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Living The Dream?

Forty-eight mosquito bites on my legs. I'm not exaggerating, I've counted them.

I have tried EVERYTHING, even boiling garlic cloves in water, straining it and adding it to a spray bottle before dousing my entire body in it. The recipe says not to worry, you can't actually smell it. You can. Within 2 days it was rancid, I smelt like I had a serious case of body odour and I was making myself heave like the cat on those GIFs.

I have rolled basil leaves directly onto my legs. I have used the extra strong deet products. I have stopped using perfumed body lotion. I have a night-time plug-in zapper. I have bought 10 lavender plants, 6 basil, 2 mint and 1 spearmint and positioned them around the area where we sit out at night. We have a large floor based fan set on the top speed in the courtyard, fashioned to blow them away and yet I think they just see it as an opportunity to pretend they're in an 80's rock video with the wind blowing through their body-fur-spines. I have sprayed our room every night before bed with a mozzie spray.

For the love of what is left of my sanity, please stop using me as your midnight snacks Ms Mozzies, I can't take any more! Thankfully the boiling-hot spoon method eases the itching, but the blisters from the 2nd degree burns aren't fun.

You may have seen the news already, but that beautiful abandoned pupper is now ours. We had both been so torn when we left her at the shelter and couldn't stop thinking about her. Our circumstances at the time just didn't allow for another dog and we wracked our brains to try and find a solution. Ours came in the form of the sellers of the property we are buying and they very kindly allowed us to move in prior to the paperwork being completed. In effect, we're consenting squatters. There is a small studio where they lived whilst they were building the main house, only around 20m2 but with a kitchen area and bathroom facilities. It's not perfect and we had already decided we would need to renovate even this small space before we could move in. The kitchen had seen better days and the MDF cabinets have deteriorated so much that we had several species of insects enjoying it's hiding places, even scrubbing it with bleach didn't make it feel clean. We had promised not to spend anything but time on the house prior to the official completion, but there was no way I could have cooked below the old extractor fan let alone switched it on. I had tried to clean it but goodness knows what would have fallen into the food, it was rusty and unhygenic. Bear in mind, nothing has been touched for at least 6 years since the previous owners left. It turned out to be a wise decision to invest in a new one, the amount of mouse droppings we found inside it when we were fitting the replacement was disturbing. Unfortunately, with the timescale we had between arranging to move in and collecting Fibi/Phoebe/Φοίβη (we discovered it's spelt differently on various pieces of documents and I didn't have to have a spelling anxiety attack when posting my poem) we couldn't do any more, so we are having to live with the kitchen as it is. It's fine, rewind to March 2020 when we moved in our old house without any kitchen at all, we've survived worse. In the scheme of life, we have everything we need.

Thankfully, a few weeks have now passed by and it looks as though there is just the four of us occupying this space. That's correct, four of us, not five. The cat has packed her bags and moved into her own pad, namely the store room. It's cool in there, she has her own space without the annoying new pup and the older still-interested-in-every-move-she-makes pooch. The door is open and she can come and go as she pleases, it's just she mostly pleases to sleep on the cool mat for 90% of the day. I can't say I blame her, I tried placing the cool mat under my bedsheets but even that couldn't cope with the 3 degrees less than the sun that my body averages. Four cold showers during the night is the norm. More, sporadically throughout the day.

My face is a permanent beacon which would come in handy if we were ever lost at sea. I wonder how some women have that beautifully perfect, even, deep tan when mine doesn't seem to move a shade beyond scarlet, attractively mockled with mozzie scars.

We have had the fan on 24 hours a day, but all it did was distribute the hot air more evenly across the tiny room, so we eventually sorted out the air con. The waft of cool air in the night is priceless.

Our neighbours have been fabulous and it appears once again as though we have struck gold. The water in the property had been disconnected and one of the neighbours has allowed us access to his mains water supply whilst we were trying to get on top of the garden overgrowth. With the pressing news of us moving in, we had arranged to fill a huge water butt so we had a supply that would allow us to at least flush the toilet using a bucket. The plan was also to use it for showering purposes and we had placed it in an area where it was totally private so we didn't give anyone a heart attack. As it happens, the water company came out within 2 hours and re-connected us - how amazing is that for service? Actual running water, what a luxury! The family across the way consist of mother, daughter, son-in-law and grandson. The mother has fed us often, whether it be potatoes with horta (greens from the field), freshly baked fig biscuits, spoon sweets (fruit in syrup), home-made marmalade, horta pies and a trifle of sorts. In addition, they have given us several plants not including the one we accidentally stole from outside our gate and put in the garden. Their kindness has really been off the scale.

Our other neighbours have the most beautiful names - Thenasis and Christinoula. I believe they are both in their 90's and he still works in the fields. He stumbled when he was out working a couple of weeks ago, falling and breaking his eye socket, his face turned black with the bruising. We have offered to help but he is still a strong-willed chap with no intentions of stopping work. I have a big soft spot for him.

Christinoula has dementia and so they have a full-time carer with them. I am often referred to as 'Maria' and she talks to me constantly, declares her love and kisses my arm. 'Den katalavaino' is repeated often - I don't understand - but I don't think she's overly concerned that it's a one sided convo.

I had baked some banana bread as a gift for them all. It's good to know that furlough and lockdown have given me some lifelong skills, isn't it? It went down a treat, much better than I could have hoped for. I later found out that the carer had explained to Christinoula the bread was an 'English cake to be eaten with coffee made by the new French neighbours'. I've never felt so exotic in my life. At best, my French could direct somebody to turn left or right. I can't say my school lessons with Mr Dobson resulted in any form of fluency.

We have been given copious amounts of fruits and vegetables. Thenasis's grandson had ripped his 'pantaloons' on a nail, on the step where he sits and so Gary sorted it out for them and made a little seat. He was rewarded with a bumper crop of home-grown figs, aubergines, cucumber, courgettes, tomatoes and horta. Returning from a walk one day, we found a carrier bag full of peppers, onions and courgettes on the table outside the studio. The whole village know of us, and they have extended their welcome by way of sharing their food stocks, it's really quite humbling. They may not have much, but what they do have they are happy to share. No matter what happens in the future, at least we know we will never go hungry.

It feels entirely natural that we are here, like it's always been this way. I am completely in love with the Island and it's people. The wild herbs are now in full bloom and the smell is incredible, just like I remember each time I stepped off the aeroplane for our eagerly anticipated holidays. I hope I never become oblivious to the aroma of thyme, dill, sage, diktamo, oregano, lemon verbina and chamomile that envelops the air like a magical incense.

We have had celebrities in the area, I heard all about it from the dentist (or mouth doctor as they call him) whilst he had both his hands in my mouth. Demi Moore was Godmother at a Christening ceremony held in one of my favourite places, Xerocambos. During the root canal that took 4 injections to numb the nerve enough to continue, I also had a full history lesson on the Santorini volcanic eruption of 1500bc. He jumped back to the celebrity story after receiving a phone call, which he took whilst drilling away at my tooth and announced that a friend who had attended the ceremony had agreed to show him photo's in exchange for a dental appointment. I can honestly say I've never had a dental experience like it and I walked out to a slap on the back congratulating me on how well I had done. It's definitely a more relaxed way of life here. I had walked into the surgery, with an extremely painful jaw that had been nagging me for weeks, I was seen immediately and given an x-ray. Likewise with the lawyer, if I need to speak to him I simply drop by his office. There is a distinct lack of waiting lists and formalities here, it's very refreshing.

I want to talk about prices. There are huge offerings of decent wines and alcoholic beverages for a pittance. The local taverna's sell their homemade raki for €3 per 1.5L as a takeout. Crazy prices that would surely encourage binge drinking, and yet it doesn't. We see young people studying in cafeneons, enjoying a single frappe for several hours. There just isn't a drink culture here at all.

On the flip side, there are some things that are eye-wateringly expensive. In the UK, I bought second-hand furniture to restore and furnish our home. An item that would have cost £20 on facebook marketplace would cost €200+ here. There's a part of me that is absolutely gutted that I didn't bring more of my furniture with me, but the reality is we couldn't squeeze another thing in the van. Furnishing the house, it seems, will be an expensive process. The second hand car market is also a shocker, with a 10 year old car being advertised at just €3k under the price of the brand new version. It's become a bit of a hobby looking through marketplace just to have a giggle at the horrific conditions of some of the cars for sale. A 30 year old truck with no floor had an optimistic 2k price tag and seeing as the advert has now gone, I can only imagine it sold. We had hoped to keep our van here, but after speaking with customs in Sitia, then Heraklion, then the Greek Embassy in London, finally ending with the Greek Embassy in Athens only to be told we no longer have enough time to meet with the 6 month time limit, and so now we are looking at alternative options. We want something much smaller, the streets here are very narrow and for cars it's completely the norm to have several dents and maybe a window missing here and there.

We have the internet! Hoooorayyyyyy!

We had moved in to the studio with our basic necessities. There was no TV, no internet and a fridge that kept things slightly cooler than room temperature. Three weeks down the line and we realised how difficult it is to conduct any kind of business solely through a mobile phone. We can't get broadband installed until we have our names on the house contract and so we had to find an alternative solution. Thanks to a friend of a friend, this came in the form of a nifty hot spot gadget. Of course, the new-found wifi then spiralled into a new TV so we could watch Netflix. These are the kind of home comforts that I always said I could live without, but maybe my bushtucker skills aren't as well honed as I'd thought.

We've continued working on the garden, mainly the double courtyard which until now we hadn't been able to get into.

::Partway through Courtyard 1::

Look at the happy little worker face.

::Partway through Courtyard 2::

Removing the growth from the roof tiles and gutters without damaging anything was tricky, but we did it.

::The reveal of the window shutters in Courtyard 2::

I understand that the wood used to make this feature inside the second courtyard was taken from the original building that once stood there and is around 200 years old.

We had no idea what was in there and I was thrilled to discover a lemon tree, but far less pleased to discover a selection of hugely overgrown cacti which shared their tiny, invisible spores when in contact with our chainsaw. The result was a huge allergic reaction, covering our faces and bodies which lasted a few days. On top of the mozzie bites.

Natural remedies on a postcard please...

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