Summer mornings

yellow hammock

I seemed to arrive in my body from somewhere else, as if sleep had released my soul to explore another realm, and on waking, gently deposited me back into a physical form. I first became aware of the loving weight of Leo, (my terrier cross), his chin resting on my ankles; and the reassuring pressure of Platon (my big dog), leaning into my side. I lay perfectly still, not to disturb them, but they can sense changes in my breathing. Leo must have been coiled like a spring, waiting for his signal to jump up and tickle my face with his whiskers, touching noses, and then stretching in a deep play bow, before settling into a down position as he balances on my supine body for a cuddle. He really is the most affectionate little ray of sunshine, and greets each morning with enthusiastic delight; it’s impossible not to start the day with a smile with his happy presence. Platon is a much cooler customer; he slowly stretches out, pushing against me as he extends to his full length, exposing his tummy for a tickle. He is my rock, reassuring and comforting, protective and vigilant, willful, independent, and stubborn, but loving, calming and fiercely loyal.

I lay for a few heavenly moments, enjoying my morning ‘love in’, watching Leo playfully nuzzle Platon, for a few brief seconds before Poppy (GSD/lurcher cross) bounded in, and bounced enthusiastically but haphazardly, onto the bed, landing on top of all of us! She is the chaos to Platon’s calm, the minx to Leo’s amenable nature, the diva of the pack, and she whips the bed up into a frenzy of playful wrestling and lands exhaustedly beside me on the pillow, panting heavily and eyeing me expectantly. By now I am completely awake, there is no chance of drifting back to dreamland, or floating in the ‘hypnopompic’ lucid dream state, I used to search my mind for clues of subconscious understanding. There is no room for wakeful dreaming, my dogs keep me firmly grounded in the present moment, it’s one of their charms, that we are engaged in the simplest pleasures of the here and now. As I lie with these three dogs that have changed my life, I am so grateful every morning, for my pack, and that they found me. Each dog has their own sad story of abuse and neglect, and yet are so loving and trusting, Poppy still struggles trusting new people, but within our family, she is confident and happy, and a little monkey!.

Eventually, I roll over onto my side, feeling the familiar ache in my back which I am now accustomed to, and I snuggle the dogs, tell them how much I love them. I then raise myself carefully into sitting position as they jump up and off the bed excitedly. Platon or Poppy will ring the goat bell that hangs from the door, if Poppy gets there first, the bell often ends up crashing to the floor as she impatiently demonstrates her desire to get into the garden. She leaps around like a slippery salmon swimming upstream, excited, insistent, and ‘singing’ a high pitched tune of frustration, as if demanding I hurry. I make them all wait, and sit in a row as I slowly open the door, reminding them to “perimenete” (Greek for wait), until I am satisfied, and release them like rockets as they charge out, into the morning sun.

We are currently in Greece, our summer home on a pretty Ionian island, where my days start with coffee on the terrace in my pyjamas and sunglasses, as the dogs sniff around the garden for evidence of our nighttime visitors. I sit noticing how many apricots have fallen from the laden tree, as I nurse a cappuccino and the dogs linger around the table in anticipation of their share of biscuits. It’s our morning ritual, as I dip cantuccini in my coffee, and feed them the Greek version of plain ‘Rich Tea’ in exchange for kisses (nose touches) and other good behaviour (sitting, lying, chins on my knee). As the morning warms up, I check my online media, and the dogs stretch out in the sun, playfully wrestling, gently until Poppy goads the boys into a pack tornado, that whirls around the garden, twisting and bouncing, occasionally yelping, when Leo bounds back to me for protection (he has an injured leg that can’t cope as well with his boisterous siblings), and finally Platon and Poppy will flop into the cool, fragrant earth under the fig tree. These are our summer mornings, and I savour every single moment, listening to the crickets (yet to fall asleep), birds chattering in the trees, and the occasional goat bells tinkling over the hill.

This is my happy place, and I commit these precious, golden moments to memory, stored up for rainy days or difficult times ahead. I feel even more blessed to be here this year, following emergency spinal surgery in January. It was my motivating goal; to be well and fit enough to drive the dogs back again, which I managed with the help of a friend (my surgeon has insisted I no longer undertake the journey alone). I am still recovering, but as I reflect on my progress, I’m proud of my journey, and so grateful to have made it to this place; where I can sit in my hammock swing, watching pairs of butterflies dance around the garden, smell the potted herbs (basil, mint, coriander) that scent the terrace, and watch the dogs lie contentedly under the dappled shadows of the fig, peach, apricot, orange, lemon and apple trees. I hope that wherever you are, you notice the little things too, because trust me, the little things really are the big things! Love & blessings, Hxx

{Photo, sadly uncredited, via Pinterest; words ~Hayley Darby © 2016}

Petrichor

raining

Every morning I’m greeted by Platon’s loving stare, as he patiently waits for me to join him in celebrating the day ahead as an opportunity for affection and adventure, with a dose of mischief mixed in for good measure. Today as I woke, I became aware of a warm weight, resting on my hip bone, and opening my eyes found his deep pools of love staring back at me, above the chin planted firmly on my hip. I recently taught him to put his chin on me rather than paw me for attention, as my bare legs in shorts were getting a bit scratched and bruised. As I curled round to cuddle him, he rolled over playfully, accepting a tummy tickle with a stretch, before coyly placing his paws over his face and burrowing into me. Each day I am so grateful for this big bundle of love, in the shape of a not-so-little puppy.

After some cuddles and a quick game where I hide one of Platon’s chews under the many pillows for him to hunt and recover, we got up for coffee. This morning was cooler than usual, with some fluffy clouds and a mist over the sea. So rather than habitually heading off to a beach on the west of the island, I decided to take advantage of the cooler weather and walk down the winding road on the eastern sunrise side, to another small beach facing Ithaca (our neighbouring island).

The walk downhill enjoys beautiful views of the channel of sea between the islands, often busy with sail boats, crisp white triangles dotted against the deep blue water; and little tourist boats for hire, hugging the shoreline looking for secluded beaches, a plume of wake trailing behind them. Today however there was less ‘traffic’, and the cotton-wool clouds cast shadows, dappled on the rippling sunlit surface. Platon trotted jauntily on the lead, pausing frequently to sniff the interesting hedgerows, and we admired the hardy geraniums on top of lichen covered stone walls, amidst the long dry grasses and dense bushes. This island is much greener than many of the Greek islands, with lush vegetation covering much of the mountains, lots of olive and cedar trees, as well as an indigenous pine and evergreen oak trees, that run right down to the sea.

We had barely passed through the next village to ours, when Minas stopped in his passing car to offer us a lift, which I accepted more for his company than a rush to get to the beach, as it’s rare to see him away from his post surveying his popular restaurant in the square. Platon refused steadfastly to sit in the back with the tiles, off cuts of wood and other scary building materials, opting instead to share the passenger seat on my lap, with his nose on the windscreen, and a paw on our driver. He is not a small dog, and at almost 30kg quite a load, as his paws dig into my bare legs, searching for balance. Minas is my favourite grumpy Greek, his dry wit and satire are a hard shell disguising his soft, squishy centre. As he barks complaints at his staff, only the sparkle in his eyes gives him away, that and the loyalty of waiters who remain, and return each season to be chided again. He loves Platonas with the broken heart of someone whom has loved and lost a dear dog, unable to contemplate replacing the irreplaceable. He understands the indescribable connection of unconditional love and uncompromised trust, between a canine and his person. He chatted to Platon, encouraging his barking as we passed dogs in their gardens, and on arrival at the beach asked him for a kiss, before turning his car around to go back to where we came from, so I realize the lift was a gift for all of us, not simply a convenience as if we were heading in the same direction.

Once at the beach, Platon ran through the olive trees to sniff at the shoreline, running away from the boisterous waves as if being chased, and returning again to play the game. We played chase, taking it in turns to pursue each other, and ‘breakfast’, where I throw his kibble just above his head for him to jump and catch. As we both started to tire, we made our way to the nearby Taverna for a bottle of water, and started back up the hill as the skies gradually darkened. There is a footpath, steps cut into the steep woodland, favoured by shepherds and their flocks. Often I walk down on the winding road and back through woods, but today Platon wasn’t keen on sniffing goat smells, and the rumble of thunder convinced me the road was perhaps a better bet. Platon isn’t afraid of thunder, ‘just Zeus moving the furniture’ as my friend Hilda describes it, or even the lightening that cracks like a stinging whip and flashes dramatically; but heavy rain is another matter entirely.

It started slowly enough, just as Nikos and Panagis passed us in their van, smiling and waving. Big heavy drops, landing noisily and then rapidly, turning the steep road into a fast running river, with all the olive tree leaves ‘dancing’ as the drops bounced off them. We trotted up the hill, waving at our friend from the beach, (the little mermaid’s grandfather), as he passed with a car full of grandchildren, and the water delivery tanker, who honked his horn loudly as we waited on the verge of the narrow lane, dripping. After so long without rain, the earth welcomed the storm with a wonderfully aromatic celebration, richly fragranced with the refreshing wild thyme that grows on the side of the road, as if it has exhaled a scented sigh in gratitude. Petrichor is the name of this aroma of rainfall on dry earth, and is derived from Greek (but of course!), Petra meaning stone, and ichor which is apparently a golden fluid that flows through the veins of the gods, an immortal substitute for blood; the knowledge of this makes it smell even more deliciously pungent for me.

As the rivulets of rain ran down the back of my neck, and pooled in my Birkenstocks, the tropical downpour suddenly felt as if someone had opened the faucet fully, as I struggled to see amid the drenching. Platon distinctly decided enough was enough, and scuttled under a bush at the roadside, lying prone, chin on the ground between his paws, refusing to move on the end of his lead. I however, would not fit under the bush, and just as I was calculating how far we had to go, the little mermaid’s grandfather returned in his car, after dropping off his grandchildren, to collect us, with a towel on the back seat. Initially Platon stayed stubbornly under the bush, but eventually allowed me, begrudgingly to lift him in to the car, for some unknown reason diesel engines frighten him, although I personally couldn’t hear much above the sound of the rain hammering. I held on to him, soaked to the skin in my vest and shorts, as our kind friend drove us right to our home, very grateful and sopping wet. Platon then didn’t want to get out the car, but as soon as I hauled him off the back seat, he darted up the steps and scratched impatiently at the door, as I followed hot on his heels with the key, shouting my thanks as we dashed. Once inside he ran straight to his favourite rug, and settled down prone again, into a position I recognise as a peaceful protest, otherwise known as downright stubbornness, and hopelessly immovable. I stood laughing and dripping all over the floor, whilst he watched me quickly find towels to mop up, and then relented because of his love of being rubbed dry, and a game that involves him hiding under the towel and blindly leaning into me.

After a quick hot shower, and a steaming cup of Jasmine tea, we’re snuggled up on the sofa together as I write, meanwhile the storm has blown over, the sun is shining, and the laundry is ready to be hung out again. I hope that wherever you are, whatever your weather, that you’re having a beautiful day; and if you’re not, remember that however bad the storm is, the sun will always shine again. Lots of love & blessings, H&P xx

Photo via Pinterest, sadly uncredited. Words ~Hayley Darby ©2015

Morning treasure

P beach bye

I woke early to the sound of Platonas ‘talking’, somewhere between a growl and a bark, a funny un-imposing noise he makes to get my attention; insistent but less demanding than barking. He sometimes employs this noise when he’s impatient (for a tidbit whilst I’m eating), or when I am talking (and he’d rather be playing), and sometimes (and in this instance), because he wants/ needs me to help him, (if a ball is out of reach under the sofa, or this morning, to open the bedroom door, so he can ring the bell on the main door), because he needs the toilet. I rolled over and gave him the ‘are you serious?’ look; which he returned with the ‘do I look like I’m joking?’ stare. So I grabbed a cardigan to fling over my baby-doll nightdress, shuffled into my Birkenstocks, and ruffled his ears, before opening the door to oblige him; looking like a huge fashion fail, admittedly. 6am is a mercifully, delicious cool time of day here; frequented by anyone with manual labour/ exercise chores to avoid the heat once the sun has fully risen. Luckily we didn’t bump into anyone as we descended the stairs into the garden, and I admired the fragile light of the sun rising over the brow of Ithaca’s mountains across the channel of peaceful sea, suddenly grateful rather than grumpy for the sleep interruption. Platon however, wasn’t bothered with hanging around to see the sunlight spill onto the water, turning it into molten gold before us; instead turning tail as soon as he was ready, scampering up the stairs to resume his position in slumberland. I followed suit, watching the green of the forest intensify in the increasing light, beyond the bedroom balcony, as the sun steadily rose, and I fell asleep again.

When I woke later, Platon was by my side, sniffing my face, and dropping into a deep play bow invitation to engage as soon as I opened my eyes. We have missed the beach for a few days (due to a necessary trip to the main town, and waiting for the Greek telecom engineer to finally install an internet connection -yayyy!), so we were both keen to get up and embrace the opportunity; but after coffee, naturally! Platon lay on the sofa patiently watching, his chin propped up on the cushions, as I prepared the coffee pot and fluffed the milk. Mornings have always been my favourite time of day (well since school days anyway!), but even more so now that they involve snuggling with my beloved, as we share biscotti. As soon as the last drop of coffee was finished, I quickly changed into a bikini and beach dress, grabbing water and snacks for Platon, and we raced to the car for our morning concert.

The concert starts every day as we leave the drive, Platon barks non-stop for the whole journey from home to the beach, mercifully only 12 minutes as we carefully navigate 3 miles of winding road, down the hillside. The barking goes up a gear when we get to the crossroads at the next village, as I take the road straight ahead, confirming our destination; from there it seems Platon is calling all the other dogs in the area, and they reply in a cacophony of canine greeting. I have apologised many times to everyone I know that lives en route, for the early morning bark-alarm; thankfully everyone I know is very understanding! As we approach a t-junction, we often see Gerasimos, an elderly man with one hand and poor sight, sitting in the shade, who doubtless hears us coming! I always pause the car to say ‘kalimera’ and make polite conversation about the weather, usually in Greek, but he sometimes amuses me by replying in French. I always imagined this was just to change things up on our daily greeting, until recently he noticed the driving wheel was on the right ‘like an English car’. When I explained this was indeed what it is, as I have driven from England, he exclaimed ‘but I thought you were French!!?!?’, which made me laugh, but I took it as a compliment, as there is a very glamorous French lady who owns a villa nearby, so the confusion is flattering. We always chuckle about ‘the concert’, before bidding each other well, and me continuing on the road to save the poor man’s ears from bleeding.

Meanwhile Platon’s impatient barks escalate, and continue to rapidly climb the gears it seems, as we traverse each hair-pin bend to the beach. It is pointless trying to prevent the pure excitement that erupts from his soul, getting faster and shriller in direct correlation with our descent. He is simply bursting with enthusiasm, and cannot help himself, as he bounces around the boot, eventually emitting a high pitched squeaking as the sea glimmers enticingly into view. Often Platon’s friend ‘Blue’, (whose human owns the beach bar), is waiting in the road to greet us, but today we are early, the bar isn’t open, and a lone moped is parked in the shade.

Platon exerts excellent discipline when I open the door, waiting for my release command before leaping gracefully, and careering off down the steps to the beach. I am very strict about this, making him wait in the car if he breaks the ‘wait’ command, as in London the traffic is too dangerous to risk such behaviour. He cries, and kisses my face, trying to charm me to appease his impatience, until I release him and he disappears as if I don’t exist, for a second or two at least. Today we met Coralia at the beach, a beautiful 5-year-old Greek Goddess, and her Grandfather. They are swimming and splashing each other, the little mermaid totally confident in the sparkling waves of aquamarine and sapphire. Coralia, emerged from the water to throw the ball in for Platon to retrieve, and helped him dig in the sand, looking for Australia. Meanwhile her grandfather told me approvingly that a canine companion was less trouble and often more loving than a spouse or children. We laughed, as he is blessed with a happy marriage and a loving family, as well as his loyal golden retriever. He told me his dog’s name is ‘Ricco’ meaning rich, before quickly assuring me he isn’t wealthy, but that the dog fills his heart; which is after all the most important type of treasure to behold. And I am struck by this man, whose country is struggling in dire financial crisis, who plays with his giggling granddaughter, on a fine sunny morning, on beautiful beach surrounded by dramatically proud rock formations, as the sun dances like diamonds on the clearest sea; and I know that the riches of Greece are not in the bank, they are in the hearts of the people who love her, and they will always be, whatever happens to the economy.

Wishing you a beautiful day wherever you are, and an attitude of abundance, whatever your situation! Hxx

Photo: ‘Platon at the beach’, and words ~ Me! Hayley Darby © 2015

Writing again..

Platon smiling
A cool breeze slipped through the shutters, and the tinkle of goat bells crept into my consciousness. The warm, breathing, body beside me sighed and rolled closer into my legs; wagging his tail, before lifting his head to check whether I was awake, finally! As if he’s been waiting for all eternity for the pleasure of my company. Every morning I am greeted with the happy expectant face of Platonas (my puppy), eager for another beautiful day of playful adventure, full of joy and optimism, which must be contagious, because I never feel any different. Once he is satisfied that I am actually awake, he gets up to inspect my face, and pushes his big black, wet nose into it, in response to the kissing noises I make. Then he stretches his bottom high in the air and his chest low, in a classic play bow; waiting for me to stir, giving in to a slightly impatient cuddle if I’m not quite ready to get up. As soon as I push back the covers, he jumps to the edge of the bed, showing off his impressive ‘downward dog’, front paws on the floor, back legs still on the bed (and he’s a tall dog), until he gracefully jumps down, and scampers around, wagging his tail, waiting for me.

Our home on our favourite Greek island is an attic apartment; which sounds very urban, but is actually on a small farm in a cute little village. We have the most amazing view across the sea to the neighbouring island to the east, and across the valley to dense forests of olive and cypress trees to the south and west. Platon impatiently rings the goat bell I have tied to the balcony door handle, even though I am only a few steps behind him, and we step out together to watch the morning sun glisten on the sea, having spilt over the mountains of Ithaki, bathing the early fishing boats and the occasional cruise ship on passing. Platon then pops up onto the sofa to watch patiently as I make coffee, he knows that the day starts with a leisurely cappuccino and sharing of cantuccini (those deliciously crunchy, Italian, almond biscotti). I potter around the kitchen, tidying up the crockery in the drying rack, shaking out the table cloth over the balcony, and watering the herbs (basil, mint, and chives) on our doorstep with the water from the washing up bowl. Our water is delivered by tankers to a big stone ‘sterna’, and we are much more careful than mains usage. Then as the coffee pot starts to gurgle, I froth the warm milk and Platon makes a space for me on the sofa. He sits with his paws on my lap, lowering his chin to look up at me most appealingly, as I dip each biscotti into the froth, and waits for his share (once I’ve nibbled away any almonds in his half, as they’re not good for dogs). My mornings are no longer my own, to check in and reflect on my feelings, but are filled with more love than I could ever imagine; and more than a little slobber as he dribbles in anticipation for each morsel of our shared breakfast. I wouldn’t change them for anything!

I don’t really know why I stopped writing before Platonas and I found each other in a barren wilderness; him literally starving, me (with a car load of food shopping) wondering which direction my life would take. I guess it was a combination of things, moving to California for a summer, finding myself anxious to get up and out in the mornings rather than savouring my thoughts and feelings (hideous, nosey landlady vs. coffee at the beach watching the early surfers, no competition really!). Then there was a feeling of change, lacking a plan, full of uncertainty, and a fatigue from giving, (which I am sure sounds selfish, but was actually a form of self-preservation). After my summer in Cali, and a brief encounter in London, I came to Greece, (my sanctuary), and just let myself ‘be’, as I waited to see where the flow would take me. Floating in turquoise seas and walking ancient paths through olive groves and crumbling ruins; choosing quiet and solitude, and adoring the simplicity. Then I travelled a lot, (Mexico, Florida, Colorado, New Orleans, and more of California), worked with some Olympic athletes, and got caught up in a relationship for a while, none of which was conducive to journaling. Then I returned to Greece for a few weeks holiday, found Platonas and stayed for the summer, briefly moving to Italy in the autumn, before driving home with my best ever travel companion to London (a tale I will write about soon). Winter was stressful, for all sorts of reasons, but my loving ‘little boy’ never failed to warm my heart and induce laughter at his comical character. Every spare moment was spent snuggling on the sofa together, walking around the vast and enchanting cemetery, or chasing each other around until we both collapsed panting and exhausted. Writing was not a priority.

It felt like months of waiting to return ‘home’ to Greece, and now we are here, we are appreciatively soaking up every sunny second. And each day, as we head to the beach after breakfast, wander along shady goat paths in the afternoons, or pop into the port for shopping and coffee, with a cast of delightful characters; I can feel my thoughts forming sentences, committing to memory the feelings as I relish them, and feel pulled to write to share and remember these precious moments. And now, as my attention is drawn to the raised head that angles inquisitively, I am being called to walk up the hill, amidst my landlords garden of tomatoes, onions, (and all sorts of vegetables) as the goats potter around them; to sit under an old olive tree and feed Platon ice cubes in the heat of the day, him crunching noisily, and me telling him why I’ve started writing again. Because I never, ever, even for a nanosecond, want to forget any of this chapter of my life that he’s spending with me. X

Blessings & love, Hxx

Thank you 2014

basilica

Dear 2014, thank you for being a year of my life, for the places you’ve taken me, all that you’ve taught me, the gifts you’ve given me, and the love that you brought me. You have been a special year for me, it wasn’t always easy, there were certainly difficult moments and painful realizations, but you brought me the biggest bundle of love in the most unexpected circumstances, and that made you a wonderful year, despite everything.

You were the year that driving through the Greek countryside, I found the most loveable puppy, and he found someone to love him; fiercely, protectively, affectionately, patiently, playfully, unconditionally. I wasn’t looking for a companion, was irresponsibly, independently, commitment phobic, but one look into his soulful eyes, and I was committed to doing the very best I could for him, and it eventually dawned on me that this meant changing my life to accommodate being ‘home’ to him, wherever on this planet, that happens to be.

It turns out that changing my life wasn’t so hard, I am getting used to early morning walks, and dog hair absolutely everywhere, not to mention paw prints on white sofas and bed linen; and it’s all well worth the bright eyes and wagging tail that greet me with such joy and enthusiasm every morning, and the cheeky playful bows inviting me to ditch whatever I’m doing to throw a ball, tickle a tummy or chase some stolen belonging in the jaws of this bouncing creature throughout the day. In the quiet times we snuggle together on the sofa, I have the most fabulous foot warmer ever, and this bundle of love is such a peaceful presence, he’s made such an enormous impact on my existence.

My little buddy and I have discovered remote beaches, spent afternoons wandering along goat paths, swam in turquoise seas and climbed rocks together in Greece. We’ve driven through Italy, discovering ancient cities on rainy days, and sharing pastries on sunny terraces. We treated ourselves to a romantic hotel in Portofino, somewhere I’ve waited to decades to visit, just waiting for the right ‘boy ‘to accompany me. We stopped in Monaco and met a friend for lunch and a walk round the port in Cannes, stayed in a fabulous country house hotel in rural France, sharing cheese and crackers by the fire, before he sat by me sipping champagne in the Jacuzzi. We visited friends at their French farmhouse, enjoying fresh autumnal walks, delicious dinners and evenings chatting by the fire. We even took a private jet to the Cote d’Azur for a chic Christmas in Monaco, hiking in Nietzsche’s footsteps in Eze, and admiring breathtaking views over morning coffees from the medieval chateau. All in all, he’s been the perfect travel companion, sharing the journey with excited eyes and enthusiastic tail wagging, something I hadn’t realised was missing from my previous trips until I found him. Life is so much sweeter with this cheeky little travel companion, and sharing my experiences with him have enriched every moment.

So thank you 2014, for being the year that I found Platonas, thank you Platonas for finding me at the perfect moment, and thank you to everyone that’s been part of our story. Here’s to 2015 and the adventures awaiting, and the mischief that’s bound to weave its way so charmingly around my heart, and the lessons we’ll share along the way.

Much love and blessing to everyone; may each day greet you with endless possibilities for kindness and compassion, and your hearts overflow with love. ❤ Hxx

Hello Autumn

platon oct 5

Good morning! Today I woke late, as Platonas (my puppy) who had been snuggled into my legs, stood up to peer over at me, angling his head inquisitively, before turning several times to snuggle back into position, possibly a fraction closer than previously. Autumn has arrived on our favourite Greek isle, suddenly switching after lovely late summer days, still swimming in the clear turquoise sea. We lay listening to the rain drumming rapidly on the roof of our attic apartment, a comforting melody when you’re cosy and warm, wrapped in a duvet with a cuddly puppy. We live high on the side of a mountain, with wonderful views over the sea to the next island, accompanied by a beautiful breeze in the summer months, that becomes a raging wind when the weather changes. It whips around the balcony, shaking the olive trees, tinkling the feng shui charm the previous tenant left hanging above the door, and blowing over our fragrant pots of herbs that sit on steps. It rattles the loose shutters, and drives the rain hard against the windows, even managing to push water under the French doors (we have 3 sets), that seeps into sizeable puddles until I remember to dam them with old towels.

All of this, along with the realization that the storm has cut our electricity, kept us happily ensconced in our cuddle fest, as I curled around this bundle of love with the softest ears; until after a while, he sighed and stretched, before leaping off the bed and trotted into the kitchen to ring the goat bell I’ve attached to the door. This means he wants to go out to the toilet, this means I have to get up and get dressed, this means the wind is going to push me as the rain streams down my face and trickles down the back of my neck, this means it’s time to walk in the puddles with my puppy.

I unwrapped my body from the duvet, and finding some cosy slippers and an oversized old jumper by the bed, I wandered into the kitchen, where Platonas waited expectantly. I opened the door to reveal the reality of the weather, and as he stepped back, looking up at me, thought momentarily that perhaps his call of nature wasn’t so urgent. Until I shut the door, and he immediately nosed the brass goat bell attached to the handle, and stood looking up at me with pools of love and trust, questioningly. I threw on some warm clothes, and dug out my duck down jacket for the first time since May, as he sat waiting patiently. Then we set off cautiously down the steps, righting the pots on the way, before trotting off up the country lane to sniff favourite spots and perfume plants with ‘eau de Platonas’.

We have a regular route that takes about 15 minutes; first we pass the field with the sheep, and our landlord’s garden with chickens and rabbits that hop happily around the lemon tree, orange tree, and (my favourite) the fig tree. Platonas looks longingly at the rabbits, it has to be said he wants to play with anyone and everything (other dogs, cats, goats, birds, grasshoppers, butterflies, hedgehogs, geckos, wasps) but the rabbits call his hound instinct undoubtedly, and he strikes a pointers pose. Next we pass the graveyard, and at the church steps, Platonas becomes terribly devout pulling towards the call of frankincense, and I suspect the mice that nestle religiously. It’s a pretty church, painted lemon with white window frames and steps, elegant arches, iron gates and an open bell tower, it must have once been the heart of our small village but in the absence of a regular priest, now only serves to mark the circle of life with funerals, weddings and baptisms.

We are distracted next by Millie, an elderly dog who barks at all that pass her family’s house. She knows us, but it doesn’t make a difference, she’s too well programmed. Platonas would love to play, and after two or three daily walks in this direction since spring, still hopefully advances; but she’s an old lady, not even slightly interested in an enthusiastic puppy. We pass the square, a place to meet and talk as children play safely by fragrant flower beds, on balmy summer evenings; deserted now as the rain runs in rivulets down the stone patio, and lightening briefly brightens the sky. After a few more steps the sky rumbled with thunder (or Zeus rearranging the furniture, as my friend Hilda describes it), and although Platon glances at me for reassurance, he’s unafraid and trots along happily sniffing for lizards in the rocks. I guess his stint living abandoned in the wilderness gave him some courage, as he must have witnessed the spring storms in an exposed environment. The thunder and lightening don’t really bother him, but the heavy rain certainly isn’t his favourite thing, luckily it has eased off for our walk this morning.

We continued on our way through the village, past the garden that smells so magical in the evenings, as stocks perfume the air, mingled with the honeysuckle that’s crept back into the hedgerows to accompany the jasmine. For now, we can just smell the rain, and the damp earth, as drops bounce off the leaves and Platon sniffs gleefully at all the scents this change in weather brings. We pass the ever so elegant, but empty, big house in the overgrown terraced garden, it’s shutters painted a gentle duck egg blue, to compliment the sandy colours of it’s old stone walls, with matching iron gates at the foot of all those steps that lead to the veranda, waiting for someone to grace them. We pass the holiday cottages, almost empty at the end of the season, and we walk along the edge of the road where the valley drops away steeply, full of goats we don’t see but hear as their bells tinkle merrily. We get close to the bins, where the cats usually hang out and tease Platonas with their tails twitching playfully, before we head back up the hill, him pouncing on acorns as if they were big fat beetles, and sniffing the rocks after any of the interesting creatures that climb them (he would too, if he weren’t on the lead).

When we get home, Platonas bounces up the stairs and sits on the doorstep, waiting for his person with the key. Then he patiently let’s me wipe his feet and rub him vigorously with a towel, before leaping onto the sofa, resuming his curled up position, waiting for me to join him for a cuddle with my iPad to write this. We watch the rain, and laugh at the rumbling thunder as wait for our electricity to return, looking forward to a pot of tea. Meanwhile, we agree that we’re going to enjoy autumn, with all it’s rainy walks, changing colours, and sweet smells as well as scented candles and snugly cuddles. Life is sweet 🙂 Hxx

Words & photo of Platonas snuggling this morning, by me ~ Hayley Darby © 2014

Introducing Platonas

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Good morning!! Today as I woke, I didn’t gradually drift into the shallows of consciousness, gently emerging from sleep, to languish in those sweet but fleeting moments between dreams and wakefulness; those mornings are just a misty memory of my past it seems. Today I woke when the warm mass, curled up beside me, tucked neatly behind my knees, in the crook of my bent legs; stirred and squished just a bit closer (if that was at all possible). This was momentarily prior to popping a heavy chin on my thigh, to peer over at me with excited, inquisitive, amber eyes, preceded by a big black nose that sniffed the autumn air and my sleepyness. His name is Platonas (Plato) and he’s impossibly loveable, but particularly cute and affectionate in the mornings, when the dawn of a new day brings all manner of possibilities for exciting adventures and puppy playfulness. We snuggled for a while, as my body unwound from the dreams I did not remember, until after a spectacular stretch (taking up most of the bed), Platonas jumped up and pounced on my legs, as if to say ‘it’s time to get up and embrace the day’, before leaping to the floor and turning to watch me as if imploring me to follow suit, as I dutifully did, unwinding myself from the sheets in search of breakfast.

We are living on my favourite Greek island, somewhere that’s been a second home for me for many years, a special place that occupies my heart, even when I’m not here; and even more special since late April. It was a ‘shopping day’ (read supermarkets rather than retail therapy.. it’s an island after all!), I had driven down to the main town (almost 2 hours from home) with my friend CS to stock up on groceries, and everything else unavailable in our remote villages, including gas tanks for the dive school. CS’s car was packed to the gunnels, and after a basic picnic of bread and cheese by the ancient ruins of the castle, we were busy chatting away like a babbling brook as we wound our way through country lanes. In the midst of a wilderness, where not much exists, save a quarry and electricity plant, our flow of conversation was interrupted by simultaneous gasps, as she swerved to avoid the walking skeleton of a dog that stepped into the road from the scrubland. We jointly agreed we couldn’t drive on, and turned to the spot, where he immediately ran over to greet us, wagging his tail high in the air, sinking his chest to the ground, twisting to look at us, simply fizzing with excitement. His protruding bones were painful to witness, and the greedy ticks that clung to his neck, quite revolting; but the beautiful face and happy attitude were overwhelmingly beguiling.

I found a tin of tuna with a ring-pull amongst the shopping, desperate to feed this starving weakling, and whilst he ate it, he was clearly more interested in our company, despite his hunger, jumping up and buzzing excitedly. CS and I agreed we couldn’t leave him, so we lifted him into the passenger foot well by my feet (the car being full) and I tried to calm him as we resumed our journey. He was frantic, climbing all over me, anxious to see out the windows, inquisitive and attentive, nervous and exhausting. It’s quite a journey from one end of the island to the other, particularly since the main road has been closed due to earthquake damage since February; with winding narrow lanes amongst olive groves and scattered villages, to climb steeply into the mountains, where the goats trickle leisurely across the road before scampering away vertically. CS and I lamented that we were two silly English girls, having picked up a puppy with no plan for his future, but admitted that we couldn’t possibly have left him, hoping that whatever happened we had done a good thing. We called the island’s animal shelter en route, a facility for 75 animals currently struggling with almost 400, so with no room at the inn, we pledged to take him back to our villages and find a home for him. As we drove, thinking it would be temporary I decided to name him Plato, since I know several Socrates, a Sophocles, and Aristotles a plenty, but had never met a Plato; besides it was close to Pluto and seemed to suit him.

Our journey was interrupted when the winding roads and anxiety finally overcame our friend, and he was sick in the foot well, revealing his meagre diet of plastic and faeces. CS was impressively resilient, cleaning up the stinking mess with only the recently purchased toilet rolls and drinking water, whilst I held our passenger on the side of the road and tried to reassure him. I felt horribly inadequate, my heart breaking for this poor soul, seemingly cruelly abandoned in an area far from food or shelter, and wondered who could be such a monster to neglect such a loveable creature. We arrived back to our village, exhausted and unsure, CS was worried her boyfriend would be angry at us picking up such a responsibility, so I agreed to keep Plato until we found him a permanent home. After acquiring some cord as a makeshift lead, and applying a flea treatment hastily purchased from the pharmacy, I took him home to the villa some friends were generously lending me. As my friends, like many Greeks, keep their dog chained outside, I didn’t feel comfortable taking Plato into their villa, so CS donated an old blanket, which we folded and made a bed, under a porch on the doorstep. After being fed him some kibble, Plato curled up tightly, no doubt worn out by his adventure, obediently quiet and slept. Throughout the night I have to admit I crept down frequently to check on my guest, peeping through the glass in the door to see him peacefully waiting for morning, untied but certainly not leaving the small comfort provided. He was leaning hard against the door so that he fell in when I opened it in the morning; full of joy and excited affection, less interested in breakfast than love and company.

It took about a week of me walking him around asking everyone if they wanted this puppy, until I realised it was a futile exercise, at the start of the tourist season nobody wants extra responsibility, and most people have several dogs already. Platonas followed me everywhere,(by this time Greek friends had insisted on the Greek version of a Greek name, Platon for short), was gentle and quiet, and cried if I left him to go to the toilet. He never once snatched food from my hand, despite his starving condition, and I fed him several small meals a day to gently ease in his digestive system. He continued to sleep outside the villa, but I never slept a full night without checking up on him, and always woke early in the morning eager for his joyful greeting, then he would lie across the threshold, watching me and waiting patiently for attention. I posted a photo on Facebook appealing to Greek friends to help me find a home, and had two offers from friends in California and Washington DC, who would pay for his shipping if I was unsuccessful. Then I met a British tourist who thought she might like him, so I took Platonas to the vets for his jabs, microchip and passport, to give him options.

The vets on the island are all located in the main town, a long, complicated drive from the village I live in, so very early in the morning after breakfast (big mistake), and a sunrise run by the church, we set off to meet Amanda, who happens to be an angel, as well as an excellent and most compassionate vet. After his appointment I asked her for some meds to prevent him being car-sick on our journey home, having discovered what a mistake breakfast was previously. Amanda sent us to the pet shop with a script for ‘calmivet’, where the assistant advised me it would take 45 minutes to take effect, suggesting I have a coffee and wait before starting back. It was a warm spring day, so I walked Platonas a fair way across the town to a favourite pavement cafe. It was here, that I decided as he slept peacefully on my foot (so I couldn’t go anywhere without waking him) presumably exhausted after his first visit to the vet, that although my life had no room for a pet, maybe I could find a way to change things, and give him the best home I could manage.

I am fiercely independent, travel extensively, and have white sofas, white bedlinen,(rather a lot of white everything) at my small but neat and tidy, single girl’s sanctuary, mews house in London. I’ve avoided unnecessary responsibility, am wary of dependency and value my freedom and capacity for spontaneity. But somehow, all of the reasons stopping me from taking care of this puppy, paled by the side of this bundle of love that trusted me to care for him. I finished my coffee and paid my bill, ready to leave the cafe, and rousing Platon from his sleep, got up to go; just as he keeled over comically, like a drunk dog as his legs crumpled. It appears the anti-emetic drugs were also sedatives, and I ended up carrying 17 kg of dead weight dog, across town much to the amusement of everyone I met. As I struggled with my arms full of puppy and my shoulders laden with bags of shopping, people asked if Platon was OK, or laughed at me, but nobody offered to help. Sweating in the midday heat, with lots of stops, I eventually managed to get poor Platon to the car, exhausted and feeling guilty for drugging him, vowing that I would do my best for this loving creature. I remember the journey home, and crying uncontrollably as I passed through the uninhabited wasteland where we’d found each other a week earlier, still so angry at whomever could have abandoned him. By the time we got home, he was starting to wake up, and by then, I’d realised that I loved him too much not to do my best to be home to him.

So that’s how, on a sunny spring day in April, Platonas came into my world and completely changed my priorities. Suddenly life is full of dog hair with pockets full of dog biscuits, my routine is disrupted and all plans depend on him; and I seriously couldn’t be happier about it. He’s such a comical character, strong willed and independent, friendly and enthusiastic, smart and affectionate, and I’ve already learnt so much from him. People frequently comment on my adorable dog, I just hope he’s as proud of his person ☺ Blessings & love, Hxx

{Photo of Platonas a few days after finding him – he’s since gained 12 kg and looks much more healthy, like a different dog actually, more photos to follow. Words & photo by me 🙂 © Hayley Darby}

Autumnal acceptance

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Good morning everyone!! Today I woke slowly, gradually drifting to the surface of consciousness, carrying contentedness into wakefulness from somewhere sweet in my sleepiness. I lay for a while in the gentle opaque light of another cloudy day, listening to the gentle patter of raindrops on the skylight, and let my thoughts wander towards autumn. Something has changed, and I realise I’m ready to let the last rays of summer slip through my fingers, to embrace the changing season. I suspect that after my trip to Cali, the arrival of cooler days in London felt too abrupt, but after a few sunny days on my Greek island, I feel replete with summery memories to face the cooler, darker days; as if my summer was incomplete without some Greek sun. Βεβαίως, φυσικά!

I stirred slowly, cosy under the heavy blankets, reluctant to expose my warm skin to the cool morning, but the thought of coffee became too tempting to resist; so I dressed quickly in a favourite blue sweater, and soft yoga pants, to keep snug despite the elements. I dashed through the heavy raindrops, noticing how they patterned the pool with their pretty concentric ripples, and jumped in the jeep (kindly lent), to drive up the hill to Liz & Joes for my grande cappuccino. There is a mellow atmosphere in the cafe today, the gentle flow of locals and tourists alike discussing the weather, and the conflicting forecasts. The rain falls steadily and persistently, but the absence of wind makes it feel quite calming, and I’m happily resigned to a day writing in coffee shops, noticing the nostalgia of autumn, and the slower pace it brings.

I ventured down to the port, where the choppy water bounced the few remaining yachts around their moorings. The quay was quiet, the rain bounced in puddles, chairs and tables sat desserted, canopies were drawn down, and waiters stood in doorways, watching the arrival of φθινόπωρο – fthinoporo (autumn) in the harbour. For them the end of the summer means a welcome rest, and for many a return to families and homes on the mainland. Autumn is after all a time for retreat, as nature gently turns within, to work on internal transformation, invisible till the spring. As the trees shed their leaves, maybe it’s also time for us to relinquish expectations, and observe our thoughts and feelings; maybe this is what makes it the season of the soul, a valuable time to pause and contemplate our journey. Wishing you a beautiful October day, whatever your geographic location, and hope that you find beauty whatever season you happen to find yourself in. Blessings & love, Hxx

{Photograph sadly uncredited, via Pinterest; words ~Hayley Darby ©2013}

My favourite slice of paradise

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I awoke late by the Greek clock, early by the British hour, and my waking thought searched for that peaceful presence, that occupies a space in my heart recently encountered. I had been wandering along, feeling remarkably carefree and unsuspecting of the impending intrusion, and am left floating in the uncertain ocean of possibility, a place I have learned to embrace passionately, for after all it is full of infinite beauty, if we choose to see it.

I eventually found my body, having previously only been aware of my internal territory, and noticed the disparate relationship of my physical topography and the typically unyielding mattress of my austere Greek bed. Sounds of the port slipped through the shutters with the slices of light that had spilt across the crumpled sheet, wrapped around my legs, entwined in a memory. Sighing I summoned some strength and managed to inspire millions of motor neurons to move my body, in order to check the fluctuating Internet status of my abode by opening my emails. I read those I wanted, then sank back into my repose to process my findings until coffee called me, when I dressed swiftly in a faithful pair of denim shorts and vest, to bound down the stairs to greet the lively port and all the characters that make this particular slice of paradise so precious to me.

I wandered around the quay greeting friendly faces and answering the familiar questions (What took you so long? Where have you been? How long are you staying?), until I found Kosta in the quiet shade of his bar, whilst the staff served the tables outside as quietly as possible, so as not to aggravate his hangover. His face cracked into the most beautiful smile of recognition before his headache sharply reminded him of his condition. We laughed at life and hugged tightly despite his temporary fragility, catching up over a cappuccino (me) and water (he), sharing traditional pastries from the local bakery. Aggeliki lived up to her angelic moniker and administered her magical massage to the troublesome spot of Kostas neck that feels the tightest, and we lamented the consequences of age combined with the youthful behaviour of his crazy parties. Kosta surrendered to his struggling body and retired to bed, Aggeliki resumed her responsibilities at the bar, and I sat outside figuring there are worse places to contemplate ones indulgence in temptation, as the cheerful sunshine drenched the peaceful port, illuminating it’s beauty as boats gently traversed the glassy water.

After a while I left my seat on the balcony in search of the preciously acute and hilariously dry observations of Minas. He customarily spends the majority of the day at his favourite table, surveying his restaurant. Surrounded by his team of waiters, he called out across the square at my approach, heralding my arrival for anyone within 100m, and nursing his coke zero assured me that his diabetes is behaving lately. We discussed local politics and recounted stories of our shared histories, noting the changes and lamenting absent friends. We watched the life of the square and Minas’ grumbled for my entertainment, enjoying the audience for acknowledgement of his unique and frequently extreme viewpoints. I left Minas with a cheerful smile with a kiss for the orange juice, and walked around the corner to find Angelos in his office.

Angelos is a serious young man with the weight of responsibility resting on his shoulders, and a photo of his father smiling from beyond the grave on his desk. Our comprehension of the passage of time and our confusion over the specific years in which events occurred, served to remind us of the accelerated speed of time that age bestows upon us. Although at least a year younger than I (and a quarter of a century than Minas), he always makes me feel juvenile with my independent adventures in contrast to his empire building vocation. We put the world to rights, and he tells me to keep travelling and bringing home my stories for his enjoyment. I left him with promises to visit his mother soon and sent some love to his wife and children before sauntering back along the quay with an undeniable hunger for my darling, the sea.

As luck would have it, Makis had a similar craving, so when I popped into the shop on my way back to the apartment, he offered me a lift to his favourite beach; allowing me a quick change of clothes as he sat impatiently with the engine running. The car curled expertly into the curves of the road, just a short distance before our descent amongst the fragrant pines towards the turquoise water sitting, waiting, assuredly faithful, for our adoration. Makis changed in the car, and it was my turn to be impatient as I rushed towards the deliciousness. I paused momentarily to drop my bag on the beach and swap my ray bans for Cressi goggles, before hastily stepping into the water, saving my entering breath to exhale below the surface.

The crystal clear water engulfed me, and it felt as if anything other than bliss was cleansed from my soul, instantly revealing the clarity of this privilege. I swam towards the shelf, clearly marked by the line where aquamarine meets turquoise, inhabited by numerous fish that swim unafraid of the human company that dips into their world. I took a moment to float like a starfish in gratitude, to feel the surface tickle my sun kissed skin, feeling supported by the powerful entity in its reassuring calmness. Having spent the summer in California, enchanted by the ocean, my heart has still pined for my true ‘agapi’, the Ionian sea, with it’s gentle caress and beautiful hues of the heavenly blue spectrum. I submerged completely; lost in that peace that resides within and felt my physiology sigh thankfully, as does the heart in the embrace of a previously estranged lover. I noted my slowed pulse and that internal tranquility one finds when gratitude obliterates any other emotion, before breaking the surface to breathe in deeply the joy of living. I swam across the bay, much to the amusements of Greeks who tend to swim straight out into the darker deeper waters, beyond the rocks and around to neighbouring bays, whilst I cause disruption to the traffic system since I wasn’t born by the water and lack their confidence. I soon found my rhythm, breathing deeply for the long strokes my lengthy limbs prefer, and smiled at the un-phased fish, which loitered nonchalantly in my pathway, showing off their magnificent iridescence in the piercing sun beams. I finished my dip, resuming the star-fish floating position for my finale, before joining Makis and his sister on the beach to top up my tan as the sun sat high above the shady olive trees.

Makis returned to the shop, leaving his towel and flippers for his girlfriend Nancy, who appeared for her swim, bravely venturing beyond the visible rocks, before settling on the beach and into the conversation amongst the locals whose children played at the shoreline. I let the language waft over me as I lay under my panama, feeling the heat on my skin and remembering vocabulary and other trips. My thoughts wandered away from the beach and retraced some recent adventures, exploring new territory and chambers of my heart, slipping through the layers of awareness and comprehension, desire and vulnerability. The afternoon drifted by, as the shade inched towards the shoreline, soon eclipsing the beach, cooling my salt dried skin. Yaya, a French friend that runs the diving school, kindly gave me a lift back to the port, and I wandered down the steps smiling as I noticed my shoulders have dropped several inches after my sea-bathing. I encountered Nikos & Themis passing the bar, and admitted that I’d cheated on the Greek sea with the Pacific Ocean, but that my heart was ‘home’ again, laughing as they teased me good naturedly, but promising to join them for the last buffet at The Thai restaurant. It’s the end of the season here, and as tourism cools, businesses close for the winter. For me it’s the best time to visit; the port is returned to the locals, and as they untie themselves from their shops, bars and restaurants, they have time to relax and enjoy it again.

I’m writing in the port, replete after my Thai dinner and catching up with Anna & Pete (who tend to collectively know all the news in the village). I found a sweet spot at Le Passage, beautiful Eleni’s new business venture, which reflects her chic style and sweet nature, as well as her family’s famous restaurant for locals in the village up the hill. As I sip my tea (Jasmine) looking out over the still dark water, it reflects the pretty lights of the port in a perfectly mirrored image. The yachts are lined up and sit obediently waiting for adventures tomorrow, and the impressive private cruisers jostle for pole position for admiration along the quay. Passing friends greet me with hugs of welcome, and acquaintances nod in recognition; they know that this is my favourite slice of heaven on earth, and that I wherever I travel, I will always find a way ‘home’ again. I have had a gorgeous day, and I have more of the same to look forward to again tomorrow : )) Evlogimeni eimai (I’m blessed) !!

I hope that wherever you are, that you have an opportunity to appreciate your environment and spend time with people that enhance your being too. Blessings & filakia (kisses) ❤ Hxx

{Photo of my slice of Paradise 🙂 Words ~Hayley Darby ©2013}