7.Travel Hazards

# 7 Travel hazards.

I have reason to believe that Cretans and Greeks in general are nervous travellers. I know this because I was once on an Olympic Airlines flight to Crete when the rather large steward strapped himself into the jump seat opposite me and began blessing himself, praying and kissing a gold cross around his neck, and all this as the plane taxied out to the runway for takeoff from Heathrow. On the same flight, on landing at Athens the Greek passengers spontaneously burst into applause…clearly they knew something I didn’t. I was reminded of this the other day when sat in the bus station waiting for the bus to take me back down south from the dreaded north of the island, I noticed a priest sat at a table with a lit candle and a crucifix (for the record, the crucifix wasn’t lit) and people coming up to him, kissing his hand and receiving what I assume was some kind of blessing before boarding their busses. Fortunately he didn’t get on my bus so I assume we were considered to be safe from whatever it was they were all worried about. 

Those of you who have been on holiday in Crete in the summer will be well aware of the hazards attendant on travelling around the island; narrow roads, goats, Cretan vehicles, goats, and Cretan drivers. Those who have driven at night will also be aware of the added complication of badgers, and more goats. However, if you’ve only been here in the summer you will have missed what is potentially the most dangerous hazard, dangerous both to health and pocket. I refer as you’ve no doubt already concluded, to olives.

Cretan olive oil is probably the best in the world, which is why they, allegedly, ship most of it to Italy where it is blended with inferior Italian oil and then sold as Italian oil, and it is produced by gathering olives in November to January; washing them and then crushing them to extract the oil: a simple enough process which, though physically demanding on those carrying it out, constitutes no obvious risk to travellers. However, nobody has yet managed to develop a way of informing the olive trees, of which there are more than a few on the island, that it is not a good idea to shed their olives on the road where, with the passing of every car or lorry, the olives get crushed and produce, you’ve guessed it, olive oil. Now it’s a long time since I did any physics but I can assure you that the coefficient of friction or whatever it is, of a tarmaced road surface is greatly increased (or is it reduced?) by the application of olive oil. The resulting loss of grip to the wheels of the car when travelling downhill can be quite alarming and there always seems to be another olive tree just in the place where you and your, now out of control, car, are heading. (There also appears to be some unwritten rule that on every tight bend you encounter when coming down a steep mountainside with a sheer drop on one side, there will sit the most productive olive tree in the municipality. Furthermore the same law apparently states that this particular tree will overhang the road to such an extent that there is no way to avoid the oil it’s so liberally producing.) While driving on an olive oil covered road is no great fun, it’s even less fun if it’s been sunny for a few days…have you any idea what rancid olive oil smells like? Not as bad as a rancid goat but not much better.

As if the threat to life and limb from the olive trees is not bad enough, there is the little problem of olive nets, an item I frequently encounter on the many narrow and winding roads I travel on up in the hills. Olives are collected from the trees in large, fine mesh, nylon nets which, to assist with efficient gathering of the olives, are kept off the ground by stakes; usually steel reinforcing bars about 1 metre long, driven into the ground at an angle. Olive trees grow over the roads (see above), to maximise the harvest, the nets come out into the road, and, as mentioned above, the nets are held up by 1 metre long steel reinforcing bars set at such an angle. The result of all this is that the reinforcing bars are projecting into the road; steel reinforcing bars and the side panels of hired cars do not go together that well . You have been warned.

The steel reinforcing bars previously mentioned and which are such a ubiquitous feature of the Cretan landscape, making everything for net supports to fences, gates and frames for goat shelters, are more often seen in the UK on construction sites where they are used to strengthen concrete. I suspect that their popularity, or at least availability, might however be on the decline here over the next few months. Many of the buildings in the village were put up in the 1960s and 1970s as the tourist boom started and most if not all featured balconies of some sort. These balconies were supposedly made of concrete reinforced with the above mentioned bars. I say supposedly because last month one of these balconies collapsed, writing off half a dozen hire bikes parked beneath it. On inspection it was apparent to all that the number of reinforcing bars used in the construction of the balcony was minimal and the few that were there were almost all rusted through. There has been a sudden demand for scaffolding as everybody with a balcony from that era suddenly realises that it could be their balcony next and that it may not just be pushbikes underneath if it falls. Romeo and Juliet would currently find it hard to locate a balcony from which to operate.

Still, as my friend Spiros said, for no apparent reason since we were discussing the Euro crisis at the time:

“Do you know Mick, hermits tend not to breed.”

That’s Crete for you.

6. Predictions

#  6 Predictions

We live on a peninsula off the bottom of Crete sticking about 700 metres into the Libyan Sea. Immediately behind us are a range of hills going more or less straight up from the sea to about 600 metres and beyond them, yet another range going up to about 1300 metres high. The consequence of this is that we have our own micro-climate which at times appears to have its own personal microclimates. The vagaries of the weather produced by the permutations brought on the differing combinations of winds, sea and mountains means it can be warm and dry on one side of the peninsula and cold and wet on the other, both at the same time, while the sight of heavy rain falling from a cloudless sky not only takes some getting used to but is a bugger for sorting out what sort of coat you’re going to wear.

Out of the tourist season, the community makes its living either through agriculture, tomatoes and cucumbers are the commercial favourites, though you can never buy the local produce, it all goes for export, and fishing. Consequently a keen eye is kept on the weather. I got here at the start of September, just as the summer was beginning to draw to a close but I noticed very quickly that the locals seemed to have an uncanny knack of preparing for any change in weather. The sun beds would be drawn up to the back of the beach if a westerly wind and high waves were expected; the cars would be moved away from the water’s edge if an easterly wind was imminent; the sun bed parasols were dug out of the sand immediately before a northerly storm hit. Sitting one evening with my friend Spiros, I asked him about this and if there were any particular signs that were used to predict the weather; me thinking of such as the flight patterns of the local Swifts, the date of departure of the flocks of Herrings* bound for Africa, the behaviour of the local animals, the colour of the sunset, the pattern of the clouds etc.

He thought for several minutes and then said the magic word: “Meteo.” **

It seems the online Greek weather forecasts have a somewhat higher reputation for accuracy than does the Met Office equivalent.

Later in the conversation he did however, let me into the secret of predicting the end of the tourist season proper. I had always thought it was taken to finish 1st October or whenever Monarch shut down their charter flights but apparently not. The end of the tourist season here is signalled by the arrival of the “Farewell Finns.” It seems that for reasons best know to themselves, every year at the end of the summer when most of the rest of Europe*** has gone back to work and/or school, there’s always a last minute influx of Finnish families, usually with very young children in tow and their arrival and subsequent departure is taken as the end of the season. In fact you can tell the progress of the tourist season by plotting the arrival of the different nationalities. The most southern nations/states get the early holidays and the further north you go, the later the nationals arrive for their holidays. The British are the clever ones, they all arrive in the middle of August, at the hottest time, just exactly when the Greeks take their holidays, the beach is unbearably crowded and the prices for the hotels and rooms go up by 20% for the period. The Finns, I am told, break the pattern in that there will be an influx in mid June and then another, the Farewell Finns, in mid October.

We, in fact, had direct experience of the Farewell Finn phenomenon. Now Finnish people are lovely people, very charming, accommodating, excellent linguists and brilliant cooks (you’ll have guessed by now that the readership includes one or more persons of a Finnish persuasion). However, I put it to you that any group of people of any nationality that comes on holiday in a party 17 (yes seventeen) strong and consisting of one extended family, with ages from about three months to 60 years, is definitely bordering on the masochistic and needs some sort of therapy from someone. Still, they were a joy to watch as, in their bright yellow tee shirts, each printed with a different message to their grandmother whose 60th birthday they were celebrating with a holiday in Crete, they tried to assemble all 17 for a group photo. It might have been easier if the photographer had a stand for his camera rather than having to balance it on the top of a pile of books on a poolside table and squint through the viewfinder before dashing in front to join in the group…with the entirely predictable results, for even in Finland, expensive digital cameras and swimming pools do not mix that well.

It might also have been easier if one of the youngest children did not have what appeared to be an anatomically correct doll, looking like a six month old child (or so I’m told, I have no experience of such things), which, when wound up and placed in the swimming pool, would proceed to ‘swim’ around. As it was, during the period they were here, there were at least two rescue attempts made by people who, seeing the doll in the water and thinking it was a child jumped into the pool and saved it.

 

 

 

 

*I think Spiros meant Herons.

**  http://www.meteo.gr/cf.asp?city_id=112       Oh dear, only 18 and sunny today.

***OK so Finns probably will argue that they aren’t European but I’m not going to get involved in any debate about them being Scandinavians or Swedish or Russians or something…life’s too short!

5. Lore and Disorder

#5  Lore and disorder

Sat here shaving my pastruma* and blessing the person who thought up that particular use for a camel, I got to considering how Greeks, and Cretans, are essentially a law abiding, religious, people.

According to the very well held local belief, Greek law concerning motor cycle helmets requires that each person on the motorbike be in possession of a helmet  while the bike is moving…it doesn’t require the persons on the bike to wear the helmet, just to have one in their possession**. This explains the common sight around the village of a motorbike/scooter/moped rider proceeding on his or her way at high speed with their helmet carried in the crook of their arm. In fact the only people who appear to wear them are the local motorbike cop (sometimes) and touring German and Austrian bikers (always).

Cretan religiosity is often observed if one sees people passing an Orthodox church; as often as not they will make a sign of the cross on their chest, using the three fingers of their right hand and going from right to left to distinguish them from those western heretics who use other than three fingers and go left to right (atheist, Presbyterian, Jewish and readers who aren’t as intrigued as I am by this sort on minutiae don’t need to bother about this particular detail).

Thus last week: a young couple i.e. younger than me but, as it happens, well out of their teenage years, driving along the road on a totally clapped out Honda 90 moped, both the man on the front and the woman on the pillion seat with their helmets over their arms. They are clearly not that used to this mode of transport and the woman in particular is looking less than happy at the breakneck speed (about 15kph) they are travelling at. As they approach the corner opposite the kafenion in which I was sat, the woman spots that there is a church on the bend and, just as the driver leans the bike into the corner, proceeds to attempt to change the helmet from on hand to the other in order to cross herself. Now, even at 15kph on a gentle corner, the act of transferring a helmet from her right hand to her left hand while simultaneously attempting to cross herself, produced an alarming effect on the stability of the moped which proceeded to wobble alarmingly as the driver struggled to retain control. He eventually managed to get round the corner, thankfully there was no other traffic around, and they continued down the road, the woman still crossing herself but this time with her eyes firmly shut. While I have no doubt her act of piety will reward her in her heaven, I couldn’t help thinking that another one like that would guarantee her arrival there somewhat earlier than planned.

As some of you may have noticed, there is a minor problemette with the Greek finances, an issue that was summed up for me by a room owner who, swearing at the fact that she now had to put the money for my overnight stay through the till rather than in the biscuit tin on the bar of the kafenion, explained it all with the immortal, and highly indignant words;

 “Greece has no money left so now I have to pay my taxes!” 

While this is undoubtedly an interesting approach to taxation, it was also one which took on a different complexion in the light of my experience with the same landlady the previous evening. (Don’t panic…it’s nothing like that.) I had need of an ironing board, I know it’s not what you expected to hear but it is nevertheless, true, and I knocked on the door of her room to ask for one. As it happens there was one just inside her apartment with a pile of clothes on the top of it and she readily agreed to allow me the use of it. I started to remove the clothes from the ironing board when she gave a shriek and jumped in to stop me moving any more. There, under the top layer of yet to be ironed clothes, lay a 9mm hand gun and a spare clip of ammunition.  Now I know that there are those who practice ‘Extreme Ironing,’ doing it on the tops of mountains, while parachuting etc. and I know one person who would probably even attempt to do his ironing at 40 metres under the Red Sea if he thought he could get away with it, and if he knew what an iron was, but this was the first time I realised that ‘Cretan Extreme Ironing, requires the participants to be armed. It also made me realise that I wouldn’t fancy being the tax collector in that particular village.

 

*This is an act that’s perfectly legal in Greece provided one is prepared to put up with the consequences when one ventures out in public after having done so. I recommend using a very sharp knife; the battery driven devices just aren’t up to the job.

**I’ve no idea whether this is correct….as a matter of course, being acquainted with both Cretan roads and Cretan drivers, on the rare occasion I ride a motor bike I always wear at least one helmet, two if I can get away with it.

4. Priests

#4 How many priests does it take to change a light bulb?

During my previous working incarnations lives I’ve been asked many questions ranging from the size of 1C/Cu/ PILCSWAS cable to use on a 750kw compound wound motor1 (when I was an electrical installation draughtsman); the temperature at which it gets too hot to work and at which you can go home on full pay2 (health and safety advisor); if an employer can sack an employee who stole money even if the money is returned3 (trade union official) and the ppO2 at 15 metres on 42% Nitrox4 (dive master). Most of these questions I was able, at the time asked, to give a reasonably correct answer, even if it wasn’t the one the person asking wanted to hear, particularly in the case of the person being sacked for a theft they admitted.

 However, recently I was completely defeated by a simple (?) a question.

There’s a little village up in the mountains, about 9km away and 800 metres higher than our village, where we have been known to spend the odd, and I mean odd, hour or three, relaxing and taking in the local colour, wine and raki. On my first visit there this year I was greeted by my friend Spiros (see note above) with the immortal words:

 ‘Mixalis, I’m getting lobsters! What do you think I should do?’

Now, I’m the first to admit that my knowledge of first aid is limited to that required in the event of an emergency, i.e. keep the person warm and safe, carry out CPR if necessary, send for an ambulance etc.etc., but I’m pretty sure none of the courses I’ve attended over the years have ever dealt with an attack of lobsters, even those courses aimed at emergencies when diving. Consequently, before replying, I took into account that Spiros is young man in the prime of his life, with several or more girlfriends, and I that didn’t want to say anything that could be taken the wrong way; this is after all Crete, and Cretans have a certain reputation. Accordingly, I did what every trade union official learns to do at a very early stage in their career; I prevaricated and avoided answering the question.

Spiros then told me that he and his father were getting them together and were in the process of digging the tank for them. At this point I realised that I was thinking in entirely the wrong direction, that the subject under discussion was the proposal to establish a Crayfish  farm and that I should be considering the role of crustaceans in the Cretan economy rather than other, less savoury, topics. I’m afraid even establishing the crustacean connection didn’t help me to answer the question but at least now I know that somewhere up in the hills of Crete there’s a herd of crayfish happily doing whatever it is crayfish do before they end up in the supermarket at 50 Euros/kilo.

Later that week I revisited the village, this time for a spot of god bothering. The village church is dedicated to the 99 Holy Fathers, the followers of St John the Hermit, and before you start, I know it’s an oxymoron that a hermit should have 99 followers but as I keep telling you, this is Crete and things are done differently here. This particular day the church festival was being held and the service was to be presided over by the local Metropolitan (those of an Orthodox bent will understand, those of an Anglican/Roman Catholic bent, think Archbishop and you’ll get the idea, Lutherans, Presbyterians and atheists, you’re on your own) and such an august personage guaranteed that there would be more than just the usual priest to conduct the service. The event took place in the open air outside the church, which is halfway down a beautiful valley about 500 metres from the village, and, in order to permit maximum audience participation for the 100 or so people attending, was broadcast through a very loud PA system. Though we only stopped for 15 mins. or so, during that time we counted 17 (yes, seventeen) priests in attendance. We wandered back to the kafenion for a meal and sat there listening to the service and the singing; though we couldn’t understand what was going on, the sound of the chanting echoing around the hills on a late summer evening was indeed, rather pleasant. As we fell to discussing the priest overkill situation and whether or not the alleged sins of the 99 Holy Fathers were such as to require seventeen advocates, someone started to ask the inevitable question: How many orthodox priests does it take to change a light bulb?

No sooner had the words been spoken than the chanting stopped and the lights in the kafenion went out. There then followed a frantic five minutes as our host ran around trying to find some fuse wire to replace the mains fuse that had blown because, in order to cope with the crowds attending the festival, too many electric ovens had been plugged into the sockets in the kitchen, sockets which were also being used to supply the church PA.

Personally I think it was sheer coincidence but we never did find out the number of priest required; we could only conclude it was a number between one and seventeen.

 

 

 

 

  1. Single core, Copper, Paper Insulated, Lead Covered, Single Wire Armoured and Served; and I can’t remember, it was 40 years ago.
  2. There isn’t one and never has been.
  3. Yes, and they don’t have to wait until you’re arrested either.
  4. I don’t have my Nitrox Tables anymore so you’ll just have to look it up.

 

 

 

 

 

 

3. Pirates

#3. Pirates

Crete, as most people know, is an island. What is, however, not so well known is that parts of the south coast of the island are only accessible by sea and are dependent upon the services provided by the (ir)regular ferries that commute between our village and the more remote villages along the coast. The two large car carrying ferries that perform this task normally, carry out an intricate ballet between four villages, ending up in the evening by depositing the two or three hundred tourists, who have slogged their way down 18 or so km of a deep gorge for fun(?), at either end of the ferry route, from whence they are bussed back to their hotels up north. It’s a complicated system but it’s worked well for the last 20 or so years.

Last year however, as part of the austerity programme and the dismantling of Greek bureaucratic state, the task of inspecting and certifying the seaworthiness of the vessels was taken from the state run organisation that had done it since the year dot and handed to the ship owners for them to find private surveyors. The owners of the two local big boats did just that and, allegedly, found these nice Russian gentlemen. Messers. Ripemov and Youvbinconned, who arranged to do the survey on the cheap. So, two months later than scheduled, one can no more speed up Russians than one can Cretans, the ferries start running their usual routes and by early September are up to their eyes in tourists.

It was at about this point, so the story goes, that someone from the insurance company got round to inspecting the paperwork provided by the Russians and looked into their credentials. Imagine their surprise….the survey/insurance company didn’t exist, the paperwork was worthless and the money and the Russians were conspicuous by their absence.

Panic then ensues as it is realised that the ferries are at sea, full of tourists, with no seaworthiness certificates and no insurance. Nine o’clock on a Tuesday morning, and the Coast Guard swing into action. An urgent message is sent to the furthest ferry ordering it back to its home port immediately and the local coastal protection gunboat sets off at high speed, intercepts the nearest ferry at sea, full of passengers, and escorts it back to our village, from where it had departed 45 minutes earlier. By midday and there was one ferry tied up here under the watchful eyes of the Port Police while the other was tied up, about 40 km along the coast from us. At this point, dear reader, you need to be aware that on Crete, the men of the district in which the further ferry was now incarcerated, have a certain reputation for independence of thought and action: they like to claim that theirs was the only district that in the 300 or so years of Ottoman rule, the Ottomans never managed to conquer, and that theirs was the district that the German never managed to subdue….both interesting myths which nevertheless partially account for the act that a man from this district is just as likely to have a gun in his pocket as he is to be pleased to see you. (Their reputation for a certain independence of attitude was reinforced several years ago when a police helicopter, sent to investigate the alleged production of certain herby substances, was driven off by small arms fire.)

One version of the story of the subsequent events of that day, and there are several, goes that the mayor of the district in question, who did not take kindly to the fact that ‘his’ ferry was now tied up in ‘his’ harbour and the 200 or so tourists that would be expected to arrive in his village for lunch, were stuck at a village up the coast with little prospect of them getting out in time to spend any money on his patch, took matters into his own hands and commandeered the ferry. Opinion here is divided as to whether or not actual bits of hardware were displayed during the exercise, the majority view being that a display of force would be unnecessary since the implicit assumption is if you’re from this district, you’re armed, but eventually the ferry Captain was ‘persuaded’ by the mayor to resume its interrupted journey and the tourists duly brought into the village.

Such actions did not go unnoticed and off went the gunboat again, this time with the aid of a large body of police, but no helicopter, which descended on the village from the north of the island. The Coast Guard boat recovered the ferry and escorted it back here and the police arrested the mayor. Local sympathies are divided, our village derives considerable income from the tourists brought in by ferry passengers also, but it has been suggested that when the mayor gets out of jail, he’s to be offered the position of Mayor of Mogadishu*. In the meantime, the ferry service previously offered by two large car carrying vessels is now being carried out by two much smaller, foot passenger only, ships; the Russians are still at large and the ex-mayor of a certain Cretan village is anxious to have a word or two with them.

Now you may think that none of the above is true, and I wouldn’t blame you, but as I sit here on the veranda, I can look down past the flowers and vegetables and see the two boats that normally ply their trade along the coast, tied up awaiting a new inspection of seaworthiness and new insurance certification; yes, as I always suspected, there are ferries at the bottom of my garden.

(I would just like to add that the ship shown above WAS NOT one of those involved!)

*The copywrite of this ‘joke’ belongs to Spiros from Birmingham and, quite frankly, he’s welcome to it.

2. The Philosophers

#2 The Philosophers do their civic duty.

The area around Onomia Square in Athens is inhabited by a number of gentlemen and ladies of a philosophical bent; the type that, after a litre or 12 of wine for breakfast, are likely to proclaim their views on life, the universe and everything in loud voices using such (philosophical) turns of phrase as; ‘Millennium, shrimp and buggerit I told them it was a duck but polishing it only took the paint off and would they listen….’, although in Greek rather than English of course.*  The main road leading out of the square is a three lane, one way, road, crossed at right angles by minor roads which from the north, run down hill across the main road and down again to the south; thus while the main road is flat, the side roads run downhill across it, a geographical fact of which you will need to take note.

Coming along this main road one evening at about 9pm I observed a number of the local philosophers struggling to put out fires that some clown had started in some plastic rubbish bags and a large, wheeled, plastic rubbish bin; the bags and bin being situated in a side road to the north of the main street, i.e. in a road sloping down into it. They were doing their civic duty by using whatever liquid was to hand, and I can report that, in spite of its alcohol content, wine doesn’t burn. While they were struggling with this, two policemen sat in a police car in the southern, lower, side road opposite them and watched, offering no assistance, as the philosophers dodged the traffic to cross the main road carrying jugs of water from a nearby ornamental fountain and bottles containing various liquids of an unknown nature.

The rubbish bags were fairly easily dealt with but the fire in the bin eventually got out of control when someone, no doubt with the best of intentions, opened the bin lid to throw some water inside, but failed to shut it again. This fire then started to set alight to the tree underneath which the bin was situated and at this point things started to get rather silly.

A philosopher decided to move the bin from under the tree and took the brake off in order to do so; forgetting in the heat of the moment (sorry about that), that the bin was on a slope. The bin rolled down the hill, the flames getting higher as it speeded up, and eventually came to a halt in the middle of the main road, burning and melting away to its heart’s content.  At this point the police decided to take some action and pulling out of the side street, reversed their car against the traffic and placed it into the second lane to prevent other cars driving into the, now merrily burning, bin. They were joined a few seconds later by another police car which drew alongside them, blocking the two inner lanes, thus totally isolating the bin. While all this was going on, the philosophers were still fighting the good fight against both the fire and the traffic, and the police were still staying in their cars.

Enter the fire brigade…eventually.

The innermost police car, the last to arrive, now drove past the bin and off into the night thus allowing the fire engine to drive past the bin as well. Having done so, the fire engine parked up, and, with the assistance (?) of the philosophers, the fire fighters got to work putting out the fire. However, at this point, the remaining police car, which had until then been blocking traffic to prevent cars driving into the bin, itself drove off and parked beyond the bin, leaving both fire fighters and philosophers to carry out their task in the face of oncoming traffic. I am happy to report though, that the two policemen, who had watched this from the relative safety of their car the whole of the time, did now get out. One went straight into the coffee shop, while the other ran across the main road, dodging the traffic, in the style of the philosophers and fire fighters, and proceeded to have an animated discussion with one of the local ladies of negotiable affection.

At this point I could take no more and went back to my hotel.

The next morning the only signs of the previous night’s events were a somewhat singed tree and a number of thirsty looking philosophers who were, no doubt, philosophically content in the knowledge, if they remembered the previous night’s events, that they had sacrificed their breakfast for the common good.

 

*More perceptive readers will notice a certain similarity between the philosophical teachings of these philosophers and those of ‘Foul Ole Ron’, the rather malodorous “star” of a number of works by that nice Mr Terry (Oh, why in the name of the gods did he accept a knighthood?) Pratchett. Perhaps Mr Pratchett has been to Athens.

1. Hell in Crete

#1 Hell in Crete

Having received numerous e-mails from my adoring public (Sid and Doris Bonkers) I have none the less decided to ignore their heartfelt pleas and recommence my occasional series of epistles bringing the public up to date with certain events in my furiously frantic fun filled life. (At this point you may press the escape button if you so wish; details of how to delete e-mails and/or add my name to your spam filter will vary from browser to browser.)

To bring you up to speed, I’ve finished at Big Skool and I am now considered fully educated, at least to some degree, and I need only go back for more if I have the money. I managed to complete my course without incurring too much damage though I did manage to blow up the household electrics of one of my lecturers….on the coldest and darkest day of the year. Other highlights of the three years included watching a fellow student, bound for Sandhurst after doing his History degree, intent on showing us how fit he, and by inference the whole of the British Army, was by doing squat thrusts (I think that’s what they’re called; they look painful and energetic) in the corridor while waiting to go into a seminar and splitting the crotch of his trousers from top to bottom; hearing that well known Classical scholar Boris Johnson having his Greek corrected at a public lecture; realising I was in the presence of Constantine ‘No Name’ Glucksberg, the deposed King of Greece, and that I didn’t have a gun about my person, and discovering that academics are not the godlike beings I once took them for, but are in fact capable of terminological inaccuracies, particularly when it comes to diagrams illustrating the difference in the size of cows in western Europe before and after the fall of the Western Roman Empire*. However, I eventually left the Strand Poly in the capable hands of the little old lady who, previous readers will be glad to know, is still safe and sound in her nest of books and papers in the Theology section of the library.

Having no lectures to attend and no essays to plagerise write, I was at a loss as to what to do with myself, the memsahib’s suggestions being mostly impossible or too painful to contemplate and involving ‘work’, whatever that is, I reached the reluctant decision that I would just have to spend the remains of my student loan on the memsahib and myself wintering in Crete:  look on it as a painful burden I have taken upon myself in a, no doubt vain, attempt to prop up the Greek economy.

Into this scenario was incorporated a cunning plan to inveigle myself onto an academic event rejoicing (?) in the title: Hell in Crete. It turned out to be anything but hell, although I did discover that asking a, what appeared to me to be simple, question of 12 or more very high powered academics, a number which I discovered afterwards exceed the critical mass for Art Historians, results in receiving 19 different answers, all of which appear, almost but not quite, not to contradict each other, but are in fact at total odds with the answer you got from the previous academic….what’s more it’s all done so politely – sometimes. I did, however, at last, discover the real reason that the man in the Venetian-Cretan Fresco in one church is having a plough inserted into a part of his anatomy into which ploughs were not designed to go; discovered that the punishments in hell stipulated for fornicators, both male and female, are too painful to reveal -but think snakes- and that the fate prescribed in hell for cheating tailors involves scissors and had me waking up at nights screaming.

It doesn't bear thinking about!

 

I’m sure Cretan Television is a wonderful thing, after all, the main channels devote serious amounts of airtime to traditional Cretan dance and music, something the BBC1 has yet to do. (Actually, to be fair, BBC1 plays as much Cretan traditional music as they do English traditional music.) However I fear that they must be running out of Cretan dances to broadcast, a conclusion I reached from the fact that I came across a Kreta TV crew, cameras, lights, sound, producer and front man, carrying out an interview in the gents toilet at Chania bus station….while the toilet was still in use.

Given the state of the Greek economy and the austerity measures being introduced, civil service wages cut by 30%, retirement ages raised overnight by 8 years, VAT raised by 8% and yet more to come, it’s not surprising that they shipped and extra 7000 police into Thessaloniki for the opening of the International Trade Fair, an event to be attended by both the PM and the Leader of the Opposition. However, according to my friend Spiros who’s in one branch of the forces of Law and Disorder, the extra police, mostly from Athens, are civil servant also and while they haven’t, for obvious reasons, had such a swinging pay cut, they are not happy bunnies. Accordingly, the Athenian police apparently only agreed to go to Thessaloniki if they could have their own anti-austerity demonstration before all the other scheduled demonstrations and they got paid up front for the extra overtime they would be working; the fear being that by the end of next month when their overtime pay is due, there will be no money left to pay them. 

As a student of history, I am of course aware of previous tensions between Greece and Turkey. Conscious of the ‘Malvinas Factor’, I was discussing this very topic with Spiros, (not the previous Spiros, this was another one) and based on his experiences doing National Service in the Greek Air Force as a radio/radar technician in the late 1980s,he was vey gloomy about it all. It appears that the last time when relations between the two countries got a bit ropey, Spiros was a part of a detachment sent to guard an airfield from a possible Turkish attack. Fine in theory but rather difficult in practice since they didn’t give the conscripts any rifles; Spiros did have a helmet but it was a silver painted parade one, made of plywood. Naturally I queried the apparent lunacy of sending specialised troops to carry out an infantry role and then not arming or protecting them. Spiros looked even gloomier.

‘Yes,’ he said

‘I asked the same question and my officer told me that Air Force conscripts were expandable.’

So there it is; if Turkey attacks they will be faced by hordes of 100 metre diameter, Greek Air Force conscripts, and the war will be over before it’s started.

( For the attention of those reading this who might just happen to be Greek – you know who you are Spiros -……….I know I shouldn’t be rude about Greek mispronunciation of English, particularly given that I’ve been coming here every year for 15 or so years, I lived here for 18 months, that I’ve tried, and failed, to learn both modern and ancient Greek and still I can only just about manage to order a beer in a taverna,  but that’s the way it is I’m afraid; so I’m now going to go down to the restaurant, past the door marked ‘Stuff Only’ and try and decide where to have a plate of fish fingerings or some fresh Greek nuddels for dinner.)

 

*True, but the laws of liable prevent me from explaining further.