Friday, 24 July 2015

The heat is still on in Greece

In front rooms and in coffee bars, on sun loungers and all through the internet and the media, there is confusion and differences of opinion.

There are so many aspects to this crisis.

If I hear anyone nod sagely that the Greeks are at fault ‘because they are lazy’ I will personally insert an Olympic-sized discus up their rear end.

Read more on The Lady Shed, for which I'm writing today.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Kalimera Kerkyra - a return visit to Corfu

I turn my back for five minutes and find my husband in bed with another female.
Arty has climbed up onto the mattress and is having a cuddle, blatant in her enjoyment as she rolls over to have her tummy tickled.

She's not even allowed on the sofa, let alone the bed.

'Don't look at me like that,' Mr Grigg says. 'She's been so good on this trip, I couldn't refuse.'

We can see Corfu from the cabin windows.

Kalimera Kerkyra.
Someone is keen to get going.
We stop for a comfort break, have a quick paddle in the sea and then we're off, up the road, through the village with its single traffic light and down into the olive groves and up into the plateia.

We stop the car. Elvis, who runs the post office and who has this nickname for his unfailing ability to grab a microphone and croon whenever there is a panygyri, is sitting outside the shop. I wave that special Greek backhand wave and he smiles and says kalimera. And then he realises it is us, gets up and kisses my husband and me on both cheeks and is introduced to Artemis.

A woman in black waddles up the road and we give her a wave. She waves back, politely, and then the penny drops.

'Margarita, Andreas!' she says, as Mr Grigg walks up to greet her. There is much gabbling in Greek, Elvis pointing to Artemis and repeating her name several times and great, beaming smiles on our old friends' faces.

We sit in the plateia for iced coffee and more kisses and greetings. And then it's back to the house.
We were last here nine months ago. It feels like we've come home.
That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Monday, 20 July 2015

If music be the food of love...

'I've got a plan,' Mr Grigg says, when he gets back from walking Arty around the block while I work on my laptop to the beat of high-speed Italian internet on our way to Corfu.

I need some light relief. We've been driving through Europe in a heatwave these last few days. A heatwave, and with a hairy, panting dog in the back of the car.
This dog, which you would think was crossed with Muppet but is, in fact, pure pedigree, has coped well, especially in her cooling coat. Not so us, though, in traffic jams and searing heat in the busiest week we could ever have chosen in northern Europe.

'Everyone is going on their holidays,' our hostess explains, as we sign in to the latest overnight stop on our way to the ferry at Ancona.

'Anyway,' Mr Grigg says, as we bask in the cool of an air conditioned room. 'We're going to wash the dog, have a shower and then put her to bed. And then we're going out for a bite to eat and then we're cycling into town.'

I have reservations about the last part of the plan, ever since falling into a hedge late at night on a bike with no lights at Mapperton, the police close on my tail but, luckily for me, interested only in poachers.

'I haven't told you all of it,' Mr Grigg says. 'There's a band setting up in the park. Jazz funk, I think. We're going to have something to eat and then cycle there to see them perform.'

Great, I think, as I wobble on yet another bike with no lights, down unfamiliar pathways, the bike making the noise of a very loud dynamo but no illumination to guide me, only the shape of Mr Grigg in front saying: 'I just know you're going to love it.'

I curse myself being married to this epitome of bonhomie as I hit another pothole. It's tricky riding a bike in sandals and knickers not big enough to cover the whole of your bottom.

So I whinge and moan and so does the bike until we get to a small clearing in the middle of an unlit park. There are eighty people at the most, sitting around tables, drinking, listening and laughing. On a small stage, there is a nine-piece band, complete with horn section, fatback drums and a pinch of organ.
'You're going to love this,' Mr Grigg says. And the thing is, I absolutely do.

Here we are, sitting under an Italian oak tree, the glow of the Ferrera sky in the distance, listening to a funked up version of California Soul and then something by Earth Wind and Fire.
The band are called Les Maitres Chocolatiers and they're very good. The video is not great quality but you can picture the scene when you hear them play.

Last time we were in this city we accidentally chanced upon a flag throwing festival. That's the thing about travelling ad hoc. You never know what you might find.

Fingers crossed when we make our way over the Adriatic and then down to the Ionian. Our thoughts are still with Greece.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Saturday, 11 July 2015

Let's raise a glass of ouzo to Greece

As the future of Greece hangs on a souvlaki stick, I wonder how things will pan out.

So much has been said about this crisis, nothing I say will make any difference. I don't know much about economics but my heart tells me that the Greek people have been served a pretty raw deal over the years.

Corrupt politicians and irresponsible lenders have connived to make a complete pig's ear of the situation.

And while all this ridiculous posturing goes on in Northern Europe, ordinary people are suffering.

Some terrible stories have emerged as the arguments in the Eurozone rage on.

But I am a firm believer in the essential good of humanity. Take Thom Feeney's recent efforts. As I write, 106,713 euros have been raised by 5,325 people in four days through a crowd-funding initiative. When he set it up initially, more than 100,000 ordinary people from 182 countries raised almost €2 million for the people of Greece.

Says Thom: "This is a humanitarian crisis, not just an economic crisis and it's about bloody time someone did something."

You can read more about it - and pledge some cash - by following this link.

And a recent announcement on the Piraeus Bank website makes me want to go and hug those nice people in our branch in Corfu Town:

A Piraeus Bank initiative for the humanitarian crisis

Piraeus Bank has proceeded with the following actions for those eligible for Law 4320/2015:

  • 100% write-off of debts up to 20,000€ arising from all consumer loans and/or credit cards.
  • Mortgage payment freeze and interest write-off for as long as they meet the eligibility criteria of the Law.
I can't imagine any of our banks doing that. Perhaps Goldman Sachs could be persuaded to take a similarly humanitarian stance. You can read about the investment bank's involvement here.

The Greeks are the kindest, most genuine people I know. That generosity of spirit, that filoxenia; well, there are people elsewhere in Europe who could do with some of that.

I sense a real groundswell of warmth by ordinary British people towards the Greeks. But what can we do about the crisis? The best thing we can do as individuals is go to Greece on our holidays and enjoy the amazing, varied countryside, fantastic food and great people.
I'll raise a glass of ouzo to that.
That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Monday, 6 July 2015

The Last Battle on English Soil

Some 330 years ago, ancestors of mine were on a battlefield in Somerset, engaged in a hopeless fight. It became known as The Monmouth Rebellion.

At least five members of the Herring family (to whom I'm related on my father's side) from Pitminster, Somerset, were fighting for the Duke of Monmouth.

William Crabb, a 'gentleman from Ashill', from whom I'm directly descended on my mother's side, was also at Sedgemoor on 6 July 1685. It was the last battle on English soil.

It was an heroic but hopeless attempt to overthrow an unpopular king, the Duke's uncle, James II.

Monmouth, the oldest of King Charles II's illegitimate children, landed at Lyme Regis on 11 June 1685 with a party of eighty men. He gathered a significant proportion of the population of West Dorset, East Devon and Somerset along the way.

He was handsome, a proven hero on the battlefield and popular with Westcountry folk who had met him on a charm offensive of the region a few years before. He was also a Protestant and seen by many who valued religious freedoms as a better prospect than the Catholic James II.

There were a few skirmishes along the way - one at Bridport where Edward Coker of Mapperton and Wadham Strangways were killed by Colonel Venner, who now has a bar named after him at The Bull Hotel. There was another near Ashill at Fights Ground, a field name  still in existence when my family farmed there in the early part of the 20th century.

Monmouth was 'crowned' at Taunton and defeated at Sedgemoor, near Bridgwater.

According to the Monmouth Rebellion historian, the late W Macdonald Wigfield, 'exactly how many took part will never be known: estimates of those who fought for Monmouth at Sedgemoor by those present vary between 3,200 and 7,000 and by that time, it must be assumed, some men who had joined the rebel army had already gone home.'

Whole villages were swept along by the prospect of change at the top. Some 56 men from Pitminster, 11 from Ashill, 18 from Donyatt, the Somerset village where I was born, and seven from Broadwindsor. The surnames to someone as local as me are very familiar: Stoodley, Billen, Symes, Quick, Gape and Bowditch.

Saddest of all, a black servant listed only as Aaron, 'Mr Palmer's man' of Bishop's Hull, near Taunton. (Film director Steve McQueen please take note).

Revenge on the rebels was swift and cruel. Imprisonment, transportation, execution. Others disappeared into the countryside, hidden by people sympathetic to the cause.

We can't be sure, but research by a branch of his family indicates my great-great-(lots of great)-grandfather, William Crabb, was hanged.

Of the Herring family, James was transported on the Constant Richard on November 12 to Jamaica and another, Thomas, was transported in the Indeavour from Bristol on October 20 to Nevis or St Kitts. I don't know what happened to the others.

Monmouth was declared a traitor, had no trial and was executed on 15 July at Tower Hill, London.

The Monmouth Rebellion is just a footnote in history but it's a big part of the Westcountry's story. It's part of my own heritage and in my blood. So one day I'm going to do more research and write about it. At the very least I shall be doing this walk.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Batten down those hatches, it's recycling day

It's blowing a hooley out there.  The wind is lashing against the windows and the dogs are play fighting in front of the Aga before...