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Tuesday, 26 May 2015


“I’ve just had a woman complain my compost is full of worms! She was all the way down towards Benitses. Asked me all sorts of details about the compost and then ordered one bag. I delivered it. Next thing I heard, she’d warned another customer not to buy the compost…”
“Because it was full of worms” we chorused.
“The worms for goodness sake show it’s not manure any more..that the compost is well on its way to being humus. I know, Mark, because when I handle it, there’s no discernible smell, it crumbles and mixes nicely with our present soil. It’s darker than the compost we’ve made with kitchen waste and green stuff from the garden.”
Fortunately the women complained to a another Greek who explained the function of earthworms to her”
I keep turning over in my head thoughts about the earth on our allotment in Handsworth. I’d been warned on Day One – back in June 2010 – when I, at last, signed up for a plot, full of excitement, and delight, that the one we wanted was available.
Plot 14 on the Victoria Jubilee Allotments
I’d been warned there was clay just below the surface; that the ground was full of large stones; that it would drain badly because new poor quality topsoil had been spread over earth compacted by the works vehicles used in building the neighbouring houses that had come with the S106A that had delivered the allotments to Birmingham City Council. The soul was also full of annual and, worse, perennial, weeds, mares-tail but especially couch grass whose rhizomes spread swiftly just below the surface of the soil leaching nutrients, spreading grass where it wasn't wanted. I knew all that. I've been dealing with the problem since – digging over and over, removing large stones, adding commercial compost, weeding constantly with the extra help of pegged down weed suppressing textile.
What I did not know, what I’ve just begun to understand is what good soil should be like; how it should be created; how maintained. It was not until I was pointed to the book I’ve mulling through for two months now, that I began to grasp the depth of my ignorance.
Gardener’s Earth it’s called by Stan Whitehead. Barry Luckhurst who knew and liked my stepfather’s programmes on TV, found me on Facebook, pointed me to this book; all the while mocking TV gardeners as entertainers feeding dreams rather than offering education.
The soil is a universe, alive, ever changing. It plays only a small part in the final success of what I grow – other factors being the plants or seeds I start with, the weather, insects and other predators, my skills in sowing and tending the growing plants. But that small percent on mainly the first seven inches of ground is a fascinating world, intriguing. Luckily Mark and I share this interest at the moment.
Greenery for our compost heap from Lin's gardening
Our compost heap - leaves, roots, vegetable peelings, egg shells, vacuum cleaner dust etc 

Our compost after just a few months

The composted manure we had from Mark

We’ve been discussing earth, manure, compost and humus, over drinks at Piatsa. How to get good tilth? He’s been digging into a couple of piles of three year rotted horse manure at Sally’s stables; distributing it via customers on the internet in 20kilo sacks of compost.
Organisms in the gut of the horse starts the decomposition as part of digestion. The process continues outside when dung meets air. When the manure has lain a while exposed to rain and sun, mixed with straw from the stables, worms start accelerating the composting, creating humus, that, spread on and mixed in with existing soil, enriches the earth, helping please the plants; creating conditions that enable other good things to happen in the soil.
Food for the soil rather than the plants
There’s far more to it.
I’m only starting to understand the subject, aware that good farmers, good gardeners, have known about the earth intuitively; learned it from parents, from direct experience, not books. The vital thing about compost is that, applied properly – there’s the rub, it can improve and maintain the soil. To understand that I have had to grasp what is meant by good soil, gardener’s earth; what is meant by both the composition and the structure of the soil, and how it is constantly changing and how what is needed to arrive at the best growing medium – good tilth - requires an understanding of the kind of soil I’ve started with.
Colloids are particles of earth which do not dissolve in water but form, depending on whether soil is more sandy, loamy or clay, varying sized clumps, giving the earth greater capacity to hold moisture and plant food. Soil forms into clumps – sticky or less sticky, hard, soft, soggy – depending on whether it’s predominately clay or, at the other end of a spectrum of types of soil, sandy. Each type of soil needs different treatment to create colloids and so approach the composition and structure that suits what I want to grow in it. Another phenomenon I’ve yet to understand is flocculation – a process by which added lime creates greater aeration within the earth.
Even if the ideal tilth is approximated, growing things, even when successful, changes that approximate ideal, demanding continued work to keep the soil fecund. Growing things in it makes earth more acid. The balance of alkalinity-acidity (pH value) has to be created, restored – constantly.

The soil must also have holes in it, space between the particles - aeration - allowing roots to spread and gain nourishment, and – amazing – allow, in many cases, the growth of a fungus that attaches itself to those roots – mycorrhiza, which grows on humus – and in a mysterious symbiosis enters the roots of the plant, becoming a partner that makes other nutrients in the soil more available to the plant.
How far this seems from paying over the counter at garden shops for fertilizers in sterilised sacks and boxes and bottles, containing, if you examine the labels, the key ingredients – nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus plus small trace elements known to be important...

...These things, writes Whitehead, feed the plant, not the soil. Better he suggests to create the conditions for these to develop and remain in the soil mingling with myriad millions of micro-organisms nurtured by well mixed-in compost. He understands the power of artificial fertilization and the need for it by farmers who need to make their living from the land in the market, but better, he argues, to fertilize the soil rather than what grows in it; better to work on the soil’s native fertility rather than use artificial fertilizers which may, in promoting growth in one season, exhaust the soil the next of its natural capacity to produce the commercial nutrients you’ve added. Once reliant on artificial fertilizers for the growth you expect and need, you, or the plants you want to grown, can be hooked on them. Whitehead’s no faddist. Artificial fertilizers used with discretion can be good so long as you know the principles at work and can make appropriate adjustments, rather than head towards total dependence on products you have to buy.
I can see why one may be tempted to buy nutrients. There’s an art to creating the conditions under which the nutrients needed by what you want to grow will occur naturally and in the right balance in the earth. That’s how far I’ve got. Knowing far more about my ignorance; knowing, as I did not a year ago, things I didn’t even know I didn’t know.
I am not that keen to return to Birmingham – too much work on the untidy house and its delinquent plumbing, but then there’s babysitting duties – the pleasures and frustrations - work with Handsworth Helping Hands, even some paid work teaching, the need to help edit the recovered ‘Out of Town’ episodes for broadcast on Big Centre TV, drafting an Aristeidis Metallinos catalogue, getting back to the defence of Black Patch Park, tidying our neglected garden and the allotment – from which I’m expecting a better crop than before, a prospect that excites me but also reminds me that I am about to move from being delighted at managing to grow things to growing them in the right amount and sequence for cooking and eating, as well as observing the rotation of crops needed to keep the soil working for me. I’m also hoping that I am getting closer to making my own compost instead of buying it in. I shall make a plan that shows each bed and keep notes - a growing diary, and a reminder of how little I still know but how much I’ve learned in four or so years.
*** *** ***
I had speculated that there’d come a day when the subversive row of punk would become nostalgic “sing along a’ Sid”. Last night was so. A taverna near Ipsos, old English folk, a couple of holiday grandchildren – hardly out of toddling – pogoing round the pool at Dominoes to the harsh tones of punk tribute – a fiftieth birthday party and farewell to an ex-pat couple going home, a birthday cake iced in the Union stripes, “God Save The Queen”.
God save the queen
The fascist regime
They made you a moron
Potential H-bomb
God save the queen
She ain't no human being
There is no future
In England's dreaming
Don't be told what you want
Don't be told what you need
There's no future, no future,
No future for you...
The hour and a half we stayed felt more exotic, than any Greek celebration. Stranger nation. Gnarled Brit men with shaven heads, tanned Anglo-Saxons, sun-dried ladies, having good fun, dancing and chanting to the frenetic noise of their youth.
“An ethnic event” I muttered to Paul “It’s strange”
I doubt it applied to these x-pats either - never scrapped into the wasteland of post-industrial meltdown; not tuned to the desolation that made this droning clamour literally the rage. Paul generous and innovative had added the punk group from Maidstone to his Agiotfest menu, where, their dutiful ill-manners earned the ‘mixed reception’ intended. Now at Dominoes Paul politely pogoed a few seconds. I imitated him.
“Don’t be ridiculous” said Lin.
Yes indeed. How could I, under my unshaven silver hair, in my white jacket, my white easycare M & S shirt, my clean jeans and brogues, have a hope of being a headbanger?

Sleaford Mods - now there's something that even resonates with me....'Teacher faces Porn Charges' ...vocalist Jason Williamson and musician Andrew Fearn...' of those non-existent old blokes you see from time to time..." "I'm just saying things should be in order"..."From the window there's a great view of hell"...

** *** ***
I am still aware how life and its meaning hang by threads. How the universe of all matters can implode in an instant. What bloody contingency makes of all hopes and plans. That fiery New England preacher, Cotton Mather, put the fear of eternal damnation into his rapt congregations, reminding them that below their feet, an inch beneath the unreliable floorboards on which they stood, burned the vivid flames of hell. One lapse, one wrong thought or action, the wood could crack and...
Well who believes all that stuff. A parent? A grandparent?
When she flew into Corfu at the beginning of May, Amy pointed to Oliver’s head, showing me a bruise he’d received just a few hours earlier…I at the airport or on my way, excited and joyful, to meet my beloveds, might instead have had a phone call…Later she wrote a letter to the airline:
Dear Ryanair Customer Services,
I am writing to bring to your attention a frightening and very worrying incident which occurred on Sunday 3rd May 2015, as I and my children were boarding Ryanair flight FR3854 from East Midlands to Corfu (Booking reference IDHIWB).
I was travelling with my three year old son and also my nine month old daughter, who I was carrying, along with the two bags containing items we needed during the flight.
As we got to about halfway up the metal steps to enter the plane, about six or seven feet above the ground, my three-year-old, Oliver, for whom both the handrails and the individual steps were very high, tripped and fell towards the left handrail.
There was nothing to stop Oliver going headfirst through the large gap between the steps and the handrail. The  top half of his body was already through the gap, before I just managed to grab the back of his clothing and pull him back under, thereby averting what would have been a serious, or possibly even fatal, fall to the tarmac below.
Another passenger, who was still on the tarmac, saw the fall and, assuming a fall was inevitable, had started to run to try and catch Oliver below the steps (though it was unlikely he would have got there in time, had the fall actually occurred). The accident was also witnessed by ground staff and other passengers.
During the incident Oliver sustained a nasty blow to the side of his head and departure of the flight was delayed by about ten minutes, while airport paramedics were called to the plane and examined the bruising and swelling to Oliver’s left cheekbone and the area around his left eye. Fortunately the injury was not serious and could be dealt with by applying a cold compress, and we were allowed to fly.
I would like to commend one of the Ryanair flight attendants, a red-haired lady, whose name I unfortunately didn’t note, who was very helpful and efficient in dealing with the situation after the accident occurred
Both Oliver and I obviously found this incident quite traumatic, but luckily no permanent damage was done. However, I think that Ryanair should take a serious look at the health and safety implications of the occurrence, in case of any similar accidents which may occur in the future, and which might end less happily.....

Thursday, 21 May 2015

"Back to reality"

Dassia beach ~ "Oliver! To make castles you must add water to your sand"

I mistook the old bloke with a flat cap, a fag in his mouth, shuffling by my borrowed chair in the airport car park, for a local.
"Are you waiting for a car?" he said
"Ah yes. Yianni told me he's just coming"
I glimpsed the wife with luggage ready. Yianni drove up, shook the old man's hand, patted his back, kissed his wife.
"Back to reality" I heard the man say.
Yianni saw them off; strolled over to deal with my paperwork; licence details.
"Hullo, Simon. How are you?"
"Not so good"
"Seeing off my family"
"Ah you will see them soon"

All that's true, so why do I feel the old sadness of separation in my stomach? It's unavoidable. Cole Porter ...'how strange the change from major to minor, every time we say goodbye?'
It matches the joy of arrival, smiles and laughs.

In one way I'll be glad to get back to just-us-two routines with time to make toast with butter and anchovy paste in the morning while Lin sleeps. Good too to take down that inconvenient safety gate at the top of the stairs, disposing of nappies and food strewn in bits on the floor - and cigarette butts; quiet in the house instead of ....
Bed invasion

....yelling, weeping, whinging, pattering feet and bumps on the ceiling and shrieks at Oliver's new invention - 'spiderdirt!'..which of course is everywhere, imagined and for real.

Hannah and Oliver with Amy

We've been together to Sidari, Kouloura, Kalami...

Palia Perithia, Ermones, Kanoni, Vlacherna, Sokraki...

...Dassia, the pool at Dominoes - still chilly - near Ipsos...

Kanoni where we watch the planes taking off and landing

...Gouvia, Faliraki, places in the delightful city, and at Piatsa in the village where the children are made much of and we watch people and cars and bikes go by. Oliver's been to the shop with me to buy bread. He can say "psomi", ''efxharisto"and "yasoo" and cope with being hugged by - to him - strangers. Oliver and Guy came with me to Pirate Island in the boat.
Last night - their last night - we had Mark and his parents for supper. Lin made two kinds of meat loaf with tasty tomato sauce, baked potatoes with butter, runner beans and carrots, and lots of bread before that to mop the mix of balsamic vinegar and olive oil that came with wide plates of tomatoes and mozzarella, like abstract patterns.
I imagine Oliver, especially, as a camera  '..with its shutter open, quite passive, recording, not thinking' starting an album that will last his life.
Faliraki below the city

*** ***
The day before they left my ache began, adding to the joyful taste of every moment. The still summer air within the shade of the cottage hallway was suffused with the unmistakable smell of a live brown trout just caught, held, to keep it pristine, in a small sheaf of fresh grass laid in Bignall's kreel. On such days as this when departures approaches the little dying comes in small sensations that touch every sense and cue timeless associations. What is beautiful in the day becomes even more beautiful.
This is when memories are made that last until old age, until death I suspect, hung in the memory gallery; sometimes still pictures, to be evoked by a smell, or hung in the hall of continuity open all day and night for life - awake and asleep - the palette of every sense, separate and together - the latter the mysterious ingredients of déjà vu.
At Emeral after taking the family to the airport

'The sea is calm tonight'

Innocent as artists but without the craft. Nothing is significant – expect food and love and attention – nothing is insignificant. Nought selected, everything relevant, all is fecund with intimations. Later the children will select, learning the necessary understanding of common sight, which so few slough, to recover glimpses of celestial light, dreams that recur, gloriously fresh.
The bridge over the brook at Ermones
*** *** ***
I had a frantic text from Winnie...

...the bees had caused her problems. She and Dennis had been stung; she twice. I phoned and emailed Gill, my neighbour apiarist. She said the bees population was expanding beyond the hive on Plot 14. She halved the colony. That vexed the remaining bees, hence the text from Winnie. More phone calls. I told Winnie she must stay away from the allotment but she went back and called me again and sent me a clip from her phone...

"Winnie! They're swarming"
"They're dangerous"
"No not while they're swarming. It's OK but phone Gill now"
Later Gill told me that thanks to Winnie she'd caught the swarm and temporarily moved the colony.
"There should be an almost entirely new lot and I'll bring them back"
"I so hope so. I do not want to lose our bees"

Sunday, 17 May 2015

Sailing to Pirate Island

It wwould be a fabled island. Guy, Dave, Oliver and I set out in Summersong from her little home port of Ipsos; motoring without wind from the aquamarine shallows into the deeper blue of the Kerkyra Sea.

“See the engine?” said Dave
Oliver peered down on our engine under the first cabin step; made engine noises.
“Bob bob bob bob? Call it ‘Bob’’
“We’re going to Pirate Island” I said
Slowly the old boat headed south a little away from the coast, then further past Dassia Bay.
Water for Oliver, beer for the grown-ups and small croissants for everyone . The sandy pebbly shores passed slowly by and a small tree covered island appeared on the horizon
“There it is”

“Does he know what an island is?” said Dave
“I don’t know. But we can give Ollie some memories – for us; his innocence to make a different account of this melancholy place. Wouldn’t I prefer to set aside the arguments about what happened there; set aside in all its squalor. Wouldn’t I prefer my grandchildren to think of me living on Pirate Island - where we buried treasure; a cross or two pointing to the spot.”
We approached the island carefully; edged up to the ragged low jetty and took a line ashore; and headed inland.
“Ssssh watch out for pirates”

Under the shaded pines and through the ruined buildings where the pirates go.
"Could this be the place where the treasure was buried?"

"Hear their noise!"
"Ssssh they'll know we're here?"
'Back to the boat...Quick!"
In no time we'd returned aboard, cast off, and were heading home, Oliver at the tiller steering with the foresail up before a gentle breeze. Quiet. Ripples and small splashes against the hull.

Dave, Guy and Oliver sailing on Summersong

I found a souvenir - a thole-pin in a block of wood broken from the gunwale of one of the pirate's sally boats; rusted spiky nails sticking from it. Dave banged them flat against the stone work of the jetty. I drew out the pin and put it in the other way round.
"A boat!"
The boat I found on the island
In my childhood there was a lot of time without grown-ups. I don't recall missing them when I wandered in gardens. Perhaps they were there watching, but a lot of the time I think I got to be on my own. I have early memories of walking along the banks of the Itchen, peering into deeper fast running water, finding it and knowing it could end my existence. I don't recall being told the dangers. I just knew them. In London I was taking the bus and the tube on my own from 10 years old. When I learned to cycle - late at 10 years old - I roamed widely through narrow streets and across Hamstead Heath. We had horses. I rode out on my own. The countryside was my oyster. In later years I started sailing making my own adventures. My rules were strict; less for my safety than the strict duty to attend to the seaworthiness of my 'small ship'. I was never a fan of 'Swallows and Amazons'. Why read a grown-up's fantasy about the private adventures of childhood? How I have wanted my children to have their own adventures; suppressing anxiety, being what some would consider an irresponsible parent. I'm so glad they walk the city. Brought up in the inner-city; witnessing and judging its hazards; street-wise, but also country-wise, knowing stock, alert to the seldom-dangers, knowing the riskiest thing is to get near a cow and her calf. That they've cycled and walked in wild places on their own and walked the city at night; unfazed by rain and wind and the insanely exaggerated fears of 'stranger danger'. 

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

The boat

Guy's text from GB the other evening
*** ****

Euston Station December 2013
"I want a boat!” said Oliver
“You mean you’d like a boat”
“Yes! A boat!”
“Make him a boat, grandpa” says Amy
I glued and screwed together two pieces of moulding – useful bits kept in the apothiki; fashioned a bowsprit from another shape cut out of something else, added a deck house, and cut a piece of old broom handle for a funnel adding plus two paddle wheels cut from ply - the bolts fixed through the sides and riveted with the ball of my hammer to hold the nuts.
“It’s like that tug that’s towing the Fighting Temeraire
“Make it so it can be pulled along”
“Hm. OK. I’ve also got to check it floats the right way up”
“You only really needed to put a piece of dowling in a log”
"You mean I'm making it for me?"

"I'll show it to Oliver...
The family in the garden on Democracy Street

...and then we'll try it out on water"
Oliver's boat launched in the river that flows into the sea at Ermones

The water in the Ermones River is crystal clear. It runs, just a yard wide and two feet deep, into the surf on the shore. The little paddle steamer drifted into an eddy, under a footbridge, then caught the main flow which ran into the ripples of the collapsing waves of the cove. I was enjoying the voyage until the current sped up of a sudden and the boat was tumbling in the shallow surf, everyone laughing; Oliver crying out in alarm. I waded into the sea and caught the boat on a returning wave.

"She's fine. The bowsprit's cracked but I'll mend that tonight. I should have varnished her first but I couldn't wait"
Ermones bay

*** *** ***
The novel Suite Française exemplifies the sympathetic fallacy in reverse; perfidy, and violence in central France in the June of its third German invasion in a century. I had difficulty when on peaceful contented family holidays in Normandy and Brittany in the 1990s, imagining this green and pleasant countryside fouled by war - one in which my relatives, especially my dad, were to be at hazard two years later. In France in 1941 edging into 1942, Irène Némirovsky wrote the first parts of what she intended to have five parts – a book on the scale of Tolstoy’s War and Peace; avowedly achieving its timelessness. In July 1942 Némirovsky was arrested by the French police, handed over to the Occupying Germans; swiftly transported her to Auschwitz where. sick with typhus, she was killed on 17th August 1942, four and half months after I was born. Dolce and Storm - the first two parts of her work – published 62 years (translated into English in 2007) after her murder - describe people escaping from Paris in face of German invasion, and then, life in a French village in the south of the Occupied Zone where a German regiment is stationed for 3 months before being summoned away to fight in Russia.
‘Soon the road was empty. All that remained of the German Regiment was a little cloud of dust’…and that’s it; the separate characters in Dolce and Storm, yet to meet, in parts yet to be written, remain forever separate. Némirovsky wrote without knowing the outcome of the war or the possibility that the proclaimed 'Thousand-Year Reich' - Germania its capital - would soon fall. It's a truly unfinished work. After reading the ‘first’ 340 pages of what was intended to be a 1000 pages, I so desire to continue, yet suspect the vile circumstances that have deprived me of the symphony the author was planning, will ensure what survives endures in imagination. Suite Française is thus published in sublime and poignant draft. The author's notes show reworking was important. She had no time for it. An un-sanded unvarnished unframed sketch stands on its own even so, made memorable and poignant for being two out of five episodes. Unfinished paintings take me closer to the artist, notwithstanding the possibility the lack of finish is intended. One comment especially …
‘the book itself’ she writes in her planning notes for the whole ‘must give the impression of only being one episode … which is really what is happening in our times, as in all times of course.’ 
Ah yes …’as in all times of course’. We live not in beginnings, middles and ends but in episodes. Don’t I read books, for stories, with beginnings. middles and ends; even where there are formal episodes I want them to be chapters that start, continue and conclude a story. I don’t want to think - or perhaps I’m on to something I hadn’t properly considered - that enduring ‘soap operas’ – the Archers, Coronation Street, both going on around 60 years – are a closer representation of what happened; is happening. My life, anyone’s life, fits the notion of beginning, middle and end, a biography, but perhaps I should think instead of mine and the other lives that have crossed, are crossing and will cross mine as episodes. Beginnings. middles and ends, births, and deaths, are critical to biographies, but not in series, not in episodes, or not in the same way. They happen but they no longer define a plot or storyline...
**** ****
When we were first here, eight years ago, almost tasting the beauty of the place, we dismissed the smell as one that came from a soakaway, βόθρος - unused to new arrivals, or possibly to a predecessors’ habit of using bleach, and other chemicals that interrupt an efficient cess pit’s necessary chemistry – a hole in the ground that was once a well into which the water from domestic sinks, baths and WC flow and disperse into the surrounding ground – not a cesspool, a closed tank, that must be pumped out regularly. Inspections showed our cess-pit was invariably ‘sweet’. The wafts were from next door – miasmas drifting below our noses whether on the veranda, the garden, even our balcony ten feet above the neighbour’s garden. Like wind broken in company we’d collude in ignoring these smells, especially as on breezy days the worst dispersed. But amid our comfortable life we needed to deal with the bother of a problem that was technical and diplomatic.
“You’ll just have to have a word” said Lin this April. I looked up words in the English-Greek dictionary ‘smell’ ‘bad smell’ ‘cess-pit, ‘overflow’, ‘leak’….
Between our properties there’s a gully hardly 45cms wide and about 4 metres long, which carries grey water from our neighbour’s garden into a small culvert under our garden into waste ground. This gully is floored with an inch of concrete; carrying, as well as water, occasional plastic bags, cups and bottles that trap in a metal grid before, some of it slipping into our garden. We clear this now and then. Last year seeking the source of the cess pong, Lin sealed several small leaks coming through the concrete below the mouth of the gully. This caused leakage further up.

“Water finds ways” said Lin.
It became clear that under the narrow concrete of the gully was a thin layer of rubble and under that, earth – black soil, a capacious sponge containing all that leaked from the cess-pit. Any sealing we’d done so far, led to the cess working through the soil and trickling out of the wall higher up.
“Whatever we do” said Lin “we just drive the leak higher”
This month we tactfully approached Fote and showed him a ‘problema’. He pointed out he’d had the soak away pumped out two years ago. We remembered that but, ..."now the smell is as bad as ever”.
A few days later he attempted a bolder solution – applying a rough cement mixture that sat like a bank six inches high along the margins of the apothiki that stood on top of the soakaway where it backed onto our garden.
“It’s not working” said Lin one morning after “and look, he’s inserted a small length of hose pipe at the end of his bank of cement which is emptying into the culvert under our garden."
The smells hadn’t abated.
“We have to make a more thorough push on the problem” said Lin
Paul had told us about a product he used to seal leaks in swimming pools – Waterplug or Aquafix.
“It fills cracks even as water trickles out” he said
We realized our earlier efforts using quick drying cement applied during siesta when there was no waste water generated, were based on not understanding exactly where the liquid and accompanying smell started.
“First we block the leakage into our garden coming from the back of the apothiki.”
We had nine 45cms square floor tiles which, once the leaks had been sealed with aquafix, covered with cement containing Revenex – the local equivalent of pudlo – to make it water proof and then another large layer of mortar holding on each tile that sat neatly in a four inch concrete ledge. Nine tiles did this trick sealing small leaks and places where we might expect future leaks. Then came the tough bit - an incursion into our neighbour’s gully.
"Now for the gulley"

I removed the metal rubbish grid with help from the angle grinder, giving us access to one side of the apothiki. Once Fote’s work had been hacked back - not tricky as it was quite soft - the leak into the gully was apparent, flowing over a thin layer of cement into the soaking mud under the gully. I hacked out blackened muddy pieces of rubble.
“You’re just making it worse” cried Lin
“No I’m not”
I applied a hose pipe to the pool of black water that had seeped into the hole I’d made in the gully. Syphoning out the water revealed a lengthy seam in the side of the apothiki below the level of the gully. The water once syphoned swiftly refilled the messy hole I’d made in the gully
“I’m opening up the wound”
“No you’re making it far worse!”
“Watch” I said, having my doubts.
With my hands - rubber gloved - I reached into a horizontal hole that seemed hard enough on top but was edged below with muddy rubble. I pulled this out, widening the hole until I felt I had a base of sorts.
“The problem is that the main leak is below the edge of the gully”
Lin was sceptical. The smell was of course as bad as ever. The next morning I assembled lots of cardboard, soaked it and shoved it in to plastic bags. I then started shoving these into the hole to staunch the leak.
The gates of Hades

The hole’s appetite for filling was considerable. I pushed the bags in until my arm was in the hole above my elbow, packing in more bags filled the same way. I used a block of wood to press the filling into every part of the hole, banging it with the lump hammer until the hole seemed thoroughly blocked, the plastic just inside the hole quite hard, with room to apply cement on top.
For three days with the smell gone, we waited. Then yesterday evening Lin mixed up quick drying cement, after I'd levelled the gully again with rubble and started filling the hole in the cesspit and the depression in the gully with cement which seems to be setting despite the shade and a few showers of rain...

...and our incursion into the neighbours' space has gone unremarked.

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Simon Baddeley