Although teaching us Greek, Nadine was really our housekeeper. At first I wondered if she might be the spinster from the embassy using a different name so I asked her outright one day if she was my real mother. She laughed at me and the expression on her face was enough but she felt the need to comfort me, “No Niko, I have no children but if I did I would have been proud to have one as handsome and bright as you.”
It was really just as well she cleared that up because I was feeling dreadfully guilty...read more
“Even at four I’d started to question how Santa could read a note that caught fire as it rose in the chimney. My dad said it was magic because the writing still showed and Santa had a special way to read it. I remember dad wrote ‘Nicholas’ on a piece of paper then burnt it to show me it was still possible to read my name. That pacified me for a while...read more
Discrete Reversal has won the voting and Harry the Louse has now been renamed. Here is the new cover and thank you to everyone for their input.
'Discrete Reversal' looks at two mature professional women’s quest for some latter-day romance in a tourist hotspot where, apparently by coincidence, they meet Harry a plausible Cretan businessman. Unknown to them Harry, who has been driven to the brink by the Greek debt crisis, has targeted them as part of his desperate summer activity to find and sweet talk a well-heeled ‘soft-touch’ woman out of her nest egg. The two women play-down their true occupations and Harry reckons either one of them could be the answer to his prayers. Yet has he bitten off more than he can chew?
Visit here to read more about the the book including extracts and pictures of the beautiful island of Crete
A reader contacted me saying she had read Harry the Louse on the recommendation of a friend and enjoyed it immensely. She said the reason she contacted me was that she would never have bought the book unprompted with such an unappealing title and felt others could also miss the opportunity of a good read.
She suggested one possible new title and other friends have helped me with a couple more and the three options I favour are here. Changing a book title is a one-off event so the more people that give their opinion the better.
To all those that respond, I will advise them personally the date on which the re-branded book will be offered free on Kindle.
You can find out more about the book here
Interesting Facts about Greece:-
The world’s third leading producer of olives, the Greeks have cultivated olive trees since ancient times. The Ancient Olive Tree of Vouves here on Crete, said to be around 3000 years old, is still producing olives.
Interesting Facts about Greece:-
Many Greek structures such as doors, windowsills, furniture and church domes are painted a turquoise blue, especially in the Cyclades Islands. It is used because of an ancient belief that this shade of blue keeps evil away. They called the colour kyanos, which the words “cyan” and “cyanide” are derived from.
The planned voyage to Iraklia from Amorgos was pretty uneventful once the strange wandering around the sea, instead of making a direct beeline for the tiny island, had been solved. Yours truly was suffering from advanced stupidity and realised that the autopilot does not work well when not switched on.
The seas were far from heavy but let’s say they were spirited, yet until the last furlong, or perhaps furling would be more apposite, there was little to discourage a pleasant doze in the sun. However, as we approached Iraklia from the south, another yacht was homing in on the harbour from the north with its spinnaker billowing its determination to make a rapid arrival.
Iraklia is not a large harbour, so I expect the captain, of what was probably a charter vessel, did not want to disappoint his paying guests by letting a little interloper creep in first. We followed him in, but he wandered about the harbour like a water-boatman insect on acid, before selecting a suitable place to drop anchor. We had to sail around in circles at the harbour mouth before homing in on a spot in just 2m of water and a reasonable row ashore.
First port of call was a taverna overlooking the harbour where we found the proprietor kneading the dough for the bread he anticipated would answer his daily needs, because there’s no popping round Lidl’s for a few more! The Greeks cater for shortfall by resorting to an over-baked bread rather like bread rolls in crisp-bread form...I find it surprising they’ve not caught on in the UK, but maybe the paucity of unannounced guests make them less warranted, even though they will last indefinitely in the back of the cupboard. As a crisp-bread they are superb but they also make a pretty good substitute for bread and the trick is to apply just the right amount of water and/or olive oil to soften them to a bread-like form but not so much that they fall apart like a saturated Weetabix.
Manolis the Tavernas, his bread now rising and the aroma making our leaving less attractive, pointed us in the direction of the house of the grandmother of a Crete kafeneion owner friend. We had promised we would say ‘hello’ to the old girl but found her bemused by a gaggle of Brits saying hello to her in unfamiliar Greek that her granddaughter remarked was probably the first time in her life that she had ever been spoken to by a foreigner, other than a doctor from another part of Greece.
The next morning it was a two hour dash across the strait to the island of Schinoussa, which is another ferry port with harbour-side tavernas. It’s a pretty little spot but offers little of interest other than the temptation to see life at the top of the hill at the Chora.
We were some way up the winding road when we came upon a lorry delivering building materials to a part-built house. I asked the driver, an optimist as it turned out, how far it was to the Chora and received the encouraging estimate of 700 metres. As we plodded on, the lorry driver, left in no doubt where we were headed, crawled past us as we trudged up the hill in the scorching sunshine. There appeared to be a path with steps cutting directly through the twisting road, heading for the village, so we took this route. Soon I was ascending in the way of a wooden-legged man as my right knee protested the steps, but eventually behind the fitter, I panted my way into the Chora and headed for the closest refreshment in a first floor taverna and more cursed stairs.
A stroll through the village revealed some seventy houses, tavernas and shops but few people...like most such islands there has been a draining away of the future life-blood to the mainland cities in search of work. Pondering why we had laboured to the top, we headed back for the harbour, the boat and a siesta, but this time followed the stepped path all the way. This was obviously a recently laid path and although well built, it served little real purpose other than to spend some of that magical bottomless pit of wealth, EU money. I have little knowledge of civil engineering, but at a guess I expect the path cost upwards of €200, 000 (including all administration) or about €400/metre. What a pathway to success...a bit like the road the EU built on Iraklia, three kilometeres for three cars but spending distant people’s taxes is easy when you have a bureaucratic nature...God bless them.
Amorgos is a pretty south Aegean isle in the Cyclades group with much in common with many Greek islands. Once, in the age before regular ferry communication, when inter-island travel was the sole province of the caïque or fishing boat, communities were self-supporting unless emergency struck. Imagine sending Petros in his boat twenty miles to fetch a doctor when you have a sick child.
On Amorgos, like other islands, nearly all signs of that essential self-sufficiency have sadly disappeared. Should there be an afterlife what would our forebears think if they were able to look down upon our modern times where their efforts have fallen into disrepair? To see the desolation would be heart-rending for folk that toiled all day, while the sun shone, building terraces of gardens climbing like broad stairways up once-virgin hillsides, all supported by dry-stone walls. The wall building ability still can be seen but now is generally one of the trades required by developers and speculators building Fernando’s hideaway or gracing an unused field, where once the people reaped what they sowed, with a cluster of twee white and blue-painted holiday villas. Here the hoi-polloi are tempted to spend their hard-earned fortnight’s holiday in a semblance of what life in a Mediterranean island means. It means quickly enjoying the view you have paid for, because if you should be naive enough to believe that change to the islands won’t affect you, think again. When you make your rebooking, next visit there is likely to be another villa a handshake away, ruining that idyllic view.
Our journey to Amorgos was an eight hour rodeo ride through heavy seas and gusting force 8 winds and even if Amorgos had turned out to be some developers’ paradise, I would have been happy to step ashore amidst their vandalism. Luckily, it has escaped the fate of other islands and remains a worthwhile destination for the discerning. However, we must recognise that the more popular a place becomes, the more demand there will be for accommodation and the attention of developers. It is an inevitable consequence of building a community of houses rather than houses for a community that we create 8 month-a-year ghost settlements. When the tourists have left, the community of houses stands as a testimony to a modern life where we spend 50 weeks grafting at a job we dislike, for a boss we dislike even more, for a company whose owners are hidden, doing things we wouldn’t want done to us, so that we may pay our mortgages and bring up our declining numbers of offspring. We are naturally pleased with ourselves that we may take a fortnight out of the nightmare and spend it in the same peace and tranquillity enjoyed by all those lucky Mediterranean people for whom graft must be a thing of the past.
In the time it has taken you to read this, I have ridden around Amorgos and seen the essential sights; I have seen the Chora on the hill with its narrow alleyways like a human ants’ nest. I counted 30-something churches before Saint Tedium suggested there were as many cafes and each would be more likely to deliver salvation in exchange for coins in their offertory box.
Across the island I stood in awe before a while slab of a monastery that had been built into a cliff face. I tried to imagine the devoutness and piety that would send a young man here for a lifetime’s incarceration in the service of his and his families’ god. I struggled to reconcile an afterlife earned in this service of the Lord when your whole life has been spent working for that unseen master. Even if the reward is eternal life, the prospect of an eternity of internship makes me cringe.
Yet fortunately, the island still has its human side, that wonderful filoxenia that awaits discovery. When the air in my scooter’s tyre decided it had had enough of lugging my portly frame around and went off with a bang, I found myself in a modest hamlet where there was no sign of any refreshments. The wind whistled around me, taunting me that the rescue phone number I was dialling from the hire contract could be a hoax. Then with the speed of an overweight polecat, I struck...just the slight opening of a door and a man’s shape appearing and I summoned up my best reserves of Greek to ask if, perchance, this might be the community’s kafenion. Obviously I knew it wasn’t, but ‘me the stranger’ (the filos bit) was showered with hospitality (the xenia component) in the shape of Greek coffee, a glass of heady sweet spirit and lashings of biscuits and cake to prevent my hidden emaciated frame from miraculously appearing in the lady’s most comfortable armchair.
I could easily have dropped off to sleep in the warm glow of all this pampering but my mobile phone was not cooperating and connected me with the rescue party that had found the scooter, entombed it in his Turkish-built Transit van and was searching for yours truly. I had no idea where I was, it seemed as near to heaven as I wanted to be right then, but I passed my phone to my hostess who obviously knew my rescuer and within minutes he, too, was in the house of his cousin’s girlfriend’s mother’s younger sister politely prizing me out of the armchair and into his van. I could feel myself dozing off as we wound around the hillsides and hoped I wouldn’t disgrace myself and fall against Manolis the driver. The scooter in the back had no such qualms; tired of fighting with the restraints of its vertical position, it crashed suddenly on its side. Manolis shrugged as if to say, ‘It’s down there now’. I wonder if he would have been quite so philosophical had I crashed slumbering onto him.
Back on Samphire it was time to enjoy that crashed-out state before visiting one of the quayside restaurants that would charge me more than I wanted to pay for food I didn’t particular want to eat...but what choice is there with a loving belly and three spare tyres to support?
Still in the grip of darkness we slowly chugged towards Spinalonga Island at the north end of what is now called Elounda Lagoon. Eighty years ago it was called Marbella Bay by Imperial Airways as an evocative-sounding stopover point for their flying boats from the UK en route to the Nile near Cairo and ever onward to India...it seems hard to believe these massive beasts would do their take-off run in less than 5 minutes along the very same stretch of water we were labouring through now.
Nearly an hour later, we could pick out the shape of the old Venetian fortress, which in its latter life became one of Europe’s last isolated leper colonies. As we headed east, the sky was lightening and there wasn’t a breath of wind. The sun stuck a tentative red segment above the horizon but unlike us, it had no choice but to continue its journey. Without wind in the sails and our diesel thumping away on full power, we would just about push a path north towards the Cyclades at 5 knots. The nearest island, Anafi, is 65 nautical miles giving a potential arrival at 18.00 hours. Anafi is about 20 miles east of the much-visited tourist destination of Santorini (Thira Island) which is itself just too far away to be sure of a daylight arrival. Samphire stuck her boat-shaped ‘segment’ out into the open seas, but unlike the sun, now a cautioning orange and heavily clawing for the midday sky, we could have turned back...
When the sun became a searing white and reached its zenith, Crete, being the largest Greek island, with mountains 5000m high, still stood majestically. In fact its outline was still just visible in the distant haze as we approached Anafi’s harbour, or what masqueraded for a harbour in forgiving seas. It looked like a poor substitute for a proper harbour should winds blow up and the sea start to swell...such as well shown in the film made at Lyme Regis in Dorset, UK, The French Lieutentant’s Woman. However, not to worry, the harbour walls might be a mere groyne compared with Lyme’s towering buttresses, but the wind was gentle, the seas were flat calm and the usually reliable Poseidon weather forecast indicated no change throughout the night.
As we dropped anchor, we looked forward to a modest drop of wine and a good night’s sleep....unfortunately, we did have the wine but the good night’s sleep would be short-lived. Well before midnight declared its boredom with the dying day and long after my snoring must have echoed around the boat, fate in an impromptu test had decided to send a swell and it started to pour into our bay as if someone had opened a sluice gate into this sector of the Aegean.
The scrumptious red wine that we had carried from Crete’s best vineyard, had preceded sliding between the sheets…well, more like an involuntary backward high jump without the difficult part that wins trophies. I told myself through fractured wine-befuddled sleep that it wasn’t serious, it was nothing to concern us and it would pass by dawn. At 3am I was rudely awoken by a thumping on the hull and I knew, somehow, despite the entreaties of the wine, this was not the postman. The thumping continued and through the fug I realised the keel was bashing on the sandy bottom, and not far from sand at that depth was rocks. Out on deck the impending disaster was clear to see even in a foaming, thrashing sea; Samphire had moved on her anchor and was nearly doomed. Full revs and hard rudder saw her moving away from the rocks...now to raise the anchor and ready ourselves to drop it again a little further out in the bay of the harbour.
Job done, I crashed exhausted into my pit, but within an hour the boat was bobbing around like a rodeo steed and staying asleep was near impossible…try napping on one of the latest scream-curdling roller-coaster rides to give you a taste of what Grandfather Fate had sent to test us.
The anchor now held fast but each lurch, each snatch and each attempt by Samphire to pick up water with her gunwale edges made it clear this would be a long, maybe even an ultimate test. At 6am one of Greece’s large ferries put in on an adjacent berth and the captain wasn’t long in letting me know that worse was to come and we had two options, abandon ship and struggle ashore or put to sea and take our chances, ‘To hell with you Fate’, I shouted, ‘You’ll have to wait.’ With engine screaming and anchor barely stowed, we headed out into the storm, with a sky so black it could still have been midnight.
Samphire pounded us like a bucking bronco. It was impossible to go below for anything but with some directions from the Greek coastguard, bless them, we put into the sheltered harbour of Katopola on Amorgos island 8 hours later. Many yachting types were sheltering there and we were grateful for the willing hands that threw lines, moved fenders, shouted instructions and hauled us in to be finally secured.
Pontiff-like I was overjoyed to climb ashore and leave my lip marks in the swirling dust of the passing storm...by God did that dust taste good.
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