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Category Archives: The Greek Odyssey

TGO – chapter 2

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Chapter 2

The story so far – This column, accompanied by Dimitri and Daniel has just landed at Thessalonika as the joint Lapsed Catholic Comedian / Greek Restaurant Owner / Jewish Student expedition to the summit of Mount Olympus.

Day One – continued

We land at Thessalonika and are met by Tassos who is the brother of Nikos who works for Dimitri in the Manchester Taverna. Nikos has the mien of a young Greek monk and the young Greek monk wants it back.
Tassos takes us to a seafood cafe down by the docks in an old flour mill and treats us to a wonderful meal which includes something called eggplant shoes. How do they get the shoes off the eggplants I wonder? Do the eggplants put up a struggle? Dimitri is driving so doesn’t drink. Danny and I have a couple of circumspect glasses of excellent wine and feel the glow of the holiday suffuse us already – the mists of Manchester are forgotten and we bask in the Greek sunshine, even though we are down the docks under an old grain silo. Tassos and his wife and little daughter wave us off and we leave on our journey into the unknown full to the gills with eggplants shoes and other excellent Bubble nosh (Bubble = Bubble and Squeak – Greek) The Greeks are amazingly hospitable people – like the Irish only with garlic.
We wobble off to our hire car and set off for Litohoro our base for Olympus arriving as the afternoon sun strikes the mountains and from the plain we can see our goal the summit of Olympus, Mitikas – which I have rechristened Metaxa in honour of the Greek brandy of that name and also because I have trouble remembering names. Shakespeare might have had a vocabulary of 400,000 words but what good did it do him? Where is he now I ask? Dead is the answer. The summit is 10,000 ft. above sea level – which is where we are now and we aim to get to it in three days. From where we stand on the plain we can see quite clearly the fragmented summit with its great serried fangs. The temperature here on the plain is 34 centigrade. It’s going to be hot in that gorge – approaching forty.
We plan to walk the gorge to Prinoia and then on to the main refuge on the mountain the first day, spend a rest day on the hill then go for the summit on the third day returning that same day to Prinoia where we can hitch a lift from the roadhead back to Litohoro. Sea level to summit and back in three days – easy peasey.
We check in the hotel have a quick souvlaki then go to sit in the town square with a beer and watch the world go past.
I notice a raddled looking non-Bubble type staggering round the square and go over to talk to him. It turns out that he’s an American just come back from Olympus. Strangely for an American he has bad teeth. In that land of the Orthodontist and the whitewashed gnashers a man with teeth like a mouthful of dimps is as rare as an Eskimo with sunstroke. I ask him how long it took.
‘We were kind of loose man. Took a lot of wine and a lot of grass, We kinda got lost for a while – took us twelve hours to Paranoia (I decide that this is a much better name than Prinoia – and as it turns out much more fitting) and there was no way up or down so we slept out in the open. Like it was miserable man. Then man we walked to the refuge and stayed there two days we were like so out of it. They were so sorry for us they gave us a map for free. Then like we went to the summit.’
I had heard various stories about the extent of exposure on the last pitch to the summit and asked him how it was.
‘Man I held on with everything I had and three, four times I just froze on and prayed. No way am I ever going back up there.’ And he wandered off across the square. I saw him later on the balcony of his hotel with a couple of other Americans smoking rolls of wallpaper and drinking bottles of retsina.
I go back to Dimitri and Dan and take out the guide book. It’s one of the great series of guides published by Cicerone Press and written by Tim Salmon. The last pitch is described as a ‘moderate scramble’. I say nothing to the others and we buy fruit, nuts and bottles of water from a late night store and go to our rooms to pack and make ready for the morn and our assault on the Mountain Of The Gods.

Day 2 Egg Lollies

The man in the next bedroom has been up all night taking showers and turning the television on and off so I emerge red eyed and trembling from my pit at 7 a.m.
The landlady brings breakfast which is some bread and honey, a couple of hard boiled eggs that have been kept in the freezer so that they are now egg lollies and a glass of reconstituted orange juice. And this in a country that is sinking under the weight of its fresh oranges.
I bang on the door of Danny and Dimitri to hear answering grunts. Either they have been eaten by bears or they are not happy campers first thing in the morning.
By 8 they have had their egg lollies, we have paid the landlady, left some kit in storage and set off walking out of Litohoro. We follow the high street out of the village passing the town cemetery where an old lady pulls on a bell rope tolling a dirge as we walk past. I see this as an omen. I am later proved right.
We follow an aqueduct for a while then meet two men on a bridge who tell us to leave this easy route and follow a shepherds’ trail into the forest. The sun is burning down, the temperature already in the mid thirties. Within an hour we have climbed to the summit of an outcrop on the gorge’s flank at 650 metres sweating and breathless and stop to get our breath.
We can see Litohoro and the sea far behind us, before us the gorge and at it’s head the fangs of Metaxa, far distant we can still hear the bells of the cemetery.

Will our heroes get to Paranoia? Will the fangs of Metaxa be too much for them? Tune in next month for another dose of the same……

Posted in The Greek Odyssey|

TGO – chapter 1

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Chapter 1

‘Beware of Greeks bearing mountains’ my old gran used to say as she sat there sandpapering the budgie – I should have listened. Regular readers of this mishmash of home truths, rant and erotic fantasies will remember that a few months back I mentioned that I met a Greek friend of mine in the street and he had asked me to climb Mount Olympus with him. Those of you who were awake may also remember that I said yes. I should have been taken away there and then by the men in white coats to that nice hospital with the rubber walls where everybody is gentle with you. Here followeth a full and true account of what befelleth during those days even unto the third generation of lawyers, all of whom have had a good gander at the text in case of libel. The following is a true and honest transcript of my journal for those Greek Days.



Day Minus One

I arrive back in Manchester from Connemara at 4.30pm, and have to race to the YHA shop for a head torch and a Platypus water carrier both of which I left in Ireland and which no doubt the mice in my cottage will be playing with now. I go to Waterstones to hear Pete McCarthy reading from his book on Ireland McCarthy’s Bar which is very perceptive and very funny, then go for a pint with him. After a very abstemious two pints of Arthur Guiness’s Best Black Mischief I go home, leaving a pub before closing time for the first time since I was seventeen and got dragged off by a loose woman from the sixth form of Notra Dame Catholic Girls School. I spend all night paying bills, sorting post out and packing and finally crash 1 am.

Day One – Eggplant Shoes.

I lie awake all night aware that I have to be at the airport at 5.30 am trying my hardest to sleep for the four hours until the taxi comes but can’t. I am plagued with stupid fears – what if the alarm doesn’t go off? What if the taxi doesn’t come? What if they come knocking on the door for that library fine I never paid in 1958? What if I end up in the school playground wearing only a vest and it doesn’t cover my willy?
I doze off at 4.44. At 4.45 the alarm goes off. I shave my teeth and brush my face, dress erratically and adventurously in a Hawaiian shirt of the kind of pattern and hues that would induce an epileptic fit in a three toed sloth; baggy walking pants, boots and my Tilley hat and go downstairs to greet the dawn and the Pakistani taxi driver who asks me where I’m going.
I assume that the controller has told him I’m going to the airport and think that he means where am I going ultimately.
‘Mount Olympus.’ I answer.
He looks for it in his A to Z of Manchester then asks if its near the University. A few more misunderstandings later we head for the airport. I speak to him once or twice in the simple spirit of conservation, explaining that Olympus is where the Gods live but joking that they will probably be out. ‘That Zeus is a real character. He’s always getting dressed up as a swan and going off for a bit of rumpety pumpety with young Greek women.’ This I know as a fact from O Level Eng. Lit and Yeats’ poem Leda And The Swan.
The taxi driver is now totally convinced that he is carrying a madman and is really relieved when I load my trolley at the airport and vanish into a crowd of Northern Sun Seekers who are assembling for their annual two weeks of sun, sin, sand, sex and salmonella.
5.45 am Dimitri and Danny arrive. Dimitri is my friend the Greek cafe owner and Danny is his son, a tall, witty, twenty year old Jewish lad (his mum is Jewish and that makes Danny Jewish) who has the manners and mien of a gentle young rabbi.
So there we are, three men heading for a mountain, a Greek, a Jew and a lapsed Catholic Zen Buddhist Atheist with a serious Guinness habit.
I have a row with the check in girl who tells me our hand baggage will have to be weighed. She then tells us it is too heavy. It isn’t what she says but the way she says it, as though we are all three of us puppies that have just crapped in her best hat. She is very pretty but comes from one of the former Eastern Block states and has the manners of somebody who has been drummed out of the KGB for cruelty. I point out that two thousand pounds worth of cameras and lenses will not like travelling in the hold. She tells Dimitri I am shouting at her. I shout at Dimitri that I am not shouting at her – she is shouting at me. I go off to cool down and she shouts at Dimitri who has even more of a problem than me because his hand luggage contains a digital camera, a laptop computer, cables, chargers, batteries etc. and a mobile camera to transmit pictures of us on the top of Mount Olympus to the waiting world (actually the Barnsley Bugle and the Manchester Echo – a couple of free sheets where Dimitri advertises his Dolmades, Taramasalata and Salsa Evenings). Dimitri puts most of his stuff through as hold baggage. I take my cameras out of my hand luggage and put them round my neck. She weighs the lenses and they are ok. We get our boarding cards. I put my cameras back in the hand luggage and watch as our fellow passengers load up with several tons of duty free fags and booze each.
We go for a coffee at one of the food places. The coffee tastes of nothing. It is a vacuum, a negation of taste. Dimitri has a row with the cafe bar manager just to keep his hand in. So far Danny has had a row with nobody and we tell him he’ll have to buck up his ideas soon.

Next month We reach Paranoia after sundry adventures and discover that Dimitri’s Greek is worse than mine – but this is the least of our troubles.

Posted in The Greek Odyssey|

The Greek Odyssey

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June, 2000 A.D.

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6 (the final)

Mike Harding and Greek Taverna owner Dimitri Grillapoulis (trans Jimmy the Grilled Chicken) Leave the UK on 22nd June as part of the first joint Manchester Anglo Irish Greek Expedition to climb Mount Olympus.
Mount Olympus is more than 3,000 metres high and is the Abode of the Gods of Ancient Greece – who sit there apparently eating Ambrosia for infinity. It can’t be much of a life for a God sitting there for ever eating tinned rice but there you go – to each his own.
Dimitri plans to broadcast a satellite picture of the two of them from the summit of Olympus – if they ever manage to get there. On the way to the summit are the dreadful canyons of tavernas and the lakes of Retsina.

Watch this space.

Posted in The Greek Odyssey|