Thursday, February 25, 2010

Ambush – the Sequel

The other day found me heading for Tryfonas’ nursery again. I passed the (still mercifully) terrier-free house after the roundabout, and began on the uphill track. In front of me, a backhoe laboured up the same road. I spotted the donkey on the hill where he had been gazing the last time, and watched, horrified as he leapt down the bank into the path of the backhoe.

The driver barely slowed. Under the lower lip of the backhoe’s blade, I saw the four slender legs squarely planted on little hooves. As the digger advanced, they retreated a little. Then the driver raised the blade and must have just touched the donkey in the belly. Donk backed up all the way with a look of outraged indignation (I have always thought that donkeys have more expressive features than horses, although horses can pull some comical faces as well).

As I passed him, hot on the tail of the backhoe, he turned to face me, put his ears back, pointed his nose to the sky, and brayed.

“This!” he seemed to be saying, “is what I think of you ignorant louts who shove me out of the way with nary a stroke nor a treat.”

“Precious,” I said to him – now back in the middle of the road and at the full extent of his tether. “I’ll stop for you on my way out.”

But when I left, he was grazing, and didn’t bother to try for my attention. I just wished I’d had my camera.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Kids in the Kitchen

About six years ago I said to my children that if they wanted cakes or biscuits at home they had to make them themselves. Same for ice-cream (O, WitchyMummy!). This decree was partly in response to the phenomenal amount of money that I was spending out each week on sweet stuff, partly because I would feel a little queasy when I read the ingredients’ lists, and partly to encourage any creative baking genes that might be lurking in my off-springs’ DNA.

These days, Witchy Mummy is happy with her move. Although Alex and Sophia are not kitchen whizzes (we have a store of Sophia-in-the-kitchen tales, including the one where she roasted the chicken upside down and including the giblets – though not fortunately, in a plastic bag – “But I didn’t realise that I had to put my hand inside it!” – and the time that she baked the Dukissa instead of freezing it), Zenon and Leo are well on the way to so becoming. Monday is our baking day, and they are reasonably competent at pizza, brownies, chocolate chip cookies, Victoria sponge, and lemon drizzle cake. In the summer we get first class ice-cream – though I usually have more to do with that.

“Can I start making bread?” Zenon asked me the other day (music to my ears). “Then we don’t have to buy it any more. I could do white for us and brown for Alex. I just love kneading.”

They fight over who makes what each week and are happy to try new recipes and ideas. Clean-up still presents a few problems, but a few dirty dishes and some flour on the floor are a small price to pay for a selection of fresh goodies for the next few days.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010


I went to get some seedlings from Tryfonas, a local nursery, on the way back from the school run this morning. Usually I plant seeds, but for certain things including lettuce, kohlrabi, celery, and parsley, I prefer to buy seedlings even though it eats into my profit margin.

So, thinking of nothing much more than the weather and how lucky I’ve been to finish big chunks of work in the nick of time before rainstorms, I turned off the motorway and headed for Anarita. Two hundred metres later I left the asphalt and turned on to the rutted dirt track for the greenhouses. Bracing myself, I passed the house where two yapping terriers usually dash out and attack my front wheels, but nothing emerged. The track has deteriorated in the bad weather, and I prefer to take the Landrover than the Toyota, so I slowed to negotiate the ruts on the last uphill when I saw from the corner of my eye a huge leaping dark shape and a donkey jumped down the bank and planted itself foursquare in front of the car. Hitting the brakes, I skidded to a halt, and the donkey dropped its nose and nuzzled the bumper.

Cyprus donkeys are bigger than other donkeys. They have been beasts of burden here for centuries, and are still used in many of the villages for harvesting grapes and other agricultural work. During both World Wars, the British Army used them and the big mules that they produced when crossed with draught horses, extensively and Best Beloved’s uncle served as a muleteer in Italy, carrying ammunition up and wounded soldiers down the precipitous tracks around Monte Cassino.

Usually a dark chocolate brown, in the winter they have a heavy coat, thick as a deep pile rug. This one showed no sign of moving, so I turned off the engine and got out. He pushed his nose into my hand and I stroked his neck and pulled at his ears.

“Come on!” I said, clucking as one does to a horse, and tugging on the rope tied around his neck (Cypriots typically leave their donkeys tethered to graze, the rope tied either to a leg or knotted around the neck). He reluctantly shifted a little to the side, butting his head into my stomach and lipping at the side of my hand. I pushed up his lip and looked at his teeth, guessing that he was three years old at most.

“Git over!” I said, pulling a little harder and leaning on his shoulder. His big brown eyes blinked slowly but he shifted to the side enough for me to get into the car. Then he lifted up his head and started to nibble the plastic wind shield on the side of the window.

“No! You can’t eat that!” I started the engine and pulled away and he followed the car, breaking into a trot before being pulled up short by the rope around his neck. He stood in the centre of the track, staring after me, long ears pricked until I crested the hill.

“Who’s the donkey in the middle of the road?” I asked the Bulgarian woman who was filling cubes with seeds in the greenhouse. She shrugged: “I think it belongs to the boss.” And laughed when I told her what had happened.

“He couldn’t be hungry,” I said as I left. “There’s plenty of grass around. I just hope he doesn’t cause an accident!”

As I was leaving, a middle-aged Cypriot man pulled up in a four-wheel drive.

“Who’s is the donkey in the middle of the road?” I asked. “I almost ran into him!”

“Belongs to the boss,” he answered. I related my story and he doubled over laughing.

“That donkey! It’s just a baby, but it’s learned that all the employees will stop and pet it, so now, whenever it hears a vehicle it runs into the road hoping for a treat.”

As I topped the hill on the way back, I saw the donkey grazing on the top of the bank, silhouetted against the early sun. He lifted his head as he heard the engine, pointed his ears, and leapt down the bank in an attempt to head me off.

But I was too quick. He reached the road running just behind me, and once again I watched him jerked to a stop by the rope around his neck. He stood and watched me as I passed the now-terrierless house (had someone with a little less patience than I finally run them over?), and then returned to cropping the grass by the side of the track, waiting for the next traveller and the endless possibility of treats.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Organic Inspection

Twice (or so) a year, the folks from Lacon come to inspect my books, field, and store-room and check that I’m being a good girl with respect to practising organic cultivation of the land.

They phoned me last week and made an appointment for today, Monday, at nine o’clock, so after dropping off the Big Ones at school, I raced through my weekly shop at Papantonio’s supermarket, tore down to the Kato Paphos post-office (where we collect our mail) to pick up something that had come by DataPost, then raced up to the Main Post Office in Anavargos – all the way up the other side of town – when the lady at Kato Paphos said that DataPost was held there, then charged back home on the motorway to arrive in the nick of time for our appointment.

Forty-five minutes later, I was still waiting. Livid, needless to say. I had left other jobs in town undone, so I could get there on time for the Laconeers, and their tardiness meant another trip back later in the day or later in the week and possibly a bounced cheque as I hadn’t been able to get to the bank in time. Banks and most shops aren’t open when I’m in town in the morning (0730 on the school run), and in the afternoon, bank and PO are closed and I’m chasing from pillar to post with the children, so often don’t have time for errands.

Anyway, the Laconeers arrived at about ten minutes to ten and after reprimanding them in Greek – the inspection is always in Greek, which is good practice for me – we settled down for two hours’ work.

Imagine this:

Laconeers: So, how many carrots have you planted since last September?
Asproulla: According to records, six packets of seeds – four in the months before January, and two in the last month.
Laconeers: And how many bunches of carrots would that give?

Well, of course I keep records and of course I write invoices – but we eat, too, and I give a lot of stuff away… So I pulled some figure out of my experienced imagination that seemed about right. Then…

Laconeers: So how many carrots will you be planting before, say, May?
Asproulla: I’ll be planting a gram and a half of carrot seed every three weeks until I run out of space – say another six grams of seed, which should yield me thirty bunches per gram…

Then we came to the cauliflower.

Laconeers: How many cauliflowers did you plant last season?
Asproulla: Seventy-six.
Laconeers: And do you sell these by the piece or by the kilo?
Asproulla: By the kilo.
Laconeers: And how much did each weigh?
Asproulla: On average each weighed a kilo.
Laconeers: OK. Lets look back through your invoice books and count how many kilos of cauliflower you have invoiced!

So we looked back over the invoice books, deducted some kilos for destroyed plants. Deducted more for caulis that we ate or that we gave away, and came up with about 50 kilos – so I was twenty six kilos of cauliflower short.

Laconeers: So where did these extra cauliflowers go?

No, I don’t know – but at least the error was on the good side. If I had sold 26 kilos of cauliflowers that I had never claimed to have grown, I would have been in trouble…

It’s all fun, down on the farm!