Friday, June 28, 2019

Return to Crete (Part Two)

Continued from previous post:

Also while treating the woodwork I had noticed that the rough beams above two of the windows were so rotten and eaten away a screwdriver went straight through them. I tore them out, measured up, then went to visit two expats here called Tim and Helen. I’d already seen these two while walking (they live in Armeni). They collect up wood all over the place to burn in their stove during the winter and I had noticed some long logs in the woodpile at the bottom of their garden. Tim kindly let me have two of them. I treated and stained these ready to fit them in the holes above the windows. In the UK this would require sand and cement. Cement is no problem here but for sand the rougher version is crushed rock while the equivalent of soft sand is Marmora – crushed marble. I fitted the logs/beams and am very pleased with the result.

The Greeks have been amazed by all this. Woodworking requires a carpenter, painting requires a painter, electrics an electrician and so on. The divisions of labour here are quite distinct. They cannot quite fathom how one man can do all these different jobs, which is sad really.

I’ve only gone through the main jobs above (like the garden). All the time there were other things I needed to do: emptying out plant pots and cleaning out the weed roots and bulbs (I made a riddle out of chicken wire), frequent cleaning because Sahara dust was getting everywhere, setting cuttings of geraniums and other plants, sowing seeds of radish and like, and burning up garden rubbish in the stove (when it was still cool here).

 A few weeks back the essential jobs were winding down and it had become more a case of what an old friend and workmate called ekeing about. Also the weather had warmed up some and I decided it was time to start kayaking. I let Yorgos know by text but the kayak took a few days to arrive. He hadn’t stored it by his house nearby as I had thought but in storage he uses in Ierapetra. Thank you Yorgos.

Despite my hiding in the Cretan mountains my day job began to catch up with me. Bella Pagan – my editor at Macmillan – wanted a synopsis of The Human. I also worked on turning the three Mason’s Rats stories into two stories with a view, hopefully, of them being used in the next two seasons of Tim Miller’s ‘Love, Death and Robots’. Of course all of this doesn’t sound like a day job at all.

While I interspersed my days with kayaking or walking and at other times reluctantly opened up the laptop, I continued with something I had started last time I was here. Behind the house, in the area beside the ‘ruin’ (a little self-contained apartment), I had collected a great load of knackered old chairs. Those reading previous blog posts of mine will know I picked up a strange habit of renovating chairs here. Most of these I decided weren’t worth my efforts because even once renovated there would be nothing special about them. I chopped them into pieces and piled them on a pallet on the roof for later use in the stove. However, one bamboo chair I did think worth the effort and was one I had started on when last here. This I had spotted four years ago while out on the kayak – it had been washed up on the rocks of the coast. Once I returned to Revans in the kayak I headed out in my car and collected it. I had started replacing the binding on the joints but they had fallen apart in the intervening time.

I stripped those off, pulled out nails and repaired broken joints – in one case with an aluminium plate folded round and screwed in place. I treated the wood and set to work on new bindings made out of lengths of the plant broom. The chair once had a woven back and I replaced this with bamboo collected locally. Then stained and varnished the thing with another pleasing final result.

Meanwhile, after seeing a picture of me in Revans Bar and not liking the gut evident under my T-shirt, I had decided to push myself. Instead of doing the Voila walk or kayaking, I decided to do both. In the morning I walked to Voila, I then worked at some other things, then in the afternoon I kayaked. That’s 12k mountain walking and 10k kayaking. Damn I would soon remove the flab! I did do one week of this and in that time dropped 6lbs. However, I’m not 30 anymore and midday jobs usually meandered in a desultory manner until I crashed on the sofa, while my evenings struggled to reach 10pm again. This also started to exacerbate lower back ‘discomfort’ I had been experiencing for a month and which I’d put down to overdoing it in the gym back in the UK. This expanded to bladder pains and the need to urinate and, at the time, I thought I’d not kept myself hydrated enough and my internet diagnosis was that I’d got a bladder infection. I rested, ate more, took antibiotics that seemed to help but their effect might well have been in my mind.

Over time the pains drew back from my bladder and into my back, with occasional shooting pains down my legs. I now suspect the antibiotics were not needed (could be wrong) and that this 58-year-old simply overdid it. I decided to take it easy for a while and stayed in the house just carrying out some light chores. But of course the fact that I hadn’t painted inside nagged at me, and light chores turned into about 30 hours over two days of house painting and cleaning. I also found that the tile glue I had used as plaster in the hall to try and block the damp there had blown and had to chisel it away. I do have an off button, I just haven’t found it yet. Then, with a resurgence of all the symptoms, despite the antibiotics, I really did rest.

Since then, taking it easy, eating better and keeping hydrated, it seems my body has started to catch up with the exercise (the changes do occur during rest). Of course I’ve needed to urinate more, because the volume occupied by my bladder has shrunk (probably exacerbating the effects of an expanded prostate) – muscles have tightened there and grown elsewhere. I can even see muscles on my bloody shins while a couple of leather bracelets I wear have grown noticeably tight. Also (another internet diagnosis) maybe I had 'radiating pain' - back pain that moves about, like into the groin and down the fronts of the legs. Anyway, I’m doing only one exercise session a day now, with breaks whenever required.

Recently the exercise has included swimming because the Cretan winds have hit. One day I headed towards Kalo Nero (clean water is the translation and ‘not now’ was the comment many years ago from the Stelios who sold me my house). When I set out the wind was light and the waves not too bad. During this two and a half hour trip it cut up rough with a combination of waves from the South and wind from the North. I found myself out at sea fighting to get in and at one point wondering if I was going to make it. Another day I headed to Koutsouras. The North wind blew but I stayed close to the coast on the way there – the blasts diverted by mountain valleys and buildings on the coast mostly behind me. Upon my return I rounded the point at the end of a beach called Kalamakinyah straight into the blast and had to push myself to the limit – the kayak travelling at walking pace. When I rounded the next point in towards Makrigialos harbour I thought the ‘pirate ship’ moored there (a tour boat) would shelter me. It didn’t. Sometimes I was travelling backwards, sometimes driven into the rocks. Absolutely knackered I finally grabbed hold of the boat’s mooring rope and hung on. At this point a motor kicked in to tighten the rope and it rose out of my grasp. I then had to paddle like crazy to get in to the beach. I’m now going to be a lot more careful about the damned wind and waves here. I don’t want any more episodes like I’ve had before: abandoning my kayak on a beach and having to walk back in my swimming trunks and ask Kostis in Revans to fetch the thing in his truck or, due to lack of attention seeing at the last moment a big wave heading towards me and surfing me in backwards onto the rocks or, as on a couple of occasions, simply flipping the kayak over.

to be continued. . . 

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Return to Crete (Part One)

Here I am again on Crete after two years and nine months. I initially left for two reasons – one is under a NDA and the other personal – and I stayed away for personal reasons too. I have already detailed all this, but in my journal. I won’t be writing about it here because I don’t know you well enough!

Knowing I was returning, I kept an eye on Facebook posts from people I know here and from some other local feeds. This last winter here has been one of the worst for a long time. They had so much rain even the Greeks were saying, ‘Enough now,’ and they usually wish for it to top up the ground water supply and because, well, it’s not that common and they haven’t acquired the English detestation of it. I heard about floods, roads washed away and landslides and watched videos of these. Riverbeds, which had been dry for a long time, abruptly ceased to be, washing down masses of bamboo and sweeping it out to sea, which then kindly heaped it up on the beaches and all along the coast. A hotel here called Villea Village was devastated with rooms filled with mud. I noted the usual cries of, ‘This has never happened before!’ and, ‘Oh my god the climate!’ Complete nonsense of course. That there are riverbeds here kinda indicates that they have in the past had rivers. Also, the hotel I mentioned was built right next to one of these whose local village behind by the same bed is called Aspro Potamus, which translates as White River. There’s a clue there. . .

Makrigialos where I go to swim and kayak had a couple of roads taken out, many properties flooded and that bamboo heaped on the beaches. Sitia, on the other side of the island, where I go shopping, was seriously flooded and pictures of it looked like those you see from third world countries in the monsoons. I heard that my village up in the mountains, between these two, was inaccessible due to landslides. I half expected to return to find my house in a pile of rubble at the bottom of the village or to open the door and have to wade inside, or shovel out mud.

During the drive from the airport I saw signs of the damage in Makrigialos, but the roads had been repaired and the beaches cleared of bamboo. When I finally arrived at my house and walked inside my fears proved groundless. Water, of course, runs downhill and my house is 700 metres above sea level. The only evidence of the heavy rain was in my bedroom. When Caroline and I first came here, we stayed one winter and, on New Year’s Eve, it rained for 10 hours straight. We were away celebrating and when we returned it was to find water pouring through at the base of the back wall and making a small waterfall over the step into the kitchen. This is because that wall is underground. I sealed it all as best I could and now there’s a patio area on the ground up there, but the water did get through this winter. However, all I needed to do was put a couple of wet mats outside to dry and later repaint the wall. This house was initially built of stone cemented together with mud and still has mud in the walls. This had soaked through and stained the paintwork.


The most damage I found inside was from local wildlife. Rats had got into the wastewater pipe, flipped up the little chrome drain cover in the bathroom, and come to stay. Their dry shits were everywhere with patches of dried out pee scattered throughout, but the most damage they had done was to chew a duvet cover and a few other items. Their other leavings weren’t really much of a problem since I needed to clean every surface anyway and launder every fabric I could.

I spent the first evening after travel just cleaning and running the washing machine. I slept in a mould smelling bed (no choice – no bedding clean or dry yet) and woke up with my eyes streaming and swelling from an allergic reaction – soon dispensed with using eye drops and an antihistamine. Over the next two days I cleaned throughout while running the washing machine perpetually. I didn’t bother getting any food in and instead headed down to the Gabbiano Restaurant and filled up there. Other snacks included packets of Cheetohs that were three years old, sardines and friganes (dry toasts also three years old). With everything bar the painting done inside I turned to attention outside.

Everything in pots was dead, the garden overgrown, while a structure I had built out of metal rose arches from Lidl bound together with bamboo and wire and up which I had been growing rosemary, had been taken by the wind a year before and deposited across the garden. Weeding therefore involved dismantling this thing as I went along. I cleaned up the garden and surrounding area and dug it over (with a mattock since impossible with a fork here). I then repaired a trellis that had been ripped from the side of the pergola and set about treating all the woodwork of the windows, doors and shutters. While doing this I found the ‘skolichi’ or woodworm had been busy. I had to cut out and replace a chunk at the bottom of one shutter and inset a piece of wood in one leg of the pergola.

Shopping next. I finally got some food and other needed items into the house. I also bought young lettuce plants and seed onions that I put in immediately. I ventured down to my favoured bar and was happy to see Yorgos and Kostis, had a coffee and headed away again. Still too cold for swimming and my kayak wasn’t there. I learned that Yorgos had put it in storage and would bring it out again once I was ready. But I still had work to do at the house and first I wanted to get back to walking in the mountains.

My first walk was hard. The seven mile walks I was doing occasionally in Essex simply do not compare. In fact, physically, I am much more active here in every way. There are more steps and slopes, and all the jobs outside. The rubbish here is not collected from the house but goes in a bin that is some way down the road beside the village. If I only shop at Lidl that’s similar to a shlep to the supermarket in the UK, but often I have to go into the town for things, and for a frappe, and for the joy of walking around in the sunshine. Already, with all this and the work I was doing, I was experiencing all sorts of aches and pains and finding it difficult to stay awake beyond 10 in the evening.

I decided right away to go on the long walk: to Voila (pronounced Voyla). One day I am going to write a book called ‘Walking to Voila’ covering my experiences here, the death of Caroline, the after-effects of that and much else beside. One day. Voila is a place I first walked to when fighting depression here. I felt pretty crappy one day and decided to walk until I felt better or dropped. Now I don’t believe in supernatural stuff, however, after crossing the mountains and heading out on some roads, the walking had its positive effect on me and reaching a junction I stopped and decided it time to head back. There I looked down and in the white line at the side of the road, in black lettering, were the words ‘Never Stop writing’. I think they were done with a stencil and had something to do with those who paint the lines? I don’t know. But those were some of the last words Caroline spoke to me before she died.

This walk entails a track with one steep slope and I felt that in my calves immediately. Next comes a slope up to the top of a mountain where wind turbines stand. This slope is over 45 degrees in places – the track concreted to stop it sliding away. It pleased me that though walking slowly I didn’t stop. I would put it as akin to walking up about twenty staircases. Euphoria hit after that on the top of the mountain and I shouted something about being ‘Back in Kriti!’ I completed the walk – past the ruins of Voila (a Turkish settlement with its ‘Tower of Tzen Ali), through the village of Handras, round a track to the village of Armeni, through that then back across the mountains past Agios Georgos to home. In all about 8 miles. Midday I slept for about three hours. I then went to bed at about 9PM and slept for a further nine hours. But thereafter I walked to Voila just about every day. 

To be continued.