Those of you that read my blog post on August in Greece a few weeks ago, may remember that I was longing for rain and cloud. Well, you’ll be glad to know that I figured out the answer to that one: If you can’t bring grey skies to the girl, take the girl to the grey skies. With that revelation, I headed to the UK because it always rains there. That’s right, I’ve been and returned to England. I swapped figs for blackberries, intense heat for jeans and fluffy socks and Greek salad for fish ‘n chips. Ironically the weather in England was glorious so I never got my fix of rain, but I did find my husband. This blog post is all about foraging fruit, finding a puppy and the return of Mr Sidestepping-Normal.
What? A puppy? What puppy? I want to see the puppy…you’re not the only one, that was exactly my reaction too. To cut a long story short, I found a puppy a few weeks ago. She was abandoned, dehydrated and had tics. We’re not financially in a good position to feed another mouth, but my mum kindly offered to help us out with some of the initial expenses. Consequently our canine count doubled…just like that. We bathed her, removed the tics, fed and watered her, and within a few days she began to find her feet.
Fate seemed to be hinting that we needed another wagging tail about the place…it had absolutely nothing to do with me falling in love with her. The cats paused momentarily from their cat biscuits to glance at the puppy before resuming their food. Dora-dog seemed happy to share her toy basket – but not her tennis balls as there has to be a line drawn somewhere, and the chickens clucked and ruffled their feathers, which may have been chicken code for “welcome to the family” or might have been them muttering under their beaks “not another blooming animal”…I wasn’t entirely sure.
So on that note, I’d like to formally introduce Ivy the puppy to this blog and our lives. She’s a Cretan hunting hound, an ancient breed that’s been bred on Crete for thousands of years. Funnily enough, I used to walk one in my old life as a dog walker, so I’m prepared for what’s she’s going to turn into. Her character is extremely affectionate, nervous, but with an air of regal refinement.
Foraging fruit and wild sage…
One bright morning a few weeks ago, mum and I decided that we’d go foraging for fruit and wild sage. We left Villa Theodora armed with bags and scissors for collecting the foraged finds, plus a dog, a puppy, a cat, and a laundry basket in case Ivy got tired and couldn’t walk any further. It was 8.30am and the morning shadows were still offering some relief from the sun, but with each step we took, the sun rose higher and the shadows retreated, hiding under rocks, fearing being shrivelled like raisins.
We walked up the uneven stony track; the surface like dry granola. Dora-dog ran ahead, Ivy the puppy trotted along, and Ruby the cat sauntered behind; every so often finding a burst of energy and sprinting playfully. Before long we arrived at a fig tree. The perfect little fruits hung like baubles on a Christmas tree; their skins the colour of the deepest, darkest shadows on a dazzling sunny day.
The sights and sounds of Cretan life…
In the village, a dog was howling and the voice of a man over a tanoy was advertising the goods he had for sale in the back of his van. He shouted to the village, tempting them to venture outside and buy his wares. After a minute the voice was replaced by traditional Cretan folk music which crackled and echoed out discordant melodies, which drifted over the countryside.
We picked the figs, battling not to eat them all. The skins were smooth and soft, but the insides looked like a tangle of sewing threads in a hopeless knot. They tasted sweet, like treacle, and some were sticky like jam. As we stood there in the Cretan countryside listening to the music, geese honked and the smell of goats wafted in the air. Swallows soared and dived over our heads and the animals waited patiently for us to complete our foraging foray.
Foraging wild sage…
Once we’d picked enough figs to be getting on with, we headed in search of wild sage. By this point Ivy was flagging and we popped her in the laundry basket to rest her little puppy paws a while. We continued on our journey, passing an old gentleman with a face that had been baked by the sun like golden crinkled pastry. His eyes sparkled with amusement as we passed with our little menagerie in tow.
The wild sage adorned the path and smelt like stuffing balls and roast dinners. Memories of Sunday afternoons filled with family gatherings, gravy boats and pub lunches were conjured in my mind.
By now the time was almost ten o’clock and the heat had backed us into a corner with no route of escape. We made our way back home, under the cloudless sky, carrying bags of scented herbs, tired puppies and fruit, in desperate need of cake and cups of coffee.
Heading back to the UK…
As I sit here describing that day, I realise how contrasted it is to life in the UK. My trip to England was spontaneous and last minute. A few weeks ago, late one evening, I received word from my boss to say that there were no bookings at the guesthouse for the next two and a half weeks. The tourists should be streaming into Crete like a gushing tap at this time of year, but instead they arrive in drips and drops; hardly enough of them to go around.
With no work, I decided that I’d spend my birthday money and go back to the UK, with the hope of earning a bit of money, seeing friends and family and finally reuniting with my husband who’s been separated from me for the last two long months. Within a day I was back in Blighty, gazing into the eyes of Mr SN, wondering how I’ve managed without him; vowing never to be apart for so long again.
Being back in West Sussex, England…
Being back in West Sussex was comforting and familiar. People can understand what I’m saying, I know lots of people and how everything works. The rolling South Downs are lush and green, bejewelled with woodland filled with oak, ash and hazelnut. The blackberries are shiny and plump and cling to the brambles like a plague of beetles.
The last couple of months have been quite a struggle and I needed to escape. Crete is my home, but my home is wherever Mr SN is , and as the weeks passed by, Crete felt like living in a house without furniture, carpet or curtains. Being back with him in the West Sussex town that I have always loathed recharged my batteries, offered me a break, reset my mind. Plus I was reunited with the person that makes me laugh, tut and feel eternally grateful.
I filled my days with all the things I can’t do in Crete. Blackberry picking with my sister, cups of tea at Nanny’s house, catching up with friends, fried breakfasts, hearty dinners (thank you Barbara) tea and cake and stewing the cooking apples from the old gnarly tree in my parents garden. I had my nose in a Laurie Lee book and found some work painting a friends Sussex barn.
Striving for an Enid Blyton style life…
I know I probably make life sound like an Enid Blyton book, but that’s what I grew up on, and that’s how I want my life to be. What’s wrong with milk and macaroons at 11 o’clock and roaming the countryside with a dog (or two) in tow? I reject lots of aspects of this modern world that’s being forced on me. No thanks, not for me, try someone else. Returning back to the UK felt a bit like grieving for a time that seems to have been lost. I noticed the domination of self service check-outs, refusal of cash, ridiculous rules and regulations and a high street filled with closed down shops. I also noticed how normal it is to feel anxious, stressed, fed up and fearful, plus people are more divided than ever.
Part of leaving the UK for Greece was because we can’t have our Enid Blyton lifestyle there, however in Crete we can. It’s still old fashioned, families still own individual shops, rules can be bent and I can spend my time carrying puppies in laundry baskets if I so want. Additionally, my Greek will probably never be good enough to understand the news so I don’t have to live in fear every day…suits me fine. In my life, breaking news is when a tomato is ready to pick from the garden, or Ivy has stolen a sock. I’m worried that if Crete isn’t careful, it will lose it’s way too. I feel like writing a letter to Crete. It would read something like this:
I am writing to inform you that a handful of ‘progressives’ have been operating near your island. In neighbouring countries they have been conning poor unsuspecting populations with the idea that they can improve life with technological advancements, and offer you every imaginable material possession instantly, and at a lower price than competing family firms.
Please be vigilant and inform your citizens not to approach as they may be dangerous.
Returning back to Crete…
Returning back to Crete with Mr SN by my side is such a relief. He’s had a tough couple of months working long shifts, but he’s back in Crete with a sense of pride that he’s ensured our survival here, combined with an emerging fear that every time he leaves me alone, we gain another animal…what can I say?
We’ve only been back a few days, but we’re basking in the feeling of being back at home together. The struggle was worth it, we’ve earned enough money to see us through the whole of next year and we’re whiling away the days drinking tea and clearing up puppy wee. Oh, and last night there was a terrific storm, so I can tick ‘longing for rain’ off my list. All in all, life is dandy again.
So in conclusion, I’m thankful to be back with Mr SN, I’m grateful for the trip to the UK, but I’m excited to be back home in Crete. The last few weeks have taught me the following: a) forgetting to wear a crash helmet doesn’t go down well in the UK, b) I am a bit prone to taking in strays when Mr SN goes away, and c) be vigilant, puppies piddle in unlikely places.
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