Friday, 31 January 2014

Up and Down

The saga of how we get our mail still goes on. Ever since ELTA, the Greek postal service, made the decision to close the sub-post office in the corner of the Agapitos taverna in Asklipio, we've been up there and down to the Gennadi post office in the furious quest to receive delivery of whatever we've been expecting - and one or two things we weren't as well.

Last week it was getting to be upward of three weeks since we'd ordered some vitamins and herbal supplements from Healthspan and we were certain that, even though I'd placed the order a week or two before Christmas and thus we knew we were in for a bit of a delay because of the 'Christmas post' and a new year bank holidays both being 'in the mix' as it were, they ought to have arrived by now.

So off we trotted once again to the post office at Gennadi, safe in the expectation that we'd probably be waiting in there long enough for my beard to grow, or to have to cut my toenails again, and we arrived to find, ...wait for it, what? No surely this can't be, but it is!! There's only one man in the queue!! We'll wait then. Sure enough, we only had to wait a mere twenty minutes before the bloke before us had terminated his business and strolled out with a handful of paperwork and some cash in there too if my eyes didn't deceive me, and we triumphantly stood at the newly installed glass screen on top of the desk, behind which sat the long-suffering woman who tries to service the postal needs of half the island of Southern Rhodes.

Quite why the company had gone to the expense of installing this laminated, toughened and probably bullet-proof glass screen is a mystery. I mean, if you ask me I'd say it's probably to stop the woman who works behind it from throwing the odd punch or firing her staple gun at yet another irate customer who's waited a month or so in the queue and finally let loose a tirade of frustration on finally reaching the desk. I could be wrong though.

Anyway, on arriving at the desk we paid the water bill (the first one we'd received in about 18 months, the bills having been "centralised" to Rhodes town whereas they'd formerly been compiled and sent out by the local council), and asked once again about renting a postal box, so that we'd be able to amble (or perhaps, saunter, eh?) in and collect our mail at leisure. This time she told us that there were only a couple available at present, and for these the keys had been lost somehow. She rather helpfully took our little "Ramblings From Rhodes" card though and stapled it to a sheet of paper which was plastered with handwritten phone numbers and names and told us she'd ring us if and when we may be able to actually sign up for one.

Handing us a couple of letters for both of our neighbours, nothing for us, she smiled and bade us good day. Hmmph. All the way down there to find that we didn't have anything, expect the prospect of delivering a couple of envelopes to those living nearby. I found myself mentally slithering down that slippery slope that would turn me into the kind of customer that the woman might just need that glass screen for.

Later that day we dropped by our friend Tom's house (he of the story in chapter 21 of A Plethora of Posts, "Bringing Home the Bacon") to cadge a coffee and sat there chewing the fat with him. He told us that he was still collecting his mail from the Agapitos Taverna. We bemoaned the fact that it was all rather hit-and-miss though, wasn't it? Didn't the mysterious Mr. Kyriakos turn up there as and when he wanted and if one wasn't there then he'd take one's mail back to the Gennadi post office rather than leave it at the Agapitos?

"Ah, well, no. It is organised to some degree," Tom assured us. "See, he'll be up there Monday, Wednesday and Friday one week, and Tuesday and Thursday the next. He always turns up at between half past twelve and one o'clock, lunchtime basically. I was up there today and he said he had some packages for you. I didn't accept them because I thought you'd have something else in mind, like getting them from Gennadi or something."

We weren't irritated by hearing this at all. AT ALL, OK? We asked Tom to explain further. He said, "Well, it's still easier really. Instead of waiting for hours in the post office down at Gennadi, you just nip up to Asklipio, enjoy a coffee and a natter with Athanasia or Agapitos while you wait and Mr. Kyriakos turns up at the appropriate hour - well - give or take half an hour. But he does always come on the right day. I go up quite often now, got not much else to do anyway and it's fun watching the ritual." Tom went on to tell us that the day after tomorrow Mr. Kyriakos would be sure to turn up at the Agapitos taverna with the mail again and in all probability he'd have our packages with him, so we determined that this time we'd go up there and catch him.

The day after tomorrow arrived and it was bright and clear. We decided to combine the eventually successful collection of our health supplements with a good workout and so we made the 50 minute walk up the back lanes through the olive groves to Asklipio. Arriving at around 12.30pm we ordered a couple of Ellinikos from Athanasia and took our seats. The locals were gathering. Athanasia stayed at our table for a natter when she brought our coffees and we watched as a dozen or so local village elders assembled and passed the time playing either cards or backgammon. The air of expectancy grew and our friend Tom himself eventually put in an appearance and joined us at our table. Rolling one of his thin little dark brown ciggies, he took a puff and answered when we asked him what he was expecting to collect, "Oh nothing. But I like to come up anyway and watch."

After about half an hour the sliding door from the terrace slid open and a couple of men walked in. The first was a wrinkled old codger who announced the arrival of the mail with a degree of melodrama. He was followed onto the room by the elusive Mr. Kyriakos himself, replete with leather pouch, from which he drew out a thick wad of mail wrapped in the biggest, thickest elastic band you've ever seen. Taking his seat at a free table near the door, he removed the elastic band and placed the pile of mail on the table in front of him, whilst all present gathered around for the ritual. 

We couldn't help noticing a decided lack of familiar Healthspan packages. "Maybe they're still in the pouch" we theorized, and waited along with the rest of the company. Once his audience was assembled and he'd allowed enough time to ensure that he had everyone's attention, he began slowly and theatrically thumbing through the mail. One piece at a time he'd call out a name, if someone present knew the lucky recipient, was related to them or was passing their door on the way home they'd raise a hand and Mr. Kyriakos would flip the envelope in that direction. Occasionally no one would respond, whereupon he'd place that piece to one side for reuniting with the jumbo elastic band when he'd finished. On other occasions he'd say, for example "Paralamvan'os, Vasilis!!" and Athanasia or one of the men would answer "dead!" and that piece also would join the "unclaimed" pile.

Mr. Kyriakos holds court
By the time he'd run through all of the mail and Athanasia had a pile of stuff that she was going to ensure reached its rightful owners, the others of the audience were beginning to disperse, my wife piped up, addressing Mr.Kyriakos, "No packets for us then? Manuel's the name."

"Manuel? Oh yes. There are a couple of packets for you. I left them at Gennadi, since you never seem to be up here. .............(here insert name of woman who works at the Gennadi post office, I forgot it) told me that you came in the day before yesterday. I could have brought them up otherwise. I'll be up again the day after tomorrow, shall I bring them then?"

Both of us resisting the almost irresistible urge to scream, we replied in unison, "Yea, OK, we'll be up here then. Maybe in future it'll be good if you always bring our stuff with you. We'll make a point of trying to catch you up here."

During the long walk back home we bemoaned the fact that a further couple of days were going to have to elapse before we could retrieve our "vitamee'nes" as the Greeks call herbal supplements, but comforted ourselves in two things: a) we'd had a good walk and were ready for lunch once we got home and b) the packets had at least arrived and we knew where they were.

On entering our front gates, stomachs well convinced that our throats had been cut, we approached the terrace and saw that someone had been and left something on our patio table outside our front door. There, sitting in all their glory, were three packets bearing the logo of Healthspan, Guernsey.

Since any one of three different sets of neighbours could have been responsible, it was a day or two more before we discovered that Mac and Jane, our nearest neighbours from up the hill, had visited Gennadi post office at the same time that we were sitting in the Agapitos taverna watching the slow methodical sifting of Mr. Kyriakos, where the woman had happily given them our packets, which they'd duly brought home with them and rather helpfully placed on our patio table for us, no doubt quite innocently thinking that they'd saved us a trip.

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

A feast of Photos



Don't forget to click on any image to get a larger view. 
There are views of Pefkos toward the bottom too.

Gazanias lapping up the sunshine on top of the air-con unit outside the house

The path through to the front at Haraki, January 2014


Olive Grove, Malona Road from Arhangelos crossroads

As above

Ditto

Just outside Malona village. This is what the summer visitor never gets to see. In this area there are acres of such trees and it's a joy to go among them in January.

Just over Pefkos "top" going toward Psaltos (Navarone) Bay. Gateway to the path leading up to newly refurbished "Profitis Ilias" church. They're usually called Prophet Elijah, since any handy crag reminds the church traditionalists of the Bible account of Elijah being taken up in the Chariot. Don't go much on all the tradition stuff myself, but the locations are always worth a visit and the little churches at least look pretty and photogenic!
You need to be pretty fit to make the climb.

Still going up...

Looking down at my better half whilst still going up!

Almost at the top and the views across Pefkos are great. The bright sunny day was fast turning into a heavily clouded afternoon by this time.

Looking the other way, across Psaltos.

Icing sugar anyone?

The glorious view of Pefkos from the summit.


Blended two photos together for this one. You can see Lardos Beach and Kiotari.

The church is nothing if not nationalistic. Still, at least you know which country you're in!

Yes, I do concede, very fetching as a subject for a photo though.

Saturday, 18 January 2014

Coffee, Kourabiedes & Olive Oil

That's a beautiful sight, I mean a really beautiful sight. After lamenting our dearth of fresh, pure olive oil this winter, we've finally come up trumps, thanks to our old friend Gilma down south.

If you've already read the preceding post, especially the second part, then you'll know that Gilma promised us that he did have some oil that we could purchase from him at a very good price, which was the reason we drove down there yesterday morning, since he'd called us the day before to tell us that our oil was ready to collect.


One thing (among many) you have to learn living here is that you have to roll with it, go with the flow, adjust to the pace at which things are done. It's no use thinking you'll just drop by to see someone, pick up (as in this case) your oil and be on your way. We'd left our plastic barrel with a rather disgusted Gilma, who's of the old school who think that you should never even put oil in these abominations in the first place, leave along transport it in one temporarily whilst promising faithfully that you'll decant it into either a metal or glass container henceforth, forthwith, or even sooner the moment you get home, and so we arrived at his modest little cottage in the middle of the back of beyond fully expecting to load the barrel into the boot of the car, hand over a couple of notes and drive off waving.

Hmm, well, it didn't quite pan out like that, but then, didn't we just know it wouldn't? As we drove into his yard he was sitting on an old chair by the fence awaiting our arrival, knowing of course that us Brits usually turn up either at the pre-arranged hour or sooner. I'd promised that we'd get there for about 11.30am and we drove up and parked next to his pick-up ten minutes before that. Old habits...

He leapt to his feet as we tumbled out of the car and we exchanged the usual two-cheeked kisses and a bear hug. No sign of our barrel anywhere. Oh, wait, yes, there it was just inside the door of his apothi'ki (shed). He didn't, however make a move in that direction, he first ushered us into his tiny living-cum-bedroom where we were expected to sit a while and have some pare'a. Once we'd done so our genial host suggested a Kafé Elleniko and so we agreed. He makes it the traditional way in a small briki, one cup at a time. So, after he'd heated the briki up twice on his tiny camping gas stove and poured our coffees, he then brought out a bottle of mineral water and poured us both a glass. This we heartily approve of and we get very irritated in kafeneions here when we order coffee and it doesn't come with a glass of water. That's a sure sign that the establishment caters mainly to tourists. No self-respecting Greek will take his or her coffee without a glass of water.

Once we were sipping what has to be said were delicious Greek coffees, Gilma disappeared into his modest "kitchen" through the doorway and came back with a huge piece of tissue paper, inside of which was wrapped something very nice and tasty. Unwrapping the tissue he proffered us a selection of home-made Kourabiedes, which are rather like a delicious shortbread, made with vanilla and usually containing whole almonds, then rolled in icing sugar. Quite a lot of tourists here have probably never seen them because they are usually baked traditionally around Christmas time, which is why we only buy them in the stores during January, when they're on offer!! They're actually quite expensive to buy in the run-up to the winter solstice festival, so we wait patiently!

Photo courtesy of © Marie-Lan Nguyen / Wikimedia Commons
These, though, our host proudly explained, had been made by his daughter. The ones you buy are usually shaped like a quarter-moon (see photo, right). Home-made ones are often pressed into all kinds of shapes, like little fir trees, stars etc. Having helped ourselves to one each, he handed us both a paper serviette (essential when eating kourabiedes if you don't want icing sugar all over your nice jacket, skirt or trousers) and then insisted that we take more to bring home with us. Frankly, they're one of the most delicious things you can ever eat along with your cup of filter coffee on the terrace of a sunny winter morning.

So, Greek Coffee and kourabiedes out of the way, we were rather hoping that he'd lug our barrel out of the shed and we'd be on our way. Not so fast, Johnny-boy, not so fast. Yes, he did fetch the barrel, but he didn't need to lug it because it was still quite empty. Observing the mystified look on our faces as he brought it into the house, he said that the oil was "through here" as he beckoned us to take a peep through the kitchen door. There, standing on its little four-legged trolley, was a stainless steel urn (seen in photos above), in which, he explained was our oil. "NO," he said, "I wasn't going to pour such beautiful, fresh flavourful oil into that plastic thing until the very last minute! And you must promise me that you'll transfer it to something else as soon as you get it home! It's a travesty to even use the plastic for transporting it, but, well, not much I can do about that now," he adds. We pour our assurances that we'll comply all over him and he asks us to help him bring the urn into the other room, where it will need to be placed on a chair to give it sufficient height for the oil to pour from the urn's tap into our barrel.

Before, though, the pouring can begin, there is the small matter of weighing it. Although what you buy in the stores is sold by the litre, fresh oil is always sold, nay measured, by the kilo. It's all done by weight. This was where we discovered that we weren't going to be paying as much for the oil as we'd thought. A kilo of oil is actually about 1.25 litres and, since Gilma had given us a price per kilo, we were going to be getting around 30 litres oil, which is somewhere around 25 kilos. Yippee. But how was he going to weigh it? Once again disappearing outside for a few moments, he returned carrying a contraption that I though resembled some of the tackle you might fit to a horse that was going to tow a plough! It consisted of a large metal weight, which slides along a hefty bar, at one end of which hang some chains, all of which have what looked to me like butcher's meat hooks at the ends of them.

"Gianni! fetch that wood!" Gilma said, pointing to what looked like a pickaxe handle resting against the inside of the door. Following his instructions, we slid the length through one of the "meathooks" on one of the chains and took the weight between us, holding the wood horizontally, all the while my better half remonstrating that I ought not to be doing this, what with the recent hernia op and all. I waved off her concerns with my hand. I had to keep saying "it's OK, it's not that heavy when w both take the weight." Meanwhile, Gilma was sliding a weight back and forth along the rigid metal arm attached to the chains until it hung horizontally. having satisfied himself what the whole thing weighed, he bade us lower the contraption so the urn rested on the floor, then he removed the scales and positioned the urn on the chair, placed our barrel underneath the tap and turned it on. Loosening the urn's lid to allow air to get in, we all watched for the first few moments as the glistening liquid began to flow, ever so slowly into our barrel.

Since the process was now going to take another twenty minutes, we had no option but to sit down again and chat. As usual our host fretted about the reduction in his and his family's income and the increase in their outgoings, things over which we certainly could sympathise with him about, which is why we wanted to pay him for the oil, of course. But we couldn't sit there without some refreshments of sorts and he was soon in and out of his kitchen, breaking out some fruit juice to offer us, which he was soon pouring into a couple of glasses. 

Of course, pouring complete, we had to go through the weighing process all over again to subtract the weight of the near-empty urn from that of the full one, to thus arrive at the weight of the oil we were buying.

By the time we had the barrel safely wedged into the boot of the car and were making our farewells, well over an hour had passed for what we'd vainly hoped would have been a brief "Hi, thanks, here's the cash, bye!"

We're weren't really complaining though. Gilma has orange and mandarin trees near the house and when we politely asked whether we might pick just a handful, his reply was, as we'd have expected really from him, "They are yours!" ...referring as he was to all the fruit on all the trees. When I returned to the car with four or five oranges he was insistent that I hadn't picked enough. We had to really insist that this quantity would do, since they'd last us a week and anyway the fresh fruit picked out here, without any fancy chemical treatments to keep them looking nice during long journeys for supermarket shelves, only lasts so long in your fruit bowl, but boy do they taste sweet.

I have to admit, but don't tell him now will you, that the oil is still in the plastic barrel out in our shed. I'm a bit loathe to lift the thing on my own to pour it into the glass bottles, still only weeks after the op and all. 

Still, never mind. What the eye doesn't see...

Friday, 10 January 2014

A Result (Well, Two Actually)

Whilst inspecting the garden this week, her indoors and I were remarking on the number of bees which are again making use of our plants in order to produce their tremendously useful and remarkably therapeutic, not to mention simply delicious little side line - honey. Not more than 24 hours ago we were reading the extremely dismaying news about the drastic reduction in the bee population in the UK and Northern Europe, which may yet have catastrophic consequences for plants, including many of those which form staples in the human diet, whilst at the same time listening to the drone of buzzing workers busily seeking pollen in the flowers of our umbrella tree, our Gazanias and the Ku'mara bushes which surround our perimeter fence in abundance.

When I was a teenager I worked voluntarily for several years as a marshall at motor racing meetings, predominantly at Castle Combe in Wiltshire, but also we did a few pilgrimages as a team in Colin and Janet's borrowed Transit van to Silverstone, where we'd arrive the night before a big meeting, sleep in the pits, which were back then nothing more than concrete bunkers, then do our "thang" on the morrow. I'd wake up with full bladder and woodlice strolling across my face, throw on my armbands and walk out across the grid later that day in front of a dozen screaming racing cars holding up the "1 Minute" signal board. I marshalled at a couple of Formula 1 meetings back then - in the days when they'd hold a couple of annual specials [like the Daily Express International Trophy Meeting] in addition to the F1 championship calendar. If you'd been sitting outside one of Towcester's pubs on race day, you'd likely have been sipping your pint of real ale to a backdrop of wining engines, which sound remarkably like the bees I hear buzzing in their hundreds around our umbrella tree today. Every time I walk past the bees, I am transported (apt metaphor there) back to my marshalling days. Aah, nostalgia eh? Not what is used to be (the old ones are the best).

This past few days have been simply perfect for gardening and going for long walks. Last May we had a rather nice little experience whilst out in the garden which was repeated just this very week. How fast the time goes, eh? In the post "What Goes Around" I referred to the honey men in their trucks, which are quite often the only vehicles we see going past our garden gate for days on end. Well, the day before yesterday they did it again. I was out there weeding for all I was worth (which, granted, isn't a great deal at today's exchange rate), as was the better half, when the rumble of the bee keepers in their trucks grew louder. They'd been up in the hills behind us doing their rounds, visiting their hives and doing what beekeepers do. In fact, whilst walking in the olive groves just yesterday, we encountered one of them walking the dirt lane between groups of hives in his full white protective gear. Now, as it happens, me and her indoors had only just watched that new movie, Gravity, which is set entirely in earth orbit where all kinds of rather nasty things happen to Sandra Bullock and George Clooney. To be suddenly confronted by someone in what at first glance looked like a space suit, since he had his headgear on too, there was me getting all excited thinking of Sandra Bullock and my other half likewise - only in her case substitute Sandra Bullock for George Clooney. But then Sandra/George raised a be-gloved hand and called out "Yia Sas!" and we were instantly disillusioned.

Anyway, to return to the weeding and the approaching trucks, of which there were two in convoy. In the cab of each sat three men and, as they drew level with the garden wall, over which I was careful to make myself visible, trowel in hand (remembering last time!), the first truck slowed to a halt and, sure enough, exactly as last time, one of those extremely nice beekeeper chappies jumped down from the truck, trotted over to the garden wall and handed me this...


...along with a "Kali Hronia!" and then he was off.

Yup, a jar of delicious thyme honey, which, as any honey expert will know, is made not just from Thyme, but also a plethora of other flowers too, many of which are found in our garden. As with the previous occasion, we were thinking, as they drove off down the track about how maybe, just maybe, they did this out of appreciation for the fact that their bees regularly visit our garden in huge numbers, which we like to think surely contributes to the quality of their product.

Going back to that alarming statistic about bees in the UK. On the BBC website where we were reading about bee population (here it is), we were rather relieved and excited to see in that piece a map of Europe showing "percentage supply of honey bees relative to demand" where Greece comes out at 90%, the best level in Europe, phew!


On the olive oil front, we also came up with "a result" this week, thankfully. Our old bucolic friend from down South a ways, Gilma, is going to end our dearth of oil. In the post "Polishing Off the Olives" I referred to his explanation for the apparently poor harvest this winter, leading to a shortage of oil all across the South Eastern Aegean by all accounts. Well, we dropped in on him a couple of days ago, our forlorn and empty 35 litre barrel in the back of the car (I wasn't a boy scout for nothing y'know) and we bemoaned to him how we had actually bitten the bullet and bought some oil in the supermarket recently, my wife's purse still suffering from the trauma of being emptied too quickly during the experience.

Well, we ventured to ask him if he perchance has any oil he would be able to sell us. Incidentally, we did insist on paying for it, since he's told us on virtually every occasion that we've talked to him in the past couple of years about how his income has been slashed owing to "austerity" and so on. Anyway, in view of the fact that our friend Mihalis from Kalathos always has oil and yet this year, well - he doesn't, we weren't too hopeful. But, wonder of wonders, as I mentioned in that other post, Gilma did buck the trend and harvest a lot of olives this past December and thus he responded with a yes!!

He always has this habit of leaning into the conversation, as if prickly pears have ears, and doing so again this time he asked us "Do you want old oil, or this year's pressing? This year's is best. I haven't got tons to spare, but for you, I'll make it this year's, would you like that?"

Would we 'eck as like? Anyway, we left him with our barrel, which he heartily disapproved of, being old school and all that. "You don't want to keep it in this!!" he declared, as though describing a forthcoming travesty, whereupon he span open the top and raised the barrel to my wife's nose and told her to sniff. She didn't know what she was sniffing for in a barrel that I'd recently washed out and rinsed in preparation for a hoped-for olive oil "score", but he then placed it back on the ground and said "Plastic barrels? Pah! You need a stainless steel one, with a tap at the bottom. Or if not, large glass demijohns! But you mustn't use this!! It'll transfer the taste of the plastic into your oil. Not good. Not good!"

The fact that most of the Greek population uses these plastic barrels nowadays doesn't wash with Gilma. No, he's old school. We assured him that we'd comply, whilst inwardly wincing, since we knew how expensive the stainless steel barrels were. Still, maybe we'll compromise, we do seem to have rather a lot of 1.5 litre bottles knocking about the place, all dark green glass - best for keeping the light to a minimum.

I knew we drank all that Lidl table wine for a good reason.

Monday, 6 January 2014

It Helps to Pass the Time

We ate lunch (fresh salad with lettuce plucked straight from the garden, onion tops likewise and a few grilled pittas drizzled in olive oil. To accompany that a little Californian Rosé for her and a glass of the splendid Fix Dark for me) out on the terrace at 4.00pm on Friday. We didn't intend to eat so late.

You know, in January, when the temperature are frequently in the upper teens and the day stretches out before you like an empty (queue American expression here folks, for my Transatlantic readers...) two-lane blacktop, going all the way to the horizon some indeterminable distance away, you get the irresistible urge to don the trainers, lace-em up and set out on foot under a clearing sky.

I'd checked out the forecast on the new AccuWeather app that I just downloaded on the iPad and it assured me that there would be no precipitation during the daylight hours, thus rendering it a fairly safe venture to make the walk to Gennadi, the village down the coast about 4km from here and the only place for far too many miles around that's got a Post Office. OK, so it's only a room about the size of your lounge and it's now manned (Good old 'austerity' dictating the situation yet again) by a single, slim woman with a pony tail flecked with a few strands of grey who's fighting to keep up with the flow of clients like the proverbial little boy with his finger in the dyke. Actually, that simile may not be a very good one, but it's what came to mind so it'll have to do for now. Up until a few short weeks ago there was a staff of two and occasionally three in there. When you understand the geographical area that this Post Office has to service then you'll agree that two or three's the bare minimum needed for this Post Office to serve the community ably enough.

From our front garden gate to the door of the Post office is a walk of about fifty minutes to one hour, depending on how distracted we get en route. We set out at around 12.30pm, expecting to arrive at the ELTA (Post Office) before 1.30pm, which would mean getting back home here for 2.30 to 2.45-ish. Just about the time we usually eat lunch on lazy days when there's nothing much going on.

On recent occasions we've been in there (as other posts recently have mentioned) a few times to collect our mail and it's not gone well. Owing to the much larger workload caused by the closing of the sub-post office up in the Agapitos Taverna at Asklipio, coupled with the reduction in staff levels at Gennadi, frustration is a mild way of describing our mail-collecting efforts. On several occasions when we've been in the area I've nipped into the Post Office with a view to simply collecting our mail and found a queue of perhaps eight people waiting to be served. Even though all I wanted was to ask the girl to check if there was anything for us, it would have caused a major public incident to jump the queue in order to get her to check for me, since it would involve her getting up from her chair behind the desk and disappearing behind the wall to where the former Asklipio mail is kept. I don't know what physical law applies here, but there must be one. Something like Theodorakis' Law of Extenuating Exponential Post Office queues or something. 

See, every time I now go in there, without exception, there's always a bunch of people - who I swear have cobwebs draped across them - they've been there that long - all waiting behind the person who's currently at the counter, where precisely nothing's going on. The girl who works there is usually staring expectantly at something unseen under the shelf that hides a large area of her desk from public view while the current customer leans against the desk, passbook or some pieces of paper in hand while they stare out at the hostile natives behind them with an expression of deep unease over the tension that's rapidly ratcheting up. They have the kind of expression that you'd expect to see on the visage of someone who's on safari and suddenly realised that they're surrounded by lions who've not yet taken lunch.

If I had a Euro for every time I've been in there of late to see absolutely nothing happening before an edgy queue of would-be customers I'd be knocking Rupert Murdoch off of his position in the richest person in the world list in short shrift and that's for sure.

We ought to have known better. Still, as I said above, the weather was sooo saying to us "get out there and breathe in the great outdoors" that particular morning, that we succumbed and decided that the Post Office visit would be a good idea. Having been in there, as referred to above, lots of times of late and been dismayed to see how many people were waiting to be served, I should have been better prepared. Someone told me the other day, when I was bemoaning the fact that I'd gone in there three times in one day recently and at the third visit was still greeted by the sight of the same people waiting in the queue, that if we went in at around 1.30pm, just half an hour before closing time, then the place would be gloriously empty. Thus we'd thought it a good time to attempt to pick up our mail.

It sooo wasn't on Friday morning though. I think that one of the reasons for the constant build-up of customers is the fact that a lot of foreigners who live and work here use the Post Office to send money back to their relatives at home. On every Post office counter you visit here, there's a perspex dispenser stocked with A4 NCR Western Union forms, which anyone wishing to send money overseas via the ELTA organisation must fill in. I have no beef with the people themselves, after all, they're often Albanians or Ukranians, Bulgarians or Romanians (Yep, there's definitely a song going on in there somewhere) who are a long way from home, hardworking and living in often inadequate accommodation whilst they have nice detached houses which they're inherited back in their motherland that they can't return to owing to the complete lack of both work and welfare. The problem lies with the fact that to turn up at a Post office and send money 'home' takes what feels like a month of standing at the PO counter. The forms look horrendously complicated to me. I've never actually tried to inspect one at close quarters, but just looking at them waiting in their perspex makes me break into a cold sweat.

Coming from a country where we've been banking on-line and using plastic to pays bills for decades, it still comes as a bit of a shock to be somewhere where both the locals and many of the immigrants still either have a deep distrust of handling their finances in such a manner, or simply wouldn't dream that such a thing was even possible. We still get requests from Greek friends here who want my wife and I to order them vitamins or health supplements, even buy air tickets for them, because they either don't have a credit/debit card or don't want one because it's bound to be far too complicated for them to understand. Or perhaps they just feel that it makes all their financial to-ings and fro-ings a little too easy to trace? Perish the thought.

So, there we were waiting in the Post Office last Friday for about an hour when, suddenly the log jam broke and customers actually started to filter through the counter area with visible dispatch. Of course, a little old bloke who had much more energy and "go" than one would have thought from merely glancing at him, came charging back in, having been served an hour earlier but having then spent the entire intervening time just outside the door talking with a local "papas", butted in at the counter to ask the harassed PO clerk a question.

"Sorry, sorry!!" he said to everyone in the room, "Just forgot to ask. How do I get this, that or whatever?" He seemed to be referring to something like his pension, or maybe his wife's, but he was waving a few A4 pieces of paper at the girl behind the counter as he spoke in an accent that I'm darned sure that most Greeks would have trouble understanding, not just me. The clerk said that he'd need to return another time with something he'd forgotten to bring with him this time. With those pieces of paper he wouldn't be able to draw the cash, she was afraid. He needed yet other pieces of paper before she could hand over any money. 

That was enough to make him crack. I didn't get everything he said, but the gist of it was something like: "WHAT? THEH MOU!!! ["My God!!] I give up!! Don't you realise that I live in Appolakia? That's 16 kilometres away!! Time I've driven here and back the cash will only just cover my petrol (Gas, guys). What good's THAT to me, eh? EH? Aaah Deh (no direct translation of that one) this is beyond!! I'm an old man!! probably die before I can get home and back here again to get what's mine!! You're closing in half an hour anyway and it's FRIDAY TODAY!! That's another weekend before I can come back again. It's not just up the road y'know!! PANAGI'A MOU!! This country's gone MAD, MAD!! I tell you."

The girl behind the counter simply waited until he'd burned out his rage and then once more repeated the position. Nothing she could do. Not her fault and she was right, sadly for the old palika'ri. The man had been shouting so loud that the rest of us were thinking "bring back sonic booms" when my wife turned to me with a smile on her face and whispered, "This is more like it! This is the Greece I know and love!" Then, to my response that it was truly hard for the old codger, she said, "Well, it helps to pass the time. It WAS getting boring in here after all."

The disappointed old bloke eventually left, muttering to his God loudly as he did so, and the clerk returned to staring at something (probably some machine that needed to whirrr and click a few more times before she could shove a piece of paper into it for it to print something on it) whilst her current customer returned to leaning on the counter, various pieces of paper in her hands too.

By now I'd quite forgotten why we came in here anyway. My wife replied when I asked her that we were enquiring whether we could rent one of the little blue  mailboxes, paying the first water bill we'd received in over a year (which amounted to the grand sum of €35) and checking if any mail had come for us. Well, not just us, our neighbours up the hill and our other neighbours over the hill (though not so far away) too.

After over an hour we eventually and almost unbelievably reached the counter ourselves, but not before having agonised over whether to let the little old ya ya who'd come in well after us jump the queue out of respect for the elderly. She was dressed rather unsurprisingly all in black, and that included the scarf that was wrapped around her head and tied under her chin. No one else had ventured to suggest that she be allowed to go first, so we followed suit in the end. I couldn't help noticing that her feet were shod in an old pair of backless slippers. It was quite evident that she lived her entire life in those slippers, indoors and out. I'd been studying the remnants of their soles as I'd sat behind her for a while and she'd crossed her ankles under the seat so that the soles faced my way. What an interesting variety of small and not so small objects there were stuck to them. My wife commented how horrified she was that someone would wear her slippers to go down the Post Office. I replied that she should know, after all, a lot of these old folk live in houses with concrete floors inside, the cleanliness of which is hardly discernible from that of the yard outside anyway.

After we'd finally spoken to the clerk, paid our water bill and been told that it was too early to know whether any of the mailboxes were becoming available, she rose and went around the corner behind the wall with a small piece of paper on which I scrawled the various names she'd need to look for. When she re-emerged carrying a stack of parcels and boxes that almost hid her head from view we knew were were stuffed. There was no way we'd be able to walk back with all this lot. Some of it would have to stay while I called the neighbours from over the hill on the mobile phone and told them they'd have to get in the car and high tail it down here, since all the boxes were theirs. They had about twenty minutes before she closed the doors for the weekend. She was staying open an extra half an hour out of pity for the customers who were fast making a hobby out of standing around in here for something to do.

So, after finally exiting the tiny Post Office and setting out for home, we were not only extremely tired after all that waiting around and staring at our own feet, but we were also starving and thirsty, our schedule now having gone to pot. When we eventually got in through the garden gate my stomach was thinking that my throat had been cut and my bladder was making a bid to get into the Guinness Book of Records under "Largest distended bladder without bursting" or some such category.

So, that's the story of why we came to be eating lunch at 4.00pm. Still, it had been a nice day for a walk and it was still easily warm enough to be sitting outside in a t-shirt on January 3rd. Plus, on the way home we'd passed these nice little fellas, all tethered beside the lane and waiting for someone to come past so they could get a scratch or a smooth...





Actually, looking at these little chaps I was struck with a brilliant idea as to how Greece can reduce all its mountains of paperwork. Catch my drift?

Come on, you can't be that slow. Won't goats eat just about anything?