Tuesday 28 May 2013


Ouranopolis tower, early morning, Saturday 18th May 2013.

Our menfolk are going to visit Mount Athos and females are not allowed. The hotel bus takes the four of us into town, the men to queue for their pilgrim visas and the ferry boat while Heidi and I set out to walk, in the cool of the early morning, to the Athonite monastery of Zygou, founded in the early tenth century, which lies just outside the autonomous republic of Mount Athos.
We head out of town along a dusty road. Parcels of cultivated land are fenced and guarded by dogs, alert to our presence, heads raised from sleep, eyes watchful. Some of them trail our footsteps along their perimeter fencing. A puppy, not yet trained to be forbidding, comes bouncing and wriggling with delight to see us, whist its mother barks a warning.

Wild flowers and silence.
Zygou monastery

Zygou monastery is a tumble of stones. The ticket office is closed, the site padlocked. Beyond a dry stream bed a high metal barrier, rolls of barbed wire and a large sign warning of punishment for trespass mark the boundary of Mount Athos. A thin black cat comes to greet us, walking stiffly on a damaged leg, waving her tail as a flag of welcome. She is covered in sores. We would like to return her friendship. "Hello," we say, but do not let her near enough to rub against our legs.
Perhaps the ticket office will open soon. We walk to the beach, the black cat between us, and look for the ferry that is taking our men to the mountain. It comes into view on a swell of water, not riding the waves well but hitting and rolling. We hope that the 'Qwells' are working well!

The cat sits on a large beach pebble biting at fleas and washing her belly. An hour passes. Waves crash against the shore. The barbed wire barrier extends into the sea. It reminds me of newsreel images that I have seen of war zones. I find it offensive. Here we sit, three females, if you include the cat, all excluded. We return to the monastery and look in disgust at the padlock that bars our entry.
It is getting hot. We walk back along the dusty road towards the town. A snake slithers away from us into the undergrowth. The flowers still bloom but the sense of exclusion has tainted the morning.

Monday 27 May 2013

Mainland Greece

We have just returned from our first holiday to mainland Greece, where we went in search of warmth and sunshine. We were not disappointed. Indeed, so unused are we to sun that after a few days , in consideration of our skin, we had to skulk in the shade. We took the hotel bus into Lerissos town where we had been told that the market was wonderful and you could buy "everything".
We passed the boat builders yard
and expectations were running high.
Good fruit and vegetables. a tempting stall with a mound of cherries, some local honey, which I bought, along with a couple of packets of herbs, but otherwise, what a load of tat!
We wandered about town where there seemed to be little to see. (And passed a bit of time while waiting for the returning bus by eating ice-cream!) Then we spotted this church
and found that a side door was open.
We picked our way past scaffolding and entered into a riot of colour and imagery.
Icons were everywhere and the walls and ceiling were beautifully painted.

Fresh flowers decorated this icon
and dried flowers, or more accurately, fresh flowers that had died, covered a large structure, creating a strange fuzzy, mossy surface.
It was silent in the church and I thought that we were alone
until a few slight noises above made us look up and discover a man on top of the scaffolding painting on the ceiling.
How wonderful - it's not every day that you find a man painting angels! It reminded me of J.L. Carr's gentle little book, "A Month in the Country" which is set in 1920 and tells the story of a young man, a survivor of the Great War, who comes to a village church to uncover a wall painting.

When we were back at the hotel I asked about the church and the meaning of the flower-covered structure.It is St Nicholas Church and the structure represents the body of Christ. It is decorated with fresh flowers every Good Friday by the local women. After the Friday service it is carried around the town by four men in a procession on a route that creates a cross to bless the entire community. People line the streets. It is then returned to the church and set high inside the door so that as people enter they walk beneath the structure and receive a blessing. After  a period of time it is placed where I saw it and the flowers remain for forty days before being taken down.

Tuesday 7 May 2013


We  went to Cornwall for a couple of nights in April,
taking advantage of a cheap rate hotel package, 
like all the other pensioners!
We stayed in St Ives
which is a lovely, characterful town
and a delight to wander around out of season.
The beaches are excellent
but it wasn't the weather for swimming.
Instead we walked across Porthminster Beach to the beach cafe
 where the food is delicious, and, this being an artists town,
  the walls are decorated with colourful abstracts.
It's a great place to sit and gaze out to sea and there are cheerful red blankets to wrap yourself up in if the weather feels a bit too English.
If it isn't time for lunch you can always fill in with a coffee and a slice of carrot cake!

There is a good choice of eating places in the town

and St Ives is full of art galleries, both large and small.
We went to Penzance to see an exhibition at one of my favourite regional galleries.
The temporary exhibition was "Summer in February,' the title taken from a book by Jonathan Swift about the lives of a group of artists living in the secluded valley of Lamorna.  Many of the paintings in the exhibition, by these artists, are in private ownership, so it was a treat to see them gathered together.  A film of the book has been produced, to be released next month. The story is of a doomed love affair and Dan Stevens, who shot to prominence in 'Downton Abbey', is the male lead. He plays the part of Gilbert Evans. Handkies out ladies, and prepare to weep, there will not be a happy ending! 
The exhibition included letters and personal effects. When Gilbert left Lamorna to work in Nigeria a friend sent the following letter to his mother.

April 1st 1914.

My Dear Mrs Evans

I feel I must write you of our sadness at losing Captain Evans - though it is hard to realise that he is really gone. He is such a dear, isn't he? Everyone loves him and we can ill spare such a good friend from our midst, though of course we are pleased for him to have a chance to get on and all wish him every success.

Major Gilbert Evans (1883-1966) retired as deputy surveyor general in Nigeria in 1933 and returned to Lamorna where he lived with his wife, Joan and their two sons, Tim and David.

'The Morning Ride', portrait of Florence painted by Alfred Munnings.
I bought the book at the gallery but really wish that I had read it before visiting the exhibition.

I bought several postcards of the work on display, this one, from a private collection, is  another painting by Munnings, made in 1912, of Florence at sunset.
The self-portrait with nude, painted a year later by Laura Knight was on loan from the National Portrait Gallery, my favourite London Gallery.

And a painting of Lamorna Cove by Samuel Birch.
After which we drove out of Penzance to Lamorna Cove,
which I have to say looked rather bleak!

Saturday 4 May 2013

What's cooking?

Spring has sprung,
 the grass is riz,
I wonder where the birdies is?
I know where they have been. We had a pair of wild mallards visiting our tiny pond, having a nice time, thank you very much, eating all the newts and stirring up the muck at the bottom of the pond.
I had hoped that they would stay and raise a family but Miss Vanilla, the feline from next door, has scared them away.

What's cooking? 
I've been sterilizing the soil from the auricula pots as I've lost about a quarter of my collection of plants to vine weevil grubs. The only good thing to be said about the pesky grubs is that they are white and therefore easy to spot in the soil. I left the container full of earth cooking on top of the Aga for several hours which I hope has done the trick. "Smells strange" said Himself when he came into the kitchen!
Everything is way behind schedule in the garden. Most of the vegetable garden is still bare soil, there are just a few crops sheltering from the wind under cloches. Both greenhouses are crammed with plants waiting to be planted out.
We had four tons of stones delivered as a top dressing for the drive. It has looked very scruffy ever since the garage rebuild. This is how it looked before.
We  scraped off quite a bit of moss and had a bonfire.
The 'St Patrick's Day' daffodils, that usually flower on their saints day in mid March, are looking good. They are a soft yellow, not too strident, and become even paler as they age.
It was a satisfying job to rake the new stones into position. In the evening friends came round and Janet, (the heart expert!) stepped out of her car and immediately bent down and picked up a perfectly heart-shaped stone, the only one to be found in four tons of the stuff!
I'm much better at finding vine weevils.

The tree peony has been in the greenhouse all winter where it seems to be very happy!