In my fifties I moved to Lesvos, a small Greek Island on the Aegean Coast. Despite the fact that the island is in Europe, it is comparatively hard to reach and quite behind the times. Incredibly, there are still many people who have never been outside their own village and who have only a donkey as their means of transport. Some of the older village people do not own a fridge and some still use an outside oven to cook with. The butchers open on a Sunday, so that people can buy their meat for the day and life inevitably revolves around ‘your plot’, as much of your food is grown there.

I lived in a tiny stone house surrounded by its own piece of land. The mountains were my backdrop, the riverbed my stage. I had sheep as my audience and wild cats too. The other players were a huge variety of birds that lived amongst the tall grasses growing in the riverbed, some of them rarely seen in Europe. In March and October we were often visited by keen bird watchers who came to film and document the unusual species. My house could only be reached by dirt track, which was dusty in the summer time and flooded in the winter. Car tyres were sabotaged daily and it was a necessity to learn how to change a wheel! Mains electricity was connected, but used to fail regularly, sometimes for as long as 48 hours at a time and it was not unusual to wake in the morning and find no running water, either because the pipes were frozen in winter or just because supplies had been interrupted somewhere in the village. In theory, I had a telephone connected, but, as you can imagine, connections were unreliable and the internet was now you see it, now you don’t. Unbelievably frustrating at times, but refreshingly peaceful at others. Finally, the post was delivered up in the village, and put in an open container. If you wanted to find your letters, you just went and rummaged through the entire villages post until you found one with your name on it and then put it in your pocket – this sometimes led to important things going astray, food parcels and gifts from abroad were highly sought after commodities…..

Summers were long, hazy and warm with temperatures reaching the early forties at times. At night you could still be sitting in a sleeveless shirt at 3 o’clock in the morning, listening to the geckoes chattering and the wild cats squabbling over a tasty find. Sleeping was difficult, as it was often just too hot indoors, unless you had air conditioning, which I didn’t. And sleeping outdoors was inadvisable because of the mosquitoes, snakes and scorpions. Living on the Kampos, there were loads of scorpions and they could put a grown man out of action for a couple of days with a nasty bite! I had a hammock slung between a couple of apricot trees in my garden, which I used to sway in from time to time when I needed a rest.

Winters were freezing. And, of course, no central heating. I did have my trusty but very hungry wood burning stove, which would warm the two rooms of my tiny house in the evening, but the bathroom was arctic. In the night time, when the stove had gone out, temperatures would quickly plummet to 1 or 2 degrees centigrade and it was nothing to wake up and find frost on the top of the duvet, created by the warmth of my body meeting the cold air. The trick was to wear layers, lots of them and it was not unheard of to keep your pj’s on underneath your clothes, both because it kept the warmth in and because the bathroom was too cold to take them off!

When Spring arrived, the village would begin to wake and the bars that lined the promenade would receive a coat of paint and any repairs that a harsh winter had caused. Excitement was in the air and morale was high. Everyone was chatty, helpful and hopeful for a prosperous season and would greet each other with ‘have a good year my friend’. I was lucky enough to secure a pitch outside one of the most beautiful bars at the end of the promenade, called Buddha Bar. Each day I would take all my gear, paints, brushes and canvases along with a couple of display boards to hang my finished pieces on. I would arrive at about 9 o’clock, just as the promenade was waking up and begin to paint. Sometimes I would work on a commissioned piece, sometimes on a piece of my choice, but always with the hope that I would have many admirers throughout the day.....

to be continued

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