The morning after the night before.

Κάλο μίνα! We have, thank goodness, got rid of January 2020. It was always going to be awful for those of us who have fought, tooth and nail, to remain in the EU and maintain our precious rights, but it was worse than feared in some respects, although better in others.

Thankfully, the last 3 1/2 years of worries about our status are over for many, though not for others. For pensioners, the biggest concerns have been about health care – would the S1 scheme, which allows us to use the health system in our host countries as if we were citizens of that country, be continued, or would we face the horrors of trying to obtain private health insurance; expensive for older people, and for the very old (or those with long term conditions) all but impossible. Now we know that the S1 scheme is to continue we can all breathe a very big sigh of relief. State pension uprating will carry on as well though, given the tiny annual increases, this was always less of an issue for most.

For younger people, though, the picture is nowhere near as good. Cross border working will be difficult, and freedom of movement has gone completely. Thanks to the racists and xenophobes, those British citizens who wish to move around Europe for work or to live in another country are going to find life a lot harder in the future, as will Europeans wishing to live and work in the UK. I dearly wish that I’d been able to apply for Greek citizenship. This country is now my home, and I feel I belong here; my language skills, however, will never (with the best will in the world) approach the required level, so I’m just grateful that I can stay here as a British immigrant – never, never an “ex-pat”.

Sitting here looking out at the classic Greek scene of a little church on a hill surrounded by olive trees, there is no way I can express how angry I am that we have been put through what we’ve had to endure during the last few years, and I will never, ever, forgive those responsible. The lives of around 5 million people (Europeans in the UK, and Brits in the EU) have been turned totally upside down to allow the politicians in the Tory party to try to stop fracture and to placate the fascists and populists who have wound up certain elements of the population. There is also the issue of who stands to gain, financially! I understand, full well, that many voted to leave for perfectly coherent reasons – the feeling of being left out/left behind being one. Sadly, I fear that those are the very people who will suffer when the trade talks inevitably turn out not to be as easy as Johnson is pretending. The EU will take a hard line, as it must, to protect the integrity of the Union, and Britain will be the loser.


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The saddest day.

In my former life, I was a serious singer. This is in my head all the time at the moment – I AM EUROPEAN, and whatever happens, politically, no-one is taking that away from me.

Ode to Joy

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From Greek crisis to British crisis

It is a long, long time since I last posted, and a lot has happened; much of it has made me sad, and I just haven’t had the urge to write at all. In my last post before this hiatus, I noted the “waiting for God” aspect of anticipating the next step in the Greek bailout saga. It seems as if we have, in a way, come full circle – we are now awaiting the deadline of Brexit – another national catastrophe about which we mere mortals can do nothing except live in hope that it won’t be as bad as we fear.

When the Greek people voted in a referendum to leave the Euro, there was outrage when the government ignored the vote, and submitted to the demands of the EU regarding loan repayments. The British government is now doing the same, in a roundabout way, it seems to me.

They say they are respecting the result of the referendum in taking Britain out of the EU. Nothing could be further from the truth, in reality. So many lies were told during the campaign by the leave side, and people voted accordingly. I’m certain that the remain side were not entirely trustworthy either, but their claims seem to have been more exaggeration than downright untruth. Since then, the negotiations have been undertaken in a less than serious fashion, it seems to me. There never was any real intention to make a good deal; too many people stand to make too much money from a hard Brexit, preferably with no deal at all. The EU will, of course, be said to be to blame.

Parliament has now been prorogued leaving no time for those opposed to a no deal to mount a substantial defence. The opposition parties have done sod all to oppose, properly, up to now. The Queen has been dragged into this political mess, and the country is in crisis.

For people like us, living in the EU with no certainty at all over our future, life is bleak indeed. We face the prospect of huge bills for health insurance (if we can get it at all) if no reciprocal deals are struck. In some countries UK citizens have difficulty getting residence permits (though thankfully the Greek government has so far been helpful in this regard). We exercised our rights as EU citizens to come and live in other EU countries, and those rights have been stripped away just so that the Tory party can keep itself intact in the face of far right parties encroaching on their turf.

I feel betrayed and abandoned by my country, and unbelievably angry.


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Meanwhile, in the asylum….

…we await the implementation of the latest tit-for-tat meetings between the Greek government and its creditors.

I think the last line says it all – €400 a month salaries; how on earth does anyone think people can survive on that? Yet, of course, they do, as this is better than no job at all, in a country with very little in the way of social security for the unemployed.

One of the key factors in the “upset” in the UK General Election was the suggestion that social care at home will be, in the future, be funded further by individuals than by the state; the elderly and sick who are able to be cared for at home (largely dementia patients not needing hospital care) would have to use a large proportion of their savings and the equity in their homes to pay for that care. Does this remind you of anywhere – Greece, say? I have a friend with a mother who has dementia. Mum is in her 80s, my friend in her 60s. ALL of her mother’s pension and a good part of her own goes to fund a part time carer, so that my friend can, at least, have a bit of a life. She is a tiny woman, and totally unable to lift her mother to provide “personal” care and get her out of/into bed, let alone prevent her causing harm when (not if) she gets violent. This sort of care should, at least in part, be funded by the state but no – in this country the families are expected to cope.

It is easy for westerners to “romanticise” the fact that families in southern European countries still look after their older members. If those older people are well, then it is fine – obviously, but where high levels of care are needed it is grim. British people are, rightly, proud of the NHS and the social security system. In a period when the population is aging rapidly it is obvious that there needs to be a big rethink about how resources are allocated – targeting those who are coping (just) is not, in my opinion, the way to go. What will happen when Brexit is “done” and all those European doctors and nurses feel so unwelcome in the UK that they return whence they came? When the NHS is, slowly but surely, privatised and only those who can afford it will get quality care? What then? What happens when more and more austerity makes the UK like Greece?? Take heed, look and learn from this country; British people are renowned for being stoical, phlegmatic and courageous. Those qualities are needed more than ever these days if the country is not to tear itself apart.

Meanwhile, those of us living in Europe, and Greeks, Poles, Hungarians et al living in the UK just watch and wait to see what rubbish will be thrown at us.



Community matters

Well, I was right about the rain – the day we had ordered water it was hissing down, but our “Water man” turned up more or less on time to check whether we still wanted some. “But it is raining – why do you need it?” For the house, and also because the ground in parts of our olive grove is so dry that whatever rain we get isn’t enough – it is like concrete! I gather, however, that the rain this winter has brought the reservoirs up to 65% capacity, which is a relief, but doesn’t let anyone off the hook when it comes to watering sensibly. We love our Water Man – he’s so helpful, and usually prompt. I just ring him, or go into his shop to tell him what we need and when, and it happens. Being part of a small community like this has great benefits – we’ve got to know whom to contact about all kinds of things and we get good service.

Earlier this week – a crisis – we got locked out. Something wrong with the lock on the front door and the key wouldn’t turn. Fortunately a window was open, so my husband climbed in (not without difficulty) and opened the door from inside. Bought a new lock and attempted to fit it. The old one wouldn’t budge. Eventually came out – new one in – didn’t work and wouldn’t come out. Trip into town to where we bought the lock – taken to a locksmith who came immediately and (with a certain amount of force) removed the old lock. Another trip into town for new inner and outer mechanisms – husband fitted it; now working fine. Cost for locksmith to come out straight away and do his work – €15.00! We love this – in the UK it would have been £50 call out and a long wait.

The flip side – the “Social Supermarket”/food bank put out an emergency appeal this week, as their shelves were empty. This is the side of the Greek crisis that doesn’t make the international press – people driven to the edge not even able to afford to donate small amounts of food. Thanks to the appeal there has been an upswell of support, and they now have enough food to last about a fortnight. It is up to all of us who can afford it to donate a bit more, and we have been able to do so this week. It was a wake up call which I’ve sent around to other English speakers, as many won’t read the Greek press. We must all do what we can.


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How the other half lives

Frankly, I’ve had enough of the world. Wherever I look these days there are people determined to make life difficult for others. If it isn’t the impact that Brexit will have upon people like us (and European immigrants in the UK) it is the petty minded individuals who do what they like and b****r everyone else. At times like this I fall back on my natural feeling that others are not to be trusted; the government (naturally) – all governments, actually, can be relied upon to act in a way which causes citizens despair, and people who were supposed to be friends just act in a totally selfish and self centered manner, abusing carefully built up trust along the way. To hell with the lot of them, say I.

Living here in the middle of our patch of greenery makes me feel that solitude is the only way of life for us, and we are very fortunate to be able to escape from other people. I remember only to well how difficult it could be living cheek by jowl with suburban neighbours with whom we didn’t always see eye to eye and I’m really thankful that we no longer have to do so.

We are now in the season of crossing fingers and hoping. The olive trees have been flowering fairly well, but it has been very hot the last few days, with a strong wind, so all we can do is hope that it hasn’t affected the fruiting. Next week the temperature is due to take a dive and rain is forecast – we will see!

I have plants ready to go into my veg patch, but am holding off if there is rain due, as that will be a better time to plant. We’ve ordered water for the olive trees on Thursday, so that’s when it will probably rain! I intend to buy tomato plants to put in pots for starters, so my seedlings will go in the ground later. The theory is that there will be a succession of fruits, but who knows whether or not it will work. I’ve already been pulling radishes and my cut and come again salad leaves will be ready in a week or so. I guess I need to sew more of those as well. These things have to be in pots, as the soil is so bad here, but it means I can easily cut/pull them as I need them. The potatoes should be ready in a couple of weeks more, hopefully – can’t wait for “proper” salad potatoes!


The way of the world

People are people the world over, right?

Well, yes, but the capacity to surprise/shock/upset never ceases to amaze me.

For instance – why is it that some people who, ostensibly, are committed to volunteering/helping a charitable organisation can be so foul to one another? Why does charitable work attract people who want to say “look at me – am I not wonderful helping the poor/disadvantaged/animals/whatever”. Why are they so competitive about it? The notion that one might just get on with volunteering without trying to get noticed or upset others is so strange to some that I really wonder why I bother. Charity work, to me, means just doing whatever is needed by that particular charity to the best of one’s ability and using whatever skills and talents are available. Is this so hard, really? I used to be employed (gainfully) by a small charity, and felt it really important to treat volunteers well; teamwork is a really important ethos in a world where no-one gets paid, so one member of a team upsetting several others can cause major difficulties. In the employment world, these matters are dealt with in a formal way (hopefully), but when everyone is a volunteer there is no mechanism to sort things out and it is, all too often, the case that those who have worked for many years in a particular role get walked over by those who think they can just take over, because they want to be “seen” to be involved – or, indeed, just because they want to do it, and to hell with everyone else.

Rant over – sore subject.

The sun has been shining on Greece the last few days; spring is here, though there is still a chill wind blowing, literally and metaphorically. There are more pension cuts on the way, apparently, and the annual tax free band is to be reduced, so people pay more tax – what with? The insanity of the Greek financial situation just deepens and makes less and less sense. How are people who earn less to be expected to pay more tax. I’ve read, today, that Greek household spending in supermarkets dropped by 13% in March, while inflation in the month reached 1.7%. This Easter’s feast looks as if it will be drastically reduced for many; the supermarkets have plenty of Easter “goodies” on sale, but I’m unsure how much is being bought. I suspect that there will be a big rush on Saturday to catch items marked down, because the shops will be shut on Sunday and Monday – I will be among the bargain hunters!


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Power to the people

Many of us in the “western” world take electricity for granted – it is just there, at the flick of a switch. However, in this country, we are rapidly beginning to understand the relationship which the less developed parts of the world have with it.

For starters – it is “normal” for us to have power cuts if the weather is bad. In many places in Greece, the power is transported on overhead lines; this is a mountainous country and it is totally impractical to install underground cables. We understand, therefore, that the weather can cause problems. In our local area, the engineers from the electricity company work wonders to restore power as fast as possible after there has been a cut. Even last winter, when storms went on for days, they were out there sorting out the lines.

What is “new” is the fact that, for many people now, cuts are nothing to do with the weather. The cost of electricity has risen hugely, as this article shows, and more and more are being cut off because they can’t pay their bills.

Every winter, more and more people are finding that their electricity bills are completely unaffordable. Central heating oil costs have risen sharply as well, so many have cut back on that as well. The “old” way of heating homes (wood burning stoves) is making a comeback, causing smog in the cities, as people burn anything they can find – not just seasoned olive logs, which is what we are fortunate enough to have for nothing.

Electricity charges here are on a sliding scale – the more you use the higher the charge per unit, and all the sundry charges are linked to consumption by a series of complicated multipliers. Summer isn’t any better than winter, as aircon use eats electricity. This has been a cold winter, especially in northern Greece, so there have been some frightening bills. Our own latest one was fairly scary, as I’ve been using the tumble dryer more, due to a cold, wet spell, and we use the aircon fan to distribute the heat from our wood burner better. I’m now reading the meter every week, to see just how much we are using and to try to find further ways to cut back, and keep below the threshold at which the price per unit goes up!

I’m now off to defrost the freezer to make sure that works efficiently.

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The sound of silence

Am I alone in wishing there was less noise in the world? Even living in this remote rural area I’m aware of man made noise, but it is (generally) tied to the rhythm of the seasons and is, thus, an “essential” part of life. In the winter, everywhere around there is the sound of olive picking – generators, and the electrically powered “sticks” which knock the olives from the trees. Now it is chainsaws, as all the farmers are pruning their trees and burning what is removed; on a still day I can hear the crackle of fires, as well as see the smoke.

In the early mornings, and early evenings there are only birds – wild and domesticated – and the local dogs. Night time has started to echo to the sound of frogs. In the summer there are cicadas – incredibly loud at times – during the day, but they fall silent at night. Someone once described them to me as the sound of summer – which is about right, as they only appear once the temperature goes above 30 degrees (C).

When we first saw this patch of land it was early summer, and the only noise we heard was the gentle hum of the bees, and birdsong. Coming from suburbia, we found it hard to believe how quiet it was – this was one of the things that “sold” it to us. As time has gone on it seems less quiet, but I think a lot of that is us becoming habituated to it rather than noise actually increasing; I’m also less tolerant of noise in general than I used to be.

How do we differentiate between necessary and unnecessary sounds? To me, natural sounds are fine – apart from the occasions when dogs just won’t stop barking; it doesn’t matter whether it is our own dogs or someone else’s! What is objectionable is the fact that wherever you go you are bombarded by background “music” and shopping counts as a trip to one of the outer circles of hell. Even our favourite local café is at it now – supposedly to create atmosphere. I can just about understand the need for it in the early evening, but why at 9 in the morning, when most of the customers just come in for a chat or to sit and watch the world go by. It is a disease that has spread far beyond the dreams of the marketing experts, who see it as a means to make people spend more money – apparently. Even a previous oasis of quiet like Marks and Spencer is at it. I was in a large M&S store last autumn, and couldn’t wait to get out so pervasive was the “music”. As for Christmas time…….even here in Crete the supermarkets succumb to the tacky carols, but at least much later than their British counterparts. Usually only a couple of weeks of it.

Commercial considerations aside, does anyone know why this has happened? Are we all so afraid of silence – that we might have to actually talk to one another, or, if alone, confront our own thoughts? I can fully understand the growth of the attraction of mindfulness and meditation, as an antidote to the stress of the world; I feel very strongly that constant noise is part of that stress and that we would all benefit from an escape from it from time to time, before it sends us all crazy! It is up to the individual to realise what is happening and act upon it, though; we can only control the noise in our own environment, so start there – just switch off occasionally and see how good it feels.


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Mutatis mutandis

..or things having been changed that needed changing!
Or, on the other hand, maybe not. I see that it is more than 2 years since I last posted here. This is partly because the situation in Greece seems to have changed very little, and I felt that I was in danger of repeating myself. There have also been personal reasons which left me feeling lacking in energy and unable to be creative. However, given the cataclysmic nature of the last couple of years it seems a good time to resurrect this page and talk some more about life, the universe etc…
One of the deeply worrying aspects of the Brexit debacle is the potential effect on people like us – foreigners in a foreign land. In this we are as one with the European citizens living in Britain, and we are all about to become “bargaining chips” to use the unpleasant phrase being bandied around in certain political circles. From young Greek people studying at British universities, to those of us of more mature years living here the potential impact is huge. We do not wish to go back to the UK – our home is here, but for many it will just become too expensive if the reciprocal health arrangements for pensioners cease. Greek students (and those from other countries) want to be able to continue their studies without worry, and choose to settle in the UK if they so wish. Many British institutions will suffer greatly if European citizens have to leave, not least the NHS.
All of this has been rehearsed ad nauseam in newspaper articles, websites, fora, blogs etc, but I get the feeling that for many of those writing this matter is of academic interest only. For those of us in the firing line it is much more worrying – we are PEOPLE, not statistics, and the sooner these matters are negotiated the better.

So Brexit is a change amid a situation here which hasn’t really changed at all. More talks, more panics, more requests for loans, more taxes, more cuts, just more of the same. Yes, more of the same and the Greek people are still surviving, despite the best efforts of some in the EU to push this nation under. They are surviving because they have no choice, of course, but also because there is something in this nation which just does not give in. Courage, bloodymindedness – call it what you will; there has to be a light at the end of the tunnel which isn’t an oncoming train! People who can share the little they have and laugh and dance even in these dark days have something special. They have survived the horrors of a shooting war, and are now dealing with the horrors of an economic war. One day, they will win. I just hope that those of us who love this country are able still to be here to share the victory with them.