Sunday, 18 October 2015

Love

Birmingham to Corfu - 1100 miles
Evening – less than two weeks ago - Lin and I drank red wine outside Piatsa, Lightning and thunder roamed back and forth behind Trompetta, now and then a forked flash lit the 100 yards of Democracy Street leading up to and past the bar. Lin wondered why planes didn’t get harmed by lightning and hoped the storm would have passed before the family arrived.
Stamati said “I am doing something new, Simon. Tomorrow I will have Wifi
“Oh no” said Lin “You’ll never get him out of here!”
When the rain came we went inside, to watch the last episodes of Boardwalk Empire. Earlier I’d glimpsed the lights of a plane descending below the high ground between us and the city.
After a light supper I phoned Amy.
“We’re just passing the Old Fort. We had to circle until the lighting moved on”
Around 11.30, an exciting bit on the film.
“I heard a car” said Lin. She went to the street-side balcony.
“Turn on the porch and veranda lights! Hurry up” she said stepping carefully but swiftly down our shadowed steps among wet leaves and up to the car stopped, doors open, on Democracy Street.
By the time I’d lit the house they were upon us – Oliver ahead, Amy holding Hannah and a suitcase, Lin with another suitcase. Guy off to park the car they’d picked up at the airport.
“Hullo Oliver. A kiss?” 
He kissed me. I hugged Amy. Kissed Hannah. Bags into the downstairs bedroom. Then chatting in the hallway and then all into the bedroom, Hannah in the cot we’d readied, bouncing with the suspended mobile turning slowly to her pleasure; suspended like me.
“There’s a cold beer waiting, Guy”
Lin made cheese and bacon toasties. We sat around the table in the dining room. 
“Let them cool down” she said to Oliver and to me before passing small sliced pieces to Hannah.
And Richard comes tomorrow.
“We’ll go down to their airport in the morning and pick him up” said Guy “We need to change the large car for two smaller”
**** ****
“Autumn has infiltrated summer!” I said to Vanley on the allotments on an afternoon in early September. Vine leaves were turning to red and yellow even as the black grapes sweetened. Dew was no longer dried off by mid-morning. South-west winds were sweeping a little more strongly across the Victoria Jubilee rousing the trees in Handsworth Park, especially the beech and lime overhanging an unworked corner of my neighbour’s plot. Leaves were starting to drop - to be collected for mould and, burned, for ash. In England September mirrors April with promises of the season to come; cruelties in April are solace in September, unless like us, flown 1100 miles south, we returned to summer in Greece to bring in sun-dried washing, wearing not even a sheet over us at night, nor even nightwear, swimming in sea only starting to cool after the blazing heat of June, July, and August.
With what attentiveness we both prepared the house for our guests, for Valerie come from late winter in New Zealand, then, in early October, the family, Amy, Guy, Oliver over three and Hannah just over one year. I check the diary for times and flight numbers, and, when we’re on Wifi, I review the weather forecasts for their time with us. Litter fallen and blown down the common path beside our house is bagged, weeds in cracks removed; greenery beside the track below the house is cut back; wisteria and the bougainvillea pruned with the extending loppers – then chopped up more to fill six big black plastic sacks with leafy thorned branches taken to the municipal wheelie bins on Democracy Street; our small plaka-ed garden is trimmed of brittled vine branches and heat-shrivelled grapes. I pull out overhanging Canna Lilies, cut back spiked lemon branches; sweeping dark withered lemon shells, leaves and twigs to blacken and rot on the compost. The plaka below the veranda, where, on arrival from England, we suspend a bright blue canvas to divert rain falling through the decking above, is washed and swept - several times; shutters are eased open, wiped – old webs vacuumed away; window ledges brushed and cleaned of dust; windows strenuously polished to remove a film of dried sandy rain. 
We are as assiduous indoors – every corner in all dimensions checked for ‘spider-dust’ (Oliver’s word), sucked away with apologies to spiders and harvesters; surfaces pursued with dusters and polished; carpets hung out and beaten from the balcony; tile and marble floors mopped – the bathroom cleaned on hands and knees, lavatory bowl scrubbed as far as a hand can reach (minimal use of bleach to spare the soakaway); sheets, pillow cases, quilt covers, and even a pillow, are washed and hung out to dry in warm wind and sun. Beds are moved so that occasional objects can be recovered and disposed of or restored to their places – screwed up tissues, parts of toys, a dusty bra slipped far under the bed. Stains on the floor missed a few months ago are wiped away. Toys, baby blankets and sheets brought out; a high chair and two cots unfolded, safety-gate secured between wall and newel post at the top of the stairs; an old cot side tied with reef knots to the banisters where, without it, a child could fall through; car seat brought out of storage; Oliver’s room made neat; loungers laid out on the large balcony, with tables and umbrella holders. A spare mattress is tugged from under a bed for Richard to sleep in part of the sitting room. Nooks and crannies under and behind large objects like the fridge freezer and stove are searched and cleared. Linda wonders about ways of disposing of a wasp nest entered via the eaves and sitting under the roof tiles above our bedroom. We hear their fanning at night – like heavy breathing, behind the tongue and groove over our heads.
“I can hear them eating the wood” she says.
From the balcony via a piece of fluepipe extended above us toward the nest’s entry we try spraying wasps with insecticide. Indoors the colony hums over an hour with rage and fear.
“We’ve just pissed them off”
“Leave them alone. They’ve not bothered us so far” I say
Having already done the same in our room after, several years ago, I was twice woken in the dark after being stung on the face, Lin satisfies herself that every crack and knothole in Oliver’s room, next to ours, is filled with silicone and flakes of polystyrene. The house is readied.
*** *** ***

Now winter’s coming here. Sokraki is in low cloud above Ano Korakiana. Sun beams angled through grey cloud decorate the sea with pools of silver. There's mist above and below us at sunrise.

They're gone - first Richard, who flew in for a week, a day after the others arrived; I dropped him at the airport on Thursday. We had two more days of children, until they too went on a Saturday morning. We left our two cars with the hire company by departures at Kapodistria. The family hugged and kissed me and strolled with their luggage into the busy concourse. I unfolded my bike and cycled into the city to catch a Green Bus home. Despite the timetable’s claim, none ran this Saturday to Ano Korakiana, so I took one to Paleokastritsa, getting down at Doctor’s Bridge. Twice the chain slipped off. My hands were oily easing it on again. I cycled most of the last two miles to the village, cheered up by several neighbours waving from their cars. I walked up the steep path to our quiet house.  
We were soon clearing beds, piling up washing for when the showers stopped; putting away toys.
“Did we waste any of that time with them?”
“We stayed up very late every morning” said Lin
“Yes but that was Guy and Amy’s holiday. Getting our help with the children too. And Richard did loads of good things during his week!...I miss all that noise…Well, I do and I don’t”
She nods.
“We had some good walks – down to Ipsos by back roads with Richard. After that meal at Strapunto, Amy and I walked back to the village in the dark. We’ve been out plenty and had good meals here. Been to Kanoni, to the city, had ice creams there and at Emeral, been to empty closed Sidari for swimming on ‘our’ beach. Did you see? Oliver’s no longer scared of seaweed. It’s pigeon panic now.”
“Except two days ago on Theotoki he started chasing pigeons”
“They all got bitten by mosquitos playing in the sand…paddling into the evening at Kontokali beach. Remember how hard the wind blew when we had giros and souvlaki by the shore by the Venetian Arsenal? We went up to Kaiser’s Throne...
Richard, Amy and Simon on the terrace of the Levant, Pelekas



...and had a very late lunch at Vasilik’s Akropolis at joined tables on a concrete roof above Pelekas. That time I was so grumpy about not going to have a picnic at Palia Sinies we ended up exploring the Byzantine fortress at Kassiopi...

We walked around the old walls of the castle

...which we’ve never seen…I didn’t realise just how large it was…a narrow path up from the harbour, with broken steps and rubble, up which we clambered, Guy carrying Hannah's push-chair, she held by Lin and I as we ascended. No signage, no tedious health and safety notices. I recounted, or rather invented for Oliver - several times on his constant demand 'Again!' -  stories about soldiers in the castle keeping barbaric mainland pirates away by giving them ‘ouchies’. Evenings at Piatsa. And…and…I love it that Oliver's learned the endless use of the word 'Why' ?" It reminded me of my Greek brother-in-law saying long ago  that sometimes, to that question, you must answer firmly 'Because I say so"; the more amusing because with a doctorate in philosophy that's the last question he would allow himself or credit from any other authority - his father excepted.
Hannah is a soldier in Ouchy Castle - Ollie's version of the great fortress

I had been feeling, all day and the evening before, a familiar ache in my stomach; one that comes with departures, heartache for what is no more than a temporary loss, but with the texture of mourning. Lin, who’s never believed in the chatting cure, is in a self-contained reverie, reading, snoozing and reading again, returning non-committal answers to my silence-filling “If you like” “Don’t mind”
“What’s that noise?” I say
“The fridge”
“Will you cut my hair?”
“It’s cold. Maybe in a moment”
“Would you like half a vegemite and cheese toastie?”
“No ta”
I loaded a batch of washing; hung it on the line. There was a listless breeze but enough sunny intervals for half of it to dry. The rest I put aside for hanging out tomorrow. Flies which assume the right to land on your face and body have replaced the bees of the summer. Rain has brought out mosquitoes in far greater numbers. My shirts are long sleeved. I’m wearing socks.

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