And now, for something more readable. Garden Wildlife in Greece by Mary Irvine

And now, for something more readable!
Hello again,
That’s for anyone who actually read the last offering… But hello anyway.

house passasgeGarden Wildlife

Apart from the dog and five cats – give or take three of the latter at any one time – there was so much life in the garden. Spiders, ants, beetles, butterflies and assorted ‘unknown’ creepy-crawlies. I once alighted on a strange creature unlike anything I’d seen, then or since. No-one recognised it. It was green, about four inches long, with an unsegmented body the thickness of my little finger. The eyes were widely spaced, very definable. It was curled like a snake and had a fixed stare. I put it in a box, and released it up the mountain.

passage to houseLizards and geckos darted in and out of the holes in the walls. The cats found these a great delicacy, as they did the cicadas, rarely seen but always heard.

The cats occasionally brought presents of dead animals, including the aforementioned, plus birds and rats. We’d often heard the rats up in the almond trees, noisily shelling the nuts and then nibbling on the kernels. The growing heap of empty shells evidenced their presence. I often convinced tourists the gleaming eyes were the fruit possum, an endangered species, now only found on a few of the islands, due to being hunted for their sweet flesh.


snakeI wasn’t too happy with one garden visitor. Coming home one day I closed the blue, wrought-iron gates and turned to the three steps leading up to the walkway. I stopped in mid-turn to watch a long, shiny, grey shadow slither from under the walkway, across the side garden and disappear into a geranium hedge. Student arrivals being imminent I telephoned parents to warn of possible danger. No-one cancelled. I watched as children very noisily opened and closed the garden gates; then proceed to stamp their feet and talk very loudly as they progressed along the walkway into the house. They obviously had more experience with snakes than I did. I only saw it one more time – whilst watering the garden. It slithered out from under a vine – so it had been moving about – and headed towards the jet of water. That’s how I learned water attracts them. I could clearly see the black zigzag down its back, proclaiming itself the poisonous variety. It disappeared under the walkway. Trusting it wasn’t a pregnant female, I closed the front door and sprinkled extra salt on thresh-hold and sills.

flower beeA second snake I saw was the one that dropped from a tree on to a visiting friend’s shoulder as we descended from a visit to the highest point of the island. She was somewhat surprised. I hadn’t warned her as I didn’t want to spoil the walk with a worry that may not have developed into a serious concern. I think she forgave me. She still remembers the experience though…

Wildlife also invaded the house. Two rats paid us a visit via a small hole in the toilet waste pipe. During a pressing need in the early hours of the morning I saw two small lights – too regular for glow-worms. In the moonlight the shape took on definition. We stared at each other. I stood up. The rat shot off into the kitchen.  Swiftly closing the kitchen door I returned to my bed. In the morning I collected the grey cat, Ganja, opened the door to the kitchen and released her. I waited. It took less than a minute. One snap and Ganja was away to enjoy her breakfast.

moth in webBelieving that rats travelled in pairs I searched for signs of the other half of this particular partnership. Three days later it appeared in the kitchen. All the cats had been fed so didn’t move in for a quick kill. I peeped in. A very distressed rat balanced – heart visibly racing – atop a picture frame. Four cats watched. Smack, on top of the ‘fridge-freezer, Coke on the rubbish bin, Ganja on a work-surface, whilst Spliff nonchalantly cleaned herself near the side-balcony door. Thinking it cruel to the rat, I turned away, just as Crosby, our cocker spaniel, burst through the door. The rat made one last desperate leap for freedom. It didn’t make it. The cats flew in all directions but Crosby was single minded. A snap of jaws, a small, final squeak. All I had to do was remove the body.

spiderA resident one winter was Boris – a lovable spider who lived behind the cistern. He popped out regularly to see me and I got into the habit of wishing him goodnight. He made it to the spring and left via the open window, without bidding ‘Goodbye’!   

Other spiders passed through the living room from time to time, helping to keep the flies down. Two geckos lived quite happily behind the pictures.

Cockroaches – κατσαρίδες – were another intermittent invader. They moved really quickly. They were also prolific breeders. Being reliably informed by  a ‘specialist’ in cockroaches that they were very clean, and would spend hours cleaning themselves after being touched by the dirty hands of humans, did little to alter my opinion that I didn’t want them around. It was a losing battle; they’d survived from pre-historic times. What chance did a mere human have?   I particularly disliked them when they took to the air and rivalled the small bats which circled at dusk. At least the latter had the courtesy to avoid flying into me.     

centipedeTotally repulsive and serving no use whatsoever – even ants wouldn’t eat their dead bodies – were the Σαράνταπόδια –the forty legs, a particularly nasty type of centipede with a vicious, poisonous bite – potentially lethal. They were everywhere and sometimes got into the house. They moved so damn quickly they had often shot off before a foot could descend, only to re-appear hours later in a different room. The largest I saw was over a foot long with a three quarter inch wide body – not counting the legs. A visitor had left his shorts on the floor overnight. I’ve never heard a man scream like that before – or since!  The smallest I ever saw was one that had taken up residence inside the sleeve of a top. On pulling the top over my head and straightening the sleeves I felt an ‘irritation in the crook of my elbow.  Quick removal of top revealed two exceptionally small pinpricks from which a bright red patch was fast moving over a faster swelling arm. On the floor was the thing responsible – a beautiful red/orange/ yellow feathery forty legs. They are rather beautiful as babies. This one wasn’t allowed to grow up. I then rang the local witch-woman for advice, there being no doctor on the island. In this instance she opted for science and a cortisone injection was obtained from the chemist.

striped butterflyNot a beach person I rarely entered the sea. If I did Πάμε για κολύμβηση ‘(let’s)go for swimming’ I avoided the beach where, according to the locals, the sea-snakes copulated with the land snakes and produced a particularly ugly and dangerous hybrid.

One early evening trip to a deserted beach resulted in, for me, a unique experience.  The dying sun was reflecting a most beautiful luminous, iridescent glow on the surface of the water. As I walked out to a depth suitable for swimming, but shallow enough for the feet to make contact with ground, I was conscious of seaweed fronds slapping gently on my legs – brushing against my palms as I pushed the water back. A little further and then I was pushing harder at the water as I turned and tried to out- run the swarm of jelly-fish – the white, see-through variety- back to the safety of the beach.

I don’t regret a moment of any of it.

Mary Irvine

Photographs by Mike Taylor


Athens - by Mary Irvine
And now, for something different - Blog 2 Experimental Writing by Mary Irvine

This section: Mary Irvine: Writer and Philhellene

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Avatar of PatByrne Publisher of Pat's Guide to Glasgow West End; the community guide to the West End of Glasgow. Fiction and non-fiction writer.

3 responses to “And now, for something more readable. Garden Wildlife in Greece by Mary Irvine”

  1. Lindsey says:

    This is great Mary! Looking forward to reading more.

  2. Kenneth Gerrard says:

    Don’t see you much but pleased you’re doing something positive with your writing. Great photos from Mike. Good to meet up with your friends, Mike. Best, Ken

  3. Mary says:

    Got an email from Michigan to say a friend couldn’t get in to leave a comment so am doing a test run!

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