Ain’t Nobody Here But Us Lemons

Ain’t Nobody Here But Us Lemons

I don’t wish to start moaning already, but… it’s a bit too hot. It’s only March and it’s 31 degrees. We moved from Worthing because it was too cold to cycle (yes, we’re pathetic) and now we’re thinking that it might be too hot to cycle. It’s beginning to sound like we’re looking for reasons not to cycle.

The whole experience so far has been utterly overwhelming. It’s just so perfect and beautiful; a proper country idyll. There’ll be bad days and worse days, I’m sure, but right now it’s like a very long held dream come true; something I wasn’t sure would ever come to fruition throughout the decades (yup, that long) that this lifestyle has been on the cards (spreadsheet). I won’t get too smooshy here, but this is all a pretty big deal. If you’re reading this and thinking you’d like to live differently, but are scared to take the step: take the step. Mostly this is all wonderful because we have a lemon tree.

Ain’t Nobody Here But Us Lemons - 01

The Algarve gets two crops of lemons a year because the climate is so warm for so long. These particular lemons are from the autumn batch last year and most were gathered from the ground, so are a bit old, but perfectly fine. The lemon tree is the paler green bush in the background, currently covered in blossom and green lemons. Hundreds of them, which will all be ready in the next few weeks. Lemon Armageddon. Lemageddon. Armalemon.

So, in the spirit of economy, good living and the utter joy of foraged food, we have eaten a lot of lemons in our first week here so as not to waste them. That is alongside three 200 miles round trip journeys to IKEA. That’s right, three visits to IKEA in one week. What fresh hell is this? In our defence, our doorways are both low and narrow and nothing but flatpack furniture will fit through them. We are in zero fear of burglars who will not be able to get anything out without first dismantling it, and no one in the history of the world thinks that would be worth a day of their life.

So, on the menu this week has been Lemon Chicken, lots of sparkling water drunk with, you guessed it, freshly squeezed lemon juice. I’ve also baked a Spanish Almond Torta, which is traditionally made using oranges; not this time.Served with Lemon Curd Ice Cream made from the Lemon Curd that I made with my… er… lemons. Lemon Curd Ice Cream is as good as it sounds and just requires Lemon Curd and whipped double cream chucked in the freezer, if you don’t have an ice cream maker.

As I still had around 30 odd lemons after all that lot of culinary creativity, my brother, Frank, reminded me about Preserved Lemons, which are a staple of Moroccan cuisine and have a very different lemony taste; the bitterness goes. They are pretty pricey in the UK and, as it turns out, pretty easy to make. I now have to wait four weeks before I can eat them, by which time there will be another 300 lemons ready for consumption. Ah well, no such thing as too much lemon cake. Here I am, looking proud with my jars of (free) Preserved Lemons.

Ain’t Nobody Here But Us Lemons - 04

Whilst making the house habitable, Keith has been banging his head. A lot. The doorways, as I said, are low and Keith is not. They are too low for me as well, but I don’t have to bend so far down and appear to have encompassed bending down into my general way of being whilst in the house and so far, I have not hit my head once. Keith probably does it at least once a day; a right hard thwack each time which has left him with lumps on his head and tears in his eyes, poor sausage. Apart from knocking through about 12 inches of stone which make up the walls of the house – interior and exterior – there’s not much we can do about the door heights, except…


A Post-It note Blu-taced next to every single doorway in the house. I somehow knew whilst I was packing for this trip that taking Post-It notes, marker pens and Blu-tac would be a good idea. Never leave home without stationery, I say.

The house next door to ours is a British owned holiday home and is empty most of the year (crazy fools). For the first time since we arrived, we saw a person in shorts getting debris out of the huge, turquoise, empty for most of the year swimming pool in the garden. We decided that this must be the owner and that we must be ‘sociable’. We spent about 20 minutes whispering,stressing, arguing and deliberating as to who was going to say what in way of an introduction to our neighbour. After approaching the adjoining wall in united and somewhat formal fashion and hailing the gentleman next door, we discovered that he was not in the slightest bit interested in making our acquaintance beyond a slightly confused and heavily accented hello… because he was the Portuguese pool guy and not our neighbour. Bollocks, we’ve got to go through all that again when the real neighbour arrives. The perils of sociability. It’d be easier just to ignore everyone and avoid the stress; but that pool next door is really rather lovely…

But it’s not all rural bliss in the country, I appear to be allergic to Portugal, or sun, or something. Since being here I’ve developed a lumpy rash all over my body, mouth ulcers, cold sore, streaming eyes and incessant sneezing. I’ve never suffered from hayfever or allergies of this nature, but it has been a while since I’ve been in the midst of quite so much nature. I’ve started eating a spoon of local flower honey every day to try and desensitize to the pollen and it seems to be working. A much greater risk to our new life is that we’ve also nearly run out of Tunnocks. Strangely enough, I’m not expecting much support or sympathy in our time of need here, guys. Guys?

Algarve Adventure Starts Here (after we politely ask the lizards to leave the bedroom)

Algarve Adventure Starts Here (after we politely ask the lizards to leave the bedroom)

Time to pick up the keys to our new little house in the Algarve. It feels like I’ve been counting down the days obsessively since we had our offer on it accepted on 23rd December, and that’s because I have. No, far more obsessively than that: tally charts, crossing off multiple calendars, writing the new total days in my diary every day and Tippexing the previous day’s count out, counting over and over again just in case I got it wrong and it wasn’t REALLY that long to wait. And now it’s here and it feels weird, extremely stressful, and weird. Keith will be here for most of the next 6 months, I will be to-ing and fro-ing to the UK to work in order to keep us in fava beans and piri piri chicken. We’ll see how that goes.

Algarve Adventure Starts Here - 01

We decided to drive to Portugal so that we could take plentiful supplies of muesli, Listerine and Johnson’s talc – all things which are widely available in Portugal, but things which Keith can’t live without (see: Bold Crystal Lily Rain thing), so no risk could be taken. Had we considered that the car would do somewhere in the region of half its normal fuel consumption due to the ridiculous amount of stuff we packed into it and on to it, perhaps we would have thought again. Added to that we also had to buy a roofrack to put the bench that someone (me) took a fancy to in a second hand shop and wrongly calculated that it would fit in the boot. Expensive bowl of porridge, that. The sensible bonus of taking our car is that we don’t have to pay for car hire over the expensive summer months – you can legally take a car to Europe from UK for 183 days each year (as long as your insurance and MOT is sorted).

Algarve Adventure Starts Here - 02

We caught the Plymouth-Santander ferry which is a 19 hour voyage of joy last travelled in reverse on our way back from last summer’s Channel to Spain bike ride. The onboard musak features low budget cover versions of familiar songs sung in such a way that they sound absolutely nothing like the original. It’s as though the vocalist was given the lyrics of a song completely unknown to them and asked to make up their own tune. The result is an interesting game of Name that Tune and a wonderment that anyone can destroy a perfectly good Hall and Oates song quite so magnificently. On the subject of music, you’ll be pleased to know that Sinitta is alive and well on Spanish radio.

Once in Santander its a 600 mile drive down to the Algarve. 600 claustrophobic miles sat in an overloaded car with a picnic box and a rucksack on my lap because the boot was full of Alpen and Marmite. The weather was interesting to say that least with a snowstorm and temperature of 0 degrees. In Spain. Bloody grateful not to be on a bike this time.

Followed 20 minutes later by:

I may have said before how much I really like kilometres. There are more of them, it’s true, but they pass so much more quickly than miles and are far more satisfying in terms of progress. We did more than a thousand of the buggers.

We spent the night in a hotel in Merida and went for a wander in the evening. I had never heard of the place but it has an incredible amount of Roman architecture all over the city. We had some food in a tapas bar and ordered various random unknown things from the Spanish menu which turned out to be clams and cuttlefish. Er, yum? I am one of those people who feels the need to at least make a dent in the food that is given to me, even if I really don’t like it. It’s a stupid trait considering I’ve paid for it, but that’s the way it is. Keith doesn’t feel any social requirement to not upset the chef, so my burden is not even shared. Let’s just say that I have committed the Spanish word for cuttlefish to memory so that I never make that mistake again. Not a patch on KFC.

On our way home we passed what can only be described as 40 people carrying a giant bed with some wrapped up statues on top accompanied by a brass marching band.

The quality of the photo is poor, but there are definitely 40 people walking extremely slowing under there. Makes my picnic box on the lap car experience comfortable by comparison. Don’t their heads hurt? Are the ones in the middle freaking out? Where are they going? So many questions and no answers. Much like life, eh?

Our past experience of stumbling across random festivals (the tuna stew competition in Castro Urdiales springs to mind, the ‘Let’s-dress-up-as-pirates-and almost-drown-swimming-across-the -bay’ in San Sebastian does too) says that this is standard fare for Spain, even at 9.30pm on a Monday evening in March. I presume this was some kind of practice for an Easter do of some religious nature but it might just be what the Meridians(from Merida?) do for fun. Next morning provided another opportunity for ‘Asians at Breakfast’ (last seen in Athens), which involves watching the coachload of middle aged Asian tourists navigate a European breakfast buffet. Today’s piece de resistance combo was bacon, egg and doughnut. There are Japanese people sitting in hotels in Tokyo at this moment crying with laughter at Europeans eating the Japanese food faux pas and mixing their bento with their sashmimi.

Back on the road and eventually arriving at Casa Torta, our house; which translates as ‘crooked’ or ‘cake’, so take your pick. Both fit pretty well given the predilections of the new residents and the height of the doorways. OK, so it was all we could afford. What’s a daily dose of mild concussion in exchange for a life in the sun.

Algarve Adventure Starts Here - 06

This is the view from our house once you have ducked down far enough to leave it.

It is the same view as from the much larger, luxurious and expensive villas which surround it. Our house is the slightly drunk, dishevelled uncle at a family gathering: seen better days, wonky and with an odd smell. But you love him all the more for it.

The house has been empty for many months – or so we thought. On opening up Keith’s old French house, we were frequently greeted by scorpions. Here, it’s lizards, big ones with suckers on their feet. Our new squatters. They are far, far more welcome than a scorpion, although that opinion is subject to change the night that one falls on my face from the ceiling. When we went to Santorini, we found that the lizards there were partial to cake, so maybe these are too.

First meal at our house. Too cold to eat outside really, hence the coat, but it’s not every day you move to Portugal.

Nice bench.

Keith Needham – Unexpected Eco-Warrior

Keith Needham – Unexpected Eco-Warrior



Give praise! The Malted Milk Crisis is over thanks to Algarve Iceland and our plans can continue, but they are €1, not the 23p that they cost in Aldi. Sacrifices will have to be made. Other ‘delicacies’ from home are available in Algarve Iceland to the expat or in-flexible holidaymaker: ‘I don’t care if we’re on holiday, Edna, I cannot go a whole week without a dumpling’.

On the subject of inflexible people; a miracle has occurred. Keith, it turns out is not only an eco-warrior of the first degree, he’s also a very flexible person. Now, I’m as surprised about both of this as the next bod, but thus is transpires. We went to see our new house (heart, heart, love, swoon) and meet the owner in order to bombard him with questions about the location of boreholes (free water), fruit trees (free food) and cesspits (free poo). This is our garden. Still superstitious about showing the house, but a view of the garden is OK. Our poo will emerge somewhere near the bottom of this photograph, which may explain the intense greenery. It doesn’t really emerge; it’s in a tank, only the filtered water does. It’s a tried and tested rural system.

Our grey water – the non-poo, shower/washing machine effluent – runs out into the garden. This is pretty standard in rural French/Spanish/Portuguese/etc. houses and is no surprise. In order to make sure that no nasty chemical shite pollutes our fruit-bearing garden (please may I show off our existing (and to be added to) fruit tree cornucopia? Thank you. Oranges, pomegranates, lemons, olives, almonds, nespera (loquats – plum/apple type thing) and… wait for it… grapefruits. When the seller said there was a grapefruit tree my little head did a quick data swipe and quickly considered whether grapefruits actually grew on trees, on the ground or underground. Stupid. We want to only use ecologicallly harmless cleaning and washing products – you know where this is going – Goodbye, Bold Crystal Lily thing washing powder (see post previous to this one: Algarve Malted Milk Crisis for context). As we drove away from the place and were discussing what products might be suitable, I tentatively suggested that the Bold would have to go. You know what he said: ‘Fine’. Just like that. No flapping, stamping his toe on the floor repeatedly, no grunting; nothing. As I said, my darling is a flexible eco-warrior. Who knew.

We’re staying at AH Villas (which stands for Algarve Holidays, I discover, not the sound you make when you wake up there in January, look out of the window and realise it’s sunny) outside Olhao, which is a fabulous town on the coast – more on Olhao in a later post. He’s a right chatterbox, the owner and a bit of a hoverer. It’s costing us £15 a night for a double room and massive carbohydrate filled breakfast – just don’t go near the orange ‘juice’ if you don’t want to glow in the dark. He does lunches and dinners for €4 and usually has something decent and fresh on offer. The other morning he asked if we’d like tuna steak for dinner that evening. Keith doesn’t do fish beyond a cod and chips, but in the spirit of his new adventurous self said he would give it a go (#proud). Evening came and fella invited him into the kitchen to see the fish (massive, plate size steaks), Keith came out, said he had smelled it and would be having chicken nuggets for dinner.

Keith Needham – Unexpected Eco-Warrior - 05

Keith also provided a full 5 day’s worth of entertainment for our host when he was offered a glass of medronho, a lethal, firewater of a drink, produced from the arbutus or strawberry tree only in one region of the Algarve where they grow wild. There are tourist versions of medrohno largely made from cheaper spirit and flavoured, as the real stuff is made in farmhouse stills and costs €25 a bottle. I’ve tried it before so said No, ta. Keith, you must remember is a puritanical thing with a little temple of a body, which has never smoked, taken an illicit substance and rarely drinks, falling asleep and uttering ‘Ooh, the room’s gone all spinny’ after one bottle of Crabbies Ginger Beer. He took a swig of this stuff, choked, spluttered went red in the face and by implication declared himself ‘not a man’ to all of Portugal. The Swedish woman on the next table happily sipped away, indicating her strong enjoyment of this paint stripper, but then she has probably been drinking vodka since she was a baby. Now, every morning at breakfast we can look forward to Keith being offered a tot of medronho in his coffee and being reminded that ‘the lady drank it’ whilst our host dries the tears of laughter from his eyes. To be fair, Keith does struggle to grow a moustache.

Keith Needham – Unexpected Eco-Warrior - 06

We’re a bit bemused that we seem to attract people who chatter incessantly, like really non-stop. Our Portuguese lawyer is one of those. We sat in his office for and hour and a half the other day whilst he told us his philosophy of life (children should have Mothers: see Ronaldo), if you have a child you live on forever (it felt like forever in that office and a long an convoluted story about his wife and how she got stuck in the middle of the Atlantic for 9 years. We were both sitting thinking that something had got lost in translation and conferred after the event, but nope, we both heard the same thing. After an hour and a half of doing no admin whatsoever, he said, right, that’s it, I’ll see you tomorrow. After careful observation, I’ve realised that the chattering is all Keith’s fault. He says that in order not to appear rude, and because he is unable to do normal conversation, he asks lots of questions, thereby giving the impression of a deep and genuine interest in the location of lawyer’s lost wives (he was on the phone to her about picking up the kids, so we assume she’s back and fine now), which encourages them to spout forth at length. I just sit silently, rudely, getting twitchy, kicking Keith’s foot and muttering ‘Get us out of here’ out of the side of my mouth.

Keith Needham – Unexpected Eco-Warrior - 07

Portuguese is known to be a tricky language to learn. There are some squiggles and some unusual pronunciations. The word ‘puxe’, pronounced ‘push’, actually means ‘pull’. If you ever see a Portuguese shop door and managed not to look a twat, you can thank me then. Keith is not a linguistic; English is a struggle for him (failed English O Level 5 times, never passed). I am a words person, I spoke full sentences by the age of 9 months according to my Mum and some would say I haven’t stopped since. Despite this, I have no skill, commitment or patience for grammar – I just want to communicate. We listened to a Portuguese language CD on the plane over and one hearing that not only is ‘a’ or ‘one’ gendered (as in many languages), but ‘two’ is as well. What? Not ‘three’ or beyond, just one or two, and of course this means knowing the gender of the word following. A thought passed unannounced through my head: ‘I just won’t bother with that bit’, which is hardly a good attitude to learning a language. I also read Ben and Louise Taylor’s book and accompanying blog, Moving To Portugal, which explains something that I have been doing for many years; they call it ‘The Fight’. This is where you begin an interaction with a foreign person in their language and they (realising that you are no native) reply in your language. The goal of the fight is to plough on in their language until one of you gives up and reverts to your own tongue. Given that the Algarve is full of foreigners and that Portuguese is difficult (I’m giving the lazy, disrespectful bastards some credit here), hardly anyone bothers to learn it. I have had two ‘fight’ experiences this trip. The first was in a coffee shop where I expertly ordered two coffees and two Pastel de Nata (custard tarts to you), the server said: ‘Do you speak English?’ and I said ‘Yes, but I’m trying to learn Portuguese (in English). He actually put his hand over his face in something probably like despair and continued in Portuguese at which point I had to say ‘Eh?’ because two coffees and two Natas is the full extent of my Portuguese vocabulary. His irritation may explain why he put them in the microwave and turned them into molten lava which blistered the top of our mouths. Note to self: must learn Portuguese for bastard.

We’re very much liking Portugal. Everyone seems pretty laid-back and friendly and very small. I’m not sure if this constitutes racial stereotyping but certainly appears to be on the whole a factual statement. I feel huge here, towering above people. This is also demonstrated in the low height of the doorways of our new house and others we viewed, which is an old traditional cottage and also in the size of my new favourite vehicle, the Piaggio Ape 50. It is based on a scooter and has handlebars rather than a steering wheel. It is not uncommon to see two Portuguese adults putting around in these. I’d really like one, but I’m not sure where I’d put my legs. Or Keith. I’d look like Enzo in The Big Blue emerging from his Fiat 500. Perhaps that’s the sacrifice for the over-priced Malted Milks: Keith has to run alongside. As it only has a 50cc engine, this is entirely plausible.

Keith Needham – Unexpected Eco-Warrior - 09

BTW Those lemons at the top of the page: they’re ours. I harvested (stole?) them from the not-quite-ours-yet lemon tree in our garden. They are probably the best lemons in the world. Or we are.

Algarve Malted Milk Crisis

Algarve Malted Milk Crisis




So, less than 36 hours after we departed from Greece, we find ourselves in Portugal. It’s all a bit much. We have no idea where we are, life has no structure and feels pretty surreal. Not expecting sympathy here, but it would be quite nice to be at home for a bit. Sadly, that’s not to be for me, as one day after we arrive home I’ll be off on the road for work for 3 days. At some point mental status quo will have to be re-established or something will go horribly wrong. But since we are here, I suppose we’ll have to struggle on. Pastel de Nata, dear? Oh go on, then.

We hadn’t planned to be here so soon, but things escalated on the house buying front and we were required to enter the infamous and terrifying world of Portuguese bureaucracy sooner than expected. All of the expat forums abound with tales of administrative indifference, confusion and downright bonkersness, so expectations are well and truly managed. We’re mostly hanging around Tavira, in the Eastern Algarve, which is the nearest town to our new house. Pictures of new house to follow when the deal is complete; superstitious? Maybe.

We decided to make the most of our time here, not spent with the lawyer and other official people, by undergoing reconnaissance about what foods we may struggle to find in Portugal, or which are extortionately expensive; there is quite a market for ‘British’ foods here, but they come at a premium.

Things that you cannot buy in Portugal (research gathered from visiting one supermarket, so may not be entirely accurate):

  • Bread flour
  • Yeast
  • Decaffeinated teabags in boxes any larger than 10.
  • Big tubs of plain yogurt
  • Malted milk biscuits
  • Bold Crystal Rain and White Lily Washing Powder

On the biscuit front, you can buy a considerable range of both ‘British’ varieties, such as the Digestive along with the Portuguese favourite; the Maria, which is a smaller version of the soggy, undippable for more than a nanosecond, and deeply unsatisfying Rich Tea. They sell them in huge packets and there are many varieties, but Portuguese people are not natural tea drinkers, so what are they doing with them? Who eats biscuits without an accompanying cup of tea? No one, that’s who. Or weird people. I’m not sure we want to live among people with such a different culture to our own; that sort of thing starts wars, you know. Keith starts his day with a Malted Milk; I’m not sure what he’s going to use instead. Cocaine?

The final item on the list: the Bold Crystal Rain and White Lily Washing Powder is more of a deal-breaker: it’s the only washing powder ‘flavour’ that Keith will use. It was a compromise that had to be made when we moved into together, which was tough for me, but sometimes in love and washing powder, someone has to take the hit and this time it was me. To quote the oft repeated words of the lovely Portuguese woman who patiently assisted us in opening our Portuguese bank account under the onslaught of my incessant questions issued forth before she had a minute to tell me herself: ‘I shall explain’:

I buy washing powder (and most things) on the basis of value; price and quality calculated in a non-existent algorithm (whilst searching for how to spell algorithm – I swear it was a ‘y’ – I discovered that the origin of the word comes from the name of the mathematician, Mohammed ibn-Musa al-Khwarizmi, who was part of the royal court in Baghdad in AD750. That is cool). It physically and mentally hurts me to pay more than necessary. My chest gets tight and I feel agitated. This is because it is simply illogical to do this. Totally illogical. Why would you pay more money for something when you can get an equally good, or better, product for less? Actually, now I’m sitting here thinking about it, it actually makes me angry. Anger, as we know, is reputed to come from fear, and I think the lack of sense about this frightens me because I don’t understand it, and therefore don’t understand the motivation of a person who would behave in this way, and therefore people are scary. And mad. The other side of this is that when I do find a bargain, I get a sense of euphoria, achievement and winning at life. Properly chuffed, like I am a clever bugger who cracked it. I’m just being honest with you here; judgement is not necessary.

Algarve Malted Milk Crisis

Now, Keith makes his consumer purchasing decisions based on other factors; cost does come into it and quality is important to him, but when selecting toiletries and household products, his No.1 criteria is smell. Seriously. Keith, and he won’t mind me telling you this (well, he might but he’s asleep so we’ll just go for it), is an excessive talcum powder user. He likes to douse his underparts and feet with the stuff on a daily basis, so much that if he sits down, he is know to leave an arse-shaped shroud of talc accompanied by a little cloud as its escapes through the fabric of his jeans. He only uses one brand of talc (Johnson’s Baby Powder). A few years ago, Johnson’s altered the formula of their talcum powder, which resulted in a change in the smell. I am confident in betting one of my kidneys (worth about 27p on the black market). Hang on, that would be funny if I got drugged and had a kidney stolen like in those tales you hear of that happening to people and then when they opened me up they found out that my kidneys look like this:

Algarve Malted Milk Crisis - 05

That might a stop to their illicit kidney-stealing shenanigans. And also shit them up a bit. The cysts are not just on the outside, they are all the way through, having taken over the tissue of the kidney in a kind of genetically mutated invasion. I think this means I am an X-Men; without my tweezers, Wolverine is only a week’s worth of chin-plucking away.

Anyway, I digress; back to the Johnson’s,as it were. I bet that the vast majority of the population did not notice that the smell of their talcum powder had altered, but Keith did. Keith could tell if I’d been smoking 48 hours after I’d had a cigarette despite numerous showers, teeth cleans and efforts to conceal my shady addiction. He was right, and I couldn’t handle it. Bastard. Keith smells all his food before eating it, he smells books, phones, boxes, wallets – pretty much anything you can think of. In autistic terms, it’s just utilising a different sensory sense to process your world: most people look or touch as their primary data gathering source; Keith smells.

So… the point of this lengthy explanation, is that Bold Crystal Rain and White Lily is very important to Keith and not easily substituted and hence when we go shopping and there is a phenomenally good deal on some other flavour I have to walk past it and buy the FULL PRICE Bold Crystal Lily and White Fucking Rain or whatever it’s called, reconfigure my screaming brain (‘Does not compute, does not compute, avert, avert’ etc.), and know that I am a good person. And know that being a good person is a ‘Good Thing’. Apparently. ‘Compromise’, I think they call it, or some other shit that means you don’t get your own way. He’s worth it; every penny of the money we have wasted on FULL price washing powder which might extend our working lives and force us to live in poverty… I’l stop now.

We’ll just have to sneak individual sachets into our Easyjet hand luggage (less than 100ml, officer) to meet my beloved’s washing powder ‘habit’, or pay €20 a box, if we can find it in the Iceland store which opened last year in the Algarve to supply the expats with all things Heinz. Love conquers all.

Relationship advice, anyone?

Olympic Dreams at Olympia: And the Crowd Went Wild

Olympic Dreams at Olympia: And the Crowd Went Wild

Olympic Dreams at Olympia And the Crowd Went Wild - 01

We had a day off from pruning and shovelling a few days ago and took ourselves off to Olympia, home of the Olymipic Games (same name: spooky). Keith was up for it and I was a bit ‘rocked out’ from all the stuff in Athens, but we went all the same – and it was quite astonishing.

Olympic Dreams at Olympia And the Crowd Went Wild - 02

I don’t really have access to the kind of clever descriptive words for this sort of thing and I’m not cultured enough to know much detail about history, but I read all the signs and walked all the way round, and even went to the museum, but then I got all ADHD kind of twitchy, overloaded with visually sensoryness and had to leave. But it was all quite incredible. It even made me come over all ‘Olympian’ (the camera is broken so we’ve only got Keith’s phone which is not great for zoom).

Olympic Dreams at Olympia And the Crowd Went Wild - 03


In fact, I used to do athletics when I was young and wasn’t too bad at it; this was in the 1980s when 5’10” was considered exceptionally tall, unlike these days when loads of young women are that height it seems. More protein; less Crispy Pancakes. In the 1980s, being 5’10” just meant that I had longer legs than anyone else and therefore could cover more ground than the others. I’m not convinced I was actually faster. I won my Athletics badge at Brownies by simply stepping over the bar set at the required height. I think it was supposed to be more of a challenge. I got to some County Finals kind of thing with running, nothing special. I had discovered boys, alcohol and a desperate need to be liked at about the time that I might have progressed to be a decent athlete. I told my daughter, Jess, this when she was 5 years old. Unfortunately, she got the wrong of the stick and went to school and told her teacher that I’d been in the Olympics. Well, we did tell Jess that her elderly Scottish teacher rode a motorbike and was often to be seen falling out of a pub (lies) so I supposed her sense of reality was a bit askew. I’d love to have been in the Olympics, but this is as close as I’ll ever get – although if I ever get to the point of needing a new kidney, there is the Transplant Games to aim for. I thought I’d make the most of it and enter the main arena to the roar of the crowd.

Olympic Dreams at Olympia And the Crowd Went Wild - 04

Not a soul. Not one. The tiny pinpoint at the end of the 218m track is me. At the other end, beyond Keith and the camera, is a slightly bemused and suspicious security guard wondering what the hell we were doing. You can’t even see me. It’s a tiny black dot in the centre of the photo at the very far end. Honest, I went all that way. It was a very evocative place, actually. You could imagine what it would be like with 45,000 in that arena.

Olympic Dreams at Olympia And the Crowd Went Wild - 05


The site of Olympia itself is just huge and every structure in it is just huge. The site was a sanctuary for the pursuit of religious and sporting activities from around 8 BC until around 4AD when some fella called Theodorius (or something) decided to ban all pagan sites and knocked the whole lot down. The Greeks have been trying to put it back together ever since.

Olympic Dreams at Olympia And the Crowd Went Wild - 06

All of the bronze statutes were melted and many of the marble frontages of the temples are gone, but a surprising amount remains and is in the museum in pretty good nick. It is incredible to imagine what it would have looked like with all the buildings intact and so very decorative and brightly coloured.

Olympic Dreams at Olympia And the Crowd Went Wild - 07

Olympic Dreams at Olympia And the Crowd Went Wild - 08

Olympic Dreams at Olympia And the Crowd Went Wild - 09

Olympic Dreams at Olympia And the Crowd Went Wild - 10

Anyway, it was good.

We left our work exchange today a couple of day earlier than planned, mainly because I have trapped a nerve in my back and am henceforth both in pain and useless. We changed our flights and headed off back through the mountains. Keith and Rod spent a long day yesterday laying a concrete base for a swimming pool and being the Chuckle Brothers in their matching boiler suits. Keith has been so relaxed and almost (dare I say it) like a normal person. It’s been great to see.

Olympic Dreams at Olympia And the Crowd Went Wild - 11

Olympic Dreams at Olympia And the Crowd Went Wild - 12

We really enjoyed our experience and were very fortunate to have hosts that we got on with and that were real genuinely nice people with an incredible interest in others and almost constant contact with their adult children back home. I have tried to contact my son, but his monosyllabic answers and bewilderment as to what I want, make these interactions largely painful for all concerned, so I just text him here and there to remind him I am still alive.

Olympic Dreams at Olympia And the Crowd Went Wild - 13

Olympic Dreams at Olympia And the Crowd Went Wild - 14

Olympic Dreams at Olympia And the Crowd Went Wild - 15

We couldn’t get a flight home for another day so had to be tourists again and find a hotel for the night en route to Athens. We found the Dias Hotel in Nafplio (£28 for double room including breakfast), a beautiful little town on the coast a couple of hours out of Athens. It was populated by well-dressed Greeks on this Sunday afternoon and is full of shops selling upmarket woven linen, honey and crafts.

Olympic Dreams at Olympia And the Crowd Went Wild - 16

Olympic Dreams at Olympia And the Crowd Went Wild - 17


There is a castle on the hill which we can see from our room and the place has a Venetian feel to it. I hobbled about in a pained and crooked fashion in the sunshine.

Olympic Dreams at Olympia And the Crowd Went Wild - 18

Olympic Dreams at Olympia And the Crowd Went Wild - 19


It’s January and there were three people swimming in the sea in just their trunks. They didn’t look Greek because the Greeks were wearing their coats indoors like sensible people. I’m putting money on this one being German. He had that look about him. Whilst he was in the sea in January in his pants. That look.

Our hotel receptionist told us she is off to London for a 5 day visit in February and grilled us with lots of questions about the Tube, Buckingham Palace and other obvious tourist sights. We told her it would be cold and probably rainy because we are purveyors of absolute truth. She asked how often it would rain. I said maybe 4 times a week, which I thought was breaking it to her gently and was also frankly a potential lie. Her eyes almost popped from her head at the concept of such a place. She was equally visibly dismayed that the temperature was unlikely to rise beyond 10 degrees C. I felt terribly responsible for the British weather and wanted it not to be so. It will be grey, wet cold and miserable. That’s why we’re in bloody Greece, love. She’ll have a great time. I told her to go to Brighton.

My back is so painful and my ability to walk is so limited that for the first time ever in my life, I have requested Special Assistance at the airport for the flight home. My fear now is that I’ll wake up completely fine tomorrow and look like a right malingerer. I’ll have to put on a limp.

So if you happen to see me doing skids in a wheelchair round Gatwick in the early hours of Tuesday morning, please remember that I could have been an Olympian and have some respect. And if you are in Gatwick in the early hours of Tuesday morning for Keith’s sake give us a lift home because I can’t carry my rucksack and we’ve got to get the train back to Worthing in order to be home for precisely 30 hours before we head back to Portugal to open a bank account in order to buy our new house. This life is getting absolutely bloody stupid.

To finish off this trip’s blog post, here is a photo of me that looks like I have an enormous penis. Yasos.

Olympic Dreams at Olympia And the Crowd Went Wild - 20

Olive Tree Pruner Extraordinaire

Olive Tree Pruner Extraordinaire

Olive Tree Pruner Extraordinaire - 01

We departed Gythio on a beautiful morning and Keith’s birthday. This, of course, warranted Keith to sing ‘Because I’m 46’ repeatedly to the tune of the recent Pharrell Williams smash hit, “Happy”. Pharrell Williams features in our lives a lot these days. I bought Keith a fridge magnet of Gythio, a spoon made out of olive wood and some Greek cakes for his birthday. I didn’t bring them from England with me, although that would have been an amazing coincidence if I had. This is the ‘music’ advertised by the hotel. It doesn’t work. I wonder what would have come out of it if it did. Probably not Pharrell Williams.

Olive Tree Pruner Extraordinaire - 02

Our journey to our work exchange hosts took us across the Mani Peninsula and up the coast. It was absolutely beautiful. I did many wees in many glorious locations.

Olive Tree Pruner Extraordinaire - 03


Olive Tree Pruner Extraordinaire - 04
Olive Tree Pruner Extraordinaire - 05
We stopped at Stoupa for a banana and opened the car door to the smell of olive oil. This is a little proper holiday resort, but pretty low key. The fruit and veg stall lady was English and so were her customers. All of the restaurant menus didn’t even bother having Greek versions; just English. The place was deserted today but I imagine it being different in the summer with all those Greeks not being able to understand what to order for their dinner. Nightmare.

Olive Tree Pruner Extraordinaire - 06

I am generally fascinated by people’s stories and life choices and wonder how the hell you end up selling fruit and veg in a Greek village. I suppose there are worse places to sell fruit and veg, like at a Pharrell Williams gig, perhaps. I’m just guessing here; there might be quite a market for it.

Olive Tree Pruner Extraordinaire - 07

The landscape along this part of Greece is completely unexpected. I thought it would be flat, scrubby with a goat or two. Not so. Look at this.

Olive Tree Pruner Extraordinaire - 08

Olive Tree Pruner Extraordinaire - 09

As it was Keith’s birthday, we really pushed the boat out and had a mountain top picnic of day old bread and cream cheese. We can’t believe our luck to be here doing this. Sorry, not ‘luck’: ‘meticulous planning’. Either way, it’s not a bad place to be 46. For 16 days each year Keith and I are the same age before I surge ahead a year and get to have a toyboy again while he gets a cougar. For the next 16 days, however we have to suffer being a weird sort of twins. Happens every year.

Olive Tree Pruner Extraordinaire - 10

Our home for the next 12 days is here, just outside the small fishing port of Kyparissia. There is blue sea on one side and high mountains behind. We’re staying with Rod and Bernadette, originally from the UK, who live here all year round. They rent out a cabin in their grounds to holiday guests and also take work exchange helpers like us to give them a hand with jobs around their home and land in exchange for accommodation and meals. These are organised through sites such as Workaway and HelpX where both hosts and helpers pay a subscription to belong to a database and find hosts/helpers all over the world. It is a brilliant system. Helpers review hosts (and vice versa) so it’s easy to see who is fair and good and who is a slave driver and makes you live on plastic cheese. Rod and Bernadette come with glowing reviews of terrible jokes (Rod) and fantastic cooking (Bernadette). It transpires that these reviews are entirely accurate in both cases.

This is not quite our first experience of this type of thing as we went WWOOFing a couple of years ago, but it is our first overseas adventure. Given our natural temperament (being highly intolerant of almost everyone on the planet), this is a stretch of our capabilities over a long period, but I figure it’s good for us to step out of our comfort zone and anyway, we need to learn some useful shit for our new house and land in Portugal.

The view from our room is not bad for a start. Sadly, with temperatures reaching – 3C, we’re not going anywhere near that pool this week.

Olive Tree Pruner Extraordinaire - 11
Olive Tree Pruner Extraordinaire - 12

Our first job for the first few days is to prune around 40 olive trees. This task has more responsibility than I would usually welcome, given that Rod and Bernadette’s entire annual olive oil supply rests on these trees. Fortunately, their knowledge of olive tree care is marginally smaller than mine – I have pruned Keith’s trees once in the past (this is not a euphemism) and have flicked through a book on the subject, therefore rendering me the resident ‘expert’.

Olive Tree Pruner Extraordinaire - 13

This photo is not posed at all. This is the required facial expression for olive pruning. I read it in a book.

Olive Tree Pruner Extraordinaire - 14

Olive pruning may not be everyone’s idea of fun, but these days up trees have been completely fabulous. I am definitely a person not designed to be indoors – fake lighting, heating and screens (TV, computer) just make me feel ill. Outdoors is where I need to be: no headache, no backache, not even needing to wear my tinted lenses for tics and light sensitivity. Burning calories, warding off high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke and dwindling kidneys. And we’re not even paying for the privilege (apart from the flight and a hire car), it’s costing us nothing: good food, amazing location and a lovely place to stay – and they let us piss about with their trees. What’s not to like?

Olive Tree Pruner Extraordinaire - 15

We have also been shovelling stones and mud and Keith has being more manly than at any other time in his life (this is not difficult as he’s been behind a computer and making tea for most of it). I am usually quite manly so not much change for me here. He is so happy. We’re so happy. It’s January and we’re outdoors all day in the (chilly) sunshine.

Bernadette stoking the fire burning all the olive prunings. This is properly ‘The Life’.

Olive Tree Pruner Extraordinaire - 16

So far so good with our work exchange. Extremely chuffed at our amazing ability to get on with people, even ones who tell terrible jokes. We’re quite the social butterflies you know: pretty and with a very short life-span? It seems that without all of the environmental stressors of normal life; there is enough capacity for the people stuff in the coffers.

Apparently, we live somewhere other than here, but we can’t quite remember where that is, or in fact, why.

Olive Tree Pruner Extraordinaire - 17

Zen and the Art of Bladder Maintenance

Zen and the Art of Bladder Maintenance


Zen and the Art of Bladder Maintenance - 01

Now, I shall apologise in advance for the contents of this first part of this post: they are about weeing. This is important and useful medical knowledge which may come in handy at some point in your lives (bladders weaken with age, you know). Skip over at your peril.

As a consequence of my kidney disease, it is recommended that I drink 3 litres of water per day. The general recommendation for any person is 2 litres, which is hard enough, but 3 litres is something else. I fail at this task almost everyday. On a good day, I guzzle a litre at a time and then nothing to several hours, because I forget. This is pointless as the body cannot utilise large quantities of water in one go. Today, I introduced a new strategy by setting an alarm on my phone every hour on the hour and when it goes off I drink a cup of water. This is how I shall live my life from now on. If you ever meet me and this happens, please know that this is part of me maintaining the function of my kidneys and not being a freaky, routine-obsessed weirdo – in this instance.

Zen and the Art of Bladder Maintenance - 02

Today, we went for a walk, which turned out to be over 9 miles. Every hour on the hour, I drank a cup of water. In between every hour, I did at least one wee. I did seven al fresco wees in a five hour period, which works out as 14 wees in a full day. My alfresco wees were mostly next to olive trees. Next time you eat an olive, it may be from a tree that was irrigated by me. Think about that. No need to thank me. I was doing myself a favour.

Managing my fluid intake in this fashion is so much easier in the countryside. It is also cheaper; in major cities it can cost 30p for a wee: that’s £4.20 a day for 14 wees, £1533 per year. That’s the price of a decent holiday (everything in life should be measured in holidays). Taking care of your health is expensive, unless you’re willing to get arrested by squatting next to a hedge in a suburban street.

Zen and the Art of Bladder Maintenance - 03

Final serious note about water intake: drinking even the recommended two litres of water a day really does make a massive difference to well-being, brain clarity and mood. Give it a try. But make sure you have 30p handy.

Zen and the Art of Bladder Maintenance - 04

We walked south from Gythio around the coast and up and back in a circle. The sun was out and the temperature was the warmest we have had so far. What a difference a bit of blue sky makes. This coast is just fabulous, another discovery, as we’ve never been here before or even considered it.

Zen and the Art of Bladder Maintenance - 05

This is the beach at Mavrovouni, 4 km long of sand and, even on a January day, deep blue sea. Coincidentally (or was it?), the only two people we saw on the whole stretch (we walked the entire length), were having a wee. Maybe they too were on a kidney management system. Solidarity, brothers.

Zen and the Art of Bladder Maintenance - 06

At the back edge of the beach are a row of houses and a few rooms to rent along with the odd bar. This would be an amazing spot to find yourself for a holiday. I can’t imagine it ever gets really busy. The notice board on the beach said that it was a sea turtle nesting beach and that dolphins sometimes pop by. This is a real slice of unspoilt Greece.

Zen and the Art of Bladder Maintenance - 07

The beach overlooks the Mani Penisula, a wild, mountainous region with ridge-top villages and stunning scenery. That will have to wait until another time.

Zen and the Art of Bladder Maintenance - 08

The only thing to distract you from your lazy days would be the odd cat in an old, abandoned Mercedes.

Zen and the Art of Bladder Maintenance - 09

Zen and the Art of Bladder Maintenance - 10
Zen and the Art of Bladder Maintenance - 11

Our walk passed by many prickly pears, ripe and ready to eat on their cactus plants. They are delicious, like a cross between a banana and an apple or pear (duh!). And they are free. Don’t try it though, please. In Morocco, street vendors sell them all smooth and prickle-free for 1 dirham (7p) a piece, so a few years ago on a holiday to Paxos, Greece, I thought that I could benefit from this free food source and pick my own. Despite the surface looking entirely smooth, they are covered in the tiniest spines, hundreds of them which get stuck in your skin and, being virtually invisible, are impossible to remove. I learned this through experience and got covered in them trying to be Ray Mears. It took days to get rid of the spines from my hands and arms.

Zen and the Art of Bladder Maintenance - 12

So… today, knowing all of this, I had another go. I know, it makes no sense, but I just really wanted one. And I thought these ones might be different. Or something. I don’t think the photograph adequately shows the multiple spines on my finger.

Zen and the Art of Bladder Maintenance - 13

Now, none of this would have happened if I’d have listened to Baloo. 1.21 in and he tells us exactly how to deal with a prickly pear. Just need to grow my fingernails longer.

We wandered home through miles of olive and orange trees. The olives were being harvested in great sheets on the ground. We later walked past the local press and smelled them all being processed. The trees were loaded with them. I don’t think I did a wee under this tree, although they do all look the same.

Zen and the Art of Bladder Maintenance - 14

We had a pathetic (by our exacting standards) picnic by the side of the road which comprised of two tiny pieces of French toast stolen from the hotel breakfast room along with some stolen peach jam, some Christmas chocolate (still going strong – the mince pies became extinct in Athens), some almonds from Morocco and some old crisps.

Zen and the Art of Bladder Maintenance - 15

Whilst sat by the road we talked about the Buddhist meditation book I read in Morocco – I have yet to actually meditate, but I’m thinking about it – and about how Zen the moment was as it felt as though, although we were sat on a deserted country roadside, all manor of life and change was happening around us: birds, crickets, moving leaves, chainsaws in the distance. There was no need to seek entertainment, possession or concern ourselves with the past or the future: now was all that mattered. And now felt perfect. We had a thought that we might never leave that spot and might sit there forever, just ‘being’. Perhaps people would eventually bring us food parcels, which might be an improvement on the French toast. We sat there for quite some time, but then the alarm on my phone went off and I knew that within ten minutes I would need another wee.

Zen and the Art of Bladder Maintenance - 16

Back to Gythio for a room dinner of Cup-A-Soup, bread and cheese for tea with a Greek yogurt and honey chaser. Off on the road again tomorrow to start to earn our keep.