mary that she would conceive and give birth to the Son of God. Those with a literal frame of mind will be pleased to note that this is exactly nine months to the day on which we celebrate the birth of Jesus.

While checking a few facts and figures for this posting I came across the claim, which I see no reason to dispute, that according to Greek law every Sunday is a public holiday. In addition there are four obligatory public holidays, one of them being today, and a number of optional holidays. I make no comment on this, no really, I don't.

Other events that have taken place on March 25 over the years include the foundation of Venice in 421 and the passing of the Slave Trade Act in 1807 which abolished slavery in the British Empire. But you knew all that already, didn't you?

I finish with some Greek music and dancing from a slightly odd Greek TV show in which the set is made to resemble a taverna and then every now and again someone gets up to do a bit of singing and dancing. Why they couldn't film in a real taverna to show you what happens when Greek people let their hair down, I don't know, but it will give you some idea.

Monday, 23 March 2015

We need to sleep on this

According to those clever people at Bloomberg, the providers of round-the-clock financial information, Greeks are keeping money under their mattresses rather than in banks.

And, again according to Bloomberg, those Greeks who aren't keeping money safely tucked under the mattress are keeping it under bathroom tiles.

This astonishing piece of news had me heading straight for my bedroom just in case I'd tucked some euros there. However, there was nothing. Zilch.

Similarly the tiles on the floor of our bathroom showed no signs of hiding a cache of cash. It's all very disappointing.

The women making these mattresses
are actually stuffing them with used
banknotes to save time.
To be honest, I'm not absolutely sure if it's Bloomberg that has made the claims about mattresses and tiled floors, or the website reporting on Bloomberg's report which is based on data from the Bank of Greece. This has shown that Greek banks have much reduced deposits and the money withdrawn from the banks is not being deposited in other banks.

Apparently about 10 billion € has gone adrift in this fashion and - I really want to believe this bit - the cash is under mattresses throughout Greece. It sounds unlikely to me, but maybe the Trojan horse sounded like a daft idea, too.

I did find a song about a mattress but I didn't like it so instead I offer you Midnight Oil singing Beds are Burning. Let's hope there's no money under them.

Friday, 20 March 2015

God bless America

Dear Americans, I want you to know I've always admired and respected you. Without you my life would be incomplete. You are special people from a special nation.

Why this declaration of affection for the inhabitants of the world's number one superpower? Well, put quite simply, they are my readers.

I get way more, and I mean way more, viewers of this blog from the USA than from any other country in the world.

I won't go in to precise numbers because by comparison with many blogs my readership figures are quite puny, but the fact remains that I get at least 500% more readers from the US than from the next nearest group which happens to be people in Great Britain - the country of my birth.

Trailing in third place is Greece, where I am now, and about which I write most often and then in fourth place is South Korea. No, I don't know why either. Other countries in which readers of this blog are to be found include a sprinkling of European nations and China. Ain't the internet a wonderful thing?

Finding this out made me wonder if I ought to change the content of my blog to reflect the majority readership. Should I mould the content to better fit the interests of the legions, my word, of readers from the USA. The only trouble is my knowledge of America is patchy to say the least.

I do read about some of what goes on in the USA - Mrs Clinton's email use seems to be getting people agitated - but I've never been and given the state of my finances trips across the Atlantic seem unlikely any time soon.

Probably the biggest influence on my perceptions of the USA is TV and films. Oh dear, that's an awful admission, isn't it?

So this winter, this interminably long, wet and windy winter we've had in Skopelos I've watched boxed sets of DVDs of various TV series. None of it has been new stuff by any means. Mrs C and I have watched Northern Exposure, kooky folks in Alaska; The Sopranos, mob life in New Jersey; and The West Wing.

We're completely bowled over by The West Wing. We're only just coming up to the end of season two and we're hooked. President Bartlet is a great bloke and he's got wonderful people working for him who are smart and funny and...oh god, it's wonderful.

President Bartlet's house.

So here's the thing, American people, please keep reading my blog, comment on it, too. But don't, please don't, tell me that life in the US is not like my wintertime TV viewing. I don't want to know if there are people in America who can't find their own backside using both hands, I don't care.

For now, I like the rugged individualists of Alaska, I even like the wise guys of New Jersey, and I think President Bartlet towers over us all. In other words, Americans, you're fine by me and as long as you're happy to put up with with me burbling away about whatever comes in to my head I think we'll get along just fine.

PS: If you are from anywhere other than the USA and reading this blog I'd like you to know you're important to me, too. I'd hate you think my head was turned just by some readership statistics.

Heaps of songs to choose from if you write about America, but there's only one Godfather of Soul which means you've got James Brown singing Living in America.

* Picture of the White House by Ingfbruno (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Just call me Heracles

I have always assumed that readers of this blog are the sort of people who have a good knowledge of the ancient world while at the same time feeling at ease with mention of quantum physics and those hard sums with brackets in them.

Just in case there are a few gaps in your knowledge, can I remind you that Heracles (or Ηρακλης in the Greek alphabet) is the Greek name for Hercules, the greatest of the Greek heroes.

One of the things which made Heracles - let's stick to his original name - such a hero was that he had to complete 12 labours, all of which were horrendous tasks that would defeat mere mortals.

One of these 12 labours was to clean the Augean stables in one day. These stables housed more than 1,000 fully-functioning cattle and had not been cleaned in 30 years. That's a lot of mucking out to do.

A mosaic depicting the 12 labours of Heracles. I'm not sure
which one is him cleaning the Augean stables.

However, Heracles' labour is as nothing to the task we face here dealing with the mountains of droppings produced by the two deranged cockerels - Big Whitey and Eileen the Third.

You may recall these two are the only survivors of the New Year's Eve massacre in which our landlord's flock of chickens was attacked by a dog. Ever since that day they have decided that the safest policy is to stick close to the house and keep crowing, no doubt to make us aware of their continued existence.

The other way they remind us that they are still alive is by defecating copiously. This would not be so bad if they did it hither and yon, after all, nature must take its course. Instead, the cockerels have decided that one of the best places to void their bowels - see how delicately I refer to all this - is on our doorstep. Consequently any trip out on to the terrace must be conducted with great caution if you do not wish to end up knee deep in guano.

Big Whitey and Eileen the Third looking absolutely shameless.
Every day, and often several times a day, we sweep up what the cockerels deposit and every day, and definitely several times a day, the cockerels replace it. Heracles would have broken down and wept like a baby at the magnitude of the task.

Cleaning the Augean stables was the fifth task of Heracles. I'm not sure if it's significant or not, but his sixth task was slaying the Stymphalian Birds. They had to be done away with because they swarmed all over the countryside eating crops and generally making a nuisance of themselves. If that's not a great example of how the classical world still has much to teach us, I don't know what is. Bring me my bow and arrows.

Incidentally, if you're wondering how Heracles cleaned those dung-filled stables, the answer is quite simple - if you're a hero - he diverted the rivers Alpheus and Peneus and all his troubles were over. Heroes, they get it easy.

As we can't rely on Heracles to get us out of this mess, I decided the ideal piece of music to go with this was No More Heroes by The Stranglers. This version has a nifty bit of animation with it and is followed by a brief film, a filmette, in fact.

* Picture of mosaic by Sgiralt (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Monday, 16 March 2015

All the pretty flowers

The red ones are poppies, that much I do know.
Regular readers of this blog - that is most of you, isn't it? - will know that I do bang on about the beautiful flowers of Skopelos and how summer visitors to the island will miss a lot of that floral beauty.

Over the years I've taken pictures of flowers on Skopelos in an attempt to show some of what is on offer, the photo at the top is one such example. However, my efforts are neither very systematic nor informative.

The truth is I'm not very knowledgeable about wild plants. I just go around saying: "Look at them, they're pretty, aren't they." While strictly accurate, my enthusiastic assertions don't really take people very far along the road to enlightenment.

However, help is now at hand. In fact, it has been available for some little while. Ladies and gentlemen, please get ready to enjoy a website called Wildflowers of Skopelos. No prizes for guessing the subject matter.

The website is the work of Dr Susan Warren, who has a house here and who is, I understand, a retired medical doctor from the UK.

Her website offers a large, and still expanding, index of flowers that are found on Skopelos. It's well worth looking at and I would think most people would learn something from it. I know I have, namely that a plant that Mrs C and I keep anxiously looking at to see if it will flower soon is in danger of being an invasive pest throughout the Mediterranean. We promise to keep it under control.

Dr Warren says on her website that her interest in the flowers of the island has also led to her taking an interest in geology. There is a section on that, too, on the website.

On the website she says: "The site is not intended to be a work of botanical reference but to interest people like me, who love flowers and love Skopelos. I don't want it to be too serious." I think she achieves her aim.

So to see more of the Wildflowers of Skopelos website click here and make sure you bookmark the site. Before you go, though, here's Flowers in the Rain by The Move, a genuine piece of flower power.

Friday, 13 March 2015

O Sleep, where art thou?

For years I've been a champion sleeper. I'd go to bed, turn off the light, put my head on the pillow and within seconds I'd be asleep. And that would be it until the morning.

But lately things have changed. These days I normally turn out the light at about 1am and I can still usually get to sleep quite easily, but then I find myself waking up at 3am or 4am and there's no way I can get back to sleep.

If you're having trouble sleeping try to avoid
having a musician at the foot of the bed.

It's then that my mind goes in to overdrive. Rather than remain semi-comatose so that I can slip back off to sleep, my brain decides to run through all sorts of issues.

I spend a surprising amount of time thinking of things to write on this blog. Next month, I'm taking part in the Blogging from A to Z Challenge so I can also find myself pondering that during the wee small hours. And then when I've done all that I might well find myself thinking about my family and hoping everything will be all right for them.

Sometimes I start constructing imaginary dialogues with famous people I'm never likely to meet or characters from TV shows or films I've seen. I know this latter activity sounds particularly demented, but my brain seems to be intent on showing me all the things it can do when I'm not actively using it.

By this time it could be that one or other of the cockerels, or more likely both of them, begins their morning crowing routine. Because they've decided to live so close to the house following the New Year's Eve massacre their crowing is particularly insistent.

Soon after that it begins to get light which in theory should mean I get up and start doing things, but in practice can often mean I fall asleep again and don't wake up until 10am. Having been a habitual early-riser all my life, getting up as late as 10am seems utterly sinful to me.

If it were summer I'd get up in the middle of the night and read, but just now, particularly with the weather we've been having, the prospect of leaving the comfort of a warm duvet is distinctly unappealing. In the meantime I suppose I'll just have to keep on having those conversations in my head with all those famous non-existent people. Oh dear, that really does sound bonkers, doesn't it? I need to get some sleep.

The song I've picked to go with this isn't an entirely accurate description of my situation, but I like it, which is probably all that counts. Please enjoy Sleeping with the TV on by The Dictators.

* Painting by unknown master (book scan) [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Not your average bucket and spade holiday

What did you get up to on your holiday? If you're asked that question after a break in Greece you might soon be able to reply that you'd been working as an amateur tax inspector.

Apparently, the Greek government has come up with the idea of taking on a whole host of people - some of them holidaymakers - to help sniff out businesses that are evading paying tax.

By virtue of who these amateur tax inspectors are, they won't be so obvious so the dodgy businesses will be discovered more readily.

Yes, I thought it sounded a bit bonkers, too, but then tax is a BIG thing here. Or more precisely the non-payment of tax is a big thing.

I'd be surprised if people in Greece didn't try to slip through the tax net. Partly it's human nature - it's almost inevitable people feel they'd like to hang on to their money - and partly I suspect it's a feeling that a few euros here or there aren't going to make much difference to a government that's got its back against the financial wall.

I would guess that's been the view for many years. Greece is a very bureaucratic country which seems to have trouble enforcing its red tape so tax collection must be difficult.

Pretty well every business you go in to in Greece has a notice which says something along the lines of "customers are not obliged to pay if they do not receive a receipt". I've never actually tried to follow the letter of the law and not pay because I didn't get a receipt and yet for so many low value transactions I never see a receipt at all.

Do I care? Not a bit. I pay my few euros for bread, coffee, newspaper or whatever and the shopkeeper can do as he or she pleases with the money. It is probably that attitude that causes the Greek tax authorities such a headache when it comes to collecting the money.

Incidentally, there are times when I have receipts thrust at me and the person giving me the receipt will say with a grin: "The taxmen are about".

You certainly shouldn't go away with the idea that it's only small businesses that work a fiddle. The story below was told to me by someone who lived in Greece, whose word I would never doubt and whose circumstances I knew, which is why I am sure the story is true. I will not put names in order to protect their identity.

So, this person needed an operation and elected to go private rather than go through medical insurance because to go private would get the relatively minor procedure done more speedily. There was a consultation with the surgeon who agreed to do the operation. The surgeon then named a price for the work which would be if my friend had a receipt. However the surgeon offered a reduced price if there was no receipt and the account was settled in cash.

As my friend said: "You feel you should do the right thing and pay the official price, but you know you'd be a fool because nobody else does." Therein, I think, lies the problem for the government.

Anyway, until the Greek government works out a way to solve their tax problems here's Income Tax Blues  by Ralph Willis.

Monday, 9 March 2015

Sings can only get better

There's a lot going on in May, a General Election in Britain, my birthday, and...oh yes...the 60th Eurovision Song Contest.

Eurovision is one of those things that's easy to make fun of, but difficult to stop watching once you start as you try to work out if what you are looking at is for real.

This year, the contest is being held in Vienna from May 19 to 23, and 40 countries will slug it out with strange songs and dubious voting practices.

Most of the countries taking part are members of the European Broadcasting Union, although this year Australia is a guest entrant. Yes, that Australia, the one that's as far from Europe as it's possible to get.

The reason that I'm writing about Eurovision now is that participating countries are going through the process of choosing their entries and I happened to notice that Greece had made its choice.

This year Greece will be represented by Maria-Eleni Kyriakou, who is singing One Last Breath. I can't help feeling that's a slightly unfortunate title for a song, particularly from Greece bearing in mind the countries economic woes. Having said that, I should point out another of the contenders was a song called Crash and Burn.

Maria-Eleni Kyriakou will sing One Last Breath.

Maria-Eleni will be familiar to Greek TV viewers - not me, I don't have a telly. She also took part in The Voice of Greece.  How she will do is anyone's guess. I wish her well, but maybe not too well. Does Greece really need the burden of having to stage next year's Eurovision if it wins this year's? This year will be the tenth anniversary of the last time Greece won the contest so maybe it is time for another taste of success.

In other Eurovision news, Germany - funny how often they crop up on this blog - chose its song and singer who promptly stood down and said the second-placed song should vie for honours in Vienna. Andreas Kummert, a slightly tubby gent with a beard and glasses, something which I would have thought would guarantee success, said he wasn't ready to do vocal battle and called on second-placed Ann Sophie to do the honours. Her song is called Black Smoke.

And the dear old UK has made its choice. The cynic in me wonders what the point is because other countries in Europe seem to have made it their mission to find ever more amusing ways to humiliate the brave souls representing the UK as a form of punishment for Britain's part in the Iraq war. I concede that could be me being paranoid, but as I don't really care who wins Eurovision it doesn't matter..

Anyway, this year the UK has pinned its hopes on musical duo Electro Velvet - Alex Larke and Bianca Nicholas - who will be singing Still in Love with You.

Conceivably, I could have put music from all three countries on this posting, but I thought that might be a bit much so I've opted for the UK entry. Apparently, it comes from a genre known as electro swing....yeah, me neither. See what you think and post a comment with your thoughts.

* Picture of Maria-Eleni Kyriakou by Mad TV from the Eurovision Song Contest website.

Friday, 6 March 2015

Come on. spring, you can do it

Slowly, slowly σιγά σιγά the signs are there that spring is getting in to its stride. It certainly seems to have been a long, cold winter (for here) although I'm beginning to wonder if that perception is to do with increasing age.

Does the cold bite a little harder as you get older? Maybe, but whatever, as you look around you on the sunny days you soon notice the increasing profusion of flowers coming out and pointing their faces at the sun. I have said before that visitors to Greece miss one of the glories of this country - certainly this island - by only ever coming here in the height of summer.

From now until about early June there will be an increasing abundance of wild flowers on show. They delight the eye until the intense heat of summer forces them to give up. A few of them put in a return appearance as the cooler weather of autumn arrives, but that's some way off.

Anyway, enough words, time for pictures of flowers. I've not identified them because to be truthful I'm not positive about the names. Just enjoy the pictures. What I will say is that the last picture is of part of Mrs C's garden, all the others are wild flowers. I took these pictures on Wednesday, which as you can see, was a lovely day. Today is cloudy and wet. Ah well...

You nearly ended up with Anne Ziegler and Webster Booth singing We'll Gather Lilacs, but somehow I couldn't bring myself to do it. Instead I'm putting up a pretty little song called Flowers in Your Hair by an American group called The Lumineers. I hope you like it.

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

To bead or not to bead, that is the question

Day by day, the weather here is improving which means you see more people going out for a stroll or βόλτα.

Generally these are single sex groups of Greek people. Why? I don't know, I suppose it's a cultural issue. One thing I notice in the groups of men, particularly if they are slightly older, is that very often some of them will be carrying κομπολόι. What you might call worry beads, although that does seem a slightly trite term for them.

No need to worry when you have these beads.

The  best κομπολόι are things of great beauty. They can be made from a material such as amber and are not cheap. Once the tourist season gets going, inexpensive sets of beads are sold in many shops and probably end up gathering dust in people's home all over the globe.

As an ex-smoker I appreciate the value of keeping your hands occupied. Part of the pleasure I took from smoking was having a variety of items to fiddle with, something I still feel the need to do despite giving up smoking more than two decades ago.

That's where a nice set of κομπολόι could literally come in handy. Skilled practitioners have a variety of methods for counting off the beads, which do not have a religious purpose like rosary beads. I'm sure I'd be quite happily occupied with a set of beads, even though I don't need them to stave off the temptation to light up.

But somewhere in my head there is a niggling doubt about using them if you are a ξένος, a foreigner. I suspect it might be slightly affected to use such things which are so deeply embedded in Greek culture. While some expats seem to be determined to be more Greek than the Greeks, I feel not unlike Popeye who famously uttered: "I am what I am and that's all that I am". In my case, a Brit abroad.

In any case, tucked away in a drawer with all the things that mean little to anyone but me is a set of beads which are arguably infinitely more precious than the finest κομπολόι. These beads were made from modelling clay by my eldest daughter when she was little. None of the beads is the same size or shape, some bear her fingerprints and they are threaded on a tatty piece of red cord, but I love them and that is all that counts.

Songs about beads are hard to come by, but if the purpose of κομπολόι is to help stave off worry then the Beach Boys singing Don't Worry Baby should also do the trick. They don't look much like surfers, do they?

* Beads picture by Dimitris Arvanitis and used under a Creative Commons Licence.

Monday, 2 March 2015

Is your journey really necessary?

You hear that sound? Yes, a small car engine being thrashed within an inch of its life. And that other sound? Yes, that's right, a small motorcycle which has had its exhaust modified to produce an ear-splitting noise.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is the sound of the Skopelos branch of the Pointless Driving Club going out on one of their daily runs. Members of the club - motto: Who cares as long as we're speeding - love to drive fast along the few tarmacked roads this island has.

The problem is that broadly speaking there's nowhere for them to go. They go up a road, reach a certain point and then turn round to go back the way they came. And all this at a time when the state of the Greek economy is such that you'd think drivers would be keen to conserve their precious petrol.

Where shall we go now?

I know, I know, I'm being a bit of a killjoy, particularly as I suspect that most of the drivers in question are young people with a lot more energy than me. But aimlessly driving around in the manner of a goldfish in a bowl will always be aimless driving.

And before you accuse me of picking on the Pointless Drivers of Skopelos, I should add that where I used to live in England has its own branch of the Pointless Driving Club. Keen members of this club used to perform what I am assured were known as "Twat Laps" - just going round and round, following the same circuit through the town.

Will they grow out of it? Will I become more tolerant? I think the former is more likely than the latter, and even that's not very likely. So until I do find hidden reserves of toleration I would just appeal to Pointless Drivers everywhere to ease off the throttle a bit and maybe even consider going for a walk. Just joking, lads...

Only one piece of music to go with this and that is Road to Nowhere by Talking Heads.

* Picture of car by Luftbildfotografie Von-Oben (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons