Tuesday, July 17, 2012


There was a time when some of the Sunday newspaper supplements, and a couple of magazines, used to fill up space, and the dreaded back page in particular, with insightful little articles on such riveting subjects as:
‘The Contents of my Fridge’
‘What’s on my mantelpiece’
‘The Contents of my Handbag’
And so on.

It was, I suppose, a development of the idea that people are fascinated by lists – which is a wholly different subject that has earned certain writers, such as one Schott, a measure of fame and fortune.

I always felt that the minor celebrities called upon to describe the contents of their fridge were always desperately trying to make a good impression, so were unlikely to mention the shapeless ball of suppurating mould that had once been half a kilo of mince, left at the back of a shelf for the tomorrow that never came. They would proudly describe the healthy options that resided therein, which no-one ever believed in and, hoping to earn a laugh, would state with coy charm that they also kept their knickers (wrapped  one hopes) or their Botox injections in there in the height of summer.

 Picture by the late great Beryl Cook

Selected mantelpieces always held invitations to fashionable weddings and ID tags for race-meetings and no-one ever mentioned the vase of Grandpa’s ashes that might have been up there in place of honour.

As for handbags, the only ones that interested me were those of the Queen and Mrs Thatcher, and since their contents were often speculated upon but never revealed, I soon lost interest.

I still think the series could have continued more interestingly with ‘What is on my Desk Today’ to which I would have been delighted to contribute.

My desk has been a source of wonder to my family and work colleagues for many years. What now amuses me is that there is a bit of one’s computer labeled ‘Desktop’ which seems to serve the same old function, only ‘virtual’. as the real thing always did – a repository for the detritus of my daily life and future projects.
There are even annoying little cyber=managers that pop up every now and then to inform me that my Desktop contains too many unused icons and would I please get rid of them. Delighted, you officious little Windows monitor I would say -  make me an offer – icons are going for a good price these days.

Today, our desks have to accommodate the computer and all its accessories, or a laptop which may incorporate some of these accessories into its body but not all.
This is supposed to result in the ‘paperless office’.
Hmm. Not so far in my experience, in fact computers seem to spew out enormous amounts of large pieces of paper covered with faint and thus illegible words and figures. This means that you have to use what you can’t read as scrap paper for jotting down a 'hard' version of what you can’t read.

One person, however, who seems to have it all under control is the President of the USA, but please note that he does not appear to have a computer on that desk.

My boss used to visit my office in Corfu on his whirlwind visits to see how we were getting on, and would sigh and groan when he saw my desk once more. I thought I had tidied it in honour of his arrival, but it was never tidy enough for him

‘It looks as if there has been an earthquake in here!’ he would bluster. ‘How can you find anything?’ And yet the curious thing was that I always could find what I wanted, within seconds. One of those cod-scientific articles appeared in the Daily Mail at that time saying that scientists agreed that an untidy desk was in fact an efficient desk. I don’t think my boss agreed.

 Thing is, desks, like Smarties and seats on aircraft, have got smaller. Look at the fine antique desk above – plenty of room there for papers and files, a plant or two, a coffee machine and a computer and even the office cat and – yes! – even room to perch a buttock on a corner while flirting on the phone with someone thus impersonating a Hollywood secretary and brightening up the day.
Ah yes, the office cat – there is always at least one when I am around.


Today’s desks are sadly reduced in size and not very attractive.

 No room there for the average daily contents of my desk, which were the initial premise for this blog, and which nowadays include at least two helicopters, a couple of fast cars and a submarine,  a shark, a dinosaur and an alligator.

Of course, as a Grandma, there is bound to be a piece of Bandaid somewhere on that desk, for emergency use only, as well as a recipe for some nice sweet cake. There will be eleven pens, used up by the kids and returned empty to the little box they stand in. There will be hastily scribbled phone numbers without names to identify them, and pieces of string. There will be lists, the purpose of which has now expired. There will be a Memory Stick, the contents of which I can't for the life of me remember.

Welcome to Grandma’s Desk!

Monday, July 9, 2012


 Hello again from CountyKate in Ontario, Canada! I thought I would elaborate on my last blog,  it seemed well received, the description of my drive around some of the lovely waterside areas of Prince Edward County.

First though, an idea of the days of winter, a memory now, shed like a cloak  Hold on, you might be saying, it is July now after all!

Our seasons here, the jokers say, are winter and July, and its almost true.  Our summer season begins in the last days of June;  many of our High School and University students, anxious to earn credits and cash for future schooling, become the backbone of all our tourist attractions - Marineland at Niagara;  Wild Water  Kingdom;  African Lion Safari;  Black Creek Pioneer Village, and many others.

So let us dwell on summer;  we are almost catapulted into it, after a cool, damp June, but the farmers have benefited - they have already made the first crop of hay - and have ploughed, seeded and fertilized.

Driving around, you can see the results already - undulating fields of waving cereal crops - barley, wheat and corn.  There's a green, leafy crop visible now, Maize, for animal feed.  Knee high now, it will be high as an 'elephants eye' by  September, ready in time for pumpkin picking, and children’s mazes!
I remember lovely Cary Grant, getting lost in the cornstalks, in North by Northwest.   Maybe you remember Mel Gibson’s kids  being lured in by Aliens or Superman flying through the corn stalks.

We still reminisce about our son in law, running into the cornfield after a flyaway kite, followed by his faithful Boxer dog, and in moments we had lost sight of him, and he had lost his sense of direction!  It took an hour, with kids climbing trees, fences and rooftops to try to see him, then he emerged, grinning, dusty and confused, some waysaway down the field!

Already, the farmers have put out their produce stands; the first offerings are strawberries, dark, shiny and sweet, along with peas in their pods and new potatoes.  We taught our then five year old granddaughter to pop open the pods, suspicious at first, but then delighted by what she found inside!
I remember my mum, at this time of year, having dirt ingrained fingertips, from scraping new potatoes!
Musn't forget the carrots and tiny beets!

And then there is the other aspect of July and August - school has finished for two months - and 'everyone' goes Up North, to their cottages, trailers or boat.  Who are these affluent people, loosely referred to as 'everyone’? On the whole, they are people who live in our cities, and who either do own, or else rent, a cottage or trailer, or go camping (watch out for bears!) near one of our beautiful Ontario Lakes.  Maybe they want to 'go back to their roots' for a while. We have none of these toys ourselves, but we enjoy them all the same when we visit our daughter, in her holiday trailer.

 A typical holiday cottage

Our own - well, our kids' - holiday trailer

Holiday fun on the lake

So July is here. Steaming hot days; why only a week or so ago it was still chilly at night and I worried for my. perennials pushing up through the hard soil.  The first to break through are the pale green spears of Solomon’s Seal, within a couple of weeks they bare elegant, arching branches, with creamy bells hanging under each leaf. They are ready for the bees to stuff their heads into, searching for nectar. Next to follow is Catnip, the blue spikes attracting bees, as well, and oh joy! the Hummingbirds.

We have kept the squirrels and chipmunks supplied all winter, with peanuts and sunflower seeds. Kept company by the raucous Blue Jays, our winter is entertaining! Opportunists, all of them.

Feeding the birds in winter
Squirrel trapped in allegedly squirrel-proof bird-feeder!
Chipmunk in bird-feeder!

Then as if you are reciting the color wheel, the other species arrive, singly, pairs or in arrogant gangs, like the American Goldfinches, though they sing a sweet song all day.  The Ruby throated Hummingbird; golden Baltimore Orioles, red breasted American Robins;  Blackcapped Chickadees;  Dark Eyed Juncos;  four species of woodpeckers - the fifth variety is too big for the feeders, I hear him knocking on trees and our fence posts!

Iridescent Grackles, Redwing tipped Blackbirds; and of course, more Blue Jays, this time masquerading as the Boys of Summer!  There are Red Tailed Hawks; Buff colored Mourning Doves and Sparrows, all fed.

Blue-Jay as you may have guessed!

Then suddenly the garden is quiet, just mummy sparrow feeding babies as big as herself, and clever, crafty black crows, who have taught themselves to lift the cover on the swimming pool, and sip the water underneath!  Maybe Mr Toad is there again, staring back!

Mr Toad in our swimming pool

Silence has descended too, over the fields and garden, no more need to mow twice a week. Farmers are awaiting a drenching rain, to swell and ripen crops
Holiday rain

Now I need to find the jars for jam and pickle making, they must be sterilized and ready.  We need to find the camping chairs, for extended stays at estate auctions, to have roadside picnics beside a river, or for when we visit the kids at their trailer.

Just a lick of paint and the chairs will be fine -

So, in an eight foot wide, thirty foot long trailer, 8 people, children and dog can muster, to eat and sleep. There is a shower room, but you have to sit on the loo to use the shower.  There is a kitchen area, but only one person can use it;  we eat outside a lot. Sleeping, a real juggling act. Hmmmm... I wonder whose turn it is to sleep on kitchen table that becomes a bed, this year.

And what do you do at the trailer or cottage? I start to piece together quilt tops, ready for quilting in winter.  I read, do crafts, paint. Or else I sits and I dreams.

Till the next time!


Sunday, July 1, 2012


 A gentle jaunt along the sublime north-east coast of Corfu

No, these are not photos from Thailand or the Caribbean - they are from the northeast coast of Corfu where I am fortunate enough to live.

Is there anything more relaxing than a leisurely cruise along a beautiful coastline in a boat that is small enough to get into the nooks and crannies of a rocky shoreline?
That is, as long as you are not under the command of a skipper who thinks he is Captain Bligh.
Fortunately ours is always pretty laid-back and his only desire is to please his passengers. As my son, I suppose he has to treat me as a cherished client, but I do not hesitate to recommend him here, not only as a skipper, but as the proprietor of one of the best boat chandleries in Corfu - Boatman's World at Kontokali! He and Joanna know their stuff!

Row, row, row your boat,
Gently down the stream.
Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily,
Life is but a dream.

 However you choose to interpret the words of this old rhyme, there is no denying that to sail, if not actually row, along the north-east coast of Corfu is to sail into a dream. And not only into a dream – into a reminder that we are never quite done with the past.
Corfu was a part of the Venetian Empire for almost 400 years, and today we cannot but recall that fact wherever we go on, or around,  this splendid island.

You may think that you know Corfu, but until you have sailed along its shores you cannot truly say that. Yachtsmen say that the coastline of Corfu is one of the most beautiful in the world and few would argue with that. There is such surprising variety in its scenery, such a pleasing harmony between the work of Man and of Nature. Seen from a small boat, the most blatantly ugly modern hotels (of which we have remarkably few in Corfu) are reduced to a regrettable but forgettable blot on the landscape, while the grace and charm of older buildings put things into perspective.
Now is the time to make such a journey, before the bays and coves of Corfu become cluttered with pleasure-craft, before the water-side tavernas become crowded, before the beaches lose their sparkling innocence.
It is the ideal way to escape from the heat, and if you are not lucky enough to own your own boat, then borrow one, rent one, or wheedle your way into some skipper's heart and persuade him to take you with him.

Come with me, and let’s sail merrily into that dream..

We could set off this time from the town of Corfu. We did so on a Benetteau Oceanis 461.

Lying off the east coast of Corfu, visible from the town, are two small islands – three if you count the solitary slab of rock called Brouzada. (It is also called Kaloyeros (Monk) by the locals, or Punk Rock by some of the British, as it appears to have a tuft of punk-style hair atop its otherwise bare rock.) Many a less-experienced sailor, taking part in one of  the regular off-shore races, has been led astray by the sheer sides of the rock and run aground on the shallow reef that lurks below the pale, tell-tale aquamarine sea that surrounds the rock.

The other two islands are called Vido and Lazaretto. Despite their small size, they carry an enormous amount of historical weight and human tragedy  upon their pine-clad shoulders,

Beach on Vido

Vido, in Venetian times, was connected by tunnels with the town of Corfu, and convicted criminals, after trial in the town, would be led via the tunnels to imprisonment on the island.

 In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, it bristled with fortifications, Venetian. French and then British. But on the ceding of the Ionian Islands to Greece, the British blew up almost everything on the island, including a very ancient Byzantine church. Today, massive chunks of masonry are largely hidden by the abundant foliage of the island’s many trees and bushes. Rabbits, goats and pheasants, a reminder that this was for a while a Bird and Wild Life Sanctuary, roam freely and are quite tame. Vido was for a time a reformatory and as such was out of bounds, but now it welcomes visitors with its beautiful, tranquil scenery and unspoilt beaches.
It is perhaps best known for its Serbian Mausoleum and monument, commemorating the Serbian soldiers and civilians who were hospitalized on the island in 1915, many of whom subsequently died there.

The even smaller island of Lazaretto, also has a tragic history. The Venetians established a quarantine station here, for ships bound for Corfu. They were the first to establish the quarantine system, in the fifteenth century, and their stringent rules did much to lessen the spread of the plague epidemics that rampaged across Europe in those times. There was also a ‘leprosarium’ on Lazaretto, where victims of contagious diseases such as leprosy would be confined.
During the Second World War, and also between 1947 and 1949, a great many Greek Resistance fighters and political prisoners were executed on the island.

Hidden amongst mature trees, on the Corfiot hillside overlooking Lazaretto, is one of the famous ‘Durrell houses’, so-called because in the nineteen-thirties, the Durrell family rented it for a time, and Gerald Durrell wrote about it in his much-loved book, ‘My Family and Other Animals’, christening it ‘The Daffodil-Yellow Villa’.
Like so many of the old houses that remain along the Corfu coast-line, it dates back to Venetian times.

View of Lazaretto from the Durrell villa

Not far from this villa, is Sotiriotissa, with its old church  and attached house. Here the main road leading north out of Corfu Town turns inland, but the coastline continues in a series of small beaches backed by tall trees in which some outstanding examples of Venetian domestic and sometimes fortified architecture remain, many of them still occupied, some beautifully renovated.



Old houses and churches on the shoreline

It is here that we find Kontokali and Gouvia – well-known these days as holiday resorts, though the fortunes of Kontokali have declined noticeably, perhaps because the busy dual carriageway  discourages timid tourists from crossing it. The village is now dominated by the yacht marina, but there are still areas that look just as they always did, such as Gerekos island – not really an island but with the sense of separation from the mainstream that is the joy of island life. The men of Kontokali were always seamen and fishermen, and they still fish here, and mend their nets, maintain their boats and are closely monitored by hungry gulls and herons.

Gerekos Island

Govino Bay, enclosed by Gerekos island and the Kommeno peninsula, and the site of the large yacht marina, is a huge, safe anchorage, where the Venetian navy gathered its ships, and closed off the narrow entry with a great chain, which could be raised and lowered as required. Ruins of watchtowers and other naval buildings can still be seen, including the Venetian arsenal and dockyard at Gouvia, now a pleasant and popular little holiday resort.

  Venetian shipyard at Gouvia

Passing the little church of Ypapanti, a favourite venue for weddings and baptisms thanks to its photogenic appearance, we sail up towards the sparkling bays and coves formed where the limestone slopes of Mt Pantocrator meet the water’s edge.
Continuing northwards along the green, wooded shores, the idea that Corfu is ‘spoiled’ by tourism seems very far-fetched. Clusters of villas, apartments and tavernas are strung along the coast, dwarfed by the dense olive groves that give way here and there to the glittering crags and outcrops of Corfu’s highest mountain, Pantocrator.

Elegant villas abound, the older ones  screened by Mediterranean gardens brimming with palms, jasmine and bougainvillea.
There are houses that could not be closer to the sea, that were once fishermen’s huts, olive presses or olive pickers sheds- now so coolly glamorous that they frequently grace the pages of glossy magazines.

For example - 


The residences of modern, international giants of commerce, politics and the media draw the eye and perhaps arouse some envy, but even the longest lenses of the paparazzi are rarely able to breach the privacy  - that they offer gracious living by the sea is obvious, but who enjoys it is less easily observed.
Not all the Venetian buildings that dot the coast of Corfu started life as domestic residences. Let us not forget that in those days there was no road along the coast, and that pirates infested these waters, not to mention the successive waves of invaders . Many of the buildings that are now homes or tavernas, for example, were once staging posts for the boats that plied the coast, carrying passengers, freight and mail. Some simply provided seasonal accommodation for the olive pickers, who brought the crop to the shore to be pressed and shipped, in those days back to the relentlessly greedy merchants of Venice. St Stephano, Kaminaki, Agni and Kalami are testimony to these origins. 

View of Agni Bay

Most of the ancient villages were built high upon the hillsides overlooking the coast, their dwellings clustered tightly about each other, interspersed with narrow, twisting alleys and high walls to deter the marauders.
The closer to the shore a ‘modern’ villa is, the more likely it is that it started life as a functional building of some kind, usually an olive press.

There are several churches too, down at sea-level.
Perhaps the most famous (Lawrence Durrell write about it) and the most spectacularly-sited is the tiny chapel of St Arsenius, below Kentroma village.

I love Durrell's description of throwing cherries into the crystal-clear water nearby, and his wife               Nancy diving for them .

But the great white house that seems to rise out of the water itself at Kouloura, was a fortified Venetian lookout post. It was occupied by German troops in WWII for similar purposes, and its owner, an elderly lady, refused to leave her home and was allowed to remain, interned in one of the towers.  Wrongly identified by many guides and guidebooks as Lawrence Durrell’s temporary home, it now belongs to an influential Italian family.


The White House that was indeed Lawrence Durrell’s home for a time from 1936  still stands at Kalami, and is still available for rent. Its simple furnishings have changed little from Durrell’s day and include his writing desk. Much has changed at Kalami, but The White House retains a charm and an allure that represents the very best of the traditional Greek island holiday. The terrace of the building houses a Greek taverna where wisteria droops above the tables in April and May, where the view is of boats and ducks, swimming merrily if implausibly, between the small boats..

The White House at Kalami

Another of the most famous villas along this coast is of course that on the Rothschild estate. Its design could be said to hark back beyond Venetian times, perhaps to an Angevin stronghold?

Spotting the celebrities that visit each summer, when they emerge for a taverna supper, is a popular holiday pastime for holidaymakers in this area.
But more about the pleasures of a meal by the sea another time.

It is not only the creations of Man, however, that attract attention while sailing along past cliffs and coves, caves and beaches. The rock formations themselves are astonishing, hinting at primeval upheavals we can barely imagine.

Historical facts. rumour, intrigue and downright gossip – all have been borne on the sea breezes of this lovely and historic coastline.

So, row or sail or gently cruise your way up and down the coastline where history has been made in the past and continues, from time to time, to be made today.

 You could even surf it!

Or swim it!

I do recommend you read, or re-read, 'Prospero's Cell' by Lawrence Durrell for poetic descriptions of this coastline as it was and as it remains - utterly beautiful, utterly magical.

Thanks to my friend Frosso and to my sister Katy for the use of their photos - the rest are my own.