Category Archives: Cornwall

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

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Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year

November started well with a late birthday present for myself from Graham arriving by courier to the house. it was a good choice – a very, very tasty bottle of gin and I have sampled it on a number of occasions now!

But of course, the highlight of November is John’s birthday. This year we went for a few days to a small village called Lendas on the south coast, not so far from Matala and about 2 or 3 hours from here. On one side of it, there is ‘the lion of Lendas’ and on the other some nice beaches.

It was not so easy to find somewhere to stay at this time of year but our friends, Brigitte and Walter, suggested the Villa Nostalgia, and it proved to be ideal.  The road down to the village was twisty and there was an inconsistent surface to it. This meant that the driver needed constant vigilance to avoid the potholes.  We were delighted that we did not have to go back up the road until our holiday was finished because for three says the sun shone from morning till night.  Being sun lovers, we found the empty beaches, sunbathed and swam,

went for a walk

and admired the odd cat on the beach.

Very peaceful.  We celebrated John’s birthday drinking prosecco and eating cake on our lovely balcony overlooking the sea.

Lendas is primarily a tourist village but not at this time of year.

We  were possibly the only tourists in the village, thus not being able to sample any of the above!  It was a particularly interesting experience eating in the village. We found one taverna that was open

and after discovering that the menu advertised was not available, we ate what was suggested which was pork chops on the first night. From then on, each night we ordered something for the next night. The food was simple but it was freshly cooked, we had the taverna mainly to ourselves and we got to watch Greek TV news and a game show as we ate. And we chatted to our personal cook, Evangelia. There was no nightlife so we admired the sunset

and focused on trying to improve our backgammon!  I have been reading that there are moves to develop winter tourism in Crete but I am not sure that Lendas will be a priority and selfishly for us that is just fine!

The local ex-pat organisation, INCO, has been pretty active recently and we have enjoyed a couple of events related to the Minoans. One was a visit to the Kefali Minoan site, near Sisi, which is not open to the public. The site is right beside the sea and you can see from its location why it emerged as a trading and administrative centre .  The archaeologist, Gavin McGuire, is an excellent communicator and an enthusiast too, about this particular site, which has proved to be a lot bigger and more important than previously thought.

It has not yet been given official ‘palace’ status but he told us that is, what it is. He told us what they found in specific rooms (such as loom weights) and that the range of activities, supported the view that there was an artisan infrastructure underpinning a large and important settlement. He also explained that people lived and worked in the same building.

We visited the cemetery and learned something about the Minoan people. For example, he told us that women generally lived only till they were in their early 20’s and had babies much earlier than us. He gave us a vivid description of what it must been like for the people, who lived here after the volcano in Santorini erupted in 1450 BC.  What a scary and miserable experience!  After the tsunami resulting from the eruption, people experienced 20 or 30 years of darkness where nothing grew and there was evidence of cannibalism. He also argued that evidence is emerging that the Minoan civilization was not quite the peace loving, matriarchal society that has been previously presented. We heared a little about the techniques the archaeologists use now, to learn and speculate more about the Minoans. It seems that there are artifacts from the site being DNA tested in many centres in the world. As you can tell, all of this was fascinating to me.

The following week, we found out a bit what the Minoans ate. The event was held at Agios Nikolaos marina,

a perfect setting to drink wine and eat tasty food at lunchtime, chat to friends and hear a talk on Minoan food in warm, sunny weather. Again, Gavin McGuire was there, helping with the cooking as well as answering a range of questions.

Jerolyn Morrison, from ‘Minoan Tastes’,  told us that the ingredients of the food that we were about to eat such as pork, goat, lentils, apricots, figs etc had all been found in Minoan sites.   The actual recipes, which used these ingredients, were though the product of more modern thinking!

The food was very delicious.

John and I have attended a couple of operas at the cinema, live from The Metropolitan Opera in New York. The first was The Magic Flute and the second was a new opera called ‘The Exterminating Angel’ by Thomas Ades. The latter is based on the film of Luis Bunuel. I enjoyed both but the latter was the more interesting and thought provoking. The singing was unbelievable and the sounds are designed to emphasize the surreal and frightening situation in which the group of people find themselves.  We also went to see the new film, ‘Nikos Kazantzakis’ at the cinema in Ierapetra which has just been released.

There were no English subtitles and we do look forward to seeing it again when it does come out with them on DVD! There was too much talking and too little action for us to make too much sense of it but it did trigger some discussion between us and John is now reading Kazantzakis’s book written near the end of his life ‘Report to Greco’, on which the film is loosely based.

Over the last few months, our neighbour, Ευτυχία, (which means happiness) has been ill and her daughter from Athens has been staying with her. She has been in hospital and I have hardly seen her. I am used to climbing up on the roof, to put out my washing and seeing her sitting outside her house. We wave to each other and sometimes I go round and enjoy her lovely smile and our limited but friendly conversation. Anyway, the good news is that her daughter is back in Athens and she is back to sitting outside again and she looks very well. Her son and daughter in law, who live near by, are back in charge of the support network that families provide here.

My friend, Margarita, invited me to spend an afternoon at her house and a visit to the greenhouses in Stomio, where she and her husband, Nikos, grow tomatoes as a business. Whilst in the past, she had described to me some of the financial difficulties of running such a business, it was not till I saw the lines and lines of perfect plants,

that I appreciated the scale of the enterprise, the work involved and the decisions you have to make to produce and to sell such wonderful tomatoes. I was given a box of them to take home and John and I have been  savouring their taste and texture. Margarita also gave me a late birthday present, which was a complete surprise.

It is a picture of poppies and the colours are sensational. We used to go walk together and I told her that I just loved poppies because of their vibrant colour and delicate petals. She remembered this, painted the picture and it is now on our dining room wall. Because she is so busy with producing tomatoes she doesn’t have time for walking any more but does have a little time for painting!

it is very quiet in Kavousi and it is a time for sitting in front of the fire in the evening. The weather has been warm during the day but the evenings are cool. John has organised plenty of wood

so we are very snug.  It has been tempting to stay inside and settle down to a series or two on DVD and even old comedy favourites such as ‘the Good Life’ and even one that I never saw in the 1970’s, ‘Are you being served?’. But on Tuesday we did go to Bobo’s taverna and enjoyed a lovely evening of friendly chat and nice food and came away with a bottle of new olive oil. We also made our way to Makrigialos, where our friends Shona and Rich live. First, we sat out on the balcony of their house in the sunshine and drank fizzy wine, then we ate a wonderful meal of moussaka and tiramisu. Rich is a great games fan and picks up games from many sources and in this case, it was Marks and Spencers! One person had a card with the name of a person, place or object and read out a clue. If you guessed the name, you got 10 points, if you didn’t, you were given another clue and so it goes on. I didn’t so so well but Rich loves prizes and so we all got a prize. And then the finale was the switching on of outdoor Christmas lights round the balcony. It was all just perfect!!!

For those of you who have stayed in our guest accommodation, you will, I think, approve of our latest building works here. The bathroom was certainly in need of some improvements, particularly the lighting. Normally there would be no such building work done at this time of year because the main activity is picking olives. But this year, the olives locally were damaged earlier in the year by the weather or a bug and so Alkis was very happy to tile, paint and install the new bathroom. It started like this

And now it looks like this.

Whilst he was here, John asked him to paint the ceiling of our living room and dining room, in order to make them lighter.

And what a difference, this has made.

Because of the bathroom work, the very nice weather and my preference to be out walking looking at the lovely countryside locally,

we have no decorations or cards in view yet. Hopefully this will be done this weekend. On Thursday we fly to Newquay (Aegean airways and Flybe) for Christmas with Rosie and Graham and I am so looking forward to seeing them and enjoying a bit of fun. And then on to London to welcome in 2018 with our friends, Jane, Sarah and Mark. Might be a bit cold but definitely worth it.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to everybody who reads this and we will be back in 2018.

Sheila

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

January blues and Spring hopes

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We’re just back in Crete after a long trip to the UK. We spent Christmas in London with Graham and Emily and her family.

img_20161225_184233Bruce and Cathy were great hosts and organised a splendid celebration. Unfortunately the wine flowed so copiously that photographic evidence is in short supply. Believe me though – we all had a great day.

Many thanks to them for all their hard work and good company and we look forward to seeing them here in September.

Thanks also to Graham and Emily for hosting Christmas Eve celebrations – especially the mulled wine and to James for the loan of his flat.

While in the London area, we visited any number of friends, who spoilt us rotten with both kindness and hospitality. Many thanks to everyone and especially to those who put us up – you are too numerous to mention but it was great seeing you all!

New Year was spent with cousin Liz in Wiltshire who looked after us in fine style despite being under the weather

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and then we moved on to Cornwall to see Rose and the new flat. We were very pleasantly surprised by how relatively spacious it is (although still quite small in truth!), warm and how much Rose had done already to make it comfortable (see cover photo). We helped out a little by doing a few jobs and supplying one or two extras and had a really good stay.

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Now we’re looking forward to going back in the Spring when hopefully the weather will be better and we can get out on the Coastal Trail and see the flowers.

It was an action packed trip and the following photos may give a feeling for some of things we got up to.

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The baby (Lila) is the first grand-daughter of our good friend Jane. She was born a week before Christmas and Chloe and Felipe could hardly have produced a better present for Grandma!

Conversation flowed with friends and family, although two topics tended to dominate – Brexit and Trump! Perhaps fortunately, we can’t do anything about either but we found few folk in the south-east who seemed enthused or excited about either. From a purely personal perspective, it is an anxious time for those of us who spend considerable amounts of time in Europe, where we expected to be able to come and go as we pleased without fear of visa restrictions or red-tape. Having just listened to the PM talking about ‘controlled rights’ for both EU citizens in the UK and vice versa, I feel no less anxious. We can however only sit back and enjoy the next two years and see how the dice fall. No point worrying! 2016 was the year when I was ‘Mr Positive’ after all. You can ask Sheila what I am for 2017!

On a lighter note, we discovered Uber taxis while we were in London. I know that they are not universally popular but as someone who rarely uses taxis whether in London or elsewhere (mainly because of cost), we were delighted to find out how cheap they were. For example, our journey back to James’ flat on Christmas evening cost only £20 for the three or four mile trip (which by the way we had walked in the morning due to the absence of public transport). Apparently Uber makes a loss and the drivers do not get paid a lot BUT in my view the black cabs drivers shouldn’t complain about loss of business because they only have themselves to blame for being so expensive. And Uber is so easy. Free ad over!

img_20170117_165224We returned to Crete to very cold weather. The previous weekend there had been snow in the village which is unusual and there was decidedly more than a nip in the air when we walked to the car at Heraklion Airport. The car started first time however but the house seemed like the inside of a fridge. It took a couple of days with the wood stove running at full tilt and the aircon working in reverse before we warmed up. Oddly, we were never so cold in the UK! However, out came the ‘long johns’ and the fleecy trousers and all was well.

Previous to the snow, they had had driving rain and storms in Crete but the house was dry when we returned so no problems there and the water will be a relief to the farmers, who were getting worried that it might be another winter without rain.

img_20170113_143727That said, now the weather here is better with blue skies and a feel of Spring in the air. My first bike ride revealed the first Spring flowers and a good crop of red peppers

img_20170117_143959and a walk later in the week gave an even better display (see below).

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So, whilst it would be premature to think that Spring is just around the corner (the woodpile is still going down alarmingly quickly – see photo below), there is

some hope that any January blues will soon be dispelled and normal service here can be resumed.

No specific New Year’s resolutions this time around but we both feel the need to get more involved in what is going on here. There are supposed to be a number of refugees being re-settled in Crete so we thought we might try to find out if there are any organisations involved in this work, where we could lend a hand. Feelers are being put out accordingly.

Sheila started back at her regular weekly tennis session over at Mochlos. The new (and very expensive racket) was in action for the first time. She is too modest to admit that there was any huge improvement but seemed quietly pleased with her performance!

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Greek lessons have re-started, although poor Manolis, our teacher, has just checked in sick so no lesson tomorrow. We intend to make a big effort in the next six months to get off the plateau where we both feel anchored at present. We don’t however have any firm plans about how to achieve this, except hard work and trying to use our Greek at every opportunity. It is coming along but so slowly – σιγά, σιγά.

Last night we went to the cinema in ierapetra. The ‘Premier’ has recently been re-opened after renovation and they were showing ‘La La Land’ in English with Greek sub-titles. It was a really good film and the sub-titles were well done too. We know that because we could read them! Now we just need to persuade the operator to have Tuesday lunchtime movies with soup and a roll at half price! I could become a regular.

We came back intent on taking forward plans for a new kitchen but on reflection, financial concerns relating to the fall in the value of the £ against the € have made us have second thoughts. So in a small way Brexit has hit home here already and our British friends are beginning to show some concern. Falling incomes brought about by the falling pound (down by over 20% since last June) with perhaps more to come must be causing anxiety in British ex-pat circles all over the EU. All those Brexiteers might wish to reflect on this before they book their next foreign holiday. It’s going to cost you all a whole lot lot more and you may also have to look after a lot of elderly folk who can’t continue to live abroad!

Finally, it was my name day while we were away, so Maria, our favourite neighbour made me a cake to celebrate and it tasted as fine as it looks!

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John