November, the Start of Christmas and that M&S advert

The other day a friend pointed out that I had not written a blog for ages.  I know, I know, but I feel that I have spent more time on EasyJet, in France and worrying about my mother than I have spent at my desk in the last few months since the summer.  But I think France and my mother are now sorted as far as is possible and it’s now time to think of other more exciting things such as the start of the birthday season and the run up to Christmas.  Everyone in my family has a birthday in November and December including me and this year I am going to be older than I have ever been before – 60 eh!!  The only good thing that I can think of is the bus pass – unless they have moved the goal posts again – an old person’s travel card (what me? an old person?), and free prescriptions.  Plus the cheaper cinema tickets and I am sure there will be plenty of other occasions when I feel that it will be OK to be 60, but sadly I can’t think of that many…….I have now though just looked at the government bus pass web site and I don’t get one for another five and a half years so that’s my 60th birthday ruined…..

And then we have Christmas and the whole wonderful build-up to it.  I love everything about Christmas, the decorations, nativity plays, Christmas lights, Somerset House skating rink, the Starbucks gingerbread latte in a red cup, carols, Sloane Square all lit up with twinkly trees and am even shallow enough to love the Christmas adverts produced by John Lewis and all the other shops.  Oooh I just adore the John Lewis one, I have always loved that Keane song, and am super excited to hear Lily Allen singing it.  It’s been downloaded on to my iPod etc and is about to go on to my party playlist.  I am not sure I exactly got the story of the advert, but having looked it all up on the internet, I now understand.  Maybe that’s something to do with coming up to old age.  The other Christmas advertisement that I am also loving hugely is the Marks and Spencer’s one.  My current secret celebrity crush is David Gandy so that’s me happy then.  Then rather spookily I came across a post on my Facebook page attaching a link to a whole lot of David Gandy naked photographs – marvellous.  I know that a nearly 60 year old shouldn’t be gawping at 30-something year old chaps in not much apart from a carefully placed shirt, but quite honestly, Mr Gandy, I thank you!

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Best Friends in Crete

I have just waved goodbye to my two best friends after a week in Crete (together with Ascot Liz’s fab husband) in our lovely temporary Cretan home.  We three have been friends since we were eleven and were all sent off to boarding school to survive Downe House.  Actually it wasn’t that bad and we did become amazingly good friends because of it.  Downe House is famous for some of its old girls, such as Geraldine James (Gerry Thomas as she was then), Miranda Hart, Kate Middleton and Clare Balding to name a few who have all gone on to do great stuff or marry a prince, and so have we.  No princes involved but I think having stuck together through thick and thin, boyfriends, husbands, weddings, births, divorces, new husbands, and six pretty awesome children between us – Downe House should be proud of us three too!

The last time we were all on hols together was a very long time ago when we were all in our early twenties and we went skiing in Les Arcs on a coach.  That was a very funny and memorable holiday.  There was a group of squash players, if I remember rightly, who used to join us in our room for porridge in the morning, and drinks later on, even at lunchtime. We also skied a lot too.  Enough said!  This holiday we spent a lot of time sitting around the pool, sunbathing, swimming, snoozing, chatting, drinking, eating olives, and even doing our tapestries like a witches coven sitting around the table.  My tapestry was bought in 1994 and had to have a lot of dust shaken off it when I decided to bring it out to Crete with me.  But a lot of the time was just spent being silly and giggling like teenagers.

We had several outings to show the girls the local places that we enjoy, a day trip to Chora Sfakia to catch the ferry to Loutro, a wonderfully sunny avocado lunch in Lappa on their last day, and the lovely beach and little chapel in Georgioupolis.

We are all now about to, or have done so already, turn sixty, so a lot to celebrate – 180 years between us three – crikey!  And very many happy years more to come.  Thanks Old Squiffy and Han, it was an excellent week.

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My Flora and Fauna in Crete

The wildlife here is extraordinary;  little geckos appear on the walls in the evening and eat any moths that are gathering around the outside lights;  bright green lizards of all different sizes dart among the rocks on the pathway down to the pool.  Regular lizards laze in the sun on the rockery garden and there are sheep and goats in the field next door. There is a carob tree by the pool that is a lovely shape and provides much needed shade but the leaves are constantly moulting and the carob pods are beginning to go black and drop off and no-one likes them much apart from the sheep and goats who stand on their back legs to reach the carob branches, quite funny; and I think Holland & Barratt must do as they sell a particularly unpleasant chocolate alternative in their health food shops made of carob.  Didn’t fool me though.

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There are loads of extraordinary black stealth bomber type bees that lurk amongst the flowers, but I think, and hope, are relatively harmless.  The cicadas though are something else.  Not only are they incredibly ugly, I am sure their mothers love them, but what is the point of them.  As soon as the sun comes up and shines on them and the temperature gets to the right hotness, they start making this awful racket.  It’s fine if its just background wallpaper type noise, which actually sounds like summer in the mediterranean, but if you are sitting under a tree and one suddenly decides to start buzzing, you can’t hear yourself speak, let alone read.  Then sometimes, if disturbed, they all just fly out of the tree spraying something unpleasant and fly right into you.

The birds round the pool are just so lovely.  The swallows perch in a row on the railing at the end of the pool like crotchets on the stave.  They fly round in circles and as they approach the water they dunk themselves in for a quick cool off, take off again and come round time and again.  They don’t even mind if I am swimming too, and are quite happy to share their swimming pool with me.  I have heard of swimming with dolphins, but swallows?  Not a good photograph, but I think gives an idea.

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All along the National Road are huge colourful bushes of oleander, red, pink and white which seem to grow like weeds.  I am taking cuttings and hope they will have started rooting in their jam jars before we leave shortly to head back to Devon.  The houses mostly have wonderful climbing bougainvillea against their walls, the most vibrant purples, pinks, reds, you name it.  I know this will not grow back home unless I had a large heated conservatory, so am just enjoying what I see here.  Then there are the olive groves, all over this area little olive orchards – right word?- with stone walls surrounding them and some with obviously hugely old trees.  Some of these are beautifully well looked after and other olive groves look slightly neglected, but all the trees are now covered in little tiny olives starting to ripen in the sun.

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What else, oh yes, we had a little mouse running around on the terrace which was very happy to stop for a photograph and quite enjoyed the attention.  Then it got bored and ran off, straight into the Googeldog’s paws and jaws where it was enjoyed as an amuse-bouche before dinner.  Poor little cretan mouse!

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Winetasting at the Dourakis Winery, Crete

We went here last Friday.  Apparently there was a wedding going on Saturday, the daughter of the owner, Mr Dourakis, was getting married there so we were unable to have lunch as they were so busy getting ready for about 250 guests.  The son of the owner who helped us with the wine tasting said that this was a very small wedding by Cretan standards and if we wanted to come back for lunch, probably best to leave it for about five days or so whilst they got everything packed away again and recovered from the celebrations.  So we are intending to go back again in a week or so’s time.  It is set half way along the road through the White Mountains from Vrysses to Sfakia, the pretty little port where we got the ferry to Loutro the other day.  More on that in another blog.

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We were sat at a table in the coolth and shade of being inside. We started with some rosé, Grenache Rosé Dourakis, fabulous – this went straight into the shopping basket.  Then onto some whites. The first wine brought out was Malvesia Aromatica, that was extremely nice and just as it said, aromatic,  but didn’t make us want to buy a bottle-full, then the next white, Rizitis, which was a really lovely dry white wine,  We had in fact had this for lunch at Loutro two days’ ago and really enjoyed it there.  My favourite brother-in-law was keen to have some Cretan wine that came out of a bottle rather then the usual jug sold by the kilo.

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Next some reds, the least expensive, Rizitis again, was extremely tanniny and none of us liked it at all;  as you can gather, I’m not a Master of Wine. But the next red, Lihnos, a cabernet sauvignon he opened was simply delicious, lots of summer pudding and raspberries going on and definitely went on the shopping list as well. Then another even more scrummy red, Kudos, a syrah, that was even more intense summer pudding and blackcurrants but didn’t taste of headaches in the slightest.  Another one in the basket!

The highlight was produced at the end – a desert wine sold in a skinny 50cl bottle and rather expensive.  It was made with local Cretan grapes and was the most delicious desert wine ever.  It tasted of hot strawberries, smelt like them too and would be absolutely fabulous at the end of a lovely dinner, or Christmas even.  Might have to go back and get some of that for a present for ourselves for Christmas this year.  I think it is called Euphoria Romelko 2012 and it won a silver medal award at the 2013 Decanter World Wine Awards.  Well deserved. Can’t wait to go back and see what lunch might be like post wedding.

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St Nicholas’ Chapel,Georgioupolis, Crete

I am rather of the DH Lawrence used to live in Florence school of thought (if it had been Compton Mackenzie he’d have called it Firenze) when it comes to Greek names.  So rather than saying all the Gs in a Y sound I have been calling it Georgioupolis as it is written.  As it is, George Michael doesn’t call himself Yeoy Michael when he’s in the UK as that would just be silly. Maybe his mother did, but that’s what mothers are allowed to do.  Anyway, GeorgiP is a very pretty little town on the sea about twenty minutes from our lovely house in Crete.

There is a lovely little chapel built out at sea at the end of a rocky walk way which is always worth a visit.  It is painted white and once inside has a few pretty icons and a stone dish where you can light a candle for somebody.  It is Saint Nicholas’ chapel and however many times I have slipped and slid along the stones, usually wearing flip flops – big mistake – it is so charming I love going back every time.  A great place to take photographs as well. This is me, my beautiful sister and favourite brother-in-law.

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On the beach at the far end there is a good little shack type lunch place where you can get a cold beer and an ice cream, along with lunchy type dishes, tsatsiki, dakos, olives etc, and then go for a swim after.

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The supermarket in the town which is called Anna’s has a fascinating selection of food, I bought some really delicious peaches and more of the wonderful local sheep’s yogurt. So that’s breakfast sorted for the next few days.

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Cretan Food Shopping and Cooking

Luckily the owner of the local supermarket speaks a little English so with my shopping list in hand I went looking for all sorts of goodies.  Feta cheese, myzithra a curd type cheese sold in a plastic bag, and some Cretan rusks, big fat tomatoes, minced beef (which he minced on the spot for me), local yogurt- sheep’s maybe, and red onions in order to make Greek supper for when guests arrive tomorrow.  I went through all the Greek cook books that are on our host’s book shelf and found some very simple but yummy looking recipes.

We shall start with tzatziki and dakos, which is a sort of Greek version of bruschetta only nicer if that can be possible.  You use those wonderful dried rusky things that come in large packets, rubbed over with garlic and drizzled with olive oil, then grated tomato is piled on top along with some myzithra and feta cheese, bit more olive oil on top, then sprinkled with some thyme.  So delicious, but quite a heavy starter so not sure whether to leave that for lunch the following day.  Then aubergine ‘slippers’, aubergines stuffed with a minced beef, garlic and oniony centre and covered in some bechamel.  Maybe a spinach pie to go with;  filo pasty, with spinach and myzithra cheese in the centre.  All this will probably be far too much but it is just as nice to eat cold so am not worrying to much.  Peaches for pudding, I think, all washed down with plenty of Cretan wine.  Delicious!

Next on my list to make is fried cheese – saganaki – slices of  kefalotyri cheese dipped in flour and fried, a bit like Halloumi I suppose, but the Greek version.  And I want to make souvlaki, pork or chicken marinated in lemon juice and olive oil then grilled.  Oooh I love this country – though had to swim 40 lengths of the pool today to make up for all of this.  NB Small pool!

This is today’s lunch, we ate what I cooked so quickly no one had a chance to take any photos!  But it was all so delish that I shall make it all over again later in the week.

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Crete – The First Week

So we have now been left to our own devices.  Our lovely friends left the other morning for a grey and drizzly England, and we are now feeling rather grown up and responsible with the house, dog and cat to look after.  But we are not worried, it is so beautiful here, we are at the foot of the White Mountains in Crete, with olive groves, sheep, goats, enormous mountains – not quite Alpine, but pretty big, all around us.  I think Zeus was born here many thousands of years ago, but need to read up more of my Greek mythology before I can write with absolute certainty but at least I do know he was born in Crete on top of a mountain, so that will do for now anyway.

So far the car has had a few problems with starting, the mains water pipe became disconnected and there seem to be ants everywhere, particularly on my mouthwash bottle, they obviously like the taste.  We have now got the car sorted, managed to re-connect the water but what to do about the ants?  We looked in the local supermarkets for ant spray/powder but couldn’t see anything.  It doesn’t matter too much as they are only tiny, but I don’t want them all over my toothbrush.

It is also unbelievably hot, about 34 degrees and not a cloud to be seen.  The cicadas make  such a noise, they are in the carob trees all around the pool.  Ugly things cicadas, but the noise is always something that reminds me of hot days.  Quite nice.  We have been to Georgioupolis, the nearest main town, for lunch where we rather over-ordered.  Their salads are enormous and enough for two people to share, so we are feeling very full of tomatoes and tzatziki at the moment, but that’s OK.  Nothing that a swim can’t sort out.  There must be a whole lot of swallows nesting somewhere close by as they come along in the afternoon and circle the pool and dip in one after the other.  They are beautiful to watch and don’t seem to mind us intruders in their swimming pool too.

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My Cretan Adventures Start Here

Five weeks in Crete can’t be bad.  We have wonderful friends who decided that the summer is too hot here and they wanted to be back in grey drizzly England with their children and grandchildren.  Who would like to house sit?  Yes, please we said, but it sounds like hard work, managing the swimming pool, walking 5 year old Google-dog in the evening to avoid the heat, watering the roses, and generally keeping an eye on everything.  So closing up our house on an unusually sunny day in darkest Devon and arranging with my fabulous friends to look after it and throw a tomato at the tortoise from time to time, we left for Bristol Airport and arrived in Heraklion late last night.

Our friends have two days to show us what to do, and fab husband is having a lesson in pool maintenance as I type.  It is HOT, 31 degrees in the shade, and just how I like it!  Lazy Google-dog lies in whatever shade she can find, the cicadas are buzzing away in the olive trees, the lizards disappear into the cracks in the rocks when you pass by, and Kat snoozes on a sun-bed.  Perfect!

I did think about learning some Greek before we came out here and took out a Teach Yourself Greek in 60 Minutes CD from the library.  Marvellous, I thought, 30 minutes on my drive to South Molton for a haircut, 30 minutes coming home again and I will have cracked it.  Wrong!  It just doesn’t make sense, my French, Italian (teeny weeny) and German (bit more than teeny) don’t help at all.  I know I did Ancient Greek at school, but what I really want to know is how to order two beers and buy a loaf of bread, rather than what Homer wrote in his Odyssey.  I can still only say good morning/evening, but I am hoping the rest will follow as if by osmosis.

Tomorrow we shall make sure we know where the supermarkets are, and where to buy yogurt from in Vrysses.  Reading the Easy Jet magazine yesterday, it said that Vrysses is the place to find the best yogurt in Crete – which is great as that’s just down the road a bit.  We have been here lots of times before and so know the area fairly well but I am very excited about having lots of time to explore, find different beaches, see Minoan burial grounds if necessary, and eat Greek salad every day if I want to.

This is today’s lunch on the terrace…

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Sunny days at last!

What’s best – a hot sunny day in Devon or a hot sunny day in London?  They are both beautiful in totally different ways.  I love London shimmering in a heat-wave, the heat rising up from the pavements, the cafés spilling out on to the streets, the residential roads of Kensington, Battersea, Chelsea – everywhere in fact – with the cherry trees blossoming and scattering their petal confetti.  The parks and commons full of sunbathers making the most of an English summer lunchbreak.  My little Hollydog loved sunny days on Clapham Common; she loved the picnicking families sitting on the grass and would run very fast from one group to another asking for a sandwich or a chocolate muffin as nicely and politely as possible.  Quite often she was allowed to join in and offered a crust of a Marmite sandwich or a biscuit so she could not understand when she was shooed away or shouted at other times by irate parents.  The puppy training classes had obviously not worked very well and she was notoriously difficult to catch when there was a sausage roll to be had somewhere!  ‘The sun is in the sky, oh why, oh why, would I wanna be anywhere else’, sang Lily Allen (London Town) back in 2006.  Rather agree with her.

But sunny days in Devon have their own special magic too.  The cow parsley along the hedgerows is at its best, frothing like spilt champagne alongside the wild garlic flowers. The lambs are all growing quite big now, nearly as big as their mothers and are getting rather anxious when they hear whisperings of ‘pass the mint sauce’, or ‘have we run out of RCJ?’.  Today we drove up to the top of Exmoor where on a clear day like today you can see all the way across to Wales. With the roof down, sun shining, sea glimmering, it was perfect -what with the gorse flowering and releasing that delicious smell of coconutty sun tan oil in the air.  We stopped at a Steam/Vintage farm vehicle Rally on the way back full of working tractors and old cars that mean a lot to fab husband but just look like old cars to me….. And so back home to the garden – now where’s that cold bottle of rosé?

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Chicken-Pox and Cake Pops

When my two gorgeous children had chicken pox many years ago they just sailed through with no problems and came out with no nasty scars and it was a doddle.  Not so with little grandson (step obviously-as you know I am still jolly young).  Poor little chap arrived in darkest Devon on a Monday afternoon with the newly diagnosed chickenpox and a few spots, just a little bit more cuddly and quieter than usual   This suited rather well as fab husband and  I could carry on whilst little chap lay on the sofa in the kitchen and watched endless Octonauts.  However, it soon became clear that this was only day 1 and it was going to get worse.  His normally peaceful nights were very disturbed, ergo ours too.  We were due to be driving to Bristol on Thursday anyway for a pre-organised ten day babysit whilst my lovely step-son and his even more beautiful missus got married (finally legal!) and went off on a child-free honeymoon.

By Thursday he was covered in spots and you could see more appearing, first as tiny red dots and then into the huge blistery spots of chicken pox.  Eyes, mouth, nose, bottom – all over. He looked like a little, rather skinny, currant bun.  The day of the marriage ceremony was at least sunny but he was too unwell to come too.  Luckily being only 3 and a half, too little to understand what he was missing, ditto the party in the evening.  Another bad night of temperature, Calamine lotion which is nothing like it used to be in the olden days and a foamy lotion that is apparently meant to be very good for itchy spots but just made him scream.  This went on for several days.  Never has so much CBeebies been watched, cards game played, mosaic dinosaurs been mosaiced, and general lying about on the sofa been done.  Over the next few days he got slightly better.  We even managed a visit to the North Somerset Show which was lovely and I would have loved staying there for longer but he was beginning to wilt.  I read all the chickenpox forums on Mumnsnet – fascinating forums on diet tips, including the 5:2 diet which I am already trying, dysfunctional marriages, chickenpox and much more – makes very good reading, even looked at Gransnet (WTF!), but I rather prefer the Mumsnet stuff.

By the time the newly-weds arrived back a week later, we were very pleased to see them, dear little grandson was very nearly back to normal and most of his spots beginning to clear.  We packed our bags and returned home to sit quietly on the sofa with our halos sparkling and several more Brownie points on the chart.

Can’t possibly put a chicken poxy photo on here so here are the cake pops I bought for the wedding lunch, made here in Barnstaple and so delicious.

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