Self help?

I was in WH Smiths at Stansted Airport, (for my sins, budget travelling affords me the ability to fly back to work) I couldn’t use my national book token which left me gutted. But there was a plethora of titles in the non-fiction section that focussed in a similar vein of ‘Not giving a f***/ insert appropriate swear-word to be seen as poignantly angry yet with a little nonchalant dash of carefree’. But don’t be fooled. These advice guru’s are setting out their stall as being passionately different from you drones over there; standing in a line at an airport on a budget flight, steamrolling on through life with your hard-working ethos and pay/reward equation.

Do we give too much of a f***? . Yes, I think I do.

And it felt really raw and honest to write that. It is only easy to not give any f***s at all, if you don’t need money or a job, or can rest on the laurels of fame or success or family fortune and connections that can tide you over. The rest of us do have to juggle all these responsibility shaped f**s. Whether it’s to our employers  or partners, elderly parents or kids, our work clients, or boss, and even to ourselves. Like Bob Dylan sings “you gotta serve somebody

I can admit I had a hectic 10 days back in London and by the time I stood bewildered at the airport, blinking through hazy sleep deprived vision I had another 12 hours before I would reach my bed. I had been working at a pace that feels like a shot of adrenaline compared to life outside of work. I do love the exciting bits of my job – the days that the rewards come thick and fast; outcomes sometimes all tie together and goes off with a bang. But yes, admittedly a lot of the time it really is not like the past week at all. I could gloss over this and put a PR-shine on it. All THE CHAMPERS ALL OF THE TIME. But really it’s all planning, slow ideas forming and shaping, noting debates and discussions, and wading through mysterious treacle.

Maybe there is a balance to be found here –  not stopping caring completely, but just focussing on the big stuff. Like not worrying if I have given every single person every piece of relevant information that they may need, or worrying if I’ll fall over in front of a head of state, or forgetting to address them correctly. Really what is the worst that could happen is none of these things, it is probably opening my mouth and everyone realising what an idiot I am – #impostersyndrome in action. The magic art of not giving a f*** is exactly the reverse of imposter worry: it is worrying less, reflecting more and being thankful for the opportunities I have. Not giving credence to the doubting voices – I might not live up to everything expected but I’m living up to my own expectations at least. A little mantra of “I am worthy of this and worked hard to be here, and importantly played my part well”. I can spare you the need to read the books with that gem of wisdom!


Obviously a big part of my job last week was to spend time admiring the best gardens in the world at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show. There were show gardens that delight, amaze and most of all remind us how important the act of growing is. For me, I don’t need glitz or glamour, but seek the simple reasons why gardening is vital, no matter where in world the garden is. That’s why I really loved seeing the attention the Lemon Tree Trust’s Garden gave to the refugee situation in Iraq. Tom Massey designed the garden after visiting Domiz Camp in Northern Iraq – it is home to over 40,000 displaced people fleeing war in Syria. The Lemon Tree Trust have worked to set up everything from gardening plots, agricultural skills and even growing competitions. Many people finding themselves in the camps were already gardeners and skilled growers, by helping facilitate plots and spaces to grow, providing tools and seeds, the Trust have given refugee gardeners and growers, not just space to use skills or learn new ones, but a place they have control over, to be creative and be altogether more human. Unfortunately camps are changing from temporary shelters to semi-permanent homes. It is that connection to gardening that often resonates with the idea of home and sustenance. The show garden was wonderful, using native Mediterranean plants and middle eastern designs; fig trees, lavender, damask roses and spectacular pomegranate trees (a first for Chelsea?) After speaking to designer Tom and others from the Trust, it so wonderful to hear the passion they display and the story they managed to tell the world. I wish them every success at rolling out more gardening programmes for refugees.

After a week of inspiration at the show, I was itching to return to my own plants, pots and plots. I was just in time to feast on the first cucumber harvest and tie up the ever-growing tomatoes. G had done a stellar job of keeping things alive (with a lot of help!). All the calendula seeds have grown well, even the marigolds and cosmos from seed are now flowering. It might not be Chelsea Gold, but I love the gardens here in Greece, not just for what they show but the joy they bring. There is a lady a few houses down from us that tends to her 30+ pots of geraniums each evening with such pride – all resplendent pink and red colours bobbing in the sunshine.



While G cooked dinner (amazing pan-fried chicken, courgettes and roast potatoes, should you ask) Johannes and I went to his fields to collect capers (caperi) at sunset; 2 hours later we were laden down with 2 buckets full of the tasty berries and I had a sore green thumb. The picking technique is to use your thumb nail to cut the caper at the stem – giving real meaning to being green fingered! I didn’t realise that he meant I could keep what I collected. This was incredibly kind and now we will have enough capers to last at least a year (or two)! After giving us a rundown in how to salt and dry them, G and I spent an hour before dinner sat on the terrace sorting them into large sizes for drying and small sizes for salting and pickling. Although we swatted away mosquitoes and listened to the wild wind rustle through the trees – it was still blissful. Just talking, sorting and salting, close to the earth and not a worry crossed our minds.

I think often that the world doesn’t need any more stars, after all we can’t all be the best in show. But the world certainly does need a lot more light in it.  Help comes in many guises and for me it is the small simple joys of gardening wherever I can find it. 

Steps βήματα

Breaking it down into tiny steps seemed to be the only way. One foot in front of the other. Squinting in the bright sunlight. Not looking up ahead to what may lie at the ridge and especially not looking down. There seemed to be more dramatic views the higher we got – not that I saw any of them. I enjoyed them later with aching legs and safely sat on low ground when G showed me them on his phone.



It wasn’t that the hike was particularly steep. It wasn’t meant to be particularly challenging either – we’d walked from Kini to Gallissas on a route I love as it takes you out into wild headlands and over the stone steps that connect the two villages.  The route out to Katokefalos (only funny because Google translates it as the ‘headache’!) was described as a medium easy hike. Of course it totally felt like that at the start pondering up the incline at the end of Gallissas beach – we looked up and found the path, fairly steep at first for 100mtrs and then balanced out into a fairly flat but HIGH up – a goat clinging path. With every turn and whoosh of the warm breeze, it got slightly worse and my vertigo-fear kicked in.

The walk paralysed me with fear. Just focusing on getting through the steps ahead was the only tactic. Giving myself over to the crunchy gravel-like stones that’s seemed to be shifting underfoot creating a moving surface. When there was flatter rocks and boulders, it was slippery underfoot. My faithful spider stick was now doubling up as a leaning stick. By the time we were at the end of the Katokefalos headland, I was clinging on. Trying (and failing) to channel my Inner Cheryl Strayed.


If there is one comparison to be made between hiking and life, it is this: by attempting to look at the whole route will do nothing but set out intimidation to block your way. To look at every pitfall and high ledge with fear might feel natural. Yes, that path looks to be fit for nothing more than skinny goats, it probably is. But you’ll try anyway. G led the way – he had this look in his eyes that was less about his fear and more about the fear I have of falling and how he’d need to support me if I freak out.  Leaning silently on one another is needed in relationships. How to be supportive, without leading and telling. Being scared and making mistakes, giving them space to find their feet and way of seeing things.

Life’s preciousness has a brutal way of reminding you not to take it for granted. Like the path it is impossible to take it all in at once – it is too much to process, every twist and turn, marker on the way, snake in the grass and wildflower clinging to the rocks. Looking for too long and too hard can leave nothing but a sheer drop into the deep frothing sea. But by taking the path for what you can see can be part of this. Not just the few metres in front –  just each step. One by one. No looking back, no looking up and ahead. Not down to the vertiginous plants clinging to the rock, not to wonder how they survive in an impossible feat of nature. Just take life for what it is. There on the path I learned to follow these rules.


In the village there are white painted steps that rise up from the main road and lead to the church – on one side and on the other.  A common sight in any Greek village – instead of all roads leading to Rome, nearly all paths lead to a church in Greece. The steps are painted white so you can see them in the dark, there often isn’t street lights on every path so that helps. I have little routes around and across the village, to the small harbour one day, then across Loto the next. Up one way and down the other. As someone who grew up in a large town and lived in cities all my adult life, I find the village atmosphere refreshing even when I’m on my own. It isn’t scary to be alone. The  funny thing is you can’t really be lonely in a village this size, there are Kalamera’s and Kalaspera’s and other nods and smiles, and often, a crazed barking dog on every wander. I spent 5 days here alone while G was in the UK and am more than pleased to admit I wasn’t bored at all. I took myself out to lunch and on a trip around the Industrial Museum. Drinking coffee and watching the day slowly unfolding with quiet dramas of island life. I was social and went out with people for dinner which was fun as I like listening to people’s stories. The stories about the villages, the politics of places and people who live here are fascinating. Syros is an island of contrasts – rural farming and goats grazing, beaches and bars, heavy industry and commerce. An island of nomads – why they came, how they live and what grounds them here.


Last Saturday I went out early to pick caper berries from a bush a little further out from the village. It had been damp overnight and the smell of seaweed hung in the humid air as I walked over the soft wet sand on Loto beach. The caper bush I found was abundant with flowers and berries, all graciously unpicked. I know won’t really be a secret – I bet at least one wise lady knows it’s there. But that’s why I only took enough to half fill the jar, barely making a dent on its bounty. I love walking alone, although always consider the risk of snake-bite, which people warn us about as now’s the time of year they roam around. The other night we overheard a conversation about a snake bite. A typical tale involving a trip to the hospital, anti-venom injection. Always a lucky escape.

I’ve still never seen a snake on the path and hope it stays that way.

I myself have always found that if I examine something, it’s less scary. I grew up in the West, and we always had this theory that if you saw – if you kept the snake in your eye line, the snake wasn’t going to bite you. And that’s kind of the way I feel about confronting pain. I want to know where it is.”- Joan Didion,


A summer too soon

When I write this blog I feel a sense of editing my life. This can be expected. I tap away and think “Why this and why not that, this event, this moment, that thought?”. It is all a way of storytelling and picking out the details. Maybe these things matter, maybe they don’t. My note books are filling up with ideas and making just a little progress. But the weeks go by so quickly. There is a sense of internal panic in my mind that won’t seem to quieten, despite the hills to climb and warming seas to swim in.
Summer has arrived in all but name – by April 28th the temperature had reached 27c in the shade. The plants are thirsty and the ground is dry – it has been the lowest levels of winter rainfall on record for a while. It shows on the yellowing hills that a year ago were lush with green growth. I even question my motives – mostly when people laugh at my enthusiasm for growing vegetables, despite how readily available they are. I am emphatic. Homegrown is best. The joy from seed to plant, from flower to fruit. And the taste is just so much better knowing the effort and love you gave.

The other weekend we escaped to the neighbouring island of Tinos as it’s the closest island to hop to from Syros with a twice daily connection. I think it was an attempt to make the most of the lower temperatures and use up little bit of free time do some walking, but also I think we were feeling a bit frazzled as we had a few weeks of big changes and sometimes you need a moment to breathe in something different. We’d both visited Tinos last year. G had spent long week there hiking and I lazily joined him for a couple of days to visit Prygos ….which I think holds up as a strong contender as one of my favourite cycladic towns. Having already explored Volax and the Panaromos, this time it was to discover more about the spiritual mysteries of Tinos Town.

We booked a cheap and cheerful studio in the town. The owners were lovely, despite our protests about not needing to get picked up at the post, they insisted! The lady running it didn’t speak more than about 3 words of english, but spoke french impeccably, giving us a good test of our Greek skills. Especially when when we had to learn how to ask to leave our bags there until the ferry later that afternoon, I couldn’t work out whether i had given our rucksacks away or asked her to carry them. Her answer to everything was ‘not a problem’ (den einai provlima) – which maybe is a good proverb to live by. I did need to politely refuse her very kind offers of coffee at 7pm every evening. (Greek coffee that late would keep me awake for 24 hours!)

Tinos town was unhurried and quiet. Outside the chaos of Easter and any of the many Saint’s days is always a good time to visit. This was maybe not so good for the shops that line the main street with its roadside carpeted pathway up to Our Sacred Lady of Tinos. They sell everything a pilgrim may need for their journey, candles in every shape and size, prayer books, painted ornate icons, as well as the vital knee-pads for the devout who crawl up to the church on their hands and knees on the carpeted pathway.

It is undoubtedly a beautiful ornate church that attracts thousands of visitors who wish to see where the Icon of the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary was miraculously discovered.


The Nun Pelagia had a vision and since then believers offer prayers here at the Icon to the Virgin Mary, hoping for a small miracle during difficult times. Belief is just that – a light of hope in dark times. The cavernous church with its ornate carvings and intricate gold ceilings, and smell of spicy incense has a very spiritual and calm atmosphere. People also bring bottles and drink from the well water that claims equally special holy powers. I am not one for organised religious doctrine but I liked the stories and pomp of it all. At the church there is a monument to the Greek ship that was sunk on the August 15th celebration of the Virgin Mary that acted as a catalyst for Greece’s entry into WW2.

It was a mild, but wild and windy weekend – the weather was hot for April but a very strong breeze meant walking was a good option. Friday afternoon, we decided to relax after the ferry, but then walked out towards the Temple of Poseidon and along the coastal road. It was serenely quiet – empty beaches. The archeological site is small but intriguing, so we followed it with a trip to the museum and saw most of the artifacts in their decaying splendour.

Spending the evening’s eating a lot of good hearty food in Tinos Town was a real treat, compared with our faux vegetarian pasta and salad dinners that were becoming routine. Tucking into veal stew, rabbit stifado, rooster in the oven and local artichokes and the Fourtalia Omelette, made with local sausages, eggs, potatoes and of course lots of lovely cheese. We also found time to hike up to the Acro- Kastri and admire the views. I collected wildflowers which made it into my first attempt of a traditional May Day Spring Wreath.

There was not a soul to be seen as we wandered along the empty beaches, swam and had a lazy sunday lunch at a newly opened beachside place. It was what I’ll term the poshest ‘Horiatiki Salata’ I’ve known. The wind had calmed and the heat rose on our last day there – I wrote postcards in the shade of a harbourside cafe. Taking them into the post office was an experience of real Greek life admin. Women queuing 3 deep to check the status of various bits of paperwork, people collecting pensions and work men popping in to get parcels ready for the ferry to collect. I waited my turn saying the words for ask for 3 stamps over and over in my head. By the time my turn arrived I had it right. The post office man was impressed” Bravo”… he replied in English (everytime!) and asked me if I wanted them posted now. Isa y ‘Neh, veveuous (yes, of course). Which he laughed in reply and said “in Greece everything is easy, see it’s the easy life”. I’m not so sure of that.
Coming back to Syros on a near empty ferry, three birds were in flight in the slipsteam of the boat’s waves. They looked like they were skimming barely inches from the flat ocean – not an ounce of effort as they swooped along with the cross wind supporting their flight. These birds saw an opportunity to conserve thier energy, ease off thier efforts and hitched a ride. There is definitely something in that.