Archive for April, 2005

Yesterday’s item…

Sunday, April 17th, 2005

… makes me sound like Bill Clinton explaining what he’d never had with that woman.

I’ve been telling everyone here the same story, but nobody believes me. Part of me really regrets that I didn’t make a move, and I leave it to the reader to guess what that part is. The rest of me realises that I don’t need complications in my life.

This has been a day of multiple frustrations, of course. Somehow, I’d forgotten it was Sunday and I went to the boatyard. Deserted. My boat floating still, though.

Then, with all the running around I’ve been doing, I ran out of fuel on the bike on my way home, and the petrol station doesn’t open till after lunch on Sundays, and I was in the filthy clothes I wear for working on the boat, so I couldn’t go visiting.

I dumped the bike and walked the rest of the way home, then changed and…

You don’t want to read about this, do you? I’ll leave it at that.

Suldrun is…

Saturday, April 16th, 2005

… gone now, and I’ll tell you what actually happened, but first, a little more background.

I’ve never been much of a hit with girls. I’m quite tall, but a bit overweight, and, I’m afraid, very self-involved. I had a steady girlfriend at University… well, I was steady, she wasn’t. Then we got married, which was a mistake, because by that time neither of us cared much about each other. I worked abroad for a while, and when I came back I didn’t return to the house we rented together, and eventually we got divorced in as dispassionate a manner as we married. Later, I had other girlfriends, none serious or long-term. Then there was Melancthe, who looked serious but had other motives in mind.

So, you will see, however keen I am for some kind of relationship, caution, fear of rejection and selfishness tend to make me reluctant to hope for one. And now that I’m hiding, I’m reluctant to impart secrets, and it makes me seem unforthcoming.

It was different with Suldrun. We talked about absolutely everything, we ate, we drank too much. We really enjoyed each other’s company, I think; and I feel if I’d made a move then she would have welcomed it, but I didn’t and she didn’t. I ran her to her hotel early this morning so she could pack and join her colleagues. By the finish, I was treating her like a daughter more than anything else, I suppose, but that may have been self-defence.

So, tongues can wag, and no doubt will, but the truth is very boring.

What trouble…

Friday, April 15th, 2005

… women get you into. Suldrun sauntered into Nikos’ again last night, and sat at my table, which seemed quite pleasant, except that:

  • * an audible rumour made its way out of the door en route to every corner of town, and
  • * Dave appeared fifteen minutes later, complete with very unsightly nose splint.

Dave had worked out that it was me who’d hit him with a lager bottle and that Suldrun was trying to protect me. The opposite would have been closer to the truth, as you know, but I simply pointed out that it hadn’t been me because, if he remembered, I was hanging onto his left arm at the time with both hands, and I had no idea who hit him. I was frankly terrified, and resolved to poke him on the nose if he started to get physical, though he seemed content to be vocal, albeit in a somewhat nasal fashion. It could have been left at that, except that Suldrun chose that very moment to confess, emphasising that he’d been asking for it. It got very noisy then and was in danger of becoming ugly, but Nikos, standing at a safe distance, called across to Dave that he was calling the police now. Dave left.

Now, I know it was a mistake and has ruined my reputation. Because, the next thing, Suldrun tells me she’s scared to go back to the hotel now. I say (I can’t believe I’m saying this) “Come back to my place, then.”

“Righto”, says she. We eat, we leave. She sleeps in my bed. I sleep on the floor in the sleeping bag I used before the bed arrived. That is IT! Nothing happened! Good God, the girl is about half my age. What am I? Some kind of pervert?

And I worked with Alexis, and Suldrun did her archaeology stuff today. We are NOT an item.

In fact, the whole arrangement was so uncomplicated that I invited her here again tonight. She leaves the island tomorrow, so that’ll be that. And, in order not to make matters worse by appearing in public together again, I am making a light supper for us here.

Oh dear, that “light supper” sprang off the keyboard in a very slick manner. I hope I’m not catching clichéitis. What I should have said was that we’re having houmous with Kalamata olives, followed by grilled lamb chops and rice, as long as I don’t burn the rice like last time; then yoghurt and honey and coffee.

I should do this more often. It seems I’d rather ride down to Nikos’ and come back freezing to death on the bike than self-cater. When it gets dark, it can be very cold on the bike, even when it’s been hot all day. Cooking would make sense even if Suldrun weren’t coming.

What am I doing sitting here blogging? I have to go fetch her from town now. Goodbye.

There must be something…

Thursday, April 14th, 2005

… about pheromones. I immediately liked the smell of Suldrun. It wasn’t her perfume or her soap, though both were present. As she came to my table in Nikos’ last night, I remembered that she had smelled attractive the previous evening – the evening of the fight. She’s from a West Indian background, I guess, with full lips and dark, watchful eyes. Compact, somehow muscular. London accent with University veneer.

“I came to thank you for last night,” standing over my table.

“I did nothing. Sit down a moment.”

Sitting down, “No. You could have shopped me. You don’t know Dave. He can get violent.”

“Really?” Mock surprise.

She grinned. I asked her what she was drinking.

“I was going to buy you one.”

And so on. I didn’t want to get involved, but she stayed for supper – stuffed aubergines – and we chatted. About archaeology. Fresh from my adventure the other day, I was fluent. And that was it. Honest! Despite all the teasing I got from Alexis this morning. He wasn’t even in Nikos’ last night, for heaven’s sake. OK. I gave her a lift to her hotel on the bike. No. I didn’t go in. I wasn’t invited, anyway. No. I don’t plan to see her again. Give me strength.

In between mockery and close questioning about Suldrun, we launched the boat for the first time today, using the age-old Greek method of scooping it up with a fork-lift truck and driving into the water with it. I’d been wondering how we were going to do it, because we were working on the boat about twenty yards from the high water mark – not that there’s much of a tide here.

It wasn’t quite that simple. In fact, one end of the boat was first lifted on to a padded trolley with four wheels, then the fork-lift went round the other end and sort of lifted and pushed the whole lot into the water until the boat floated free. It seemed that half the town was involved, either to steady the boat or in an advisory capacity. Most of them, come to think of it, in an advisory capacity. We had to lay metal tracks into the water for the fork-lift, so he’d have the grip to get out again, but it was obvious they had all done it before. It cost me a round of about twenty brandies for all, especially the advisers, and a packet of cigarettes for the fork-lift driver, who is gainfully employed elsewhere in town.

The boat did not sink immediately, and was still afloat when I left to come here.

Fun and games…

Wednesday, April 13th, 2005

… in the taverna last night. I’d finished my dinner and was tentatively exploring how many hairs of the dog it was safe to take. Not many. I was beginning to dislike the look of my Metaxa, the first and last of the evening. A noisy group of eight Brits ( four male and four female Archaeology students on a field trip, as I later discovered) were arguing loudly and swilling much retsina and beer, and were causing some resentment. Noisy arguments are the prerogative of the Club members, and are usually conducted during daylight hours. The argument wasn’t even about archaeology, but racism. Eventually, I decided to try and quieten it down. It was interfering with my enjoyment. I strolled across. Curious and resentful stares. Sudden silence as they weighed me up. I said something ineffectual like “C’mon, boys and girls, keep it down a bit, can’t you?”, in as cool a manner as I could. I was treated to a tirade of foul language from one of the principal arguers, a tall youth with a shaved head, and a strip of beard on his chin. Another boy, short and red-haired, shouted “Shut up, Dave, you’ll get us chucked out”, and the fight was on. It’s not like in the movies, you know. Most of the swinging and kicking is totally inexpert. I wasn’t involved at first. I backed off pretty rapidly. Then Nikos arrived and grabbed hold of Dave and got an elbow in the gut for the trouble. He fell to the floor. I stepped forward, so did the red-haired lad and we seized one of Dave’s arms each. Then we all tripped over Nikos and landed half under the next table with Dave trying to land kicks. Then one of the girls hit Dave on the nose with a bottle. The bottle didn’t break, but the nose did, and it was all over. Sobriety descended upon the company, Dave’s blood was mopped up with paper napkins and broken glass and chairs were picked up. Nikos did a bit of yelling once he got his breath back, and he started to shove them towards the door. More shouting and screaming. Then the police arrived. That was the last thing I needed. I went back and sat at my table. The girl who’d tried to brain Dave with a Mythos took the situation in and, no doubt fearing arrest for assault, came and sat with me.

She said: “I’m with you.”

I didn’t much like it, but I said: “So I see.”

She told me her name, but I shall call her Suldrun. She didn’t look at me again.

The police asked questions and received answers. Nikos clearly wasn’t pressing charges. Dave was in no position to do so. No-one looked at Suldrun. I realised that Dave didn’t know who’d hit him, and nobody was about to tell him. No handcuffs, no chains. In due course, the archaeologists left, and Suldrun, muttering thanks, followed them.

According to Nikos, Suldrun turned up in the taverna at lunchtime today asking for me. Alexis and I were at the boatyard wrestling with important design decisions and several lengths of wood, and didn’t stop to eat.

I was so tired…

Tuesday, April 12th, 2005

… last night that I didn’t even go down to the taverna. I just stripped, showered, described my day out, as you see above, and slumped into bed.

The penalty of walking across a mountain in full sun, with a skinful of alcohol and pushing a bike was revealed this morning by a very thick head, aching calf muscles, burning shins and a sort of all-over dryness of the membranes so that your eyes try to stick shut, your tongue keeps sticking to the inside of your mouth, and all your joints feel lubricated with treacle. Once again I say “Never Again”, and I mean it this time. By lunchtime, I’d manage to drag myself down to the taverna for a very mild hair of the dog – a lager – and I felt slightly better.

Alexis has managed to get hold of a second-hand fibreglass deck house for the boat, and it almost fits. It’s yellowing a little, but all the windows, of which there are five, are intact and appear to be waterproof. We spent the afternoon trying it in various positions. It will allow me, as I had hoped, to put a bunk inside so that I can overnight in the boat if I make a trip to some other island, and it will keep my electronics dry when I get some. I left Alexis energetically fitting new cross-pieces to the boat, and sawing out slots in the deck house to make it fit. He reckons it’ll be bolted into place by tomorrow. He’s very keen to line it with wood panelling, but I reckon it’ll be a waste of time.

I suppose I’d better confess right here that nearly everything I know about sailing was picked up by reading about it, starting with Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons books, and culminating, more recently, with various yachting handbooks. I’ve also rented small boats on holiday – catamarans in Penang, dinghies in the Norfolk Broads and Finland, one of which I dismasted and capsized in a stiff breeze on a Finnish lake.

I took…

Monday, April 11th, 2005

… a trip to the ruins on the other side of the island today, just, really, to give myself some exercise. I only found out about the ruins from the guide book I bought in Athens last week. Nobody who actually lives here mentions any ruins, other than the old Ottoman “fort” (more probably a warehouse with a missing roof, in my opinion) along the shore, that used to be an open air cinema until one of the walls collapsed, about twenty years ago during a showing of Kelly’s Heroes, I gather. Greeks still remember the Second World War, and appreciate movies of that genre, particularly if the Nazis are getting their asses whipped. You can still go into the three-sided building and find faded 1980s cigarette packets, if you can stand the smell of goats.

These ruins over the hill are perhaps pre-Hellenic, predating what we think of as Greek Architecture, but not Minoan, so I was not exceptionally interested. It really was more of an outing than a site-seeing expedition.

The bike, which seldom gets a proper trip, was running well. It’s a Suzuki TS-125, so it’s not going to win any races, but it’s ideal for Greek roads and dirt tracks, having lots of ground clearance and comfortably long-travel front forks, which take the impact out of hitting small rocks, yet it can go quite quickly in top gear on the flat with a following wind and some tarmac. .

Parts of the road over the hill are quite steep, there’s a lot of gravel at the edges, but the middle is quite good, and I was enjoying the characteristic odour of wild thyme and savory that fills the air. Over the crest, I was met by the sight of the road snaking down the hill to a white village on the other side, and the vast expanse of sea fading to a high, but indistinct horizon. The smell of herbs intensified, mingled now with woodsmoke. It was truly idyllic, until I started to feel a little sponginess in the back end of the bike, which turned out to be a suddenly flat tyre. There wasn’t far to go by the time the tyre was flat enough to be self-destructive, at which point I dismounted and wheeled the machine into the village, perhaps a couple of miles, taking three quarters of an hour, and suffering many hacks to the shin, because bikes stick out at various points and they are hard and sharp. The slightest incaution results in a collision of ankle with unyielding steel. Ankles always come off worst.

Sure, there was a bike repair shop in the village, but the owner was not there. Idlers in the neighbourhood expected him about 11 o’clock, so I parked the bike outside his garage doors, and walked to the ruins. Don’t bother, even if you’re in the area. They consist of a wire-fenced acre of low stone foundations arranged around a bit of a pre-historic road, and very overgrown with thorny weeds. The most interesting feature is a tumbledown lean-to of rusty corrugated iron and scaffolding poles that was evidently the headquarters of the Italian archaeological team which originally cleared the site in 1937. If there are ancient treasures there, they are yet to be revealed. I stood in the shade of the lean-to and consulted the guidebook. Had I read between the lines closely before I came, I might have predicted this. The entry on this site was clearly filler, containing phrases such as “it is said…” and “pre-war excavation may have revealed…”. The writer gave no evidence of having visited.

Returning to the village, Mr Fixit had still not appeared, and I took refuge in the taverna for an hour or two, or perhaps three. By two in the afternoon, I was making plans to get back. The choice was whether to leave the bike and take a bus or taxi home, hoping it could be repaired in my absence, or to walk the bike home over the hill, a distance of some six miles. Buoyed up by an excellent lunch of ouzo and wine with a few titbits of meze, I decided to walk. Big mistake. It was nearly five when I arrived, perspiring audibly, at the bike repair shop in my own town, and my right ankle and shin are a medical emergency.

In charge of the shop was the twelve year old grandson of the owner, who speaks better English than I speak Greek. I was quite alarmed when, without much ado, this child began to strip down the complicated mechanisms that hold the back wheel and chain in place, but he seemed to know what he was doing. In about forty minutes, he had the wheel off, the inner tube out, the nail in the tyre identified and removed, a puncture repair applied, and the whole lot re-assembled and inflated. In payment, he asked for a trifling sum – six Euros. Such was my relief, I gave him ten and refused change.
Suzuki TS 125
This is what my bike probably looked like when it was new. Don’t ask when that was. To be fair, when I bother to clean it, it still looks quite a lot like this.

I came across…

Sunday, April 10th, 2005

The Lady’s Not for Burning (by Christopher Fry) this morning during another aimless net browse. Delightful play. I spent all day reading it. Here’s just a couple of fragments from near the beginning:

I must tell you,
I’ve just been reborn.

Nicholas, you always think
You can do things better than your mother. You can be sure
You were born quite adequately on the first occasion.


Are you his brother?

No. All I can claim as my flesh and blood
Is what I stand up in. I wasn’t born,
I was come-across. In the dusk of one Septuagesima,
A priest found an infant, about ten inches long,
Crammed into the poor-box. The money had all
Been taken. Nothing was there except myself,
I was the baby as it turned out. The priest,
Thinking I might have eaten the money, held me
Upside down and shook me, which encouraged me
To live, I suppose, and I lived.

You may have…

Saturday, April 9th, 2005

… assumed that I spend my time as a latter-day lotus eater in this pastoral idyll, with occasional paranoid dashes in various directions. Nothing could be further from the truth. Well, no, let me modify that statement as follows: That is only partially true. I have, indeed, become a bit of a lounger-around, idle reader, desultory net browser (at dial-up speeds, it has to be desultory) and uneasy blogger.

However, I am also, as you know, a part-time boat mender’s assistant, no easy assignment, in which profession I spent part of today sanding a slim telegraph pole of a piece of wood, which is destined to be the mast of my boat, while Alexis did the dirty malodorous stuff with some resinous gunk or other on the inside of the hull. Paint and sealing materials alone have so far cost him, or, rather, me, well over a thousand pounds, which is nothing, I suppose, to what the bottom line is going to be.

But it did not escape the islanders’ notice that I had some facility with my laptop computer, and early on in my stay, I received many friendly invitations to discuss and inspect the various PCs on the island, of which there are a surprising number. Like a party guest who is discovered to be a doctor, I now seem to hold an impromptu surgery at Nikos’ almost every day. At various houses and business premises, I’ve also installed and adjusted XP, anti-virus and firewall products, consulted on E-Bay shopping, diagnosed a printer fault as a cable connector with a bent pin, and performed many other minor tasks, such as unpacking and plugging in new computers. I resolutely refuse payment, because none of these people can afford my fees, and I refuse to work for less, so everything is a favour. The result, however, is that many of my drinks are paid for, and if I arrive too early at Nikos’ I am regaled with so much hospitality which cannot be refused for fear of giving offense that I am frequently half-cut by the time my meal arrives and I can barely see to ride home. In addition to drinks, I sometimes discover that my meal at Nikos’ has been paid for, and gifts of sweetmeats and other food frequently turn up in neat packages. I’m not complaining. It’s rather pleasant to be part of the barter society.

I witnessed…

Friday, April 8th, 2005

… a strange transaction today while sitting in an early morning cool breeze outside a dockside taverna in Piraeus, wasting time before my ferry home. “Home”, note. An unmarked blue van drew up near the corner, and two men got out. They leaned on the street side of the van. They were dressed in white overalls, and observed the traffic carefully for about five minutes. A bicycle approached, ridden by a young man – a University student by his appearance. They flagged him down and spoke for a while. It didn’t look as if they knew each other. After a few minutes, one of the vanmen opened the rear door of the van and removed a bicycle from it. After inspecting this bike, the student handed over his own and rode away on the new one. The original bicycle was loaded in the van, which then drove off. No money, nothing at all but the bicycles, appeared to have changed hands. I have any number of theories about this, of course.

  • Perhaps the tubes of the bicycle were stuffed with drugs or other contraband, and I observed the handover either to or from a young courier;
  • Perhaps the second bike was a bicycle bomb, and the student was about to deliver it, wittingly or otherwise, to its chosen target;
  • More prosaically, perhaps it was only a maintenance recall of a hired bicycle.

It’s like an old shaggy dog story I remember. I shall spare you the full length of it, but it concerned a detective investigating mysterious happenings at a monastery, and featured components such as an onion, a sharp knife, a table, an explosion, a book, a secret tunnel and a strange monk. The same incident occurred repeatedly without the detective managing to see what was going on. However, he eventually managed to pounce on the monk as he emerged from the secret passageway at the other end, and demanded an explanation of the whole affair.

The monk replied: “OK. Can you keep a secret?”

“Yes, I can,” said the detective… and it later turned out that he could.

So, like the story, I guess we shall never know what the bicycle incident was all about.

Home again to my hovel and my lizard. Instructed Alexis and Eleni that everything was back to normal, that I’d just had a spot of business and hadn’t had any idea how long it would take.

God, I’m exhausted.