What do the Elgin Marbles, genes, donkeys and traffic accidents have in common?


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After entertaining a number of visitors during early and mid-September, we were tourists ourselves recently when we joined Sheila’s Canadian second cousin, Norm and his wife, Loni in Athens for a long weekend of sightseeing, museums and just taking in the atmosphere.

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For me, the highlights were of course the Acropolis and Parthenon, a roof top dinner looking across to same and an evening of opera at the Odeon of Herodes Atticus. The latter is a classical Greek theatre going back to the glory days of Athens and whilst opera is not really my bag, no one could fail but be moved by the fantastic atmosphere in this wonderful setting.

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The new Acropolis Museum also deserves a special mention. This is a stunning creation, the top floor of which has been designed to mirror the Parthenon and to house the marble friezes etc which used to decorate it.

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We British really now have no excuses not to return the Elgin Marbles, which the then Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, Lord Elgin, effectively stole. They are currently in the British Museum and the Greeks are waiting patiently for their return to join everything else that remains. Frankly, it was embarrassing to be a British visitor to this fantastic building!

The death mask of Agamemnon at the National Archaeological Museum was pretty impressive too!

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So Athens gets five stars and a recommendation for a weekend break venue.

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Crete 83 089Norm and Loni then came back to Crete with us for a few days. Sheila walked them up the Gorge here in Kavousi and showed them Azorias and the Kastro (both post-Minoan archaeological sites) and we also walked the Zakros Gorge with them and they explored the palace ruins whilst we drank a beer! The weather held for their stay and a number of swims were fitted in to the busy schedule. They have now moved on to the western end of the Island for the remainder of their holiday. It was very good to see them and they were excellent travelling companions.

The weather has taken a turn for the worse since the weekend and frankly was decidedly autumnal for a few days! Lashing rain followed by a howling gale has severely curtailed both tennis and visits to the beach. Thankfully, however, normal service was resumed today and we had our first swim for nearly a week.

The bikes have also been on display and we managed a short spin through the olive groves at the weekend between the showers.

Health issues have also been to the fore. Usually, I have hospital appointments in Glasgow in November when both my heart and muscles get a once over from respective consultants. This year, however, partly influenced by the eventual sale of our beloved canal boat ‘Skillogalee’, I have decided that as my presence is not required to ‘winterise’ the boat, I will cancel my appointments and see if it is possible to arrange for something similar here. This may prove a challenge! Firstly, I need to get a copy of my hospital notes from the NHS, something I suspect may prove difficult and secondly, I must get to grips again with specialist procedures in the Greek Health Service. Watch this space!

Whilst on the subject of health, it is wasp season here and I got stung by one in the house which was pretty painful – my fault though – I sat on it! I should also mention that one of the less welcome gifts brought by cousin Norm was a Canadian cold, sore throat and cough. Sheila, with her genes honed by northern winters, seems to have miraculously survived unscathed but I had to miss my Greek class last week as I was deemed a health hazard!

Talking of northern genes, it was with some relief that we welcomed the ‘No’ vote in the Scottish Independence Referendum. It looked a bit tight for a while but in the end, the result gives us hope that finally, the UK will grope towards a federal solution to the Constitutional issues, which we have been advocating for many years. I also hope that the ‘yessers’ will do as they said they would and accept the result for a generation but early indications are that this may prove not to be the case and that it may run and run. We shall see!

Mention was made above of our Greek classes, which started up again a few weeks back. The class has expanded considerably this term which is good in some ways but it also means that the dynamics have changed and so for the present at least, it is not quite so much fun as it was. Perhaps it is just that I feel under more pressure as the new people seem to me to be much better Greek speakers than me!

Our homework set today is to write about traffic accidents here in Greece. Thankfully, it is not a subject about which I know very much – I have been fined for crossing a white line (E200 reduced to E100 on prompt payment) but as yet, at least, I have not had a prang! However, it does give me the opportunity to rant on about one of my favourite gripes here, which is the near universal lack of consideration for other road users, particularly among elderly men.

This was to have been the subject of a separate Blog posting but fortunately for our readers, this was vetoed by the editorial committee on which for some unexplained reason, Sheila seems to have a casting vote! I sense an opportunity so here goes….

When I first came to Crete on holiday in the early 1980’s, it seemed to me that just about every farmer here owned either a donkey or a three-wheeler for farm work and pick up trucks were largely unknown. The situation now is completely the opposite – pick ups are everywhere and a donkey is hard to find. Indeed, the guy who runs the donkey sanctuary here, says that people in the villages are now asking him to get them donkeys! However, I digress.


So since 1980, the donkey and the three-wheeler have largely been replaced by the pick up as the preferred means of transport. Now, I have no idea if folk here were required to take a driving test but somehow doubt it because otherwise a smidgen of consideration for other road users would surely have been part of the learning process and it is that basic omission from their skill set which is such a feature of driving standards or rather lack of them, here in Crete among elderly men in particular.

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For example, it is not at all uncommon to meet a pick up with an elderly man at the wheel coming towards you on your side of the road or at best in the centre of the carriageway.

It’s not much better when you are following one either. On country roads, it is difficult and dangerous to overtake because you never know when the driver in front will suddenly turn into a hidden pathway to his κήπος (country garden) or patch of olives. Indicators are purely for decoration, it appears!

As we approach the beginning of our fourth winter here in Crete, I have had plenty of time to observe this particular aspect of Greek culture and I have a theory as to why the standard of driving among a proportion of the population here is so abysmal.

My considered opinion is that when the farmers traded in their donkeys for pick up trucks they simply carried on where they left off. So it appears to me that elderly Greek men drive their pick ups just as they rode their donkeys!

They may go a little faster but generally not much and they allow their vehicles to wander all over the road in much the same way that they would their donkey! And this perhaps explains why the pick up may suddenly lurch towards a particularly attractive patch of grass on the other side of the road!

You see – I’ve got plenty to write about for my homework and I’d better get this off quick before the censor gets out her red pen! Oh and by the way, in case you are wondering what the Elgin Marbles, genes, donkeys and traffic accidents have in common, the answer is ….. nothing!

Now where is that raki?



2 thoughts on “What do the Elgin Marbles, genes, donkeys and traffic accidents have in common?

  1. veronica willins

    John, For some reason I couldn’t get into the Comment box but will send this instead!! enjoyed your or Sheila’s beautiful pictures and all the fantastic cultural information contained therein, you really do have a fantastic time and lifestyle out there with your many visitors and expeditions!! Reminds me of the Latin lessons at school with all these interesting building and peoples!!Loved the part about the driving out there i probably would fit in quite well although i am not Male!! Must be very frustrating. I’m sure that you will do well in your essay but not sure that they will understand the humour involved!! tennis season is coming to a close with Finals being played this Saturday and then there will be prizegiving in the hall sometime later just to stir up a few memories for you!! Hope to see you back in KBT sometime an on the Court!! you will have some good competition as always!! Take care and good luck with the Greek lessons- looks extremely difficult!! veronica xxxoooo ) Baby Kayleigh was christened last Sunday in Poznan,poland and they are now all back in canada again in Collingwood, ontario!! Hope all the family are well and that you manage all the health issues in Crete, john. xxxooo Date: Fri, 3 Oct 2014 16:21:50 +0000 To: veronicawillins2010@hotmail.co.uk


  2. Jill Shuker

    Hello John

    The return of all our plundered goods was the subject of a discussion on a walk recently and it seemed hard to find any rational argument against it.

    Great to read how you are getting on!

    Jill Shuker



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