Made more new friends today: on my way to the hot springs yesterday I saw signs to a workshop selling craft products made chiefly from olive wood, and, with fond memories of the year I spent in Virginia many moons ago working in a woodshop, I tracked it down this morning – to discover that the couple who run it are English ex-pats, with an extremely musical daughter. So… having picked out several beautiful olive-wood items whilst chatting about everything from woodwork to animal welfare on the island to care homes to Jimmy Page’s double-necked guitar (of which their daughter has a replica), I then settled down to a cup of Yorkshire tea (bliss!) with them on their patio looking out onto olive groves, and surrounded by their many rescue dogs and cats, while we continued to natter, now mainly about music – which is always fine by me! They have very kindly invited me back on Saturday (the day before I leave) to meet their daughter (who is at school in Mytilene all week) and spend the afternoon with them eating, drinking and playing – and probably doing a fair amount of talking… I like it here!
Walking along the beach this afternoon, I realised it was not completely deserted as it has been every day since I got here – there was a woman walking towards me with three dogs, one of which came bounding up to me when they got closer. The woman turned out to be Dutch, but has lived on the island for nineteen years, and all three dogs were – of course – rescues. I gathered from her that I’ve been lucky with the weather – at this time of year it can be pretty awful. Someone up there must like me, as it’s been lovely so far – though you wouldn’t know that from the way the locals are all huddled up in their fleeces! I must be a bit more hardy than I realised, as I’m happy walking around in T-shirt, cropped trousers and sandals, and my balcony is a real sun trap in the late afternoon.
A cat has miraculously just appeared on my balcony – miraculously because it’s two floors up and I’m not sure where it came from. It must have sensed that there’s food on my table. Do cats like Gouda? We’ll see…
Yes, they do.
Oh crikey – now another one’s appeared. Maybe it was a mistake giving one of them food?... Better give that one a bit too...
Anyway, moving swiftly on… Tomorrow I drive down to Skala Eressos to see a friend – hopefully it will be a more straightforward drive than the obstacle-beset one from Mytilene to Molyvos when I first arrived on the island – that seems like an age ago now!
Well, I knew I’d see the Canadian writer again – and I did! She kindly phoned me yesterday afternoon to invite me to dine with her and her daughter in the evening, as they were both leaving the island today. We went to a fish restaurant very much off the beaten track and where there was no menu as it was assumed you could speak the lingo and knew what to order – which they did, so it was an experience I could never have had if I’d not been with them. A really lovely evening, with promises to stay in touch – and encouragement to write a song that I’d talked to her of writing that afternoon. The lyrics then spilled out at three in the morning, as they are wont to do. Ah! Happiness is a new song!
What I found out from my Canadian friend’s daughter regarding animal welfare on the island is that up to a couple of years ago, there were a lot of volunteer vets coming from overseas to neuter cats and dogs and the problem was beginning to be controlled, but Greek vets complained that these foreign vets were stealing their business from them and anyway didn’t have the appropriate licence to be practising here, so they all had to leave and now there’s no neutering programme and the problem’s as bad as it was before. A very sad situation. I saw one dead cat on the road on my way to Petra this morning, with two men working about three feet away from it as though it wasn’t there, and a load of dogs and cats just wandering around. I don’t think I could live here.
This morning I was much more assertive about what I wanted for breakfast, and how much – with the result that it was perfect! The Greek yogurt and another delicious orange were the highlight. The coffee was black again – you know why – but I’ve just been out and purchased a litre of proper milk, so things will be back to normal on the coffee and tea front as from today.
Athena at the hotel (her husband is Adonis, not Antonio – I misheard… I prefer Adonis – makes the pair of them sound like an ancient Greek god and goddess) told me about the thermal hot springs down the road at Eftalou, so I drove over there this morning – just past the fish restaurant actually. I was the only one in there to start with – and the water felt FABULOUS. Definitely worth a repeat visit or two while I’m here. Even going into the cold sea between dips in the lovely hot healing water felt great, and I’m still feeling the benefit of it several hours later.
On the way back to the hotel I stopped off at a mini mart to buy MILK and some juice and diet Coke. Had a chat with the affable chap who works there, who asked me if I was from Liverpool. Liverpool? Never been asked that before, not even in America, where the more usual question was whether I was Australian… Turned out it wasn’t Beatles-related, but was because he’s a big football fan – though, among English clubs, Chelsea is his team, not Liverpool – so why he didn’t he ask me if I was from London, I have no idea. Unless I'm sounding a bit scouse these days? Anyway, his main team is AEK Athens and we then had a surprisingly fluent conversation about Athens clubs and the Champions League, given that these are things I know next to nothing about.
Signing off now to go and work on the new song :)
How completely programmed I realise I am to put loo paper down the loo. No matter how resolutely the signs here insist that I don’t, even when I’m actually reading the instructions not to, down it automatically goes into the bowl, usually to stay there until flushed away – presumably then to appear in the drinking water or something equally offensive. There have been odd occasions when I’ve felt too guilt ridden to let it stay there and have fished it out again, consigning it instead to the distinctly unappealing waste-paper bin. Perhaps by my tenth day here I’ll be more attuned to the Greek mindset – not too much though – don’t want to bring the habit back with me to Eastbourne… a quick way to lose friends…
The other thing I’m rapidly learning is that it’s better to learn to drink black coffee than to pollute it with Noynoy milk substitute. Not only does it taste ghastly, it’s impossible to open the little containers it comes in without some of it spurting out all over your clothes and shoes and sticking to them in a rather unnatural fashion. Just say No No to Noynoy.
Breakfast was big – bread, cheese, ham, olive, dates, fresh fruit, cake, biscuits, jam, honey, fruit juice, coffee – EVERYTHING (including Noynoy of course, but this time I did say No No). I was getting ready to leave the table feeling stuffed to the gunnels when I heard tapping feet on the tiled floor, and there was my waitress bearing a plate full of bacon, two fried eggs and tomatoes!! Too polite to look anything but delightedly surprised, even though inside I was groaning with horror, I put away as much of it as I could and left the rest – though belatedly thought that perhaps I should’ve scooped it into my bag for the harbour cats…
After sleeping breakfast off – yes, I had to go back to bed for half an hour at 9.30 am – I got ready to head out, and on my way through reception had a chat with the lovely couple who run the hotel, Athena and Antonio. Athena recommended a number of places to visit, including a thermal hot springs, which I shall go to tomorrow, and the castle that is the main landmark of Molyvos, which, as I write this, I’ve climbed up to and back down again and feel the need to take to the therapeutic waters right now – or at least my tired legs do. Still, at least I’ve walked that gargantuan breakfast off.
Molyvos is a mass of delightful cobbled, stepped pathways, and as I wandered aimlessly up a few in an effort to find the castle randomly, a woman with a camera was walking down towards me, so out of nowhere I felt compelled to ask her (a) if she spoke English, and (b) if she knew the way to the castle. If I’d just kept heading up I’m sure I would have found it on my own, but I somehow felt drawn to speak to this woman. Well! It turned out she was a Canadian writer who had lived in Molyvos many years ago and was back on a visit. A fascinating conversation ensued, and I feel we will meet again. And she set me on the right path for the castle!
I’m now drinking a diet Coke at the same harbour-side café where I ate last night – with no sign of even one of those six cats who joined me for my fish supper last night. I suppose they must still be sleeping off their unexpected feast too…
Couldn’t find anywhere open to eat this afternoon – had forgotten about the Mediterranean need for a siesta – so ended up buying some fabulous fresh fruit – that orange was dee-licious – along with bread, cheese and Mythos beer (naturally) from a mini mart for lunch. Then this evening I got chatting to a couple from Eindhoven when I wandered down to the harbour and finally found somewhere that’s actually open for food – this is really before the season proper begins, so most places are still closed and in the process of being tarted up ready for the summer onslaught. The peace and quiet suit me down to the ground, but a girl’s gotta eat… Anyway, that chat with the Dutch couple lifted my spirits, as did the fact that I was able to discreetly give six apparently starving cats (or at least very good actors) the last three of my fried red mullet – probably not the best thing to do in terms of encouraging the clearly huge problem with a burgeoning feral kitty population on this island, but it helped my troubled state of mind after the dog incident this morning, and it resulted in six happy cats.
I was (of course) able to slip into the conversation with the Dutch couple the fact that I’ll be coming over to The Hague in June to play at The Hague Singer Songwriter Festival – and maybe I’ll even see them again then – who knows?
This afternoon I wandered around the lovely wild grounds of the hotel where I’m staying, and came across a beautiful deserted sandy beach – I shall be down there tomorrow with my guitar and hoping for something more than a sea shanty to be the musical result of my communing with the waves.
And so to bed... very early, I know – but I'm still recovering from yesterday's overnight travel...
As predicted, I’m now ensconced in the hotel with a glass of Mythos by my side and feeling like I missed a night’s sleep – which I effectively did. It’s all very lovely here, but a terribly disturbing thing happened as I drove the rental car out of Mytilene on my way to Molyvos which I’m trying desperately not to let ruin my state of mind here and thus my holiday. I was feeling extremely tired as I collected the rental car at the airport, and was a bit perturbed to realise it was a manual drive left-hand-drive car, which would take a lot of focus at the best of times, let alone having just arrived on the island and feeling so very tired. However, I soon got the hang of it – I did have a stick-shift car when I lived in Texas, but that’s a long time ago now – and was scarily quickly driving the ‘island way’ – i.e. as though the busy city roads were a dodgem circuit. But as I tried to navigate through Mytilene, with only myself to both drive and make sense of the Greek signposts – where there were any – I took a wrong turning and ended up in a packed car park at the water’s edge. It took a lot of manoeuvring to get out again, but if I hadn’t taken that wrong turn I wouldn’t have come across what I then saw on a hugely busy intersection with juggernauts bearing down – a hobbling, disfigured, disease-ridden old dog in the middle of the road. There were cars bearing down on me too, and in that split second all I could do was put my hands to my face in horror and drive past. I couldn’t have stopped without causing a mass pile up and probably ending my life too, and even if I had been able to, I’d probably have scared the dog into the path of a vehicle. Even if I had managed to scoop him up, where would I have taken him, with not a useful word of Greek to my vocabulary, not any knowledge of Mytilene, and no knowledge of what possibly infectious disease the poor old creature had? But the image continues to haunt me, as it did the entire rest of the journey across the island, that took me to two roadblocks, through a horrendous cloudburst that was so heavy it obscured the road markings, and up the scariest hairpin-bend-ridden route I’ve ever driven in my life. I also came across a huge number of mangy dogs by the roadside, so it seems that dogs wandering in the road is just the way it is here. But I still can’t shift the image of that particular dog. Nobody may be interested in reading any of these ramblings, but it doesn't matter – I just needed to write all of this down to somehow get it a little bit out of my head.
Sleepy greetings from Athens airport – I took the night flight from Heathrow and now have three hours to kill before the flight to Mytilini on the Aegean isle of Lesvos. For someone who has never liked flying – despite being the daughter of an RAF fighter pilot – I found this particular flight amazingly OK. Normally a touch of turbulence is enough to set my hands sweating and my heart pounding, but I was pretty calm throughout – even nodded off prior to take-off, which I’ve always admired other people for doing as it makes them look like thoroughly seasoned travellers. In my case, it was just sheer exhaustion after setting off from Eastbourne station at 5 pm and not taking off until nearly 11 pm.
Anyway, I’m still resolutely saying ‘Thank you’ and ‘A coffee please’ loudly and slowly and Britishly, as I can’t yet remember the difference between efkareesto and parakalo (phonetic spelling I know) and it could lead to yet more embarrassing exchanges if I said the wrong thing.
Once on the island, I have to pick the rental car up at Mytilini airport and then navigate my way to Molyvos and my hotel there. Having done that, I’ve done that I reckon I’ll be out for the count for a few hours, maybe with a bottle of Mythos beer by my side – I am on holiday, after all!
For now, though, I’m signing out as the power is running low on my laptop and all my continental adapter plugs are safely – and stupidly – packed in my check-in luggage :(
So parakalo, efkareesto, and ciao…
The new remix of my song 'All Along' has been getting a fair amount of interest from radio stations since being sent out several days ago. I have a 'real-time' list that shows which stations have streamed it (i.e. given it a listen) and which have actually downloaded it (i.e. they're going to put it on a playlist). The list shows the name of the radio station and where they hail from, and it's been very encouraging to see that the US and UK figure large on this list. There are also a few in Oceania (wow!) and quite a lot in Europe and on the internet. There's also some from somewhere mysteriously named 'ECMA'. Given the American/country influence in my music, I fondly imagined this would stand for European Country Music Association - and it still might, but I haven't been able to find any references to such a group by Googling the acronym. What I did find, however, was the European Carton Makers Association. Don't get me wrong, I don't mind them showing an interest my song one little bit - just as long as they don't put me and my music in a box... (ba-dum tish!)
If anyone should hear the song being played on BBC 6 Music or BBC Radio Wales, or emanating from a nearby flat-pack, PLEASE let me know. Or if you happen to be holidaying in Oceania... :)
My appearance on the ITV quiz show The Chase last month may not have brought me riches in the monetary sense (though how gutting to be so tantalisingly close to winning a third of the 30 grand that we’d got in the kitty!), but it did bring an old friend back into my life and, as a result, a trip down a very personal musical memory lane. She’d been feeding her grandson at the time the show came on the telly (grandson?? We were in our early twenties when we knew each other before, and shared a funny place in Snaresbrook in north-east London, and now she has a grandson??), when gradually a familiar voice permeated her consciousness and she realised who it was – me!! Nice to know my voice hasn’t changed too drastically over the years! She sent an email to ITV asking them to pass on her contact details to me, and assumed it’d end up lost in the ether, so had another surprise when I emailed her back a few days later, not exactly sure who she was as she’d given ITV her married name – but I assumed it must be my pal from the Snaresbrook days, and was glad when it turned out that that’s exactly who it was.
Very strangely, just a couple of weeks before seeing me on The Chase, she’d unearthed a cassette of the two of us ‘sodding around’, as the handwriting on the case said, and it gave a year… 1983… (eek!!). As she didn’t have any means of playing the archaic thing, she didn’t think anything more about it until seeing me on the telly two weeks later. When she told me this in the emails we then exchanged, I told her that I did still have a cassette player, and how amazing – and maybe awful – it would be to have a listen to it. Well, to cut a long story a little bit shorter, she came down to see me last weekend, along with said cassette, and I immediately stuck it in the player – to hear two young things giving a rather delightful rendition of my very first two ‘serious’ songs – ‘Crumble Inside’ (about fancying someone but not daring to let them know but hoping they’ll know anyway… ‘Surely you’ve seen me watching you closely, Whenever you’re near me but with someone else? And haven’t you noticed, don’t you think it unusual, This blushing confusion when your eyes meet mine?’ How innocently sweet!) and ‘Friends Last Longer Than Lovers’ (how prophetic of me all those years ago!)…
Thirty years on, and I’ve just got back from playing at the fantastic arts space in Eastbourne called the Under Ground Theatre. The (rather more recent) songs I sang tonight were ‘Slick as Texas Oil’ – about being lied to by some silver-tongued bastard – and ‘Bitter and Twisted’ – about being lied to by some silver-tongued bastard. I want to say ‘Look how much my songs have changed in those years’ – but actually the subject matter isn’t so very different. And neither did my friend look very different from how she’d looked three decades ago. Moreover, both of us, as we’d been back then, were once again single. It was only as we caught up on each other’s lives in the intervening years that we really appreciated what an enormous amount of time had gone by since we last clapped eyes on each other.
If the only thing to come out of being on The Chase was reconnecting with a friend from the deep recesses of my past, it was very definitely worth it. She’s planning on coming to see me when I play in London next month too, so it doesn’t look like another three decades are going to pass by before we see each other again… But if they did, I wonder what I’d been writing then? Something about some silver-haired silver-tongued bastard, no doubt.