Earthquake and calm.


    Earthquakes are frequent here. Most go unnoticed, but now and then there’ll be a shocker. The last truly big one was in 1956. 1953’s destroyed much of Kefalonia and raised the whole island by 60cm.

    Last Saturday as I was completing the blog the dog started shaking with fear, next thing she’d jumped up on the seat beside me, leaning in heavily. The van began rocking as if in a gale, but there was no wind. We were having an earthquake.

    It was reported online almost immediately as hitting 5.0 on the Richter Scale. That’s not huge, but it was exciting to me.

    “Is Polly coming out?” Mabel and George risk the wrath of the Princess.


    On the road we feel as if we’ve created a longer life simply by cramming every waking minute with sights, culture, food, learning, excitement.

    More life lived in the same period of time. 

    The last five weeks have been the complete opposite. I have never done so little, and the time flies by. 

    There’s good in everything though. It’s been years since I last talked to friends as often, read as much, or spent as much time learning.

    Back in time. Minty at 30.

    Grey pebble, grey pebble beach.

    We all know that dogs have a far greater sense of smell than humans, but less sense of colour. It’s only when it’s demonstrated that we begin to contemplate what it means.

    Polly has been lame for 16 months.

    She takes it in her limping stride and only notices her bad leg after too many cat chasing expeditions.

    On the beach to replace the ball chasing that she once loved we create new stimulus.

    The most impressive game is Grey Pebble, Grey Pebble Beach.

    Pick a pebble, any pebble, rub it in your hand to give it a hint of your smell.

    Throw it among the thousands of similar pebbles on the beach. Send in the dog.

    For a moment your pebble is visible, but in her exuberance Polly leaps at it, covering it in a shower of similar stones.

    She’ll nose those stones out of the way. She’ll get frustrated and dig with her paws. The digging often kicks the sought-after pebble out behind her, and given that it looks the same as the others she doesn’t see it go.

    Polly stares in disbelief. Her idiot has lost his stone again.

    But she quickly realises that it’s no longer under her nose.

    She’ll search the area until she picks up the scent again, eventually picking up the correct pebble and bringing it back to you.

    This can take ten minutes. It can take longer.

    This morning I thought she’d lost it and after a full lesson of Greek while Polly scrabbled in the sand I got up and started to walk away. She didn’t follow, but instead upped her search. Eventually she came trotting along. Pebble in mouth, to drop it at my feet.

    Here’s her favourite. We’ve had this one for over a week. It’s distinctive on the London Underground fabric of the van, but immediately lost among its companions on the beach.

    Grey Pebble. Great Pebble Beach.

    PLF. Our sweep’s recommendation.                  

    Our friend Will installs woodburners and sweeps chimneys around St Just. He’s a distinctive figure in his ancient Mk1 Land Rover and sweep’s blackened togs. Occasionally he scrubs up immaculate for a night in town. It was during a chat with Will on the day before we left home that he suggested reading Patrick Leigh Fermor (PLF).

    That chat has opened doors and at times determined our route.

    PLF was a gentleman adventurer, what we’d now term an adrenalin junky. For him the Second World War was a time of joy and loss in equal measure, bringing levels of excitement beyond anything us mere mortals could stand. 

    At 18 he’d been expelled from school, and was uninterested in university. He was bored. He set off to walk from London to Istanbul in 1933 and in so doing set the scene for three of his books and shaped the rest of his life.

    Easy on the eye. Young PLF.

    Greece became his first love and once in the army he was enlisted to Churchill’s “ungentlemanly fighters” the Special Operations Executive. PLF was largely based on German occupied Fortress Crete, frustrating the enemy.

    In the way that one book leads to another I have read numerous titles relating to his and his compatriot’s adventures. Few get far before mentioning his audacious abduction of a Nazi general on the island, and that story opened new doors this week. It turns out that the other Englishman on our site is writing the screenplay for a new film adaptation of the drama. I was delighted. Several books have since changed hands between us and learning Greek has been set aside as I devour more tales of PLF.

    His exploits lead me to ask, how can anyone spend months of extreme adrenalin activity where life and death flash before you many times a day then settle back to anything like a normal life? PLF suffered depression through many of his subsequent years, but that’s not a condition reserved for adventurers.

    PLF. A few of the many.

    Easter. From a different world.

    Around 60% of Greeks live in urban areas, considerably less than the 85% in the UK. Those towns and cities are small in comparison to much of the developed world, only 8 towns have populations over 100,000 and even Athens sounds tiny with 650,000 residents. Everyone else is spread thinly across its mostly mountainous terrain in small towns and thousands of villages.

    Perhaps it’s that thin spread of people that makes it such a tremendously sociable nation. 

    Family is everything and every excuse for a gathering is taken. Saint’s name days, birthdays, Epiphany, Christmas, Easter (western and Orthodox), Protomagia, Assumption, three special celebration days in the lead up to Lent, National Day, Independence Day, christenings and funerals. If any of those are more than a week away then they’ll celebrate Sunday like a holiday.

    Of every special day in a calendar of special days, Easter is the big one.

    Easter. Family. Then the church.

    It’s for Easter that people head to wherever they consider their spiritual home, that’s generally wherever the oldest surviving mother lives.

    They visit their dead. They feast on lamb. They make presents of sweet cheese cakes and red painted hard boiled eggs. They eat quantities that would leave us incapacitated, especially of hand made sweets.

    Right now the butchers and patisseries are crammed with food. The first aisle of the supermarket has cakes and biscuits floor to ceiling. 

    Delivery vans and scooters buzz around ensuring that no one goes without, even if the strict travel ban means that this will be the loneliest Easter many have experienced.

    In the city the village experience has to come on the coach. The bus stations are crowded with people eagerly waiting for parcels of lamb, cheese, oil, Tsiporo and the Easter cakes Tsoureki.

    Wrap the lamb in a bag, pop it on the bus, send it to town.

    We’re not missing out. 

    The campsite owners visited last Sunday and presented each van with a gift of painted eggs, cakes, chocolate and more vegetables.

    Happy Easter. Gifts from the site owners.

    Our Easter Sunday fell on the 72nd birthday of Max, a German who has been on the road for many years in his awe inspiring wagon, Geriatrix II. We celebrated with a small outdoor dinner where the Germans demonstrated their incredible appetite for meat. 

    It’s likely we’ll turn Orthodox and repeat the performance this weekend.

    Don’t mention the war.

    With two of us reading war related Cretan history WWII was bound to rise in conversation. Although it’s a topic that feels awkward in this company I believe that the Brits are more uncomfortable than our German friends. 

    We were surprised to hear that none had learned about WWII in school. Perhaps the subject was still too raw in the 1950s when that generation were children. 

    Max recounted one tale of beautiful irony related to his former work place in Munich. It had been a Gestapo headquarters until the end of the fighting, but when he was based there it had come full circle and was a school for handicapped children.*

    The only vapour trail in weeks. And Geriatrix II.


    It’s wonderful to be called to account by people’s comments and emails.

    I have hardly mentioned the strange world that is VanLife for some time now.

    When we started out it was all so unusual.

    And that time was most special.

    It was when we noticed everything that was different from what we knew before.

    It was when cooking with everything we own within reach was a joy, and a challenge.

    It was when snuggling down in a cocoon, where our whole inside world was smaller than any bedroom, was exciting beyond any imagining.

    First night of VanLife. 2 May 2018.

    Like anything, VanLife becomes normal. But that doesn’t stop it being exciting. It only takes one of us to ask “What are we doing?” for us to both realise the joy of this experience.

    There’s also the challenge of living so close to the other when one, or both, want, need, to be alone. You can’t believe how valuable a separate room can be in times of stress. Our separate room is called walking the dog.

    The geometric plant.
    Geometric close up. A bobble from afar.

    Tougher Easter restrictions.

    The Greek effort to contain the spread of the virus has been more successful than any other European nation and their death toll has only crept above 100 this week. 

    The authorities are determined not to relax and this weekend the on the spot fines for unnecessary travel have been doubled to €300. Some areas will enforce a complete motor transport ban, and drones are being used to extend the eye of the police.

    This week the deputy mayor of Chania chose to go fishing with friends. He was caught. His foolishness was rewarded with a €5,000 fine.

    It’s not often that Greece is the best at anything administrative. They’re not letting this proud crown slip.

    Mountain Tea. Used as we might camomile.

    This week’s bounty.

    The generosity of the Cretans during this tough time astounds and delights us time and again.

    Yesterday as we walked past a (closed) bar the owner pointed to his garage and suggested we help ourselves to the crates of fruit and veg there. He wasn’t satisfied with the couple of peppers and tomatoes we picked up so he stuffed a carrier with tomatoes, peppers and aubergine, thrust that at me, then loaded Minty with cucumbers.

    Tzatziki morning, noon and night.

    Tzatziki. Work in progress.

    Thank you! We’ll be with you for dinner as soon as you’re allowed to open, and we’ll bring all of our friends from the site.

    On this warm Saturday morning the mile and a half beach beside us is completely empty. The sea is beautifully clear, sparkling for no one but Polly and me.

    Sole no soul. Long Beach. Koutsounari.
    George. If we could take just one…
    Melisa. At work.

    Music to scrub to: Bowie’s magnificent challenging last album. Black Star.

    Music to blog to: DJ Shadow. Although it’s hard to write against such brilliance.

    * Nazi strategy imagined what it considered a racially and genetically pure and productive society. It embraced unthinkable methods to eliminate those who did not fit that vision, beginning with the forced sterilisation of the mentally or physically disabled. It got much worse from there on.

    12 Replies to “Earthquake and calm.”

    1. gillian cooper says: Reply

      Hi guys
      Good blog again
      Luv the story about Polly and her pebbles
      You appear to have lots to do still with your neighbours at least you are not on your own and able to share stories
      Luv all the cats big decision to leave them when time comes to move on maybe take them all with you ????
      Not a good week for us Peter /Rose who have been friends of ours for many years ( Sean who owns North Design who designs business design all over the world ) Peter is his father he died in his sleep on Wednesday early morning good job Sean was in the country to help mum Rose who is not very able to look after herself had to break the lockdown to sort everything out for her his two sisters live in Span and USA so it is a bit of a mess so don’t know what is going to happen Peter has been a creaking gate for years but up to now has always rallied round
      Another friend has got cancer in his spin in a wheel chair plus it was Bunty funeral so glad to see the back of this week so not feeling very perky at the moment
      Had lovely sunshine so that helps
      Dad sends his love
      Stay safe
      Luv D&G💕💕😎😎

      1. Kelvin Collins says: Reply

        Gosh Gill
        What a week.
        I’m only 55 but it already feels as if death is more a part of life than I remember it being.
        The cats will have to stay – although one is definitely pregnant and if there are kittens small enough to get on with Polly then that might change.
        It would be crazy having a van cat, but we do like a challenge.
        Great to hear from you.

    2. Another interesting read Kelvin. Van life is certainly very different from the hamsters’ wheel many are/were on. I do think life will change permanently and for the better for many of us once this awful virus is conquered. In lockdown we are appreciating the simple things life has to offer. Today we found a Mallard’s nest in our garden down by the beck. 10 eggs! John and I are so excited and have been using binoculars to keep watch on any activity. A camera will be set up later. Such a simple thing giving so much joy. Continue to relish your quiet life for the moment. The travels will be all the more exciting once resumed. Meanwhile take care and keep well. Love from us both J&J xx

      1. Kelvin Collins says: Reply

        A clutch of eggs? How marvellous.
        Years ago Minty had a brood of chicks on a balcony in Manchester (hardly the rural idyl) and the mother came back year after year.
        I seriously hope we don’t all rush back to what we were doing and forget the lessons of this strange time. I can’t believe how content we are here doing very little and spending even less.
        Sorry to be slow responding. I’ve broken something and didn’t get any comment alerts so now I’m catching up.
        Love from the sun.

    3. Lovely informative blog this week and I have to say that I have noted the books that you mention. I no longer have a “minder” suggesting; “you should read so and so, it’s right up your street” and having gone through many authors I find that all too soon their books become predictable and I consequently lose concentration, so I will load my Kindle asap!
      We lost the family style of living in this country many years ago; I put this down to the necessity to be mobile job wise and meeting up with family which was possibly scattered around the country became more difficult and all too often it was simply easier to pick up the ‘phone and check in! The Greek way is lovely, but then it is similar in a way to the Spanish, certainly at weekends when they congregate on the beaches and later in restaurants. (Merendero Cristina is a prime example).
      The few times that I have been to Greece, it is easily apparent that to see that they are a generous people, the young man running you back to the villa when you were caught in the rain for example, and of course each week you show pictures of gifts from those around you and some also from perfect strangers too!
      I had to put my thinking cap on when I saw the picture of Minty, but it has to be Morocco where the picture was taken, me thinks?
      I think I will have a BBQ tonight with a glass of something drinkable, just to celebrate a month today of solitary. Keeps smiling all of you and stay safe.

      1. Kelvin Collins says: Reply

        Sorry it took an age to respond.
        I’ve broken something on the blog and I didn’t get a notification of comments. Fortunately Gill Cooper chased me for my response and now I’ve found everything.
        You’re right. We miss a lot through our way of living, we may be financially richer, but whether or not we’re better off is hard to say. Although I look forward to getting back to Cornwall there’ll forever  be warm memories of our welcome here.
        I’ll drop you an email with along response.

    4. “Who’s that girl……………..When you see her, say a prayer and kiss your heart goodbye….”
      From Madonna and Margret to Minty!

      1. Kelvin Collins says: Reply

        The Alhambra in the background.
        We’d rented the smallest little hovel near Orgiva, and we were so happy for two Spanish weeks.
        Time is a wonderful and terrifying thing.

    5. The Marmites says: Reply

      Blimey, you don’t have a dull moment!! Earthquakes and storms all while in VanLife! It’s certainly creating fantastic and unusual memories. I always knew Polly was super clever. She always was fab a finding her ball wherever it ended up. And little Mabel is looking much healthier. Minty is a Little Miss Dr Doolittle!
      We are settling into what is the new normal for now with lockdown for another three weeks. Routine is key! Without it we would all be free-falling into a state of limbo (which is how I felt during the long Easter weekend) But still, we’re all ok and in good health. The kids are still working through their lessons and we’re all keeping a positive mind.
      Much love to you all. Stay well and sane.

      Lots of Love
      The Marmites xxx

      1. Kelvin Collins says: Reply

        Silly me. I’ve broken the blog and couldn’t see the comments.
        Oh no, the cats are pregnant. No doubting it now. I hope we escape before the little ones arrive….

    6. KC are you going soft.. Van Cat ! Yey.

      Lovely pic of Minty.

      I could not agree more, we need a new normal, one less damaging to the planet and each other than that we had before.

      Our experience of lock down is to re-wild , connect to nature and live in the moment after, literally years of planning for tomorrow.

      …and we’ve met two adders in as many weeks .

      Much love
      Emster xx

      1. Kelvin Collins says: Reply

        I reckon it’s time I set out my position on cats. I’ll write about them soon.
        As other people’s ornaments they’re fine. If I lived on my own I might even have one (as well as the dog), but a bulk purchase like we’ve landed here is something I’d avoid.

    Leave a Reply