Sunday, 11 May 2014

Walking in the rain

"That's the most sinister olive"
It stood on its own in a meadow beside our path to Ipsos from Ano Korakiana
Pouring rain had set-in for the day.
Amy said “I’m walking with Oliver to Ipsos”
She and I have enjoyed walks since she was a baby.
“Can I come?”
“If you like”
Oliver’s in his raincoat. Amy and I have waterproof jackets. She carries a push chair down the rough narrow path to National Opposition Street, which runs three kilometres to the sea at Ipsos. We strolled eastwards along it until we came to Angeliki’s house, a kilometre outside the village.
“Shall we take the low road?” I said.

Just there, a concrete track leads down into the woods through olives and cypress, edged by brambles reaching out their salad tips, hollyoak and elder, vines, proliferating wild flowers and long grasses. We could have been walking in Scotland. So much fauna is the same, especially in the rain. Our route does the descent to sea level more swiftly than the metalled road hill from Agios Marcos, whose houses we glimpsed above us. Now and then the rain relented. But, even when it returned as we reached the estancias near Ipsos, it mattered little. Oliver enjoyed delaying us to stand and paw the puddles. Captive dogs barked furiously through the chicken wire of the small-holdings, where we glimpsed the heads of sheep and goats peering from their damp shelters.  I enjoyed imitating chickens and trying to gobble like the turkeys.

We came across an ostrich. I mistook it in the shade of dripping trees for a pile of brush. It unwound itself and came silently to inspect us; next, a damp pasture, shoulder high with greenery and yellow flowers, goats and their kids feeding beside a dry stone wall...
A meadow near Ipsos

...then up a small slope and round a bend between houses and we were on the Ipsos seafront edged by a glassy grey sea, with under a kilometre to Sally’s bar, where Guy met us with a load of wet things to get tumble dried at the local laundromat
*** *** ***

Lin and Amy collaborated hanging up the blue tarp we’d brought from England to shield us from rain falling through the planks of the timber balcony. They got me inserting eight cup-hooks in the beam that runs along the house side. The tarp was neatly stretched to these. The challenge; how without over tensioning it to suspend it at a gentle angle out from the house above the veranda so that rain falling through the balcony would not form pockets that would split the fabric, at the same time making it firm enough to hold steady when the wind blows strong. Makeshift guys were attached along with thin rope to give under-support.

“Later we can replace these with bungee cords and hooks, so it’s simpler to put up and take down”. They worked at it all morning under grey skies...

...left it hanging neatly before heading off to enjoy the north of the island and even find sun. Rain came sweeping over the village. The awning worked, coping with the weight of the small puddles that collected at the foot, maintaining a dry area in the veranda
“Mark one awning is good” I said
Abruptly, as we'd hoped but not expected, the rain and mist cleared. Our children and friends had found their way to a taverna at Palia Perithia. As they sat to eat at the first taverna on the left - Foros being closed for three days - the sun came out for the rest of the day.
What enjoyable events we managed to fit into the time our visitors were here!
The weather played with us and we with it. One moment the washing’s on the line to dry in early sun; but then grey cloulds gather and it rains and the washing’s bought swiftly inside to dry in front of the stove…
“A log-fire? In Greece at the end of April?”
“Yes indeed”

But a hope of warmth as the sun re-appears has us lifting the loaded clothes horse onto the balcony, not quite risking the clothes line again. Sure enough the rain returns and the clothes stay indoors to dry – slowly.
But we set out in the two cars – Liz, Matt and baby Sophia, Amy and Guy and small Oliver, and Lin and I. We find parking in town and walk to the Liston looking in shops, then head for Kanoni where a hundred feet above the sea we gaze out to Mouse island, Vlacherna Monastery and the airport runway.
At Kanoni

Voyage to Mouse Island

Oliver lands with mouse on Mouse Island
Liz, Matt, Sophia and small dog, on Pontikonisi


The boatman had taken us out to Pontikonisi - 'Mouse Island' for the wriggly white zig-zag ascent to the church on its summit that looks from the further shore like a tail to a mouse - the church - and left the small place to us, but for two yappy but friendly white dogs, one with a litter of pups behind the tiny counter of the small shop next to the church; a peacock perched on its porch. Returning we strolled on to Vlacherna. A cat carefully posed for us and other tourists.
At Vlacherna Monastery


A few days later, another walk on a sunnier day;
Liz, Amy, Lin and Oliver on Democracy Street

...we strolled down the west end of the village to the Sidari road, crossed over to the back road that wound upwards through woods and fields, past a smooth grazed meadow...

....beside oaks and olives and the wild flowers, now bright, welcoming bees.
Old friends - Liz and Amy - walk on ahead

I pushed Oliver and watched the beloved ones strolling ahead chattering – like the many walks we’ve taken in other lovely places, especially by the sparkling Farnack...
Liz by the Farnack in Strathnairn

by the ruffled sea of the Moray Firth...
Lulu by the Moray Firth

... and in Handsworth Park. Heaven must include walking. At the highest point we arrived where we could glimpse the two pronged outline of the old fort in the city glinting in the sun and the blue ribbon of the sea of Kerkyra running south toward hazy mainland mountains.
*** *** ***
Visiting the city again...
The car park next to the sea in Corfu Town

...we parked the cars, loaded push-chairs, split up and separately wandered the streets of the city meeting up for ice creams and heading back to the car park by the sea.
The Liston

It had rained all morning but now the sun showed. We sat on the quayside below Faliraki gazing at a tug nudging a rubble-filled barge into place at the end of the rough mole that will form the outer edge of a long-planned marina.
“Only a year ago” said Lin “there were high blocks of concrete all along here blocking the view. Three metres high! They were going to be part of a new marina. Loads of protests! Common sense prevailed”
“Where did all that concrete go?”
“Floated out to sea. Sunk in deep water, I suppose”
“Broken up too”
One of the two cruise liners for which the new harbour at Corfu is so perfect sounded a long bass siren to alert passengers to wander back on board from a day visit to the city.
Matt had been reassuring me that yet another day’s familiar mix of sun and rain – so unexpected after Easter and on the edge of May – afforded intriguing mixtures of cloudscape...
The view south from Ano Korakiana

...that “in many ways” made his views of Corfu more interesting than the unconditionally sunny days Lin and I had hoped for our dear guests. It was polite of him, but indeed he was right. The play of light on the sea, the ships, the buildings and the coast of Greece across the changing surface of the narrow sea that lapped placidly below our dangling feet gave us panoramas of altering colour and shadow.
The tug shunted back and forth for half an hour before the small crew aboard the barge were satisfied with its position. We sat and watched and chatted and joked about yelling “You don’t want to do it like that”.









As work continued on the mole, the cruise liner slipped elegantly from her berth into the channel between us and Vido. We tried to read her Russian name as she headed briefly south into deeper water. A small fish splashed as it jumped from the clear water of the harbour.
“Being chased by something larger, I expect”
Abruptly the barge’s position was right. A rumbling tumbling sound came to us across the silvery water. A mound of sandy rubble sank; the hull of the barge rose from the water.
“Look the barge has unfolded!” I shouted.
Unloading rubble in the Old Port

It had indeed split stem to stern port and starboard. We could see the dark wedges of its unfolding as it opened itself; its sides, from sea level, swinging out from the perpendicular. Rubble slid into the sea churning the calm. The tug headed off almost invisible behind its emptied charge whose hull slowly closed again. Once in the open sea beyond Vido, the liner had turned north to head through the Corfu Channel and into the Adriatic.

“Next stop Dubrovnik?”
Minutes later the waves of her wake and those from the precisely dumped gravel arrived - mildly larger ripples lapped our perch. We watched the liner's progress; her sunlit hull growing small against the greenery of the mainland shore, dappled with sunlight through shifting clouds - sometimes dazzling...

*** ***
Whether by bee or by hand or by self-pollination, there are signs of fruit - almost certainly orange - on our small recovered tree.


**** ****
Feeling ill emphasises age. Things ache. Joints hurt; stairs, especially holding a tray, become a nuisance; sluggishness is a predominant sensation – a hint of that point made in survival situations
“Don’t let yourself go to sleep”
 “I wonder how Oliver will be when he’s in his teens?”
 “Don’t know but you don’t have to worry. We’ll probably have snuffed it by then” says Lin from another room “I think we’re tired out after having the house full for ten days”
 “You may be. All that cooking! I was mostly just being entertained”
Perhaps so much joy has to be followed by lethargy-breeding anti-climax, especially as we spent so much time getting the house ready for the family.
 *** ***
I was listening weeks ago to a chat on Radio 4 about the calculation of longitude and recalled how long ago I’d sat in a rocky cockpit in the Atlantic taking noon sites while my crew recorded the time. On impulse I picked up the phone:
Dear Simon. So lovely to hear you on the phone and sorry had to rush off. Every other Friday morning we run a 'Have-a-go Shakespeare' session in the local Arts Centre, and although Phil had gone on ahead I realised I had the scripts in the car. Haven’t looked at your link yet, but looking forward so much to seeing it and hopefully you all up to all sorts. If you want to see what we get up then look at www.shakespearelink.co.uk, its still a bit under construction but gives you an idea! If I started to tell you would take an age. We're having a bit of a refit on Vickie our 22 - she's 50 years old and deserves it, tho’ she does seem to get smaller as we get creakier. Lovely that you sail in Greece, how restful without the tides. It would be great to see you sometime - I suppose you would never come West? Love to you and Lin and all you guys, and from Phil xx Sue 
Dear Sue. I enjoyed reading your account of creating a meadow. I must scythe it for you!
The even mead, that erst brought sweetly forth the freckled cowslip, burnet, and green clover, wanting the scythe, all uncorrected, rank.
I’ve an allotment which is teaching me the aptness of the ancient curse ‘In the sweat of thy face..." I wish we did have tides. They make it easier to get around when there’s no wind and cheaper when anti-fouling. We have a grandson – Oliver, coming up 2, and a grand-daughter due in July...That Lin and I would be living a good part of the year in a village on Corfu struggling to learn the language...It was an impulse, now 8 years past. We go to and fro. You and Phil seem to have brought pleasure and happiness and understanding to so many people. Lin and I and some neighbours have started up (or rather turned round from insolvency) a local caretaker service in Handsworth.
I’m a white van man with tough gloves and we do street litter clearing, gardening of street planters and helping vulnerable people clearing gardens and moving furniture. Sounds like a penance I know, but we’re almost enjoying ourselves making something work...I’ve always felt in touch via that shared adventure in the dawn of our lives. Don’t worry about writing unless time and the right moment allows. I rejoice that you and those around you are OK, loved and happy, and that you have always made your life an adventure. X Simon 

Dear Simon. You put it so wonderfully, that's what it was, a shared adventure in the dawn of our lives, and we are inextricably bound because of it, for always, life and death and everything. I'm so very glad that you and all yours are happy and loved too, and sailing and I fully expect adventuring too...Meanwhile xxx S
Young Tiger in Bequia 1966

Memories occupy more of my mental ramblings than when I was younger. Of course.
What I cannot find words to explain is the glaze that seems to lie over those ancient experiences. Wordsworth wrote of infant sensations being bathed in celestial light. He was referring to the earliest recollections, of infancy; Proust pursued the spoors of his childhood; Eliot, the simultaneity of time past and time present. It’s a near unshareable subjectivity. But when I recall sitting at the tiller sailing gently eastward on a warm Mediterranean night - sailing towards Greece - bright with moon light sparkling small waves – the attempt at capture, as with a thousand other memories, sends the sensation into hiding. It’s the same with charts – the old ones that were normal until the 1970s; with hachures, used with the relevant Admiralty Pilot with silhouettes of coast lines and their features – for compass-bearing navigation; the throat constricting excitement - in a city chart-dealer on a grey winter day - of buying charts of distant places with foreign names where I planned to voyage. Those are a tiny sample. I was a child in my experiences until my 20s. The intervening half-century, full of the earthy shortening of expectations; earning a living, full of wholly different achievements according to standards that would have seemed disconcertingly banal – things that other people did, people I saw askance with a mix of pity, even contempt; striving for financially security, paying for a house, doing solid work for a salary, making a marriage permanent, planning licensed holidays of unfamiliar brevity. It was late that I adjusted to taking small pride in the grind. Now I respect and admire others who live in the 'light of common day’. Perhaps that adjustment explains the tingling sparkle of the memory of these early experiences - viewed through a distorting glass of a shifted consciousness; one that long ago would have seen my present as a failure to live anything but ordinariness. It’s not that I’m reading time-travelled postcards to myself saying ‘wish you were here’. I was undoubtedly enchanted, entranced; inside a waking dream. Yet at the time I am sure I would have been thinking not about the magic I think that I'm remembering, but about the duration of my watch and when I’d get to have a mug of tea and turn in as Chris, my skipper, took over, and where these charts and in what order they should be filed. Perhaps the part of my brain set aside for sorting my life’s plot was storing future delight
‘This will give you pleasure in old age. Now and at the time of your dying, that you had so much happiness and adventure to set you going.’
Agni in Corfu - we arrived in Summer Song


From the balcony at dawn yesterday (photo: Linda Baddeley)
Cycling up to the village
Talking breeze
With family at Strapunto

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