29 December 2009

Christmas lights

Anyone know why, when you switch on Christmas tree lights, they are always set on the most violent flashing programme? Having read that one in every three sets of lights on sale this year are likely to be faulty to the extent of catching fire, we unplug the indoor tree, the outdoor sets (three) and the ones that loop along the top of the kitchen window at least once a day and always at night. The result is that I seem to have spent an extremely large part of the Christmas holidays pressing the little green button until I get the stationary, non-flashing lights that we all like best. (Beware of the programme that you think is the one you want but where the lights fade into nothingness the minute you turn your back!)

24 December 2009

Merry Christmas!

Christmas gift for your loved one?

Whilst house prices are generally fairly stable in Corfu, very occasionally we hear of bargains. This one is so stupendous that we decided that we would pass it on quickly to everyone as a Christmas Eve gift from us to you. The paperwork is completely prepared and ready to go, the villa is immaculate and the reason for sale is a completely valid one - a last minute change of heart actually on the day of exchange.

Reduced from an original asking price of 900,000 euros, Villa Soularou is now the Christmas present of the year at only 560,000 euros.

All in a day's work for an estate agent in Corfu

What a hectic time we have been having! The classic Christmas incident of all time must be me becoming a literal "stick-in-the-mud" whilst visiting some houses under construction in the central part of the island. It was raining and the land around the three houses was muddy, but I was wearing my wellies so I didn't think twice about walking round the back with my camera to take a picture of the other side. Big mistake! I am used to living on a stony hillside, and this was central flat Corfu! Before I knew it I was up to the tops of my boots in thick, clingy, clay-like MUD. At first it was funny and then I realized that I actually could not lift my feet out of the mud, and what's more, I was sinking still further. Also, because my wellies are a size too big, if I pulled I got my foot out but left my boots behind.

Nothing for it but to call for HELP! Diana and the builder came to see what all the fuss was about, and after the compulsory laughter at the sight of me in my long raincoat, umbrella, handbag and camera kee-deep in clay, they sprung into action. Rescue was eventually achieved with the help of a long wooden plank and a helping hand, but not without a considerable amount of mud on other people's shoes as well as my boots.

Doctor's visit

A lot of us, particularly "foreigners", are quick to criticise the health service here in Corfu, let alone getting into the controversial subject of the new hospital in Gouvia.

The flip side of our not so efficient health service is the private care available. Loved-one managed to travel here from England yesterday, despite the snow and cancellations from Gatwick. He has had a very bad cold/flu for about ten days (not swine flu) but was unable to get an appointment at his local doctor's surgery till after Christmas. Arriving here on Monday evening, I made an appointment with Dr Tsopelas in Alexandros Avenue, where he was seen and given a check up this morning. With a diagnosis and course of antibiotics in hand, he already feels better and the charge for this visit was just 40 euros. Even the medication was a lot cheaper than it would have cost in the UK under prescription with the minimum charge of about about £7.

22 December 2009

Now I am begining to believe in telepathy

I am always very practical and a basic non-believer in telepathy etc. However, today I am a little unnerved and this is just too much of a coincidence. My two kids (22 and 26) live together in London but do not communicate much at all - different working hours, different friends etc. so mainly they communicate by email and I definitely would not call them close.

They have NEVER, EVER, either of them sent me a photo from a mobile phone. Hannah is away in the Caribbean, and since I told her how nasty and wet it was here, she kindly send me a photo taken from her hotel balcony (at which hotel a tuna sandwich costs $17, so I guess we should not complain about our cost of living!). About 30 seconds after that photo arrived the phone beeped again, and I found a photo from Nick in London to show me the snow falling outside our house. He didn't actually know where his sister was and had no idea she had sent me a photo, so it was pure 'coincidence'. Very strange.

14 December 2009

Christmas Concert

On Wednesday 16 December the Corfu Music School will be performing their Christmas concert at the Municipal Theatre in Corfu town. The concert starts at 8pm, and the admission is free.

If previous years are anything to go by, the concert will be great fun, and the standard of music from all the youngsters is excellent. There is a jazz band, a mandolin group and choirs, all performing festive tunes to get us into a Christmassy mood.

12 December 2009

Lost in time

From The Irish Independent

Time-travelling postcards finally arrive
By Louise Roseingrave

Mystery surrounds the journey of three postcards that all arrived at their Cork destination in the past week - up to 20 years after they were posted from holiday sunspots.

The first card was written in and posted from Kastellani in Corfu in 1992, before embarking on a 2,600km journey to finish at Tower Street in Cork, 17 years, four months and 11 days later.

Bearing a Greek postmark dated July 24, 1992, the card arrived through the letterbox of 77-year-old Denis 'Dinny' O'Regan's Tower Street home, last Friday, December 4.

The postcard was written by Dinny's then teenage daughters, Val and Helaine, who had been enjoying a break on the shores of the Greek island.

Val (32) and Helaine (35) have found love, settled down, married and had children since popping the card in the post to their parents.

"I couldn't believe it when I saw it; I thought, what in the name of God is this?" Dinny said, describing his reaction to the post last Friday. "I handed it to my wife and she didn't know what to make of it either. She said it to the postman since; she asked him if he knew where it had been," he said.

The girls, who would have been listening to chart-topping tunes like Red Hot Chili Peppers' 'Under the Bridge' or Jimmy Nail's 'Ain't No Doubt', wrote to tell their parents they had met plenty of people who were "a good crack".

They wrote on the card that the "weather is unreal", "the nightlife is wild", and they were "lying on the beach in the sun".

Still in remarkably good condition for an item that was lost for the best part of two decades, the card bears no traces of where it might have been.

Bemused Dinny, a retired gate porter at St Finbarr's Hospital, plans to have it framed and hung on the sitting room wall "for the craic".

Adding even more mystery, two more postcards arrived at the O'Regan house yesterday morning, one the girls posted from Greece in 1991 and another posted to Helaine from a friend in Tenerife in 1989.

"We've no idea where they were or how many more are coming," Helaine said.

8 December 2009

St. Nicholas Day - 6th December

On Sunday we all celebrated the first of the "Christmassy" saint's days, of which there are many from now until Epiphany in one month's time.

St. Nicholas, of course, is the saint most associated with Christmas in northern Europe and from whose name Santa Claus is derived. His traditional red robes and white beard are now an essential part of Christmas the world over. Even though here, in Greece, the designated saint is Basil or Aghios Vassilis he is always depicted wearing the red robes and sporting a long white beard.

How nice it was to see all the churches dedicated to St. Nicholas thronged with worshippers - smiling faces and trays full of the traditional "Artos" currant bread that is provided for all name day celebrations. It definitely helped that the sun was shining brilliantly as well.

5 December 2009

It's not just Jumbo

I should not really been surprised by my little experience with Jumbo. We all know that 'customer service' is a relatively new concept here and it is not so long ago that 'the customer is always wrong' prevailed. If something broke, it didn't break, the buyer broke it; if something didn't work, it was not that it didn't work, the buyer broke it - you get my drift.

M&S were probably one of the first stores to recognise the ethos of customer service, but changing things can still be somewhat problematic. I wanted to change some clothes I bought, and yes, very nice of M&S to change them with no problem. I found my replacement goods, queued up to do the exchange, the girl tapped them into the till and said 'You still have 60 cents'. I told her not to worry about the 60cents and she insisted I had to go and find something for 60 cents so she could close the till receipt.

Upstairs there is nothing for 60 cents and there was absolutely nothing else in the store I wanted to buy. I just wanted to get back to the office! The assistant suggested I go downstairs and get some Christmas bits and then come back up and queue again - so I gave up, grabbed some underwear from the nearest shelf to put in my daughter's stocking and went back to the till. She had cancelled the entire receipt, so we had to wait and begin all over again - all just for a 60 cent credit that I didn't want anyway! Customer service has still some way to go, I think.

Having said that, we decided that all M&S staff have been on a charm course. You cannot cross the store without getting a cheery 'Good morning' from absolutely every member of staff which is very nice but a little disconcerting. Have they all been programmed?

3 December 2009

Christmas lights from Jumbo

Along with a large percentage of the population of Corfu, we started our Christmas shopping at Jumbo - a huge franchise store that stocks just about everything you can think of at low, low prices. It tempts even the discerning shopper because the prices are really good and if you don't need something to last too long, then Jumbo will turn up trumps. Which leads me to our Christmas tree lights.

We bought two packs of 100 bulbs for the Dassia office tree and one set was fine, but the others didn't even make it on to the tree before they flickered and died. If you remember that this was after the saga of putting the tree together in the first place you will begin to understand our feelings at this point on the subject of cheap Christmas tree lights! Dassia is about twelve kilometres north of Corfu Town and Jumbo about three to the south, so the prospect of changing them was slightly daunting. However, in the interests of economy, Diana agreed to call in to Jumbo on her way home and make the exchange. Or that is what she thought.

Can you believe that you can only exchange "faulty" goods on Monday and Saturday mornings between certain hours? Can anything be so unbelievably anti-customer-service? However, this is the store policy, so the lights are still in the back of Di's car awaiting the next time she happens to be driving past Jumbo on either a Saturday or a Monday at an "allowed" time.

And now for an unashamed plug! We have some really lovely Christmas gifts at English Imports. Definitely not as cheap as Jumbo, but all carefully chosen, and the customer service is second to none!

Christmas Craft Fair in a new location this year

Over the years the venue of the fair has changed a few times, from the foyer of the theatre in the centre of Corfu town to Casa Lucia, where it has been held for several years running.

This year in Viros, south of Corfu Town, there was more space for the stalls to spread out, loads of parking and all the usual goodies to tempt us to start stocking up on Christmas gifts and spoil ourselves with tempting foody treats.

What a huge amount of hidden talent there is on the island! As well as Loraine and Jo's stall (above) selling homemade biscuits, cupcakes, fudge and Christmas cakes, there were tables displaying jewellery, coloured glass ornaments, prints, greetings cards, painted T-shirts, knitted toys, flower arrangements and many more.

A raffle was held for a selection of tempting gift baskets and bottles with the not inconsiderable proceeds to be divided between two deserving local charities.

How many Greeks (and Dutch and English) does it take to put up one Christmas Tree?

Having decorated our shop and town office for Christmas with an elegant black tree and silver decorations, we began the process of cleaning the Dassia office in readiness for the decoration of a more traditional green tree which will brighten up the window now looking out onto a quiet winter road devoid of tourists and all their paraphernalia. With bags of decorations at the ready, and a newly mopped floor and shiny-clean window, we opened the box and began the spreading out of parts ready for assembly. To start with we managed to rip open the bag of small bits right across the instructions which were printed on the plastic, so with a tear in the middle of the all important diagrams we began at a slight disadvantage. However, this was not the first tree we had assembled so we weren't too worried - yet! It was actually quite straightforward and fairly obvious what we had to do, but with the base and legs positioned correctly, the ring and screws just wouldn't fit into place. Diana and I called in the assistance of Helga - maybe a bit of Dutch common sense would sort things out. Ten minutes later we turned hopefully to the two workmen who were just carrying out their tools having installed a new glass dividing wall. Greece to the rescue! We couldn't decide whether to be pleased (well, it wasn't just us then) when they couldn't fix it either or frustrated (we do actually want this tree to be up before Christmas). Eventually, with a little bit of brute force and lots of positive thinking, the tree was up and ready for its lights and baubles. There's probably another blog coming up about the tree lights.... but that is another story!

1 December 2009

We finally admit that Christmas is on its way

This week we gave in, put up the Christmas tree and decorated our Christmas window. Tomorrow the Christmas foodie type stuff arrives, so it is finally here! We had a few comments since we chose a black tree this year, which looks wonderful with the silver and glass ornaments we found a few weeks ago in England, but generally opinions seem to be favourable.

As always we have a range of gifts for everyone, cards, wrapping paper, mince pieces, Christmas puds, cranberry, sauce, stuffings - all the usual plus some decor bits and pieces to brighten up our houses for the christmas season.

In the week before Christmas we will be serving mulled wine so if you are in Corfu, do come and say hello!