Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Tales of the Olive'

Through the better part of the past twenty years I have been eating at local tavernas in any of which I have yet to have been served a bad meal.  This must add up to a total of thousands of meals and, inevitably, there were occasional elements of meals which have been less than first-class.  Overall though I stand by my initial claim that food served hereabouts is generally fresh, well-presented and full-flavoured.  Menus however are tediously uniform; the menu of one taverna offers very much the same fare as the next.

'Tales of the Olive', a small taverna on the square at Petalidi, Messinias, is a sanctury from this sea of uniformity.  Owner / chef Mr Panagiotis has obviosly been taught his trade way beyond the borders of Messinia; he is both expert at finding first-class ingredients for the dishes he prepares and at preparing and cooking them.

Last Sunday, in the company of four chums, I enjoyed there four hours of slow food at its very best.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Flying home

Thankfully the bitterly cold pedestrian journey from the Hotel to the terminal building at Cork Airport last Tuesday morning was but a short one.  Inside the building we passed uneventfully through to the aircraft in which we were to fly to London Gatwick.  At Gatwick I enjoyed a reasonable lunch in Wetherspoon’s before saying adieu for the time being to Lisi and negotiating the labyrinthine Temple of Mammon which Gatwick Airport has become to find my 12.40 Easyjet flight to Kalamata.
There was a delay to board the plane which was then further delayed because it had missed its ‘slot’; we were advised that our new take-off ‘slot’ would be an hour henceforth.  I had no sooner adjusted myself to this disappointing news than the captain was again speaking to his passengers; to tell us that the plane could go at once.  As we taxied out towards the runway hailstones were coating the wing beside my window.  Above the screaming of the jet engines I could clearly hear thunder and see lightning flashing against a blackening sky; a further announcement over the aircraft’s PA system advised yet a further delay to allow the storm to pass over.  Twenty minutes or so later the aircraft was again trundling towards the runway.  Within minutes we were airborne, climbing into clear blue sky, and leaving the dark storm clouds behind us.  The roar of the engines eased a little and plane seemed to be climbing more gently, as it heeled a little to change direction I was able to look down on the irregular patchwork of sunlit fields below.  Suddenly the aircraft momentarily shuddered as a deafening bang shot though it; the machine had suffered a lightning strike!  The captain was quick to confirm this and to reassure his passengers that his aircraft appeared to be none the worse for its experience.  He had been told however to wait while the boffins at the airline’s head-office analysed data being sent to them from the aircraft’s on-board computers.  While we waited I enjoyed an aerial tour of Sussex, Kent, Hampshire and the South Coast.  Eventually news came that we would be going back to Gatwick where the plane could be further inspected.  But to go back to Gatwick was not quite so simple; the aircraft had been refuelled at Gatwick and was now too heavy to land safely, only by burning-off several tons of fuel could the machine be made safe to land; this would take ‘about an hour’!
After landing smoothly the captain rather cheekily welcomed his passengers to Gatwick where the aircraft parked in a remote corner of the airfield to be crawled over by technicians and inspected by others high up on ‘Cherry-Picker’ platforms.  Inside the aircraft the crew worked hard to ease passenger frustration by dispensing snacks and complimentary beverages.  After another longish interval the plane was declared unfit to fly; another would be found and flown to Gatwick with a fresh crew.
The replacement aircraft took off from Gatwick.well into the evening. When when it landed at sometime after one o’clock local time, five hours or so late, the passengers gave the crew a spontaneous round of applause.
My journey home did not end at Kalamata Airport I had over an hour to drive until I would be able to put my head on a pillow.  At the Airport it had been raining heavily; in places the road I had to drive was flooded and it was very dark but during the entire drive I hardly saw another vehicle and there was no further rainfall.
It had been an interesting day, an unusual experience which, by and large, I had very much enjoyed.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Lough Hyne: A venerated, ancient place

The Holy Well of Skour
For a long, long time lands here, around Lough Hyne in Ireland, have been occupied by humankind.  For four-thousand years people have left behind them material evidence of their having lived, died, worked and worshipped their deities here.

Sitting in the bay window of this cottage close to the edge of the Lough, the notion of the Lough and its purlieu having been a sacred place since the beginning of time sits quite comfortably with me.  It is an elemental place; earth and water are apparent to all senses, air manifests itself in the strong westerly winds which shape the crowns of trees, winds which, during winter gales, blow some of the trees to the ground to provide fuel for the fires that have burnt in hearths of homes hereabouts for millennia.  The majority of the tangible evidence of human occupation bequeathed to us is connected with religion and religious ritual; standing stones, stone circles and wedge tombs, giving further credence to the idea of this area having a long sacred / spiritual history.

The Christians were here early in their western history, as early as the sixth century Christianity had become the dominant religion of Ireland but there must, I believe, have been an established ritual paradigm onto which the early christian proselytisers were able to impose their social designs.  Indeed, as recently as the lately passed eve of the first of May, the Celtic festival of Bealtaine, a Christian mass was held at the ‘Holy Well of Skour’.  The mass has been celebrated at the well for no more than the past fifty years; earlier it had been the termination of an annual pilgrimage.  I can but believe that this ‘Holy Well’, where life-giving water rose from the depths of the earth, would have been held sacred long before Christianity was imposed on the people here.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Hayward Brothers

Here in this West Cork cottage, The Gate Lodge, Lough Ine House, there is a victorian, cast-iron, spiral staircase. The lodge, I understand was built around 1830. It is quite possible therefore that the staircase is original. It was, I believe, assembled on site from a number of standard components bolted together to make an exceptionally strong and secure staircase; a victorian version of an IKEA flat-pack. There are twelve stair sections, each cast as a one-piece step and riser, on one side the risers slot into each other to make a strong central column. On their outsides the stair sections are bolted together by extensions of bannister supports eleven of which are identical, the twelfth, first step, support is more substantial and has slightly different decoration from the others. The top stair section has had an extra piece fitted to it; another standard section minus its riser, to make a top-of-stairs platform into which have been cast the words, “HAYWARD BROTHERS . UNION STREET . BOROUGH . LONDON”. 

From my late teenage years this South Bank area has been very well known to me. In those days, the 1960s, it was a maze narrow lanes and alleys between tall brick warehouses around cobbled yards, pockets of Dickensian London yet thriving along the Thames. To stroll the area was a delight to the olfactory senses; scented spice importers traded cheek by jowl with leather tanners, wine merchants with importers of exotic foods. My own interests in Bermondsey and the Borough in those days were the paper merchants (Business) and a particularly excellent old wine bar (Pleasure!) but Haywood Brothers must have, unknown to me, been trading, if not manufacturing, in Union Street.

I know they were there because, finding the name cast into the top step of the staircase here, I searched the internet for further information about the firm. I found, 'Faded London' a blog put together by an individual with an interest in the historical minutiae of London; cast iron coal-hole covers being one of his special fancies. According to 'Faded London' the Hayward Brothers established their iron founding business in 1783 as a diversification from their existing glass manufacturing concern. For the better part of the next two hundred years they flourished, becoming, among other things major manufacturers of coal-hole covers. Apparently the business ceased to trade during the 1970s; a victim perhaps of the Clean-Air Acts and a growing preference for central-heating.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Baltimore Fiddle Fair 2015

Since 1992 a fiddle fair has been held in Baltimore.  Folk musicians from all around the world gather here for a weekend of concerts, pub sessions, workshops and musical fellowship.  As well as a host of local irish musicians, this year performers from Canada, Finland, Sweden, Scotland and the USA have ben bookd to play at the festival.

Because it was taken was taken in very crowded bar into which westering sunlight, streaming through a widow opposite me, shone almost directly into my camera lens, the photograph is poor. 

Friday, May 8, 2015

Back in Ireland

After a rather hectic four days in the U.K. it felt good on Wednesday lunchtime to be landing at Cork Airport.  It felt even better to be driving the winding, undulating and leafy main road to Skibbereen.  The weather was typically Irish; grey skies weeping showers alternating with blue skies broken by brilliant white clouds between which burst shafts of bright sunlight.

“Lough Hine House Gate Lodge”, home for Lisi and I for the best part of the coming two weeks, a delightful small stone building, it was built into a steep cliff directly on the track which, borders the lough until it starts to rise up to The “Big House”.

On its ground floor the 18th century lodge has a single rectangular room with a central open fire and chimney, the rectangle extends into a semi-circular, five window bay.  A cast-iron spiral staircase rises to the first floor where there are two bedrooms both of which have doors into a single bathroom.  Incredibly the substantial and heavy staircase was cast by Hayward Brothers of Bermondsey, London, presumably cast largely in component parts which were subsequently assembled here in the cottage.

When we arrived I retrieved the key from below the stone beside the door where I had been told it would be and entered the cottage to find a log fire blazing brightly in the grate; a warm and welcoming start to our stay here.

Thursday dawned bright and sunny.  The cottage, blissfully, has neither internet connection nor, tucked as it is under a steep rocky cliff, has it a reliable cell-net telephone connection.  To access the internet we are obliged to visit one of the many local catering establishments where internet access is offered to customers.  Yesterday mid-morning, to catch up on our mail, we visited “Apple Betty’s” café in Skibbereen.  After shopping for a while for items missed during our initial stock-up the previous afternoon I drove to Baltimore where, in the warm sunshine outside “Bushe’s” pub, we lunched on crab sandwiches washed down with Guinness.  This leisurely sojourn we followed with afternoon-tea at the recently refurbished “West Cork Hotel” in Skibbereen.  Finally, back at the cottage, we stocked ourselves with logs from the ‘big house’ woodyard and strolled the woods which are presently a paradise of dappled green-tinted light on a patchwork of bluebell and primrose.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Winter Work

Summers here are long, hot and dry; fire is a constant concern.  Years ago, when the house and its surroundings were a working farm, grazing animals kept the woodland understorey clear. These days there are no grazing animals here; in order to protect the house, and ourselves, as much as possible from summer fire outbreaks we spend a good deal of our winter days cutting, clearing and burning on managed fires the saplings, dead plants and unwanted shrubs which are the dangerously flammable woodland understory.    As well as affording us some protection this pleasant, albeit physically taxing, work makes accessible an otherwise impenetrable wilderness, opening up new vistas and liberating previously hidden, handsome rocks and fine mature trees. The cleared paths and glades admit more light, delicious dappled sunlight, transforming a dark wilderness into something of a pleasant, cool and shady park. Added bonus returns for our work are the wild-flowers that spring from seeds which have lain dormant the soil, in some cases for decades. 
I am aware that we are interfering with nature but the interference is only temporary; nature will reclaim what is hers soon enough.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015


I woke this morning to a new age, one in which I am labeled a year older than I was when I woke yesterday.  Strangely I feel no different.  Yesterday was the seventy-first anniversary of my arrival on this planet.  I marked the occasion by driving into the Tagetos mountains to enjoy lunch with Lisi at the Touristico Hotel on the summit of the Kalamata to Sparta road.  For the last few Kilometres before reaching the hotel I was driving between piles of snow-ploughed snow on a slushy snow-dusted road.  The hotel car park was covered with ankle-deep snow; the dining room was chilly but we found reasonably warm comfort at a vacant table near to a roaring, open wood fire.  During lunch snow began to fall.  A recently arrived family party occupying an adjacent table took fright, re-cloaked, gloved, scarfed and left to seek safer accommodation lower down the mountain.  By the time we departed, our car had become covered with a blanket of snow under which a rough coating of ice had frozen over the windscreen.  It was with some trepidation that I drove away from the hotel along a steeply-descending snow-covered road but there was little traffic to concern me and after fifteen minutes of so of very slow going we safely reached clear tarmac.

Will I remember this birthday?  As I can remember nothing of the other seventy it is unlikely.  If memorable birthdays are important, the fifth of January is not the best of dates to be born; particularly when they fall on a Monday!

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Gathering firewood

For many years past, wood burnt on the stove that has kept us comfortably warm through the depths of winter has been olive wood we recover from a couple of the many olive groves on the hills behind our home.

The wood has to be earned.  Oil-olive harvesting practice here is one of simultaneously gathering olives and pruning trees.  The olives are carted off to be processed into oil; the prunings, mixture of leaves, twigs and branches, are left in the grove for subsequent clearing.  From the two groves in which we enjoy rights of common of estovers, in return for our clearing and burning the smaller material we gain all the pruned larger branches and logs.
There is some irony in that, this year during which we hope to leave here to relocate to Ireland, we may well bring home the largest haul of firewood we have ever known.