Friday, January 27, 2012


It isn’t until you get up one morning dying for that first cup of coffee, only to find there is none and that there is no hidden back-up, that you come to realize what coffee means to you.

I hated it when I was young, but then espresso and cappuccino and dashing Italian waiters arrived in London and I was converted.
Now I live in a coffee-drinking country where tea is generally considered to be a health option rather than a pleasure per se. The Greeks have been drinking herbal teas for thousands of years, and recent discoveries about the properties of such teas have simply reinforced their conviction that they were always right!

My mother-in-law’s remedy for an upset stomach was of course chamomile tea, but she also recommended it for eye infections, in kittens as well as humans, and as a hair rinse. It has cosmetic and therapeutic qualities and makes a wonderfully relaxing bath – but you need an awful of teabags for that.
Chamomile deserves a blog of its own – but there are plenty of those out there in cyberspace already. I like this quote from one such blog, regarding the magical properties of chamomile:
‘ Cunningham’s Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs states: “Chamomile is used to attract money and a hand wash of the infusion is sometimes used by gamblers to ensure winnings. It is used in sleep and meditation incenses, and the infusion is also added to the bath to attract love.”
Even the most modern Greeks believe in the curative properties of what they call ‘tsai tou vounou ‘ (mountain tea) – the stalks, leaves and flowers of ironwort. This, as well as  sage (faskomilo), mint (menta), lemon verbena (louisa) and linden (tilio) are sold everywhere, but Greek people, with their passion for freshly gathered food, prefer to find and pick their own.

Olive leaves are so full of healthy properties that they too could almost be considered magical – read this quote:
‘This herbal tea is most commonly used to fight colds, flu, yeast infection, shingles and herpes. The leaves are also said to have anti-inflammatory, anti fungal and antibacterial properties. It may also help ward against premature aging and other diseases. It is also good for the heart. It has shown to reduce cholesterol. Olive leaves are especially potent when used in combination with other antioxidants.’ It was also used as a cure for malaria!
I should point out here that some herbal teas have side effects and may not be suitable for everyone, for example for people taking medication for high blood pressure, or for pregnant women. You should always check with a doctor first.

Back to coffee – a coffee break would be nice right now, but I am out of the stuff as I said at the start of this blog! Too early for a g and t substitute I’m afraid…
Coffee may not be able to claim the medicinal properties of herbal teas. But living in Corfu teaches you that it makes an excellent wasp-deterrent (burn the coffee on a small dish and place it somewhere close to where you want to sit).

In the sixties, when I first came to Greece (you’d better get used to hearing that phrase on this blog!), everyone drank Greek coffee. It was called tourkiko, a name which for political reasons became unpopular and is now rarely used. In fact, this type of coffee, very finely ground, brewed in a special pot called a briki and served in tiny cups, is common to all countries at the eastern end of the Mediterranean.

No other kind of coffee was served in Greek households in those days, but at cafes such as those on the Liston in Corfu, where foreigners had to be catered for, Nescafe was available. Curiously, the waiter would bring a tray to your table, bearing a cup filled with rapidly cooling hot water and a small, opened tin of Nescafe with a spoon in it, plus the obligatory glass of cold water. You were expected to heap the required amount of coffee into your cup and then the waiter would remove the tin with a small bow.
There was also another unusual way of making a cup of Nescafe, one that had such delicious results that people started copying it at home. A teaspoonful of coffee and one of sugar was added to your cup by the waiter, at the table, and then a tiny amount of hot water. Very vigorously, the waiter would then beat the coffee and water to a mocha-coloured paste, to which hot water was slowly added. The result looked like cappuccino and had a different and rather subtle flavour. With the passage of time, this little service disappeared – too labour-intensive to be profitable.
Nescafe was also served sprinkled over vanilla ice cream, in yet another of the Liston specialities.
Nowadays it is always referred to as ‘Nes’ and few Greeks could survive the heat of summer without frequent shots of ‘frappe’, something to which foreign visitors soon become addicted. So much so, that it comes as a bitter shock to find that frappe is not known in other hot countries, as my friend Julie has found to her sorrow in the Maldives.

Everyone has heard of the Japanese tea-making ceremony, but fewer people, perhaps, realize that there is a very precise Greek coffee-making ritual. Special equipment is required, in the form of a particularly finely ground coffee, a briki in which to brew it and something with which to stir it. The briki was originally made of copper or brass, with a tin lining, but is now to be found in more modern metals, though as far as I know no-one has yet invented a Greek coffee making machine. Making a good Greek coffee requires a delicacy of touch and an ability to judge appearance accurately that no machine could equal. (Having said this, a chance google informed me that there is indeed a Greek coffee-making machine on the market, but I remain unconvinced about its efficacy). A particularly small hob is also a necessity – Greek cookers, gas or electric, usually have a tiny hob specifically for making coffee that has often confused foreigners coming to live in Greece as to its function. Small camping gas units are also popular, for Greek coffee needs the control of heat that only gas can provide.
It’s all about the bubbles you see – the froth, or lack of it, on top. This froth is called kaimaki – not to be confused with kamaki which is an entirely different ballgame. My Greek brother-in-law used to tease me by asking me to make him a coffee ‘poli gleeko me theeo fooskes’ which means ‘very sweet with two bubbles’. No, I am not joking. Such precision can only be achieved with practice.
Eventually my kind-hearted sister-in-law showed me how to make coffee the Greek way. The crucial moment comes when the froth begins to rise up the sides of the briki. If you want a thick froth on top of your coffee, you remove the briki from the heat there and then, if you do not want any froth at all you let it boil. And yes – you can control how many bubbles of froth are left.

 * * * * *
I spent a great deal of time in Athens in those far-off days – an Athens very different from what it has now become. It was still a small city, its way of life poised between pre-war Europe and the Middle East. I had been ‘adopted’ by a sophisticated group of people whose conversations were carried out in a seamless mix of Greek, Arabic and French, with – as a polite concession to me – some English. On mornings when I was actually in the city, I seemed to be part of a crowd that moved from one office, cafe or bar to the other, engaged in a mysterious occupation called ‘business’, but as I had never seen it conducted in Britain. In those days, you would see men with briefcases sitting at a café table for hours on end, apparently interviewing a succession of people – always other men, of varying ages and types. They were lawyers, who conducted their legal practice at a café, rather than pay rent for an office. This was something which had probably been going on since the days of Ancient Greece, when business of all kinds would have been conducted in the Agora.

We sat at elegant café tables in Syntagma, drinking something you could only find in Athens at that time, called French coffee. We moved to one of the small coffee shops in the surrounding streets, where the clientele was expected to stand up and lean on a counter, sipping from a tiny cup of very strong Brazilian coffee, brewed in fizzing, bubbling contraptions not unlike espresso machines. If you told a friend then that you were going for a Brazilian, believe me – it had nothing whatever to do with depilation!
(Most of the coffee consumed in Greece at that time came from Brazil, and indeed many Greeks had made fortunes growing and processing it.)
Greek offices could not function without coffee. While automatic coffee machines are popular now, and many people have adopted the American habit of buying a coffee ‘to go’ on the way into work, the sight of a waiter dodging traffic and pedestrians, gracefully and with effortless confidence swinging a tray with long handles, filled with small cups, a briki of coffee and glasses of water, is still to be seen.

The subject of coffee is endlessly interesting – it has been around a lot longer than you may realize, and over the centuries has brought people together for pleasure and for profit. You can drink a coffee in Greece indoors or outdoors. You may be seated on an uncomfortable wooden chair outside a traditional cafeneion, listening to the clatter of backgammon counters, or you could be sprawled on a low sofa in swish contemporary comfort. Once there was a very restricted choice – Greek coffee or Nes? Today you have to choose between espresso, cappuccino, freddo, fredocini, latte, frappuccino, mocha, macchiata and many more including for all I know machiavelli.
Perhaps my favourite used to be served up to me on chilly days by my friendly neighbourhood cafeneion proprietor, Dina. It earned me startled looks from my friends, and approval from the locals who admired my spirit. It was strong Greek coffee to which a slug of ouzo or tsipouro had been added. Guaranteed to warm your cockles as my mother used to say.

Coffee mornings are one of the pleasures of winter in Corfu – and thank goodness an invitation to one has turned up just in time. I can hardly wait!

Monday, January 23, 2012



23 January 2012

Oh it is good to be Grandma Replugged!
Getting a computer repaired in Corfu is a slightly surreal affair. Mine went away to the mastoras as experts of all kinds are called here, and after some enigmatic and dramatic announcements about the hard disk it was returned to me, without any real explanations, and pronounced OK.
I find that Corfiot computer wizards treat their customers – especially their female customers -  with the contemptuous disdain once practiced by Victorian doctors – since we cannot be expected to understand what they are talking about they do not feel the need to share any information with the patient, or customer, as the case may be.

Rather like Dr House really, who rarely shares any information with his patients, only with the TV audience, and then only at the end of the show.

My ‘OK’ computer, however, once reinstalled in its cozy corner in my house, sat, sullen and silent, refusing to work.
Since my mastoras lives nearby, he condescended to call in after work to have a look at it. After a few desperate bleats from the computer, he opened the back, ripped out a small piece of metal and announced: ‘You don’t need this. It should be alright now.’ (See what I mean about Dr House?)
The alarming thing is that the small piece of metal represents a chunk of random memory, it seems.
So has my computer just had a lobotomy?
Only time will tell.
And what is ‘random memory’ anyway? I seem to have plenty of random memories myself, and with time you do lose a few. But I would never dream of deliberately discarding any of them. Whatever next!

The weather has changed – after days of quite extreme cold, tempered by brilliant sun, we have rain again and though that has brought the temperature back up it sounds as if that is a temporary thing. The thermometer is set to drop again this week. Some days ago, the temperature in Corfu plummeted to minus 12C at night. Pretty unusual for our island. At least when it is cold, it isn’t damp.  Damp - the scourge of Corfu, the downside of winter here.
If you go away in winter, you are almost certain to return to a house where, in your absence, monstrous flowers of mould have erupted from your walls while a slimy coating of black lurks in the corners. Suede and leather clothing and accessories are covered in a green patina, books have fallen apart. And if you unplugged the fridge but forgot to prop the door open you are in for a horrid surprise when you open it again – it is like staring into a Harry Potter, demon-infested cave.

There are ways of combating mould of course, and one of my favourite solutions has always been to turn my back on it and go off for a restorative coffee at the Liston in Corfu Town.
During a normal winter, we get many beautiful days of sun, when we can all enjoy the outdoor life, though this does not necessarily mean strenuous activity. It is more likely to mean some gentle lifting and stretching, of the kind required in order to raise a coffee cup at regular intervals.

There is probably no finer place to indulge in this pleasant pastime than on the Liston n the town of Corfu. This experience has been compared with taking a coffee in St Mark’s Square in Venice, a tribute no doubt to the elegance of the setting, but there is an intimacy about the Liston that St Mark’s can never have. It was built by the French during their occupation of Corfu in the early years of the 19th century, and its design was based upon the buildings of the Rue de Rivoli in Paris.

It overlooks the main square of the town, a huge area that is anything but square and is apparently the second largest public ‘square’ in the Balkans. The main square is also known as the Spianada, a name that derives from the English word ‘esplanade’. (Or is it the other way round?) During the British Protectorate (1814 - 1864) this huge flat area was the parade ground of the British garrison, based in the Old Fortress.
You could spend an entire holiday exploring the attributes of this square and its environs – the architecture of the surrounding buildings, the many gardens (including one dedicated to Lawrence Durrell), the statues, the bandstand, the monuments, fountains, art galleries and churches, the fantastic views, the Old Fortress, the Palace, and the cricket pitch where matches are still sometimes played amidst the encroaching vehicles of the car park. Here in this square parades and processions pass through, and Carnival reaches its climax, while the wonderful Easter celebrations are not to be missed.

Above all, the Liston is the setting for the oldest, smartest and probably most expensive cafes in Corfu.

Times are hard, and people seek out cheaper coffee venues, but the Liston still has that elusive glamour that sets it apart.
. Where else in winter for example, would you be able to spend hours sitting at a café table enjoying your pick of designer coffees, idly observing a never-ending fashion show, with friends dropping by to join you, and with all the gossip you could imagine (or not) being passed on and even created all round you? Not to mention the attentive sales people who bring their wares right to your table – CDs and DVDs, designer lighters come to mind.
There are café enclaves all over the town, but none of them can quite compare with the cachet of the Liston. Over the years, a few things have changed, chiefly the chairs and the age of the waiters. Otherwise the atmosphere is much the same as it always was.
At the Cofinetta end of the Liston, it is mostly older people who gather and sales of Greek coffee are high. Few of the patrons at this end can be bothered to pronounce the foreign names of the newer types of coffee and are faithful to tradition anyway - some of them still play chess at one of the older cafes. Ouzo and tsipouro are popular, along with tapas-like mezedes or cheese pies. Its winter, and scarves are worn, plus overcoats and even hats – tweed caps, trilbies, berets, fedoras – a formal style of winter dress that younger men have turned their back on. By the way – if you wonder at the name ‘Cofinetta’, let me reassure you that this does not refer to a district of funeral parlours. Rather, it was once home to basket weavers who specialised in a particular type of basket, long and narrow and roughly the shape, I suppose of a coffin. Now, of course, Cofinetta is home to – more cafes!

As you stroll further south along the Liston, you seem to pass through one of those wibbly-wobbly transparent walls that feature so heavily in fantasy films. This is largely composed of testosterone and pheromones and once breached, thrusts you into the ‘younger’ end of the Liston area, where much flesh is bared even in winter and while gossip is still popular it is frequently interrupted by smouldering glances and incessant cigarette-lighting. It is hard to negotiate the tables without tripping over boutique bags and sunglasses are de rigueur. In this section of the Liston, the waiters are young too and in their black outfits scarcely distinguishable from the customers.
(Why is black so popular for clothing in this country of such superb light that surely demands bold colours?)
What is more, women over forty are invisible to the waiters. On the whole, men are thin on the ground. They spend their winter mornings in banks.

I love it – where else would you want to be in winter? All life is here; alliances are forged, marriages dissected, reputations ruined and transactions of all kinds made.
And all for the price, albeit exorbitant but thoroughly worthwhile, of a coffee or two. Well, at at as much as 4.50 euros each, probably just the one.
If you are going to be miserable about the economic crisis, you might as well be miserable in style.
See you there my dears!

Reading through this before publishing it and being damned – I realised that some of my readers may wonder why it is that so many people in Corfu have time to go off for long coffee mornings when surely they should be at work.
The answer is that some of us live a rather strange life here – when you are employed in the tourist industry, since Corfu has no winter tourism, you are unemployed throughout the winter. So our lives are split into two distinct kinds – winter life and summer life. It can be good – it can also be very difficult economically. More about our schizophrenic lives another time perhaps.

Saturday, January 14, 2012


This time my present to you, dear readers, is more of a
‘blogette’ than a real, fully grown blog.
This is because Grandma is really and seriously UNPLUGGED today. The damp, or the weevils, maybe just the post-holiday blues have invaded my computer and rendered it hors de combat as they say.

Now, if you live in Corfu you will know that your friendly computer technician will often tell you to unplug it and then plug it in again and – hey! Guess what? That advice works surprisingly often. It works for other electrical and electronic appliances too, but in this case the advice was non-productive, and I am bereft, computerless, well and truly unplugged.
Luckily I have access to another one but it has a black keyboard and I am not a touch-typist so it is rather like typing under the bedclothes or down an old coal mine.
You might advise me to be patient and wait for the computer to (one hopes) make a re-appearance, but I am as addicted to writing as anyone else might be to nicotine or cocaine or Terry’s Chocolate Oranges, so that’s a waste of your breath.
I had some interesting ideas for the next blog, but they are still in that sick computer, so I hope you don’t mind a few random scribblings.
All the best people do it, after all.

The word ‘scribbling’ comes from the Latin scrivere meaning, of course, to write, and it actually means to write in a hurried and illegible way. A fair description of what my own handwriting has become over the years and why I depend on my computer now. (Before anyone accuses me of sounding like Mr Portokalis in ‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding’ I will move on.)

Yes I know he isn't a real scribe but he is so much better looking than the real thing

We get the word ‘scribe’  from the same Latin source, and somehow thinking about scribes always makes me think of Ancient Egypt and that thought brings me very nicely to Joanna Lumley’s TV search for the  source of the River Nile.

I watched the whole 4-part series last night and was enthralled. It left me with a sense of the unthinkable size and diversity of Africa, as nothing else I have ever seen has done, except perhaps for the film ‘Óut of Africa’ and the scenes of Robert Redford flying a small aircraft over the veldt – well, you know what I mean.
I know a lot of people who watched Joanna’s Nile adventures will remember it chiefly for her comment about an immense rhino fart and for her rather unexpected insistence on the fact that rhino horn does not work as an aphrodisiac – but if such trivia save even one rhino from poachers, then I am all in favour..  But seriously. I wonder, does the sound of a rhino fart in the immensity of Africa have the same impact as the flapping of a butterfly’s wings in a South American jungle? Could it be the cause of climate change?

You may think I am being facetious, but there has been a lot of very learned discussion on this topic. If you are unfamiliar with this theory about butterflies and chain reactions, Google it; it makes fascinating reading.  Quote "I was reading in the paper the other day that the beating of a butterfly's wings in a South American jungle can cause a hurricane thousands of miles away"

Incidentally, you might think that there is little a two-ton rhino and a fragile blue butterfly could have in common, but we have to remember that both have been hunted to the brink of extinction by Man for reasons not unconnected with sex. In Victorian times, the glorious blue butterflies of the Amazonian jungle were ruthlessly captured and killed and their delicate, shimmering wings taken to Britain to be used in the creation of jewellery and small trinkets beloved of women - an ideal gift from a hopeful suitor. Thanks to Joanna, we all know now, if we didn't before, that rhino horn is believed to increase male potency.

Let’s go back for a moment to another interesting theory – the one I mentioned earlier about dealing with a reluctant computer (or DVD player, or toaster even) by unplugging it and plugging it in again.
As everyone knows, strange things happen in Corfu. (It has always had very strong connections with magic, myth and the occult). When you live in Corfu, nothing should ever surprise you. Locals and experienced foreign residents deal with Corfu blips by shrugging their shoulders. There is not much else you can do.
However, some years ago I did see a Corfiot electronician (as I think they should be called) quite taken aback. It was in the days of telex machines (remember them?) and I had just re-opened my office out at Nissaki after a long damp winter. It was not really a surprise to find all our files eaten by rats or dissolved by flood water, but we had carefully put the telex machine away and it was something of a shock to find it didn’t work when we plugged it in. The bills had been paid, the phone worked, so what was wrong with the telex? An OTE techie came to investigate and started to take the machine to bits. Suddenly he sprang back, swore and said: ‘You should have called a vet, not me!’
Curled up inside the telex machine was an entire family of geckoes!

Before I close, I would just like to say how much I appreciate all the kind comments that you have left about this blog. You have given me the blessing of your encouragement and interest.
Just a small request – many comments appear as Ánonymous’ and while I respect the wish for anonymity that some of you may prefer, I would love to know who you are! So please add your name to the end of your message.

Till the next time!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012


love Corfu in winter.
I am naturally a winter person – I love warm gloves, hot water bottles, blazing fires and gut-warming drink. I love soups and quilts and thought the discovery of fleece was a boon to mankind second only to penicillin. When the temperatures climb into the forties Celsius, as they often do here in Corfu in summer, I yearn for winter.

When you live in Corfu, your friends back in the UK, or wherever they may be, who have probably only ever visited you in summer, always assume that you spend the winters with beach barbecues, wearing a slightly heavier version of summer clothing perhaps, with the addition of a cardigan and a lower grade of sun protection. 
Not so my dears!

It is rarely necessary to dress as my sister (above) does in Canada, but it can happen.

Last Sunday, for example, was a mostly sunny day, but blustery and bitterly cold, with temperatures in the single digits. We went out for a much-needed road-trip up the coast to Avlaki, to blow away the après-Christmas blues and give the dog a run. (I use the word ‘run’ loosely – she valiantly trudged along the stony beach, winter-length fur blowing into her eyes, refusing to give up.)

We wore coats, hats and gloves, with scarves in reserve. Rather than the beach barbecue of our friends’ imagination, we consumed cheese sandwiches on the hoof, coffee from a Thermos, and a Mars Bar each.

A white and grey heron glided gracefully down to inspect the likelihood of food scraps, then turned, banked and made a faultless landing on the small lake behind the beach.

There is a footpath that leads from Avlaki across the thickly wooded headland, down to a windblown lagoon and another, isolated, beach. On the way we found a most unusual fungus that we assume to be a Toadstool, though we christened it, for obvious reasons, the Muffin Mushroom.

The view of Albania had its usual dream-like quality, intensified this day by the brush-strokes of pure white along the higher mountains.

Snow is visible on the mainland for most of the winter, a dramatic backdrop to daily life and one that summer visitors cannot envisage.

Corfiot ski enthusiasts, their balance and skills honed by summer water skiing, can soon be enjoying the snow slopes after a short ferry crossing and a swift car ride along the superb and scenic Egnatia Highway..

We do have snow in Corfu too, high up on the north-facing side of Mount Pantocrator. Occasionally, it makes its appearance at a lower level and can be seen from the town of Corfu.

It has even snowed at Kontokali, at sea-level
Villages like Petalia and Strinilas, high on the mountain, can look quite alpine.
This was the view of Pantocrator and Spartillas, seen from Dassia in January 2005

This is Petalia, at the same time.

In these high villages,firewood is piled neatly under the overhanging balconies; a young shepherd, clad in the shaggy cloak that looks as if it might have been worn by his great-grandfather, can be seen sometimes clattering off the stony mountain paths. He is herding the beautiful russet-coloured cows and the sly-eyed goats that have been grazing up where new grass has made its appearance on the rock-strewn plateau. This is another world from the one we inhabit in summer. A world where men hunt and carry shotguns and still smoke in the cafeneion and always knew no good would come of joining the EU,

We have torrential rain at times, high winds that sometimes force the domestic flights from Athens to turn and go back to Athens, violent storms that take down trees, cause power cuts, deprive us of TV for days on end and generally frighten the horses as they say. Truly frightening are the unpredictable mini-tornadoes that can wreck a small harbour in moments.

Off Benitses, 2000

Kanoni, Mouse Island, as tourists never see it

But we do also have the most beautiful, balmy days of sunshine and blue skies. According to legend, there are 5 - 6 days of serene, sunny weather in mid-winter when the god of the winds, Aeolus, brings calm weather and sun so that the kingfisher may lay its eggs and hatch them. His daughter, Alkyone, had married a mortal, and when he died in a shipwreck, Aeolus transformed the couple into a pair of kingfishers. Thus Alkyone gave her name to the bird and to the Halcyon Days of winter. Luckily, our sunny days usually number many more than 5 or 6.

How beautiful Corfu can be in winter, when so many of us may not have money to spare, but have the time to enjoy the bounty of Nature. Gathering edible plants was always a favourite winter occupation with Greeks. Most men and boys enjoy a spot of fishing, from the beach, a boat or a jetty.

Neighbours are generous with their oranges and lemons, their walnuts and almonds and their eggs; even the foreign residents now make their own olive
oil, wine and tomato paste. Our food comes to us at first-hand, second at the most, fresher, healthier and more fragrant than you can imagine.

I love Corfu in winter - even though the weather forecast is for minus temperatures next weekend....

Sunday Night 1/15/2012
Mostly clear and colder with a shower around before temperatures fall below freezing
Low Temperature-4°C
RealFeel: -11°C
Monday Night 1/16/2012
Clear and cold
Low Temperature-3°C
RealFeel: -9°C

Thanks to our friend Frosso Moraiti for allowing me to use her lovely photos

Wednesday, January 4, 2012


As usual, our TV screens were cluttered up this Christmas with an assortment of film actors playing Santa. (Playing Santa seems to come second only in achievements to playing the President of the United States.) I found it sad that several of them were more likely to be using very un-Christmassy language (you know what I mean) than uttering Ho! Ho! Ho! To me that seems to be an insult to the whole spirit of Christmas.
Surfing the channels for an alternative, I happened upon Gordon Ramsay fulminating all over the food, effing and blinding in a way that has earned him a huge following and lots of money. I can’t think why. Since when did a chef become better known for his bad language than his actual cooking skills?

Lovely Gordon - it's always on the tip of his tongue you could say.

Yes, I know I am being an old fogey, but at my age that is my prerogative.

We speak and write these days with much more freedom than we used to. Subjects that used to be taboo when I was young are now freely aired. Books cover everything imaginable and films and TV bombard the senses with ‘too much information’, as we now say.
My 19-year old granddaughter uses the F-word with complete nonchalance and thinks I am ‘weird’ if I object. It’s no big deal, she tells me after she has used it yet again on Facebook. What’s your problem Grandma?

 My problem is that I remember it being a forbidden word, one of several that I never heard my parents use. My grandfather used the word ‘b----r’ frequently and my sister repeated it in her clear little 3-year old voice one day when we were invited to tea with some very genteel neighbours. Shock, horror; Grandpa in the doghouse. Obscene language belonged in barracks and on board ships, and, so it was rumoured, in some bedrooms, but was unthinkable in the family home.

It is amazing, these days, to think how many books we read then and how many films we saw without words like this being used. Actors were required to express strong emotions by actually acting, using their bodies and voices to convey feelings rather than relying on a script. Novels of the time may seem stilted by today’s standards, but they contained some very fine writing which is slowly coming to be recognized again. Howard Spring, H. E Bates, Louis Golding – if anyone has any old books by these authors languishing in the back of a cupboard, looking for a home, I would love to know about it.

At some stage in my teens I found out about the existence of the
 F-word; don’t ask me how. The tribal drums of adolescence no doubt. I searched in vain, reading all of the modern American writers along the way, hoping to experience the thrill of the forbidden. Everyone knew that this word, and certain others, appeared in the book ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’ by D.H. Lawrence. First published, in Italy, in 1928, the book could not be published in England until 1960, because of its explicit descriptions of sex. (Personally, I think that the concept of an aristocratic married woman having an affair with a working-class man was just as controversial at that time). People  actually smuggled into Britain copies of an edition published by the Olympia Press in Paris When Penguin Books brought it out they were promptly taken to court under the Obscene Publications Act, but they won their case and the way was opened for the publication of other hitherto banned books.

Over the years, a certain reluctance to use the F-word has persisted, until now, that is, when many films, both drama and comedy, rely upon it heavily. The c-word, on the other hand, remains slightly more taboo, amongst ‘civilized’ people anyway. If you want to read a marvellous description of why this might be and what is the difference between the two words, then read Lady Chatterley!!

Here is an interesting link:

Another word that is now in such common use that I do not feel it necessary to express it in euphemistic asterisks and dashes, is ‘shit’. Shit happens, as we all know, a pithy contemporary saying that sums up so much.
According to the Urban Dictionary, ‘shit happens’ refers to something happening that is out of your control and usually results in a negative situation.


On Christmas Eve, shit happened to me, when a foul smell suddenly seeped throughout our apartment and was quickly followed by the sound of water dripping fast. I went into my bedroom, to find brown ‘water’ leaking through the ceiling, rapidly followed by the appearance of a hole and drops of something more solid.
While cursing the follies of D-I-Y Corfiot builders, I gave thanks for the willingness of Corfiot neighbours to help in an emergency, even one as smelly as this and happening at such an inappropriate time.
With luck, now that we may speak and write so much more freely, no-one will feel it necessary to take offence at this blog.

F is the sixth letter in the English language. It stands for Fun, Food, the F-Plan Diet, Freedom of Speech, Fast Food and in school reports was usually accompanied by the words 'Could do better',