Definitely Not Another Mission To A Monastery

On Wednesday, a woman asks for directions for the monastery and the waitress tells her that you can’t get to the monastery on foot. It’s too far.

On Wednesday, I point to the hill that looms over the beach and gently suggest how wonderful the view must be from the top.

On Wednesday, DeepThought says the hill is a very big hill, and not one that anyone should want to climb in this July heat.

I tell DeepThought that I’ve found a path that goes through a forest. He doesn’t believe me.

On Thursday, we watch the sunrise from the village and start walking towards a small abandoned theatre, which happens to be in the same direction as both the hill and the monastery. DeepThought finally believes me that there’s a forest once we’re surrounded by tall pine trees.

The map says the theatre is somewhere nearby, but there’s nothing here to suggest the map’s telling the truth. With caution, I enter the forest through an unmarked gate and wander along what I assume is a track. I’m really worried we’re trespassing on someone’s land when suddenly I see it below, the typical arch of a theatre. There’s not a huge amount remaining.

Behind the stage, the forest drops away into a deep ravine and through the gap in the trees we can see the deep blue of the ocean blur with the bright blue of the sky. It’s all rather tranquil and I can’t help but think how wonderful it is to be here instead of staring at a computer screen in an open office in a bustling English town.

I’m dancing around, taking photos, when I glance up and see a perfect small white house with a blue chimney hidden in the trees. According to the guide-book, this was once a thriving settlement. Now I half expect to be approached by an old woodcutter and a talking animal. I tell DeepThought I want that house. He points out the difficulty of getting here and the minor issues of electricity, sewage and internet.

We return to the main road, and keep walking. It’s only 7.30am, but it’s getting warm. The pine forest disappears and the landscape opens up. You can see the hillside right down to the narrow beaches and then nothing but shimmering blue. A cacophony of cow bells indicates we’re not alone, and I’m thrilled to see we’re sharing this hillside with baby goats.

DeepThought points out what might be tank tracks in the road. This will be more amusing to some readers than others.

At about 9am we reach a sign that points to a café, but we’re aware that the café is unlikely to be open at such an early hour. It can’t possibly have any visitors because in the previous two hours of steady walking we’ve passed four houses, two cars and a cyclist. The goats don’t count.

Instead, we turn to continue along the road up. We pass the sign saying that photography is prohibited and begin the steep climb wondering what’s so wrong about photographing a religious building. I complain that the guidebook had a photo of a white building with a blue roof.

We can’t see a white building with a blue roof.

After some time climbing upwards, and with a couple of pauses for more water, we come to a no entry sign. I reason that this no entry sign might be for vehicles as the road seems to be disintegrating around us.

A little while later we come across more stop signs and DeepThought wonders out-loud how peculiar it is to paint a monastery in camouflage and surrounding it with barbed wire. The radar tower isn’t super godly either.

We consult the map. DeepThought shares his disapproval. We walk down the hill, turn left and follow the signs to the café, which is, according to the map, within the ground of the monastery. We stride through an empty car park and follow the path down to a beautiful white building with a blue roof.

It’s locked, but the key hangs on the hook above the door. DeepThought looks at me with a frown as I unlock the door and step inside – but I’ve read the instructions in the guide-book.

Old religious stuff stares back down at me. DeepThought stands in the doorway whilst I admire the craftsmanship in the silver and gold which covers every wall. It’s all rather overwhelming. Such religious places strike me as both incredibly fascinating and a little unnerving. Maybe it’s my own pragmatic approach to religion?

We step back outside just in time for the man who runs the café to unlock the door. I’m nearly as overjoyed as when I saw the baby goats. We wait politely as the café owner goes through his rehearsed routine of sweeping the courtyard and wiping the tables. There is no rush.

I drink sweet Greek coffee. DeepThought has freshly squeezed orange juice. We debate religion and the role of spirituality in modern life. I’ve been reading Spinoza. We’re getting all philosophical when I suggest ice-cream for the journey. My choice is not really ice-cream but ice-yogurt, which is less sweet but beautifully creamy.

As we walk home we’re passed by quadbikes, mopeds and rental cars. They’re driven by bare-chested men or women in bikinis. They kick up the dust and the heat makes me sweat, but the view is just as stunning and most of the time there’s no traffic about.

Finally, back at Kefalos, we gorge ourselves on pizza. It’s only just past mid-day. Nearly siesta time.

Would you choose a banana and kiwi pizza?

Tribes

From the corner of the sofa where I had sunk, sometime so late that the silhouette of the trees could be seen, again, I admired the amazing people around me. They were speaking of nonsense, sentences interspersed with song lyrics and imitations of YouTube videos. They knew the names and relationship statuses of various beautiful people whom I had no idea existed. They knew all the words to whatever that song is called in Frozen and sang them in a chorus, which wasn’t quite as tuneful as the songbirds outside.

I can neither recall all the events in the Royal Henley Regatta, nor name all the words in an unspecified Beatles song. I can’t sing along to Cher’s Believe with such gusto because I’ve got no idea what the words are.

Nor can I think of a single song to add to the playlist. Even if I know there’s an artist I like, and even if I can name a song title, I can’t imagine the song in order to decide if it’s the right sort of song for the moment. And then there’s my problem with comedy, I’m uncertain as to what sketches are funny, and I’ve no idea why some clips provide such apparent addictive entertainment.

In other words, I’m completely oblivious to what’s going on around me.

I enjoy watching though, as the conversation bounces around the room, as spurts of laughter rock back and forth. Somehow, these little things, song lyrics and comedic references, build a warm connection within the room. Indeed this feeling is so familiar I can hardly believe it’s been so long since we were sitting in a similar arrangement singing the same familiar tunes.

It’s just a simple evening – a few friends, a few drinks and frivolities – but it means a lot.

Holidays for the Greek banks and I, but work for Lucy – Kos, Greece

Lucy, the guard dog, who jumps up on the wall and barks as I pass, has a tail that swings from side to side with such excitement that I’m always sorry not to go pet her, yet, Lucy is a guard dog, chained up day and night outside our apartment. This is Greece, and the relationship of an Englishman and his loyal compatriot isn’t mimicked here. Lucy could be lovely. But do I really want to put our friendship to the test?

Lucy’s home is the hillside between the Greek village of Kefalos, where Hippocrates was born, and the beach. Kefalos used to be the capital of the island of Kos, until an earthquake persuaded many of the inhabitants to move east and form the imaginatively named Kos Town. Now it’s a gentle place, filled with cafés for the tourists and restaurants that close in the evening when the buses go home. It doesn’t heave with pleasant. Maybe the ‘economic situation’ has deterred some of the usual visitors, or maybe this place is normally slow of pace. Either way it’s a really nice place to be.

A Greek café owner sums up this village’s outlook. She points to the sea, down to the sandy beaches and up, round her at the marvelous brightness.

“Tourists come, for this, the tourists will still come. If they need a visa,” she shrugs and stamps her hand with an imaginary visa stamp. “They will get visa.”

Life goes on.

Yet, with the referendum happening on Sunday, this entire week is one long holiday for the banks. Money isn’t particularly difficult to come by if you’re using an international bank account. DeepThought managed to get some out of the village ATM. Hesitantly watching a holidaying lady wants cash – even if she doesn’t need it.

“Does it work?” she asks me before DeepThought had even managed to tap in his PIN. She assured me that she’d brought plenty of cash, but… Despite the calm there’s a slight tension amongst holiday makers as they arrive, a tension drummed up by the media. The ATM at the airport was empty.

It’s more challenging for the long-term tourists or the Greeks themselves. If you’re working with a Greek bank account, and some of the more permanent English women in the pizzeria were, you’re unable to retrieve more than 60 euro each day.

I’m reminded of my arguments about national pride by my sister. Can you also have national shame?

A young waiter, tells us of how when he was in New York, he worked one job. Here in Greece he works two. What he dreams of, trains for and spends his money to do is play football for an English club. The unemployment rate here (those looking for a job as a percentage of the labour force) is 25%. England’s is 5.5%.

I drink freshly squeezed orange juice and coffee. I eat a gorgeous, light chocolate cake. I have a cone of what looks like ice cream, but is actually frozen yogurt, filled with candied cherries. The sun makes me deliriously happy. I read the travel guide and it explains the tension between the all-inclusive resorts with their captive audience, and the small business owners. All inclusive resorts reduce inefficiencies and require a smaller workforce.

There’s so much sun, so much light I wonder how different this current crisis would be in the depths of winter when depression is so much easier to come by. The heat though can frustrate tempers. I’m in a bubble. The tourist’s bubble of a small village on a quiet island that’s focused on enabling me to enjoy myself.

I drink cocktails and eat more cake.

The path from the village that takes us back to our apartment runs adjacent to Lucy’s garden. Enigmatically pleased to see us, Lucy jumps up on the wall and barks excitedly, her tail wagging like a windmill. As we get closer, she lays down on the wall and I stop to take her photo. She doesn’t seem to mind. Then, suddenly, between the wagging and a full body-shaking sneeze, Lucy falls off the wall.

Her chain pulls her collar tight.

Lucy’s chain is attached to a wire that runs between two trees in the garden. It means she can run the length of the yard quite happily, but she’s restricted to the bounds of the garden. She can’t get over the wall to the path.

Yet now she’s the wrong side of the wall and her head’s against the wall. She’s pinned by the chain. Her front paws touch the ground, but only just. It she wanted to turn and try to scramble up, I’m not sure she could.

I stop photographing and put my camera on the ground. Lucy might be lovely, or she might not be. I watch her very carefully as I approach, she’s still a Greek outdoor guard dog, and having lived in Italy for a few months and heard terrifying tales of outdoor guard dogs, I’m weary of her.

She can’t stay like this though, so, with great care I put both arms around her body, and steadily heave her back onto the wall. Her tail wags faster than ever.

June – Don’t take gardening tips from me

Moving house, which finally happens this week, involves moving the garden. Luckily, with my approach to plants – alternating smothering with attention and then complete neglect – there’s not too much to do. However, since I have had a little success, and transportation to the new house is likely to be a traumatic experience for my darlings, I feel now’s the time to document their existence.

Most precious of all my plants is my chilli plant, which shockingly has a chilli growing on it. Part of the reason this is so shocking is that I hadn’t paid any thought at all to pollinating my flowers, so I can only assume that during an afternoon outside in the sunshine (my chilli lives indoors) a bee paid it a visit.

Second to that are the numerous cauliflower plants which I’m growing for the cauliflowers’ biggest fan – the Father.

Hanging in a basket at the front of the house are my strawberries – very small but beautifully sweet. I’m in shock every time I look and see that I have actually grown something I can eat. There is no picture because I ate the strawberries.

Moving on to my accidental, sunburnt pepper plants. Both the sunburn and their existence is accidental – their mother pepper came from Aldi and made up dinner some weeks ago. Since they germinated only at the end of May, I’ve little hope that they’ll give me peppers, but I can’t just kill them. Out in the back garden, alongside the cauliflower are numerous cherry tomato plants. Hopefully, my tomatoes will at some point have a growth spurt because next door’s are at least three times the size and have flowers.

The two pots that contain my tomatoes were gifts from my kindly neighbour. He went to pick up a piece of furniture he’d bought from somebody’s house, and spotted these two large pots standing empty by the door. Being a man of great enthusiasm and better at small talk than anyone else I’ve ever known, he commented how splendid they were and hence was given them as a bonus gift. When he got home and placed the pots outside his own front door he decided that actually he wasn’t all that fond of them after all. Sometime shortly afterwards, during a conversation about bark, he asked me if I would like them. Being short of pots, especially non-plastic pots, I said that would be great.

Finally, in the list of plants that are moving garden are my sweet peas, coriander, thyme, beetroot, carrots, parsley and chives. Just a few small experiments.

All gardening advice is always welcome, trial and error is exhausting.

A cycle of extreme determination and then crash

The Father quietly reminds me that I’ve a history of doing too much and then regressing back to an ornery thirteen-year-old as I disintegrate. He’s normally about a week too late, and more polite.

I started this week without having had enough sleep, something to do with a cancelled flight, the Midget’s addictive chatter and a concert. Last weekend was a great weekend.

There’s a higher background stress permeating the air around me: I need to find somewhere to live and at work we’re down a team member. Recruitment is a slow slow business that’s wearing us down. Furthermore, I’m in the beginnings of a potential freelance opportunity that’s amazing – if I can make it work. And… I’m racing 10km at the weekend.

In comparison to some it’s a pretty small list. For me however, it’s huge.

I know I’ve got problems when my dispraxic tongue begins tripping me up. My boss stares back across the desk at me. My words tumble out, but they’re all in the wrong order as if my tongue had taken leave of my brain and decided to try a shot at improvisation. It feels like I’m simultaneously trying to rub my stomach, pat my head and sing a nursery rhyme. I’m failing.

My skin is outraged.

There’s a tightness behind my eye, and more from alarm than habit I put on my glasses. I can handle a migraine, but I’d really rather it happened in the safety of home. Friday arrives with a sense of relief. I’m knocking over glasses, breaking them as I attempt to wash up and snapping at people who don’t deserve it. I need to stop.

Of course, none of this is a real problem. Give it a few days and I’ll be fighting fit. A few early nights, maybe an hour or two of meditation, a quiet afternoon spent curled up with a book and progress on the housing issue and I’ll be re-energised.

Yet, maybe it will be a few months, hopefully longer, but I’ll soon be back here again. It’s a cycle of extreme determination and then crash. I don’t recognise I’m falling apart until it’s too late and despite my determination I can’t seem to learn.

The Nonna and the art gallery – a story

Art painting
This artwork was done by my cousin and I for Tall Aunty’s school play, July 2018.

When the Midget and I took the Nonna to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park and showed her one of the galleries, she was amazed. She told us that she’d never before been to such a place. I laughed and didn’t understand. How could anyone get so old but never walk inside an art gallery?

The exhibition was of the artist Joan Miró, whose art is a childlike scribble, colouring between the lines with bold reds and blues. It’s fun art and demands a sense of humour. At first, the Nonna, who I believe saw the world as if through a pinhole*, had no idea what she was looking at. There were paintings that people seemed to be staring at quite intently and sculptures that people congregated around for a moment or two to exchange a gently spoken opinion, but to her that was it.

First, in true Nonna fashion, she stated that she was missing whatever skill or knowledge one should possess when looking at art. I smiled and held her arm tight in mine. Then I guided her gently though questions I go through when I look at a piece of art.

When she started suggesting opinions she was hesitant, as if expecting it to be a test in which there was a right and a wrong.

But soon the Nonna’s eyes sparkled. Verbose by nature, the Nonna quickly got the hang of sharing what she thought might be going on in the picture. She was leading the conversation about the art she was seeing. Although a lot of the time the Nonna had a tendency towards the pessimistic, in Miro’s paintings, the Nonna saw sunsets and gardens. A yellow circle here or a green shape there might represent the sun or a tree. She was interpreting the picture in her own way, drawing out her own unique meaning from the art.

And she loved it.


 

*The Nonna’s many years of diabetes resulted in eyesight that lacked periphery vision. What she saw, she seemed to see well. Most things, however, she didn’t see. To compensate she used her walking stick as a method of attack to clear the way of puppies and small children alike.

The Nonna died in the Spring of 2014.

 

Two days more of painting walls (trees and leopard spots)

Apologies, this is an old post and I’ve mislaid the original pictures of the painting…

I have an arrangement with the Mother. I don’t have to do any washing-up, or drying-up. I don’t have to do any cooking. Instead, what I must do is paint the bathroom in the style of an Ancient Egyptian tomb.

This just goes to show how amazing the Mother is. Of course, most people don’t have the desire to paint walls with ancient tomb designs. Oddly I do, but I wouldn’t have come to that conclusion if it wasn’t that the Mother gave me the space to play.

However, all those trees that you now see on the wall, I didn’t paint them. The Mother did, along with the cooking and the cleaning etc.. I sketched the trees, I’ve sketched all the figures, I’ve worked out how to draw a man chopping down a tree in the same style as a scribe 3500 years ago. I’ve done a lot of work with a ruler and a pencil, but little with an actual paint brush. However, if you look carefully at the edge below the pond you’ll see some narrow black lines. The black paint work – that’s mine.

Between life drawing class on Tuesday, my Zebraphant and the bathroom walls it feels like I’ve barely been without a pencil or paintbrush in my hand. This is definitely an improvement. There’s something magical about being absorbed by a painting. It’s like all the rest of the world is a game and the only things that matter are the lines you’re manipulating there in front of you.

At this point in my writing, the mother ran into the living-room screeching “strawberries”. To set the scene, I’m wearing a tatty old pair of ripped jeans and my faded Credit Suisse t-shirt that I was once given as a freebie as I passed through a corridor on the university campus. I’m sitting on the floor. The sun has suddenly appeared.

Within a minute or two we’re all sitting in the garden sipping champagne and nibbling strawberries.

I do love my family, and all their eccentricities.

Advice on washing machines

Yesterday I tried to wash some clothes. I put them in the drum, added the purple goo to the drawer and switched the machine on. It beeped as normal and I settled down on the sofa, tucked myself under the blanket and began to read. I was disturbed two minutes later by the washing machine beeping furiously.

An error code flashed on the screen.

I turned it all off, turned it all back on again. The same thing happened.

I found the manual and looked up the error code. Except there was no such error code.

Our landlord has a team of highly practical men who do useful things like mend boilers, put up washing lines and sort out washing machines. These men know everything; they built the house. Within about half an hour my go-to-guy was at the door with the answer to the problem. He explained that the previous day he’d popped in to check the washing machine filters and had forgotten to turn the water back on.

24 hours later as I was loading the washing machine again, I realized that the error code H2O wasn’t an error code. It’s a chemical formula.

So my advice: less panicking, more thinking.

Cutting my hair with the fabric scissors

Last week I chopped seven inches off my hair. It took two snips of my largest fabric scissors.

But why?

Because, it’s just hair. 

Of course, I’m as self-conscious as any other woman in her mid twenties. I’m paranoid about weight, diet and remembering to do exercise just like anyone else.

From a financial perspective, my reasoning went like this… if I have £20, then I can pay for a haircut, which would make me look nicer? Or I can buy two books and spend a few hours curled up on the sofa reading. If you’re reading £20 and thinking ‘only £20’ you’re right. I’m definitely talking about the lower end of hair cut prices.

Most people I know routinely get their haircut. They use the same hairdresser, choose a similar style and pay the price. They’ve always done it, so they don’t take any time to ask why. A hair cut is a necessity. Isn’t it?

Choosing uglier hair is harder than booking an appointment. When a real hairdresser with talent cuts my hair, it looks wonderful. After all, I have a huge volume of long, thick, healthy hair.

But I want to own my choices – proactive choices based on my values and beliefs. I want to base my actions on thought.

Society’s expectations vs autonomous thinking

In Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s book Flow, he describes this battle of balancing instinctual, inherited needs with the perceived expectations of society. In simpler terms, you need to work out how to be yourself whilst fitting in with society. Plus, try and be a positive contributor towards it.

All this requires, “a drastic change in attitude about what is important and what is not.”

To me, my haircut is of low importance. It has only a minor effect on my appearance. It’s true, I’m like anyone else who stares with envy at the photoshopped models. But once I get over the jealousy, I remember it’s chemicals and water-pollutants, hours of sitting in front of a mirror and some skill with a computer program. A haircut isn’t going to make me taller, thinner, prettier or happier.

Yet, I still fear being looked down upon, as if I am somehow uncouth. I have amazing hair. It’s the aspect of my appearance that instills open envy in others. In school I was told how wonderful it would look if I straightened it. I’ve been told to wear it down more often. I’ve been told to blow dry it. I’ve been told it’s amazing when curled. The possibilities of how amazing I could be if only I managed my hair better seem endless.

In the beginning

Not getting a professional haircut wasn’t the first step I’ve taken towards this neglect.

When I started buying conditioner, I bought it based on price per 100ml. Money was sacred.

It was quite a change from the luxurious conditioner that I grew up with – beautiful expensive bottles, decorated with exotic fruits and words like luscious and silky.

I love the smell. I love feeling how thick glossy and soft it makes my hair. I love long showers.

And then, I started reducing the conditioner I used. Nowadays I often don’t use it at all, despite washing my hair almost daily.

All small steps.

The hair cut

Whilst cutting my own hair might seem crazy, it wasn’t much of a risk. Before I cut it, it was twenty-six inches long. I took off 7 inches and what remains could be restyled and still considered long.

Building integrity

I’m grown-up and professional. Really. I’m sure that grown-up professional looking people don’t have hair chopped with fabric scissors.

At work, everyone else has beautiful, styled hair. In fact, so styled that I’m not sure what the natural hair colour is of almost half the women in the office. I see all this effort and yet, when I joke about my hair, I’m told that I’m not allowed to speak. That it’s unfair that I have such beautiful hair. Comments about split ends and thin hair follow.

I can tie my hair back and pretend, but I want to have integrity.

I don’t want to hide my choices, which is why I blog. Somehow it’s easier to speak through keyboard strokes. I’m giving you the choice of whether to react to my choices or not.

Back to the £20. I bought myself the Dalai Lama’s How to be compassionate – a handbook for creating inner peace and a happier world.

My word isn’t beauty; it’s kind. In the marathon of life, understanding kindness is going to make me happier than having prettier hair.

What do you do without thinking just because you’ve always done it?

A debate on vaccinations, and why my Father is the best

Me, at school, being vaccinated.

I’m sitting at my desk in the office at work and the discussion at the table turns to vaccinations. One of my colleagues is heading off to India for his holidays and has just had been injected three times as a precaution.

The conversation bends to recollections of our school time vaccinations. One colleague is wary of vaccinations. I briskly point out that the human body hasn’t had the chance to naturally evolve for international travel and with the wide range of things we can catch when we dash from country to country. I’ll take every help medicine can give me.

He nods, and says, “Suppose so.” But he isn’t convinced.

And then he’s says how we have an awful lot of vaccinations before we get a choice in the matter.

This makes me smile. I’ve had a choice in the matter for as long as I’ve had the skills to make the decision. In fact, for every vaccination I can remember.

The father has always been very clear that rules that apply to other people don’t necessarily apply to me. This isn’t because other people don’t have the option to bend rules, it’s because most people don’t consider that they can.

It’s all a matter of choices and consequences.

My Father, who is a great supported of eradicating polio, but has otherwise never told me what to believe about my own vaccinations, consented to me choosing for myself.

In his eyes, I was capable of making decisions about my health by myself. He adamantly refused to make the decision for me.

The Mother’s comment on the matter was, “Speak to your father.”

Which meant I was the only kid in the vaccination line at school whose form wasn’t signed. Instead I had a letter declaring that my father had passed such responsibility on to me – on the one condition that I was appropriately informed of the consequences of my decision before I made it.

Inevitably, I was the last person in the class to be vaccinated, every time. Someone had to discuss the vaccination with me and find me a pen.

I explained this to my colleague. He looked at me as if I was crazy. He asked how a twelve-year-old could make such a decision. This surprised me.

At twelve-years-old, I had no doubt that I could make an educated decision. I read every word on every leaflet and asked questions. At the time I found it all a slight inconvenience; I had to deal with the flustered nurse (always the one in charge). Then there was the problem of explaining to my classmates why my form wasn’t signed. It’s slightly embarrassing having atypical parents. Yet I didn’t doubt that the Father was right.

I’m glad he made me think for myself and recognise that at the end of the day, I’m responsible for me.