Symi Dream

Living on a Greek island

A Greek island blog from Symi in the Dodecanese islands of Greece. "James’s great talent lies in his careful observation of the absurd and the amusing, the dramas and the difficulties..." Anne Zouroudi.

Symi Dream - Living on a Greek island

Greece as it happens – the story continues

Images from Symi Greece by Neil Gosling and James Collins

Doing what you can

I must thank everyone for your messages and comments on yesterday’s blog post. People have been saying how good it is to read about the situation over here, and to see the refugees described as refugees and not ‘Migrants’ – a word which seems to be upsetting a lot of TV viewers and newspaper readers. There has been some discussion about this choice of words, so here is some clarification.

Refugee: (Noun) A person who has been forced to leave their country in order to escape war, persecution, or natural disaster. [Origins C17 French] (Oxford English Dictionary)

Migrant: (Noun) A person who moves from one place to another so as to find work. (Also O.E.D.) If you want the extra you can also have: “Also called migrant worker. A person who moves from place to place to get work, especially a farm laborer who harvests crops seasonally.” No idea why crop harvesters get singled out but this misspelling of labourer will give you the clue as to what country that dictionary comes from.

Images from Symi Greece by Neil Gosling and James Collins

Day trippers and refugees together

So, you can see how Refugee is appropriate in most of the cases we are seeing coming through Symi. And you can also see how to be a ‘migrant’ implies that you’ve got a choice about it, you’re simply ‘doing a Tebbit’ and getting on your bike to find work elsewhere. That’s not what the 900 refugees we’ve seen here in the past seven days or so are doing. Yes, when they find safety and security they will want to work, but they didn’t wake up one morning and say, ‘Hey babe, let’s take the kids for a walk and get a better job shall we?’ and then set off on a 499.5 miles (distance from Damascus to Rhodes, or 803.8 kilometres) or the 2,160.7 miles (3,477.4 km) to Oslo, which is where some are headed. Those distance are as the crow flies (it’s always the same crow, he must get a bit tired). You then need to add in the twists and turn in the road, the sea, the border controls, the lack of support and so on, and there you go. Yes, there are probably some migrant workers moving from country to country around the world too and I dare say some illegal immigrants in the group trying to get into the UK. But everyone I’ve seen here is definitely not here through choice.

Images from Symi Greece by Neil Gosling and James Collins

Coastguard bringing an empty boat to the jetty

But let’s not dwell on the wider issues, that’s for those who had the choice to stand for election to deal with, or not. I just ‘report’ what I see from here at home. And yesterday Neil saw another new group of, well, too many to count, he said. They were being delivered to the Port Police side of the harbour where they wait until the two police officers on the other side are ready to do their paperwork. This can be a day or more waiting on the steps and by the road – someone is going to get hurt soon, it’s not the widest part of the harbour road to be waiting at. This new group were coming in on the bus from Panormitis, which means they may have been picked up at Marathunda. I saw a boat being brought in, empty, by the coast guard in the morning, presumably having already dropped people off.

Images from Symi Greece by Neil Gosling and James Collins

Meanwhile, Symi festival, dancing in the square

On Sunday night we went down to the harbour to take back the bags of washing we had done. Wendy Symi Visitor was in the old post office in the dying light (no electricity to the building) with some volunteers making sandwiches. That huge consignment of water you might have seen in yesterday’s post had already been distributed. The porta-loos were there but can’t be plumbed in until the council approves the work, hopefully that’s been approved by now, I’m waiting to hear. And there were some women and children waiting outside and asking us for water. As the aid station wasn’t ready to re-open we went and bought a six bottles (€2.00) and gave them out to those who were there, reminding myself that I should learn the Arabic for ‘share.’

Images from Symi Greece by Neil Gosling and James Collins

Everyone welcome to join in

There was a guy there too who was asking for Panadol Cold and Flu tablets, which raises the question, should you give people medication? Some say no, unless you are a doctor of pharmacist. I say, two Panadol cold and flu tablets aren’t going to be enough to push someone over the edge into a coma, and in fact I doubt a whole box would be enough to end it all. So I went and bought him a packet, intending to give him six tablets to see him through, but when I got back he’d gone.

Sunday night saw a dance in the village square to which locals, Greeks and tourists, were invited to bring donations. As the dancers from Rhodes did their thing and then got some tourists and locals up to dance, 27 bags of food, clothes and donations were delivered to the square. And then later to our house, and then the next day by car to the aid station.

Images from Symi Greece by Neil Gosling and James Collins

Sunday night’s donations from the village

Finally (I could ramble on all day but I know you have things to do), people have been asking what they can send from the UK, and other countries and how. Well, if you do Facebook then look up click the Sign Up button and you can make a donation. Or, if you don’t do Facebook, you can go straight to the donation page and donate there – it’s costing around €1,000 per day to give each refugee €2.50 worth or water, fruit and bread. And if you don’t want to do that but want to send something, send it to Solidarity Symi C/O Symi Visitor, Symi, 85600 – or C/O The Old Markets Hotel, Symi, 85600, or you can even send it to Symi Dream C/O 12 The Post Office, Symi 85600 (you can see where I go the title for the book from now can’t you?) I’m off, see you tomorrow.

Images from Symi Greece by Neil Gosling and James Collins

There’s a lot of sea to get lost in out there

Symi as it happens – Refugee stories

Images from Symi Greece by Neil Gosling and James Collins

This man was happy to have his and his baby’s photo taken

Here’s my ‘do what you can’ story for the weekend. Symi had over 400 refugees arrive over Friday/Saturday, in fact we saw a boat being brought in. A small inflatable packed with people, one of whom fell out, out at sea, but the coastguard were there and helped him ashore. The boat was brought to the clock tower where the already arrived refuges gave a cheer to welcome the others to safety. This was as we were getting ready to go down and do our Saturday morning shift.

Images from Symi Greece by Neil Gosling and James Collins

Camping out an making do

We arrived there to find that the one and only toilet was out of order, but that two porta-ones were arriving later that day, along with two temporary showers; both of these as I understand it, were plumbed in to the mains and are now up and running. Let’s hope that helps everyone who is, basically, camping out around the police station.

Images from Symi Greece by Neil Gosling and James Collins

The Symi ambulance

Anyway, that aside, we were lucky that a holidaying doctor had given up her last morning on the island to see to any medical needs – mainly over exposure to the sun in the old and the very young. There was a case later in the day that required the island doctor and the ambulance, and there is a report of a tragic accident taking place out at sea involving ‘people smugglers’ and the coastguard, in which a young man was shot. This wasn’t, as you might think, during the night but at midday as another boat of refugees was approaching the island.

Images from Symi Greece by Neil Gosling and James Collins

Apart from anything else, finding shelter from the sun in an issue

We also ran out of water and fruit to give people during the morning. If you’ve ever been involved in a stage production and watched a team of people pulling together you might know the feeling of pride you get when you see someone you don’t know very well pull something amazing out of a hat. (Not literally.) Well, I had a sense of that again on Saturday when I went out to put some rubbish at the collection point. There was a fellow Brit staggering towards me with two bags of oranges and a pack of water, which I took from her. ‘I couldn’t stand them not having any,’ she said, ‘so I went and got some.’ There are lots of instances of this sort of thing happening around here at the moment, and it makes you honoured to be a part of this particular piece of world history.

Images from Symi Greece by Neil Gosling and James Collins

Straight from the boat, still with his life jacket on

Washing was the needed event on Saturday, an appeal went out and before you could say ‘final rinse and spin’ volunteers were turning up to take away laundry and get it done, and back, in good time. We had three bags delivered which we worked through over the weekend. These were actually donation bags so there was no immediate rush. Not like the rush for clothes that happens daily down at the aid station where we had helpers from Syria translating and keeping order, as best as anyone could.

Images from Symi Greece by Neil Gosling and James Collins

Where worlds collide (not literally) the tourist train drives through the ‘camp’ at regular intervals with people clapping along to Zorba

More water did arrive later in the day and more fruit, thanks to the sterling efforts and phone calls from the charity’s organisers. I didn’t have a chance to get any detailed stories from anyone but I did pick up on a couple of things. First of all, in the main, people were euphoric at being safe, and at having arrived in Europe. These are, of course the lucky ones. Apparently around 98% of the Syrian refuges are refugees in their own country and just over the border in Turkey. The European arrivals represent something like 2% of the population of the country – those numbers were on some video I saw, and may not be reliable.

Images from Symi Greece by Neil Gosling and James Collins

These guys were taking a photo to show their first taste of Europe – let’s hope the rest of their journey compares

The other thing that I picked up on was to do with age, and here’s where my writer’s brain slips into assumption. An elderly couple came to rest on the veranda, and to get away from the throng outside. I kept an eye on them and they sat and looked out to sea. I got the impression that they were stunned, I mean, after 60 years you’ve invested a lot in the world around you and suddenly it’s no longer there. You are no longer there, you’re miles from your homeland, wearing the last of the possessions you spent your life gathering, the rest are lost to war or the sea, and what do you have left? Your life and an uncertain future. I also saw very young children and babies who won’t remember any of this when they grow up, the ten year olds might remember some of it and an adventure in a strange land. The teenagers (one of whom looked like he was dressed for a night out, another who asked if we had any hair gel) will remember more and be more affected, those in their early twenties, as we have seen, might be more worried about how they will finish their college or university, and the parents simply have to get on with it and get their family somewhere settled.

Images from Symi Greece by Neil Gosling and James Collins

The water arriving – this will all be gone quickly; it’s also for those waiting on the other side of the harbour until they are called around to do their paperwork at the police station

But that’s enough for today, enough for my ‘Greece as it happens, the refugee crisis’ you might call it. There are more photos and more stories to come, maybe during the week. But I’ll leave off now as I am going to write to Sports Direct and see if they have any ‘must go’ menswear items that have not yet ‘must gone’ that they can donate. I’m not hopeful, unlike these guys:

Images from Symi Greece by Neil Gosling and James Collins

Here’s hoping for a better future

Images from Symi Greece by Neil Gosling and James Collins

Symi businesses working together. Andy Old Markets (charity organiser) and his assistant in the buggy lent by Manos Fish Taverna -it makes transporting water and things from one ‘camp’ to the other much easier.

Some random Symi photos

The plan was to head to Yialos to go to the post office and have an anniversary beer before a light lunch. We managed all that but also stood in at the volunteer station to help out with the refugees for an hour. We’re back there again this morning for three hours in what is to become our regular Saturday morning session. Yesterday, after lunch which was fairly light we were about to walk up when Thanasis arrived in a taxi, so that was handy. I spent some time on the balcony back home, while Neil took some photos out and about, and then we went to the Windmill for dinner, at which point I left my camera at home. It was rather an over-indulgent day, but what can you do? Here are some shots I took; have a good weekend.

Lorry Vs Horse

Images from Symi Greece by Neil Gosling and James Collins

Bit of a bottleneck in the harbour

No such problems at sea.

Images from Symi Greece by Neil Gosling and James Collins


A nice wooden sailing boat caught my eye.

Images from Symi Greece by Neil Gosling and James Collins

Parked up

There aren’t many places where your dining table comes with such a view.

Images from Symi Greece by Neil Gosling and James Collins

View from the dining table

Someone tried to sneak into the Rainbow Bar

Images from Symi Greece by Neil Gosling and James Collins

A customer

The Dodecanisos boat leaving in the afternoon.

Images from Symi Greece by Neil Gosling and James Collins

Heading home

Catching a breeze.

Images from Symi Greece by Neil Gosling and James Collins

Still working hard

Then, later in the day… The group of people around the clock tower are some of the refugees waiting for a boat on to Athens.

Images from Symi Greece by Neil Gosling and James Collins

Balcony view of a late afternoon

And a couple of doves providi9ng the musical soudtrack to my day

Images from Symi Greece by Neil Gosling and James Collins

That’s what all the poles are for!

And Apollo admires my anniversary roses.

Images from Symi Greece by Neil Gosling and James Collins

Apollo and roses

How dumb is your computer?

A day at home yesterday, so today’s photos are views from home, and one from under the desk where my assistant was working very hard.

Images from Symi Greece by Neil Gosling and James Collins

Symi Dream office assistant hard at work

The house, as you can see, has a lovely view, but there are some drawbacks. When the cruise ship is in, as yesterday, and the wind is in the wrong direction we get its fumes wafting up, and those of the other boats, even when the engines aren’t running, so I am not sure how that happens. We also have Captain Snort living next door. He’s been away for a while but is now back and back to his compulsive habit of snorting water through his nose to clear out his sinuses (I can’t image what else he would be doing) every hour or so. But, apart from that, the view is lovely so here are some shots of it.

Images from Symi Greece by Neil Gosling and James Collins

Cruise ship in Thursday morning

Other thoughts occur to me today, one of which is about the stupidity of online advertising. Now then, when anyone clicks the advert link at the bottom of my posts (see below) I don’t think it’s stupid at all because the website earns tuppence each time you do it and it doesn’t cost you a thing, and it all goes towards providing the blog. But here’s a slightly different take on these adverts which earn some companies millions and others, like me, less than €70 a year…

Images from Symi Greece by Neil Gosling and James Collins

Early morning view

I recently went looking for a hotel in Belgrade. I wasn’t actually in Belgrade you understand, that would have been a tad eccentric. But I used the internet and (If you book your Rhodes or Symi, or any, hotel through our box over there on the right we also get another tuppence, eventually.) I had a lovely time looking at all kinds of hotels at all kinds of prices, and thinking, ‘I won’t stay there it’s too posh,’ and eventually found one that I think will suit us when we go there in December. So, I booked it. I also booked flights with Aegean Airlines, as you can’t use many others from here in the winter, and I like them.

Images from Symi Greece by Neil Gosling and James Collins

A cargo boat on its way in

All well and good and sorted (not snorted). Now though, each time I open a website that carries these adverts, my own included, they are all trying to sell me hotels in Belgrade and flights with Aegean. What is the point? Let me say that again slowly. What. Is. The. Point? I’ve just boked my hotel and my flights. You. Are. Too. Late. It’s like when I buy a book, the next thing you know Amazon are popping an advert on your screen or in your email encouraging you to buy the thing you just bought. What. A. Waste. Of. Some. Poor. Computer’s. Time. You’d have thought that, by now, someone would have come up with a way of knowing that you don’t need to be tempted by what you’ve just paid for. I mean, the big ‘They’ out there in the internet world seem to know everything else about us, but they can’t figure that one out? Sheesh.

Images from Symi Greece by Neil Gosling and James Collins

The Poseidon heading out for the day, 10.30

So, unsurprising it was that an email I received, and this email said: “Hello James Collins,” (Hello, I politely replied) “Are you looking for something in our Travel & Holiday Books store?” (I was, but I just found it, dim-wit.) “If so, you might be interested in these items.

Symi 85600 – James Collins

Carry on up the Kali Strata-James Collins

Village View: A year on Symi-James Collins, Neil Gosling

Terms and conditions apply…” Yes they do, I wrote the bloomin’ things and wouldn’t you, a clever computer thing, have thought that if you’re writing to James Collins via a Greek email address he might already have something to do with books about Greece by James Collins? I don’t know, and I thought computers were supposed to be clever.

I need to get out more. Oh look! (He says, looking at this post online.) An advert for a hotel in Belgrade…

Symi life goes on

Images from Symi Greece by Neil Gosling and James Collins

Flying over the house the other day

‘And another hundred people just got off of the train…’ A Sondheim lyric from ‘Company’ but I was reminded of it yesterday when I saw a note that another hundred refugees had just been rescued and taken to the authorities on Symi. I was further reminded when I saw another five hundred day-trippers get off of the boats and start their day on the island, browsing the harbour, having talks on the sponge diving industry, the herbs and spices and the leather industry, before heading off to have ‘time at leisure’ before their lunch.

Images from Symi Greece by Neil Gosling and James Collins

Closer up

Symi life goes on with the day to day grind for most as they work from the early hours to the late evening, or do double shifts at the tavernas or bars, or as they head out to sea to fish. Others spend time at home, the grandparents caring for the children while mum and dad go to work long hours, while others keep house, cook, tend to the churches, the graves, the streets, the council business and the other services needed to keep an island running.

Images from Symi Greece by Neil Gosling and James Collins

Day tripping

The day to day of island life eh? All kinds of things going on from arranging the festivals to driving the bus on the hour every hour from eight in the morning until midnight, or whenever. And then there are the guys on the boats. I’m thinking of the Skiedani here which set off yesterday at six thirty, so was got (gotten? No…) which was made ready probably from six a.m. onwards and then sailed across to Rhodes in time to come back again via Panormitis then Symi harbour, then back to Rhodes in the afternoon and, on many days, then back to Symi in the evening. Now there’s a long shift.

Images from Symi Greece by Neil Gosling and James Collins

Day off

So, all kinds of stuff is going on and now folk are also finding time to help out the new island charity that’s helping the refugees – one (relatively) newly arrived ex-pat has been helping at the port police by building a sleeping platform I understand, now there’s ‘Bravo!’ for you. We’re volunteering every Saturday 10 to 13.00 from now on, as long as we’re needed and able, as we both work from roughly 7.00 to 17:00 every day, save Sundays when I write my books and Neil, as you might have seen from the photos, goes to the beach, or cleans the house, or cooks, or entertains before going back to the bar to work at three…

Images from Symi Greece by Neil Gosling and James Collins

Meanwhile in Pedi

And so, life goes on as the visiting southern-Europeans, French and Greeks and Italians start to head homewards after August and we look forward to in Brits and Scandinavians, and others, who come here regularly in September. Actually, today is the day that, historically, we would always arrive on Symi. We always came for the last weekend of August to cover our anniversary (18 years on Friday, table and chilli stuffed peppers booked at the Windmill) and also Neil’s birthday on September 8th (must remember to book the Roof Garden table next week). But all that’s another story. I’m off, have a good day.

Images from Symi Greece by Neil Gosling and James Collins

And meanwhile at the refugee station

Early morning Symi photo again

We’ve not had any early morning Symi photos for a while so… Tuesday morning, out of bed at 5.45, and it is still dark as the cat screams to be let in and fed and then spends the next five minutes getting under my feet as I try and find my jogging shoes. Those found, cat partially happy but not sure if it’s too early for his biscuit course or not, and bottle of water collected, it’s off into the great outdoors for the first time in about ten days.

Images from Symi Greece by Neil Gosling and James

Pre dawn

The night before, Monday, had been an early night thanks to not going out but staying in to watch the new version of ‘Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy,’ which nearly had me asleep by the end of act one. But I persevered and made it through to the end. A bit more dialogue wouldn’t have gone amiss; far too much reliance on everyone understanding the subtleties of Benedict Cummerbund’s eyebrows and the reflection in Gary Oldman’s glasses, I thought. Still, sent me off to sleep nicely.

Images from Symi Greece by Neil Gosling and James

From the road and view point

The walk up to the second bridge and beyond towards the lookout point and classic view-stop on a bus trip was easy enough, with some stretches of uphill done at a slight jog. The weather is cooler now so it’s a bit more bearable, though this jogging lark still not shifting anything from around the tummy region. That, of course, will have something to do with also enjoying life, which is, after all, what it is there for.

Images from Symi Greece by Neil Gosling and James

Back towards home at sunrise

Back home and a morning of work with the cat asleep on my feet (why only in the summer? Why never in the winter?) that is, after he’d had his biscuit course and his second breakfast and his pre-elevenses snack, all of which require my attention and attendance as though I was some scribe out of Gormenghast and the whole kingdom of Jack would come tumbling down if I didn’t see to his every ritual. And then cooking lunch while Neil headed off down to the aid station (as I call it) to deliver some clothes he found in his wardrobe, and in mine I should add, though, in the wardrobe he has three shelves while I have one, and I only use half of that. Still, there should be some clothes for the men available now, which will be welcome.

Images from Symi Greece by Neil Gosling and James

Sunrise from the house

And on that note, finally, the appeal has reached its target and now has enough money to start improving basic facilities at and around the police station where the 400+ weekly refuges wait. You can still go to the site and donate though (scroll down for yesterday’s blog and the link) and all donations over the target will go towards food, water and other essentials. Thank you!

Images from Symi Greece by Neil Gosling and James

Off to Yialos with some surpluses