reflections on the past week

I arrived back from London on Sunday night. Shaken up on choppy waters from Piraeus and needing some well-deserved sleep. I had been back to London for a week to work and then spend time catching up with family and friends. A week flew by from the moment we landed back; filled with work, drinking tea (oh, tea I love you!), drinking in the sun, eating curry…
London was on top chaotic form. Sunny, buoyant and alive. Through the city streets, the pavements hummed with bustling bodies and warm concrete. The city magically turns itself inside out to enjoy what could just be a fleeting glimpse of heat from the sun and showering everyone with the frisky feel of summer. Windows open, laughter and music travelled through the dusk air. It was like a brief affair that could drive you back to a lover – London was flirting now I’d left and I had to resist.  I met friends, we jostled for seats in the sun and I enjoyed the frenetic pace. If only it was ever this nice to me when we were together.

I tried not to eat terribly, but failed on arrival (a pub burger and pint of English cider) and by Monday evening I got back to my hotel room with a Tesco sandwich meal deal. Sadly the first of 2 I ate that week and I’m not proud. I scoffed it down watching the TV news, something had happened in Manchester at a concert at the Arena, reporters were trying to piece it together but details were hazy. I switched off, my mind rendered blank from a busy day, opening events, answering questions and doing more talking in 12 hours than it felt I’d done in weeks. The next morning I had an early start for an event so my alarm pinged at 4am…switching on the news stopped me in my tracks of making coffee. I, like most of us on Tuesday morning woke to what was the reality of a tragic scene unfolding – dozens of teenagers and children injured, missing and dead.  I don’t wish to repeat what has already been reported – a home-grown terrorist, one of us radicalised by whatever force entices a once reasonable young man to walk into a public space with the sole aim of killing the maximum people possible and himself. I cannot even imagine what that takes. But more so, we are forced to live through what his actions have taken away. Young lives on the cusp of adulthood, children at their first concert, parents waiting patiently for their return. All their unwritten futures erased in seconds. The news cycle went over all the details and most people I met that week were experiencing a mix of shock, anger and crucially, resilience. As I was at work this meant I was forced to adapt and get on, minimise risks, that’s what we do – be aware. Although the country was in the midst of a glorious heat wave, a cloud of doom and fear hung close.

The events in Manchester made me consider how fear can permeate our lives. We are the lucky ones, when tragedy strikes and it wasn’t your loved ones, we get to live on. Each day is a gift and each could be the last. Yet this provides no comfort if we allow fear to inhabit this space.

Those teenagers getting ready to go to the concert didn’t even consider the possibility of fearing a terrorist act – why should they? No person should ever have to think of such danger – we can’t live like that. It’s impossible to predict. I recall the absolute life changing excitement of my first concert. The details are burned into my memories like scorch marks. December 8th 1994, Blur Newcastle Metro Arena. I wore an orange shirt over a black shiney baby doll dress from Topshop and Chipie trainers that had stripes that glowed in the dark. I was 13 and my Dad drove me and my three best friends there. He waited outside in his van to pick us up. It was actually the literally most exciting night of my, up to then, life. We learned all the lyrics to every Blur song ever written in the weeks beforehand, talking of nothing else but what to wear, what to do, what to sing, who we loved best. Mine was always Graham Coxon, the weird outcast of the band. We chattered through classes at schools, “Blur, Blur, Blur” Gigs and music were the doorways to possibilities that existed outside the confines our little town, our childhoods, our desires. Once inside the Arena we bought everything pocket money could afford; souvenir programmes and scarves and t-shirts.

That night 23 years ago still speaks to me as a significant life event, it holds a precious feeling of freedom, singing along to every word in every song and seeing the world as a place of pure joy– believing in possibilities. Ideas are being formed, everything is new and breathless, scary and at high speed. Because that is what being a teenager should be; thrilling and fearless.

No-one can ever take that away.

I hope that every person affected by what happened last week doesn’t forget how precious a first concert is as a rites of passage. Music can be a great healer for us all.

 

 

Small island manners

It struck me on Sunday as I went on a little walk to Delfini beach how people are a little kinder and helpful on a small island.  It was a little walk – it takes less than 25 minutes from to spiti mas (our house) to the paralia (the beach). Yet in that short amount of time 2 cars stopped to offer me a lift. I know what you’re thinking “stranger danger” and accepting lifts is so unheard of these days. This isn’t just because we have lost trust in our fellow humans and been programmed that everyone out there is set to rob or murder us, its endemic of how we fear things we don’t know. I was a woman alone walking in the heat of the sun.  I mean the path is hilly, there’s a couple of steep climbs as you near to the bend before reaching the bay – but I like to think in my sporty trainers and hiking backpack, I totally looked like a typical thing for me to do. But I think it comes down to the fact that it isn’t common to see people walking to the beach here – so a nice thing to do would be to stop and offer them a lift as it’s a dirt road that ends at the beach, you know anyone going in this direction is heading to the same place. When the first car stopped, I said a simple “oxi, efharisto” and he waved and went on his way. But when the second car stopped merely a few minutes later on the ridge of the steepest hill, I started saying no and he waved and smiled, then his slightly worse for wear car started struggling to keep going and started to splutter and stall. I thought, now if I have to help him push the car up the hill that will be just brilliant timing! Man stops to give woman lift on midday sun – and she ends up pushing his slightly worn out car up a hill like a superwoman. His ego would probably never survive!

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But that’s just a more chivalrous way of life here. I’m not saying I like it – it is just different and something you notice in the older generation more often. I was in the post office last week when an older man ahead of me offered to swap tickets. It has the same system as back home where draw a ticket from the machine and ait to be called. He probably made a judgement at my blonde hair and flip flops, realising my need at the counter would likely be a swift transaction to buy stamps, rather than his complicated pension forms or some other administrative red-tape that would take time to get stamped and approved. It was very kind of him and I thanked him in my best formal Greek.

Not that this happens everywhere, but it does happen more when I am without G, evidencing the lone female theory, but I certainly don’t have a free pass to universal  kindness! But I’ll certainly try to reciprocate it. On ferries, busses and ticket counters I have been shoved, pushed in front of and tutted at for being too orderly and well, darn-British for following a sense of THE QUEUING SYSTEM. The hallowed order doesn’t work here, it has no currency.

Anyway there is a sense of neighbourly kindness and community in Greece – I won’t make a sweeping statement and say it just so much better here, but it is different from what I have been accustomed to. At home having an elbow shoved into the ribs and overhearing the swearing pent up anger of fellow commuters was a good day in London.  Here it’s old ladies pushing to the front of transport and traffic jams caused by runaway mules. But I can forgive all of this – when I’m 70+ I want to be first on the bus too. It’s just mellower and friendly, it seems customary to speak to strangers, offer words of kindness or give welcoming gifts.

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Our landlord stops by with fresh eggs, an assortment of veg from his plot. He brought beetroot over and I made a delicious panzarasalata (beetroot salad with garlic and yogurt) I met the lovely Jacky and Flora who run the Syros Cat charity last week and somehow left with a box full of ripe strawberries. Well, at least fruit requires less responsibility than a cat! Our neighbours have left us bags of lemons which G made into Lemon Curd. I’m starting to worry that I need to return the favour but haven’t got anything to give! (well let’s hope the garden gets productive soon – the pressure is on!)

We are on the wonderful island Tinos at the moment. G has been here all week volunteering with Paths of Greece. He is walking an average of 20k+ a day to map out the paths. He’s having a great time. I arrived yesterday and have been taking it easy. Guiltily of course.

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I spent a while wandering the picturesque streets of Pyrgos in the north of the island while they were off hiking a trail. This is one of the well preserved and pristine examples of a traditional village whose main industry is marble. It has a great museum of marble crafts, which was sadly closed. But I managed to peek in to one of the workshops the students from the college were sculpting marble in.

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The main square is entirely made from marble slabs and has statues, hand carved adornments above windows and doorways everywhere and even the bus stop is made of marble.

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It is quite honestly the most picturesque little place to while away the hours – hardly any tourists around at all.

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After lunch I was pointed in the direction of a nice easy trail from Vlakos through the ancient boulders to Koumaros and back to the rural village we are staying in, Skalados.

After admiring the old abandoned houses in Vlakos, which have hand written memorials, poems and stories about their inhabitants, I set off along the road to the boulders.

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All of a sudden I heard an old lady calling me, from the churchyard I’d just passed. She was waving a broom at me and I was scared! What had I done, offended someone on a holy afternoon? After a few minutes of shouting Greek words at me, none of which I could fathom, all I could say was ‘then katalaveno – signomi’ (sorry I don’t understand). She then took the broom in her left hand and made a waving movement with her right arm and said in a French accent (most Greeks here seem to also have a grasp of French too as plenty of tourists visit from there) “Serpent, l ‘attenzione, serpent!” Now the penny dropped, she was warning me about snakes, that hand movement was a snake not a ‘rollin’ with the homies dance‘ which had thrown me! I replied, “Nai, Nai! Efharosto para poli” (yes, thank you very much) and I mimed back a gesture of keeping my eyes on the path. Phew! The lady was just being kind to me and letting me know there are snakes around. Yes, snakes. Another thing to add to my fears; heights, rabid dogs, spiders.

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Well at least I was warned, now I could be fully prepared. Well I’m pleased to say I enjoyed the walk and wasn’t victim of a snakebite (only very few are poisonous and they are the patterned vipers). I made it through Kamouros, admiring the sweet little honesty café they have there where people can help themselves to drinks and leave the correct change.

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That’s a nice neighbourly thing to do – creating a little place people can drop in and have a space for the community of 20 or so houses of the village.

These reminders of the kindness of strangers and trust are all things I am finding different here but certainly are welcome views of Greek life.

The weekly shop and meeting goats

Life has started to form a routine here, not just work, but also the domesticity of living in a little house and doing all the regular things in a highly modern way (read: back to basics) So we don’t have a washing machine, a microwave, a heater or TV.  Life without TV is actually blissful given the current state of global news and politics– (don’t get me started on the election palaver). Although we obviously consume most of our news online, so we aren’t totally living in a bubble. But we agreed not to have Netflix or watch TV shows and stuff online. A good break from entertainment overload. Which is the best excuse to have a packed kindle reading list and various books to get through. (Please send recommendations!)

Our two ‘luxury’ purchases were a battery operated FM/AM radio to listen to local radio (6.99e– looks like it was made in the late 80s). I love Greek music, like Rembetiko and just having it in the background when cooking is my little piece of heaven. The second item was a cafetiere – such a common item back home actually took a while to track down here. Mainly because, the Greeks are fond of making their traditional ‘Ellinko Café’ in a briki (which is a small pan to boil the sandy fine coffee grounds in). But I was overjoyed when I finally found a ‘French Press’ in a cookshop as the lady described it. Here we are drinking fine coffee and scrubbing our clothes by hand.

Luckily Graeme loves washing so he has dutifully taken a lead on this. Hand washing takes exactly the same amount of time as using a washing machine, the only snag is that it is you that shoulders all the hard work. Equipment needed: 2 large buckets, a pair of washing up gloves, and hand detergent. We now have it down, which is exactly what happened to the washing line in the middle of hanging white sheets on…an almighty PING and the whole load went down. Everything had to be rinsed as they were covered in pine needles and dust! The rinsing and wringing is the real physical labour. Guns of steel in the making!

The other big differences here are felt in the buying food. Kini has a mini-market which gets bread delivered every morning and stocks the basics. In Ermoupoli, which is a short bus ride away, there are 3 big-ish supermarkets, one of them being a Lidl. None of them huge hypermarkets like Tesco. But they stock most things, but you do need to also go to the butcher shop (kreopoleio) and the greengrocer (manavis), as well as the bakery (forno). The real beauty is seeing how everyone shops around, and gets the best price, buying everything under one roof just isn’t possible here unless you ignore what everything costs! So when I get the bus in to do a ‘big shop’ it is at least 5 shops to get the basics and many ins and outs to get other stuff. Yesterday, after waving Graeme off on the Blue Star to Tinos, I hunted down blue tack (3 shops to find it) and a trip to the post office to get stamps, then butchers to get meat and then the greengrocer, with whom I had a hilarious Greek-lish conversation when he asked me whether I was here on holiday, he soon twigged he’s spoken to Graeme the week before. “Oh you must know the man with the moustache” i replied “Yep that’s Graeme, andros mou (my husband)”. “Ah send him my regards, he likes the football”. Then proceeded to ask if we had children and why not, “you make great babies”…yep, no subject out of bounds while buying red onions and a melon.

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We also have a close-ish AB Supermarket in walking distance from the house, it’s a hilly 35 minute walk there as its half way between Galissas and Kini. I am sure we get a few looks of humour at us walking there (you see it is rather weird for us not to have a car or moped, but hey, we are walkers and like it that way!). But what a walk it is! Once out of Kini, the road ascends high up the hill to Danakos and through pastures of farmland, passing green fields of cows, sheep and my favourite, goats. On a walk there on Monday morning to get milk and bread, we passed by a lady Goat-Herder walking her flock of 10 or so goats from one field to another. She just sat there peacefully serene in the morning haze. She waved and we waved back, a cheerful “Kalimera”. After a quick whizz-round the supermarket, and loading up our rucksacks with goodies we set off again. As we neared the turn down into the village, the lady was crossing the road with her goats, two kids bouncing around and not following her orders! We waved again and I said “mou resi katsiki” (I like goats). She beckoned us over and picked up one of the little ones so I could say hello. There I was stroking a baby goat on a Monday morning, life dream achieved! He was so cute and happy to see us. We passed a few words in Greek and then went on our merry way home to log-on and start work.

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I can honestly say the food shopping used to be such chore back home, but here you never know what you’ll run into and how it might just brighten up your day.

My love of goats. To be continued….

 

 

 

 

Weekending in Naxos or “how I accidently ran a 10k”

Rewind a month and we are sat in a sports bar in Athens watching the Everton game – I know, I can hear the judge-y tone now. In a city of such history and culture, how does one want to watch an English game? But well it was for work and pleasure, a project Graeme is working on and after all Everton are his favourite team. That is how we roll; the morning spent appreciating the foundations of democracy at the Agora in Monastiraki and now football on the telly, a nice contradiction of highbrow / low-brow and everything in between.  So Graeme had been eyeing up the Cyclades Trail Cup, a series of trail races planned on various islands over the summer. The first one was on Naxos, just a short hop from Syros and took place on May Bank Holiday, so we figured a few days escape to another island would fit in with working hours and a good excuse to do some sightseeing.

It was free to sign up, Graeme registered for the Dionisos distance which was 10.8k of gruelling hills, on cobbled paths and historic trails in the mountains of Naxos. I ‘ummed and ahh-ed’ for at least an hour – then signed up for it too, thinking I could try to do a bit of training, a few short runs here and there. Maybe my knee wouldn’t starting yelping in pain after 25 minutes running as it usually does in the gym back home. And anyway, the 30th April seemed a long way off when you are sat in a bar cradling a pint of Mythos on 4th April.

Then fast forward a few weeks, we are living in Kini, Graeme had been taking it all relatively seriously and doing a few 5-6k hill runs to nearby Delfini and around the tracks over the bay. All I had managed was 2 short 20 minute ‘jogs’ around the sea front.  So getting up early last Saturday to catch the 7am Aqua Spirit to Naxos was a breeze, a chilly but clear sunrise greeted us over Ermoupoli as the boat set sail.

The ferry firstly stopped at Paros then glided into Naxos Harbour. By the way, if anyone is as much of a ferry geek as me – the old Aqua Spirit, although built in Greece in the early 2000s as the Andreas II has the air of a much older boat thanks to the rusty exterior and 90s pleather seats. I did the quick background research while enjoying the journey and discovered it was briefly sold to Sweden and operated as a floating supermarket, aptly named Mr Shoppy One. It was then sold back to Greece in 2011 and operated by the old NEL line, and after they collapsed it was bought by Sea Jets GR as the only conventional ferry in their fleet. I swear this amused me so much thinking it has been a floating supermarket. I even bravely went to ask the ship’s purser about it under the guise of asking for a printed copy of the timetable (geek in action)– “he shook his head and said ”no you are mistaken this has always been a Greek ferry”. I’m not convinced. Google told me! Maybe it’s a cover up they get briefed on before each sailing “Don’t talk about Mr Shoppy” It’s probably a clause in their employment contract. Determined, I then spent the next 10 minutes before we embarked looking for evidence of its former life. Only a fading warning sign written in Swedish was hanging over the exit. It’s definitely one of the most significant mysteries in maritime history… one to follow up on, I won’t sleep until I know the TRUTH!

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Anyway, arriving in Naxos was a bit of sensory overload, as it felt very touristy, if a little jaded – signs everywhere in English and lots of hotels, tourist shops and car hire places. I had just gotten used to having most things written in Greek in Syros, instead Naxos seafront had a plethora of names like “Zorba’s Greek Tavern” or “Captains Cocktail Bar” ‘Happy Hour 6-8pm Screaming Orgasm 4 Euros! It wasn’t bad in any way – just different. Luckily, we didn’t have time to wander and get lost, as we were greeted at the port by the son of the apartment owner and he walked us 10 minutes towards St Georges beach area, where the Galazia Studios are located. A really lovely place, blue and white shutters, plants everywhere. As there are just 10 rooms,the owner kindly said that as we were early in the season he upgraded our basic studio on the ground floor to the top floor luxury room. Which was a nice surprise! – soft blue furnishings, flat screen TV, newly painted bathroom. Perfect. When we were checking in, his mum offered us fresh lemonade, and for breakfast left us fresh eggs from their chickens on the farm (which I spent ages asking her about), as well as giving us a jar of homemade orange marmalade when we departed. Great traditional hospitality.

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As the race wasn’t until Sunday, we had the whole afternoon to explore. After refueling on a tasty lunch of meatballs, rice and salad with Naxion cheese, we wandered up to the Chora. This is the town’s oldest part which has a fantastic labyrinthine streets snaking up to the Castle. We found time to explore and visit the fantastic collection in the Archaeological museum. I particularly enjoyed all the plants and flowers everywhere in charming little Cycladic streets – perfectly postcard pretty.

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After a low-key evening that consisted of dinner the Oasis Taverna (hearty giovetsi and moussaka) and refusing shots of tsipuro (previously unheard of!) and then falling asleep before 10pm. On Sunday we were up early to meet at the port for participants to be bussed up to the starting point of the race Ano Potamia. It was a hair-raising bus journey, I kept munching on chocolate croissants worrying about energy levels…

Once we arrived at the start, piling out the bus, I faffed, procrastinated, I kept going over everything “I have the wrong trainers, my Nike Zooms are not made for cobbled stones and vertical climbs” – I was wearing 2 pairs of Primark socks instead of my sweat resistant ‘proper’ running socks. Anyway I felt all unprepared and Graeme went into a little stressy pre-race mode where he paced around trying to block out my whiney conversations, which were rightly ignored. I figured it out – gave myself a good talking to and heeded the race organisers advice, “if you walk, do so on the right.” I just thought, I am doing this to finish it – not win, no PB, just finish without death or injury. Who cares if you come last – looking around at the lithe Hellenic bodies around us – I mean, the Olympics wasn’t invented here for no reason, the Greeks are athletic, straight up competitive types. Well, not everyone, there were plenty of us ‘normal’ folk there too’ a bit tubby, in badly fitted sportswear straight from the shop, oldies, youngies and I guess everyone in-between. The bus had taken us high into the hills, this was a rural Naxos at its most scenic and traditional – and you couldn’t beat the location of the start line at a beautiful tavern underneath the pine trees. Luckily the clouds were in our favour and the temp felt cool.

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Siga siga (slowly slowly) that was going to be my race motto. Graeme sped off after the starting countdown, it was just a throng of caps, neon vests, red and blue t-shirts and drum-banging enthusiasm! I kept to my own pace, convincing myself I couldn’t run very far. I started off with a trot, but as the course was narrow firstly weaving through the cobbled streets and then upwards towards the hills on old goat herders tracks. There wasn’t much room for over taking anyway, so I kept up a pace that felt comfortable and right for me. I think I exclusively looked down at my feet for the first 15 minutes, not even a solitary glance ahead or up at the views as we climbed, but eyes firmly on my feet to make sure I didn’t slip, or trop on the wildly uneven surfaces. The whole race was a feast of jagged rocks, undergrowth and wildflowers, dirt roads and lizards darting for cover. I just focussed on breathing. One foot in front of the other.  It was a rhythmic mediation, breathing and keeping my feet going. I often read about ‘mindfulness’; the concept of focussing on the present moment – this was it in action, like a revelation, all I could think (or perfectly not think) was breathe / move!  A combination of existing only in that moment, there was no time for thinking about the people I was surrounded by, or a spilt second to consider how everyone else was faring. That was the most pure form of presence, one that considered only survival and purpose.  A base instinct sure, but one I relished in through the course of 10.8 kilometres of pure exhilaration and exertion.  I kept going, uphill and downhill, sometimes overtaking others and sometimes I stepped back to catch my breath and let others pass. As the course weaved back into the villages and weaved through the terrain, locals and race supporters shouted encouragement, offered water the course certainly didn’t allow for a full pelt sprint anyway, unless you were half man half goat. Even Graeme who kept up with some of the winners, said most people trotted, walked and ran – a winning combination. He managed to finish in 1.20 coming 15th (impressive) and I was thrilled with finishing around the 1.50 mark. A finisher at least!

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All in all it was a brilliant race – I got to experience wild moments alone on the course at some points where I looked up and saw the bare rugged beauty of the landscape, unchanged in centuries, hills jutting precariously, then scrambling downhill past old aqueducts. Being neither overtaken nor having company was incredibly liberating out in the wild high up parts of the course, a reminder that you race this life only against yourself, you create competition to spur yourself forward. I need to step away from holding that life achievement barometer against certain milestones. The course is continuous – I need to be present…I also need to just dig in. I want to take that feeling of being in the race mode with me – treasure it and know that I can call on this hidden strength to compete and complete any challenge I choose. Stop panicking and just do. Perhaps in life the best things are just experienced in the moment, not over-analysed and overthought, they just are.

Changing gear and finding your pace

 

Like all aspects of our lives there is always a pulsating sense of time ticking away. I have been in Greece 5 weeks now and as a kind of everyday rhythm sets in I feel each day melt into the next. That’s why keeping a journal and writing a blog is helping. I want to remember not just what happened every day, but how it all felt and the thoughts this adventure has inspired.  We all have a creeping sense of our lives being crammed to the brim with tasks and responsibilities. Attention gets switched from screen to screen, and as an adult when was the last tie most of just sat there and did nothing. Not just tied to the bleeping devices, which rate and monitor and feedback our consumerist lives. Can you remember a time when you actually sat still, no device, no book, no newspaper – just being, staring into the distance and taking in your surroundings? At the same time there is pressure to do things, counting every sunset learn, explore use my time wisely, write, think, read be productive, be human, be responsible. I want to enjoy this aspect that having more time provides – the absolute luxury of being able to fill a day with everything and, if the mood strikes me, nothing at all.  Everything and nothing.

Or this can be what it is – a break from the everyday. Which quite frankly I think we all need. No it doesn’t have to be taking six months off, or even a week, and it isn’t about geography or location, or glitzy white sand beaches and frequently flier miles. This experiment is about how we live or don’t live, just existing in the margins between a serious of outlook appointments, screen blur and commuter rage. G and I had this joke when we sat in the kitchen eating beans on toast at 9pm (on a good night)– “our rubbish lives” we’d laugh, bleary eyes – answering work emails with one hand and forking in mouthfuls of luke-warm beans with the other. #livingthedream. But we’d let this happen. Like most yawn-some thirty-something professionals London called and we answered.  That old adage had come true, there IS a big difference between making a life and making a living.

I wrote the Annie Dillard quote “How we spend our days, is of course, how we spend our lives” in scrawly ballpoint ink on a yellow post-it note like a passing idea or a task to be ticked off on the never ending list. I stuck this quote to my desk monitor last February in 2016, a month into a new job – mainly just to remind me of the thoughts I had for some years now about the passing of time and fragility of life. Annie Dillard is a wonderful writer, in her book The Writing Life she talks about the trade-offs between presence and productivity, in dreamy life-affirming prose. Not in a big idealist dramatic “I’m gonna quit my job and travel the world” kind of way. My need to be reminded was more contemplative than that. It reminds me that every day is a vital part of that –no matter how mundane or banal it is, the culmination of these days are what makes up a life. That’s why I find it important to create a life that has time to explore how things make you feel, how you respond to challenges, to remind myself that there is only limited value in defining who you are with what you do.  That is something I have persistently struggled with. Holding up the career successes of friends and contemporaries as a mirror to my own life – the horror that ties itself up in knots when you meet someone at a work meeting that graduated about 5 minutes ago and already manages a team or heads up a department. I am such a late starter – I see the litmus test of career progression, having a fancy job title or six figure salary, which is apparently the real marker of ‘successes these days.  My negativity and cynical traits go into overdrive, comparing traits, education, status, all the things most people are too self-absorbed to even pay attention to.  I won’t resign myself to the scrap heap just yet. The truth is that everyone is different and maybe I need to release any self-inflicted pressure; because it isn’t a pace that feels comfortable.

Anyway, after a few months the note faded, and stopped sticking so it was taped to my monitor screen – taunting me. A colleague stood at my desk one day and after a discussion about one thing or another, she asked if I liked motivational quotes. I replied – well not really, I mean, I like things to remind myself how to live.

I’m glad it stuck around. You see it might be easier to just slide on through life. After all some of the the happiest people I know are the ones who seem to inhabit this fret-free existence, just take it as it comes, pay-rises, sweet promotions. “What’s the big deal” they say, exuding that confident ooze of an illusion of success.  The worriers among us don’t have this down, we are too busy looking around and frantically panting just to keep up.

But that is exactly what I am working on. Just being comfortable, even if that’s just where I am right now. And that is why this blog entry was meant to about finding your feet and being comfortable in your own pace, and I let it slip and slide into panic. Back in Easter week we borrowed the apartment’s mountain bikes (with our own helmets – yes, another wonderfully practical thing we packed!). As we set off, manoeuvring the busy streets of Hermoupolis, I realised I hadn’t ridden a bike for ages, probably close to 2 years. My own road bike has sat gathering dust in the attic. For someone who loved riding, even if it was a brief fascination that coincided with a slightly weird obsession with signing up for triathlons. I don’t know why all of a sudden I was ridiculously nervous on the Greek roads. I know this country is hardly renowned for road safety but I was all of a jitter. But slowly as we climbed past the harbour and up to Manna towards the airport the roads cleared out from cars and trucks and I felt more confident. Well until I heard the rabid dogs… as usual their job was guarding a factory and sounding vicious. But on the upside they encouraged me to find strength for hill sprints when I heard their barks! By the time we reached Azomlinos, the grey cloud was starting to lift and reveal a sunny Good Friday. People were walking around and some even swimming at the beach. We cycled through country lanes, past sheep dozing and chickens clucking merrily away. Many more barking dogs. But none chased us. On the bike you just slip into a gear that suit, nothing frantic, just one that pushes you and you control the speed. Maybe that’s what I have been missing, an ability to feel pace myself and enjoy the journey.

In a race you can only have one credible outcome – to win. Or maybe even have a new PB. But we are all racing ourselves against the clock, relentless peddling and the views going by so quickly we have no idea where we have been or what the destination should be.

Well our destination was just meant to be a nice amble to Azolimnos, which is one of the many little seaside villages and beaches that gently merge across the South East coast. We were enjoying the scenery so much we decided to keep going and see if we could make it to Vari, where there is a wide bay with a couple of tavernas. There were a few trying hills – one where I’ll admit we got off and walked to push the bikes. It was about midday by now, and felt much warmer in the sunshine when we finally arrived, flying downhill to the bay, the sea glittering turquoise. And in this moment, I remembered that post-it note saying ”how you spend your days is of course how you spend your lives” . Yet it was both the journey and the destination that proved equally rewarding.  Effort, beauty and serenity on the road. Each day is different, sometime pushing, sometimes finding your pace, looking forward and back.

The next few months will have days I remember and days that blur into the next, but the focus will be on changing gear, slowing down and switching off. Most of all, enjoying the freedom that life has offered.