I have a new job...how exciting is that? As I apply my sixty-eight year-old energies to the task in hand, I am reminded of Mr Cameron’s warning about job losses if we should be foolhardy enough to seek our freedom from the shackles of the EU.
Without a doubt, my new job would fall victim to the epidemic of losses and deficits we British are told we will suffer. You see, I live much of my life in Greece. My new job is entirely dependent upon my being able to live here in the sun; should we vote to leave I am reliably informed that filters will be installed across our source of light and heat, which will detect ex-pats and limit the sun’s output to ready us for packing up and returning home.
You might wonder how it is that an antediluvian Englishman has secured a new job in a country that has fifty people chasing every vacancy. Let me tell you that I didn’t even apply for it, it was given to me or I was given to it as the most suitable candidate.
I have to say that I would rather be grafting away here than swanning about in poor old blighty, a country I do not think I would recognise any more. I watched a short film ‘Today and Yesterday in London’, which made me sad. How wonderful it used to be to watch the world go by exactly as George Formby so brilliantly put it when he sang, ‘I’m leaning on the lamp post at the corner of the street just to watch the little ladies go by...’ I learnt that I could still stand, or sit in my case, to watch the little ladies go by, but I don’t think it would be very rewarding for most seemed to be swathed in great black tents that disguise what charms might lurk inside.
I have to confess that in my Greek village, amongst the 300 or so souls, there are about six women of child-bearing age to watch going by, although lamp-posts are in short supply. However, we do have a wealth of grandmothers, or yia-yias as they are called here, by way of a less-visually stimulating substitute, although I must say that some of the old dears are quite amusing.
It is these yia-yias that have given me my new job as the village charabanc driver. Our village is about three miles from the nearest town, but apparently a lot further in kilometres. The town hosts a fruit and vegetable market every Thursday; other things are sold in the market that lure the yia-yias, including outsize clothing and pop-socks, the latter being very popular with any Greek woman over fifty, which is when senility must be deemed to have arrived and with it an inability to get tights the right way round or secure a suspender belt. Nature is a marvellous thing because it produces little markers that let you know you are in the company of a pop-sock wearer. However, it is possible to make a great mistake so care must be taken in carrying out the assessment because you might otherwise think that the legs of a fifteen year-old boy are clad in nylon pop-socks. Why? Because he shares the same markers of wispy strands of black whiskers dotted around the chin and upper lip. A quick engagement in conversation to hear the breaking treble will ensure it is not a senile yia-yia with whiskers, because her voice would be lower than Pavarotti’s base notes.
Every day (except Sundays) we have a bread-van than threads its way around the mountain villages with some fine traditionally baked products; it is a delight to be reminded of my childhood in deepest Somerset when we had vans of all types plying their trade. Here, we also have vans selling vegetables, fish and even clothing, but I don’t often use those, so the bread-man alone refreshes my memories with his daily duties. In the UK, many of those childhood joys would now fall foul of some health and safety directive. I watch as he picks up a loaf with his right hand and stuffs it into a still-free plastic bag...oh how that alone starts me on my journey back in time.
That though, is not what excites my memories, for now I hold out my money and here I must let my imagination take control because it is not the large pre-decimal coins of my childhood England that I proffer, but some ugly little coinage adopted by half of Europe in its quest for uniformity. The bread-man takes my money, which only this morning I had fished out of some work(I think)-stained trousers and hands me back the change, before turning to a village child queuing impatiently next in line. As I walk back to my house I muse upon the hand that took the coin I had handed over; it was the very same naked hand that picked up the next loaf for the child to convey back to his hungry siblings. Suddenly I go cold and am left pondering about the yia-yia before me in the queue and where her hand might have been before it picked up her euro coin and she headed for the bread-van just before me. Oh how stupid, I survived the first 12 years of my life without such morbid thoughts, it just goes to show how we have been so beguiled by the health and safety industry that we are almost too afraid to breathe.
Sorry about the tangent, but it is connected. Sometimes I do not hear the horn of the bread-van being beeped and have to walk to his next wayside stop. Yet on Thursdays, the day of the town’s market, I always have a telephone call from a yia-yia at the top of my lane to tell me that the bread-van is waiting for me. She never rings on any other day including Saturdays when I need two loaves to keep me going through until Monday. However, on Thursdays, when I meet her hovering at the bread-van, she draws herself up to her full height, stares at my bellybutton and asks me in a contrived falsetto if I will be going to the market today. Many times now I have gone and bought things I don’t need and watched stupefied as she has filled my car with half a greenhouse of produce from which the car is bug-infested till the last one climbs out of the left-open windows the following Wednesday, in time for the process to be repeated on the morrow.
This Thursday was different because she had obviously decided she would not avail herself of every bit of space in my car. No, on this Thursday her friend was standing by her waiting and climbed into the back seat without a word. She is a slightly younger yia-yia with far fewer whiskers on the chin, but between the two of them they managed to fill every available corner, including my lap, which played host to a bunch of beetroot. At least now I know what the stain had been on my trousers.
You should see my house, chock full of things I rarely use, things I don’t know how to use and I find myself eating tomatoes morning, noon and night. Senior yia-yia bought me a plate of food last night just when I had made up my mind how I was going to use up a fridge full of vegetables before next Thursday. After all, I knew I would be making another tour of the market buying things to stop the yia-yias guiltily thinking I only go for them. When she came to collect my empty plate she suggested jokingly that maybe I should buy a bigger car as she had more friends wanting to come to the market too. I fear it’s no joke and any day now some local ‘Arturos Daylios’ will be knocking on my door to announce the bargain of the month in the form of a people carrier he has just spent his last euros on to save a starving Athens’ family...
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