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!