We were in Crete recently

We were in Crete recently.

I do realise that bragging about your many, varied and frequent holidays is not attractive but otherwise you, dear reader, get more on books, so here we go.

I have bored half the village about the lovely place in which we stayed so I will refrain from that – but then again I can’t really believe you wouldn’t want to hear about the swimming pool in the olive trees, the terrace overlooking the whole valley, the great food… no? Ok, then if you insist, I will desist.

But if you are willing to read on, I will mention a few bits and pieces.

Crete has a population of 500,000 and thank god not many of them are on the road at any one time.

They are not mad drivers but they do have a lot of roads which are very winding and mostly attached, rather precariously, to a mountainside.

Being an extremely wimpish passenger, I prefer to be the driver and anyway my husband is a very good map-reader (most of the time.)

Well, he wanted to go to the south (leaving our lovely place with its terrace, did I mention that?) to go to see where he was last in Crete – 40 or so years ago at the end of his finals with two mates (or as he says, ‘chums’ and he is probably the last person in the world to say that and not ironically.)

So we set off to Paleochora which had indeed changed in the last 40 years – who would have thought it? It was OK, not helped by a howling gale, but OK.

From there we were supposed to get a ferry to Soughia but I am less keen on being on a ferry in a howling gale than I am driving a ‘country mountain’ road up over the mountains and down the other side and then up over the mountains and…..

It was hot and we had the windows down. I felt my one arm getting a lot more sun than the other.

It reminded me of when I was young and worked for a union in London which was having its annual conference in Brighton and I was asked to drive down with some publicity materials or something.

It was hot and I arrived with one burnt red arm and one pale, pasty arm. ‘Never mind,’ I said breezily, ‘ I can get the other one brown on the way back.’ It took me a long time to live that one down.

Soughia was a place which had also changed in the last 40 years – from one tavern to about 10 and some rooms to rent.

But there were still people camping under the trees by the beach and it had a rather hippy feel.

Usually, when we need to find somewhere to stay, I leave Nick drinking coffee and go and sort it out myself.

But this time, I went and re-parked the car and by the time I got back (all of five minutes, it was that sort of place,) he had earmarked somewhere.

The room was fine and had a full sized fridge which was fine if you were there for a week and needed to store food, and did just as well for the bottle of wine and water we had.

But it was not ‘our place’ with the terrace and the lovely bed and the delightful food – did I mention how nice the place we were staying was?

Well, I need to end this otherwise it really is, what I did on my holidays which I know, I know, is really boring but suffice it to say, we had a lovely meal in a restaurant with a roaring log fire and very welcome it was – not often you get to say that about a holiday in Crete in May.

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Interesting People

I used to be paid to meet interesting people as part of my job – someone who ran a prison, someone in charge of the re-development of the South Bank in London, someone who was employed as a thinker for IBM, a professor of bee studies, a Taliban defector…..

Now I don’t get paid, and I have to find my interesting people more locally.

And I do, and here are a few.

First person:

I was buying a lottery ticket – which I do from time to time in order to enjoy an hour of fantasizing about what I will do with the money – and the nice, cheery man who sold it to me said, ‘Do you want a winning ticket or just any old ticket? A winning one it is then. There you go’ he said,’ If it wins that’ll keep you out of mischief for the weekend – or maybe in it!’

We chatted a bit and I was talking about what I would do with the winnings and he said, ‘ And you will have friends you didn’t even know you had.’

It turned out that he had won the lottery and the last remark was heartfelt. He and his wife had put money towards charities they had some connection with.

‘And why,’ I wanted to ask, ‘are you here in a small supermarket selling me a ticket?’ But a few people had joined the queue so I left.

Second person:

I was at the dentist and sitting in the waiting room reading some (very) old magazine as you do, when two women walked in.

They were not together but sat down and started to chat.

There was a young woman who was heavily and interestingly tattooed the other was older and what used to be described as ‘motherly looking.’ I am loathe to use that phrase, but have no other to hand.

Anyway, I am not sure how, but a conversation got going between us and it was about tattoos. The ‘motherly’ woman commented on the tattoos and soon all three of us were talking and looking at tattoos.

The young woman explained how many hours it took to do each tattoo and how she now worked in a local tattoo parlour and what people were interested in getting, what fashions in tattoos were evolving.

And then she turned to the ‘motherly’ woman and said, ‘ I know I work with needles and the work on me has taken hours and hours, but I am so scared I will have to have an injection with the dentist will you just keep talking to me until I have to go in.’

Third person:

I was in the Oxfam shop the other day and talking to my two colleagues about what display to put on the table and in the window, when a man came in.

He was browsing, so we carried on talking.

Then he turned to me and said, ‘ You have a lovely voice. I could wander round this shop and listen to your voice all day. Were you a university lecturer on philosophy? No? Were you a spy? No? Were you an animal trainer? No? Well, my dear you just carry on talking and I will look at your lovely, lovely books and listen to you and that will make my day.’

It made my day too.

Fourth person:

We have a lovely butchers in our town.

I don’t buy that much meat but what I do comes from them, and I always ask them about cooking it.

The older man who runs the shop always has the advice just at his finger-tips.

So, between people coming in for their rack of lamb (we don’t buy lamb at the moment because our back field is full of them and I can’t bring myself to ….) or their belly pork, I squeeze myself and buy something and ask for advice.

I was buying liver because the best beloved likes a bit of liver and onion gravy and so I was asking whether what my grandmother said was true, you should soak liver in milk.

The older man told me that the milk would break down the enzymes so I would have to cut my cooking time in half and that was just silly as it needed only a few minutes anyway.

But what I needed to really know was that this liver was best with fennel mash and he proceeded to give me the recipe.

This is not the first recipe he has given me and this is a man who knows his meat. ( Remind me to tell you one day about the Irish butcher in Brussels who got caught selling fois bra under the counter when he set up shop opposite Harrods.)

Anyway it was, and I did, and I will be back there for his next recipe.

The fifth person:

I was walking to the pub on Friday across the fields with my two friends who also walk their dogs to the pub – the men come in cars and prop up the bar until we get there – when we came across a man looking like he was preparing to fly a model aircraft.

The others walked on and I stopped to talk to him because it looked like a helicopter with four blades – one at each square corner.

It was a drone.

I had never seen a drone before and was rather surprised to see one in a Sussex field.

Was he working for Google Maps, looking (rather in vain) for an Afghan wedding party to bomb?

No, it turns out he was going ‘On holiday with a bit of travelling. In Canada and North America and I thought it might be nice to have aerial photos of where we have been.’

Blimey – this kit was packed in a case about 500 cm x 500cm and not what you would describe as pocket-sized.

I imagined his wife sorting out her packing and trying to rationalize what she was taking, and him coming back and saying he was taking one pair of trousers , three shorts, 20 pairs of knickers and a drone….

The Pop-Up Festivities Bookstore

I may have mentioned before that I was volunteered by my best beloved to run the bookstall for the village festivities. Here I want to say that a) the ‘bookstall’ is a function room at the Legion hall, b) I spend, as you know, a lot of time sorting books at Oxfam so to come home and do it again for the village…..c) my best beloved who avowed his unstinting support, has been very busy on rehearsing for the (bloody) Pirates of Penzance.

So, having got the whinges out of the way, I am actually rather excited about tomorrow.

Thanks to very nice friends with a large dry barn, we had somewhere to put the books to get sorted. ( I am not sure anyone would have wanted to buy the 2002 edition of Who’s Who so along with quite a few others, it got sent to the recycling.)

My bee palace new friend was a star and spent many a (happy?) hour putting books into categories, and his wife was a font of all wisdom – having done it before.

I bribed and tarted around various local supermarket staff to get the requisite number of banana boxes in which to display the books and all was well.

Then we took them all – with helping hands – to a village hall to await their move to the Legion. (I am tempted to go on a riff about how surprised the French Foreign Legion in deepest Algeria, or somewhere, would be if they got the two boxes of old cricket books and the complete set of Penny Vincenzi hard back novels, but I won’t.)

At this point I had thought there would be a phalanx of young men to move them onwards. But it looked otherwise. And worried that a few middle-aged people would have to carry endless boxes of books around the corner and up the lane, I got worried.

So, in the pub on Friday, I asked any likely person ( as in under the age of 75) if they were free the following morning and could they? Would they? Etc etc.

And do you know what, we had those books moved in an hour. Hannah, who I had never met before, turned up with her dad’s wheel truck and, with Harry, the son of someone we know from the pub, moved a mountain of books. …..

I was expecting to be there all day so imagine my surprise when we were all done by noon.

And, I would like to say at this point, there were 91 banana boxes of books.

Then I made Sarah, the font of all wisdom, stay behind and help me count the boxes (for the record) and, and this is where I have to confess, to make a display of red-covered fiction books along the front of the stage.

In my defence, it makes it all look rather good.

Tomorrow we shall see whether all this adds up to a good sale.

Things into perspective

I thought it might be nice to have the (very) few neighbours we have who don’t vote Tory around for supper and to watch the exit polls which were going to say that it was a hung parliament, and we would go to bed, and find out that it was indeed a hung parliament.

So, we did, and it wasn’t like that.

Staying up until 2.30 and then getting up at 7 to get to Oxfam and sell books wasn’t the best plan, but the only one available.

The (few) people who came into the shop this morning were usually tactfully vague about the result – including those with a Telegraph under their arm – but one man came in and said, ‘ Well, they have won, but the next fight, to stay in Europe is much more important.’

If I had the energy, I would have hugged him.