Travelling cats


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Bob mewed every 6 seconds for the first hour in the car. He panted and climbed mercilessly over his sister, sitting on her, aware only of his own distress. Gizmo sat in silence for the most part hoping it would all go away soon!
On arrival they were locked in the downstairs cloakroom while the removal men unloaded our home. Eventually the cats graduated to the run of the kitchen, where Bob explored every cupboard and Gizmo grabbed some well earned sleep.
Gradually Bob seemed to settle but unusually he chose to sleep tucked closely next to Gizmo!
By day three Bob was scratching in his litter tray every few minutes. The litter tray remained dry. Bob was in trouble.
We made enquiries of our lovely new neighbours and took him to a wonderful vet in Puddletown. The name seemed very appropriate!
David showed great care, explained that distressed cats cannot produce the hormone which protects the bladder from urine, thus causing cystitis. He gave Bob an injection, which he hardly noticed, prescribed some pills, looked Giz over and pronounced her fine. In contrast to vets I have visited in London, David took his time, gave me loads of information and had a great way of relaxing both cats.
Within a few days Bob was clearly better and back to his confident self.
Gizmo assures me that this is a better kitchen than the one in London because there is more space, an indoor toilet and an Aga.
Bob is busy persuading me he is ready to face the big outdoors. We will see, Bob!

Transformation


It must be the awards!
They have gone to my head.
Well, not really, but I have put in a massive spurt of energy to the moving house project and tomorrow we meet the first of several estate agents who will value the property.
We have gone from piles of boxes, mountains of washing and arguments about where we should put things and what we can throw out, to a tentative sensation of calm.
Most rooms look good, though I say so myself. I have used a whole tub of beeswax furniture polish, discovered Lakeland, a shop which excels in selling cleaning products alongside bakeware. Stainless steel gleams, porcelain sparkles and carpets have lost most of their stains. It is a sad fact that fashion currently dictates cream. Our walls are all neutral,splashes of colour provided by cushions. Carpets are equally cream and that has meant, with a young grandson in the house that we have had spills.
Not only children, but cats have taken their toll on our beautiful house. While we were traveling they have been ‘disturbed’ by changes to their routine. Add in poor old Mr’s bladder problems and we have corners of carpet that have need to be thoroughly disinfected and shampooed.
It has been gruelling but I have experienced a sense of pleasure in getting things ‘just so’! The house looks the way I have always wanted it to look.
It’s a bit like school really. A classroom looks so organised, calm and expectant when the children are not there. Teachers can achieve so much, in the way of marking and display. When the kids come to school the whole atmosphere changes.
So it is with our house. It looks calm and expectant but not like our house! It seems to be waiting for us to get back to living in it. It liked the noise and commotion of three generations, the odd spill and the happy chaos which we offer.
Our daughter and her son are still living with us, but she has been away for the past three days. That probably helped us crack on, but suddenly, as I wander round the house admiring the organisation, I get a small feeling of impending nerves. It has been such an honour to share so much of my grandson’s life, and to has my daughter with us. We both are disparate to get moving but also sorry this stage is coming to an end.
Kids!. Who would have them?

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Last day – Friday 25th May 2012


The bay last night was incredibly quiet. Even when two tiny fishing boats pottered round us, we could hardly hear their engines. Breakfast was beautiful. Tinkling spoons in mugs of steaming coffee, contented murmurs from the crew, were the only sounds above the harmonious bells from a row of sheep as they walked up a distant hill.

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It was only ten miles to Lemnos capital, Myrina. One of the least tourist capitals- low key with a mild military presence, a wide variety of shops and lots and lots of roadworks.
We ate lunch just off the harbour in a small taverna, then walked round. It was quite a surprise to find 6 supermarkets and 4 bread shops. I mean big supermarkets with more than four isles!
We bought our water in a delightful shop. Quite large, rather dark, sells everything from broom handles to seeds with the odd tin thrown in. There was no one to serve us, despite our coughing and calling. Eventually, a young boy about 7 crept out of a store room and looked at us. I began my six phrases of Greek. “kalamera, endaxsi, yassas, ephraisto, parakalo.”. Mostly meaning hello, pease thank you. Whilst I amused the boy with this, I pointed with animation at the water bottles, the till, some coins we had in our hand. Nothing! So I tried again. Pointing to tills, money, pen and paper to request the price of the water. Nothing!!
The boy seemed overwhelmed by our presence and simply looked at us. He did not smile or show any sign of understanding at all. Eventually John counted out, what felt a suitable, average price for water and offered this to him. He took the handful of coins and notes and nodded.
Back on board, we cleaned the yacht, scrubbing and polishing with a will. The next crew turn up tomorrow mid day on the same plane that we will need to fly out. I know one of the couples and Louise knows the other, so we want them to feel comfortable.

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We have time to walk around the town at leisure and find an Internet cafe. Whilst on our travels, we come across the road works. Many roads are closed for this but pedestrians can walk by. Down a hole I spot two umbrellas sheltering the workmen from the sun. What a contrast to yesterday!
Our last meal is lovely. We have enjoyed each others company. We eagerly discuss the memories of the sailing and the many villages we have seen.
Tomorrow we need to leave by 10.30.
It’s a strange thing that I have been retired now for 10 months. Six and a half of these we have been traveling! I can honestly say that I have not been bored for one moment. Retirement seems to have given me a new lease of life. I feel much more centred, comfortable about me. I thought I would miss being a head teacher so much, but no. Sometimes, I think about the hundreds of children I taught or cared for. They made my life fulfilled and occupied my thoughts almost exclusively. I am happy for the involvement I had with each and everyone of them. But I cannot say I miss them. I am happy for them. They move on from class to class, from school to school. I move on to other things.
So
Moving house next!

Don’t go out in this storm! – Thursday 24th May 2012


We have to cross about 40 miles to get to Limnos, where we will take the plane home. When we were arranging this trip, Captain suggested that we might have to take the ferry if the weather was inclement. Much discussion has centred on the best day to undertake this five hour voyage and the conclusion was – ‘today’.
However, it has been a really stormy night. We could hear the thunder, see the lightning. It’s not over yet! We eat breakfast in the main cabin instead of on deck. A sense of dread fills the air: lumpy seas and poor visibility are reported by the harbour master. A Swiss yacht comes into harbour very early is morning, bedraggled. They left the same bay we had been in about 3 in the morning because the weather was so bad. They shake their heads and ‘tut’ at the idea of going anywhere today.
Captain says that he feels sure it will be ok. “What is the difference between the strong winds we had the other day in the sun and this rain?” he reasons. I silently think, “the rain and the ridiculous downpour we are witnessing!” but I am wise enough to say nothing. captain has never let us down yet. I trust him, but I take some sea sick tablets!
We are about to set off when another bout of rain begins, so instead we batten the hatches.

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It can get quite gloomy down below. Louise and I make sandwiches so we can eat during the voyage, cutting off the crusts from the old bread we scavenged from the restaurant last night.
Despite the portentous signs, we set off by 8.45. The sea chases us with boiling waves. We barrel along. I cannot decide whether to stay below and feel sick, or go above and get wet. Someone has to stay above. Captain has a stock of bright red sou’westers and leggings, which look a lot jollier than they feel. I notice he is wearing Wellington boots!
I am determined not to be sick. For while I stay on board with my IPhone music playing calm tunes like Satie and Chopin. I try something more upbeat and dance and sway to the music, trying to bend my legs to compensate for the rolling, keeping my eyes firmly fixed on the horizon.

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Below the cooker swings violently on it’s cradle, and even John has to hold on while he scrutinises the charts. Eventually the rain cascades down and I can no longer stand it. I go down below decks, and instantly regret it. Louise has no problem, she has always felt at home at sea and tries to persuade me that it feels like a mother rocking a cradle. This mother is very angry, I think!
I try dancing below decks but it just makes it worse, so I crawl off to my little bunk and lie, headphones firmly attached, listening to podcasts of A History of the World in 100 Objects. I had heard many of these at the time of their broadcast, but they are brilliant and I become absorbed. Louise lies on the sofa in the main saloon, listening to music. John and her husband take it in turns to assist Captain in the pouring rain and I have to say I think her husband was a true hero as he took more than his fair share.
Seven hours!
We motored all the way, but it took seven hours!
Just when I was truly sleepy, Captain roused us all to come on deck. The rain had finally stopped and he had spotted dolphins. Six dolphin chased our yacht, laughing in high spirits. They ran under the bow, jostling for pole position. There is no way you can feel sad when you encounter dolphin. We had seen them in the distance earlier in the week, but now they stayed with us for nearly 15 minutes and our excitement was wonderful. All the cold and wet, the rolling and cold was forgotten. As suddenly as they chose to stay with us, they decide to leave, dropping back and returning into deeper water. We are nearing the coast finally and we can see them for many minutes leaping away into the distance.
None of us need to stay below now. We hug the coast line for a while and decide not to finish the complete journey yet. Instead we pull into an inland waterway where we see monstrous solar panels which rotate to track the sun. Apart from that it is very pretty and very quiet.
I scrape the cupboards to produce an asparagus risotto, which seems to fill a hole. Thank goodness for tins! And tins of asparagus especially!
We are quick to sleep after the exhaustion of the day, even those of us who lay down for most of the time!

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The long tack – Wednesday 23rd May 2012


Overnight the wind has changed completely. Thank goodness we anchored in this sheltered bay rather than risking it off the coast at Tsonia. We motored out of the bay and around the headland along the North shore of Lesvos.
Our destination is Molyvos (sometimes called Mythymna, which I think prettier). The boys are aware of a ticking clock, unerringly counting the time to our return home, and they are keen to sail even though the wind is against us in direction. It is strong enough but we need to sail headlong into it- not good!
We can get there under sail by tacking, massive strides across the ocean, zig zagging our way across the sea between Turkey and Greece. Each stride will take an hour but we are in no hurry, so proceed.
I have never known Captain agree to tacking. In the past, he has shown himself to be a gentleman sailor, who considers the comfort of his crew. Indeed I have know John to feel slightly frustrated by his preference for easy motoring rather than put up sails. So the boys are delighted when Captain agrees so enthusiastically to tacking. Both have enormous fun at the helm and I sense some healthy competition as to who can steer to take best advantage of the wind. Louise’s husband has been suffering from a cold, but any remaining symptoms evaporate in the exhilaration of the sail. Four tacks are completed. The wind enables us to tap on nine knots, which is a brilliant speed. There is talk of racing other boats, although I am sure there is only one other yacht,; the rest are tankers!

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By the end of the day we moor in a double harbour in Mythymna and I am instantly charmed by the town. A row of tavernas line the quay and a large castle stands proudly over the houses which clamber up the hillside. We eat a late lunch in a taverna and this feels a luxury as we usually eat lunch on board.

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Even the cats of this town are happy.
The walk up the hill is very pleasant. Rows of vine covered streets mostly offering tourist tat in pretty shops. As we get higher the streets are covered in weeds. Eventually we reach the castle which offers a wonderful panorama on every side: farm, sea, trees, village.

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We eat at the “Captain’s Table” by the quay that night. The meal is fine and the atmosphere positively buzzes, in comparison with some of the places we have eaten recently. Despite all our walking through the town we had not found a loaf of bread so ask the restaurant if they can spare any. No problem!
Except that when we come to eat it, the crust is so hard we can hardly get our teeth into it! No wonder it was free.
Still it has been a brilliant day: excellent weather, brilliant sailing and two tavernas!

A strong wind to Tsonia – Tuesday 22nd May 2012


The inland waterway of Kolpos Yeras proves excellent shelter and very pretty. I am surprised how green Greece is because most of my travels while working have been dovetailed with school holidays, so this means high summer. Our anchor held well overnight. There is not sufficient wind to sail out of this water back to the open ocean, if you can ever call the Mediterranean ‘open’!
Our most reliable source of weather forecasting comes from a website aimed at windsurfers and surfers. It breaks the day into two-hour slots and has so far seemed very accurate. Today, as predicted we have enough wind to sail a steady course North, and we eat lunch on the move.
Shortly after eating the wind picks up to around 25-30 knots. We reef in the headsail to something akin to a pocket handkerchief and sail briskly along at 6-8 knots.

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Tsonia is such a tiny village on Lesvos that we almost miss it! The architecture implies money and the shoreline taverna has beautiful sunbeds, all empty, arranged across the sand. But we cannot achieve a firm anchorage here and are forced back along the coast to shelter behind a hill.
There is a taverna here too but we can see, without going ashore that it is not open. The kitchen fitters are hard at work and we will need to eat on board again. (Must check the labels before opening any other tins, we don’t want a repeat of tomato purée!)
The sun has been strong today, although we hardly felt it due to the wind. By the time we have anchored we allow ourselves an afternoon snooze. Swinging in the bay seems a great way to send you to sleep! Both John and Louise’s husband have really enjoyed the sailing today. We sip our gin and tonic that evening with a sense of total satisfaction and enjoy another great sunset.

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Greek life in Plomari – Monday 21st May 2012


I am fascinated by Plomari. It is one of the largest towns we have visited, clearly aware of how to cater for tourists, but also full of character. The town square is still dominated by men this morning but now the shops are open, there is a bustle from women, pressing the fruit, discussing their lives, considering their next purchase. This town has a wonderful bakery, several mini-markets, a pharmacy and the smallest cheese shop I have ever seen.
The people are very friendly, happy to greet the new season’s tourists. Whilst we sit on deck in the harbour, several old gentlemen come to share their history with us. One comes from Hackney; he was a fireman but has more here to support his daughter who married a Greek. Sadly the husband died a few years ago and he now enjoys life on the island. Another man is Greek and spent his youth building railways in Sydney, Australia. He is thrilled to practice his English with us. Somehow they seem old as the hills.
I walk through the town, practising shooting photos from the hip. It seems a good way to capture life without being rude, and without interrupting its flow.

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The sea is so calm we are forced to motor again. This time we head for one of the two large inland waterways, Kolpos Yeras. Here we lunch in a totally silent bay. On shore we see a few sheep and chickens and a couple of hundred olive trees. Seriously silent!

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It is a simple pleasure to eat on board in silence. Nothing to see, nothing to do, and yet there is so much to admire!
We choose to anchor in a bay, slightly further inland where Captain’s pilot book tells us there will be two tavernas. One of these is closed until the end of the month, the other is a bar. John and I are assigned to row ashore in the dingy and check out the options. Apart from these two, we discover a yacht club some 20 minutes walk away, who will offer us burgers. We decide to eat on board again, and love the sunset.

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Our only disaster is that it is my turn to cook and I manage to open, and use, a tin of tomato purée instead of tinned tomatoes! The result is not good, I have to tell you. But the liberal use of cheese and wine almost made up for it!

Lesvos – Sunday 20th May 2012


After the first part of our voyage, with swell and wind and sailing, today’s calm sea and total lack of wind means travel must be by motor. It is less romantic than sailing – and noisier but the seascape is different every day. On one side of the boat the sea wears an oil grey blue silk which ripples softly to create texture. On the other side the light creates two tone blue in water colour brush strokes.
As we approach Lesvos island, some 30 miles away, the hills are clad in grey cloud. The foreboding rain threatens from the distance, but as we approach the harbour, we find we have brought the sun with us.
Plomari is on the South coast and one of the largest towns we have stopped at. The houses date back to the 19th century when the town became wealthy from ship building. Today, however it is an Ouzo capital. The town has a good number of tavernas, none of which seem able to produce good food. The streets stretch along the contours of the hillside and connect with steep stairs of uneven depth. Outside the houses the women gather to gossip, family groups are seated in shaded gardens. The men seem to haunt the bars and look horrified when John and I sit down to join them to drink coffee. There is not another woman in sight, and I certain seem to be drawing attention to myself, without trying!

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Birthday Invitation – Saturday 19th May 2012


The weather forecast had proved wrong again. There was no further rain and we set sail from Ionousses in sunny clear warmth. The waters were very calm and the lack of wind meant that we had to motor.
Today is Louise’s birthday. I can think of no better place, and no better way to celebrate than sailing around Greek islands. Today we make it to Chios. Most Greek islands have several ways to spell them using the English alphabet. I have never been to any of the islands we visit on this trip and each one is different and interesting.
Within two hours we arrived at Marmaro on Chios. The harbour is tiny with no other yachts or motor boats, only small fishing boats.

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There are a string of six tavernas and bars along the quayside and a tiny town square with a few further cafes and shops, most of which are closed for the afternoon. A complete windmill stands at the Northern corner by the sea and another, sail-less wreck lies further in the inlet.

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John and I go to explore the town and find a further restaurant deep within the village. Tis has a swimming pool and is set amid allotment gardens. We walk up to the church and admire views.
Meanwhile, Louise and her husband go on their own and admire a lady’s garden. Before they know it they are invited in for oranges and drinks, and shown collections of model boats. What a wonderful way to spend a birthday. This family went out of their way to welcome Louise, advising her on other parts of the island to visit and chatting with her for nearly an hour.

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We wanted to find somewhere a little special for Louise’s birthday meal. This can be quite hard in remote and less frequented spots. We walked to various restaurants only to find limited menus or that they were not serving food at all. In the end we went back to the middle of the village and re-found our swimming pool restaurant: To Aypskinma. We were the only patrons, but what a feast we enjoyed! Our hostess grew much of her own food, served with great pride and cooked well. It was a brilliant evening. Tiny spinach balls, cheese pies, stuffed courgette flowers, Imam aubergine, veal and chicken, followed by home made cherry conserve and yogurt.

Rescue – Friday 18th May 2012


I could hear thunder all night long in the quiet bay. It did not seem very close but rumbled around disturbing sleep. We needed to be up early to have finished breakfast by 9.00 so the engineer could come to fix the cooling system. Whilst we knew he would come, we had no idea how he might get to us. We looked around for roads leading to the bay, but there were very few. We hoped he might come in a boat as we were swinging out in the bay at anchor. However, if he only drove and walked to the coast, we needed to inflate our dingy to get him aboard.
Needless to say, he came in his own dingy with an assistant and got to work re-doing the tests we had run to find the cause of our trouble. Having completed our routine tests he began to pull the engine apart until he found the difficulty.
We were rescued!
It was all over by 11.30 and we continued our travels through drizzle without wind. It is not so much fun just motoring around from island to island, but it is effective.
Three hours later we arrived in a small island called Ionousses, near Khios. Originally a centre for Greek shipping magnets, it is rumoured to have moneyed inhabitants. If this is the case, I must say they hide it well these days.
The harbour is tiny, but picturesque. There are hardly any tourists here and a faded decadence is hinted at by the ruined dwellings that seem to be empty throughout the town. Some houses up the hill are in total ruin, it is overrun by cats, all of whom look very bedraggled and display large scabs. Shops are hidden in the houses, but most are firmly closed for the afternoon, as is often the way in Greece.

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There are three restaurants but only one is serving food, the others are bars. Our meal was very cheap but tasty and we shared the place with two Greek families and their children.