Olympic Dreams at Olympia: And the Crowd Went Wild

Olympic Dreams at Olympia: And the Crowd Went Wild

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Olive Tree Pruner Extraordinaire

Olive Tree Pruner Extraordinaire

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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’.

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

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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?

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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’.

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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.

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