Thursday, March 29, 2012


Who are the Kantounistas, you may ask.
A group, obviously. But what kind of group?

A happy group, it would seem. But what’s with the rakes and shovels and rubbish bags, the rubber gloves and the green tee-shirts?

The Kantounistas is the name of a group of Corfu residents, dedicated to doing as many as possible of those tasks that other people wait to have done for them, if ever, by the elusive Them/They brigade.
You’ve heard the moans – why doesn’t someone clear up the rubbish in Sanroko Square, why don’t they clean the town beach, why doesn’t someone do something about all the graffiti?
The members of the Kantounistas group of Corfu asked the same questions, and more – and then decided, towards the end of 2010, to make the first move and DO something about these problems.

One of their first projects was to demonstrate against the thoughtless and inconsiderate parking of cars on pedestrian crossings and on the then-newly established bicycle lanes. This well-meant effort received a mixed reception naturally, but the Kantounistas are nothing if not thick-skinned!

February 2011 saw the group clearing a massive amount of the casual, careless and criminal amount of rubbish dumped on the public beach at the end of what we call ‘Disco Strip’ on the edge of Corfu town. Everything from old fridges to abandoned lavatory basins to prams and bikes and oh-so-many plastic  bags and bottles – the detritus of humankind. 

The municipal rubbish collectors had quite a surprise next morning!

Subsequent projects included the cleaning and painting of the children’s playground in the gardens at Garitsa, clearing the footpath to the beauty spot at Kardaki, removing graffiti from buildings and monuments (which also provoked some unfavourable reactions, presumably from ‘artists’ who resented the removal of their handiwork!) and the cleaning of road and direction signs along Alexandras Avenue. The group has also taken part in the collection and distribution of clothing, food and supplies for those in need.

 Clearing the path to Kardaki and the well.

Cutting back the Kardaki 'jungle'

Cleaning the road signs in Alexandras Avenue
Cleaning off graffiti  and re-painting wall in approved colour!
Cleaning up the Eptanisa monument in the Upper Square

This pedestrian crossing in Garitsa had been obliterated over the years and never renewed - the Kantounistas saw an opportunity for a repair job with a dash of humour!

2012 has so far seen the planting of trees on a deforested section of Mt Pantocrator near Loutses, seed-bombing (wild flowers) and filling in the derelict and often dangerous holes where trees have been deliberately killed with chlorine and then cut down for the benefit of shops and parking  in parts of Corfu Town, and more cleaning of graffiti.

Little Kantounistas helping mummy to plant little trees

Tree cut down illegally

Similar, replaced with a flower bed

The latest activity took place on Saturday 24th March, a truly beautiful day of sunshine that motivated everyone involved, The project?

To make the schoolyard at Kontokali a place of fun and inspiration for the children attending the school.
The group was out in force, with families and friends, teachers and pupils and university students, all wielding paintbrushes.

The results were stunning. Colourful and imaginative and a definite improvement on plain grey cocrete walls.

First task - to paint grey walls white
Work in progress

Helpers at work
Team effort
A more cheerful school

The Kantounistas  have willingly given up their free time to carry out their projects and for the most part have provided their own materials.
I am proud to say I played my own small part by dashing off the stencils, at very short notice, for the school murals, 

That went something like this: Daughter: “Come on Mum finish up your meal quickly. Now – “ she dumped pieces of cardboard cut from packaging in front of me together with felt tip pens.  Me: ‘But –“  Too late. Have you ever tried to draw even lines and shapes on that kind of cardboard, a sandwich of smooth and corrugated card? It is not conducive to showing off artistic talent. But eventually, recognizable birds, butterflies and even a desert island emerged. I drew a train but it got left behind – no great loss for how many Kontokali children have actually been on a real train?

Here is proof, then, that ‘They’ may not always make the first move, but they are willing to follow if you make the first move!

Let’s see a show of hands for the Kantounistas!

Hands-on decoration at the school!

For more information, check out the Kantounistas page on Facebook or follow their blog at
Why not join them!

It was pointed out to me that in my previous blog I displayed a photo of a cafeneion in Lakones instead of the one I intended to show that is situated at Nissaki.
I apologise – this was entirely unintentional.
The old village cafeneions do tend to look very similar, and the old boys who are regular patrons likewise!
That’s my excuse anyway.

It sometimes gets a bit difficult to balance the laptop and the stick at the same time, and mistakes happen. And the girls will keep butting in with their own ideas.

(Not my photo but oh how appropriate!) 

Just signing off, with a flash of my beloved purple! Ah, the beauty of Spring in Corfu!

Sunday, March 18, 2012


Here they come! First flights of the summer into Corfu. These are with Air Ridibundus.

 Better known perhaps as Larus Ridibundus or the Black-Headed Gull which actually is not a migratory bird, but makes a perfect advertisement for flying
Humans are not the only visitors to Corfu, and moreover, our non-human visitors tend to come in great numbers, out of ‘season’, to behave beautifully, be photogenic and in fact, act like the perfect tourist.
I refer of course to birds.
Spring is naturally a time of great change in the world of birds; with migrations, mating and breeding causing annual re-appearances and changes of appearance of familiar species. So much in our own human lives seems to be changing for the worse – it is a relief and a pleasure to see that on Corfu - this beautiful island of ours - avian tourism is flourishing. Many of those bird visitors come back each year to the same nests, like tourists returning to their favourite accommodation. They enjoy the same activities as humans do – such as paragliding:

Lunch by the sea:

People watching on the Liston

And can even be seen checking out the latest magazines and postcards:

 In my last Blog I mentioned the Scops Owl that arrives in the orchard beyond my bedroom windows nightly, at around 4 a.m and proceeds to hoot loudly in the hope of attracting a female. He seems to have struck a chord with my readers, several of whom commented on how much this little bird appeals to them.

He hasn’t always appealed to everyone though.
During my villa repping years, I often heard complaints about him interrupting people’s sleep. He was accused of being a faulty water pump several times, and I was urged to take matters up with villa owners. I told the complainers it was just an owl and the response was often: ‘Well, shoot it then!’
Can you imagine shooting such an adorable little chap? I haven’t heard him for a couple of nights – do you think he has found Romance, the Perfect Mate?
The Scops Owl was associated with the goddess Athena, and was a favourite subject in the decoration of Ancient Greek pottery, such as the pot shown in the photo above.

Sometimes, as you drive along a country road at night in Corfu, you will see a great white blur as a Barn Owl takes off from his watchful position on a fence-post or in a tree. What a magnificent sight this huge bird presents. They are likely to stare at you with a baleful gleam in those huge unyielding eyes, before taking to the wing, silent, fearless and utterly focused on finding food.
I had the great good fortune to be associated with the filming of the first (BBC) production of Gerald Durrell’s ‘My Family and Other Animals’, here on location in Corfu. My job was to find ‘things’ and organize ‘things’ for the designers. This could mean anything from knowing where to find antique cars in Corfu, stored in dusty garages, to providing the names of ex-pat British men who would look the part as ‘players’ at a cricket match staged for the series. One night, quite late, I received a phone call from the series’ zoologist, Nigel Marvin, now the star of his own nature programmes. ‘Help!’ he cried. ‘The Barn Owl chicks have hatched and they are all falling over! Have you got any old rugs or carpets?’
As it happened, I did have some off-cuts of carpeting in a cupboard and I rushed them over to Nigel’s accommodation at Gouvia.  He was hatching Barn Owl chicks for the series, and it seems that in the wild, they hatch out on rough natural surfaces with plenty of grip for their already long claws. Nigel’s birds were hatching out in special cardboard boxes, with smooth surfaces, and were lying around belly-up as if drunk. My carpet saved the day!

We live with a great variety of birds here in Corfu, but don’t always notice them. There are some you cannot ignore though. For a couple of years I lived high above the sea at Barbati in northeast Corfu, on the lower slopes of our highest mountain, Pantocrator. A pair of eagles frequently paid me a visit, swooping down out of a clear sky, their fantastic wingspan taking the breath away. Further along the coast, above the harbour of San Stephano, I have often stopped the car to watch honey buzzards riding the thermals above the channel between Corfu and Albania. Watching them, their supreme freedom and confidence and suitability to their environment makes me envious. What must it be like to soar so effortlessly above the earth?

At Old Perithia and at Nissaki there are large, broad-branched trees that house jackdaw colonies. They seem to spend a lot of time, like any other community, paying calls on each other, hopping from branch to branch, cawing and cackling raucously, until some particularly scandalous piece of gossip causes them all to take flight, wheeling and diving about the tree, flapping away for a short distance before returning for the next installment.

I couldn’t find a photo of the Nissaki jackdaws but gossiping and arguing in a group is not confined to birds, and these old guys are at the Nissaki cafeneion anyway!

Not all our birds live in noisy colonies. This elegant thrush lives quietly in my friend Frosso’s garden, though he could hardly be called unobtrusive, with his magnificent markings.

And this Partially Albino House Sparrow lives unobtrusively with his mate outside Boatman's World at Kontokaali.

For a while there was a Bird Sanctuary on Vido Island, opposite the town of Corfu, and if you pay a visit to this rather beautiful little island – a few minutes by caique from the port – you will find another quiet colony – of pheasants, goats and rabbits, left over and multiplied many times when the Sanctuary closed. Very tame, they make a visit to the island a delight for children and adults.

 Magpies, like jackdaws, make a lot of noise, especially in the mating season when they must be some of the clumsiest and most hooligan-like suitors, crashing through the branches of the tree where their lustful eyes have located a potential mate, screeching and chattering in excitement. Handsome they may be with their black, blue and white plumage and long tails, but their eating habits leave much to be desired, with a special liking for road-kill.
But no Greek landscape would be complete without them, or without their distinctive call which has given them the onomatopoeic name in Greek of ‘karakatsa’. Associated with the Greek god Bacchus, the magpie is highly intelligent but is a ruthless killer of small songbirds.
Oddly enough, many of the birds I have watched in Corfu seem to handle the mating business in a somewhat less than suave way – I used to live next door to a man who kept exotic chickens and also peacocks. Now surely, with such impressive plumage and colour,  you would expect the peacock to be a talented and skilful lover, but the one I observed was clumsy and clueless – instead of flaunting his brilliantly coloured and eye-patterned tail feathers at the female, he turned himself round and waggled his colourless rump at her – am I missing the point here?

The first swallows have been sighted in Corfu – but there is a saying ‘Two Swallows do not a Summer Make’ – or was it One Swallow? And who said it – some say Aristotle, but others have been attributed with the sawing, including Cervantes, and one wit remarked ‘Depends what you swallow’.
Swallows, Swifts or Martins? Hard to tell at times. When I worked in the town of Corfu, in a ground-floor office on a narrow alley, we were often required to rush outside to rescue some unlucky swift that had fallen from the rooftops and crashed into the alley below. Sometimes these were adult birds, more often they were novice flyers. Once on the ground, usually unharmed, their wings were too long for them to be able to get lift-off. The local vet taught us how to pick them up and hurl them into the air so that they could get wind under their wings – it was such a triumph when they took off.
(Have you ever listened to Bette Midler sing ‘Wind Beneath My Wings’? Sentimental, Kleenex-rating high, but illustrates how we can help others to fly high, literally and metaphorically.)
Swallows return every year to the same nests and usually to the same mates. Once they are mated, the male spends all his time in flight, seeking food for the female, and he rarely settles till the young are on the wing and fending for themselves.

In San Stephano, there is a small supermarket which, when I first knew it, was the local shop, and they kept one door unglazed so that the returning swallows could fly in and reclaim their old nest in the interior beams, high above the cheese counter. The Corfiots have a special fondness for their swallows, and wherever they have nests, in bars and restaurants, above the tables, the owners rig up various devices so that the birds debris from nest-making and, er, related activities, does not fall on to unsuspecting patrons.
We used to watch the swallow families as the day approached for that first flight, anxious parents tutoring their offspring in the mechanics of aviation, until the day itself dawned, and we would all gather around to watch and cheer on the young flyers, raising our glasses to them. (Any excuse..)

I leave with this short extract from My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell:
"Spring had arrived and the island was sparkling with flowers. Lambs with flapping tails gambolled under the olives, crushing the yellow crocuses under their tiny hooves. Baby donkeys with bulbous and uncertain legs munched among the asphodels. The ponds and streams and ditches were tangled in chains of spotted toads' spawn, the tortoises were heaving aside their winter bedclothes of leaves and earth, and the first butterflies, winter-faded and frayed, were flitting wanly among the flowers." My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell.

If you have never read his book, or have forgotten how wonderful its descriptions of Corfu are, I urge you to read it, preferably while you are in Corfu.

One final, final word – I am not a ‘twitcher; and there is much I do not know about birds. I am aware that some of the birds I have mentioned are not seasonal visitors, they are residents. I plead ignorance and a tendency to exercise poetic licence! Oh dear, and I still haven't mentioned the nightingales, or told you about the Grey Parrot.....

And as for this Angry Bird... another time!

Photos from my own collection and also by Joanna, Frosso, Julie, Aleka.