Saturday, August 03, 2019

Crete Update

Checking dates I see I’ve been back on Crete now for just over two and a half months. I was surprised about that since it seems like a lot longer. I guess this is covered by the aphorism ‘a change is as good as a rest’ and my contention about why time seems to pass quicker the older you get. Our memories do not retain everything. They do not retain every cup of coffee we make or every dump we take. The more things we do, repetitively, the more we fail to retain and, as we get older, we’ve done more stuff so logically time seems to contract. I was in the UK for two years and nine months. Much of the stuff I’ve been doing and much that has happened to me while here is new, while things I’m doing that I have done before had perhaps faded a little and needed refreshing.

It’s been an interesting time. After all the work I had to do to restore the house and garden I returned to writing. First I did the lengthy blogs posted before this one, then a synopsis of The Human for Bella Pagan at Macmillan, then a reworking of the three Mason’s Rats stories into two possibly for Tim Miller’s ‘Love, Death and Robots’ on Netflix. Directly after that I decided to concentrate on some short stories opening my first file called SHORT STORY ONE and just writing, getting bored with that and then opening another. SHORT STORY TWO is as far as I got because it grew in the telling. I did my usual 2,000 words a day but this time not for the five working days a week but just whenever – taking breaks for shopping trips, some gardening or snoozing on the sofa because of too much kayaking or too much raki. I’ve just been writing segments telling the story of the colonisation of a world where evolution was accelerated by its sun becoming sufficiently active for radiation to penetrate a weak magnetosphere – not so intense as to kill everything but enough to drive mutation.

To this world come colonists out of the Polity, their aim to themselves evolve along a new course as they adapt to this world. They are old and just past their ennui barrier, these people – highly experienced and capable. But the world has some surprises, like a particularly dangerous and adaptive apex predator. Their chief scientist is also a little bit dodgy and may want to drive human evolution more than the colonists intend, while the timing of their colonisation is not so good, since the Polity had just encountered its first living alien civilization – some crablike creatures that might be just a little bit hostile.

This erstwhile short story passed 42,000 words before I had to put it aside to go through the editing of The Human. I’m writing this blog now as a warm up before getting back into it.

Other activities. . . In the previous posts I detailed how I renovated an old bamboo chair I found on the coast while out kayaking. While visiting two expats here called Tim and Helen I noted shutters they had removed from their house while renovation work was being done. They weren’t sure what to do about these rotten items. They also had some old hardwood shutters holding down the cover on their woodpile and I thought it might be possible to use them to replace all the rotten stuff in the other shutters. I offered to give it a go and these kept me occupied for a week or so. I’m no carpenter and wood filler was applied but they seem to have turned out okay.

Why do I do this stuff? I’ve worked all my life with my hands and find it relaxing, calming, while it also occupies time I might spend on less worthwhile activities like drinking too much. I could of course go for more walks but have found my limitations as far as exercise is concerned. I could and want to read more, and though I have read more books I’ve felt a little bit jaded by them. This, fortunately, has changed now upon receiving an ARC of Peter F Hamilton’s Salvation Lost and hopefully when I receive a care package from Macmillan (once they get a courier who can find my village). Why not write more? I hear the cry. Well, that has its limitations too kinda like burning the candle at both ends. If I write a lot I get mentally exhausted and need to stop and recharge. 2,000 words a day seems a constant pace I can easily keep up.

The garden too is another activity I enjoy here. I guess another point about all this is enjoying activities outside, because it is bright and warm – I can only sit tapping away at a laptop for so long when the sun is shining. The garden is pretty good now. I have just about eaten my way through a crop of lettuces, have an excess of spring onions, and am also enjoying radishes and a burgeoning crop of tomatoes. Initially the tomatoes weren’t doing well. They all looked good at first but when I checked them closer I saw that all of them had ‘bottom end rot’. I had heard that this was due to a lack of magnesium and thought about getting some. When I mentioned the problem in Revans, Yorgos said I should take one to the Agrotiko just a few doors down from the bar – a place full of the output of an agricultural chemical factory. The next day I did this, but the boss wasn’t there. The guy in there solemnly took my tomato and said the boss would look at it when he got back and to come back tomorrow. The boss, when I saw him, was obviously very knowledgeable about this sort of stuff. I questioned me on how much watering I did and some other things, then declared, ‘Calcium.’ He opened one of the numerous sacks in the place and filled up a carrier bag with white granular calcium and when I asked, ‘how much’ he just waved me off – no charge. I duly applied this. A week or so later new tomatoes showed no signs of bottom rot while some recovered – just having a brown mark on the bottom and being fine inside.

My lemon tree, which had suffered for three years without much water, threw up masses of leaves this year and grew very well. It had flowers on it and small lemons, but then they all fell off. I noticed the depredations of some leaf-cutting wasp and that some of the leaves were rather pale and sickly. Again I went to the Agrotiko. When I told the boss that I water every day he said, ‘Stop it.’ Apparently the tree won’t grow lemons if it’s getting everything it wants. The fruit (seeds) are its shot at genetic survival. The sickly leaves are apparently due to a lack of iron, and I am now applying that particular potion.

Chillies have been a constant with me here. I’ve grown all sorts but the best area type I first grew here from the seeds in dry chillies I picked up on a path in a nearby village. These are stunningly beautiful. The chillies, as they ripen, go through numerous colour changes so you end up with a plant scattered with chillies of green, yellow, orange, purple and red. The plant doesn’t look quite real – almost like a decorated Christmas tree. Unfortunately I had no seeds here. When I checked that local village I could find no sign of the original plant or any others (note: chilli plants can survive year after year here and in some cases grow into small trees). When I asked in my village about them I was told that there doesn’t seem to be any about. Later I remembered that another couple of expats – Pete and Katie – had those same plants self-seeding in their garden. I asked an a day later Pete turned up with about 30 or fort seedlings. Victory! Chilli sauce is back on the agenda this year.

Chilli sauce: half a kilo of chillies, one whole bulb of garlic, two cups of sugar and two of vinegar, whizz in a food processor, bring to the boil in a pan and jar in hot jars. Delicious.

While I had done my front garden I had been a bit desultory about the side garden and the one at the back. This was mainly because I’d buggered my back with too much walking and kayaking and simply did not fancy wielding a mattock on earth like concrete. But there is always someone here who wants the work. Neighbouring kids – the eldest of who was nine when Caroline and I first came here – have grown up. In order of age they are Angelo, Kostis and Yorgos. Yorgos and Kostis are now in their twenties while Kostis sports a large black beard. They all work hard and in fact have done so since teenagers if not before. There isn’t much money here to they’re working for wages most people would sniff at in the UK. Angelo – who is eighteen – though having little money to spend on himself let alone on others, decided to have a barbecue for neighbours, and I was invited. During this (I brought pork chops and raki) I asked him if he wanted the work and of course he did. He went at it hard for six hours and did an excellent job. I paid him his going rate, plus a tip, plus a bottle of wine and plus a bottle of chilli sauce which he had wanted at the barbecue but someone forgot to tell me.

I’ll now begin planting those areas with the numerous chilli plants (and other plants of course) I have in pots. These now include capsicum plants whose seeds I bought from Lidl, a cherry chilli plant Yorgos above snaffled for me from someone else’s garden, and ghost peppers. These last the seeds were given to me by Tim and Helen. I forgot they were in my pocket and they went through the wash, but they have now germinated. They should certainly add a kick to the sauce since they’re something like a million plus on the Scolville Scale.

What else? Well, my day usually consists of 2,000 words in the morning. Often I do these quite early because I’m usually up at dawn if not before. This is followed by various jobs around the house and in the garden. I then head off down to Makrigialos to use the internet in Revans and then head out on my kayak for two to three hours. A couple of beers usually follows this, though I am trying to be good and get back to karpousi (watermelon) juice and orange juice, but that’s difficult after you’ve been on the ocean in the hot sun for that length of time. Back here I usually flake out on the sofa – another habit I’m trying to break since it interferes with my night time sleep.

I’ve been out a few times in the evenings for meals at various establishments – a couple of times meeting up with old friends Shona and Rich, but often just recharging because I cannot be bothered to cook. But in that respect I am being fed here in the village. I helped a neighbour with some work on her house and she is now repaying me with various meals. The best of these is either meat or fish with ‘vlita’ – a vaguely spinach-like vegetable cooked with a few courgettes and potatoes then liberally doused with olive oil and lemon juice. A relative of hers has also turned up in a house nearby and she seems a dab hand with mousaka. The Greek mommas are keeping me fed.

Meanwhile, in Makrigialos, the tourist season is getting into full swing. At the weekends it is sometimes difficult to park because of the Greeks coming to the coast. These crowds, if past experience is anything to go by, will increase in August. I’ll probably have over-protective Greek mothers shouting at me when I come back from my kayak run – warning me not to bump into their precious brats splashing in the sea about fifty yards away. Maybe I’ll start walking in the mountains again and avoid the crowds, but otherwise, all is good here!

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Return to Crete (Part Three)

Everything I could do with the house and garden here is all but done now and it is time to turn my attention to writing (hence this blog as a warm-up), but there is still a problem here that’s nagging at me. Before I came out I heard from expats here that now everyone in Greece must register their house or houses. This typically Greek bureaucratic process has apparently not been too difficult for many people. However, I have a problem in that this house is still in both mine and Caroline’s names. Stelios, the guy who sold me the place, put me in the hands of another Stelios – an accountant in Makrigialos. I also had house taxes to pay for 3 years. The accountant sorted out my taxes and I paid them at the bank, but then I learned that taxes were also owing for Caroline as joint owner. This needed to be sorted. My shlep through Greek bureaucracy began.

First I needed to get Caroline’s tax number and details cancelled and ownership of the house passed to me. I needed her death certificate for this. I was sure I had a copy in the house but no. I got onto my neighbour in the UK who is looking after my house there. Heidi kindly searched my office to find a copy and posted it to me (it took 3 weeks to arrive). I also had to see a notary, apparently, to obtain a document saying Caroline had not registered a will on Crete. I went to see a notary, sat in the office for half an hour only to be told the notary would not come in today. I returned another day, waited half an hour while crowds of Greeks entered, left, argued and waved wads of paper at the secretary. Finally, I suggested I come back another day when it was less busy, only then to be told I must apply to the local court for this document. When I asked her where this was she didn’t know. In Makrigialos I learned that it was the Demos – a particular building that sits behind a coffee bar where I enjoy a frappe in Sitia. I went there and saw the building approaching dereliction. A few enquiries later put me in new government offices were a lady produced a form I needed to fill in. They were very helpful there but still the strange wrinkles of Greek bureaucracy impinged. To submit this request form I had first to venture off to a bookshop in Sitia to buy €5 of stamps. I returned with these, and after a struggle filled in the form and submitted it. The next day I collected two copies of the form saying there is no will. Victory!

Not so fast Neal. On returning to Stelios the accountant I learn that our taxes, because the lawyer we used when buying the house is located there, were in Heraklion. I must go there to cancel Caroline’s tax stuff. But of course it is now not so simple. The taxes are tangled up with ownership of the house, with the bank too (I cannot even get a cash card until this is sorted). ‘Proof of no will’ and a death certificate are not enough on Crete because unlike the UK, without a will the sole inheritor is NOT the spouse. It’s a tangle, it’s confusing. I finally asked Stelios to act as my agent in this (he will go to Heraklion for me) and he is now steadily grinding his way through it.

One upside is the house registration. I had heard that if you don’t get your house registered on time the government will seize it. This is all rather unlikely but still worrying. Registration had an end date just within the next few months. However, I have learned that this has to be extended because just here, in the Lasithi region, only 20% of houses have been registered and of them only 50% of the registrations have gone through. Another likelihood is that this whole registration process will fall apart over the next year. They’ve done stuff like this before and it has gone the same route.

So there we are – more or less up to date. I am sitting in a clean and tidy house as I type this. My front garden is neat, and only requires watering while I wait for some plants to get big enough to transplant. Another victory has been the chillies. I had no seeds stored and wanted to grow the multicoloured chillies here but could find none. I then remembered a long-time expat called Peter had them growing in his garden and he came up with about 30 of the buggers. The back garden and side border need some work, but I’m reluctant to set about it with my back still aching. The only jobs I have done there is clearance of the weeds and fitting a steel lid to a cess pit back there since, while I was weeding, the concrete block in the hole fell through when I stood on it. Fortunately the hole is not big and I only went up to my knee. No possibility of me drowning in shit – the pit was dry anyway.

Anything else? Well, today my aim was to write 2,000 words to get back into that groove. I’ve written a further 1,700 for this post and now it is time for me to open another file and make a start on a short story. I’ll then sort out photographs for this post, maybe do a few jobs outside, then, because the wind has died off now, head off for some kayaking.

Ciao for now!       

Children of Ruin - Adrian Tchaikovsky

I thoroughly enjoyed Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky and (perks of the job) had an ARC of Children of Ruin to read. I dived straight in. The book starts with an Old Empire terraforming project in the past. For a while there I thought we were about to get a replay of the previous book and again looked at the brick of the thing and wondered if I might give up. I should have had more trust in the writer.

The ‘present’ timeline is set a couple of Human generations after the previous book with characters voyaging to a signal they had detected at the end of that book. The only remaining character is Kern – a human amalgamated with AI and subsequently copied to organic technology. But the portiids are there with all their enjoyable interplay, as are the humans.

Again I’m struggling here to review this without giving too much away, so I’ll get a bit general. It’s packed with excellent technology well-imagined from its sources, be they portiids, humans and some other creatures they find. The world-building is sometimes gobsmacking in that respect, but what is especially good is the detail of the thinking and communication of nominally alien creatures. The writing is easy and drags you in, and you know you’re in for a ride. About a third of the way in, however, I began to wonder how the narrative, enjoyable as it was, could be sustained with the story thus far. Adrian didn’t let me down, switching gear at about this point and accelerating with a plot twist (lightly signalled beforehand) that was horrifying, fascinating and truly alien. And this all slots neatly together for a suitably stonking ending. Reading the final section and epilogue was needed as a cool down.

I’ve had some trouble over recent years finding SF books that fully engage me and have often wondered if I’m just a bit jaded by it all. A problem with being a writer is reading something that doesn’t switch the editing head on and thus expel one from a book. This book thoroughly engaged me. Children of Ruin is a humdinger of a book I enjoyed immensely.


Friday, June 28, 2019

Return to Crete (Part Two)

Continued from previous post:

Also while treating the woodwork I had noticed that the rough beams above two of the windows were so rotten and eaten away a screwdriver went straight through them. I tore them out, measured up, then went to visit two expats here called Tim and Helen. I’d already seen these two while walking (they live in Armeni). They collect up wood all over the place to burn in their stove during the winter and I had noticed some long logs in the woodpile at the bottom of their garden. Tim kindly let me have two of them. I treated and stained these ready to fit them in the holes above the windows. In the UK this would require sand and cement. Cement is no problem here but for sand the rougher version is crushed rock while the equivalent of soft sand is Marmora – crushed marble. I fitted the logs/beams and am very pleased with the result.

The Greeks have been amazed by all this. Woodworking requires a carpenter, painting requires a painter, electrics an electrician and so on. The divisions of labour here are quite distinct. They cannot quite fathom how one man can do all these different jobs, which is sad really.

I’ve only gone through the main jobs above (like the garden). All the time there were other things I needed to do: emptying out plant pots and cleaning out the weed roots and bulbs (I made a riddle out of chicken wire), frequent cleaning because Sahara dust was getting everywhere, setting cuttings of geraniums and other plants, sowing seeds of radish and like, and burning up garden rubbish in the stove (when it was still cool here).

 A few weeks back the essential jobs were winding down and it had become more a case of what an old friend and workmate called ekeing about. Also the weather had warmed up some and I decided it was time to start kayaking. I let Yorgos know by text but the kayak took a few days to arrive. He hadn’t stored it by his house nearby as I had thought but in storage he uses in Ierapetra. Thank you Yorgos.

Despite my hiding in the Cretan mountains my day job began to catch up with me. Bella Pagan – my editor at Macmillan – wanted a synopsis of The Human. I also worked on turning the three Mason’s Rats stories into two stories with a view, hopefully, of them being used in the next two seasons of Tim Miller’s ‘Love, Death and Robots’. Of course all of this doesn’t sound like a day job at all.

While I interspersed my days with kayaking or walking and at other times reluctantly opened up the laptop, I continued with something I had started last time I was here. Behind the house, in the area beside the ‘ruin’ (a little self-contained apartment), I had collected a great load of knackered old chairs. Those reading previous blog posts of mine will know I picked up a strange habit of renovating chairs here. Most of these I decided weren’t worth my efforts because even once renovated there would be nothing special about them. I chopped them into pieces and piled them on a pallet on the roof for later use in the stove. However, one bamboo chair I did think worth the effort and was one I had started on when last here. This I had spotted four years ago while out on the kayak – it had been washed up on the rocks of the coast. Once I returned to Revans in the kayak I headed out in my car and collected it. I had started replacing the binding on the joints but they had fallen apart in the intervening time.

I stripped those off, pulled out nails and repaired broken joints – in one case with an aluminium plate folded round and screwed in place. I treated the wood and set to work on new bindings made out of lengths of the plant broom. The chair once had a woven back and I replaced this with bamboo collected locally. Then stained and varnished the thing with another pleasing final result.

Meanwhile, after seeing a picture of me in Revans Bar and not liking the gut evident under my T-shirt, I had decided to push myself. Instead of doing the Voila walk or kayaking, I decided to do both. In the morning I walked to Voila, I then worked at some other things, then in the afternoon I kayaked. That’s 12k mountain walking and 10k kayaking. Damn I would soon remove the flab! I did do one week of this and in that time dropped 6lbs. However, I’m not 30 anymore and midday jobs usually meandered in a desultory manner until I crashed on the sofa, while my evenings struggled to reach 10pm again. This also started to exacerbate lower back ‘discomfort’ I had been experiencing for a month and which I’d put down to overdoing it in the gym back in the UK. This expanded to bladder pains and the need to urinate and, at the time, I thought I’d not kept myself hydrated enough and my internet diagnosis was that I’d got a bladder infection. I rested, ate more, took antibiotics that seemed to help but their effect might well have been in my mind.

Over time the pains drew back from my bladder and into my back, with occasional shooting pains down my legs. I now suspect the antibiotics were not needed (could be wrong) and that this 58-year-old simply overdid it. I decided to take it easy for a while and stayed in the house just carrying out some light chores. But of course the fact that I hadn’t painted inside nagged at me, and light chores turned into about 30 hours over two days of house painting and cleaning. I also found that the tile glue I had used as plaster in the hall to try and block the damp there had blown and had to chisel it away. I do have an off button, I just haven’t found it yet. Then, with a resurgence of all the symptoms, despite the antibiotics, I really did rest.

Since then, taking it easy, eating better and keeping hydrated, it seems my body has started to catch up with the exercise (the changes do occur during rest). Of course I’ve needed to urinate more, because the volume occupied by my bladder has shrunk (probably exacerbating the effects of an expanded prostate) – muscles have tightened there and grown elsewhere. I can even see muscles on my bloody shins while a couple of leather bracelets I wear have grown noticeably tight. Also (another internet diagnosis) maybe I had 'radiating pain' - back pain that moves about, like into the groin and down the fronts of the legs. Anyway, I’m doing only one exercise session a day now, with breaks whenever required.

Recently the exercise has included swimming because the Cretan winds have hit. One day I headed towards Kalo Nero (clean water is the translation and ‘not now’ was the comment many years ago from the Stelios who sold me my house). When I set out the wind was light and the waves not too bad. During this two and a half hour trip it cut up rough with a combination of waves from the South and wind from the North. I found myself out at sea fighting to get in and at one point wondering if I was going to make it. Another day I headed to Koutsouras. The North wind blew but I stayed close to the coast on the way there – the blasts diverted by mountain valleys and buildings on the coast mostly behind me. Upon my return I rounded the point at the end of a beach called Kalamakinyah straight into the blast and had to push myself to the limit – the kayak travelling at walking pace. When I rounded the next point in towards Makrigialos harbour I thought the ‘pirate ship’ moored there (a tour boat) would shelter me. It didn’t. Sometimes I was travelling backwards, sometimes driven into the rocks. Absolutely knackered I finally grabbed hold of the boat’s mooring rope and hung on. At this point a motor kicked in to tighten the rope and it rose out of my grasp. I then had to paddle like crazy to get in to the beach. I’m now going to be a lot more careful about the damned wind and waves here. I don’t want any more episodes like I’ve had before: abandoning my kayak on a beach and having to walk back in my swimming trunks and ask Kostis in Revans to fetch the thing in his truck or, due to lack of attention seeing at the last moment a big wave heading towards me and surfing me in backwards onto the rocks or, as on a couple of occasions, simply flipping the kayak over.

to be continued. . . 

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Return to Crete (Part One)

Here I am again on Crete after two years and nine months. I initially left for two reasons – one is under a NDA and the other personal – and I stayed away for personal reasons too. I have already detailed all this, but in my journal. I won’t be writing about it here because I don’t know you well enough!

Knowing I was returning, I kept an eye on Facebook posts from people I know here and from some other local feeds. This last winter here has been one of the worst for a long time. They had so much rain even the Greeks were saying, ‘Enough now,’ and they usually wish for it to top up the ground water supply and because, well, it’s not that common and they haven’t acquired the English detestation of it. I heard about floods, roads washed away and landslides and watched videos of these. Riverbeds, which had been dry for a long time, abruptly ceased to be, washing down masses of bamboo and sweeping it out to sea, which then kindly heaped it up on the beaches and all along the coast. A hotel here called Villea Village was devastated with rooms filled with mud. I noted the usual cries of, ‘This has never happened before!’ and, ‘Oh my god the climate!’ Complete nonsense of course. That there are riverbeds here kinda indicates that they have in the past had rivers. Also, the hotel I mentioned was built right next to one of these whose local village behind by the same bed is called Aspro Potamus, which translates as White River. There’s a clue there. . .

Makrigialos where I go to swim and kayak had a couple of roads taken out, many properties flooded and that bamboo heaped on the beaches. Sitia, on the other side of the island, where I go shopping, was seriously flooded and pictures of it looked like those you see from third world countries in the monsoons. I heard that my village up in the mountains, between these two, was inaccessible due to landslides. I half expected to return to find my house in a pile of rubble at the bottom of the village or to open the door and have to wade inside, or shovel out mud.

During the drive from the airport I saw signs of the damage in Makrigialos, but the roads had been repaired and the beaches cleared of bamboo. When I finally arrived at my house and walked inside my fears proved groundless. Water, of course, runs downhill and my house is 700 metres above sea level. The only evidence of the heavy rain was in my bedroom. When Caroline and I first came here, we stayed one winter and, on New Year’s Eve, it rained for 10 hours straight. We were away celebrating and when we returned it was to find water pouring through at the base of the back wall and making a small waterfall over the step into the kitchen. This is because that wall is underground. I sealed it all as best I could and now there’s a patio area on the ground up there, but the water did get through this winter. However, all I needed to do was put a couple of wet mats outside to dry and later repaint the wall. This house was initially built of stone cemented together with mud and still has mud in the walls. This had soaked through and stained the paintwork.


The most damage I found inside was from local wildlife. Rats had got into the wastewater pipe, flipped up the little chrome drain cover in the bathroom, and come to stay. Their dry shits were everywhere with patches of dried out pee scattered throughout, but the most damage they had done was to chew a duvet cover and a few other items. Their other leavings weren’t really much of a problem since I needed to clean every surface anyway and launder every fabric I could.

I spent the first evening after travel just cleaning and running the washing machine. I slept in a mould smelling bed (no choice – no bedding clean or dry yet) and woke up with my eyes streaming and swelling from an allergic reaction – soon dispensed with using eye drops and an antihistamine. Over the next two days I cleaned throughout while running the washing machine perpetually. I didn’t bother getting any food in and instead headed down to the Gabbiano Restaurant and filled up there. Other snacks included packets of Cheetohs that were three years old, sardines and friganes (dry toasts also three years old). With everything bar the painting done inside I turned to attention outside.

Everything in pots was dead, the garden overgrown, while a structure I had built out of metal rose arches from Lidl bound together with bamboo and wire and up which I had been growing rosemary, had been taken by the wind a year before and deposited across the garden. Weeding therefore involved dismantling this thing as I went along. I cleaned up the garden and surrounding area and dug it over (with a mattock since impossible with a fork here). I then repaired a trellis that had been ripped from the side of the pergola and set about treating all the woodwork of the windows, doors and shutters. While doing this I found the ‘skolichi’ or woodworm had been busy. I had to cut out and replace a chunk at the bottom of one shutter and inset a piece of wood in one leg of the pergola.

Shopping next. I finally got some food and other needed items into the house. I also bought young lettuce plants and seed onions that I put in immediately. I ventured down to my favoured bar and was happy to see Yorgos and Kostis, had a coffee and headed away again. Still too cold for swimming and my kayak wasn’t there. I learned that Yorgos had put it in storage and would bring it out again once I was ready. But I still had work to do at the house and first I wanted to get back to walking in the mountains.

My first walk was hard. The seven mile walks I was doing occasionally in Essex simply do not compare. In fact, physically, I am much more active here in every way. There are more steps and slopes, and all the jobs outside. The rubbish here is not collected from the house but goes in a bin that is some way down the road beside the village. If I only shop at Lidl that’s similar to a shlep to the supermarket in the UK, but often I have to go into the town for things, and for a frappe, and for the joy of walking around in the sunshine. Already, with all this and the work I was doing, I was experiencing all sorts of aches and pains and finding it difficult to stay awake beyond 10 in the evening.

I decided right away to go on the long walk: to Voila (pronounced Voyla). One day I am going to write a book called ‘Walking to Voila’ covering my experiences here, the death of Caroline, the after-effects of that and much else beside. One day. Voila is a place I first walked to when fighting depression here. I felt pretty crappy one day and decided to walk until I felt better or dropped. Now I don’t believe in supernatural stuff, however, after crossing the mountains and heading out on some roads, the walking had its positive effect on me and reaching a junction I stopped and decided it time to head back. There I looked down and in the white line at the side of the road, in black lettering, were the words ‘Never Stop writing’. I think they were done with a stencil and had something to do with those who paint the lines? I don’t know. But those were some of the last words Caroline spoke to me before she died.

This walk entails a track with one steep slope and I felt that in my calves immediately. Next comes a slope up to the top of a mountain where wind turbines stand. This slope is over 45 degrees in places – the track concreted to stop it sliding away. It pleased me that though walking slowly I didn’t stop. I would put it as akin to walking up about twenty staircases. Euphoria hit after that on the top of the mountain and I shouted something about being ‘Back in Kriti!’ I completed the walk – past the ruins of Voila (a Turkish settlement with its ‘Tower of Tzen Ali), through the village of Handras, round a track to the village of Armeni, through that then back across the mountains past Agios Georgos to home. In all about 8 miles. Midday I slept for about three hours. I then went to bed at about 9PM and slept for a further nine hours. But thereafter I walked to Voila just about every day. 

To be continued.    

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Book Signing

I will be signing copies of The Warship at Forbidden Planet London on Wednesday 1st May from 18.00 till 19.00. The link is here.

Their nemesis lies in wait . . .

Orlandine has destroyed the alien Jain super-soldier by deploying an actual black hole. And now that same weapon hoovers up clouds of lethal Jain technology, swarming within the deadly accretion disc’s event horizon. All seems just as she planned. Yet behind her back, forces incite rebellion on her home world, planning her assassination.

Neal Asher was born 1961 in Billericay, Essex, the son of a school teacher and a lecturer in applied mathematics who were also SF aficionados.

Prior to 2000 the Asher had stories accepted by British small press SF and fantasy magazines but post 2000 his writing career took flight. The majority of his novels are set within one future history, known as the Polity universe. The Polity encompasses many classic science fiction tropes including world-ruling artificial intelligences, androids, hive minds and aliens.

Wednesday, April 03, 2019

The Warship on Audible

I’m happy to say Peter Noble will be reading the audiobook of THE WARSHIP. But, as Peter is booked up, the audio will be released a little after the physical book - on 13th June. But stay tuned for earlier extracts as soon as it's recorded.

Friday, March 29, 2019

Senolytic Self-Experiments

I’ve written about this before but I think it worth going over again to clarify it in my own mind and for the interest of others.

Over the last few years I’ve read a lot about longevity and increasing healthspan. I’ll admit this is not for the usual reason I read science articles (grist for the writing mill) but for selfish reasons. Like anyone of my age (now 58) I am at the point where, for some years, I’ve noticed things are beginning to break down. Over five years ago I was a drinker and a smoker. In my thirties when I drank excessively and didn’t really suffer hangovers, but they came and steadily grew longer. At one time I smoked rollups without filters. Chest pains introduced filters, then nicotine gum in the mornings to delay the first cigarette, and an inhaler to open up my airways so I could sleep. Anxiety and depression kicked in after the death of my wife. This stopped the drinking because alcohol is a depressant with the aftereffect of anxiety, meanwhile a bigger focus on health along with the arrival of the electronic cigarette stopped me smoking. 

My health improved markedly from stopping these and from years of exercise to counter the anxiety. My anxiety waned and this steadily revealed that even with the improvement in my health, aging was having its effects, of course. Throughout this time, for the anxiety and looking for health improvements, I investigated and took all sorts of vitamins, herbal remedies and nootropics. This led into reading about longevity and healthspan, whereupon I discovered stuff about senescent cells and the substances that target them, senolytics.

A senescent cell is a kind of zombie cell. It goes wrong and instead of entering apoptosis (cell death) it goes into senescence, which means it won’t die but it also won’t replicate. The theory is that it does not sufficiently broadcast its damage for the body to destroy it; that the partial shutdown is a response to prevent it becoming cancerous. However, in that state it produces inflammatory chemicals that disrupt healthy cells around it. More and more of these accumulate as we get older and scientists are steadily revealing them as a root cause of many of the diseases of aging. If only we could take something to kill them off. . .

A gobsmacking study on mice appeared. It had been discovered (somehow) that a combination of the cancer drug Dasatinib and the supplement quercetin were a senolytic. When given to aged mice their health improved markedly throughout their bodies and it extended their lifespan by 36%. Many people began experimenting with this combo and I too considered it. Unfortunately trying to get hold of Dasatinib is a risky business since it is prescription only. There are many places that sell it, especially in China, but will you actually be getting the real deal? I’ve also yet to see much on any positive effects from the self-experimenters. I put the idea aside, since I’m not dead yet, and continued reading.

After the success of the above combo (in mice) researchers began looking for other senolytics and testing them. Two were highlighted: fisetin, a flavonoid like quercetin but found in strawberries and piperlongumine a constituent of the long pepper. Fisetin it turned out was better than Dasatinib and quercetin, it also has no known ill effects when taken by humans and is a supplement you can buy. I read the mouse study and made the calculations – there is a formula to convert from a mouse to a human based on skin area. It turned out, that to do the equivalent of the mouse study in me, I would need to take (roughly) 640mg of fisetin per day, with some form of oil since it is lipophilic, for five days. I upped this to 1000mgs for maximum effect.

At this time I had also had further health improvements through fasting two days a week and dropping a lot of fat, getting some better sleep through using melatonin, and was still taking a variety of supplements on top of that. I also became a regular gym goer. So one must judge anything I write about this with caution. In no way have I conducted a carefully-moderated clinical trial. At the time I also found it difficult to recover from my work in the gym. I felt very tired all the time. I dressed up my response to this as ‘power napping’ but really it was an old bugger needing to take a snooze. I took a couple of courses of fisetin as detailed, over a few weeks, and felt particularly rough each time – like I was developing a cold – a had anxiety (maybe a nocebo effect since I aimed to kill certain cells in my body). Afterwards I just ate well when not fasting. Had it done anything? I thought not, and I thought that even if it had I might not notice effects. However, some weeks after this I noticed I no longer needed my power naps. This could have been an effect of fasting, or the melatonin or something else I was taking. It could all be placebo. But I found it encouraging enough not to dismiss it, and maybe try it again.

What percentage of my senescent cells did it destroy, if any at all? How quickly do senescent cells build up in the body? These are questions I simply cannot answer. I decided to try again on the basis that I probably still had plenty of senescent cells in me and the side-effects aren’t too nasty. Last Sunday night I took my first dose. On Monday I took another while fasting through till Tuesday (beginning with a dry fast of 16 hours) – 40 hours in total. I took doses through until Thursday. I felt particularly rough. I had symptoms of a developing cold again, a cold sore attempting to break out, feelings of extreme cold even when eating (so not an effect of fasting), a crappy mood and a lot of anxiety. I needed to have a sleep during the last day and that lasted two hours, followed by eight hours that night. I am now into my first day without a dose and am recovering quickly. 

Again I must make the point that this is in no way scientific. However, I simply cannot put the nasty effects down to anything other than the fisetin. This is also confirmed by someone else who has done the same as me. Perhaps such large doses just fuck me up big time and kill no senescent cells at all. But worth a punt. I will see in the ensuing days and weeks if any positive effects are noticeable. Meanwhile I look to the increasing number of biotech companies developing their own senolytics and putting them through trials. 

Interesting times.