greekfamilyminimarket

My summer working in the family business on Corfu

Clothes and the mini market

“Oh, Looby, this is such a nice top for you. SOOOO pretty.”
“I’ll give it to you if you want. The pattern is very nice for you.” (My mother used to share clothes with me, I assumed we were having a moment of intimacy)…

“No, Looby. Nooooo…. I am too thin for this.”

Genius.

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Celebrity Shots at the Mini Market

Celebrity Shots at the Mini Market.

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Celebrity Shots at the Mini Market

There is a stupid game that I play from Facebonk called Criminal Case. In it, you are taken to various “Crime Scenes” and basically have to find certain objects within a limited time. It’s absolute bollocks, but I’ve always liked silly games. Before the advent of social media, I used to spend hours playing Minesweeper and to anyone in the know, well you can’t beat my best time on Expert level. I’ve been playing MAHJONG since that very first 2000 word assignment had to be handed in the next day in 1994 at the Australian National University in Canberra. I don’t like my games fancy, (and I never spend money), just easily obsessive. Anyhow, back to Criminal Case. So I’m playing it the other day back in London, and suddenly, with ‘NYPD’ music and lights it says… “TO THE CRIME SCENE! Heading to the mini market….!”

I gasped.

I thought there was only one mini market in the world. Mine. I’m aware the term “mini market” is pretty international, but no one in my mind should take the name in vain.

It’s Summer 2014.

It’s a holiday.
I find myself sat in the corner around the LIPTON ICE TEA plastic table down at the mini market the morning after arrival. I look over to a door. There, in my own handwriting from 2012, is a scruffy piece of A4 paper that says “OPEN”.

I would have been disappointed had the first words from my dear old MIL not been “Aah, Looby. THIS is your colour! Aah, look at you, so many kilos!”.
I was not let down.

“So much more to love, Maria. So very much more.”

This familiarity was later backed up by Yannis playing a CD of himself singing and playing Bazouki blasted out across the restaurant in the evening as he talked to some ‘cousins’ from Athens. As the twitch in my left eye started to set in much like Inspector Clusoe from the Pink Panther movies, I reminded myself to relax. It’s just a holiday.

Apparently, and I can’t believe I haven’t mentioned this previously, but nearly every Greek customer who walks in is some kind of cousin from Athens. Although I’m aware that Greeks have big families, I’m not sure that they understand the normal usage of the word “cousin”. What it does mean is the son or daughter of a directly related aunt or uncle. Surely it doesn’t include “a friend of the second son of the aunt who was once married to my first cousin forty years ago after returning from Guatemala.” These cousins, and there are continuously new ones, enter the restaurant nightly. Twas always thus. Last night, some cousins came from Athens. I’ve not met them before, never heard them mentioned before, but lo and behold… “Looby, please meet my cousins…”. “More…?”

I have no problem with this. Welcome one and welcome all. Call good friends or old friends Aunts/Uncles/cousins/furniture, what you will. What I have a problem with is that fact that this gives Yanni the opportunity to put the CD on. Honestly. he sings flat. So do I often, but I would not subject anyone to some of my theatrical performances on DVD on a loop and call it ‘entertainment’. “Come to mine, we can play old videos of me doing Shakespeare. You’ll LOVE it!”.

There is a new waiter in the restaurant. Before the cousins arrived, after introducing myself, my ears attuned themselves to the previously playing CD blasted out over the restaurant.
“Is she still playing that bloody ABBA Mamma Mia CD I gave her five years ago?”.
He practically grabbed me.
“How long are you here for?”
“A month.”
“Please, Louisa, it’s so nice to meet you, but when you leave, please take that fucking CD back with you… When it’s not Yanni on bazouki, it’s bloody fucking ABBA. Twelve hours a day.”

IF YOU CHANGE YOU’RE MIND I’M THE FIRST IN LINE
HONEY I’M STILL FREE TAKE A CHANCE ON ME….

In pool when you’e not playing the game anymore but you want to take one shot for fun, it’s called a celebrity shot.

I’m back. Celebrity shot.

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FROM MINI MARKET TO MINI EDUCATION

FROM MINI MARKET TO MINI EDUCATION.

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FROM MINI MARKET TO MINI EDUCATION

FROM MINI MARKET TO MINI EDUCATION

I did something a bit brave a couple of weeks ago. I turned down teacher training at my school here in London, starting in September. I was offered a student teacher’s role. Full time. No pay. I turned it down. WOW. Why? Ha!

I’ve gone from the mini market to mini education. At least this system kind of speaks sense sometimes. No missing ice cubes, no plastic bags on heads… just sucking Gove’s balls…

The school I am currently employed at is as a teacher’s assistant, but hey, I do a damn lot of teaching. I may not prepare or plan yet, but I stand in front of my class as their teacher about two full days a week. Otherwise I am guiding the “lower learners”, often in small groups, often separate to the class, up to 10 children out of 30, to catch up with the rest. I am basically responsible for the most difficult kids in the class. Most often am helping with behavioural issues. Jesus, inner city London – I believe you need two adults in a class for those thirty kids. I am not responsible for the data that these children represent seemingly, but ultimately, yes.

They pay 10000 for my job.

Not a lot. Insulting really.

Madness to refuse teacher training option, leading to better options for me quicker?
Not really. Wait, it may seem madness until I explain it.

Since I came from the mini market, my goal has been to consolidate my 8 years of teaching overseas and try to properly qualify so that simply, I can move. Literally, move. Open doors. Go anywhere. Do my job. Which is – I am good with kids. Really good. I’m a born teacher. Not perfect, but, well, I care. I’m the one who goes home and frets how much I can do for “Joshua” or “Ahmed” or “Lisa” or “Stavros”.

And also, for me. For my son. So that we can make choices. So that I can make choices for us that don’t include selling fifty pence bars of chocolate behind a mini market counter for me and him for the rest of our lives, knowing I will be pushing Yanni or Maria around in a wheelchair one day when they actually never liked me. “So pretty… This is your colour!”

So teaching it is. My thing. If I can do this, and there’s a long road ahead, I may be able at some point to do that bloody comedy stand up I’ve been going on about for so long.

I simply can’t do anything for free. Anymore.

I can’t afford to anymore. I’m on the breadline.

Option 1) I train to teach, while already being pretty damn good, and be paid. (This was denied me this year, I didn’t get the role I wanted). Go for it again next year.

Option 2) I train to teach, but without pay and really full on, for nothing. Benefits only, tight tight money.

Option 3) Wait and be a “teacher’s assistant” again, be paid, while waiting to apply for a paid position next year.

I went for option three.

Ooh, I forgot Option 4)

Start stand up comedy. Take Angelo along for night time slots as a single Mum. Don’t get paid until you do, but perhaps I could start charging for every time I make someone laugh… and get someone to hold his dolls and him as I go on…

I make Angelo my son laugh. He makes me laugh –
We were skyping tonight. He’s in Greece with Jimmy and the in laws –

“What is yiayia feeding you…?”

“Eggs, mummy. All the time eggs. And she feeds me like a baby. Then I tell her I’m not a baby. Then she remembers. Then she forgets and I have to tell her again.”

Angelo and I will be charging 50p for every time we make you laugh. It’s a deal, and a guarantee X

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WOAH. Hold the horses. The old mini market blog is back. Would you like to know what happened to the gal and the baby when they sailed into the sunset back to the UK? It’s been nearly two years now…. what exactly did I do…?

Here’s a taster…

SKYPE – ” YAnni, are you actually playing me a tape of you playing the bazouki?”

“No… It’s me.” (It clearly isn’t him live)

bring bring, bring bring…

“Yes, I’d like to register as homeless please…”

“THIS IS A RECORDED MESSAGE. Press 1 for a reaction, Press 2 for another option, press 3 for an alternative, press 4 for a wank, If you would like to speak to an operator then press 0, but be prepared for “Vivaldis spring” again…

“I will help you….”

And so I had help. Family as it turned out. She knows who she is. Then I worked….

“You are a great teacher. What taught you to work so hard? You go above and beyond.”

“I learned how to work hard. I like to think I really care about those children…”.

“I see it. You do. Where have you come from?”

“Aah, that’s a story for the autobiography… In the meantime, I’m awesome. or I hope to be. I cut my teeth from a very good source. “

New boss smiles….

She never worked in the mini market. That’s all mine…

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The Blackburn medal for Drama

Oops, I’m going to do one more – sorry about that “last goodbye”, I feel that I haven’t left this current blog with enough love and thanks – silly hippy me. Forgive the hippy shite to follow…

I “did” my last day yesterday down at the bar – jesus how long does this go on for…? I’ve been saying that for months – this is worse than chinese water torture. Trust me I’m writing this crap, I can’t think how it must be for you reading it…

Anyway I did. We were busy. Ironically in mid October, we were busy. It’s like all the Greeks came out to say goodbye to me. Without tipping of course. It was me, Jimmy and Nikos the waiter down at the bar. No sign of the parental in laws – thank god – but we did have the mid 60’s gab gabbing awful single childless aunts trying to continuously feed Angelo who was otherwise happily playing on the beach until they arrived. Any takers? They’re not on facebook, we believe they’re virgins though (tempting? I’ll arrange a tag – they do cook).

I have one week to departure. And, only finally now, after all the storms, am I feeling sad. I watched the sunset yesterday as we do everyday while serving the bastards who come down to see it (it’s pretty spectacular), in a new way…”It’s cold and wet and horrible in England,” I thought to myself, “lap it up while you have it…. there’s a reason you found yourself here…”.

Corfu has given me the best of me, amidst the worst. When in doubt, as clearly I am now, I want it to be made clear – this is my true home. She is England Ireland Scotland Wales (a skipping song from my youth), she is the harbour of your dreams, she offers you the vividness of innocence, and the corruption of your soul should you be willing (don’t let her, be strong). She is what you make her. But you cannot do it alone.

Now let me tell you the proper story of how I first came here.

Yes, 1986. It was my first time out of England. Yes, on a package holiday. Yes, it was trashy, it was Kavos (package hell nowadays) but it was early days then (hotels weren’t quite completed even when you were staying in them), I came with my Mum – my beautiful vibrant brassy Mum. I was nine. I played in the sand, a great experience for any British child them days, I watched my Mum flirt with a waiter (poor lad, he gave her a coffee with cream, she was sold), we took a boat out for a day trip to Pontikonissi (Mouse Island), we both looked over at the water on that brief boat ride and like a photograph I snapped a shot of my best memory ever – Me and my Mum looking at the water saying together – “wow”.

It is a blue that vibrates, the Mediterranean sea. Just as you look at it, she reverberates back at you. Oh yeah, you can get this colour in many other seas, in many other places, I’ve seen them too, but this, this… She looks back at you and says “I have a history, and a peace, launch into me”. We went on other holidays after, Mum and I, but Corfu stuck with me.

I arrived in Corfu once by boat after six trains across Italy. Early 2006. Just to see her for a weekend. (Not for anyone, just the island). In winter. All my Italian friends thought I was mad travelling across South Italy (Calabria and Puglia alone can be tough) as a woman by myself, having carefully negotiated arrivals and departures. (It was tight and required me to organise platforms and trains and boats all in Italian, no matter…).

As we sailed into Corfu harbour, as the sun was coming up an early dawn, I cried like a baby.
“I’m home, I’m home”.
I spent three days here and then arrived back for work in Calabria the following Monday. Not for a man, you understand, not to see anyone in particular. For Corfu.

When my mother died she requested that she be cremated, and that her ashes be scattered in a bird sanctuary in Australia. She had also said that she wanted to be near me. I abided by her literal word and did better. With my wonderful step father we scattered some of her ashes at that bird sanctuary, I took another third of her ashes and scattered them with family from England at her mother’s (my grandmother) grave in London (she had asked me for years to find that grave together; with family, to whom I will be forever grateful, we did) and the last third…

Well, they are scattered overlooking this beautiful island at “The Spot”, the first beautiful view of Pelekas Beach from the “donkey road” going down to the beach. I scattered them there in a quiet ceremony with one of my best friends.

On that final note, I think it’s time for a laugh among love and peace and all those hippy shenanigans.

Jimmy gets the last laugh.

“Looby, how many black people are there in Europe?”

“Jimmy, WWHHHAATTT?”

“How many?”

“Jimmy, one, what defines “black”?, two, what is “Europe”? and three, how the hell would I know anyway? I didn’t study demographics, I studied wanky literature and the like…”

“Well, you went to University…”

“And don’t forget I got the Blackburn Medal for Drama…?”

Jimmy (serving tables) – “the Blackboo what?”

X

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The Last Post – be warned X

I think it’s fair to say that I’m allowed one truly angry blog before I go. I’ve done the spin of trying to find everything amusing for far too long.
So, what is the truth?

As a recent new acquaintance said to me who is South African, but lived here for 35 years – “This place was a paradise – now it is a shithole. People want to eat each other’s heads for money, for the little money we have left. It’s all about jealousy, and poverty and desparation. It is an island built on dreams and we all came and shat on each other’s dreams”.

I couldn’t speak when he said this. Because I agree. Because of how things are, we have turned on each other. No one has the balls anymore to turn to a man on the street and say “Would you like a hand?” No judgment, no evaluation, just “do you need help?”.

That was the principle on which I came here. That is what I love about Corfu. It is old school. It’s a mad, insane place that flouts the rules, it is the best of Greece. It was also, always a kind mistress, someone who said “and I’ll take you too…”.
Until now.

We all have our faults, and our problems, our struggles and our mistakes. When the very people you thought loved you turn on you, then you are more depleted than I could possibly here describe. When you are that person who gave unconditionally to a village, to its people, to the culture, to a family, with understanding and above all love, and you are denounced as a whore, then anger arises.

You are goddamn right I’m angry. Love does not beget love? What world is this? Congratulations family, you won. I lost. Now go forth and conquer and hold so close to your heart the knowledge that you also corrupted the next generation into paranoia, negativity and doubt. Congratulations. I’m off.

I will take my son to a new, very scary world. It will be full of struggle – but, and this is how bad it gets – I deeply hope it will be one without the psychological terror that Corfu has become here.

This is what the crisis has done to people here. It rendered all of us weak, and blameworthy – we have turned on each other. From fear. We do not have a future here, no matter how hard we fight. Is it just about money? NO. When people get angry they want someone to blame. In my family it’s me. In the country it’s Merkel, the government, the next door neighbour. Stop it now.

Just love, just love. Forgiveness, concessions and empathy. That’s how you run a country, and that’s how you make a family. Start at home, and then you build.

May I finish by quoting my fabulous mother in law, a true emblem of the nation, when she said this – (I had begged her to talk to me as woman, pleaded with her to tell me what more, what else I could do for the family, I was on my knees looking up at her lovely face) –

“Please wear nice shoes”

I rest my case.

It’s 1986. I am on a boat with my Mum. We look over the edge, and I say “Mummy, that is the most beautiful blue I have ever seen”. I will never forget the water. We will be back.
You will hear from me in England next XX

How ’bout getting off these antibiotics
How ’bout stopping eating when I’m full up
How ’bout them transparent dangling carrots
How ’bout that ever elusive kudos

Thank you India
Thank you terror
Thank you disillusionment
Thank you frailty
Thank you consequence
Thank you thank you silence

How ’bout me not blaming you for everything
How ’bout me enjoying the moment for once
How ’bout how good it feels to finally forgive you
How ’bout taking you upon your support

Thank you India
Thank you terror
Thank you disillusionment
Thank you frailty
Thank you consequence
Thank you thank you silence

The moment I let go of it was the moment
I got more than I could handle
The moment I jumped off of it
Was the moment I touched down

How ’bout professing just how much you love me
How ’bout taking him up on a back-massage
How ’bout unabashedly bawling your eyes out
How ’bout grieving it all one at a time

Thank you India
Thank you terror
Thank you disillusionment
Thank you frailty
Thank you consequence
Thank you thank you silence

How ’bout no longer being masochistic
How ’bout remembering your divinity
How ’bout reflecting each-other in our last splendor
How ’bout not equating death with stopping

Thank you India
Thank you clarity
Thank you disillusionment
Thank you nothingness
Thank you consequence
Thank you thank you silence

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Keys to the mini market and white striking

Maria, my mother in law, (the matriarch of this, my Big Fat Greek Family minimarket/restaurant/beach bar/car park complex here on Corfu) may seem occasionally docile (with occasional lashings of lettuce box throwing anger), but be not fooled.

She is owner of some of the best quotes of my time here – let us remember….

Regarding her hair dying while wearing a yellow or indeed blue plastic bag on her head – “What bag?”

Regarding her husband, my father in law – “Every day is a new cancer”.

Regarding me – “You whores, (including my sister in law here) – you came and ate my life”.

I love her for her attitude, her smiling through adversity, her hypocrisy, but above all for her quotes. I also admire her efforts to thwart independence and thievery from her otherwise underpaid children.

She has lately, and not stupidly, started to hide the keys to the mini market (when it’s closed) from their usual position of a little bowl by a door in the restaurant. I suspect this is down to me. Yes, it’s true, I am the greatest thief of the mini market. I think she might have caught on. And so we come full circle. I started working in the mini market. I am now working in the bar to bide my time, but the mini market was the theme originally of this blog and has been my greatest source of snacks by theft.

I asked Prokopis, my brother in law, at the beginning of my mini market induction, “How do you deal with thieves?” Then, I laughed, as for years, among all other family members, I acknowledged I am one of the greatest.

I am not alone in my mini market thievery, please. Prokopis, my brother in law, and indeed my partner Jimmy, all rob from the mini market after hours. We take home, for the most, such goods as, (hold your breath), coca cola, an occasional can of beer, and croissants. I’m telling you, grand theft auto, that ridiculous playstation game has nothing on us. I’ve also been known to steal Haribo gummi bears like they were going out of style. I pass them round to acquaintances like a drug dealer. I consider it a personal perk of the job working for the family business…

“What do you need? I can get you liquorice wheels or perhaps some fizzy fruit berries?”

I AM HARDCORE.

So, Maria has started hiding the keys to the shop when it’s closed. I suspect they are under her mattress, along with the profits from every other aspect of the business. (I would really love to get my hands on that mattress were I given half the chance).

We have, at this, the tail end of the donkey (getting to the tip), a member of staff not previously mentioned working in the restaurant. His name is Nikos. He is a waiter. He’s young, bright, dramatically underpaid for his time, and observant. I’ve been moaning even more than usual (unfortunately for him) since his arrival. He suggested that we strike. (His English is very good). I suggested that that might be a good idea but we wouldn’t get paid. There are no Unions for the kind of work we do. He said –

“A white strike then,” as he was continuing to make a coffee for a customer,

“What’s that?” I replied.

He answered, “When you keep on doing what you are doing but you complain a whole lot more.”

I love it…

“WHITE STRIKE! WHITE STRIKE! WHITE STRIKE! … (to customer) five euros, thank you very much, have a safe journey,” (Unheard, management upstairs)

The final throws of the revolution…

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The Tail End of the Donkey

“It is the tail end of the donkey”, Jimmy, my partner has said to me, as our Greek family business of beach bar, taverna, and mini market here on Corfu starts to slow down at the end of the summer every year.

It’s a Greek phrase, meaning obviously “the final phases”. In this case, the final phases of summer.

However, I’ve started to use it for all manner of things – I’ve been known to say it during all types of circumstance these days – such as during that post coital cigarette after sex (“It’s the tail end of the donkey” – spicing the blog up a bit here), when a song I like is about to finish on the radio (“It’s the tail end of the donkey”) and also even when the milk is running out from the fridge (“Oh, fuck, it’s the tail end of the donkey!”)

We are indeed, at the tail end of this year’s donkey summer. What a donkey it was. Boredom, boredom, worry, fear, lettuces and cucumbers, hangings from balconies, boredom, fights, collapsing chairs, economic crises, ranting, raving, tears, laughter, boredom again, missing ice cubes, plastic bags worn on heads without acknowledgement, troops of Italians and Germans, forty five degree heat, underpay, missing water bottles, too much bleach… (Haven’t blogged about that one yet – bleach will never mean the same to me again after living here – it’s a mother in law thing).

The rain has finally come once or twice, in the form of fantastic storms after some of the hottest days I remember here on the island for the thirteen years I have spent summers and years here. (Costas, the waiter from the restaurant was getting particularly randy before the rain hit, like he was on heat, randomly targeting any girl in a bikini to come and look at if not partake of our ice creams down in the bar – some might have called it harassment, technically it was, but I found it amusing because I know how much he’s been through).

So yes, the storms hit, and with them gave great relief.

All staff have now left but for the following…

Nicky (the ever slave), Prokopis (my brother in law), Jimmy (my partner) (of course), Chrisanthi on sandwiches just for a few days more, and someone else…. oh, yeah, ME!
(I am helping Jimmy out until I leave the country very soon with Angelo my son to England, hopefully for him to come later).

Had a couple of somewhat amusing post storm experiences now that things are quieter, Jimmy has calmed down, and we can play a bit in the bar…

One goes like this –
About two years ago whenever I went to the toilet, I kept wondering where the toilet paper was every time, every day, for about a week. Finally I asked Jimmy, after realising that every time I had wondered, he had served me only some sheets… “Jimmy, are you hiding the toilet paper?”
He finally confirmed to me that he had been. He had been RATIONING ME, for the reason, and may I quote, “that I use too much”. How far can one man take an economic crisis? Rationing toilet paper, hiding it? How mad can it get? How tight are we?

The other day I took my revenge while working down at the bar.
I took the opportunity, (while there were no customers and we were much bored) to take one of those giant kitchen paper rolls that resemble giant toilet rolls up the hill to the restaurant, and roll it down the hill (while hiding myself), arriving seemingly randomly from the bar point of view, until it unravelled and stopped past the bar near to the beach. It was like one of those Andrex golden retriever puppy toilet paper ads on helium. (That may only make sense if you’re British).

Nonetheless, when I could hear from a distance both Jimmy and bar staff pissing themselves, I called out from above “CONSIDER IT MY TOILET ROLL TAX INSTEAD OF TIPS!”

Funny thing is, the next day I noticed that Jimmy had indeed collected the unrolled kitchen towel and was still intending to use it.

The tail of the toilet paper is upon us.

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