Saturday, 22 March 2014

Island Sunshine

‘I can’t believe I was so stupid!’ I said to Eleftheria as she was weighing the vegetables, keying the prices into the till and loading my shopping into the bag the other evening. ‘I was going to drive to Ayios Andonis, and I’d left the key in the ignition, turned on. The battery was flat!’

‘Oh, I’ve done that myself,’ said Eleftheria, smiling.

‘I felt so stupid…’

Another lady from the village was standing by the counter. ‘Ara,’ she said, ‘so, are you saying Eleftheria’s stupid too?’ she said, smiling at the hole I’d dug for myself.

‘No, no!’ I protested, laughing, and Eleftheria said we made a good team, the Tilos hazoula  and the foreign hazoula.

‘We’ll sort out your car tomorrow,’ she said. I went home and made dinner.

The weather was grey, rainy and windy for about ten days this month. A neighbour had a friend visiting from England during the stormy weather, which led to her boat to Rhodes being cancelled and her trip curtailed. With all that and still no functioning ATM on the island after three months (nice to know Alpha Bank care so much!), she must have wondered how we all survive.

But now, now spring is here, and it’s nice not to have to worry about unplugging the power and phone cables when I go out. Although the rain was needed, the sunshine has palpably changed everyone’s mood. There’s a feeling that summer is on its way: people are cleaning out their restaurants, rebuilding walls, laying new patios. And I’m loving the warmth and sunshine.

The island is green and lush. The springy greenery gives the mountainsides a softer aspect, and fields are bushy with huge daisies and oversized clover. One morning, I made the mistake of taking the old stony track from Kastro restaurant down towards the fields; the weeds are more than knee-high, and I ended up with shoes and jeans soaked with dew. There's also a breath-taking diversity of different flowers. 

When I’m out and about with Lisa, people often ask if I’m going for a walk, a volta, but the other afternoon the deep blue skies brought on a burst of diminutives, with one lady asking if I was going for a voltoula, and Despina calling out, ‘Kali voltitsa!’ as she and her mother gathered horta in a meadow.

I later walked towards Plaka in the peace of the early evening. The sound of my boots on the road was intrusive. I stopped and listened to the waves lapping the shore below. Lisa and I startled the partridges out of the undergrowth as we passed, and goats twisted their heads towards us, curious.

I was out walking early this week when I dropped my camera, and for some reason although the camera was fine, it deleted the stored photos. In fact it’s something of a relief, as I’m always hoarding photos, just as I hoard interesting bits of paper containing useful ideas for things I should do but never get around to. This month I did a spring cleaning of my office, and feel a lot better without all those bits of paper.

When I looked properly at the camera after I got home, it turned out the memory was empty except for a handful of photos which had somehow survived: they were of my lovely great-aunt Cath, sitting in my mum’s garden with the rest of the family, in the week before I moved to Tilos. Cath died this month at the age of 86. Her last holiday was last summer in Tilos.

There was also a funeral in the village this week. Later, I ran into two friends, chatting and looking tearful. They said they wanted to talk about good-humoured things, after being sad for a while, and I learned a lovely Greek expression:

‘Never a wedding without tears, or a funeral without laughter.’

It sometimes appears that life is a bed of roses, or oversized daisies (which would probably make for a more comfortable bed, when you think about it). But even here… sometimes….

I’m walking this morning when my phone rings. ‘Kyria Barclay? Do you speak Greek? I’m calling from the hospital. It’s about the miscarriage surgery you had last March. Do you remember?’

I wonder if she later feels stupid for asking that. She continues.

‘The insurance company won’t cover it because…’ Her Greek becomes very fast and I don’t understand a word. I ask her to repeat it and she says it at the same speed. I make out something about how they would only cover it in conjunction with another insurance policy. ‘Do you have IKA?’ Of course I don’t have IKA – if I did, why would I need private insurance?

Europeans living in Greece have health care covered by their EHIC card. But annoyingly, because I earned money in more than one EU country the year before last, it got more complicated and I opted to take out health insurance.
It’s taken the private insurance company, Ethniki, a year to decide they’re not covering the cost of my operation. Is it just a coincidence that last week I told Ethniki I wasn’t renewing my policy?

‘So,’ the woman continues, ‘you have to pay us.’ Then suddenly she gets aggressive, as if I’m to blame for this year-old unsettled account. ‘You have to pay amesa! Immediately! AMESA!’

I hang up and try to block out her voice as I head to the beach. The day is warming up. All I’m doing amesa is going for a swim.

The sea at Ayios Andonis is perfectly calm and clear blue: out near the end of the promontory to the right of the bay, it’s like glass. I have a long swim up and down the beach under the windmill. Lisa tears up and down the sand, dribbling an old punctured football she found in a cave. On the way back, I stop to chat with a friend and he offers to get my car going; if I drive down to Livadia then, it will recharge the battery.

Like Lisa, I get excited about an excursion to Livadia – it’s good to say hello to folks we haven’t seen for a while. Everyone’s in a good mood; I get a friendly welcome at the post office where I go to send back the contracts for the Bulgarian edition of Falling in Honey; the other night, when I was excitedly signing them, I looked up the name of the publisher, and it turns out it means ‘sun’, appropriately enough. When I go to buy wine and vegetables from Sotiris, he is very enthusiastic about a new brand of milk he’s ordered. ‘Try it and tell me what you think!’

The sage bushes with their mauve flowers crowd the edges of the back road like giant purple heather. I can’t resist another swim, diving off the white pebbles into deep blue water, and swimming far out, the whole bay to myself.

Later, the sun is warm enough for a nap on the terrace.

Back at home, I have some pleasant work to do: drafting answers to a Q&A about my life on Tilos for Islands magazine.

All month I’ve been busy writing guest blogs to spread the word about the US publication of Falling in Honey, and I’ve had some great support from bloggers (see links on the Falling in Honey page). I’ve also had some surprising messages from readers. Someone just wrote to say they’d been inspired to spend a month on Halki last year and will be going back for longer, while another person said he’d been inspired to pack up working next year and live a simpler life. Are we starting a movement, folks?! Opa! I like to think so!

The Octopus will be mostly away in April and May, having adventures and trying to put pen to paper from time to time. Enjoy your days, wherever you are.



  1. I used to be a contributing editor of Islands magazine. I am glad to know it's still going. I must check it out. I hope you sort out the insurance payment.

    1. Thanks, Jenny! I just signed up to your blog - looking forward to posts!

  2. Dealing with Greek insurance companies must be close to κόλαση, even for a Greek ... I hope it will work out for you!

    Thanks for pics and another lovely report.

  3. Gorgeous photos! Made me really happy to see them after fighting my way through traffic jams in the pouring rain! I love how you swim so early in the year, and late come to that! I think the water would be too cold for me! Now I am going off to try and identify those flowers you photographed. Enjoy April and May wherever you might be!

  4. Hello Jennifer!!Today,i discover your beautiful blog..I live in Athens,i love my life althought i want to make some changes and i want badly to read your book..So ,i will..
    I feel so honoured as greek person ,that you like greece and you made the step to live in an island..
    But also,i feel sorry for the woman of that hospital that have this bad behaviour to you..
    Thank you for your optimistic view about life...You make me smile!! :)

    Y.Γ : Sorry for my english ,i try it to learn them better..

    1. Hi Mina! Thank you so much for your message. Am delighted to make you smile! x

  5. hello from Rodos, neighbour!

  6. Really nice post JB, bit like some of mine! Sorry about your insurance difficulties. As you rightly say, the EHIC card is great, had my hernia done on it last November and everything went like clockwork.

  7. Hello! Somehow I found your blog and it is so addictive that I had to read all the posts of the past three years. The blog is wonderful!

    I'm going to Kefalonia this summer for five months to volunteer in turtle conservation project. I hope that I can find your book here in Finland, so I can take it with me :)

    1. Thank you so much - delighted get your message! Turtle conservation project sounds wonderful; good luck with that. I hope the book is available in Finland, but let me know if you have any problems getting a copy and I'll do my best to help. Have a great summer.

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  9. I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment.

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