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Saturday, 12 May 2018

Yacht Summer Song

Simon on Summer Song a few years ago

Selling Summer Song. I’ve been putting it off. Procrastinating for months, but here goes....
For sale in Greece - Yacht Summer Song Snapdragon 27 sailing yacht with possibility of local mooring in Corfu. Length 8.28m, 27’2”. Beam 2.59m, 8’6”. Tonnage 7.5. Draft 1.40m, 2’9”. Bilge keels. Roller reefing foresail. Reefing cringes on mainsail. GRP construction. 5/6 berths. Full inventory. Reconditioned 16hp Yanmar diesel auxiliary engine. Registered Poole UK. Certificate of British Registry SSR01977.  Third party insured to Oct 2018. New 2m inflatable tender.
Corfu is a beautiful island, famous for sailing holidays and friendly weather, lying a few nautical miles from mainland Greece, both shores dotted with safe harbours, coves and beaches, many with jetties for tavernas. Summer Song is a sturdy seaworthy boat, sailed from England to Mediterranean Spain, to Turkey and back to Ionian Greece. She has given her present and previous owner, and their families, much enjoyment. ‘Summer Song’ can be seen almost any time by arrangement.  €3,750 ONO (please no time wasters) or part-exchange, for smaller yacht, to suit my age. Contacts: Simon  07806 816730 or Dave 0030 6994895948
How did we come by this boat? 12 years ago, our daughter, Amy, sitting at our kitchen table in Birmingham, drew our attention to an ad on eBay for Summer Song. I phoned the owner in Corfu. 
Pauline answered “Hullo?”
“Hullo. I’m Simon phoning from UK. We’ve seen your ad. Can I ask why you want to sell your boat?”
“I don’t”
“It’s my husband, Norman”
After brief further enquiries, I clicked on ‘Buy now’.
Now I’ve arrived at a decision for someone else to make about Summer Song's future
Simon and Lin on Summer Song

Our grandson Oliver sailing to Pirate Island

Summer Song's interior - photo taken yesterday - 11 May 2018

Basic diagram of Snapdragon 27. We don't carry a spinnaker though

The Youtube clip is of Lin and I and friends on Summer Song up against a typical katabatic headwind on a summer afternoon. We had to motor-sail to make any progress. It was then I decided to buy and install a reconditioned and more powerful engine. 
Moored at Agni, Corfu
Reconditioned engine
Out of the water for repairs and antifouling two years ago

Wednesday, 9 May 2018


I’ve clambered through the kitchen window to weed the small gulley between our house and the neighbour’s wall, lopping their overhanging fig branches to give light to WC and kitchen windows. I’ve tightened my Brompton’s front wheel that was beginning to wobble on its bearings – something I noticed as I freewheeled down the zig-zag road from Sokraki, stopping only to sit for a few moments in the cool quiet of the tiny church of Ag Isadoras on the ninth bend up from Ano Korakiana.
Ag. Isadoras above Ano Korakiana
Done the washing of course – sun dried underpants, shirts, socks and nightshirt. I’ve taken my sickle to the path below the house curbing invading thorns, and greenery happy to take over our route to the bus stop on National Opposition Street – three minutes’ walk below. I’ve hand dipped into the WC basin to give it a good scrub, leaving slices of lemon in it for a day, peeing the while on the compost piling up with my clippings from the Wisteria and other parts of the garden. I’ve cycled in and out of town to check I can still get there and back on my large bike, stopping at Technomart for more cheap paint brushes, and taken the bus into town with my folded Brompton, ideal for roaming the streets of the city, and completed our nil tax returns. Said Eleni when I arrived at her small efficient office off Alexandros
“You are the first!”
I’ve checked our bank account to bring our statement up to date and ensure payment of our standing orders for water and electricity. Cycling home I stopped at Rolando’s shop in Kontokali to have a look at his electric bikes. He insisted I try one. Out of curiosity I did. You peddle. The bike takes off on its own, gently, soundlessly and powerfully. Very tempting but – apart from prices of €2000+ - I don’t want one. Peddling starts the battery driven motor. Once going I’d stop relying on my own faltering strength, whose testing is two thirds the joy and a third the pain of cycling. If an ascent is too hard I’ve the time to get off and walk.
I work through books – Mia Gallagher's Hellfire, Edna O’Brien's The Little Red Chairs, Katie Hayes' Lindbergh’s Legacy, Michael Wood's In Search of Shakespeare, James Herbert’s The Secret of Crickley Hall.
Harder work, for longer perusal and reference, is a book, found for me by my friend Mark, authored in 2017 by the Swedish biologists, now living here, Marie and Bo Stille The Herpetofauna of Corfu and Adjacent Islands. The book cost me €30. Far from being simply a catalogue of species - comprehensive though it is on that score - the book goes far beyond that, comprehending with charts, maps and descriptions of habitats – geology, geography, climate, vegetation - describing, also, the human culture including environmental legislation and three finely written pages on ‘Humans, snakes and fear’. That such fear is instinctive remains despite years of research, unproven. The authors suggest fear of snakes is more likely the product of ideas than genetics.
The positive thing with a behaviour transmitted by ideas and not by genes is that it is relatively easy to change one idea for another when new knowledge becomes available. Consequently the fear that makes us indiscriminately kill snakes, including those that are not harmful to us, should in most cases be easy to overcome. However, oral tradition still has a stronghold in many cultures and old stories of snake dangerousness keep on spreading. (pp 315-316)

Two years ago a part-time neighbour here was kind enough to walk up to our house and warn me, for the sake of the children he emphasised, that there were snakes on the path between our homes. He held up, for my inspection, a jar containing two beheaded slow worms. The other day a friend told me he’d killed two snakes on his plot.
“I knew because they had that black stripe down their backs”
We found a picture in the Stilles’ book
“That’s it!”
It was, as clearly illustrated in the book, a juvenile Anguis graeca or Greek Slow worm Ελληνικο χονακι ‘completely harmless’.
The Stilles' book can be bought with an accompanying poster - €3 - showing pictures of all Corfu's snakes and slow worms, too often mistaken for and often killed, along with other harmless snakes. One snake, only, on Corfu is venomous - the horned viper - a creature no more dangerous than its cousin, the British Adder. Potholes offer greater hazard.
This book is about faith, hope and love. I judge it as significant for the missionaries and disciples of our spreading belief in the world's environment, as St Paul's Letters to the Corinthians in the New Testament was, and is, to Christianity. When I was 16 in 1958, my stepfather, amid one of our many long conversations during my growing up, suggested that a ‘new religion’ was emerging across the world; one that held as its central tenet, that the survival and salvation of mankind depended on his stewardship of the earth - a faith supported by science but, being near unprovable, still a ‘faith’.
“It’s called ‘environmentalism’. It grows from a move away from drawing up lists of natural species to understanding their ‘ecology’ - our own included!”
I remember this, while having little understanding, at the time, of what Jack was talking about.
Using the multi-tool to smooth a windowframe

There are louvred exterior window shutters that are near indestructible, their colour running right through like words in 'Brighton Rock'; to be bought on the internet, delivered by courier; maintenance a damp cloth. On our house some of our windows are metal, but others are wooden with hard wood shutters at least forty years old, perhaps much older. Louvre slats increase their surface area. Stand back, and I can see the joiner’s small variations during their making, increased by repairs.
One of my gravings
Looking close, the surfaces have many variations as a result of maintenance over the years - mainly after periods of neglect when roasting sun, wind and rain have blistered and hardened surface paint, undercoat and primer, raising all layers to the original wood, which, being exposed for too long, becomes split along the grain. Some joints may open. Looking at one pair of shutters on the house, I can see that with louvre slats and cross-pieces there are 286 of these - to shrink and expand.

Where rain has stood and perhaps seeped into the footing joints, there may be patches of dry rot, which I, and previous workers, have cut out, repairing the damage with gravings of old wood - which, once sanded, filled and painted, are almost as invisible as the dents an auto-mechanic can tap out of a metal body panel. Old wood is easily found, cut from shutters left by wheelie bins.
It takes time to maintain wooden shutters. Lifted from the pintles on their wooden frames (those too need maintaining), I lay them on a plastic sheet under the veranda. I sand the roughest looking surfaces down to the wood, and, where necessary, replace rotted parts; apply filler in cracks and small holes; let it dry then wipe down with white spirit and apply colourless preservative which serves as primer and holding for undercoat on surfaces where the old paint is sound. After the undercoat comes the pleasant labour of applying Corfu green surface gloss. Each of two coats takes 24 hours to dry. I leave it longer.
New gloss paint exposed to Greek sun comes up in blisters that can raise the underlying paint layers to bare wood. I learnt that the first time I went through this routine - over enthusiastic to rehang my work and admire it in place.  Now I make sure I’ve other jobs to do, while waiting. The wooden shutter frames are also maintained the same way, and hinges – male and female – oiled, with wandering paint scraped and sanded from them. I repaired, repainted and rehung three pairs of shutters and frames this last fortnight since Lin went back to England.
** ** **
With my friend Dave I’ve replaced a beam supporting our wooden balcony. When we walked there last year Lin and I saw a dip in the decking and assumed a normal settling. Then Mark, visiting, noted how one of two supporting beams had fallen four inches, where it entered the centre of one of its brick support columns. He inserted an Acrow prop to secure the balcony over the winter.
We measured and ordered a treated composite beam, planed to size, and delivered from Duroxil’s yard at Velonades near Sidari.
Dave arrived a few mornings ago; surveyed the job. Mark who’d replaced and renewed all the balcony’s main beams and laid decking across them had done a sound job.  His long sturdy screws had to be undone beneath a decking plank, which, with two balcony support brackets had to be lifted, to get to longer screws through shims into the old beam. A power drill with screwdriver in reverse took those all out in minutes. Zzzzzzzzz- done, Zzzzzzzzz- done, Zzzzzzzzz- done…We lifted and laid a sturdy plank from the apothiki under the cross beams, a foot back from the damaged support beam; moved the Acrow swiftly beneath one end of the plank, screwed up tight. The plank stayed while Dave sawed, to the same length as the Acrow,  an old beam also from the apothiki; lifted it against the other end of the plank, using a car-jack at one end to pump it upwards, until the whole balcony was lifted a few inches clear of the damaged beam.

On a stepladder Dave sawed through the centre of the damaged beam. Both pieces slid easily from the support columns, to be lowered to me. The cavity at the top of one of the column harbours an ants’ nest, whose inhabitants in their constant activity had reduced one end of the beam to a splintered stub, which, if it had given any further would have led to the collapse of one half of the balcony.
Ant work
Heartless, I pour two kettles of fresh boiled water on the teeming nest. Dave cleans out the support cavities at both ends; checks the soundness of the other beam ending next to the ants' nest.
“Seems they’ve left that alone. But keep an eye.”
We lift the new beam into place; tap away some old mortar; perfect fit; unscrew the Acrow, and lower the jack, deftly catching the substitute plank, as the new beam starts its job.

From above, it’s the power drill with screw driver again -  zzzz zzzzz- done, zzzzz zzzz- done, zzzz zzzzz - done; the shims and decking replaced; the decking now pleasingly level; job completed in 3 hours. Cups of tea had helped us through the morning. Now we broke two cans of lager.
“Finished in the cool of the morning, Dave. You made it look easy!”
***** *****
It’s not the best idea to ‘battle’ against nature. For the first time in ten years we experience the deprivation of abundant fresh oranges and lemons - one of the delights for a northerner in Greece. Since last spring, citrus scale insects have infested the under surfaces of the leaves on our two lemon trees and one blood orange.
Not a disease - an infestation
Minute insects gather in thousands on the underside of every leaf. These encourage - we don’t understand the process, but some form of excretion of honeydew which seems to penetrate the leaves. On the honeydew, on the top of the leaf, a black mould grows which stops photosynthesis. The trees are being strangled. They’ve not blossomed this year. Where a few flowers do appear, they drop off in wind and rain.
Scale insects are a pest familiar in the citrus industry. They occurs in the USA and all over southern Europe. Not all citrus trees are affected. On walks we’ve see many unaffected trees, bearing the abundant lemons and oranges we had come to take for granted. Last spring, on advise, Lin mixed dissolved bars of olive soap in boiling water, mixed with oil to hold the olive solution on the foliage. We sprayed as widely as we could reach with a hand pump sprayer lent by Mark. The insects turned to black mush which dried up. On new growth the scale insects return, the male insects travelling, the female clustering and immobile once on their leaves. We sprayed and sprayed at regular intervals. Still new insects return; in small numbers at first, but in clusters that visibly increase. I have watched them gathering. As well as spraying, I’ve hung sticky fly papers in the branches. In days they’re covered, sometimes, to my regret, with a trapped lacewing or bee, but mostly thousands and thousands of scale insects. My neighbour’s orange tree has no fruit nor blossom, but seems clear of scale insects. What’s their vector? Where are they coming from? Why are they on some trees and not on others? Some people here have pollarded their trees drastically. Others have even felled them – which might work for disease but can have only limited effect on spreading insects. Others have employed pest controllers who’ve applied traditional toxic sprays as for other pests, but this like our non-toxic olive soap solution, kills the insects only for more to return. I long for signs of the arrival of predator insects, enjoying scale insects as a welcome feast. Many ants roam the branches but they’re lapping the honeydew in the mould, leaving the under leaf pests unmolested. They may even, as I've read, have a symbiotic relationship with the scale insects, moving them about to new trees, or replacing them on leaves we've temporarily cleared by spraying.
“We need Ladybirds” says Lin.
I cannot just leave the trees alone, hoping that nature will take its course – since with all leaves coated in black mould preventing photosynthesis I will be watching our trees die.
While I can, I’m spraying once or twice a week, replacing the sticky papers as soon as they are covered – which takes less than 10 days. Perhaps now I should also buy some ant bands to deter ants and so try to intervene in the many million year love affair between scale insects and ants - if such it is.
Symbiosis of ants and other insects: One of the most common is the herding or farming of sap feeding insects 'homopterans' such as aphids, scale bugs and mealy bugs. ... By stroking the back of some aphids with their antennae, the ants can induce a honeydew droplet. The ants may move the insects to areas on the plants with the best sap.
*** *** ***
On the 1st May I was standing on the balcony and a neighbour saw me and called ‘Kronia Polla. Proto Maio!” I’d clean forgotten. I went foraging for flowers from verges, walls and abandoned gardens returning with flowering garlic, violets, a pink mallow flower, yellow and white daisies, sprigs of jasmine and wild sage called Lantana Camara - dry thorny stalks bearing bunched florets of many tiny multi-coloured flowers. I found roses, wall flowers, and from a flourishing Bird of Paradise plant, two orange azure flowers like parrots’ heads, sweet peas, clover, blue flowered comfrey prickly to pick, a lily from our garden and a deep purple leafed plant bearing a tiny pink flower. I fixed these with green string in granny knots to a wired circle of long stalks from the invasive pelargonium on the wire fence in our small garden.
Spring 2018 - all my own work
By lunchtime both my neighbour and I had wreaths hanging high on the walls of our houses, visible from Democracy Street. Lin usually makes our Mayday wreath. In her absence I was proud of mine. It will swiftly wither and dry. On mid-summer day its remains will be collected with others; laid in a pile on the war memorial platea or the villages's lower road and set alight, girls and boys leaping over the smoke and flames - Λάμπατα στον Άη-Γιώργη.
Λάμπατα στον Άη-Γιώργη - 22 June in Ano Korakiana
I've heard gossip that our new Papas is not entirely approving of this pre-Christian celebration. It's pagan. But that's just a rumour. I find the Greek Orthodox Church eclectic, even relaxed - perhaps a sign of its health and strength. Long ago - 1949 - my Dad and his new wife, my Greek step-mother, Maria, both divorced, were allowed to marry with full blessings in the small church of Panagia Kapnikarea in Hermou Street off Syntagma in Athens.
**** **** ****
On a Sunday I cycled to Dukades – 5 kilometres west, as the crow flies - to sit in the platea in the shade of a walnut tree sipping chilled village wine with two of my neighbours, absorbing languid conversation, noon sun seeping through the greenery, sparkling our glasses.
“Look how the sunlight dapples my white wine. If a cloud comes it doesn’t seem as good. Go away cloud!”
Our talking turned on gender fluidity, so normal but with vexatious implications for architecture and competition; vulture capitalists feasting on Greece. How much profit, if any, seeps into the surroundings of these grand hotel projects? Morecambe! Where my neighbours knew one another in primary school. Solar energy - why isn’t Greece’s free resource, so much scarcer in the north, being tapped into by everyone? Will they ever sort out the ethical programming of driverless cars? Who will the software save first, the children in the car or the old couple who walk out in front of it? “Hm? That’s a bit of a no-brainer”; peculiar neighbours and the kindness of strangers; bitcoins and the end of money “Monitor every transaction and human ingenuity will invent alternative ways of doing business”; fake news, filter-bubbles, ‘likely stories’ and urban myths;  and letters to Agony aunts.. 'Dear Marge. I’ve suffered from dropsy since childhood. An orphan, abused by carers, my relationships end in desertion. Help…’ ‘Dear Marge. A servant on one of our yachts persists in wiping the condensation off the champagne before removing the cork with such a noisy pop. Help’ …’Dear Marge. Can you help us with scale insects on our lemon trees? They’re spoiling our lives….’
A Sunday afternoon torpor, impossible north of the olive belt.
“We’ll go home and light the BBQ. Will you join us?”
They headed off by car, while I descended from the village via the road down to Paleo, pedalling away towards Doctor’s Bridge, but long before there, I spied a left turn down a narrow road signed ‘Corfu Donkey Rescue’. At last I’d found, after instructions from Mark, a road that went direct, if curvedly, to Skripero, with hardly an ascent.

I cycle gently between green hedges, trees forming shady tunnels, passing gaps through which I see meadows of flowers stirred by the afternoon breeze from the mountains. If I hold my breath the sound of bees comes from everywhere. I see butterflies, small birds, and, gliding on thermals, two eagles, mewing at one another where their separate circling intersects. In the distance, spread across the slopes beneath Trompetta, I see the separate parts of Ano Korakiana – Mougades, the Bear (where we live), and Venetia. An aeroplane passes over ahead, ascending northward
“Poor sods”
One of the difficulties of not believing is that I have no-one to thank for such happiness, so I do anyway, following pagan instinct - 'pagan' being the old name, so I was told by Richard Pine, for a villager.
“Blessed Mary, mother of God, pray for this sinner, now and at the hour of my death" and I, a Protestant.
****** ****** ******
On another Sunday Mark, John and Karen and I had Sunday lunch at ALS by the shore at Pyrgi. I cycled there through Ag Markos. Clouds with rain and wind and even some thunder during the night were clearing, leaving the shallow sea lapping the gravel beach near our table, limpid yet still blue over white and grey round stones, slightly ruffled so far as the horizon that underlies the mountains of Epirus across the Sea of Kerkyra.
Mark, John, Karen and Simon

In a month I’ll be finding it too hot this close to the shore, but now the climate was perfect, on a par with high summer in England, nearly shirt-sleeve weather.
“I passed you on the way” said Mark, who’d promised to drive me back later, bike folded in the back. We had beer, for me the green topped Ionian Beer I like, and later village rosé in a big carafe. Starters: courgette balls, saganaki - fried cheese, squid, and garlicky mashed potatoes - skordalia, and a rocket salad with balsamic vinegar and shavings of strong cheese. Bread too, fresh for Sunday; then, after just the right interval, whole sea bass twice, similar sea bream, and veal in wine sauce - sofritto.  All around us, Greek families and friends. Though visitors are arriving, planes and coaches coming and going, the holiday season has yet to speed up. People are still preparing premises, smartening frontages, laying planks on jetties, raising flags and signs.
On the way home Mark took the low road one which I cycle and walk, becoming a gravel track through deep woods, undergrowth and overhanging greenery.
“You do know there’s been a landslip ahead?”
When we got to where rain had washed away the ground supporting a concreted stretch of our road, he went on foot to inspect. Then before I had time to be a sensible coward drove over the stretch at risk, making mock panic noises.
Rain-made landslide undercutting the rough track between Pyrgi and Ano Korakiana

“The concrete has a metal grid reinforcing it. They’ll need to build a supporting wall and in-fill. Quite a job and expensive.”
Near where our route turned up to join the Ag Markos road, Mark steered suddenly left along a gravel track I’d not noticed before and brought us to a church low on the eastern edge of Ano Korakiana whose cemetery was covered in poppies, white daisies and delicate blue flowers, almost hidden beneath, the whole waving in the wind among the white marble gravestones with their artificial flowers, photos of the departed and small lamps.

We drove on, and stayed until after dark, sitting quietly in the garden at Karen's and John's below the village. A mass of grey cloud came charging over the mountains, surging before a north west wind, but still no rain. The trees rustled and bent. The air grew almost chilly.
Back in the house I slept early. The street lights were out, the village in darkness. Shapes and tones and now and then lightning and thunder
A windy evening at 208 Democracy Street

Friday, 27 April 2018


“I’m going to get a jug of cold custard and pour it down the front of those ridiculous trousers!”
Lin, who usually handles our travel documents, gave me my passport and boarding card at the departure gate in Birmingham Airport. She was embarrassed to be seen with me in my comfortable overlarge jeans, held up by braces, which nearly fell down, when security told me to check them separate through the metal detector.
“I’ve bought priority boarding”
“So you won’t have to be seen in my company?”
“Exactly” ... though I knew she wanted to ensure her hand luggage with our picnic for the journey stayed with her, rather than going with mine in the hold.
Once aboard, before heading for a seat rows away from me – she will not pay Ryanair to choose seats - Linda handed me the prosciutto and cream cheese sandwiches she’d made in the night. I’d enjoy them with a paper mug of coffee drunk through a mesh fed with plastic sachets of milk, ten miles over the Dolomites, peaks laced with snow.
Almost midday, our flight landed - oops - with a bang before swiftly settling. My guess - a Boeing pilot new to Kapodistria not wanting to use up its short runway. At Corfu, surrounded by hazy mountains, I placed my hand flat on the apron’s hot concrete. We collected the car from Yianni, drove over to shop at Lidl by the airport, parking under one of their shades. With essentials - milk, butter, fresh veg - we drove familiarly north.
“Easter’s early. The Kokykias are still coming into blossom. Last year it was near 1st May. They’d almost finished”
Lin dropped into Kaizanis supermart at Tzavros for feta. We stopped at Emeral to have ice creams in cones. Bitter choc for me. Pomegranate and melon for Lin.
In the village, mid-afternoon, none but the cats saw us descend the shallow steps from Democracy Street, bumping and carrying our luggage. Into the cool dry house. Switch on electricity, turn on water faucets – one behind the apothiki under a metal cover, the other under the veranda with a pressure gauge.
“Cup of coffee?”
“Yes” and a cup of tea for me.
Beds all made; all as we left things last year, but for a little more winter growth of weeds in the garden, and the lower path to the bus stop filled with greenery awaiting my sickle. Despite the rainy winter there was the tiniest amount of leak-water in the plastic tray we’d left in our bedroom.
A few days later. Easter Saturday. in the crowded forecourt of Ag Georgios for midnight rejoicing, Lin and I stood with candles lit from the altar’s candle held by Papa Evthokimos. Minutes later, fireworks and shots.
“Xristos Anesti” “Alethos Anesti!”
“Kronia Polla” “Kronia Polla”
Η Ανάσταση ~ Resurrection

Following the village band playing happy tunes, we strolled home down the steep slope from the church. I marked a new candle-flame cross above our other porch, the first one, after ten Easters, having no more room for them.
We sat together upstairs. Lin jumped up on hearing sounds outside
“That’s them!”
The family had stopped their car to off-load children and baggage at the top of the steps. Down came Oliver and Hannah holding their own small suitcases, descending slightly edgeways, one foot ahead of the other.
“Careful on the steps, you two” I call from the balcony.
Their beds are made up. The stair gate in place.  Pajamas, loo, wash, teeth...
“Just one story!” and so to bed
The Sea of Corfu from Ano Korakiana 

Two years ago - February 2016 - we were enjoying a weekend at Rock Cottage when, early in the morning, we still in bed, Linda got a phone call from her mum.
“I’ve fallen over in the kitchen. Think I’ve broken my wrist. I can’t wake Arthur”
From a 100 miles away Lin phoned Staffordshire ambulance service. Dot was taken to Staffordshire General. We returned to Birmingham. Lin visited her dad at home in Cannock, took him to see Dot and brought him home to live with us. Arthur has never owned nor driven a car so Lin, as she has whenever in recent years her parents have been ill - Dot with a cancer in her cheek and Arthur in his eye - both brilliantly cured by the NHS -  ensured her parent’s transport to and fro between hospitals in Staffordshire and South Yorkshire, consultations, shopping and home.
This time, with her bad wrist, Dot should have been out of hospital in under a week, but norovirus struck - not her, but many other patients. We could neither collect Dot nor visit her. She was, through this ill-chance, unnecessarily bed-ridden for 3 weeks, as the infection played cat-and-mouse in her ward, recurring over and over just as an imminent ‘all clear’ was reported by phone. Dot at 93, unexercised, became unable to walk. I now know, with hindsight and the experience as a subject for research into sarcopenia in humans over 65, the swiftness with which lack of exercise lessens muscle strength.
Lin got her mum to a care home not far from us in the Black Country ‘to get her back on her feet’. This brief rehab was working. Lin visiting every day with Arthur and sometimes the grandchildren. Then Dot came down with pneumonia - rife in institutions. She was moved by ambulance to Sandwell General. Arthur, stoic and mostly silent, would have a stilted phone conversations between chauffeured visits by Lin to see his partner of 70 years. One early morning, at our house, he fell over trying to get to the commode in his bedroom - having refused his daughter’s help; his wish for independence, and keenness not ‘to be a bother’ amplifying his dependency. I heard him groaning through his door. Commode tipped on the floor. An ambulance took him to the same hospital as Dot, where, in days, he had a hip replacement, but, after three more days, descended into an amnesiac mist, brought on in part by pain and perhaps anaesthetic, and came down with hospital pneumonia. A day later, Lin had an early morning phone call
“Come quick”
When we arrived at the hospital Arthur was dead. Lin and I saw him, kissed his brow where his body lay still on his bed curtains around, then, with the duty doctor, went to break the news to Dot on the same open ward corridor.
Throughout the time - 45 years I’ve known them – my in-laws have been inseparable; dependent on each other; proudly independent as a couple, grandparents to Richard and Amy. Dot, stoic as her husband, released two tears at the news. Still ill, she could not be at Arthur's funeral - short and truly sweet, just ten close relatives at a 15 minute ceremony in Perry Barr Crem followed by a lunch at Toby’s Inn; flowers from our garden, picked at the last minute, placed on Arthur’s simple coffin. He was 98.
Lin found a care home in the north of the city, smart and efficient at over £1000 a week, paid for by the NHS. Dot, from hospital, arrived at Aston Court the day after her husband’s cremation. After this second stay in a hospital bed, she was again unable to walk, though just able to stand.
She was visited daily by different members of her family, but despite Lin’s best efforts at pressing the care home, especially the visiting physio, her mum remained confined to her bed with, now and then, time in a wheelchair in the lounge or dining room. She’d forgotten how walking worked. Her mind intact - she read, sang, did puzzles, watched TV and chatted to her nurses and visitors, planning, she’d repeat, to get back home which she believed was just outside her bedroom window. The home allowed Oscar dog to visit. He would jump on her bed and lick Dot’s face. As well as Lin and Amy and Richard and the great grandchildren, Dot’s niece Barbara with daughter Janice were regular visitors. I less so. Climate controlled, expensive, spotlessly clean, salubrious, quiet even muffled, with lot-bought neo-impressionist French landscape prints – poppies, contoured fields of perfect blue – hung along tope carpeted corridors lined with uncontroversial wallpaper, the place wreaked of my civilised abandonment, oozed rebuke for my selfishness.
At Sandwell General Dorothy had been catheterised - probably more to ease the work of her carers, than essential. Walking patients are at risk and hospitals fear litigation. At Lin’s request the catheter was removed, but Dot remained incontinent, her carers tending to her needs in bed. It was now that Dot began to speak of wanting not to have to wake up every morning. Prescribed antibiotics for a chest infection, she would appear to swallow her pills. Lin would find tablets secreted among her mum’s sheets.
“I don’t need them” Dot would repeat.
Lin and I brought her to our daughter’s home over Christmas. Asked after lunch what she wanted for a present Dot muttered, with a wan smile, “Knock me off”.
Dot and her great grand-daughter out for a meal

In November 2017, after she had been there 17 months, a meeting was held at the care home. Linda and I were in Ano Korakiana. As anticipated, the review was to decide whether Staffordshire NHS Trust could continue to pay for care, or whether this should be handled by Staffordshire County Council’s Social Services, who would seek funding from the family. Our daughter, was at the meeting, attended by an NHS manager and nurses who looked after Dot. Later Amy phoned her mum. The NHS, as Lin expected, would no longer pay for Dot’s care. The decision would be rubber-stamped in January 2018. Dot’s future care could be paid out of her inheritance, such as it is, or Lin, on her mum’s behalf, must make ‘alternative arrangements’.
“I can build ramps” I said
“Yes” said Lin “and we can clear the sitting room at our house, put in a bed and all that’s needed, and have a visiting and occasional llve-in carer service.”
Dot can hardly stand, let alone get about, but she could at first be gently moved from bed to wheelchair and from wheelchair to car and back.

She could feed herself but her care must involve washing and therapy to deal with the risk of sores from spending so much time lying down, as well as 'going to the loo and all that'.
“But we would be handling the finance not a local authority”
Now should be payback for all the National Insurance Dot has paid through her long life, but what’s been paid out so far for her care in old age and disability, can no longer be paid, and the state wants to draw on her savings.
Dot seemed to be on the edge of a twilight zone; coming and going, rallying into occasional cheerfulness, collapsing into waxen grief. Arthur had now been gone over a year and a half. At the time she first went there, staff had her down in the admission paperwork for ‘End of Life Care’. Lin pointed out that that was not the case, that her mum might yet recover mobility and we could bring her to our house.
“I knew the NHS wouldn’t continue funding” said Lin, “Mum’s situation didn’t meet their criteria”
On 17th January our drawing room had become a bedroom for Dot with extra heating, a commode, TV and remote, a patient turner – a gadget that helps the bedridden to stand and transfer from bed to wheelchair and back, books. bedside light and over-bed table and a button that rings a buzzer in the kitchen next door. I had made a wooden porch ramp, enhanced by a short aluminium extension bought on eBay. I hung a ribbon notice over the front door ‘Welcome home, Dot'
Then Lin collected her mum, the care home nurses helping Dot from bed to car. Once home I helped lift her from the car, Dot reaching up to grip the top rim of the car door, then turning ever so carefully – "I’m worried I’ll take a tumble” -  until she could sit again in her unfolded wheelchair. The ramp was imperfect, but after testing with help from children, seemed good enough to wheel Dot into our house and up to our kitchen table.
“Cup of tea?”
"Yes please"

Over several weeks we formed a routine of movement between kitchen table – where we always eat and talk and work – and the sitting room made into a bedroom. Dot made small sighs, mumbling unconsciously and repeatedly to herself, which, when she dozed, became an iteration of the phrase “Help me, mummy. Help me, mummy. Help me, mummy...”
We would chat with her. I sat beside her recalling times around family photos in a pile of albums and from the computer.
“That was when we were on the beach in Brittany. Remember that time we lost Amy? She wasn’t lost, it was us losing her. There’s you and Arthur on a bench on a sunny day. Who’s that?”
Anse de Guillet, Brittany - June 2007

Dot was forgetting names, even mine. Later we got to joke about her absent mindedness.
“She’s always been daft” says Lin
“Who’s that Dot. That’s me! What’s my name?”
“Charlie” she says with a cheeky grin
“Who’s that then?” I ask, pointing at Richard who was visiting as he often does
“Don’t be silly, I know who that is. He’s my favourite”
“So what’s his name?”
“I know who he is”
“Tell us his name or I get out the electric cattle prod”
“Not telling you”
Later in the albums and on the computer I name people and places, hoping to help her fading memory. I think she knows, but she can’t always summon a name.
I read avidly 'Our Island Story' when I was 10. Now Dot enjoys reading it at our kitchen table

Irritated with her daughter for insisting she go out of the house to spend a couple of hours on two or three days a week at community centres Lin had found at Oscott and Great Barr, Dot, truculent, said she would be reporting her daughter to her “doctor friend”… “He used to be an ombudsman”
“What are you talking about, Mum?”
“Yes. He’s my friend. I’ll tell him”
We were looking at ramps on the internet. Discussing different types.
“You don’t need to bother with them” says Dot “I’ll be out of here next week. I’m going home”
“How, mum?”
“I’ll be off”
Every morning when Lin tends to her, assisted once a week by a visiting carer for a bed wash Dot says sorry for “being such a bother”... “I wish I wouldn’t wake up in the morning”
Registered with our local GP, her doctor said to Lin not to force Dot’s medicines on her – prescriptions for another chest infection.
“If she won’t take them, she won’t”
I was thinking of the Hippocratic oath; the part where a doctor swears they will ‘not strive officiously’ to keep a patient alive. Lin solves the problem of Dot disappearing her tablets by getting liquid antibiotics. I get a sense that such subterfuge would not be approved by the doctor, though the law and current rules forbid thinking, let along practising this way. Lin and I discuss this.
“Mum said to me this  morning, ‘I want to die. I want to be with my Arthur’ ”
“It’s no surprise, Lin. They were together for 70 years.”
Dot helps prepare Sunday lunch
When we do get Dot, laboriously, to one of the day care centres – at St Mark’s Community Hall, Oscott Community Centre - she enjoys herself. Eating at a shared table, having cups of tea, with others of the same age also disabled, doing light exercises in a circle of chairs, playing games including Bingo. The people there are kind and outgoing, both the carers and other old people. The cost is minuscule.
But our hopes of getting Dot on her feet again, with just the scrap of independence that would allow her to make it on her own between bedroom and kitchen to, perhaps, make a cup of tea or a sandwich, have dwindled. As she’s brought, laboriously, from car to chair and back, her legs have a life of their own, just functioning, with her grip on the car door to stand for a second as she turns from one seat to the other”
“I’d never have believed she could be so heavy” I said to Lin
“I know”
“She’s a beloved sack of potatoes. God help me from becoming like this’”
 “Top me if I do” says Lin “Mum wants to die. Nothing we do to entertain her is sufficient consolation to raise the will to walk. We’ve been to the markets, to the Chinese New Year Festival, out for meals…she almost begrudges our care, as I probably would.”
Oliver shows Dot pictures on the computer

When we take her out she can enjoy herself

Lin had worked to surround us with other help, two neighbours, one himself a carer for his brother with progressive MS, said they’d be happy to drop in to do errands if we should be away. The caring group Helping Hands sends the pleasantest young woman, who lives near us, to wash Dot and help Lin turn her in her bed. The district nurses visit – briskly. Once a GP came, when Dot was coughing badly. Paramedics followed at his request and whisked Dot to hospital in their ambulance. The paperwork that came back with her the next day defined her as being ‘unwell’.
“I’m not sure what that was about” said Lin.
If we were to be away she and a colleague will come in the morning and evening to get Dot up and put her to bed, wash and handle her incontinence, changing nappies, emptying the commode if it were used. We explored having a two-way camera at Dot’s bedside to have talk and vision from anywhere in the world.
When Dot developed a more serious chest infection we could no longer get her out of bed. Almost continuous the quiet chanting of ‘help me, mummy…let me go” and groans, almost of irritation, as though we are interfering, when we turn her to change a bed pad or draw her helpless body back up to her pillows.
The children visit as do Barbara and Janice. Oliver, nearly 6, came on Dot’s 94th birthday to present his great grandmother with a card he’d written himself. He made Dot laugh aloud, playing with a silly monkey programmed to chatter and, now and then, emit a mechanical raspberry.
Oliver brings a card for his great grandmother's 94th birthday

“She looks now and then at the tele’” said Lin “but it’s no more than moving wallpaper. She’s not reading now or doing puzzles, yet every now and then she’ll sing a song like she used to with the children, and she can still recite the ‘Wreck of the Hesperus’"

It was the schooner Hesperus, 
      That sailed the wintry sea; 
And the skipper had taken his little daughtèr, 
      To bear him company. 

Blue were her eyes as the fairy-flax, 
      Her cheeks like the dawn of day, 
And her bosom white as the hawthorn buds, 
      That ope in the month of May....

With Lin and I she runs through the story of young what’s his name - Albert - and the lion at Blackpool zoo ...
They didn’t think much to the Ocean:
The waves, they was fiddlin’ and small,
There was no wrecks and nobody drownded,
Fact, nothing to laugh at at all.

 “the stick with the horse’s head handle…and poked it in Wallace’s ear…you could tell lion didn’t like it, cos giving kind of a roll he pulled ... dum de dum …. and swallowed the little lad whole!’”
“I’ve made up my mind” says Lin one morning, a few days before the flight still not cancelled “I’m putting mum back in the care home. They’ve got a room. Three weeks respite. We’ll be in Greece when the family’s there over Easter. I’ve got a flight back on Ryanair for £14. You can stay on.”

After three weeks Lin flew back to England; a flight from Corfu at six in the morning.  We were at the airport at 4.30am. I waited a moment to check the flight was on time, then drove to the hire car compound, unloaded my folding bike and pedalled via back lanes, lit by my torch, towards the city.
Email 24th April: Dear Lin. Heard your plane arriving and I think I heard you leaving. I guess you’ll be touching down any moment in Birmingham
After dropping you off I couldn’t resist a cycle tour of the empty city. I left the car at the deserted compound and headed for SaRocco Square via dark back lanes, dogs barking now and then. Then along the Liston, down Theotoki to the harbour where a ferry was disgorging trucks - still dark. Then back up Theotoki to the bus station for coffee and croissant and wait for my bus. Two people - me and another - all the way to the village.
The 08.30 bus from the Green Bus terminal stays on the Paleo Road instead of turning right at Tsavros. Then opposite the Casa Lucia turn at Sgombu, it turns right and heads up past many narrows and tight squeezes past vans and trucks, past the Strapunto turn, past Luna D’Argento, into the village on the lower road before coming to our stop from the west. At 9.00 (timetabled arrival in AK) my bus was just passing Technomart at Gouvia! I walked in the morning heat up the path to 208. Cup of tea and sending this from Piatsa then a list of things to do….spray trees, prepare shutters for touching up, plant your cuttings….XXXXXXXXXXXXX  S
Our emails crossed on the day Lin arrived in Birmingham:
Lots to do here too. Sorted the post. I've won £25 on the premium bonds. I opened one of yours marked 'Important', but it was just a Temple Bar dividend notice (£5.25), so I need it for your tax return. The only interesting mail you've got is a largish, gold envelope - maybe a late birthday card? Just washed and disinfected the cat litter tray and swept up the litter round it. Shan't do much more today, 'cause I'm shattered. And cold! L x
On my own in the village
I have a list of jobs, starting with painting the shutters on three windows...the first batch have been sanded, filled where the sun's dried cracks, treated with preservative primer, undercoated and finished with Corfu green gloss.

While the family were here Oliver and I walked up one of the rough tracks from the sea to Ano Korakiana
Thanks to neighbour Thanassis Spingos, who runs the village website, for a photo of Oliver, holding my hand, as we walk behind Mayor Fokion during the Easter Monday procession around Ano Korakiana.

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