Greek Cottage Madness, 1: Trashed

I’ve always been something of an impulsive shopper, my urges only tempered by an ability to create online fantasy shopping lists on days when the writing’s going badly.

Six years ago I excelled myself in impulse. I bought a tiny cottage in Paxos, one of the islands of the Ionian archipelago. I was offered it out of the blue, it was very, very cheap (for some unexplained reason the rather edgy owner needed to leave the island in a hurry) and the sun was shining. The 100 year old house sat in an olive grove; it was midsummer and the only sound on the hillside was of cicadas and goat bells. A huge lemon tree grew by the door. Geraniums flourished in olive oil tins. The ceilings were coffered wood, the shutters original.

I’d been coming to Paxos since I was a child, so surely the savings on future holidays almost made it a bargain.

Petratika house

I might even rent it out one day. Until then it was, obviously, so remote and simple that I would inevitably be productive: long days uninterrupted by visitors so that I would soon be doubling my earnings and halving my outgoings as a writer. I would grow herbs, live on cheese, bread, oil and tomatoes , swim every day and become delightfully slim and very fit. At night I might sleep under the magnificent Ionian stars in a hammock.

Only when I returned to the UK did it dawn on me that, however cheap it was, I still didn’t have the money.

With the help of friends and selling some possessions, I scraped together the funds over the next three months and returned to sign the deeds. The lawyer had obligingly knocked a nought off the price to a point where the cottage appeared to cost less than a small second-hand car. ‘What is it with you British and your love of tax?’ he said, bewildered by my obduracy in putting the nought back.

This time the house was empty. Goats had long since eaten the flowers. Weeds stood two feet high in the packed-earth courtyard; a haze of insects of the biting sort rose from them.

Shards of glass lay among the abandoned fridges, gas cylinders, stained mattresses, bones, broken pots and three legged, once-white plastic chairs.

There was a very funny smell.

Inside, doors had been smashed, fittings ripped out, although an ancient, and, I later discovered, immovable piano, with a disc on it indicating it had come from Alexandria, stood against a wall. Clearly the owner—or his business colleagues—had been in even more of a hurry than I thought.

Even now if I use a local taxi or explain to a bar owner where I live, they shake their heads with an expression of either amusement (youngish men) “That Ioannis. Big trouble,” or (grandmothers) anxiety: “His poor mother!”

Brown liquid – more insects—festered in the bathroom. I sat on an empty petrol can away from it all, breathing deeply in mixed panic and depression. In my winter dreams I had thought I’d come over, move in and work on the house by day and my novel by night.

Clearly my belief in the restorative powers of bleach and white paint were wildly misplaced.

Clearly I needed money.

Clearly I needed to find somewhere to stay the night.

(To be continued...)
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