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Writing to the sound of crickets

Jennifer Barclay, author of 'Falling in Honey: Life and Love on a Greek Island', describes the twist of her personal tale that saw her go from jilted traveller to barefoot writer on Tilos

I came looking for a kind of happiness.

My dad says some of his best memories are of family holidays we took on Greek islands. I still have a travel diary from when we went to Corfu when I was a child, and my mum and I tried traditional Greek dances. At school in England, I studied Ancient Greek. It’s hardly surprising that when I didn’t know what to do after I finished university, I found a job teaching English in Athens.

My new home on Leoforos Galatsiou, with rubbish piled at the roadsides during strikes, was a shock after dreamy summer holidays, but I’d read books lying in the sunshine on the roof of the apartment, and on weekends I’d take the Metro down to Piraeus and hop on a ferry to explore a new island. Gradually I started to feel more and more at home in Greece. And then I left for Canada, and didn’t return for ten years.

Still, even living in Toronto, working as a literary agent, I didn’t leave Greece entirely behind. I’d stand in the shops in the Greek neighbourhood, the Danforth, and listen to the language I missed.

In 2008, I found myself at a crisis point . Nothing terrible had happened – just another heartbreak, a relationship I thought was my future ending abruptly. It made me reassess where I was going, what I wanted. I didn’t want to be at the mercy of anyone else any more.

I implemented what I called the Three Gifts to Self. One was cutting back on my workload. Two was putting aside relationships for a while. The third was a month alone on a tiny Greek island.


 

In great detail, every hour we’d spent together, he’d been sustaining an intricate web of deceit. In fact, he had exploded his life so spectacularly at that point that all he had left was a suitcase and a few hundred pounds. But I still had my flight to Greece, and my dream that I’d wanted for a long time.


I’d found Tilos – halfway between Rhodes and Kos in the south Aegean – the previous year with the man I’d seen my future with. It seemed odd to want to go back there. But something about the island had enchanted me. So small you could walk across it, with just one road looping around it, and empty beaches with pink sand and clear blue water. Still rural, so that sheep were in the field right next to the sea, and the restaurants served food from their own farms. Just 300 people, so no traffic, no noise, no light pollution to spoil the view of the Milky Way.

I rented an apartment there for a month, May 2009. Two weeks were holiday and two weeks I worked from there – there was high-speed internet in spite of its being remote and unspoilt. I swam every day (locals thought I was nuts to be swimming in early May) and I walked and made friends. One new friend taught me about the local fish and to hold octopus and starfish. Another cooked me meals and talked to me about the old days on the island.

And I realised at the end of that month that it wasn’t the end, but beginning of something. I started to devise a way to work from home in Tilos.

Over the next two years I also started to write about my love affair with the island.

It started, of course, with my first trip and then my month alone there. It then told of how, back in England, I met Matt, a man who seemed to want the same things as me, including trying to start a family; and how I took him to my island, and he fell in love with its tranquillity and people so instantly that he made an offer on a house there. We could move there together, and as he was selling his business he would also be able to work from home.

During that time, two very special people I knew were diagnosed with cancer; Richard in England and Vangelis on Tilos. It made me realise how life is too short not to reach out for what makes us happy. When eventually, sadly, I went to Richard’s funeral, what struck me were the photos of him in Thailand, where he had hoped to retire with his Thai wife in a few years; now he would never have the chance. Why stay in England to advance my career when the life I really wanted was in Greece?

I thought the story would end there, with my move to Tilos with Matt, but there was an unexpected twist to the tale.

We had shipped off our belongings and let out my flat. The flights were booked. It was my last day in the office when the phone call came: he’d been lying to me, he admitted, from day one. In great detail, every hour we’d spent together, he’d been sustaining an intricate web of deceit. In fact, he had exploded his life so spectacularly at that point that all he had left was a suitcase and a few hundred pounds.

But I still had my flight to Greece, and my dream that I’d wanted for a long time.
I made it here alone – in some ways it helped me to integrate more with the local community rather than being half of an expat couple – and I’m just coming up to my second anniversary on the island. And the book, Falling in Honey, has just been published. Albeit with a different ending than I originally envisaged.

I found myself a lovely little house with a distant view of Eristos bay. There are goats in the fields around me and they make thyme honey next door. I’ve got used to the cockerel crowing first thing in the morning. I’m now learning Greek dancing every week with the local ladies’ group and am growing my own vegetables.

Sometimes I still work too hard, but often barefoot, to the sound of crickets. I write a regular blog about island life, An Octopus in My Ouzo, followed by people from all different countries who love Greece. And in the summer I spend time on Eristos beach where my lovely new partner Stelios runs the kantina (he’s a fisherman in the winter), and people ask me how I ended up in Tilos.

My move here didn’t go exactly as planned. But as Stelios says, God laughs when we make plans.

Falling in Honey: Life and Love on a Greek Island is published by Summersdale and available from Amazon.co.uk as a book and e-book and from limited bookshops in Greece. 

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