Tuesday, June 19, 2012


 I have a guest blogger this time - my sister Katy who lives in Canada. Could there be two more different places in which to live? Canada and Corfu Greece. Considering we started off as 'Essex girls', never dreaming our lives would eventually take us so far apart.

With great pleasure, I give you a new blog from CountyKate. who writes as follows:


Most people have an image of Canada as a vast country, on a grand scale - The Rockies, Niagara Falls, The Great Lakes, endless plains, primeval forest, but also cosmopolitan cities, teeming with life.

Many parts of Canada remain under-populated, wild and even unexplored. But, you must consider that Up North, we have glaciers and polar bears, whilst here in Ontario where I live, I feed hummingbirds in my garden in the summer months.

And then there are the truly rural, largely passed-by, intimate landscapes of places such as where I live.

Prince Edward County. It is part of Ontario, between Toronto and  Kingston, and is an 'isthmus', jutting out into Lake Ontario.  We are a special place; special because it is small, originally populated by Native  Indians, such as  Iroquois and  Algonquin tribes. They mainly resided peacefully along the shoreline, hunting and trapping for bartering purposes, fishing and living quietly, oblivious to the coming  invasion of  European settlers.

Algonquin Indians

Iroquois Indian

The Europeans began arriving in the mid 1700's; French, German and  Dutch, along with many Scottish, fleeing the Jacobite Rebellions. Their  descendants are still here, and small crossroads, once little hubs of activity, still bear their names, though all sign of them has gone, names such as Doxsee, Onderdonk, Bongard, Ostrander.

 The 'Katmobile' - 1987 Chrysler Fifth Avenue

I took a rural drive today, in my classic car, one of my favourite activities. I left the small main town of Picton, bustling for now with summer tourists, here for the antiques, art and wineries.  I took the winding road east, still on the County, past houses built by the wealthy Americans, who came here in the 19th century.  Some are mansions, like Claramount, a bit of a 'Tara', in colonial revival style with white pillars and yellow woodwork. It was built as a summer'cottage' for a businessman and his two daughters, and named after his wife Clara, but now is a hotel and spa.

Onward past  Victorian houses, with their wraparound porches and formal gardens, many going to the water’s edge of Picton Inlet and harbour. Once the harbour was full of three-masted sailing ships, carrying grain, canned goods, and passengers.

Typical Victorian house

Picton inlet

Picton harbour

As I carried on, the inlet on my left, I drove through the hamlet  of Lake on the Mountain.  This lake is supposedly bottomless, mysterious and haunted!  Haunted, so folklore says, by an Indian princess, who waited in vain for her lover to arrive, and drowned herself in its dark depths.  Or, it could be a meteor crater! 

Lake on the Mountain

Shores of the lake

But the road goes on, past farms and barns, low vegetation as we are on shale beds here, not conducive to deep roots.

On my left I had wonderful views of Adolphus Reach, the continuation of Picton Inlet, rippling its way towards the open water of Lake Ontario.

Eventually I came to Prinyers Cove, an inlet of water dotted now with yachts, houseboats, dinghies, and with a small marina.  Prinyers Cove was originally called  Grog Cove, probably a safe port of call for the County's Rum Runners, but later, when a small group of Scottish refugees arrived, in about 1780, it became McConnell’s Cove. They settled, became prosperous farmers, but the lineage died out, and the cove acquired the name of  Prinyer’s.

And so I turned around, to start off home, the end of a perfect day, for dreamers and photographers.

Monday, June 11, 2012



That’s just what most of us who live in Corfu are able to enjoy almost every weekend in summer.

A Sunday by the sea, with family or friends or, if you feel so inclined, just a good book, for company.

Living in, or on, Corfu has one huge advantage – you are never far from the sea. Your nearest beach may be just across the road, or down a lane, while your favourite beach may be as much as an hour’s drive away, but it will be a quiet drive with little traffic, and when you get there, except for the month of August, it will be uncrowded and pleasingly un-organized, By which I do not mean ‘disorganized’, I mean free from fences and entry gates, free of hustlers and pedlars, free of commerce.

We went off to what has always been a favourite of mine. So unspoiled that I refuse to tell you the name of it in case the word gets out. Mind you, we gave directions to another friend and expected him to join us but when he saw the steepness of the road leading down to it, he bottled out, as some of us say, and decided not to risk life and limb and put his faith in rented-bike-brakes.
It’s not really dangerous, though people arriving by hired car to spend a holiday in one of the seaside villas have been known to park their cars at the main road and sweat their way to the villa, loaded with luggage, rather than risk the gradient. As for taxi-drivers – they pretend that they have never heard of it and refuse to go.
It isn’t that bad – I have driven up and down that hill for so many years without incident. It just needs nerves of steel.

As always, it was worth the effort.

Embraced by steep tree-covered hillsides on which a few smart villas are sheltered by the greenery, there is just a  hamlet, too tiny to be called a village, its few houses washed in pastel colours, built above and beside each other without any discernible plan, a couple of cobbled and stepped alleys connecting them.

The beach is small but stunning. A crescent of pale pebbles, south-facing, enclosed by two rocky shoulders, the sea a vision of merging blues and greens, scattered with a few small boats. It looks like the idealized seaside we used to paint as kids when our teachers exhorted us to paint a scene from our holiday.

It’s a friendly place – the same inhabitants, the same holidaymakers returning year after year because of its quiet perfection. It is perfect for children.

Last year our Child needed armbands – this year he wears Robert Redford trunks and has developed an appreciation of Nature!

There are a couple of tavernas overlooking the beach and the sea – over the years rumours have arisen pertaining to the opening of a new bar or restaurant but it never happens. There are few regrets.

Lunch by the sea is one of Corfu’s best experiences. It need not be a gourmet experience – a meal of grilled fresh sardines, deep-fried squid that may be fresh or frozen but is always good and, surprisingly appeals to children, a colourful Greek salad, tangy tzatziki and fat golden chips, accompanied by ouzo, ice-cold beer or retsina, is good to look at and better to eat.
Jamie Oliver would purr with approval over the lavish use of thick lemon slices and oregano.

It was really hot – around 37 degrees C we thought. The sea was like silk, with the occasional wave coming, literally out of the blue, to take the toddlers by surprise. A baby was tenderly lowered into a blow-up duck for its first taste of the sea; an old woman on two sticks was just as tenderly helped in and out of the water by her caring family. It’s not a trendy beach, but it is a friendly one.

Nothing remarkable happened - but that was the joy of it. No demands were made on us, no-one wanted to tell us their life story, no-one intruded on our quiet time. I hadn’t been there for a while, I was welcomed back and came away with those wonderful gifts, so generously given – a bottle of home-produced olive oil, a bag of freshly dug potatoes.

It’s not just the bottles of wine or oil, the bags of lemons, potatoes or eggs, that are so freely given by human friends, that make life in Corfu so delightful.
The Sundays by the sea are rich in offerings from the sea itself.

I used to spend Sundays with friends who had a small caique.

We would potter along the coast, bathing, boating, drinking more than was good for us, and every now and then the husband who was a great fisherman would bring up some clams or crabs for us to snack on.

Paula showing me how to open and eat a clam

He would bring up sea urchins too, careless of the spines, open them with a knife, apply a generous squeeze of lemon and tip the live contents, taken by surprise, down his throat.

Nikos even brought up the occasional barnacle-encrusted amphora ...

There has always been so much bounty fresh from the sea on those, and other, trips over the years.

Mussels for example


Octopus too – though it needs a lot of preparation before it can be eaten. If you are spending all day at the beach and catch one early enough, you could beat it on the rocks to tenderize it, spread it over a rigani (oregano) bush to dry out in the sun, and come, sundown, sear it over a fire. Delicious!

My parents had connections with Essex and the East End of London, where cockles, whelks and winkles were a popular ‘street food’. Not to mention the famous jellied eels.
Here in the sea off  Corfu, cockles at least are abundant. They are called kydonia and are often to be seen in the market too.

Those of us who have lived here for many years still mourn the passing of what we called ‘Fish Alley’ – the winding alley in the centre of the town where fishmongers were to be found, and small establishments that used to fry fresh fish every day, to be sold as a snack in twists of paper – tiny shrimps too, all locally caught. In those days you could fish in the harbour (Old Port) and catch octopus and kefalos (grey mullet).

Not exactly fruits -de -mer, more legumes de mer perhaps, is rock samphire that grows on many beaches and rocky shorelines in Corfu. Delicious steamed, stir-fried, sautéed or lightly boiled as an accompaniment to fish, or raw in a salad, it needs no additional salt when being cooked or served. It is high in nutritional content.

One sea creature that sounds harmless and even useful is the sea cucumber, but we have found over the years that they can cause painful weals or rashes if trodden on while bathing. I wouldn’t touch one with a bargepole myself, but needless to say they feature in Chinese cuisine! Is there anything that doesn’t?

They are to be found all over the world, vary in size and appearance and, according to some reports can have a Viagra-like effect when eaten.
Be that as it may, they do not in any way appeal to me!

Perhaps my own favourite fruit-de-mer is a slice of icy watermelon cut from a melon that has been towed along in the sea behind a yacht! Bliss.

Aah – back to the beach I think.
I've just taken delivery of a couple of hundred paperbacks (at least) so there should be no lack of a good beach read for the next few Sundays!

I just had to share this photo with you – from the menu of another seaside taverna – I am still trying to come to terms with the ‘gobbage salad’! I think we can guess what it is though!

Thanls for the use of photos other than my own to Kate, Joanna, Frosso et al - whoever he may be.
The two beautiful paintings are by Allan Kingsbury.

Sunday, June 3, 2012


Some thoughts on being a Grandma.

 I would like to start by saying ‘Hip! Hip! Hooray!’ for one of the most celebrated grandmothers of our times – Queen Elizabeth II, whose Diamond Jubilee Britons are celebrating this weekend.
(As you can see, the Queen, like me, favours purple, isn’t afraid to be white-haired, but that’s as far as I dare go with the comparison).

Once upon a time the only connection between a grandma and the word ‘hip’ would have been a replacement op. But time passes and things change, and groovy grannies of all kinds from ‘hip’ to ‘cool’ are now to be found all over the world, though quite a few traditional grans survive in quiet pockets of civilization..
In some cultures, grannies remain relatively unchanged, though the world – or Europe at least – has recently held its collective breath while watching the admirable efforts of a group of Russian babushkas’ to win the 2012 Eurovision contest.

In the event they came second, but in my opinion, their cheerful performance will be remembered with affection long after we have forgotten what the Swedish girl  (who won) looks like.

There are hip grannies out there, blogging away from Pondicherry to Arizona, from Spain to  Sydney, from the Greek Islands to the Outer Hebrides to the Outback and the Arctic Circle. Google ‘granny blogs’ and at least 30 million come up!
And they all have something interesting to say – not necessarily about cookie recipes and the cute sayings of their treasured grandchildren.
There are many, many granny recipes on the Web to be sure and quilting and crochet seem to come high on the list of granny accomplishments, but that’s not a bad thing. Somebody has to keep those precious skills and traditions alive, and who better than grandparents? 

Quilts by my sister - also a granny

Crochet by my daughter-in-law

Time can be an enemy, and forces parents to take short cuts and spend less time on telling stories and doing all the different voices.  drawing cartoons, teaching little girls to knit and little boys to make kites. Most grandparents, however, do have some time to spare and to spend on their grandchildren – a fact that my own father pointed out to me when explaining how much he loved being a grandpa. ‘Time to watch them learn and change and develop’ he said – ‘I never had time to notice how you changed and when.’

When I became a grandma for the first time, it was as if I took on a role I had always been waiting for.

My body was now the perfect shape for the accommodation of a baby’s needs, I slipped back into the easy balancing of a baby on my hip, burping it over my shoulder, persuading the toddler to eat with tricks its fraught mother had no time for –(open your mouth Mr Ferryboat, here comes a truck full of baked beans!).
Grandpas display similar skills -

But being a grandmother, while reviving maternal skills already acquired, uncovers new talents too. Like playing Angry Birds, and mending a broken Buzz Lightyear, or unravelling the strings of a marionette. (You can tell I speak from experience).
Quite simply being a grandmother is a unique human experience and I can quite believe that grandparents have played a major role throughout the centuries in the development of the human race and its cultures.
Grandparents represent safety to a child – their embraces are confident and comforting, their voices are reassuring, their patience is endless.
Phew – what a responsibility! But what a proud heritage.

These days there is pressure on grannies, as there is on everyone else, to be hip/cool/trendy/computer friendly/a Facebooker or a Tweeter.

In some countries, like Britain, America, Canada, Australia for example, today’s grandparents grew up absorbing change and moving with the times. But in countries like Greece and Turkey, let us say, where the past is far closer to the present and in some cases has never really gone away, the role of a grandmother can be very different.
Head of the family, the Greek matriarch, the Yiayia, expected children and daughters-in-law to kiss her hand when visiting her, and this custom still applied when I came here and married. Yiayia's word was law. In Corfu, many country grannies still wear head-to-toe black and sit in a corner giving orders and advice. Town grandmothers spend a lot of time at the hairdresser’s, dyeing their hair constantly lest one grey hair escape and become a badge of age. They dress smartly, deal in gossip, and lament the passing of the days when they were the ultimate matchmakers. 

The Corfiot country grandmothers used to – and in a few cases still does – look like this.

 My own grandma looked like this

Seen here with her daughter and two sons
While my mother-in-law and her own mother looked like this

But they all reflected the times in which they lived.

Today's grandma looks like anyone else - only the sensible shoes, the specs  and the  big handbags give them away.

As a grandmother of the 21st century, with a life spent in two very different cultures, I like to think of myself as neither over-traditional nor over-trendy. I appreciate the comfort of modern clothing and find it a relief that I no longer need to squeeze my feet into stiletto heeled shoes in order to be fashionable but uncomfortable. I don’t care.  I  sometimes feel I am attached to my computer by an umbilical cord, and I have tried reading with a Kindle and enjoyed that too but I feel no compulsion to be cool
Certain things defeat me now though – like getting into those irritating packages of pens and batteries, opening certain types of bottles. Fliptop cans are a blessing but childproof medicine packaging is not.
Well, no-one ever said life would be perfect.

Few grandmothers of my acquaintance now spend their  retirement grooming their cat and growing gooseberries, observing the neighbours from behind twitching net curtains or crocheting antimacassars.
Today’s granny is more likely to be writing a blog, buying books from amazon, selling antique clothing on eBay or diving for Roman wrecks in the Ionian Sea.
One granny I know of celebrated her 93rd birthday by going dog-sledding in Norway, another marked the occasion with sky-diving.

A British magazine recently ran a feature article describing the various categories of grandma, separating them into GlamGran, GoogleGran, WiseGran, GrannyGreenfingers, etc. I think that grandmas these days, are, just like their daughters and daughters-in-law, multi-tasking, independent  women, as much at home with an egg whisk as a harpoon or a Skype phone or a mouse.

Let’s not forget that grannies are not perfect, though. They have a fearsome reputation for interfering, for knowing best. They reserve the unassailable right to tweak and tug and criticize, to pull the hems of our miniskirts down, to cast disapproving glances at our hair and make-up, to switch off our mobiles. My grandmother, called for some obscure reason Ladgie, used to make me sit up on straight backed chairs, carry books on my head and would not allow me to whistle the Trumpet Voluntary or tap out with my fingernails the William Tell Overture in her hearing. Pity, because I was rather good at both. But Grandma ruled, OK?

Being a grandparent today can be a curiously liberating experience. No-one is quite sure what to expect of you now, so you can do anything you like and get away with it. The whole question of fashion, for example, becomes redundant. You can dress for comfort at last, with Velcro shoe fastenings, elasticated waists on pants and skirts, fur-lined Crocs and fleece tops, and the occasional; foray into high-camp retro evening wear. No-one dares to criticize any more, many, even, feel envious of your freedom.

Grandmas and grandpas are gone before you really appreciate them, gone before you have asked them all those questions about the family that in later years you will struggle with the Internet to unravel. When you, too, are a grandparent, you will wish you had asked while there was still time, why no-one ever talked about Uncle Charlie, or why one of the family names is French and means Christmas, or why Great-Grandma spoke Turkish, and why there is an old photo on Grandma’s computer of a girl in antique clothing who looks just like you.

My unforgettable grandma - Ladgie

Thoroughly Modern Granny
I have a little Granny, she’s really very old, but also unconventional in a most unusual mould. She doesn’t wear spectacles perched upon her nose, She’s into contact lenses and varnishes her toes. Unlike some other Grannies, who are home before it’s dark, She dresses in a track suit and goes jogging in the park. And when I wish she’d sometimes stay and tuck me up in bed, She’s off to study yoga and standing on her head. Some Grannies sit in rocking chairs and crochet shawls indoors, My Granny jumps upon a horse and rides across the moors. She goes on day trips with her gang, the over 60’s club, They racket round the countryside and end up in a pub! And on the homeward journey, like a flock of singing birds, They harmonise old favourites with some very naughty words! I love my little Granny, I think she’s simply great, If that’s what growing old is like, I simply cannot wait.

I do not know who wrote this but I find it very charming and very true,

Yoga gran

I'd like to close with a photo of my Dad, surrounded by his grandchildren, radiating happiness. It's not only grandmas who get all the fun!
                                  But -