Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Insect Porn.

I photographed these two up on our pergola and, my goodness, an insect’s life might be a short one, but it’s certainly a merry one. These two were at it for three hours in the afternoon and then, the next day at about the same time they were still there, so maybe they were bonking for twenty-four hours. But then, considering what happens to a praying mantis male after he mates, maybe the male here (cricket or locust) spent all that time figuring out how to get off without being eaten. Anyway, it’s certainly springtime because shortly after seeing these two we noticed a couple of birds on the nearby roof occupying themselves similarly.

Our ruin now has a roof. Laying the concrete slab, the plaka, took six people: one up on the roof spreading the stuff, one mixing, and the others hauling up big buckets of mix. Luckily the weather was just right for the job: cloudy with a few spatters of rain. The problem with laying concrete here, when the weather is mostly hot and sunny, is that it tends to go off too quickly and crack. It is also the case that after it has been laid it must be frequently soaked. To keep himself occupied after the job, so he could periodically go up to the roof with a hose pipe, Mikalis suggested we use my new barbecue. He got the meat and I provided the salad and the beer.

At midday the concrete was down, the barbecue fired up, the beers in a cool box. The weather had improved by then so we all sat eating barbecued pork ‘brisolas’, salad heavy on the salt and olive oil, fresh bread that was so good it needed no butter, and supping chilled bottles of Amstel. You gotta love the attitude of these guys to the working life. Caroline and I retired after a few hours and left them to it, then after it was all over, I went up to hose the roof four times. Mikalis, obviously concerned that the thing didn’t crack, also turned up in the evening and hosed it down once more. Right now, as I type this, I can hear electric chisels going as they take out the old pointing and remove the old render from the walls ready for repointing.

Now, this is a science fiction writer’s blog, though you wouldn’t think so reading the last few posts here. Sad to say, with everything going on around here, I haven’t achieved as much as I would like to on the writing front. But not to worry. Since I managed to do the last two books well before time, I’m three months away from when I should even start the next book. Zero Point has reached 19,000 words and the story is progressing well. I don’t really want to say too much more about it, since you reading this have yet to see the first book of The Owner sequence, The Departure, which comes out in August 2011 when I am to deliver Zero Point.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Ruin -- Part Two

The first work I was aiming to have done was to raise the height of the windows and door, put in another window, raise the height of all the walls, and seal the underground portion of wall at the back. The next job, which I thought would be silly money, was the roof. This would require new roof beams, a wooden ceiling, a fenizol layer (waterproof foam insulation), nylon and then a layer of reinforced concrete. The prices I got for both of these jobs were very good, so I told Mikalis to go ahead with them. He asked me when so I told him to get to work as soon as he wanted. He also did not require any money up front, and subsequently he, and two workers, turned up not the following day but the day after. The photographs here (dated) show the results thus far.

At this point I have to make it clear how good, how unusual this is. We spent the first two years here forever waiting for the Greek worker who never arrived. We’ve been ripped off on price, which both Greek and Albanian builders do a lot of here because, well, if you’re British the assumption is that you’re probably a millionaire. We’ve also heard nightmare stories about what some people have paid and, really, the builders often get away with it because the various ex-pats here are accustomed to British, German and Dutch building prices.

However, there are new circumstances to take into account. Greece is seriously in debt and the recent 95 billion loan the country received has come with some stringent conditions. The problem is exacerbated by Pasok having won the election last year. The Pasok government’s solution to a cash flow problem, like socialists across the world, is to tighten the screw on the rapidly diminishing number of those who earn the stuff. The result of course being that even less cash tends to flow.

Mikalis hasn’t worked in four months because, due to the taxes being imposed, people here are tightening their belts and putting off that roof repair or extension that seemed so essential a few years back. In Sitia, the largest town at this end of the island, only two building jobs are in progress. Here’s an example of one of the taxes: unleaded petrol is now 1.60 Euros a litre. Great way to generate wealth, don’t you think? Is it any wonder to learn, as I did in another conversation with Mikalis, that something like 80% of Sitia’s population is on some form of anti-depressant?


Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Ruin

Just a little to report this time round. My back is a lot better, possibly after stretching it a bit in the sea; I’ve sunk a water barrel in the front garden to take water from the shower and sinks which we now transport by bucket for irrigation; we’ve eaten our first radishes, lettuce, rocket and oriental red mustard; we are no longer using the stove – the temperature generally holding at about 22 in the house all night and outside during the day rising to above 25 – and things are gradually getting tidier. The main thing on my mind at the moment is the ruin around the back of our house (picture from 2 or more years ago).

We went to a ‘bring and buy’ sale at someone’s house in Makrigialos and a lady there mentioned she had a fairly new window for sale. I asked about the size and she told me it was 0.8 by1.0 metres, which to my recollection was about the size of one of the window gaps in our ruin. Enquiring further I found out it was a box frame with two opening windows and two shutters – precisely the same design as the ones in our house. At a price of 10 Euros I couldn’t really go wrong, so I said we’d have it. We collected it and it is fine – a perfect fit.

This then got me to thinking that I should talk to Mikalis, a Greek guy who did some excellent work on our house last year, about rebuilding the ruin. During the week, after our Internet session on Wednesday, we came back to the house to find a litre and a half bottle of raki on the doorstep. I thought Mikalis might have left it so gave him a call. It turned out that he didn’t leave the raki (just the carrier bag full of lemons the week before), but I did take the opportunity to ask him to come and measure up and give me some prices.

Mikalis visited during the day to check things out, then he and his wife came in the evening with raki, olives and artichokes (aginara, eaten raw with lots of lemon juice and salt). Not to outdone on the gift front he left us the raki we hadn’t drunk, which was about three quarters of a gallon of the stuff. Subsequently, this Sunday, he came for a further measure up of the ruin and discussion of the work.

The height of the windows and door needs to be raised, another window needs to be put in, the walls need to be pointed on the outside and raised to support a new roof. This is all before we even think about electrics, plumbing and everything else inside. For example, if we wanted to connect up a shower and toilet to the waste water and cess pit of the present house, that would require boring through metres of stone and concrete and probably wrecking the bathroom we already have. Better to install a tank beside the ruin and from that pump everything to a soak-away pit in the back garden since the plumbing there will only be used for a few weeks of the year.

I anxiously await those prices, which always scare the living daylights out of me.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Shadow of the Scorpion

And here'sthe French cover of Shadow of the Scorpion. Wonderful stuff!

The Voyage of the Sable Keech


The Road -- Cormac McCarthy.

In the past, like many readers of genre fiction, I have been overcome with guilt about my addiction and a mistaken urge to self-improvement. I’ve fought narcolepsy through the first hundred or so pages of War and Peace, I enjoyed my journey East of Eden, been mildly irritated by To Kill a Mockingbird and been surprised at my enjoyment of The Life of Pi and the The Story of the Dog in the Night-time. Throughout an adult education English A Level I was first repelled by Congreve, Othello and The French Lieutenant’s Woman, then told the requisit exam-passing lies about how I enjoyed Richard II and The Bell by Iris Murdock. So when Julie Crisp at Macmillan suggested I read The Road by Pulitzer-winning doyen of the literati Cormac McCarthy, I did have some reservations.

Upon discovering that the present state of my back prevents me from doing light labour, and that sitting at a computer for too long results in me being unable to lie flat when I go to bed, I picked up The Road and decided to give it a try. I expected to struggle through twenty or so pages of pretentious twaddle then, depending on the strength of my reaction to that, either give the book to one of the free lending libraries down in the bars in Makrigialos, or usefully employ it in our stove here.

There was some to criticise here. The bare bones writing thing was taken too far with the dropping of apostrophes, which grated, and the lack of speech marks, which sometimes led to confusion. However, the only pretension I found was in the praise the reviewers heaped on The Road. Superlatives abounded in the descriptions of this shattering, searing, utterly compelling, haunting, gripping, brutal, heart-rending story. One twit linked it to global warming and nearly stopped me at the cover, but luckily I ignored that and read on. The Road is about the aftermath where the ‘math’ isn’t really important. If you wanted to be picky this seems to be set in that other possibility-hyped-to-catastrophe the nuclear winter. The reviewer concerned was just going with the ‘right-on’ lazy groupthink, as so many of them do.

So what is this book about? It is about a man and a boy struggling to survive in a burnt and lifeless world as they take the road south, where the man thinks it will be warmer, or rather, it’s about carrying on without hope. It’s the black, white and grey of the cover, stark, dismal, bleak. I read it in about 4 hours and never regretted a second. I even forgot about my back-ache. Recommended.