Author Archives: John

And life goes on ….

It seems like a very long time since I last wrote anything for our Blog – an omission brought about not by oversight but a combination of general lethargy and having too much else to do!

Sheila ended her last Post with a comment that Scotland had just beaten England at Rugby so it might be as well to start this one with an acknowledgement that they have just done the same at cricket – somewhat more alarming in my view but nevertheless, an achievement that needs to be recorded if only to avoid the excess of triumphalism which is usually associated with such events.

With that out of the way, I feel that my first task is to bring our readers up to date with life in Kavousi. In this context, the saddest thing which has happened was the death of Mina, wife of Andreas who are neighbours of ours and who have both been very kind to us over the years we have lived here. Mina was small in height but big of heart and voice and I have a special affection for her because she always addressed me as ‘Γιάννη μου’ – my John! Unfortunately we were unable to attend her funeral because we were away and they happen so quickly here but we miss her.

The other news of note was the increased prevalence earlier this year of Saharan Dust. This has always been a feature of life here but this year it has been much worse and we are warned by the people who claim to know about these things that climate change will mean it will be something which increasingly we will have to get used to. Perhaps the worst example this year happened while we were in Heraklion when day suddenly became orange night and quite literally you could hardly see across the street.

Upcoming Brexit nightmares have led us to decide that we would officially relocate to Greece, so with that in mind, we became tax resident here last year. In this context we have just paid our first tax demand and were pleasantly surprised that it was quite a lot less than we were expecting. There are reasons for this which are too difficult to explain here but when you take into account the fact that health costs are not really now provided by the State, except for emergencies, then the difference is probably understandable.

So, with tax sorted, the next item was a Greek driving licence and after many hiccups along the way, I finally got mine in April!

Now it is Sheila’s turn. The next item to be addressed was our residency permits. We thought it might be good to apply for permanent residency (not the same as citizenship), so last week we headed off to the Police Station in Ierapetra, armed with copies of just about everything and in an interview carried out entirely in Greek, we managed to satisfy the authorities as to our situation and we expect our new cards sometime next week. It was the first time here that we have managed to have every piece of information requested by the bureaucrats at the first time of asking!

Then there was the problem with my electric bike! Poor maintenance on my part coupled with a design flaw relating to the battery terminals resulted in ongoing electrical problems during the early Spring. After two and a quarter trouble-free years, it was a bit of a blow when the helpful bike shop in Sussex said that they could do no more without the bike being returned. Cost-wise this was prohibitive but as they had a sale on and offered me a further 10% off, plus a cheap freight deal, I bit the bullet and bought a more or less identical model but with an improved electrical system, with the intention of using my old bike for spares. Unfortunately, the new bike was damaged in transit (not surprisingly given the treatment it had received), so I had to wait a further two weeks or so before a replacement part arrived and I was able to fit it.

I am now back in the saddle and everything is fine!

Finally, a feature of life here at this time of year is usually the presence of thirty or forty young archaeology students associated with the University of North Carolina under the tutelage of the unlikely sounding, Prof Donald C Haggis. They bring excitement to the plateia in the evenings and the beach in the afternoons and spending power to the shops and tavernas but this year they are not here because the current ‘dig programme’ has come to an end. The village is the poorer for their absence – haste ye back.

Our first visitor of the year was Liz Turner – my favourite relative, who arrived at the beginning of April in time for the Greek Easter. We went to the Easter service late on the Saturday evening at the main church here for the ‘Christos Anesti’ ceremony. We duly lit our candles, watched Judas burning on the bonfire and then were invited back to Maria and Nikos’ house for the traditional Easter meal of chicken soup. It was a late night for all but Liz enjoyed it and reported back later that she had been dining out on the experience, ever since she got home to Wiltshire!

Next up were Gillie and Alan from Deeside in NE Scotland, who came to Kavousi for a few days

before we all went for ten days holiday together to the Peloponnese, a part of Greece which I had not visited before. We had a two centre break, staying firstly at Nafplio where we visited the impressive fortress and also took in Mycenae and Epidavros.

Nafplio has a beautiful setting and has an attractive old town, stuffed full of tavernas and at the time we were there (April), was not that busy.

Then we moved on to Stoupa in the Mani, visiting Sparta

and Mistras

both very impressive in different ways. Much walking was done from Stoupa by members of the group

but it was also an ideal location for those, like me, whose walking days are over because it has a fine beach!

We were also blessed with some fantastic weather, so I was able to tone up my tan! The highlight for me however, was a visit to Kardamitsi, near Kardamili, a short distance up the coast where the soldier and travel writer, Patrick Leigh Fermour lived. I spent a memorable morning sitting on ‘his’ beach enjoying the view and absorbing the atmosphere of the place.

Then we left Gillie and Alan to continue their holiday for a few more days, while Sheila and I took the bus to Athens and from there a flight to Catania in Sicily, where after a further bus ride we met up with our children Rosie and Graham at an Airb&B in Palermo. This was Graham’s Christmas present and Sheila and I had chosen the location because we had never been to Sicily. It was a fine choice and we spent a day doing the sites in the City including the market

and the beautiful cathedral at Monreale

and a day on the beach.

In between, Graham found some great eateries and we caught up on family news and played card games just like the old days, sipping wine on the roof top terrace at the extremely well-appointed apartment.  And there was still time for homework – Graham doing Spanish and Sheila her Greek!

The best pizzas in Palermo were produced at the taverna next door and next to that was a bar which served cocktails (see cover photo). Who could ask for more?

Then it was time to return home for just a week before we set out for Scotland in mid May but that is another tale!

John

 

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Wombling through Winter

We spent Christmas with Graham and Rosie in Cornwall. After some initial minor (though not at the time!) problems with a delayed flight and a missing turkey, we settled down to a family celebration which brought back memories of times past when we were all much younger!

Suffice it to say that we had a great time. Rosie made us very welcome in Newquay and despite the poor weather, we enjoyed an extremely high quality of cuisine, loads of laughs and general good cheer.

We then moved on to London where we were based with Jane in Wandworth. She spoiled us with her usual wonderful hospitality, introduced us to her relatively new grand-daughter, Lila and laid on a party for New Year to which just about everyone we knew in south London came.

We caught up with James and Claire for a meal in Battersea and spent a couple of nights with Vince and Rosy in north London

and still had time for a meal with Mark and Sarah on our last evening. Thanks to everyone for making our short stay so memorable.

Much of January after we returned from the UK was dominated by poor health. I picked up a cold and cough in the UK which eventually turned into bronchitis. Sheila caught the local variety and for a while the pair of us just hunkered down trying to keep warm and get well. The weather in January did not help – damp, windy and cold. On occasions it was worse here than in the UK but thankfully, February has generally been better. We are now both back to normal health- wise. Sheila has been swimming (I haven’t yet) and the bikes have been back in use. Sheila has also been walking and made it to the beach at Αγριόμαντρα and back last week.

The better weather meant that we could have a jaunt or two. Last week we had a trip to the out of season flesh-pot of Malia and found a rather pleasant beach and harbour and away from the hotels and night clubs, an attractive ‘old village’ area. A late lunch/early supper at Bobo’s in Pachia Ammos finished off a fine day out!

One of the advantages of staying indoors, during January was that I had time to make a film! Our friend Rich from the south coast had lent me some software which digitalises ‘old’ analogue video tape. It also allows you to edit and then produce a film. I was surprised to find that I had a recording of the whole game of Rosie’s girls’ football team winning the Under 15’s Aberdeenshire League Cup in 2001. So, Speilberg I may not be but there is now in circulation (to a small but select audience admittedly), a film of the auspicious occasion! Video quality – usual standard – poor and editing similar but fun to do all the same!

I am also in the process of expanding my flower garden. I have already cleared a small area and planted a few new plants but have designs on a much larger area nearer the house.

Our neighbour’s son Γιάννης, has been busy for weeks making a new door to his αποθήκη (shed) next door to our house, as a result of which he has cleared the outside area as well, so once the now dangerously leaning cypress tree has been taken down, I can plant the area with more flowers.

The winter evenings, whilst not so long as in the UK, still require some activity. We have watched a number of recorded TV shows, ‘New Tricks’, ‘Sherlock Holmes’ and have just about got to the end of nine series of ‘Are you being served’, courtesy of YouTube, which neither of us had watched before – brilliant British humour and we laugh our socks off! Νot sure what we are going to do, once we finish! We have also watched a number of films since we returned from the UK. Most of these have been on TV but the cinema in Ierapetra showed ‘Darkest Hour’, which we both enjoyed. We had watched ‘Dunkirk’ the week previous, so it was an interesting comparison.

The local Expat Organisation now facilitates tickets at the cinema in Ag Nik for both Ballet and Opera, streamed from top locations around the world. We went a number of times before Christmas and recently saw a performance of ‘Tosca’ from the Met in New York, which was absolutely brilliant.

Those who know me, may be surprised to read this but it really was one of the best such events I have ever attended! Coming up are ‘L ‘elisir d’amore’ and ‘La Boheme’ in the next few weeks, so lots to look forward to!

In addition, I was given ‘The Mexican Train’ as a present at Christmas by Sheila. It is basically a game of Dominoes with a twist and played with a lot more tiles (of higher values and colours). We had played it here in Crete with quite a large number of people and were not sure about just two! But it works and is fun.

A few weeks back, we played ‘Scrabble’ in Greek at our Greek class and decided to buy a set.

So, we have had a couple of games on our own. It is basically the same rules and board as the English version but with Greek letters. However, the nature of the play is quite different because Greek nouns and adjectives decline and verbs conjugate more than in English so there is a much larger number of potential ways of using what is basically the same word. Sheila even got a seven letter word the first time we played at home (but still lost!).

And finally we, or mainly I, have had a few frustrations with bureaucracy in various countries over the past few months/weeks. As many of you will know, we still have a small flat in Kirkcudbright, in south-west Scotland, where we used to live before we moved to Crete. We have been trying to sell it for the best part of year and there have been no tenants there for nearly a year, Scottish Power have been particularly poor in transferring responsibility for both the gas and electricity supply from the tenant to me. Their customer service (the clue is not in the name) is frankly appalling and they seem incapable of accepting that there is no one living there (and so no electricity or gas is being used) and continuing to send ridiculous bills. Eventually, I lost patience and put the matter in the hands of the Ombudsman.

The Canadians are no better. Sheila and I are planning a trip to visit friends and family later in the year. In case you didn’t know, you now need a visa for Canada and the application form states categorically that you cannot use the visa application process if you have (or might have) a right to permanent residency. Back in the early 1970’s I was a ‘landed immigrant’ but have no idea whether or not I still have any rights to live there. I rather doubt it but following the instructions, i decided to renounce any rights that I might still have. After 48 years, I have no documentation relating to this period of my life and told them so BUT it now seems that unless I can come up with something, then there may be a problem!

This last two weeks, I have been trying to change my UK driving licence to a Greek one. According to the internet, the process should be seamless. Not true! However, after spending two more hours at various offices and the bank this morning, we may be approaching a successful outcome. Watch this space!

I mention all this because sometimes here in Crete we are astounded at the incredible nature of the State bureaucracy but on reflection I think it is probably much the same wherever. And here at least, we benefit from the generosity, both in spirit and in kind, of ordinary people who have to cope with these frustrations ever day and still go out of their way to help these two crazy ξένοι (foreigners) who gabble away at them in terrible Greek.

Τι να κάνουμε;’ (What can we do?).

John

A dander in the Dodecanese

Firstly, many apologies for a lack of Posts since August. This has resulted from a combination of laziness, visitors and an unscheduled trip to Scotland. Anyway, here we are at last but in view of the time period to be covered, this Post will mainly consist of photographs, together with some explanatory commentary.

Bruce and Cathy arrived from Canada at the end of August and spent five days with us here in Kavousi before all four of us went to Rhodes for the best part of a week.

We started off our stay in Lindos where we split the time between sunbathing/swimming and sight-seeing.

And we ate well!

Then we moved on to Rhodes Town where we adopted the same combination. The Old Town is very impressive but it was all a bit of a shock after a summer in quiet little Kavousi!

When Bruce and Cathy left for home, Sheila and I started our ‘island hopping’ extravaganza!

Our first stop was Symi, where we stayed at the little village of Pedi.

Symi is an attractive island with imposing architecture reflecting the Italian occupation.

We didn’t do a lot – water taxis to nearby beaches and a fine walk to the top of the old town.

Next up was Nisyros which involved two ferries. The main attraction is the volcano which is hugely impressive and still steams!

And requires a degree of scrambling skills!

Again, we combined sunbathing/swimming with sight-seeing. The beaches are black and the sea quite dark but cooling all the same.

Mandraki, the main town is an interesting place with a fine castle and an attractive setting.

Then it was on to Lipsi – again by two ferries and and including a bus ride. Lipsi was my favourite island because it remains relatively unspoilt by tourism and we found many fewer people speaking English, which of course was good for our Greek.

We hired a car one day and bicycles another. The beaches were virtually deserted and the sea was beautifully clear.

Our final stay was in Leros, the scene of a relatively large battle in WW2, which as we discovered led to the death of the father of the future ‘Cream’ drummer Ginger Baker.

That apart, it is an interesting if not spectacular island. The beaches are OK but its main claim to fame, for me at least was its stunning castle, with perhaps the best situation anywhere.

The food was brilliant too!

It was a great trip. We saw so much but still had time to relax on the a variety of beaches. Now we have the bug, we want to see more and check out the islands that we missed in the Dodecanese this time round, of which there were quite a few!

After three weeks away, we returned home by air from Kos and brother Tim and wife, Liz arrived shortly thereafter. They had never been to Crete before, so we had plenty to show them, interesting walks and a number of food experiences to savour.

While they were here. it was Sheila’s 65th birthday and we had a lunch time party in the plateia to celebrate, having invited all our friends in Crete. There were a few absentees regrettably  but it was still an impressive turnout. Many thanks to Katerina for preparing the food.

Liz T (cousin) was our next visitor. Liz has been many times before so we re-visited old haunts like Bobo’s taverna but also took in new experiences like cocktails at Mochlos and lunch with our German friends on our terrace.

And I’ll leave you with Sheila and Maria (our neighbour) and her present for Sheila’s birthday -perhaps the most important of all!

John

Summer in Kavousi

By the time we got back from the UK it was the middle of July and time for the next influx of summer visitors.

First up was daughter Rosie who came for a week as she put it, simply ‘to chill’! And what better place than Kavousi to do just that. She cycled, swam, walked, talked and ate her way through seven days of fun, the only blip being when she dropped her new phone in a bowl of water! That apart, we had a great time.

She walked with Sheila in the hills

and to the ‘secret’ beach at Agriomandra and they were supposed to meet me at Tholos for lunch but got lost, so never arrived!

We went to the outdoor cinema in Ag Nik and she and Sheila topped off her stay with a final day shopping trip in Heraklion, before she got the flight back to Gatwick en route for Cornwall.

Next up were son Graham and the day after, son James and partner Claire. James and Claire had arrived a few days earlier and spent  some time on the south coast at a favourite haunt. Graham arrived direct from London and took up residence in Stan & Jann’s house round the corner (they being home in Cambridge).

It was really enjoyable having all these young folk around for a week. Graham cooked sea bass and kalamari, which were amazing with prep help from Claire who rather foolishly offered her assistance and was taken up on it!

No one wanted to do anything much

although they did all go off to the Water Park for a day

and Sheila and Graham managed three games of tennis.

We had Claire and Graham’s birthdays to celebrate and we had a memorable last night in Mochlos drinking cocktails at sunset (see cover photo).

The house seemed very empty after they all went back to the UK.

One sad event happened during the summer while we were in the UK in July and that was the death of one of our dear neighbours here – ‘old’ Γιάννη as we called him, who lived down the lane from us.

He has been very kind to us ever since we arrived. A quiet reserved man, he invited us to our first καζάνι, which is a party in November/December when raki is made and provided us with the most delicious new potatoes cooked with rosemary.

He died when we were in the UK so we could not go to his funeral but one of the customs relating to death here in Greece, is a church service or μνημόσυνο, which takes place after forty days, to celebrate the fact that the soul has left this world for the hereafter. Although the service meant little to us, it was not a particularly sad occasion and it felt good to pay our respects  to someone we counted as a friend, especially as the church formed such an important part of his life.

In contrast, one of our favourite Greek singers, Γιάννης Χαρούλης had a concert in Sitia just after everyone had left, which gave us the opportunity to  cheer ourselves up.

Χαρούλης was in good form and we bumped into our Greek teacher, Μανώλης there.

The only blot on the evening was that I was feeling unwell with the beginnings of a summer cold, which over the next ten days turned into something worse leading to three visits to the doctor, two separate X-rays and a diagnosis at one point of bronchitis! I am more or less over it now but for a while I was pretty unhappy!

Our garden has been one of the joys of the summer.

My flower garden and banana plantation have been the subject of earlier reporting but in addition nearly all of the plants have flourished in the hot summer weather.

In particular, the bougainvillea have been wonderful and at last the climbing one has reached the top of the κρεββατίνα (pergola), so hopefully next year we will have pink flowers among the grape leaves providing shelter from the sun above the terrace!

Unfortunately, the grapes, although abundant were attacked by blight which seems to have attacked most of the crop in our part of Crete. So while we have plenty and they taste all right, they do not look very attractive!

 

 

We have also been visited by some interesting looking beasties.

There have been a couple of noteworthy home improvements carried out over the summer. When we got back from the UK in early July, we got Alkis round to install a new solar water heating panel and tank. This turned out to be very straightforward or perhaps Alkis and his colleague are particularly skilled at it. Anyway, it didn’t take long and now we have plenty of hot water again!

Further, I managed to fix up the ‘Chinese’ lantern we brought back from Vietnam last year. It now throws out a rather lurid red light in the evenings when we sit round the table on the terrace – not perhaps Kavousi’s red light district but there again?

There were also a number of memorable events, which happened in and around Kavousi during the summer. Our friends Chris and Pauline organised a boat trip and party to celebrate twenty years since they left Holland eventually to end up in Kavousi.

There was a wonderful summer full moon which led to the telescope being given an outing.

A new documentary about the ancient olive tree received its ‘World Premier’ here in the village. Unfortunately we didn’t know which church it was happening at, so missed it! Finally, a few days ago there was a βραδιά προσφοράς (Bid evening) held in the grounds of the main church here in Kavousi (there are fifteen others). This was a fine evening with music, dancing and very good food and drink and we think donations were expected for a church restoration project.

However, no one asked us for money and there was no obvious place to leave it. No doubt everything will become clear in the fullness of time! Our young and apparently popular Papas, did a good turn on the dance floor as well!

What with visitors, illness, very hot weather and strong winds, I am afraid  that cycling down to the beach and through the olive groves has not happened to the same extent as usual, this summer. I had thought that this would be remedied now that I am feeling better from my summer cold and wasp stings but yesterday, I discovered that a critical part of my electric bike has sustained some damage. So until I get the part from the UK, there will be an enforced interlude until later in September when we get back from our holiday in the Dodecanese, which no doubt will form the subject of the next post!

However, our dear old Citroen did get a much needed clean, inside and out at the πλυντήριο των αυτοκινήτων (car wash) in ierapetra! What a transformation!

John

Rural ramblings

At the end of June with Greek lessons finally finished for the academic year, Sheila and I set off for two weeks in the UK. At Gatwick we separated, with Sheila taking a flight to Inverness to do her own thing for two weeks and me meeting up with Dave Kendall, an old friend from school days, for ten days in deepest Dorset. Sheila will be writing separately about her time in Scotland and northern England, so what follows is an account of my trip with Dave and a few days at the end in Wivenhoe, Essex with another old friend, Pat Marsden.

Dave had booked us into an AirB&B cottage in the village of Marnhull which is situated more or less in the middle of the Blackmore Vale in North Dorset and which also happens to be the location where his paternal ancestors originated.

It is also just a few miles from the village of Templecombe, over the county boundary in Somerset, where he and I spent our formative years!

So as can be imagined, in addition to a lot of catching up (he lives in Sweden and we don’t see each other that often), there were some trips down memory lane planned as well as a gentle degree of ancestor hunting.

Our cottage was originally the barrell store for an old brewery which closed in 1919 apparently and may well have brewed the ale for the local pub where one of Dave’s ancestors was the publican.

 

This gave us a perfect excuse for an early visit to sample the local brew! However, our first day simply involved a scouting visit to the local Family History Centre in Sherborne to enable us to plan a longer day there, later in the week. The weather was beautiful and in the afternoon we took a walk around the straggling village to get our bearings.

Over the following week or so, we visited a number of churches and abbeys (a particular interest of Dave’s), went sight-seeing to a number of beauty spots both in Dorset and Somerset and checked out the ancestors:

Churches and Abbeys

Dave was very keen to see the now de-consecrated Norman church at Winterborne Tomson so one fine day, we set out on a quest. It took a bit of locating even with a map and directions but find it we did and what a gem! Take a look if you are ever that way, I guarantee that you have rarely seen the like!

Another day we visited the ruins of Shaftesbury Abbey. This must have been a wonderful building before the Dissolution and the hour or so we were there, was one of the highlights of my trip. It was just so peaceful. Later we saw Muchelney Abbey in Somerset and again, I was struck by the sheer beauty of the location. Here you can see my contemplative but scary Benedictine friend:

Hitherto, I had always thought that breaking the power of the Church was, on the whole, a good thing but having now seen what at least two of these buildings would have looked like, I now have to admit that we lost so much of our heritage to Henry’s greed and sheer vandalism.

Sherborne Abbey was saved from his avarice by being purchased for use as the parish church by the townspeople, with the monastic buildings eventually becoming Sherborne School.

Beauty spots

For old time;s sake, we decided on a visit to Swanage on the Dorset coast and had the obligatory paddle to prove to Sheila that the weather in the West Country really was much better than Scotland!

Then it was off for a pub lunch before we went to Durdle Door

and then to Portland Bill for a breezy selfie!

Another day, we climbed to the top of Cadbury Castle, a Bronze and Iron Age hill fort, which is thought by many to be the site of King Arthur’s Camelot. Difficult for two old fogeys to make the top and even more difficult to get a photo which does it justice – nice views though and a lovely path up!

And a highlight of the trip was visiting the Tolpuddle Martyrs Museum in Dorset.

Steam Railways

One morning we visited the Shillingstone Railway Centre on the old Somerset & Dorset line and whilst there was not much that related to the old S&D (on which my grandfather and uncle were drivers and on which Dave and I used to go to school), we enjoyed the experience and saw some interesting old WW2 steam locos from the US.

And then unexpectedly, we saw a Southern Railway ‘Battle of Britain’ class 4-6-2 at Swanage which brought back happy memories of childhood  trainspotting at Templecombe!

Family History

At the Family History Centre, Dave managed to locate records from our old school dating from the early 1950’s, which fortunately did not include either of us but did have my Dad, who also went to Sexey’s Bruton.

And this was where we lived in Templecombe.

We also visited Almer Church in Dorset where my namesake, John Burt, my 4x great grandfather, married Jane Terrell over 240 years ago and I stood on the spot where he would have taken his wedding vows – quite a moving experience!

We also visited the village where I think said John was born about 1754 – the son of Benjamin Burt and Mary Newman. They were married in Child Okeford Church in 1730.

We had a day in Mells, where I lived as a child and where my parents and sisters are buried, meeting Dave’s brother and his wife for lunch at ‘The Talbot’ just round the corner from where the house where we stayed.

It was a great trip.

Thanks for your company, navigation (in your own inimitable style), general good cheer, all round knowledge of the area and for making the arrangements for the Air B&B, Dave!

We had a very pleasant lunch with Liz Turner in Wiltshire, took the car back to Gatwick and went our separate ways.

After a night in London with James, I spent three days in Wivenhoe with an old friend, Pat Marsden. It was good to spend some time with her, catching up with our lives and on what has been happening in Wivenhoe in my absence.

The weather continued to be generally fine so we managed to take in a number of walks along the river, although we did get stuck in ‘The Black Buoy’ for an extended lunch one day, which was no great hardship as they were serving a very pleasant dark ‘Mild’ which took me back to student days at Keele.

We also had a meal out at a Syrian Vegan restaurant which has opened up recently. I hadn’t realised that it was vegan but have to admit that the platter, of what was in effect a selection of meze, was delicious and very reminiscent of Cretan starters.

Pat also cooked  a number of tasty meals on the occasions when we decided to stay in and continue the long discussions on a complete range of topics, from family history through to community action, gardening, books and films and then back to Wivenhoe ‘characters’. I can’t remember when I have talked so much for so long! Thanks Pat.

Then it was time to return to London, meet up with Sheila and spend one last night with James in Battersea, before we returned to Crete for the summer.

It was a memorable two weeks, with England looking at its best.

John

Can you imagine?

For a variety of reasons, we have found ourselves in recent weeks thinking more about the Minoans. Some might say these mysterious folk who created such a rich and influential civilisation here in Crete over four thousand years ago, are a regular feature in our Blogs. This is true simply because for all sorts of reasons, many of our visitors want to see the sites, famous and otherwise and then often go on to visit the archaeological museum in Heraklion and of course we take the obligatory photos and then dutifully write up the details of their stays, each time we compose the next Post.

However, on this occasion there are other reasons for considering the achievements of the Minoans. One night last week, we were walking back from the taverna after an evening with Chris and Pauline and fuelled no doubt by a small (?) quantity of excellent wine made personally by Yiorgos, we were looking at the stars. It was a cloudless night and as anyone who has been here will know, the sky was simply filled with twinkling stars of all sizes, together with bright planets, none of which we knew the names of.

We climbed onto the roof and marvelled at the cosmos and were reminded both of a failure to spend time using the telescope and of a fundamental lack of knowledge of what was laid out above us. The Minoans and indeed our own Bronze Age ancestors in the UK were not so ignorant as we now know.

On Monday evening we attended a public lecture entitled ‘The Minoans in Time and Space’ in the Conference Centre attached to the Bishop’s Palace in Ierapetra, which formed part of an international conference of astrophyicists who for reasons best known to themselves had chosen our corner of Crete to consider ‘Polarised Emission from Astrophysical Jet’. As light relief presumably, Dr Alex MacGillivray, an archaeologist from the British School in Athens, had been asked to enlighten the attendees on Minoan astral navigation.

Interestingly, we have recently both read a book by Alan Butler which in part deals with similar issues. Butler is an engineer and mathematician who has an interest in both astronomy and archaeology and brings an approach to these subjects which is based on his specialisms. As a result, it seems that he is not popular with mainstream archaeologists but his theories are nevertheless quite interesting to the layman and struck something of a chord with what we were told at the lecture.

Dr MacGillivray’s thesis was that the Minoans who of course were great traders and therefore needed to be good at getting from A to B, based their navigation on the stars which they saw above them in the generally clear Mediterranean skies. Indeed, he believes that they adopted Egyptian methodology in this respect and spent much of his lecture taking us through the thirty-six stars (the decans) on which their calendar system was based. Initially the decans were stars that could be observed to rise at 10-day intervals. The Egyptian calendar had 360 days marked by decan stars rising at 10-day intervals, plus five inter-calculated days. It was an easy step to use the decans for navigational purposes as they moved, one by one, across the heavens.

As you can imagine, much of this was way above our heads (so to speak) but we got the gist and what was really amazing about it was when towards the end he showed an overhead of a diagram of the relevant stars as they appear in the sky for a latitude of between 40 and 50 degrees N. This is it.

Not hugely interesting you might think. However, then up came a copy of the bull-leaping fresco from Knossos. Notice any similarities?

Illustration of Bull-leaping Fresco from the Great Palace at Knossos, Crete

it is hard not to agree with him that the Minoans used the star diagram as the basis for the mural – a rather neat conjunction of art and cosmology!

However, Alan Butler believes that the Minoans adopted a somewhat different approach to navigation based on a calendar of 366 days which was common across much of Bronze Age Europe. He bases his argument on his analysis of the so-called Phaistos Disc.

Whether in the round, it makes much difference whether the Minoans used a calendar of 360 or 366 days, we are of course not in a position to judge but what is clear is that navigation was done by the stars and  for whatever reason, the ancients used the same or similar stars to determine where they were. Further, amazing though it may seem, the ancients whether in Crete, Egypt or Bronze Age Britain not only knew that the Earth was round but had worked out its circumference and as a result were able to divide the distance into manageable units.

In Bronze Age Britain, these units were used to measure out the plans for building stone circles like Stonehenge and all such circles have the same basic measurements. Whilst the ‘megalithic yard’ is different to the Minoan foot, this is only because the Minoans chose a different way to divide the circumference of the Earth, according to Butler.

So, now it’s time to have a good look at some of these stars.

John

Catching up.

Impossible though it seems, we have now been back from our Easter trip to the UK for over two weeks. Good intentions of writing up our visits to Scotland and Cornwall have been lost somewhere along the line, so what follows is a very brief attempt at a catch up and to thank all those who were so kind to us while we were away.

The visit started with a degree of stress because the installation of the new kitchen went to the wire with Manolis, Adonis, Alkis and Michalis all working here during the evening before our departure to get it finished. It meant that we spent the morning of the day we left hurriedly unpacking various boxes of kitchen utensils and shoving the contents into any available space, which included the oven! The result was that when we arrived back here, there was a job to be done before we could get round to actually using any of the new appliances! However, two weeks in and we have just about found where everything is and it is all brilliant and we are very pleased. It is however, just a kitchen so no need to get too excited when there is so much else going on in the world!

We arrived in Edinburgh very early at the beginning of April and took a taxi to Dalgety Bay in Fife where we stayed a few days with Sheila’s brother, catching up with Sheila’s extended family and approving of the progress made by the four great-nephews.

It also gave us a chance to recover from all the kitchen excitement and to note progress on the new Forth Bridge.

Then we moved on to Edinburgh where we stayed with Fiona in Juniper Green and later, Sally and Robert in Currie. It was great to catch up with their news and enjoy their company.

Then we hired a car and went to Kirkcudbright where we used to live, having taken in a visit to some elderly friends of Sheila’s Mum, who live in Glasgow. It has to be said the Kirkcudbright was not looking at its best – the weather having taken a turn for the worse but we enjoyed re-visiting the town and staying with Alasdair and Yvonne, Christine and Mike and Bev and David. Again, it was good to catch up and relax with kind friends. Probably the highlight for Sheila was visiting the tennis club and seeing a number of her old colleagues who made her very welcome and she was particularly pleased at how well the Club is now doing – a fitting tribute to her past endeavours.

We visited our flat (which is now on the market) and did a little cleaning in the hope of stimulating a sale – so far to no avail! We even found time to frequent a few old haunts.

Then we flew to Cornwall where we stayed with Rose in our flat in Newquay and were blessed with some stunning Spring weather for the ten days we were there.

Sheila found time to do a little painting while I did a few odd jobs around the place. Rosie showed us the garden at the hotel where she now works full-time and treated us to a meal in the restaurant there.

It clearly is a good idea to be friends with the chef because we were given at least two extra courses and everyone was so kind and friendly because we were Rosie’s Mum and Dad, so clearly she is both popular and valued!

It was fun spending some time with her and we really enjoyed our stay.

She also took us to see Caerhays Castle grounds, which as stunning, both as regards the floral display but also the setting. Sheila even managed a paddle!

While we were in Cornwall we visited Graham Hilder, late of Mochlos in Crete and one of Sheila’s tennis pals here. He provided a packed programme for us, including a visit to St Ives and a stage to screen performance of ‘Copelia’ from the Sydney Opera House.

I also met up with my old school friend, Terry Larcombe who I had not seen for the best part of fifty years. It was great to see Joe (for such I have always known him), after all the years and to catch up on our lives and I look forward to seeing him again soon.

Then it was time to return to Crete where we found the house in good order and the flowers well-looked after by Maria, in our absence. Since returning, we have had Phil from Bracknell and Liz from the Lake District to stay and Jane from London has just arrived for a week’s walking with friends.

Judging by recent weather (it was 37.7 C the other day in the shade), they may be simply walking into the sea to cool off rather than walking in the hills but we shall see!

Since we have been back, we have also found time to see a tax accountant with a view to considering re-locating to Crete on a more permanent basis. There are some difficult decisions to be made in this respect – none more so than affordable health care but since our recent trip to the UK, we are increasingly of the view that this is something we need to consider seriously.

This is partly a result of the Brexit vote last year but also because each time we visit the UK, we find life in Britain is more and more depressing. Probably the film, ‘I, Daniel Blake’ sums up what I mean. While there are of course many and notable exceptions, the generality is that many people don’t seem to care for anyone beyond their immediate family. There seems to be a lack of generosity of spirit, little value put on teachers and health workers and a growing dislike of foreigners.

As I write this, the opinion polls are still pointing to a Tory win at the General Election, a result which I find personally disturbing because it is my generation which seems prepared to vote back a Party bank-rolled by hedge funds and banks, and which cares so little for all that I value in Britain.

The main reason however is more positive. We like living in Greece. We like the people and we approve of the way they value family and community. We feel happy here and whilst there are of course problems, we feel we can deal with them.

We are not sure we want to live in the kind of society on offer from Mrs May – hence the need to look at an alternative which suits us better, at least for as long as the Greeks will allow us to stay. More to follow on this, no doubt!

John