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This month we’re ditching the desk and hitting the coast to serve up a perfect summer cocktail of Business and Pleasure…

(Sifnos June 30th to July 8th 2023)

I have eulogised about my beloved Sifnos (an island in the Cycladics not an STD) once before in The Business of Pleasure Podcasts, but back then it was solely a business of pleasure.

However this week, whilst showering in my perfectly appointed studio, sixty-feet from one of the most beautiful beaches in the Aegean, BBC Sounds informed me that one third of companies now allow their employees to WFB (‘Work From Beach’) and I immediately shouted “Eureka!” (in perfect Greek of course). What a wonderful example of business and pleasure to share with our listeners!

At time of writing I am self-employed, so it was my decision to allow my ‘self’ to WFB on this occasion. It was a quick decision, but not a snap one. I asked what I believed to be all the right questions, ran a fine tooth comb through the answers for obvious biases, and teased out all those pesky little voices that cunningly hint at counter arguments without quite spelling them out directly. The result was my working hypothesis. Or rather, my Working From Beach working hypothesis. And according to this, I should be able to work effectively from the beach and deliver on deadline. By the way, as an unintended consequence of the trip, and unexpected dividend, I actually hit upon what I believe to be a hitherto undiscovered (or unrecorded) human bias, which I will reveal to the waiting world in a subsequent podcast -and probably get shot down in flames by the scientific community.

WFB is not new to Sifnos. When I first visited the island, back in 1982, one far-sighted individual was already running a New York computer company literally ‘from the beach.’ I never actually met this astonishingly early adopter, just heard tales from envious islanders. Back then one needed a satellite phone the size of Thor’s hammer to WFB, now you just need a laptop or iPhone, depending on the tasks at hand and your eyesight. And electricity, ideally; my beach, Platis Gialos, lost three days’ power in 2019 whilst I was working most involuntarily from beach. That year the power-cut was my salvation, and I thanked the local Gods (I think Zeus is still CEO for electricity) most fulsomely for their intervention. You also need fair weather of course. Firstly for the flight. In 2022 we were delayed on the runway for hours due to storms (Zeus again!) over the Alps, and were only able to leave that runway thanks to a tiny window in the meteorological maelstrom. Unfortunately for us travellers (and fortunately for us lovers of the island) you cannot fly direct to the Sifnos, so when we finally arrived at Piraeus, the same weather front produced phenomenal windspeeds that prevented us, and several thousand fellow travellers, from boarding the ferries (thanks very much Neptune, Boreas and Zephyrus!) It was the Greek government (as well as Greek Gods) that confined the boats to port, and we couldn’t help feeling that the bureaucrats were being over-cautious. Until the following day that was, when we were eventually allowed to leave Piraeus, and the twenty-storey car-ferry was buffeted around on the waves like a child’s inflatable kayak.

One other factor that should also be considered when heading for Sifnos, not that I’m trying to put anyone off (promise!). This is the state of Greek Industrial Relations. In 2019 I had to leave the island a day early to avoid the National Ferry Strike (tutelary deity, Ares, God of War) and so spent half a day walking around the Acropolis …in the rain. Zeus didn’t get where he is by doing things by halves.

My July WFB Itinerary

A one week stay for me doesn’t require hold luggage, just two cunningly rammed backpacks (and the back muscles of an Atlas or Hercules). And as I’m now the proud possessor of a TFL over-60s oyster card, I can get to Heathrow Terminal 5 in the comfort of the Elizabeth Line free of charge (thank you, Sadiq).

BA have a night flight (8pm or 10pm) which gets you into Athens airport in the wee small hours. Plenty of time to make the ninety-minute five-euro bus-ride to Piraeus (this week there were two of us on the 3am run). I’d plumped for the larger ferry, as opposed to the smaller, faster Seajet. In a Greek twist on Aesop’s ‘The Tortoise and the Hare’, the larger boats are often able to sail in heavy winds while the swifter, less stable vessels look laconically on from their moorings. I left Wimbledon at 3pm, Friday, arriving in Paradise, sorry, Sifnos, at 3pm Saturday, fully refreshed and rejuvenated, having inherited the ability to sleep on trains, planes, boats and buses (ditto long speeches, nil-nil football matches and sub-marginal West End shows).

The studio I’d booked, on the morning of departure, must have been a late cancellation. Timing is everything, and with Sifnos the trick is to get there before French schools break up (a couple of weeks before UK schools). The studio I’d nabbed looked more like one of those LA cabanas in which the Hollywood Majors used to imprison overpaid, chain-smoking, English scriptwriters until they’d produced acceptable screenplays. Only this micro-apartment had the Aegean at the end of the garden instead of a swimming pool. Fully air-conditioned. Small kitchen (with espresso machine and sandwich-maker!). What more could I need?

…Oh yes. Self-discipline. Would I really be able to complete the project with the Aegean whispering sweet nothings to me through those suggestively winking louvre blinds?

Fortunately, I’m a very early riser (4am or 5am typically, often earlier). Even more fortunately, the Greek sun is a late riser (cresting the bay around seven-ish). Two or three hours good work in the studio, and then the I’d catch first bus from the beach up to the capital, Apollonia, perched between the hills of the hinterland (the wealthy citizens of Sifnos relocated from the former capital, Kastro, overlooking the coast, to make it more difficult for pirates to make off with their loot).

Not much happens before 10am in Apollonia, so I would hijack a chair and table outside a hotel and get a couple more hours work in. (I have been utilizing this particular free workspace for forty-one years, but please don’t tell the owner or he’ll charge me for back-rent with compound coffee and koulouri). My own breakfasts were self-prepared (fried eggs, omelettes, yoghurt and honey) with lunch consisting of home-made Greek ‘Greek Salads,’ occasionally punctuated by sardines grilled at a waterside taverna (SEE PHOTO 1 IN BLOG OR JUST CLOSE EYES AND DREAM). It was then back home to Platis Gialos for some much needed ‘R&R’ stroke ‘SSS’ (Swim and Siesta in Shade) before waddling off along the beach for a couple of gins watching an impossibly large moon (SEE PHOTO 2/DREAM) traverse the enormous bay of Platis Gialos at @maiolica.sifnos where the pork cheeks (cooked in a tangy apple and hoisin confection) nightly entice diners to religious transgression for the sake of a taste of the earthly divine.

By sticking to this routine, with occasional bouts of BBC Sounds and Netflix, I succeeded in completing my project by Wednesday PM. However I found that the routine I had established suited me so well that I continued to work to this schedule on my personal projects, a play and a novel (sans deadlines) for the remaining three days of my stay.

The journey back was uneventful; certainly compared to 2023, when we were delayed for nineteen hours at Athens because our scheduled plane had engine problems and the replacement couldn’t take off until Queen Elizabeth II had made her final journey up the M4 (I was also on Sifnos when Princess Di died, by the way, so King Charles please take note).

There has only been one significant negative impact from my Working From Beach last week, but boy is it a tough one! You see I can’t stop daydreaming about my next WFB trip, Gods and Heroes (and Commissions!) willing.

Copyright David Thomas 2023.


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