Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Salt Smuggling

Caught with salt on his person
The other day, a friend put me to shame by saying that she had sat her nearly grown-up kids down and forced them to watch Midnight Express so that when they went travelling abroad, they weren’t tempted to try smuggling “anything” through customs. 
What a sensible idea.  Why hadn’t I thought of that?
Instead, when Perran went abroad, I had been concerned only that he ate a sensible diet.
He planned to cook for himself in hostels so I had entrusted him with my Magic Tupperware Box – a tiny receptacle which I take when camping.  It contains cloves of garlic, stock cubes, dried chillis, little plastic bags of garam masala, dried herbs, black pepper and salt.  Salt being, of course, a white powder.
Perran  returned home recently en route between Berlin and Bristol where he  is at University.
He told us all about his inter-railing adventures. 
All had gone well until he crossed the border from Amsterdam to Frankfurt.  He and Amy were clapped in cells and treated in a most unfriendly manner.  (That’ll teach them to dye their hair and have the odd piercing!)
Apparently the contents of the Magic Tupperware Box caused general consternation and were taken away for testing.
“Um.  But it was useful when you did your cooking?”
“Yeah.  The food tasted great, thanks.”

So that’s alright then.

Sunday, 23 August 2015

Happy Wanderer

A Magic Bus will bring Perran home tomorrow.
It is a proof of the rapid passing of time that before I have even made time to blog about his departure, he will return.
He and Amy have been inter-railing in Northern and Eastern Europe.  

I never had a copy of their itinerary, but looking at my phone, have received messages from Amsterdam, Berlin, Vienna and Budapest.  
There were also other cities from which I did not receive a text.  And the texts that I did receive were not from Perran, but from Amy, as his phone had stopped working. 

Perran is a vegan and will have had some interesting negotiations and compromises with local cuisine.  There was also the tricky question about how much money it was safe to carry, especially as travellers’ cheques are no longer in vogue.
However, I did not waste time worrying about Perran. 
I could say that it is because, at twenty, he is officially a grown-up now.

But probably it is really because I am getting better at being the mother of grown-ups.

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Go Set a Scotchman – Edinburgh Fringe

Pascoe is undertaking his PhD in Edinburgh, so I took the opportunity to visit the Fringe. 
After last year’s close encounter with the excellent stand-up, John Kearns, you’d think I would have learned to sit at the back and stay quiet.  However, late at night, in the Banshee Labyrinth, I did find myself responding to the compere’s  plea and joining in a poetry slam where they were short-handed. 
Since I didn’t know I would be attending a poetry slam, nor indeed what one actually was, let alone that I would be taking part,  a veil is probably best drawn over my performance.
 And, Pascoe, although I said that it was an accident when I stamped on your phone, I have to confess that it wasn’t really. 
Never video your mother when she’s had a whole half of cider and decides to “do some poetry” in a public place.
Apart from that debacle, I was finding some of the comedians just too potty-mouthed.  It annoys me when a sparky, talented and devastatingly funny person has to resort to jokes about oral sex to feel sure of a laugh. 

Instead, Pascoe and I went to more shows this time, and loved Fable for its idealism, Bromance for its wit and incredible skill and The Night Watch, for an excellent performance from Sasoon Moskofian and colleagues.

Thursday, 13 August 2015

Shooting Stars for Results Day

When I began this blog, it was all about myself and my three children applying for university.  So A-level results day loomed large in 2013. 
“Thank goodness that’s all over!”
But apparently it wasn’t.  
Our friends Mark and Adri  have gone to work abroad in Singapore leaving their son Kit in the UK to launch upon student life.  At the moment he is staying with us.  
He is hoping to study Product Design at Loughborough.
But last night was the darkest night, the one before results day. 
It was the kind of time when irritating adults tell eighteen-year-olds that although everything seems dark now, they should try to get everything in perspective and to see clearly.  There will be light at the end of the tunnel.
Fortunately, there was no need for us to do that to Kit.
Because a shower of shooting stars intervened.
When it was dark, we went out into the garden and lay on rugs, looking up at the heavens.
Because it was a clear night, we were able to glimpse the meteors zipping through the atmosphere.
The Perseid Meteor Shower certainly put everything in perspective.
The only drawback was that there was too much light at the end of the tunnel, and light pollution cut out many of the smaller meteors.
And the first piece of news this morning was that Kit had gained the place he wanted at Loughborough. 
He must have wished upon a star.


It was the very last day of our stay in Crete and we climbed up a hillside to the Diktean Cave – suitably spectacular for the birthplace of Zeus.  After that, Nigel planned that we would climb another mountain and visit Karfi, the melancholy  site of the last refuge of the Minoans. 
A fitting ending for our holiday.  
The idea was to drive up a dirt track and park by a tiny chapel on a higher plateau before making the ascent.  Except that my leg was aching and I was sure I couldn't make the 200m ascent.  And the walk had disappeared from the Lonely Planet website - had people had bad experiences? Just how rough was the dirt road?
As we rested at the inn, Nigel and Pascoe went out on the pretext of going to the shops.  They returned much later, enthused.  They had explored the first stretch of dirt road.  Although aware that I was unlikely to make it, I allowed myself to be persuaded.  Not least because there was the prospect of seeing the massive griffon vulture, with its wingspan of 2.8 metres.
In the evening light, the shadows of the mountains fell mauve.  There was the comforting mellow sound of sheep bells, the low croaking of ravens. Every so often, the breeze blew us the savoury  fragrance of wild thyme or Dictean oregano. 
All of this would have been enough by itself, and indeed, it might have had to be for although Karfi has been called the Machu Pichu of Crete, there is little now to see.  It was sad that the once great Minoans had been driven this last mountain stronghold while the rest of Crete was under Mycenaean rule.
But what about the griffon vultures? As we climbed, we had already twice been distracted by exciting birds of prey which turned out to be buzzards.
But now, just skimming the horizon, I began to see something else. A really large bird. I was never quick enough with my binoculars before it dipped from view. As we gained the top of the pass the sightings became more frequent.  There seemed to be three of the birds.  Seeing some ravens flying around them and dwarfed by them, I realised that we were looking at something very large indeed.  Finally I let myself believe it. 
'Vultures,' I yelled.
Soon, we were at the topmost plateau, and the giant birds were using the thermals it produced in order to rise, so they would swoop in spectacularly low and we could see their heads move as they checked us out. 
“Nope -  not carcases yet,”
Then as they caught the air current, they would soar high away.  Paragliders appeared, drifting through the air and one curious vulture circled them.  
'Can you imagine?' said Perran 'That would be so scary.'
Meanwhile, Carenza, followed by her brothers, climbed the high limestone pinnacles which were beginning to flush apricot in the sunset, getting even closer to the huge scavengers.  Nigel & I began to explore the tumbled walls of the ancient settlement, overgrown with all manner of thorny and aromatic plants.  Even so, it was hard to take our eyes off the birds and it was remarkable how swiftly their vast wings carried them on the breeze with scarcely ever a flap. 
Finally, when the vultures were no longer visible and the youngsters had descended to the ruins, we decided it was time to head back down to the car. 
But we threw one last look over our shoulders and there they were, approaching along the flank of the mountain - a flock of seven vultures, and heading in the opposite direction, just for scale, eight ravens. 
It was our own personal fly-past.
And when we got back down to the inn and the internet, we looked up a word we had never before needed to know –

apparently, the collective noun for a group of vultures is a 'wake'.
Photo by Carenza

Friday, 7 August 2015

Nissan Dorma

One of the mountainous roads the Nissan Dorma took us down.
Our car hire in Crete didn't start well. Aegean airways had altered our previously convenient flight so that we now arrived at 3 am. Nigel phoned Europcar to make them aware and they came up trumps. On the phone that is. When we actually arrived red eyed at Heraklion airport their office was in darkness and we had to hire not one but two expensive taxis to our hotel. 
Nigel had no hesitation in using their negligence to our advantage and we gained an up grade on our car and a free sat nav. Then we went back and swapped it for a sat nav that worked.
The car was an unaesthetic square-built Nissan although we never did determine of what model. Nigel called it the Nissan Dorma. It had a feature at first alarming, later endearing, of screaming like a Chelsea Socialite who has just seen that Bolly is on special offer at Harrods. It turned out to be the air conditioning.
Later when the air conditioning packed in altogether, we missed the screaming. We managed to get five adults and all their luggage for two weeks into it without trauma by insisting that everybody pack their chattels into soft-bodied bags. Oh , and by me forgetting to bring the snorkelling things and aqua shoes.
The Nissan Dorma served us well and introduced an essential note of tension to the holiday when half way through we scratched the roof trying to park in the shade of old olive tree.  Other tree branches are soft and give a little, but apparently not ancient olives. How much would we be charged when we returned the car?
However, it never came to that – faced with a long drive into the mountains and broken air conditioning, Nigel demanded a replacement, and the Nissan Dorma was retired and replaced with a Fiat Punto with never a murmur about the roof.

I hope that if there is such a thing as counseling for cars, the Nissan Dorma is now receiving it – carrying five adults, (with occasionally an extra person in the boot) and all their luggage in Cretan heat on Cretan roads cannot have been easy.

Sunday, 2 August 2015

Snow and Crocodiles

At Amari Villas with the wonderful Mrs Reumi
We have been staying in the delightful Amari Villas, always caressed by a breeze which carries swallows and huge butterflies through the courtyard.
Manolis, our hospitable landlord, popped by for a glass of raki on our first night. 
“What is there to do around here?” we asked him.
He explained to us that the mountain which dominated the skyline was Mt Ida, where once the goddess Rhea hid her baby Zeus in a cave so that his father Kronos would not eat him.  And look - there, on its flank was a diamond of snow left over from the winter.
In these temperatures? But we goggled at it and nodded credulously.
Then Manolis told us about ancient Byzantine churches and mysterious Minoan archaeological sites and pointed them out on the map. 
“And there,” said Nigel, indicating a reservoir, “–isn’t there supposed to be a good walk?”
Manolis confirmed that there was but said that there might be a problem – a two metre crocodile had been living there, presumably an unwanted pet which had outgrown its tank.
Again we gaped and nodded.
It was only the next day that one of us said “Hold on…”
Snow in Summer, crocodiles in the reservoir – was it possible that Manolis had been having a little joke?
But as we were leaving the wonderful Amari, we saw that a local baker was also celebrating the crocodile.  
Perhaps not a joke then.

But by that time, we had already done the reservoir walk.

Saturday, 1 August 2015


Hari leads the dance

Hospitality was of huge importance to the Ancient Greeks: Homer’s Odyssey tells us so.  I have spent the last year teaching pupils about xenia (hospitality), but last night I experienced it for myself. 
We are staying in the Cretan mountain village of Amari, and a man from the village returned with his Argentinian wife to have their beautiful new son baptised.  Our landlord, Manolis, assured us we would be welcome.  We went along to the church, saw little Gerry dunked in the font, then raised before the crowd three times.  Afterwards, we sidled shyly into the village square where tables and chairs were laid out for the celebration and were about to sidle out again when a woman glamorous in a white jumpsuit addressed us:  
“Hello – I’m the kid’s aunt – come and sit here.”
Her name turned out to be Hari, and she had organised the whole event, more than usually challenging in a time of such economic uncertainty.  She made sure we were offered fabulous Cretan roast lamb and cheese and honey cakes.  Not to mention limitless wine and raki.  But most of all, conversation.  
Intermixed with the local people is a cosmopolitan array of internationals, some lotus eaters, others running businesses.  Everybody had an opinion on Greece's financial troubles.  
But it was not the night to discuss such grim matters. 

Pascoe joins in.
As the traditional music got louder, the whole community got up and danced as they had danced through the wars and invasions of century upon century.