Friday, 19 January 2018

It's Murder on Mykonos...

I'm delighted to be posting another in my occasional series of interviews with authors whose work carries a decidedly Greek theme. It's been a while, but I felt it was becoming perhaps just a little too quick and often before.

This time though, it's back with a bang, because I'm thrilled to say that I've recently 'virtually' sat down [across a couple of continents] with Jeffrey Siger, and below is my in-depth interview with him. 



In the extremely unlikely event that you are not aware who Jeffrey is, his extensive answer to question 1 in the interview below will surely enlighten you!

Off we go then...

1. Tell us a little about who you are, where you grew up etc.

I am an American living on the island of Mykonos, a place I’ve considered home since first setting foot there some 35 years ago. A Pittsburgh native and former Wall Street lawyer, a dozen years ago I gave up my career as a name partner in my own New York City law firm to live in Greece half the year and write mystery-thrillers.

 Some Mykonian friends told me if I started sprinkling murders with a message across my adopted country's tourist paradises, I'd likely be banished, if not hanged. No one was more amazed than I when my debut novel, Murder in Mykonos (a sort of Mamma Mia setting for a No Country for Old Men story), became Greece's No.1 best selling English-language novel (and a best-seller in Greek, as well).  

As of January 2018, I have nine Greece-based Chief Inspector Andreas Kaldis novels out there, the latest being AN AEGEAN APRIL, which Library Journal awarded a starred review saying, “vividly depicts the political and economic issues involved in the European refugee crisis… outstanding crime novel.” 
It's been a remarkable journey, punctuated most notably by The New York Times selecting the fourth in my Andreas Kaldis series (Target: Tinos) as one of its five “picks for the beach” while calling the entire series, “thoughtful police procedurals set in picturesque but not untroubled Greek locales;” 

Left Coast Crime's nomination of the fifth in the series (Mykonos After Midnight) in 2014 as Best Mystery in a Foreign Setting; a 2016 Barry Award Best Novel Nomination for my seventh (Devil of Delphi); starred reviews and official government citations; and a mention in Fodor's Greek Islands Travel Guide under a section titled “Mykonos After Dark” that I consider equivalent to winning an Oscar ☺ —"Some say that after midnight, Mykonos is all nightlife—this throbbing beat is the backdrop to Jeffrey Siger's popular mystery, Murder in Mykonos."



My work is published in the US, UK, Germany (German), and Greece (Greek and English), and I'm honored to have served as Chair of the National Board of Bouchercon World Mystery Convention, and as Adjunct Professor of English at Washington & Jefferson College, teaching mystery writing.


2. Where do you live now?


One half of each year on Mykonos, the balance based at my farm outside of New York City.


Jeffrey at the place he loves best, Mykonos
3. What do you write about?

My mystery-thrillers are told against the backdrop of traditional Greek life in different Greek locales. They are aimed at exploring serious societal issues confronting modern day Greece in a tell-it-like-it-is style while touching upon the country's ancient roots.  At the heart of each book lay some modern-day upheaval or other uncomfortable subject that most writers prefer to avoid, yet is precisely the sort of issue I promised myself to address when I changed careers. 

4. Why Greece?

My original goal was to write a stand-alone novel telling the story of an island I knew intimately.  I wanted to talk about Mykonos’ people, culture and politics and only settled upon the mystery format because it struck me as the best vehicle for exploring how a tourist island society might respond to a threat to its newfound economic glory.  With the success of my debut novel, and a three-book deal for a series, I quickly realized I had an inexhaustible number of topics and venues to explore in Greece.  After all, it is the birthplace of the gods, the cradle of European civilization, the bridge between East and West.  Spartan courage, Athenian democracy, Olympic achievement, and Trojan intrigue all call it home. On top of all that, what tantalized me as a writer working on the edge of societal change, was how many of the great issues confronting our modern world were centered in Greece’s Mediterranean neighborhood. Indeed, I’d venture to say no western country is closer to what challenges our planet than Greece.


Vathi, in the Mani.

5. How do you come up with an idea for a book?


Honestly, they find me. It’s uncanny how something I read, hear, or experience just sparks a thought that leads to an idea for a book. It’s that strange alchemy called inspiration , something I can’t put my finger on, or dare risk over-analyzing out of fear all might simply vanish into that same thin air as now gives rise to my ideas.

6. How long does it take you to write a book?

I’ve done a book a year for the past ten years, so I guess the answer is a year. 

7. 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 am very disciplined in my research and writing. I suspect it comes from all those years practicing law.  When I’m into my writing mode of 1000 finished words a day, my friends on Mykonos will tell you that no matter what tempting high season distraction might be out there, I cannot be lured away from my keyboard until my 1000 words are finished. But once they are….

8. What do you enjoy most about writing?

I am a seat-of-the-pants writer, meaning I have no idea what will end up on paper once I put my butt in the chair and start typing.  I leave it to my characters to take me in the direction they believe works best for the story. Frankly, I’m just along for the ride.  The excitement of learning what my characters have in store for me each day is sheer joy. 

9. What, in your view, is/has been the greatest gift from Greece to the world?

Socrates, sun, and souvlaki…in no particular order.

10. Which other authors do you read?

I’m a great fan of Cormac McCarthy, Arthur Conan Doyle, John Steinbeck, August Wilson (really a playwright), Robert Frost (yes, the poet), all the mystery writing folk at Poisoned Pen Press, and my blogmates at Murder is Everywhere where I write a post about Greece every Saturday.   

11. What's your preferred kind of music?

Whatever’s playing. I’m very eclectic in my music tastes.

12. Do you like Greek music and if so, which kind?

Rebetiko.


13. Favourite Greek dish?

Octopodi prepared and grilled next to the sea where it's caught, together with achinos collected by friends who remembered to bring along bread, olive oil and plenty of tsipouro. 

14. Favourite place in Greece and the reason(s)?

Mykonos. As crazy as it’s become during tourist season, it’s where my friends, my heart, and my fondest memories remain, and where I spend more time than any other place on earth. 



15. Reading device or real book?

I prefer real books, but practicalities—such as the virtually absence of English-language new releases in Greece—makes a Kindle a necessity for me. 

16. In as few words as possible, tell someone who's never been to Greece why they should go.

To forever change your view of life for the better.


17. What links would you like the readers to explore in connection with your work, including, of course, sites where your work may be purchased?

   





There you go folks. I think you'll agree it was well worth the wait. By all means share this if you know anyone else who'd like to read Jeffrey's interview.

Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Working up a Sweat

Just a brief post about winter life in general. Firstly, weather-wise this winter is proving to be much more normal than the previous two, thank goodness. We're getting rain almost once a week, which is very welcome, and between-times it's gorgeously sunny, without all that much in the way of strong winds up until now. We haven't yet had what we'd really call a cold spell either, although we do light the log-burner in the early evening quite often, just to warm the place through. Often, though, we don't feed it, we just let what's in there burn itself out.

We need to use it because one of our favourite winter pastimes is chainsawing wood for the wood store. My better half is never happier than when she's up to her knees in hard graft. In fact just yesterday she was saying that she doesn't like it when we get past Christmas because, once the new year is upon us, then it's the countdown to starting work in the season, and we so enjoy our winter schedule! I've said many times, both here on the blog, and to people I meet during the summer who ask me about the winters here, that we (and it sounds awful, I know) actually prefer the winters to the summers.


Working up a sweat chainsawing a dead tree in the forest, then setting up the saw horse at home to section it all down before taking all the existing logs out of the store and re-stacking it all, that's a really good day during January for us...



In her element.
Job done. (I did help her stack, plus I swept up afterwards, honest)
One thing one has to do regularly, is take all the logs out and recirculate them. That's why, every few times when we get a new load sawn up, she'll set to and do the job you can see in the top photo.

A few more for you...


Kiotari beach, a couple of days ago.

Ditto, as above. Same moment.

Pefkos in January.

Olive grove with anemones, Arhangelos.

Plus, here are a few (not so high res, sorry; they're from my phone) from a mountain walk we did on Sunday January 14th...





The late afternoon sun through the olive trees when the ground is so green is magical.

This is taken from the bridge near the La Branda hotel. This river bed has hardly flowed at all during the previous two winters. This year, though, speaks for itself.


That's all for now. TTFN.

Saturday, 13 January 2018

A Box or a Bottle

When we first moved here, as I've written about extensively in the first three or four books, we had to adjust to a raft of weird and wonderful ways in which Greek social etiquette differs from that in the UK. After well over twelve years on Rhodes, we're still discovering ways in which the Greeks do things very differently from how we did them back home.

Just a week or so ago, we were invited to a get-together of probably three or four families, along with a few other assorted friends, making a group of probably thirty or so in our friends' lounge for a very enjoyable meal and παρέα. Back in the UK it was a no-brainer, we'd have taken a bottle of wine or two, maybe a box of chocolates perhaps, job done. 

Here though, you need to turn up bearing one of these...


The cake-box from the zaherplasteion (this photo courtesy of http://pgs.com.gr)

Of course, they come in thousands of different designs, but the basic structure is the same, as indeed are the contents -  sweet, sticky Greek pastries and cakes, which they call 'glika' [lit: 'sweets'], and you won't need me to tell you, if you know Greece, that the 'zaheroplasteia' are everywhere. A 'zaheroplasteio' is what the French might call a 'patisserie', a cake and pastry shop, and if you have a sweet tooth you'll be in trouble. More often than not they come with a coffee shop as part and parcel of the business and it's no accident that they can be found often in quite remote villages.

When Greeks turn up to a social occasion they're much more likely to arrive bearing one of those boxes, often wrapped with a nice silky ribbon too, than they are to bring a bottle of wine. It can also make your eyes water to follow this custom because, whereas you can pick up a fairly decent bottle of wine for five or six Euros, to fill a box like the one above at the pastry shop will more than likely set you back fifteen to twenty!! You go into the store and you're faced with a counter that looks something like this...


This shot courtesy of zarpanews.gr

You may find that you can get maybe nine regular-sized 'glika' into your box and they can cost anything from a couple of Euro to four each. Frankly, between you, me and the gatepost, I don't have a very sweet tooth and this can present one with quite a challenge. Once the meal is out of the way, if indeed the evening involves one (which it usually does), then the women will parade into the room with the cake boxes, a flurry of paper tissues, probably some little glass side-plates and those tiny three-pronged forks that never seem to me to be big enough for anyone with a regular-sized mouth.

They'll do the rounds of everyone present and you're kind of expected to select and take one of the 'glika' to eat, even though simply looking at them can add a couple of stones to your weight, a few inches to your waistline and get you diagnosed in pretty short order with type 2 diabetes. Try throwing you hands up and protesting that you'd 'love to, but you're really rather full', and they'll be mortally offended. People who eat such stuff can never get their heads around the fact that some of us don't actually want to eat these things, at least not with the frequency that most people here seem to.

We very often elicit the comment, "What are you worried about? Look at you! You don't need to watch your weight!" 

Often this will be uttered by someone who's much larger than they ought to be, primarily because they do eat such stuff too often, and someone who can't quite see the fact that the reason why we are still the right shape and size is precisely because we don't eat such stuff as a habit. If we did, then we most certainly would have to watch our weight, not to mention make much more frequent visits to the dentist.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not averse to the occasional naughtiness in the food department, but when you check out the number of zaheroplasteios around in Greece, you begin to understand that it's because for just about every 'yiorti' they'll be rushing there to grab a box of cakes with which to celebrate it. Think about it, there are name days, birthdays, saint's days, the usual big celebrations like Christmas, Easter and Valentine's Day, and you can add to that a whole raft of national and local religious paniyiris that pepper the calendar here. For each and every one of those they'll be scurrying off to stock up on the glika.

I know, I sound a bit self-righteous about all this, but it's no accident that over 578,000 people were diagnosed with diabetes in Greece in 2017 alone. And that in a country with an adult population of a mere 9 million. 

Anyway, I kicked this post off with the fact that one is continually discovering subtle differences in the culture when one moves countries. So, to redress the balance a little, there are a lot of traditions and mores that are followed here that we much prefer, or at least quite like. One such, although often causing headaches for the authorities, is the tradition of naming the firstborn son after his grandad and the first girl after her grandma. It does tend to limit the growth of new and innovative names in the country as a whole, but also harps back to patriarchal days when families were very close, which is still the case in the more rural areas, of course. When I refer to 'headaches for the authorities', that's because it causes problems for things like tax numbers and utility bills, medical records and a raft of other stuff along those lines, because everywhere you go there are so many people with the same names.

Right then, that's that post written, so I'm off for a glass of wine. I think I'll pass on the sticky cake this time around though.

Tuesday, 2 January 2018

Fleeces and Flowers?

The view over the steering wheel on my way back up the lane to the house earlier today.

I know I'm probably in danger of over-repeating myself, but I've been out in the car for an hour and have just got back to the house, and the drive to Kalathos and back, plus the pleasant hour spent with good Greek friends, has further strengthened my conviction that I love this time of the year more than the summer.

I didn't stop on the road, but could well have done so every fifty metres, to photograph the anemones, which are a riot this year, especially along the roadside verges. Next time I get the opportunity I'll pull up, hop out and snap some, but for the time being you'll just have to take my word for it - they're a spectacular show. Oh, I dunno, maybe this will help...


Photo courtesy of Farmer Gracy.
Last year they were very few and far between, owing to it being the second dry winter in succession. This year, though, with the rainfall being a lot nearer normal, the anemones have responded enthusiastically. Outside today it's around 18ºC and partly sunny/partly cloudy, with a gentle breeze. It's a mild day, ideal for walking, which we do a lot of in the winter.

Everything around us here this winter is a wonder to behold. The green of the vegetation and grass among the olive groves is so vivid as to almost be describable as day-glo. The bird and other wildlife is more evident, I'm sure, owing to the food chain being better serviced by the increased rainfall and the effect it has had on the vegetation and insect life. The roses in the garden are putting on a superb show and my wife keeps a regular vase of them in the kitchen to brighten the place up no end...


OK, so, for 'vase' read 'glass tumbler'!

When I drove back up the lane, there was the shepherd with his sheep, leaning back on the bonnet of his very old Renault Scenic and talking on his mobile phone. He does that a lot, but then, when you consider how many hours he spends simply hanging around keeping an eye on his flock it's understandable really. That's why, in ancient times, which prevailed right up until the advent of the mobile phone really, shepherds were not only excellent musicians, but could often make their own instruments too. As I crept by, being careful not to hurry the sheep and lambs off of the lane [see top photo], he raised a hand to acknowledge my passing and I replied with a similar gesture.

The baby lambs are in abundance now and we (old softies that we are) delight in watching them gambolling all over the place in little groups, much like children in the playground, although ever under the watchful eye of their mothers, to whom they run occasionally for a brief feed, which they'll take while wagging their tiny tails furiously. I don't think we ever use that verb 'to gambol' at any other time of the year, but when the lambs are about we dust it off again. The lambs here are blissfully unaware of how much easier their passage into this world is by comparison with those up on the North Wales mountains, or the Yorkshire Dales in the UK, where their cousins are battling with snowdrifts during the first weeks of their lives. Well, I know they are usually gathered into barns, but I do recall past TV reports of farmers losing sheep and lambs to the cold quite often.

Here on Rhodes, during these months, when everyone has time to breathe, it's a joy to be out of doors most of the time. Even the locals are in an entirely different mood from the one that dominates during the season. Right now, in January, to drop by and see some friends is almost the definition of 'to steki', where bonhomie prevails and they'll always say 'come on in', and put the coffee on. Maybe there is fresh bread being baked too.

Go anywhere where there are coffee bars and experience the cacophony of 'parea' being enjoyed by people who have, by comparison with the summer, a real life to live; once they've harvested their olives that is.

When I got home and walked into the house I was greeted by the heavenly smell of freshly baked bread. That's something my better half can do during the winter months. She definitely doesn't have the time in summer.

Better be off with me then. Got to make us a salad for lunch, which we'll eat giving thanks as we gaze down the valley, hear the sheep bleating and their bells clanging, as we chomp away on warm bread and fresh lettuce from the garden.

There is a lot wrong with this world, but now and again everything's just perfect.

Wednesday, 27 December 2017

One Day, Far Away...

Apparently, on this particular date (when the photos below were taken) a lot of people all over the planet suddenly think that they want to see snow everywhere. Actually, in a surprisingly large area of Greece they regularly do get snow, sometimes very thick snow, at this time of the year. Not though, here in the southern Dodecanese.

Quite a few people who read this blog tell me that they feel like my posts are a sort of 'taste' of either a) Greece (for those who come here for their vacations), or b) home (for those Greeks who live in far flung parts of the planet as part of the 'diaspora') during the long winter months, and so, as me and the beloved sat out in the garden on what's known worldwide as "Christmas Day", we expressed thanks and appreciation for the gorgeous weather here in Kiotari.

Then I ran inside, got the iPad and took the following photos. Gloat? Moi? (I do tend to use that pseudo-Miss Piggie French expression rather a lot these days, apologies for that). Anyway, here is our garden at around 3.30pm on December 25th 2017...











And here's a little video shot from that very pallet-bench above (If for any reason you can't get it to play, it's on youtube too)...



In over twelve years of living here now, we have actually seen snow once. Yes, folks it did snow in Kiotari about four or five winters ago, for about 45 seconds. Then it was gone. We do occasionally get what could accurately be described as 'cold' weather here,  but to be honest, as I always am of course, that's rare.

So I hope you now feel ever-so-slightly warmed by my photos. You know me - anything for my readers!!

(I am aware of the fact that sometimes my humour [OK, attempt at humour] isn't understood. There are those that interpret it as looking like I really do think a lot of myself. Hopefully, most realise that all it is, is a little attempt at raising a smile. I can assure you, if it's of any interest anyway, that I am well and truly aware of my own failings and limitations. After all, I have a wife!! Now go on, tell me you don't understand that one too!!! Of course she's going to kill me when she reads this. Hello sweetie, I love you. [feeble attempt at a smile])

Wednesday, 20 December 2017

Lindos Stroll

Well, what about this folks, two posts in as many days. I'm slipping.

Today it was a little cooler out of the sun, with the temperature in Lindos around midday standing at 16.5ºC. We decided that our walk today should be somewhere other than the usual routes we take from the house and, since we had to go and see someone in Vlicha, we went to Lindos afterwards for a decent brisk walk around the village.

We parked the car up in Krana, in the area usually jam-packed with coaches during the season. Today there was just one orange bus parked up there with its side doors open, while the driver took a snooze before beginning his run back up to town. 

From Krana we walked down the middle of the road, without a single vehicle coming down to make us step to one side until we were right on the edge of the square. From there we went into the village, left and down past the Sunburnt Arms and then out past the Melenos Hotel and the junior school to the headland where the amazing Lindos Vigli villa is situated. We stood right behind the villa's garden and took a couple of shots.


Not many summer visitors get to see the main beach like this, eh?


Of course, old Kleoboulos' tomb is visible in this one, out there on the headland.

...and in this one.

Taking a view across the beautiful garden surrounding the 'tucked away' Lindos Vigli villa.

Same as above. That's Haraki and Feraklos Castle at the far end of the further section of sea, which is Kalathos Bay of course.
From here we cut back around behind the school and the Melenos Hotel and threaded our way across the top of the village to David Gilmour's house and the old amphitheatre. Just below the Gatto Bianco restaurant there is a cut-through up some steep steps, bringing you to the Police Station, then on up past Angustino's restaurant to the Atmosphere Bar and Lindos Reception. From there, of course it's a simple stroll along the pavement (sidewalk, one has to be so careful!) past the Lindos View and back down to the car at Krana Square.

The whole walk took us about forty minutes and we barely saw a soul! There were, of course, a few 'sound effects' now and then from people drilling and banging and sawing, the kinds of noises one hears frequently during the off-season while various maintenance jobs get done around the village.

All in all an enjoyable walk in amazingly beautiful surroundings. When we got home it was 20ºC on the terrace and so a couple of cheese, onion and salad rolls with a glass of chilled Retsina were soon being consumed al fresco for lunch.

If it's any consolation to readers in northern Europe, we are expecting some colder weather over the holiday weekend. Best I can do I'm afraid folks!

Tuesday, 19 December 2017

Sleeping Arrangements

In the culture that my wife and I come from, we're all very precious about who sleeps where and if we've got enough room when family come to visit and possibly stay over. It seems to me though, that we as British folk could take a leaf out of the Greeks' book in this regard.

Of course, climate plays a huge part in what we do for our holidays and I'd say (and I could be wrong, of course) that the most popular holiday (vacation if you're from that side of the pond) for British people is the sun, sand and ... well, let's just say hot weather, beach or pool-type thing, right?

Here, it's rather different because of several reasons, of which here are two:
1. Lots of Greeks of working age can't go on holiday/vacation during the summer because they're too busy working and...
2. They have so much sunshine and hot weather here anyway that it's no big deal going looking for such things when it's time for a break.

So, what do most Greeks do for a break? Well, most of those we know go during the winter time and they usually go visit relatives, either elsewhere in Greece or in some far-flung part of the planet like the USA, the UK, Germany or Australia and they can do this because there aren't many families here who don't have relatives in those countries.

They, of course don't need a sun-cream, towels and swimwear break, they just need a change of scenery.

In all my years back in my home country, before moving out here in 2005, we'd visit relatives from time to time and, if the distance from home warranted it, we'd stay over a while. This was all done with military precision and everyone was provided a bed in some way or another. I still have vivid memories of sleeping on camp beds as a lad, like this one that's still produced to the old army design and is available in the UK from Halfords...

Ah, those happy moments spent flexing those rigid, slightly springy metal legs so that you could slot them into their holders attached to the frame, that itself had been slotted together first. Those were the days. My parents had a few of these, but ours were from the Army and Navy store and were the original military ones, made from very tough khaki material. When you're ten years old and assigned the construction of the camp beds as evening draws on, you take this job seriously, even though it takes every last fibre of your strength to get those legs into place.

This was done because everyone had to have a bed of some sort and, if there wasn't enough room for a civilised arrangement, then some would have to bite the bullet and go stay at a nearby bed and breakfast.

Having now been on family visits in Crete and elsewhere with some of our Greek friends who live here on Rhodes I can say that they don't worry about all that civilised stuff and no one gives a toss about how many bodies bed down for the night, despite how small the house or apartment of the hosts may be. It's a given that if you have family coming, you put them up, regardless of how many males, females and kids will be arriving or of how many nights they may plan to stay. They won't ask either; like - you know, ring up beforehand and say, "Is it OK if your brother, his wife and two kids and the grandparents, plus aunty Tassia drop by the day after tomorrow and stay for a week?"

Oh, no, it'll be a case of them telling you they're coming and you making the best of it. It may mean you'll have bodies on the sofa, the bathroom floor or the balcony, it really doesn't matter, if they're family you just do it. It's expected of you.

Here where we live, the better half and I, we have a fairly spacious lounge-kitchen-dining room, plus a double bedroom and a bathroom. that's it. Oh, and my office, which isn't large enough for even a midget to lay down in anyway (no offence, please! Just illustrating the point). Thus if we have even just two people to stay, it'll usually mean we sleep on our settee, which granted does pull out into a double bed, and the guests sleep in our bedroom. So as far as we're concerned, two people is the limit, and even then quite a few friends who've been out to visit have chosen to take a package and stay nearby in the accommodation provided by the tour operator, so as to each have the privacy they'd prefer. But, see, if we were Greeks it would be entirely different.

We've been to stay with some good friends in Irapetra, Crete, who have a two bedroom apartment, and we've used their spare room. I also went there once with a bunch of other chaps and we dossed down all over the place. I particularly remember being kept awake by Giorgos, who could have snored for Greece, plus the fact that I had to step over a number of bodies to get to the bathroom in the middle of the night.

That just won't do for us Brits, will it?

Yet that couple in Crete, they often host their family from Rhodes with precious little advance warning, for a week at a time, which consists of the husband's parents, his sister, her husband and their four daughters and even then the occasional extra single cousin thrown in for good measure. And Greeks never complain about this, they all do it because it's what the Greeks do. What is all this fuss about civilised sleeping arrangements anyway? Surely, they must think, surely if you have enough room to get yourself horizontal without someone else's toe getting in your eye, then that's fine and dandy isn't it?

Now, it horrifies us to imagine people staying here with us and the disruption it causes to our nice, orderly routine, but if we were Greeks we'd already have had an average of ten guests per winter for the past decade or so, of that I have no doubt. 

And when it comes to the food, I've yet to go to a Greek house for hospitality, whether it involves an overnight stay or simply a get-together, where the women didn't all break out the tapsis and the katsaroles and cook fresh food by the ton. In the UK you can lay on a spread entirely from supermarket pre-packed stuff. It's not only an environmental nightmare when you consider the sheer volume of plastic and cardboard that went into getting the stuff home, it's not all that good for you either. You know what I mean, turn up at a party and there will be the usual pineapple chunks on a stick with a similarly sized cube of cheese, there will be store-bought sausage rolls and I've even been to get-togethers in the UK in recent years where they didn't bother to break the dips out of the plastic tubs they came in, they just peel back the cellophane seal and throw a teaspoon into it. There will be store-bought pickle and maybe also pickled onions, plus crisps, mayonnaise ...I could go on.

Just last week we went to a gathering of maybe 30 people in a village nearby, in honour of a daughter who hasn't been back here from Canada in many years, and the table groaned with really healthy, home-cooked delights. There were chunks of meat in huge saucepans (OK, so we passed on them, but it's organically produced local meat from local butchers), there were several bowls of different kinds of fresh salad from the garden, delicious oven-baked potatoes done with lemon and herbs, dolmades, pasta, grilled fish (entire, you just hook one off the dish by its tail and set to work on it), stuffed mushrooms with shrimp, freshly baked bread, locally produced olives, plus a huge pan of gigantes (big butter beans in tomato and onion sauce with herbs) and more stuff I can't remember now. The memorable thing was though, three or four of the women in the house had spent the whole day cooking it all from fresh. There wasn't a package, box or plastic container in sight.

You know, after I'd eaten my share and downed a couple of beers and a glass of water or three, I was ready for bed.

Well, OK, maybe a patch of carpet near the fire would do. Just as long as no one's toe ended up in my eye...