Friday, 26 May 2017

Dead Heads and Degrees

Fans of the band the Grateful Dead will well know that they're often called "Dead Heads". Sorry to raise false hopes then, because this post has nothing to do with the ancient American West Coast rock bank led by Gerry Garcia.  That is, unless any ageing Dead Heads out there are also keen gardeners; in which case, read on.

Further to something I referred to in this post a while back, ie: the advice that actually more than one local has given me to never water fruit trees while they're in flower, a recent visit to the local plant nursery/garden shop just down the road from us has provided me with the explanation.

We dropped in there to purchase a flowering plant to put in where something had died and decided to ask the friendly chap (never have asked him his name) about this and his answer, I must say, makes some sense.

What he said, in essence, was that if you water a fruit tree while it has flowers then you make it feel that there is no urgency to produce fruit - and thus seeds - because it's in no danger of dying of thirst. If the tree can be fooled into thinking that it'll need to get on and produce fruit because it's in possible danger of experiencing drought and thus possible death, then the survival instinct that's encoded in the plant's DNA kicks in and it decides to start the fruit growing process quicker in order to get the seeds into existence before it's too late. 

Once the flowers drop off and the tiny fruit has begun to swell behind the flower head you can once again begin to water, this time to fatten up the fruit itself. The irreversible process of producing seeds to ensure the tree's survival has begun and it can now be helped along again.

It does make sense to me. It carries a kind of logic. It reminds me of the advice we always get about deadheading roses. If you cut off the flowers as soon as they die (preferable pruning back quite hard to a nodule or leaf growth) then the plant goes into overdrive to produce more flowers because only when the flowers have gone over can the 'hips', which contain the seeds, begin to form. Thus a rose can be kept in bloom for months if deadheaded with regularity, whereas if you don't deadhead, the hips will form and the plant will stop flowering because, in essence, it thinks its work is done.

Eat your heart out Monty Don, eh? (That won't mean much to my readers outside the UK!)

The garden just after sunset a couple of days ago.


We were talking to an Albanian friend recently and she revealed something that, in the several years that we've known her, we didn't realise before. She has a husband and two growing boys and she works, as so many of her fellow countrymen and women do, as an orderly in a hotel, cleaning twenty or thirty rooms every day, seven days a week, for the entire summer season. One could be forgiven for thinking that these folk, humble as they are, are probably not very well educated. How wrong we'd be.

Our friend revealed that she's a qualified teacher and the only reason why she is reduced to cleaning hotel rooms for a virtual slave's wage is that there is no prospect of work in her actual profession back in Albania. She's been to university and has a degree, poor woman. She speaks three languages. She also told us something else that I for one hadn't appreciated. 

I may have mentioned in times past about the disgraceful habit that so many of the larger hotels here have of not paying their staff for months on end. I always assumed that it was simply a ruse using the economic climate as an excuse, when in fact they're making money hand over fist. I believed that they were simply hanging on to their money and making it work for them, while telling their lowly workers that they couldn't pay them owing to cash flow. It turns out that my Albanian friend's explanation is far more likely to be the true one.

She told us that by making their staff wait, often until way past the end of the season, for their hard-earned wages, the management can prevent their staff from resigning and changing jobs mid-season. They feel that they have no choice but to hang on because, if they were to leave, they'd surely never collect the back-pay that they're owed, or at least not all of it. You see the logic of this? In essence these hotel owners are saying that, rather than make their staff happy by providing them with good working conditions and a living wage, with the result that they'll want to stay in the job, they treat them badly and prevent them leaving by getting them over a barrel. 

I do know of one or two local hotels where the staff are paid on time and you know something? It works much better than the other 'blackmail' method. I collect guests on my excursions from these hotels where the owner is a local Greek who does take reasonably good care of his workers and I always get the same story. The guests tell me that nothing is too much for the staff and that they are all helpful, friendly and attentive. It's interesting that among the hotels that don't pay their workers are some that I know are owned by non-Greeks. So the profit's going out of the country anyway. Interesting, eh?

It's not rocket science, but happy staff means happy guests. A lesson that some hotel owners and managers may do well to take to heart.


Our friend George, who has the Pelican's Nest down on the beach road here in Kiotari, has been titivating his store ready for opening for the season. Last year he changed it from a restaurant into a souvenir shop with a difference. We were walking past the other evening when we came across him painting the words "Mini Market" on the wall outside the premises. 

Our George is always ready with a smile.
I asked him how last season had gone. 

"Not too good, Yianni." He replied. 

I wish him well for this season. If you're down here in what I call the "real" Kiotari, and you come across George's shop, sandwiched between "Stefano's" Taverna and "Il Porto", give him a go. Apart from the regular kinds of stuff we see in every souvenir store, he stocks some slightly more unusual things too.

To close on a lighter note. Our wheelbarrow is badly in need of a new tyre. If you've read my latest memoir book, A Jay in the Jacaranda Tree, you may remember my tale about having my abdominal hernia done here on Rhodes in the municipal hospital. The surgeon who did the op, on examining the offending bulge the evening before surgery, had exclaimed, "Poh poh! That is a big one!"

Umm, ouch?


Every time I look at this tyre, it takes me back...

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Nooks and Crannies

Largely a photo-based post this time. I've been wandering around the old Town and Mandraki area both during the day and in the evening this past week while doing my first few excursions of the season. So I thought I'd bring you these...


"I'm just popping across the road darling..."

You may recall I mentioned this before a while back - these arches are earthquake measures. They work! 500 years proves it.

"Yea, so anyway, this fella in a baseball cap was driving it. He asked me where the golf course was. I told him, I said "You're way off mate. You need to be in Afandou..."

Hmph. Still no tourists to pet me yet then...

All you need now is a gin and tonic.

Spiros, I think you could have squeezed a little more on to that board...

Room with a view. Just not much of one that's all.

Handy storage space for kitchen cleaning utensils.

Elvis? You in there?

Lights, camera, action?



Just in case passers-by forget which country we're in.

Left here...

The Mandraki windmills at dusk.

Scootersville.


Well I hope you liked those folks. If Avril and John are reading this, I thoroughly enjoyed your company last night by the way. Would have probably liked a bit more shop talk with John, but then, probably better as it was, or Avril would have gone off in a huff (Only joking Avril!!).

Avril and John, for the rest of you out there in web-land, were a couple on my excursion to Rhodes last evening. John was in the same trade as me in his former life, graphic design. Oh, and Vicki and Keith - guess what, they're from near Norwich!

Thursday, 11 May 2017

Agatha Christie Lives! (Only she's now a bloke and she's Greek...)

Avid readers will all know about the great Agatha Christie, of course. In most of her books someone (or several someones!) meets a grizzly end and the reader is led a merry, yet absorbing dance while the whole thing unfolds, culminating in a great exposĂ© at the end. Gripping stuff.

If you've read all of hers though and wish she'd written more, fear not!! Not only is there a contemporary version of Agatha, but she's a 'he' and the tales he writes take place in our beloved Greece.

Don't let it put you off coming here for your holidays though. Despite what you may read (it is fiction, after all) you really are relatively much safer on a Greek island than you are back home (wait a minute? What was that noise?).

Cue my latest interview "coup", because I've only gone and got Luke Christodoulou for you haven't I!



Now, even if some of his stories put you off your breakfast, I'm quite sure that the interview won't, in fact it's a fascinating insight into what makes the man tick. You carry on reading this while I go wipe the blood off this knife...

Where do you live?
I live in Limassol, a cosmopolitan town on the picturesque island of Cyprus.

What do you write about?
I write murder/mysteries set upon the majestic Greek Isles. Each book is a stand alone, yet feature the same investigating duo and a few side characters.

Why Greece?
Heaven on earth! No other way to explain the beauty of this country. [Couldn't put that better myself - ed]

How long does it take you to write a book?
As I do not write full time (I work as an English teacher, too), it takes the whole process from idea to publication a whole year. I form the outline in a month, write for eight, then a couple of months it goes back and forth from me to my editor and, finally, it is ready to be unleashed.

What do you enjoy most about writing?
Everything! The planning of the mystery, the clues, the scenery... the creation of the characters (especially the villain [get some therapy Luke! - Ed])... the search for the right adjective, the perfect verb... all of it. 

What, in your view, is/has been the greatest gift from Greece to the world?
It is here, where man first discovered his true powers. Before ancient Greece, man was just a pawn of the Gods/nature. Greeks showed him how to set his mind free. Philosophy, art, history, democracy, astronomy etc. followed. [Yea, but apart from that, what have the Greeks ever done for us? - Ed 😂]

How do you come up with an idea for a book?
To be honest, I do not know. I have twisted, dark corners in my mind. Leave me alone for a few hours and a murderous plot will be born. Psychotic killers follow. [see my earlier aside! - Ed]

How do you go about writing, that is to say, are you organised, do your research, disciplined, are you a messy sort who gets it done one way or another?
I consider myself disciplined when it comes to writing, yet creativity follows no logic, no program. I will follow my time schedule and my rough outline, but surely will go off tracks.

Which other authors do you read?
The mother of my genre, Agatha Christie. I enjoy the ‘big names’, too, like King, Patterson, La Plante. I will try and read anything if the blurb draws me in. Also, as a father and a teacher, I read a lot of children’s books. Julia Donaldson. Dr Seuss and Eric Carle are my favourites.

What's your preferred kind of music? 
It’s hard to explain what makes us enjoy a certain song and not another. It is almost as if it is not me making the choice. I could hear a song and fall in love with it or immediately change the station/press next. I listen to a variety of genres. Pop, dance, rock, RnB cover most of my car’s play list.

Do you like Greek music and if so, which kind?
It is not my top choice of music, though I have lots of songs that will have me singing along. I like oldies for the lyrics and anything with a good beat from latest offerings. I listened to a lot of Hadjiyianni when he was at his peak.

Favourite Greek dish?
Every single one! All meats! Seriously though, wine-marinated octopus tops the list!



Wine-marinated octopus is what does it for Luke. Wait, is something moving in there?

Favourite place in Greece and the reason(s)?
So many. I will name two. Parga on the mainland and Santorini for an island. Both stunning and alive. My favourite places to walk around without a care in the world, to soak up the scenery and to enjoy an amazing meal. Also, nothing can beat Parga’s waters or Santorini’s view.


Parga, one of the most beautiful bays in Greece, and it's mainland, not an island. Incidentally, it gets a mention in my second novel (can't let an opportunity like this pass) - A Brief Moment of Sunshine.

What links would you like the readers to explore in connection with your work, including, of course, sites where your work may be purchased?
All my Greek Island Mysteries are available through Amazon:
https://www.amazon.com/s/ref=dp_byline_sr_ebooks_1?ie=UTF8&text=Luke+Christodoulou&search-alias=digital-text&field-author=Luke+Christodoulou&sort=relevancerank

Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=dp_byline_sr_ebooks_1?ie=UTF8&text=Luke+Christodoulou&search-alias=digital-text&field-author=Luke+Christodoulou&sort=relevancerank

Feel free to follow me on FB:
https://www.facebook.com/Greek-Island-Mysteries-712190782134816/?ref=bookmarks

My website for further info:
http://greekislandmysteries.webs.com/

And finally, reading device or real book?
Both, though I admit, lately I have switched nearly completely to ebooks. Cheaper, more environmentally friendly, less space and no guilt when you delete a ‘bad’ book.


Hope you enjoyed that folks. Here are a couple of Luke's covers...



All of Luke's work can of course be checked out on his Amazon Author Page.

• 

There's already another interview in the pipeline. After a few weeks of my regular posts, it'll appear.

Going Out and Coming In (or maybe the other way around)

Saw this on Facebook last night. Some of you might have already seen it, but perhaps didn't understand the Greek, so I thought I'd shove it on the blog because it's sooo real!

It's a conversation, a brief one, where a young girl, still living at home, is going out. She opens the front door and calls out to her mother, who's not in her line of sight, perhaps in the kitchen or something...

"Mum, I'm off out!"

Here are the likely replies in various countries...

USA - "See you!"
UK - "Bye, then!"
France - "Au revoir!"
Spain - "Adios!"

Greece - "What? Where are you going? Who with? Why? Who's taking you? Who's going to be there? When are you coming home? Every day you go out. This house is a hotel! How much money will you waste this time? Aaach! You never have any time for your poor parents! Only going out matters to you. Aach, when I die - then you'll understand!"

Now, if you don't know much about Greeks then you might think that's an exaggeration, But it doesn't stop even when someone gets married. More often than not the newlyweds live above or below one or other set of parents. I have some close friends who even moved islands so that the young daughter-in-law didn't have to undergo this grilling every time she and her husband got in the car. Her pethera [mother-in-law] would lean out of her kitchen window and say the above virtually word for word, perhaps adding:

"What do want to go there for? You won't like it, you'll spend too much, My son won't thank you for taking him to that place. Not his scene. What are you wearing that for? You'll catch your death! Do you really need all that makeup?"  - and more besides.



Now, the above photo was taken when we were staying in Barry, South Wales, last month. What's it doing here? Well, I was showing the holiday snaps on my iPad to a friend, a Greek girl who's never been to the UK. Never been outside of Greece as it happens. She's not, like, a child or anything, she's almost 30 years old and has a couple of small children.

I wanted her to see where we came from, plus to demonstrate the fact that in the UK we do now and then see some sunshine. I found myself saying...

"We walked across that beach, which you can only do when the tide's out. When it's in that harbour wall to the right is sticking out into the sea and boats can sail in and out."

Her expression was one of puzzlement. She looked at the photo, then at me and without a word told me that she didn't quite 'get' what I was on about. After a few seconds she said:

"What? What is a tide?"

I'm being straight up here, honest. I replied:

"Don't tell me you've never heard of the tide? You know, 'high tide' and 'low tide.' The distance between where the sea is when it's out and where it is when it's in, every twelve hours or so. That tide."

"The sea moves?"

"Of course. All that sand you see there is under water every twelve hours or so, when the tide is in. That photo was taken when it was out, which was why we could walk across the harbour entrance."

I could tell that she was that far away from saying, "You're having a laugh, aren't you. How can the sea move?"

I could tell, because that's what she then proceeded to say. It was then that it struck me. She's only ever seen the Mediterranean, she's never seen the Atlantic or any other ocean. Here in her home country, give or take a couple of feet or so, the sea's always in the same place. All I could do was try and give her an explanation of how the moon affects the sea levels and why it doesn't happen in the Med. Straights of Gibraltar and all that stuff.

I dunno what they learn in Geography, or even physics, in Greek schools. Maybe she just didn't pay attention, too busy thinking up replies to her mother's rants when she went out I suspect. But the old expression that my mum used to say sprang to mind...

"There's nowt sah queer as folk."

My mum wasn't Yorkshire, but her father, my grandfather, was. He was probably 'on Ilkley Moor bar tat' as often as not, thah naws.

Google it.

Saturday, 6 May 2017

Another Quickie

This one's a quickie. Things are waking up tourism-wise and I start work on my excursions this coming week. Not a lot of time at the mo', plus I'm preparing the next author interview with Luke Christodoulou. 

So this one's just a few recent photos...

Sun beds and umbrellas at the ready at the Rodos Maris Hotel. At least they're still leaving our quiet little corner of beach (bottom right) alone, phew!

One of our favourite walks off-season is to stand on that headland and watch the vast sea. This was just last week though.

One of the neighbours while I was gardening in Pilona last week (see this post)

...and another.

Fancy a stay at the Paraktio Beach Apartments near us?

St. Paul's Bay, Lindos, looks all right doesn't it.

As I mentioned above, the next author interview is with Luke Christodoulou and it ought to be getting posted fairly soon now.

See you soon!

Sunday, 30 April 2017

Megaphone Marketing

I was over in Pilona yesterday, doing some of my regular gardening for a friend there who hasn't got the manpower to keep her garden in the manner to which she'd like. There I was attacking the weeds, that were defiantly thrusting their way up through the gravel, with my trusty old screwdriver, glove on the right hand to help prevent, or at least delay, the inevitable blister that usually forms in the palm of my hand, when a familiar sound began wafting across the olive grove across the lane from the main part of the village a little way up the gently sloping hillside. Even the two donkeys grazing across the lane from me under the shade of an old olive tree perked up their ears.

A few hundred metres away a megaphone was garbling away in Greek. Someone was slowly trawling the narrow village lanes peddling their wares, in this case patio furniture. If you've ever been in a Greek village when one of these enterprising traders comes by, it does have entertainment value. Usually the patio furniture salesmen will be driving a pick-up piled so high with stacked plastic patio chairs that they ought to have a flashing red light on top to warn any passing aircraft.

If anyone actually wants to purchase a few of these chairs, which are often carried in several fetching colours, I have often wondered how the vendor gets up there to take them from the stack. These pickups are usually so laden with the seller's wares that it's difficult to imagine quite how they got it all on there in the first place. I'm quite sure from the ones I've witnessed, that if I were the one trying to load the flatbed, I'd be continually cursing as, while I attempt to load one huge pile, another comes crashing back to the ground.

Not many minutes later another, quite different, megaphone-amplified voice began to declare its presence. This time it was the scrap iron collector. Pretty soon it was interesting to listen as the two scratchy voices could be heard cruising different parts of the village, each evidently trying to keep his distance from the other. They were almost circling each other like two animals checking out the opposition before setting to with a fight. It doesn't do for two vendors/collectors to arrive at the same time after all. They don't want some householder struggling into their avli with their newly acquired shiny plastic patio furniture set while at the same time the old iron collector comes by to collect their old washing machine. That would be too irritating and just too stressful.

In fact, the scrap iron collector so puts me in mind of my childhood. It was as far back as 1957 when Peter Sellers the actor released the song "Any Old Iron" back in the days when it was quite a regular occurrence for the scrap metal collectors to come around the streets collecting old mangles and stuff (Point of interest, Sellers didn't write the song, he took it from the old music hall entertainer Harry Champion. What a mine of useless info I am, eh?). Here in Greece it's still a regular occurrence. 

Other mobile vendors that regularly do a tour of the local villages include those selling freshly caught fish (cue all the local cat population to turn out en masse), Chickens (live ones), Carpets and rugs, clothes, Fruit and veg and plants in pots. 


Yea, that's the kind of thing. Photo courtesy of hellenicnews.com

The clothes and rug salesmen are more usually to be seen in closed vans, the ones with the sliding side doors, but the others are more often driving pickup trucks. The plant sellers often have such a top-heavy cargo on the back that you do well to keep your distance, especially if they're moving. They'll often be seen on the roads between villages, trundling along with half a dozen fifteen-foot high palm trees swaying in the breeze from their terracotta pots stowed on the flatbed. All kinds of other exotic plants may be on there as well, in fact I wouldn't be at all surprised with some of them if I saw a blowpipe below a nose with a bone through it slide out from between the lush foliage now and then. I've seen huge pots roll off the back of these pickups on more than one occasion. When you consider that the seller may well be asking a hundred Euros for a large palm that weighs so much that it needs two people to lift it, you'd kind of expect them to be slightly better at securing them on their vehicles.

Anyway, the two donkeys soon went back to their lazy grazing and I took that as a cue to carry on weeding. I've got a blister on the palm of my right hand today by the way. Just thought you'd like to know. In case, you know, you may want to express sympathy or something.

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Spring is Sprung

"The spring is sprung, the grass is riz.
I wonder where the boidies is.
They say the boidie’s on the wing.
But that’s absoid. The wing is on the boid."

My mum used to love to repeat that verse. You have to say it with a 'Noo Yoik' accent for it to make sense. My mum was good at accents. She'd have loved to be here now, in our garden in Kiotari, because it would for sure have elicited those words once again from her lips. Why? 'Cos the blossoms are a riot at the moment. We came home just in time to see the flowers at their best. They're never quite as good as they are now all through the summer.

Here, take a look...

We cut all the rose bushes in the garden back really hard every February, usually to something like 10" above the ground. They always reward us a few months later.


That's a bottle-brush hiding behind the yucca leaves.

Don't know what those pink babies are called, except that we theorise that they're of the daisy family. They're soooo flamboyant though.


When we left for the UK on 29th March, the fig tee was bare except for very tiny leaf buds. We came back to this.
The weather last Saturday evening when we landed was not a lot different from what we'd left behind in the UK, but I rather think that now there's quite a difference. It's been 28ÂșC outside today and, owing to the fact that I've spent a couple of days slaving away in the garden to try and get it into shape after a few weeks of neglect (and done my neck in as a result), I've actually taken my first couple of outdoor showers of the season. OK, so the water was a tad cold, flamin' freezing in fact, but afterward it's worth it for that tingling sensation you get all over your skin as you dry off under the sun.

The new book is currently being proof-read and edited, so there's not a whole lot I can do for a little while longer yet, but I hope to at least have the Kindle version live within the month.

Regarding the new book, "A Jay in the Jacaranda Tree", I hope you'll give it a go. It's got shades of the old "Ramblings" series in it, in that it does contain some anecdotes and experiences of over a decade of living on Rhodes, but it's generally quite different in that it's really a treatise on the Rhodes and the Greece of the past ten years, with all the turmoil that's been going on regarding the economic woes, the political upheaval and the refugee crisis for starters.

Hopefully it'll answer a few questions too, ones that the guests on my excursions ask me so often. Things like whether we'd ever go back to the UK, how the financial crisis affects ex-pats living over here and others. 

It delves into the realms of controversy too and gets pretty frank about animals, ex-pats and their ways, the religion and its effect on the general populace, tourism's good and bad sides, stuff like that. It looks at the Greek health service from the angle of someone living 'on the ground' as it were, as it does the situation in Athens, something that I feel has been grossly distorted by the overseas media, especially in the UK.

Overall I hope that readers will sense my underlying affection for this country and its eccentric people. I'm being provocative here and there and thus the quote that I've chosen to preface the whole thing...

"I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."

- Evelyn Beatrice Hall (under the pseudonym S. G. Tallentyre), reputedly quoting Voltaire.

I fully expect some readers to disagree with my 'findings', but mature folk can think along different lines, completely disagree in fact, without becoming enemies. Mature folk don't fall out, in fact they applaud the rights of others to express their views unhindered (that's covered that then!).

The bee-eaters have arrived early. The swallows, martins and even the odd swift are swooping in the early evening, the deer have retreated to higher altitudes in search of fresher air and the presence of half-naked people down the road near the local cafés and shops indicates that the summer season is once again waking up. I'll soon be welcoming guests aboard my occasional excursions and my wife has already begun work. It is good. It is right. It is nice. As we always say here in spring - "it's nice to see things waking up," after months of the winter's sleepiness. Come late September we'll once again be saying of the tourists, "bugger off home and leave our island to us again please."

But every year at this time we find ourselves glad to see them again. Spring is sprung, the grass is riz ...bring it on.