At Sea in the Ionian

It’s never too late, no matter what they say about old dogs.

The first time I took out my boat, I was a nervous wreck, eventhough I had two friends to crew with me. I sat drinking coffee looking over the jetty, while a Swiss couple encouraged me.

-you will take it out yourself soon-

This was the farthest thing from my mind as I noticed my two friends arriving, coolbags in tow.

I nervously introduced everyone and then we abruptly left, the Swiss insisting on standing me the coffee. I tried and failed to relax as we settled on to the boat, and I went through the written out procedure for starting the engine. The throttle was slow to respond, so the rope holding the bow had well and truly sank by the time we moved for ward. I inched out of the berth and past the hundreds of assorted boats, power boats, sailboats and then the superyachts, tied up at the farthest jetty.

The adrenaline was pumping until we got out into the bay and I was able to take a deep breath. We put out a fishing line and caught a tuna first time, the only one of the summer,as it turned out.

The following week, I was swept along by my friend from Dublin, let’s call her the Dynamo, who showed me the ropes , literally. We sailed the channel from Kassiopi to Benitses, until , passing Corfu town, I said to her- let me take down the sails and steer. I pointed the boat into the wind and when the sails were in and we were motoring up the channel again, I glanced at the Dynamo. She was smiling from ear to ear with satisfaction at her pupil doing so well.

So the seeds were set. The day the Dynamo left, my eyes scanned the marina to add to the stash of enthusiastic crew. I noticed a sailor heading out on his own, standing tall at the back of his 34′ yacht, so I interrupted his meditations at the bow of his boat one day and asked him how he learned to sail alone.

He’s a man of few words, and with a strong South African accent he said- Next time I go to Sayada, you come with me in your boat.-

And so, the following week, I was given an hour’s notice, to leave on a trip south. I stocked up on food, water and for the first time, I slipped my lines myself.

The fish that were follwing me…

The European Project

The ideal of a United States of Europe was born of a need to control the supply of Coal and Steel, used to make military weapons. The original name is ECSC or European Coal and Steel Community, and was the brainchild of French and German thinkers and leaders, Jean Monnet and Konrad Adenauer, who wanted to make sure there was never another World War. It tunrned out the Atom bomb became the real deterrent, but the ECSC moved in the direction of economic union.

When Ireland joined in 1972, our Western seaboard was one of the poorest parts of Europe, along with Greece and parts of the south of Italy. How things have changed for Ireland. Standards of living having soared and the country ranks high among the developed nations.

Brexit coincided with me leaving Ireland for another European country, Greece. The largest number of non Greeks here are British. Very few realised Ireland would not leave the EU when the UK left. It left me with a mixture of disbelief and some anger that our nearest neighbours, and the ones that felt inclined to travel, who you would think had more broadened minds, appreciated so little about British domination of Ireland.

I became a little notorious for saying ‘there’s no such thing as Southern Ireland ‘ when asked whether I was from Northern or Southern Ireland. Most people just thought I was mad, but some loved the idea of being challenged to think the thing through and enjoyed the banter. I have toned it down a bit now, and I’ve begun to see myself more as a European.

The body language of Ursula van den Leyn showing Boris where to stand – away from her -at the press conference when they failed to reach agreement, speaks volumes. It were as if she was dealing with a child who needed to be indulged, She was distancing herself from him in more ways than one. Britain will now be just another country, with no special status in Europe.

What is it in the British psyche that won’t allow it to be one of the lads? Why do they always have to be one cut above? It’s a trend that seems to be led from the higher echelons of society, not the man in the street, who it seems is sick of the idea of Brexit and feels conned. Their beloved holdays in Spain will never be the same. The dreams of a house on a Greek island take on a legion of difficulties and I haven’t met one Brit out here who wants to leave the Union. Most of them are trying to get Irish passports.

I’m very proud to be Irish. We tend to pick up the Greek language better, having learned a second language from our first day at school and this lends a strong sense of identity. It’s all made me feel incredibly lucky to be Irish and to be here. Or should I say to be European and to be here.

A Human Apology?

A glance, an incline of the head would do. A slight acknowledgement of his existence, would have made all the difference. Ivor’s wife is in the final stages of cancer through misdiagnosis by the State’s Health system. His children are at home, savouring every moment left to them with their beloved mother. He travelled alone to the court hearing to hear the Health Service’s apology to him and his family for their part in the indescribable grief inflicted on them.

At the end of his wretched journey to the State’s capital, he sat alone in the court. The judge and his registar sat on their elevated seats, the barristers sat facing the judge, busy solicitors concentrated on their papers or scrolled their phone screens.

The barrister adressed the court, bewigged and shrouded in a black cloak. ‘My client regrets the pain and suffering inflicted on the family. They wish to make a full and formal apology’ . His well- educated tones carried well in the courtroom. Then it was over.

They folded their files and left. Was that for me ? for my family ? Ivor thought. Is this what I travelled here for? To watch a costumed functionary deliver a form of words to a judge? Bewildered, he gathered his coat and made his way back to his car and retraced his steps homeward.

Later he got to tell his tale on national radio. How many others have gone through this dehumanising experience of being utterly ignored by a person so hardened to human suffering that to look you in the eye as you apologised would seem like a form of weakness? Regretably, this form of callousness is fostered and admired among the legal world. ‘Professionalism’ its called by some. But surely, part of professionalism is compassion.

Oscar Wilde, in ‘De Profundis’, describes how a man lifted his hat to him as he walked handcuffed between two policemen in to the bankruptcy court. ‘Men have gone to heaven for smaller things than that,’ is how he described this small gesture of humanity. He wrote heartwrenchingly about the depths of despair he suffered while in jail.;

‘ Prosperity, pleasure and success, may be rough of grain and common in fibre, but sorrow is the most sensitive of all created things.  There is nothing that stirs in the whole world of thought to which sorrow does not vibrate in terrible and exquisite pulsation.  The thin beaten-out leaf of tremulous gold that chronicles the direction of forces the eye cannot see is in comparison coarse.  It is a wound that bleeds when any hand but that of love touches it, and even then must bleed again, though not in pain.

Would that the ‘hand of love’ had touched Ivor, in our so-called enlightened age of kindness and compassion.

Tuneful Tine

Scavenging on Ipsos beach today I came across dried bamboos washed up by the tide. Adding them to the fire as kindling tonight, I was surprised at the tune they played as the air rushed through. No wonder they’re used as instruments all over the world.

Instruments have come on a lot since the basic tube with holes. My neighbour in Ireland took up wood turning during covid and produced this chanter for a set of Uileann Pipes . Made with Maple wood and his first attempt, he sent me this picture today. And he can knock a fair old tune out of the pipes too

No matter where you go, your roots call to you. The Irish language word for a fire is Tine. Calls to mind the word tines for the points on a fork. But completely unrelated I would think despite the relationship to music.

Uileann is the Irish word for elbow, used to produce the air for the pipes just like bagpipes. The coordination necessary to move your elbow while playing with both hands on the chanter is bewildering. The sound can be incredibly lonesome or full of joy as a dance tune.

And the fire lit in record time with the dried bamboo. Such an extraordinary plant -a member of the grass family, it spreads just like grass and grows to an enormous size in Corfu.

Concrete and Conservation

When you find yourself on the other side of the globe to your only son, -me in Corfu and him in New Zealand, you give thanks for modern technology that allows you daily chats.

His work on vast concrete projects involves drastic changes to the landscape as roads are rolled out and huge foundations are dug out and filled with many tons of concrete for tall buildings.The tensions between progress and preservation, making people lives better and ruining ways of life, is never more stark.

I’ve chosen to live on an island prized for its natural beauty and exotic flora and fauna. Our chat this morning was about damming either end of a stream and draining the middle to allow a construction project to go ahead. One of his duties yesterday, was to listen to a talk on water filtering so that the drained water was uncontaminated when it was allowed back into the water system.

Before that, however, all the fish and reptiles had been removed. There’s a company that moves reptiles to new habitats. There’s a company that moves fish to new habitats. Halleluiah! Someone cares. The NZ authorities care enough to enforce these regulations and require their contruction conglomerates to employ Health and Safety officers on a range of topics to provide real education to the guys on the ground.

It feels good to know that far away, on the other side of the globe, the Earth is being cared for in such an enlightened, detailed way. This is the good news for today. You won’t hear it broadcast on any Media channel. It seems like Good News don’t sell.

Sweet Chestnuts in Corfu