Tuesday, 26 April 2011

The Gallery: Green!

I'm a country girl at heart.

I grew up surrounded by the tame but nonetheless beautiful fields and forests of Surrey and Sussex.

Little wonder, then, that no matter where I go or what I do, there is little that can lift my spirits more than a nice bit of greenery.

And if it is the sight of the glorious countryside in the spring sunshine, burgeoning and bubbling with new growth, so much the better.

I used to think I didn't like the colour green - until one day when I tried to paint a picture in my High School art class without using any shade, tone or hint of it.

The results were interesting for sure - but somehow dead and unnatural.

Since I got more and more into snapping away with my camera, I have discovered a whole rainbow of greens: from the deepest midnight green of a pine forest in the black of the night, to the electric zazzy lime shot of new leaves or a bowl of pea and mint soup.

Just drinking in the greens of springtime feels like letting out a breath that I've been holding all winter, waiting for the fresh shoots of hope to appear, and inhaling a lungful of clean air.

Since I was a youngster, I have loved the feel of new grass between my toes, and and sniffing the scents of the herbs growing round the edge of my parent's vegetable garden.

And then there was my Dad's beloved tomatoes and runner beans - gloriously luxurious leaves that smell like heaven itself and give us the absolute BEST in fresh summer food come June.

The tomatoes and beans are still going strong, thanks to the loving care of my brillant (and slightly hyperactive) mother. Sadly, however, Dad is no longer around to enjoy them.

Dad loved the country - so every time I go for a long walk on my own through the leafy lanes, it's almost as if I can feel him strolling silently along next to me, pointing out tiny little details in the undergrowth that make this big old world so much more magical - if only we'd take the trouble to look.

For more Glorious Greenness, check out this week's Gallery over at http://stickyfingers1.blogspot.com/

Monday, 25 April 2011

Silent Sunday - In the country

I posted this a day too late so I couldn't get it included in the Pantheon of last week's Silent Sunday gallery. A lot of folk (193 no less) did though - click on the below badge to go to Mocha Bean Mummy's brilliant blog and link to all those lovely Sunday images.

Silent Sunday

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

The Gallery: My (Other) Blog

Like most folk, my blogging life has evolved through several stages.

One of my favourites (though with a limited shelf life) was my attempt at something like the blogging love child of Adian Mole and Bridget Jones.
My very own online journal called "The Secret Diary of a Transplanted Brit-Chick, Aged 44 and 3/4"

It was an attempt to catalogue my hum-drum life in a way that others like me might recognise - and perhaps make someone, somewhere smile.

I had to abandon it after I turned 45. Either that or change the title.

It's still there at http://transplantedbritchick.blogspot.com/ if any of you fancy a look and don't mind delving back into the annals of 2009.
(Stop sniggering, you at the back! I said "annals" with TWO 'n's).

Run, rabbit

Rabbits are universally accepted as cute, adorable little creatures that no-one in their right mind could object to, right?

Everybody loves a bunny, don’t they?

Except for me.

I really cannot see the appeal of what are considered in rural areas of Australia as a serious pest.

My rabbit repulsion dates back to my childhood when a neighbours’ bunny bit me after I caught him in the flower bed after one of his many escape attempts, leading me to the local ‘cottage hospital’ (remember them? I guess I’m showing my age) for one of my many tetanus jabs.

I’m willing to bet I’m the only person you know that has been traumatised by a bunny!

And if that was not enough, we then went and got one!

Actually, I got a guinea pig (a cute black-and-tan number that I baptised “Pickles”) but my little sister got a mean-spirited, grunting albino bunny called (predictably) “Snowy”. They set up home together in a hutch and everything seemed to be fine…

….until we realised that I was allergic to rabbits. I just had to approach their cage and I would start sneezing, my eyes would stream and my skin puff up. And if I actually touched the flaming pink-eyed monstrosity, my eyes would quickly puff up and close.

Trouble is, we had promised that we would look after them.

And I was the eldest – well, say no more....

Feeding them was fine, I could get off fairly unscathed and little sis actually helped out with that. But what about the weekly cleaning out of the hutch?

Rabbits can produce a surprisingly prodigious amount of pooh, and not all in pellet form either. Add to that the fact that, within the space of two months, “little Snowy” had grown into a huge albino monster that snorted loudly every time the back door opened in the hope of more food.

But it had to be done. So every Saturday afternoon found me manhandling a struggling 10 kilo bunny with malevolent pink eyes and surprisingly sharp claws into his pen on the lawn so I could clean out his mess, all the time struggling to see through a veil of allergy-induced tears.

…until that fateful winter morning when I approached the hutch for their morning feed, and found Pickles gone! Not exactly gone, rather smothered under the considerable bulk of his bunny room-mate. Bloody Snowy had killed Pickles! Needless to say, from that day forward, I have never cleaned another rabbit hutch. And very soon, Snowy was shipped off to join my Uncle’s menagerie.

My lack of enthusiasm for rabbits also extends to the Easter Bunny, which I just don’t get. I just can’t see the connection to be honest. What is the point of the Easter Bunny? Is it just a pagan fertility thing, given their reputation as prolific breeders? Who knows?

I can handle Bugs Bunny – after all, he’s more human than most of us. But I am afraid that for the rest of his kind, I am more likely to reach for the bunny boiler like Glenn Close in ‘Fatal Attraction’ than I am to pet them.

Easter in my house is celebrated without the likes of Snowy et al, thank you very much. Just give me a collection of cute little ducks, chicks and basketful of painted eggs and I’m happy…

…and don’t forget the chocolate!

Monday, 18 April 2011

Minding my manners (or 'Protocol & Pitfalls')

Etiquette is not my strong suit - just ask my mother. Many's the time she was left shaking her head in despair when her happy-go-lucky but klutzy first-born bowled into social situations without a thought for the proper protocol.

It's not that I don't consider common courtesy or good manners important (I do, and I think - or hope - my son is testament to that), it's just that I've never had much patience for the 'niceties' of which order people must be seated around a dinner table, the right fork to use for the salmon mousse, who should speak or wait to be spoken to, or where exactly you're supposed to put your linen napkin (tucked into neckline where it might serve some purpose or uselessly laid across the lap?).

You can tie yourself in knots trying to work out the intricacies of correct protocol even when you spend all your days, from cradle to grave, in the same place.

Imagine then, if you will, the joys of adapting to the 'new manners' of an adopted country. I was bought up in the classic middle class English tradition of 'please' and 'thank you', removing elbows from the table, offering your seat on the bus to senior citizens, and never discussing politics, religion or money (or weight gain, for that matter).

So it was a bit of a culture shock twenty-odd years ago when I arrived in the noisy, riotous, exuberant country that is now my home, and started adjusting to Greek etiquette.

You might think that some things are universal. And indeed, getting up to let a doddery old dear or a eight-month old pregnant lady sit down on the train is acceptable good manners in both countries (just be prepared for the possiblity of the fierce offended glare of a pugnaciously proud Greek grandad who considers your implication of his frailty as an insult).

But it's not quite as clear-cut as you may expect. For years, my father-in-law and I have been having a running battle over 'please' and 'thank you'. He considers it to be a formality between relative strangers, that lacks sincerity and has no place between family members. I say I can't undo the conditioning that was drummed into to me during my Home Counties childhood - I say thanks to my mum if she makes me cup of tea, after all. And, anyway, if a tendency to say 'please' and 'thank you' too much is the worse thing he can say about his daughter-in-law then he's a lucky man indeed!

As for taboo subjects - well, there are none. Just so long as you are prepared for noisy and rumbuctuous debate on the politics of the day, how much (or little) you make, or (my own personal favourite) how fat you've got.

Then, there's kissing. This is a positive minefield. Where I grew up, we kissed relatively few people - just immediate family members, the closest of close friends... and of course, boyfriends. For immediate family it was always a dry but affectionate peck on the lips. And, naturally, men NEVER kissed one another in greeting - at most there would be an awkward, manly handshake.

In Greece, you can't move for kisses. You see an old work mate on the street - kiss, kiss. Your hubby comes across an old buddy from the army - mwah, mwah. Mums, dads, brothers, sisters, cousins - even old bosses or teachers (depending on how you did with them) - they all come into for the kissing treatment. But it's a very specific kiss - grasp the hand, pull the other person close, and deliver two dry and noisy pecks, one on either cheek. NEVER on the lips. Never EVER! Oh no.

To outside eyes, Greeks may seem far more relaxed and less bound by conventions of etiquette than the so-called buttoned-down English. But the truth is very different - as I have learned from bitter experience.

For a start, you have the whole matter of two different forms of address - the informal and friendly "sou" (you), and the polite "sas" which is supposed to be used to show respect and deference to the person you're speaking to. Not to mention those who object to being addressed in the formal manner because they think it lacks warmth ("How am I supposed to know for flip's sake?")

There are very specific standard greetings that you are supposed to deliver on certain occasions - and heaven forbid that you should fail to say them both to the person directly involved AND their immediate family. It's not enough to ring up your mate Takis and wish him "Chronia Polla" (Many Happy Returns) on his birthday or Name Day (don't worry about forgetting to send a card - Greeks generally don't DO cards). But if you want to avoid being placed of the black list of his kindly Yiayia (granny) you need to make sure you also deliver the same wishes to her, as well as Takis' mother, father, brother and pet dog too.

There are specific special greetings for all life's major events. "Kai sta dika sas" (Here's to yours) to singletons at weddings. "Na zisete" (May you live, implying happily ever after) to the bride and groom. "Kai tou chronou" (here's to the next one, next year) for birthdays and anniversaries.

It's easy enough to learn the standard responses.
Unfortunately, it's equally easy to get them mixed up.

Believe me, you do NOT want to find yourself in the position of greeting a bride and groom you barely now with a wish of "Kai tou chronou" (here's to the next one). Or worse, trying to console the grieving relatives at a funeral with a heartfelt "Kai sta dika sas" (Here's to yours).

Fortunately, I LOOK foreign. It would be hard to confuse me with a native, and most Greeks are good-natured enough. They know that you are trying and their laughter at your Size 7s firmly shoved in your mouth is anything but malicious.

So, don't worry about etiquette. Those who want to take offence will always find a reason to get the hump no matter what. And the well-meaning ones will forgive you the most horrendous faux pas.

After all, my dear old Mum probably scored more Brownie Points with my Greek family when she enthusiastically (but mistakenly) shouted out "Kalimera!" (Good morning) at the stroke of midnight on New Year's Eve (she should have said "Kali chronia!" - Happy New Year), than she could have in a century of correct napkin placement.

Friday, 15 April 2011

Stuck in the middle

OK, it's time for me to 'fess up and lay myself bare to you. I think we've known each other long enough for me to take this momentous step and open up my innermost secrets.

I don't know if I even dare say this out loud - after all, there's no counsellor standing by to pick up the pieces when I crash and burn (which I will almost certainly do, if my spidey senses are right).

OK. Deep breath. Count to ten. Then backwards to one again.

The truth is (oh God) that....


....I'm ordinary.

There is nothing that makes me stand out (except for my height and inability to fit into Top Shop sizes).

I have no exotic psychological struggles that plague me whilst also making me fascinating and artistic and cool.

I'm not battling anything except a pile of ironing and the bank manager.

My greatest afflictions are myopia and mediocrity.

Jeez, I think that just won me 'Mrs Boring 2011'.

Middle seems to sum up everything about me. Mid 40s, middle class, (struggling) middle income, losing the fight against middle age spread, in the middle when the men in my life launch into their latest - ahem - 'philosophical debate'. I'm slap bang in the centre of Dullsville, unseen and unnoticed in my boring normality.

And I have nothing to blame it all on - not even a mild dose of dyslexia to hang 'my struggle' on.
(Don't get me wrong - I'm not trivialising the very real struggles that more than a few of my closest friends and family face every day. I know how hard it is for them, and what they wouldn't give for a day or two of 'ordinary'. You guys know that, don't you?)

But believe me, ordinary is not all it's cracked up to be.

It involves boring, mundane stuff like paying bills, emptying bins, unblocking sinks, making lists, balancing books and cleaning toilets.

There's no get-out clause. There's nothing wrong with me - so why shouldn't I plunge my hand into the scum-covered water in the kitchen sink to remove stray bits of potato peelings and semi-fermented rice?

But lurking deep within is a Drama Queen screaming to be released upon an unsuspecting world. To totter around in killer heels (before taking a melodramatic tumble), wear thigh-high kinky boots and long flowing coats that fan out as she strides down the street, give rapid-fire orders in an imperious voice reminiscent of Lady Bracknell on speed, and generally have the entire world revolve around her. She would use my height and build to its greatest advantage to grab the attention of anyone and everyone that strays within her orbit (rather than trying to hide my bulk in nondescript neutrals) and would present my many failings as part of what make me so WUNDERBAR, whacky and one in a million.

Trouble is, if I release her the flowers would wilt for want of water, the grime monster would take over the house (shortly before it's repossessed to pay our many creditors), new forms of life would grow in uncollected dirty cups, and the menfolk would go into testosterone-fuelled meltdown.

So it looks like I have to keep the Drama Queen safely locked up - and only let her alter-ego, the Inner Bitch, out to play when there's no-one around to hear her oh-so-witty but sharp-edged vitriol.

In other words, I'm back where I started - stuck in the middle, like so many others in the silent majority.

Maybe we should start a support group?

"Hello, my name's Mandi and I'm ordinary...."