Wednesday, June 22, 2011


Once upon a time I bought a sweet little hardy geranium. A pretty thing in a tiny pot. It did look cute planted in the sunny  border at the front of the house alongside some furry Stachys and under the white Iris which grows so well there. I was a bit worried that it might be overwhelmed by both but no, it's held its own and as you can see the three plants are a pleasant combination in early summer.

I haven't a clue what its name is - the label disappeared long ago*. Unfortunate this, as the same label might have given me a clue about its ultimate size and habit. Three years after planting it I conclude that ruthlessness must be part of its genetic make-up. Titchy it may be but its size belies its audacity and aggressiveness. This geranium takes no prisoners, engulfing all before it. I am thinking it is the botanic equivalent of Hitler or Napoleon.

The pretty froth of delicate purple flowers atop a mound of mid-green leaves gives way to seed heads balanced on lanky straggling stems.  The minute seeds scatter with the slightest movement and wherever they fall they germinate. There are now geraniums spreading far across the garden. It is without doubt a successful plant - except when a plant is where you don't want it to be it becomes a weed.

I summoned up my own ruthless gene. I would hack back, cut down, pull up, cull and otherwise beat it into submission.....but when I looked out of the window Mr and Mrs Bullfinch (rare visitors in these parts) and their 4 newly fledged chicks were feasting on the seeds, hunkered down amongst those same straggly stems having the best picnic of their lives.

Can I take food out of the beaks of baby birds? Can I heck.

*PS If anyone knows its name I'd love to know.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Are we nearly there yet?

Are we nearly there yet?

Ye Gods! We've been there and have come back again. Incredible but true.

Where? Same old, same old - Paxos. South of Corfu. Ionian Sea. East of Italy, west of mainland Greece.

This one was a bit special though; in celebration of a Significant Birthday we tagged on 3 days sailing. The Glam Ass has had a long-held ambition to sail into the small harbour at Loggos. Over the years he  has sat on our terrace, or glass in hand at a taverna, and watched sailboats big and small sail in and sail out again. His wish to be on board was almost tangible.

A big birthday approaches and I know he would never have forgiven me if I threw a surprise party (we have a pact to never, ever do this to one another) and the question of how to mark it taxes my brain. A plan slowly evolves....a few days afloat could be easily arranged and this dream realised. We can do this. We will do this.......and before we knew it we are climbing aboard a 41ft yacht in Gouvia Marina in Corfu.

Let's gloss over the hell that is Manchester's Terminal 3, the necessary evil that is Easy Jet and the indulged and howling infant that made the first 40 minutes of our flight such purgatory.
Teleportation should be a research priority. Non?

We'll imagine we've been beamed down into sunny Corfu - which actually is enjoying a brief shower of rain as we step out of the taxi. Sigh. The boat is found, groceries bought and stowed. We make ourselves at home below decks.
I marvel at how many home comforts can be fitted into such a small space. (That's the same small place that is going to become very claustrophobic.) We have a double berth, wardrobes, our own shower and 'head' - that's boating speak for toilet. I am instructed in the art of flushing the said head, although pumping and draining would be a more accurate description of this process. I get the hang of it eventually. After 3 days.

The marina is ram-jam full of yachts and cruisers of all shapes and sizes - I'm in an alien world here which has its own language and looks incredibly complicated. Look at all those ropes for a start.

Here's the Glam Ass - on board at last.
No point in hanging about admiring the plumbing and the rigging - off we go. We head southwards along the coast of Corfu - seeing our eventual destination, Paxos, in the the far distance. We then turn east and over the Ionian to mainland Greece where will moor overnight at Plataria.

We had the most affable skipper - a Greek called Thomas. Over the next few days he tells us a little of his story - and it is an amazing one. A Paxiot, raised amongst his family's olive trees and lacking any sailing skills, he bought a small wooden boat advertised for sale in Athens. Somehow he managed to sail it home. Aged 28 he set off around the world in this same boat - a journey which took him to some of the most remote and exotic places imaginable. It would be 18 years before he set foot on Paxos again. He returned to take over the family house and land 8 years ago - joined by the woman who is now his wife and whom he had met firstly in Spain and then lived with in Brazil. That boat now stands on a trailer amongst his olive trees. It looks a small and fragile thing to take on the might of the oceans.

Here's breakfast on board/ The GA looks slightly more chilled:

Next stop Sivota:
...and Parga:

Ah, Parga. How many times have we sat in Paxos, looking across at the mainland at night seeing twinkling lights in the far distance? How many times have we wondered just what was it like over there? Well now we know. Unfortunately the place with the twinkling lights was not Parga but some other little community. We got it wrong. Parga was on the itinerary anyway. We concluded it was not worth the detour; two resort-y bays separated by an ancient Turkish fort on a steep hill and a cluster of souvenir shops, tavernas and restaurants. The marina was unwelcoming - we moored alongside a rusting, capsized ferry - and the trudge to buy some provisions took us along a neglected rubbish strewn track. Thomas would not leave the boat for fear we were robbed. But hey! Pull up the gangplank, crack open a beer and experiment with cooking in the galley.

Finally we head out across the Ionian again, leaving the mainland's dusty hillsides for the olive covered island of Paxos. A strong wind in the wrong direction brought us into Gaios by motor power - so that dream of coming into Loggos under sail has still not been realised.

A week on land followed - although my body seemed to think for several days that it was still at sea. Not an unpleasant sensation by any means. Just curious - as if the rhythm of the water had entered my soul. Sailing was OK, too much phaffing about for my liking. I'll settle for dry land.

Paxos remains as hospitable as ever; there's a quirky side to life but that's part of the charm. The hoik in the price of most things is less charming. So, so expensive. A 13% tax on food seems iniquitous. The 'Greek in the street' seems very angry indeed about the state of affairs and are quite clear about who and what is to blame.

We lounged in the sun. We walked and swam, ate and drank, recharged the batteries. Here's a miscellany of images from our travels:

And now we are home in the small mountain kingdom of Trelystan. The grass is knee high, weeds abound and whatever bit my arms while I gardened yesterday was twice as savage as anything I met in Greece. Otherwise everything is reassuringly the same.