A couple of months ago C announced that he was going to have to work away from home for a week at the end of October, so rather than staying at home on our own P and I decided to go and stay with my parents. However, as luck would have it, they were spending the week in question at our "place" in Greece, rather than in Manchester, so our week away turned out to be a bit more adventurous than originally envisaged.
"The House" as it is universally (and somewhat ironically) known amongst our family is essentially a shed with ideas above its station. It started life as a field that my parents bought when they were first married. In the early days, when I was very small, we used just to spend our summers camping there on the side of the hill, surrounded by thistles, drawing our drinking water from the well at the top of the hill, and washing our clothes in the river at the bottom. Then, some time in the early 80s, my dad decided to construct some permanent form of sunshade, and so began his 25+ year love-affair with cement.
Over the years walls and roofs have come and gone and "The House" has gradually evolved into something resembling a dwelling. But until recently all the work was done by us, and since no one in the family is a qualified builder, plumber, joiner, etc. this meant progress was slow to say the least. For one thing we only ever got to work on it in the summer holidays, and for another bits sometimes fell down again or got eaten by things in the intervening period. Most of my summer holidays as a child and young adult involved camping in a building site and taking part in entertaining holiday activities such as building walls, climbing on the roof in search of cracked tiles, or having competitions with my sister as to who could carry the most cement-blocks. On one notable occasion, the truck delivering the two tonnes of sand my dad had ordered failed to make it up the steep unmade road, and so, in the absence of a donkey, my mum and I spent the whole holiday taking it in turns to be harnessed to a wheelbarrow until we had finally hauled the whole lot up the hill.
Until relatively recently we had no electricity and no running water and even once the latter was acquired the only way to heat it was by boiling a kettle on the gas stove. Returning from swimming and trailing up the 1 in 3 hill in 35 degree heat to be rewarded by an ice-cold shower in freezing water which had spent the night in a concrete tank became something of a holiday ritual, and the locals must have known when we were in residence by the screams echoing across the valley.
So, previously the idea of taking a small baby there in late October would have worried me.* But mercifully, in recent years, with retirement beckoning, my dad has finally come round to the idea that he should get someone who knows what they're doing to help him and so, largely thanks to M., a German builder living in Greece, "The House" has suddenly become a great deal more habitable and is now beginning finally to live up to its name. M. is remarkable for his painstaking attention to detail (which drives my dad - who is of the ply-wood and gaffer tape school of DIY** - round the bend, but does mean that what he builds stays up) and also for the fact that, although he speaks both English and Greek well enough to run a business, whatever language he is speaking he remains steadfastly faithful to his mother tongue when it comes to conjunctions.***
Assisting M. has been a progression of incredibly hard working (mostly Albanian) odd-job men, the latest of whom (another M.) is a mild-mannered, barrel-chested chap, capable of strolling up the forty or so steps from the gate carrying a 50kg bag of cement on his shoulder as if it were just a large, rather dusty pillow. Progress has also been massively expedited by the invention of the mobile phone which allows us to ring up and order stuff without having to trek down to the local shop to borrow their telephone or pass messages with random people who happen to be passing the builders' merchant. It also allows people to ring us, which is both useful, and has the added bonus of providing us with entertainment as several times a day we are treated to the sight of my dad scampering about the place accompanied by a tinny rendition of "The Flight of the Bumblebee", frantically trying to find his mobile.
Anyway, the upshot is that we now have a roof which contains neither holes nor termites (no longer do we lie in bed at night listening to the faint but ominous sound of munching, neither do we have to leap out of bed at the first patter of raindrops to gather all our possessions together on a table in middle of the floor and then sit huddled together in the one dry patch surrounded by buckets). The bathroom finally has a wall and a door (for several years it had one or the other, but not both), and the fireplace and wood-burning stove send the heat into the house and the smoke out of it, and not the other way around. Add to this a proper solar water heater (installed in the nick of time the morning we arrived) to replace the ad hoc one built by my brother last year and it has finally become possible to be relatively comfortable there at other times of the year than the height of summer (provided there are at least a couple of hours of sunshine during the day). Ok, it still lacks a few of the finer luxuries, like floor tiles and furniture, but P and the rest of us were able to spend a thoroughly comfortable week (relatively speaking) enjoying a bit of late autumn sunshine.
* Although my parents would be quick to point out that it never did any of us any harm.
** As witnessed by the fact that nearly 30 years after we started the project we're still concerned with minor details like flooring and plumbing.
*** For instance, "These are good rawl-plugs you bring from England, aber unfortunately it is a Greek wall".