Thursday, 17 March 2011

Two Easters

H.I. and I sat on the balcony of the little concrete house which overlooked the rocky fore-shore on the northern coast of Crete, reading our books and drinking coffee in the morning sunshine. We were overlooked on our left by the WW2 cemetery on the hill, where Cretans, Germans, Brits, Australians and New Zealanders lay side by side in mutual respect as they do on the sandier beaches of Crete today.

The day before, Manolo - the owner's son - had taken us to the big old house where his father lived, and as we drank tea and arranged to stay in his beach-side holiday house, the old man talked about the war. He liked Germans, he asserted - and not just because he made money from them. When he was a boy, he made the mistake of throwing a stone at the German officer who had commandeered his family home where we now sat chatting, and his punishment was to be locked up downstairs in the dark cellar for 2 weeks and fed nothing but bread and water. He got off lightly compared to some other Resistance fighters, and his lasting shame was that he was forced to shit in one corner of the cellar, knowing full well that the proper facilities were being used by the German only a few feet above his head.

Those were the days when the man who would cut your throat wore flowers in his hair.

I looked up from my book and something caught my eye, moving along in the water about a half a mile out to sea. A black dot was skimming along the surface, leaving a little wake in it's trail, and I alerted H.I. to it. She put down her book and looked up, saying that she thought it was some kind of bird. Too fast, I said.

"Well what else can it be?"

A submarine periscope? I conjectured, and she told me not to be so fanciful.

As she finished talking, the huge, black submarine broke the surface of the water with white rivulets of foam cascading down it's fat flanks, and we both watched as it disappeared behind the headland and made it's way into port. We went back to our books, only to be startled by a loud explosion from about 300 yards away down the rocky road which lead to our house.

I went to the balcony and looked out to see two men appear through the cloud of dust that drifted away inland. They peered down and inspected the road, then they went to a nearby lorry and planted a large, wooden telegraph pole into the hole that they had blasted into the living rock. By the time we had come home from the day's excursion that afternoon, they had reached to just outside our house, and one of them came running up - frantically waving his hands and forcing us to stop the little Fiat Uno hire-car before we could park. Two seconds later I realised why, as another explosion shattered the peace peace of the village, enveloping us all in a cloud of rancid-smelling dust. Then he thanked us for our cooperation and waved us on the last few feet.

Getting out of the car, I was able to observe their technique at close quarters - it was extremely simple, and extremely effective. They drilled a 2 inch hole about 3 feet into the rock, placed a small stick of dynamite down it, encircled it with an old lorry tyre, placed a half-inch steel plate over it, lit the fuse with a match, then walked about 30 feet away before it went off. The result was the most perfect, cylindrical hole of about 12 inches in diameter and 4 feet deep, into which they planted the new pole. They then simply filled around the gaps with loose chippings and dust, and instructed the old lady who lived next door to water it every day for a few days, as if it were some giant vegetable to tend.

The two men slowly made their way up the coast during the next few days, the explosions became feinter and feinter, and every evening and morning, the old women went out with a bucket of water to fulfill their civic duty.

Up in the flower-strewn mountains, there are bullet-holes in every road sign and the old men wear beaded head-dresses above their thick, white moustaches. That year, we had two Easters.


  1. Wonderful story.
    And that old bloke looks just like my boss.

  2. I wish I had a boss which looked like that - maybe I should grow a moustache, since I am self-employed?

  3. On the tiny Island of Kos, there's an inn keeper who looks just like that, who, every time your bathroom fills with brown smelly water, passes by your window with a very long rod, then returns a few minutes later shouting OK OK OK. I don't remember his name, but his wife was called Meni.

  4. Kos is also famous for (as well as the lettuces) having the monastery where the monks got up to shennanigans of the gay variety. I think they had to tone it down when the possibility of Prince Charles turning up incognito to view the icons became a reality.

  5. Kos was also the home of Hyppocrates.

    I forgot to mention before how much I admire such unusual methods of doing things. Blasting mini post-holes is wonderful!

  6. They weren't that mini, Cro - they did in about 20 minutes what a team of 4 British Telecom workers would take half a day over - in soft earth.

  7. That was a brilliant story, Tom. I bet you both wondered what on earth was going on. Can just picture that old lady watering telegraph poles. Hope they paid her well!

  8. Actually, Moll, I think that most country Cretans survive on very little - aside from one of the best environments and diets in the western world which makes (along with strong family ties and commitments) for a very long and fulfilled life indeed.

    Having said that, they were amongst the first to whole-heartedly take up the internet. I was the 2nd stone-carver in the world to have his own website (and the 1st in Europe) all those years ago, but even then, there were many websites emanating from Heraklion. Crete does not consider itself properly Greek - they were badly let down by the mainland during WW2, and they - being the biggest island - see themselves as 'Cretans', not Greeks.

  9. I love the "relaxed" way workmen overseas pace themselves......its like watching a kind of valium induced ballet
    everything gets done too.....

    African nurses have the same individualised pace