Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Naked before God

Our sailing over, we are now at Nestor's base in Gouvia Marina. Mr Grigg has just come back from the showers and is part way through regaling us with one of his long and involved stories when he suddenly looks quite ill.

He tells us he was relieving himself, naked, enjoying the luxury of sitting on a real lavatory when there was a knock at the door. After finishing his business, he said:'Yes?'

A German accent asked: 'Did I leave my passport and wallet in there?'

Mr Grigg glanced around. 'No,' he said.

'Do you mind if I come in and have a look?'

So Mr Grigg opened the door. There was a pensioner standing there, stark b*ll*ck naked apart from a pair of spectacles. As Mr Grigg tells the tale, his brother puts on a fake aghast look and, trying to suppress the sniggers, says: 'You didn't fall for the old homosexual rape trick did you?'

Mr Grigg shakes his head but goes very pale. The moment passes but as we are eating our breakfast in the saloon, we hear a foreign man's voice calling from outside. Mr Grigg bristles and clenches his fists as he thinks of his lucky escape.

'Hello there, how are ya?' Thankfully it is an American accent and not German.

Mr Grigg goes up to the cockpit.

'Yes?' he says. Aggression, at this point, is his middle name.

'It's a great day today, isn't it?' says the cheery American, who is accompanied by a male friend carrying a briefcase.

'Yes,' agrees Mr Grigg impatiently. 'But what do you want?'

'I have some information for you.'

'Like what?' Mr Grigg says.

'I've come to tell you about God and the Bible.'

Speechless, Mr Grigg is helped out by his brother who says: 'Not today thank you. But there's a chap up in the showers who might be interested.'

That's about it from the Ionian. Until next year.

Love Maddie x

England versus Germany

In Petriti, a small fishing village in the south of Corfu, the fishing boats are coming in from their nightly operations. There are about eight of them in front of Vasilli's taverna on the quayside. Three years ago, he was full of bile for the crew, insisting they were Albanians who blocked his view and lived aboard to avoid tax.

This year, he tells a different story, unaware that he has met us before.

'The boats? Three of them are my family's. I am married to the daughter,' he says, chest puffing out with pride.

We are moored stern-to at the quayside, sandwiched between two yachts full of Germans. This is almost a fate worse than death for Mr Grigg's brother. It is not very nice, I know, but British memories go back a long way, even to a time when they weren't born, when uncles perished at the hands of the enemy in World War II. He is not a football fan but nevertheless would watch England versus Germany with Mr Grigg at the drop of a hat.

My iPod is playing Jupiter from Holst's Planet Suite and it reaches the part where it turns into the tune for I Vow To Thee My Country. Mr Grigg's brother turns it up, this song that is the epitome of being British. But, hang on a minute, wasn't Holst of Swedish extraction?

My thoughts are disrupted as a wasp comes along and kisses Mr Grigg on the nipple.

It's a hard life.

That's about it

Love Maddie x

Monday, 21 September 2009

Mr Grigg and the Octopus

It is Mr Grigg's brother who spots it first. The beast from the deep, forty thousand leagues under the sea.

'It's just lying there, its arm around a clam. It won't let me have it,' he says, through a pout-mouth and snorkel.

Mr Grigg and Number One Son are dispatched from the back of the boat to find it.

'I hope he doesn't kill it,' Mr Grigg's brother says to me. 'You know what he's like. I quite admired it, you know, with its tentacles wrapped around its prize.'

Ever since Mr Grigg saw a man wading patiently in the shallows around Keloura two years ago, it's been his ambition to catch an octopus and serve it up for supper.

Armed with a harpoon made from a broom handle, he edges forward in the water while Number One Son creates a diversion. Down below, the octopus seductively wraps her tentacles around his stick. Mr Grigg is smitten. A lover of natural beauty, he comes back empty-handed but full of admiration. He brushes it off by making smutty jokes about tentacles and poles. But his brother and I are pleased he has met his match in the shallows of Lakka.

That night, I cannot resist re-enacting a scene from the dreadful film Alien Versus Predator. As Mr Grigg and I snuggle down in the forward cabin, my arm goes up and I clamp my hand firmly around his head like a face-hugger alien.

'Do that again,' he says. 'I quite like it.'

A sucker for punishment, obviously.

That's about it

Love Maddie x

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Sh*t happens

'This is Olympia Raad-yo, Olympia Raad-yo, to all sheeps to all sheeps...' And so my odyssey begins again - at least for the next week as we take an end-of-season trip on our boat in the Ionian.

She will soon be completely ours, as readers of this occasional blog know, and it's a strange feeling. In theory, next year we could be here all the time, sunning ourselves, sailing, cooking simple suppers on the tiny galley stove. But Mr Grigg has a couple of years to go yet before retiring and I need to devise a way of earning a living in Greece when he does. I speak no Greek but my command of English is pretty good, and those of you who have stopped by here before know my plan is to do a TEFL course and teach out here for at least a year.

I am never going to be the next J K Rowling or Zadie Smith. It is true the more you read the better a writer you become, but it does make you realise your limitations. It's like the amateur footballer who reaches 30 and it slowly dawns on him he will never do any better than playing for the pub team.

On the boat with Mr Grigg, his brother and Number One Son, the four of us look like rotund little Buddhas, the Grigg siblings more than anyone. We sit in a bar and a wild man with long grey hair and an even longer beard, drives by in a red Massey Ferguson, smoke billowing out from the back. An Englishman strolls by talking to his daughter's boyfriend, who has the words SEX WAX emblazoned across the back of his T-shirt. He bores his future son-in-law with a tale about a tractor he once owned that had a bench for a seat. The Greek Orthodox priest saunters by, in his long black dress. He hitches up his skirt and sits down with the men in the kafenion as they play backgammon.

Back on the boat the toilet is blocked. We can't pump it out and it is in danger of spilling over and flooding us all with smelly effluent. A phone call to the base manager and he comes out the next morning to pump out the blockage with the dinghy pump. Whoosh, a long ribbon of watery poo gurgles out, floats past and stretches 100 metres or more.

'It's like a bloody oil slick,' says Mr Grigg, disgusted, but watching closely because he might have to do this himself next year. And then a large blob of lavatory paper floats by, the legacy of previous occupants who know no better. I find the nearest aftershave I come across and, appropriately, spray Mr Grigg's Intimately Beckham around the loo while the base manager clears the air. It's a sh*t job but someone's got to do it.

'I used to be a jeweller,' he confides. Now the only carats he handles are the vegetable type digested by clients through their lower intestines.

As Mr Grigg spies the loo paper, he says: "Thank God for that, I thought it was the bloody square pasty.'

Because this, dear reader, was the vehicle parked outside our house on the morning we left.

Just watch out for those spinach pies.

That's about it

Love Maddie x

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Photos from the Ionian

A selection of photos from the latest part of our Ionian odyssey.

where the wind takes us

through olive groves
deserted beaches at sunset

shimmering turquoise coves in the morning

where fake Crocs are perfect

But crushed little fingers are not

For the homecoming, hop across to The world from my window and see you in September for the next instalment.

That's about it

Maddie x

Monday, 6 July 2009

Lowering the tone in Kensington-on-Sea

As our sailing holiday in the Ionian comes to an end, Mr Grigg says: 'Oh I wish we could stay here for a bit longer.'

Later, when we check our flight tickets, we see that we are. Another day. The old man got the date wrong.

So we head up to beautiful Kaloura on Corfu, where we are only one of two boats in the bay. We anchor and take a long line ashore. Unfortunately, two young men and women are paddling in the rocks a few yards away, drinking beer and smoking . They have gold chains around their necks and lots of tattoos. They have to be Brits. The phrase 'why aye man' confirms it.

So as I sit in the cockpit, looking at this sight, I say to myself: "Kensington-on-Sea just isn't what it used to be.'

At that point, a giant inflatable banana roars up through the North Corfu channel and the Geordies start singing 'Oops, upside your head'.

Suddenly, my disco diva 70s teenager side comes to the fore. My snobbery drops off like a pashmina around my shoulders. I tell Mr Grigg I have the track on my iPod.

'Well, put it on then', he says.

'Do you really think so? I wouldn't want to spoil the peace and quiet of this place. And besides, they might come aboard and thump us.'

'Just do it,' he says, 'but don't put it on too loud.'

So I attach my iPod to the stereo through the cigarette lighter and The Gap Band start their funky guitar and the Geordies can't believe their ears. They dance in the water, row backwards and forwards in the water, thumbs up and big smiles. And no thumps.

When YMCA comes on, an old boy towelling himself off on the beach gesticulates. Is he angry? No, he's joining in. After a few more tracks, it comes to going home time. The Geordies wave from their quad bikes and say: 'Top music, you made our day.'

With hooting of horns, they wind off up the hill and I put on something more appropriate, the instrumental La Femme d'Argent by Air, as we quietly watch the sun go down.

There is a time and a place for everything.

That's about it

Love Maddie x

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

The taxman cometh

In sleepy Lakka, on the northern tip of Paxos, where the bay is a turquoise blue and the cicadas incessant buzzing is deafening, a person in the house on the hill practises the tuba. The mournful high notes penetrate this peaceful place as we bob around at anchor watching others prepare themselves for a day's sailing.

Yesterday, we picked up a couple of hitchhikers after Mr Grigg, always the entertainer, had a Maddie moment and invited two complete strangers on the taverna table next to us at for a day out on the good ship Nestor.

We pootled up from Gaois, enjoying the company of our new-found friends, Pat and Ned, after almost a week of being in splendid isolation. We lunched on board on chef's salad, bread, wine and beer after swimming around the boat in the clear, warm waters.
But I am very nosy and the burning question I had was what did they do for a living. They hesitated before looking aghast at each other.

'We're having such a lovely time. We weren't going to tell you this,' they said in unison.

A coldness swept through our veins. The Serial Killers of the High Seas, British National Party canvassers or septic tank emptiers (the last two are interchangeable but at least the latter is honest and necessary). Or maybe, heaven forbid as far as Mr Grigg is concerned, divorce lawyers?

There was a deep intake of breath as they said: 'We worked for the Inland Revenue as tax inspectors.'

You could hear a pine needle drop, just above the sound of Mr Grigg's brain whirring as he thought back to the last hour's conversation. Had he said anything incriminating?

Pat said: 'But we've both taken early retirement and we don't care.'

'Well, it's a job and somebody's got to do it,' I said, breaking the ice that had suddely frozen over the Ionian. As a tax saint due for a rebate, it was the least I could do.

At the end of the afternoon, we took them by dinghy across to the Quayside for a goodbye beer.

'You've really made our day,' Pat said. 'It's been the highlight of our holiday, thank you so much. My son will be so jealous.'

That night, we enjoyed a meal at Nionios in Lakka square, finished off with the ubiquitous small glass of brown stuff 'on the house' that tasted distinctly like Obridges cough mixture.

It's a hard life. But somebody's got to do it.

That's about it

Love Maddie x

Monday, 29 June 2009

The reluctant sailor

We are now in Gaois, Paxos, having sailed up through the Lefkas Canal from Spartochori on the island of Meganisi, overlooking Skorpios, Jackie O's island. It is hot, calm and peaceful and Mr Grigg is happy because we have borrowed a winch handle from a Nielson boat. On our way out of Kefallonia and mythical Ithaca we were joined by a family of dolphins. Mother and Father gracefully jumped out of the sea while Baby managed bunny-hopping belly flops.

This is the life.

But I am such a fickle, fairweather sailor - one hint of fouling up and I vow to myself this darned boat and I are finished. It's all very well Mr Grigg looking like an old sea dog on the stern, his stubble turning into Captain Birdseye's beard. But I am jolted out of my joy when trying to berth in Sami on Kefallonia.
I am the anchor woman but, to be honest, don't really understand what I'm doing. The anchor chain gets stuck twice as we come back. On the third attempt I crush my little finger. A distant memory of a Frenchman I once met in Plymouth flashes through my mind. An experienced transatlantic yachtsman, he was missing the tip of his index finger after an argument with a rope.

The injury calls for a beer and some TLC. So we stay in Sami for two days and hire a scooter, the Rust Bucket, to explore Captain Corelli's island. It is 30 per cent bigger than Corfu and relatively unspoilt by tourism. Fiskardho is pretty but full of pretentious yacthing types. I much prefer the secluded bays and the working towns where the real people are.

We turn the Rust Bucket around when we run out of oil after 50 yards and complain to the moped man, who looks like the alien from the pawn shop in Men in Black. He, meanwhile, is being shouted at by a drunkard on the other side of the road. The moped man is balding and has buck teeth, googly eyes and I swear he has cloven feet poking out from his trousers.

But we manage to make it around the island, despite the fact that the Rust Bucket's speedo and fuel gauge don't work and the tax is a year out of date. We pass wild thyme and fennel, olive trees and cypress, dry rye grass, hollyhocks and allium. A lazy cicada crosses the road, followed by a skillywiggler salamander. The smell of pine, heat and cooking with garlic as we pass through the villages.

Today we have made the long voyage up to Paxos and ended up playing I Spy to while away the hours. But Mr Grigg is tuned into my lack of sailor speak and comes up with words like binnacle, transome and sheets when all I can come up with is sea, sun and sky.

It's a hard life.

That's about it

Love Maddie x

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

The Odyssey begins

We are holed up in Vathi, the capital of Ithaca. While England is bathed in sunshine, the Ionian is subject to cyclonic winds and thunderstorms. I have never slept so much as I have today, after a disturbed night at anchor in this deep bay. The noise of the chain grated and reverberated around the forward cabin I am sharing with Mr Grigg.

Five years ago, we came to Corfu looking for a holiday home. We had a modest sum of money to put towards a property and spent two weeks looking around the island for something suitable. We were in the hands of different British estate agents we neither trusted nor liked.

On the last day of our holiday, Mr Grigg asked me if we could make a detour to the marina at Gouvia, just north of Corfu Town.

'There might be some boats there for sale,' he said.

I was about to congratulate him on his idea only to find several email print-outs between him and the owner of a charter company who was selling surplus stock. He had planned it all along.
We were met at the quayside by a young Greek man with long brown hair, dark eyes and an English accent acquired from an American university.

We looked around what he had to offer but I was not impressed. Cramped boats whose parts came up and knocked me on the shins at every turn. And besides, I could barely swim, let alone sail.

But the encounter planted a seed in my head. With a holiday home you are rooted to one spot. With a holiday boat, you could go anywhere.

I have always loved Greece from the days of reading Enid Blyton's Tales of Long Ago as a child to package holidays to Crete, Rhodes and the Cyclades. I fancied my own name, Grigg, could have come from Greek. My mother insists, however, she has traced the family back to the 1600s when they were farm labourers and publicans venturing no further than a small market town in Somerset.

Back in the UK, Mr Grigg did some research and came up with the ideal solution. A partnership with the company in which both sides put 50%. We had the use of the boat, a 36ft Bavaria yacht, for up to five weeks a year and the company used it the rest of the time, paying all the bills and maintaining it.

So Mr Grigg did evening classes for a day skipper qualification and we both came away with competent crew certificates on a RYA course at Weymouth.
Today, Nestor, named after an ancient Homeric king from the shores of sandy Pilos in the western Peloponnese, is our 'second home'. She takes us to places I have only read about in books, little romantic bays you just dream about. Last year, Mr St John came too and the previous year Mrs Bancroft and I swanned around like Greek royalty.

It's a lovely way to potter around the Greek islands, taking care and shelter when the weather is bad and striking out for new lands when it is good. This morning, I looked out on my porthole at other boats swinging gently on their moorings, old men on mopeds pootling up the street and a strange Truck of Junk, an open sided lorry stacked full of antiques including tables, paintings and the longest, thinnest saxophone you have ever seen.

The sailing bit still scares me. There is so much we do not know. But Mr Grigg, a risk taker in his work and when putting up bunting in his slippers, is a very sensible skipper. I do not usually do as I am told, especially when Mr Grigg tells me to do it. I have learned, however, that the skipper is always right. If he fouls up, then it is his fault not yours.

So it was his fault when he realised he had not completely checked the inventory before we left port. As we were just about to take advantage of a lovely sailing wind from Kastos to Ithaca, we suddenly realised we had no winches. So we missed out on sailing into Vathi but beat on, with the help of our engine.

At the end of the season, Nestor becomes ours. Decisions will have to be made about what to do next. We are too young to retire, me particularly. But maybe a gap year, if I can prise myself away from the world from my window.

That's about it

Love Maddie x