The Dam Signs.

Just to give you all some more information and in respect to a couple of requests I will put up two pictures of the signs by this new and huge dam. Then I will post another photograph which may help to see just how really big this dam is.

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This is the first sign, certainly the oldest of the two signs near to the dam. I just love the figure of five billion drachmaes.

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This is the second sign, it is a bit newer that the top sign but together I hope they give a better picture of what is happening here. I see here that the cost is just over six million euros.

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And this is a photo to try to illustrate the size of this dam. Behind the deserted house there is a huge wall of rock and stone that just goes straight up, as you can see. On the top of the dam are a couple of small white buildings.

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Crete, a Dam and Life.

Ti na karnoume – what can we do? Life goes on. This week has been a quiet week in the village. Last Friday we had the quiz at a taverna interestingly called A Popsi. Then, the next day, I drove up to the Amari valley to see Lampros at the taverna Aravanes to give him the second copy of the Crete Courier newspaper which contained my article about the Amari and mentioned him. He was over the moon. We got a free double coffee and Ann, my wife, got several gifts of mountain tea and Laurel. (We call them Bay Leaves in English).

Back down we came past the incredible dam. A huge construction around 30 Km south of Rethymnon that seems to have been built by both the Rethymnon Water company and the Agricultural water company with a lot of help from the European Commission. Interestingly it has no turbines to generate electricity, or so Lampros told me. Anyway, the dam will (hopefully) fill two valleys with water.

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The only village to be affected is the village with no name, at least no signs, that lies before the dam under the proposed water level. Empty houses and buildings and olive trees cut down to preserve their wood for future winter fires. It is like a desert in a sense, no people, sawn off trees and the expectation of water.

I hope it fills. They close the dam in December as I am reliably informed in the hope that in time it will fill. But having seen the Amari and knowing that the island of Crete is largely limestone, I have my doubts. But who can deny the enterprise, the work that it has taken to build this largely unknown dam and the local quarries for the stone.

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The current road winds gently down under the future water levels then up and round the dam. When the dam fills the road will go a different way, a stunning way. You can see the formation of the new road as it climbs up towards the dam. Then it goes across the top of the dam. Straight across the top of the wall and onto the other side of the valley where it stays above water level and joins, eventually, the old road to the Amari. The road has still not yet been finished, but we shall see.

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Anyway, on we go towards Rethymno across the incredible Venetian bridge on this unknown road. Over the pass and onto the new road just built down the valley. As the new road ends we get into the winding roads of Rethymno and finally get back to the National Road and are only allowed to get onto it towards Iraklion. Who knows, what is a U-turn between friends?

Slipping into the Olive Harvesting Mindset.

At this time of year, the second half of November, all who own olive orchards start to think of the harvest to come and the olives to be pressed into beautiful oil. We have thirty two olive trees and last year there were plenty of olives to be harvested. We chose the easy way, the local way where Greek friends harvested the olives for us.

This is how the deal works. The Greeks use their equipment to harvest the olives and to put the olives into bags. Then they notify the local olive press who comes down with a tractor and trailer to gather up all of the bags and take them to the olive press. The press charge a percentage of your oil for both the picking up of the bags and the actual pressing. Then the amount of oil that is left is divided half and half with the local Greeks. We were left after the press took their divvy with sixty-six kilos of oil of which we received thirty-three kilos for ourselves.

The benefit of doing this is that you literally have to do nothing but go up to the local oil press and take your oil back home. The drawback is obvious, you get much less oil than if you harvested the olives yourself and took the bags up to the press. That way the press would only take nine percent of your oil and we would end up with more like eighty kilos of oil.

So what do we do this year? I already have a net and ten sacks plus a couple of very stout bamboo poles to knock the olives from the trees. The trouble is that this is backbreaking work and although I can get help from some English friends, it is still difficult if your experience is as shallow as ours.

What I could buy, of course is the machine that all the Greeks (except very few) use to gather the olives. It is like a long pole with an electric motor and a rotating bit at the top with rubber or plastic bits sticking out that knock the olives from the trees. This will plug into the mains and since our house is in the middle of the olive grove, we have mains extension leads that should reach all of the trees. So at least we do not need a generator. These machines cost around a hundred to a hundred and fifty Euros, according to local Greek friends.

But you know, the olive oil that comes from our fresh grown organic trees is absolutely superb. You can eat it on bread. This first pressing extra virgin olive oil just cannot be bought in a shop. It not only tastes good, it can go up to and over 180 degrees Celsius in a chip-pan. The chips made with this superb oil and Cretan potatoes is not only beyond belief, but healthy too. In fact some people say that Cretan olive oil, the gift of the goddess Athena, is the best foodstuff on the planet.

So the wet days go slowly by and we continue to think – off and on – just what we will do. The thirty-three kilos lasted us all year with oil left over – perhaps we want more to sell or even give away. Or perhaps we just want the satisfaction of doing it ourselves. Who knows? We shall certainly see in the next few weeks.

What passing bells . . . .

On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, we shall remember them. It was at precisely eleven am on the eleventh of November in 1918 that the armistice was signed and the war to end all wars was finally over.

Then in 1939 a bigger war that had far more global consequences was fought until 1945. In both of these wars so many British people died. We remember them at eleven o’clock on the eleventh of November every year, wherever we are. For two minutes, we are silent.

Here in Crete there is a regular service in Souda Bay that is actually timed at one pm. With Greece two hours ahead of the UK this makes the Remembrance service both here and in Britain happen at exactly the same time. If you wish to go, then you should be at the Souda Bay War Cemetery at 12.45am.

The purpose of this service is to remember those men and women who gave their lives in both wars in order to protect our country and its way of life. It is not about glory or honour, it is just about remembering them and the supreme sacrifice that they gave us all. They gave everything.

And every year we should remember them in silence, in the privacy of our own mind, lest we forget . .

For if we ever forget how they died, how they suffered and what personal courage they mustered for a greater cause than themselves, we may find ourselves slipping back into war and death again. For them we have tried to build a world more civilised, a world free of war.

Whether we have yet done so will always be open to discussion, but that is and has always been our aim. We who remember them.

In the preface of his book of poetry, Wilfred Owen, a man who was killed in the closing months of the first world war, wrote these lines:

“This book is not about heroes. English poetry is not yet fit to speak of them.
Nor is it about deeds, or lands, nor anything about glory, honour, might, majesty, dominion or power, except War.
Above all I am not concerned with Poetry.
My subject is War, and the pity of War.
The Poetry is in the pity.”

Here is one of the poems that Wifred Owen wrote:

Anthem for Doomed Youth

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells;
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.

What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of good-byes.
The pallor of girls’ brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.

Souda Bay War Cemetery 2

Ray

As I was reading your sad experience from Souda Cemetery it reminded me of a story told to me of a British soldier who fought in the Battle of Crete. His name is George Hamlet, I say is, because, George thankfully is still with us. George was captured by the German army after some vicious hand to hand combat . He fought alongside, what George called, the bravest of the brave, the New Zealand Maori, to this day he is a great follower of New Zealand and Maori rugby. It was through rugby that I first met George, who was the President of Sligo Rugby Club in Ireland when I first played rugby.

To put the following in context I must point out that I come from Catholic Republican background and my Father was a member of the Old IRA in the Nineteen Twenties. George is a Protestant ex member of the British army.

Ray, the story is long and may be tedious, but I must tell it in its entirety to demonstrate the character that George Hamlet is.

I come from a basically working class background, and rugby, at the time I started playing, was, to a degree a snobbish or class concious game. After playing for a few years I was picked to play for my Province at Junior level. One weekend while playing junior against Ulster I was informed that I was being watched by the senior selectors because there was a vacancy on the Connaught senior team to play the Argentinian National team the following Tuesday in Galway. When I got home to Sligo that Sunday night I learned from the television that I was picked to fill the vacancy on the Connaught team.

That was the only information I received from the selectors, and it came through the medium of television.

Knowing that the game was on at half past three on Tuesday ( a working day) and not owning a car, I took the early bus for Galway. After a while I realised that at the rate of progress it was making I would not be in time for the build up and team talk for the game. As time past I started to panic as I knew if I continued on the bus I would be late for the game.

Enter George Hamlet, While looking out the window of the bus I thought I saw Georges car parked by the side of the road, and a man resembling George, watering a dog, which I knew George and his good wife brought everywhere.

At that point I knew George was heading for the game in Galway, so, I decided if I was to have any chance of making the game I better stop the bus on this lonely country road and thumb Georges car down, I might then have some chance of getting to the game on time. I duely stopped the bus, hopped off and waited for georges car to come along. After a few minutes waiting I had this horrendous feeling that maybe I made a mistake and that it was not Georges car after all. Seconds later Georges car comes around the corner and my heart jumps for joy, but, when I thumb the car and it drove on by, my heart sank, it was my last chance to make the game in time and I was distraught . A couple seconds later and who reverses back up the road but Georges car, he rolls down the window and the first utterences are expletives … Mc Hugh what the f..ck are you doing here, you should be in Galway for the bl…dy game your are going to be late. I explain how I happen to be on the country road on the way to the game. He said hop in quick and we will try and get you there in time.

We pull in to the hotel carpark where the team were supposed to meet pre all provincial games. I learn that the team are still at the hotel, and I breathe a huge sigh of relief. George says you better have a good game today after all this.

So as George is reversing his car, I turn around and meet one of the selectors who asks me where I was. He said they thought I wasnt coming to the game and they made the decision to drop me and bring in another player, this, in spite of the fact that they never notified me officially in the first place that I was selected to play for my Province. Just as I turned around sickened by this news I spot George exiting the car park, and for some reason he rolled down the window of the car and shouts, are you ok, I mumbled something, so he stops the car and jumps out (leaving the car blocking the carpark) and comes across to me and asks me what is wrong. I explain what I have just heard. George explodes and demands to know where these selectors and aleckadoos and hangars on are. I said George just leave it, he says no, you come with me. He drags me into the packed dinningroom where all the great and the good and the selectors are finishing their lunch. In front of this packed dinningroom George tears into these selectors and tells them in no uncertain language that if they do not reverse this decision the whole country would be told how the Connaught Branch conducts there bussiness and how they treat their players. There was silence and embarassment throughout the room.

You see George comes from a very well known rugby family his Father or Grandfather played for Ireland, he also knew several of the National Sports reporters. So after a pause the selectors reconvened and quickly reversed their previous decision, and put me back on the team. Needless to relate I was overjoyed and without any doubt I had George Hamlet to thank, for me playing against the Argentinians that day. No other person would have made my case as good in that dinningroom in Galway all of thirty three years ago. We lost the game, I had a poor to average game. But I went on to play several more games for Connaught.

Georges wife has since passed away and George himself is now nearly totally blind.

Every time I thanked George for standing up for me he would say don’t thank me thank the dog, for if it didn’t need to go to the toilet on that road I would still be standing there.

The above is a small aspect of George Hamlet the soldier who fought in the battle of Crete.

Brian McHugh