Monday, October 31, 2011

Okay, One More from Crete

Wednesday 26th October

Ah, maybe we’ll be getting one more Internet session in before returning to England.

On a slightly depressing day in which I needed to escape my skull for a while I sat down and read Terry Pratchett’s ‘I Shall Wear Midnight’. With wisdom, comedy, excellent characters and a wonderful story I was taken off to Discworld for a day, and thoroughly enjoyed my trip. With all that is happening to him, and him now having to use voice-recognition to write since he can no longer use a keyboard, this guy still hasn’t lost his sense of humour. I’ve seen the words ‘national treasure’ being bandied about, in one case applied to me (which I suspect many would question), but in his case they couldn’t be more true.

I see that the politicians are again getting together to discuss how much of a voluntary ‘haircut’ on their investment in Greek bonds private investors are going to get. I’ve said this before but again this strikes me as a strange use of the word ‘voluntary’ which implies a degree of choice. In a similar way to Orwell’s newspeak this I suppose can be described as govspeak, and the translation of ‘voluntary’ is ‘bend over and drop your trousers’. In fact, the same translation applies to any phrase, used by politicians, in which are combined the words: measures, investment, development, social, environmental, infrastructure, generation, welfare, public, international, job, green, business and many more besides.

Thursday 27th October
With the population hitting 7 billion, floods and earthquakes demonstrating by death toll how overpopulated our planet is, with the numbers of the unemployed growing, governments in debt and organizations like the EU pushing for more integration and more control, I really couldn’t have chosen a better time for The Departure to be published. Then again, with what looks like an outbreaks of sanity across the planet, with the ‘Arab Spring’, the steady swing towards greater freedom in previously communist regimes, the possible collapse of the Euro and the EU – precursor to the Committee – and with austerity measures including cuts to the state, perhaps things are due to improve. Yeah, right. These are just hiccups along the way. Overall, large parasitic governments continue to accrue power over us, the surveillance society ever expands, the population shows no sign of ceasing to grow (readers of this will probably see 9 billion in their life-times) and the first ID implants can’t be much further down the road. And when the software catches up with the computing, and robotics catches up with both of them, look out for trials of the first shepherds and spiderguns.

I just love the implications in Angela Merkel’s recent statement. I’m paraphrasing here but it goes something like this, ‘[unless we sort out the dept crisis] we can’t guarantee another fifty years of peace and stability.’ What started out as a ‘common market’ is actually an attempt to completely unify and integrate Europe so its individual nations don’t end up at each other’s throats again and as most who have read up on any of this will know, the politicians lied to us right from the start. One can see the desperation of Merkel and her ilk when they haul up and dust off the spectre of the world wars to threaten us. Now if the European Union was taking as its model the USA (as it was, not as it is becoming), I would be cheering her on. However, since most of its governments are run by socialist control freaks the EU increasingly resembles a fast-track version of the Soviet Union, so I’m not cheering. Already it is about bankrupt and looks to be falling apart, and Balkanization may well follow, but then, perhaps that would be better than it actually lasting.

Oh good grief they’re putting the killers of Gaddafi on trial? The world we live in is fucking insane.

Friday 28th October
We have now completely entered the time of year when we mostly stay inside the house with the stove burning, hence more in the way of rants here and fewer pictures and stuff about Crete. I have been sorting out a few things around the house: putting strips of tile around the bottoms of some walls outside for some extra waterproofing and sealing holes here and there. I also discovered that a water-based varnish I bought from Lidl for the wood here, and which didn’t seem much good for that, is great for the stone – soaking in, hardening crumbling stone and leaving a slick waterproof layer. This stuff was under €10 for two litres, which is a lot cheaper than the petra latha (stone oil) I used before, and it goes a lot further, so I’ll be buying loads of it next year.

Saturday 29th October
A large tub of paint here can cost €25 to €50 so, what with the damp here, it can get expensive. However, last year I saw Nectarius painting the kazani building with ‘asvesti’. This is a very cheap plastic sack of lime paste – it’s in water which is a better idea than the dry powder ready to blow into your eyes. I wondered how that could work since surely it would wash off during the next downpour. It doesn’t. It’s not as durable as the expensive paint but sets like stone and is, of course, what people have been lime-washing their houses with for centuries. It is also porous so allows underlying stone to breathe. From now on I’m going to use it outside, but I wonder if combined with some sort of PVA it would work as an interior paint.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Last Post from Crete this Year (Probably)

Wednesday 19th October

I cracked open the cellophane of a DVD last night and inside found a postcard I could use to enter a competition to win a further 10 DVDs. However, the closing date of the competition was December 2008, so I reckon it must have been sitting on our shelf for maybe two years. It was one of a number I bought a while ago on recommendation and because they seemed to conform to my taste. It was Pan’s Labyrinth from Guillermo Del Toro, the director of Hellboy and Blade II and, incidentally, one of those lined up as a director of a section of that Heavy Metal thing I was involved in. Despite being in Spanish with English subtitles the film was absolutely superb and I would recommend it to anyone. As Caroline said, it would have been a bloody good film even without the fantasy elements. But having watched it I do wonder about Del Toro stepping into the Hollywood machine.

The response of some would be that he ‘sold out’ but I perfectly understand how such a move would have been the right thing to do for career opportunities and his bank account. That being said I can also see that if Pan’s Labyrinth had been made in Hollywood the likelihood of us getting a glimpse at Franco’s Spain would have been remote. Almost certainly many of the characters would have been Americans, the setting would have been one Americans could get some handle on, there would have been more explosions and CGI special effects, and it wouldn’t have been anywhere near as good.

I see ‘the critics are saying’ that the Booker Prize is being dumbed-down what with, perish the thought, books being judged on their ‘readability’. My goodness, they’ll be judging them next on something as base and plebeian as popularity. The six books contending for the prize were shown and, of course, Caroline and I recognized neither the books nor the authors. Now, I’ve ranted about this sort of thing before, but it always bears repeating. There was this guy who wrote plays and, to ensure they were popular with the plebs and that the tickets sold, he filled them with kings and queens, ghosts, incest, love, betrayals and of course plenty of murder and mayhem. Then there’s another writer who started off writing stories for magazines and newspapers before moving on to produce numerous ‘readable’ books that gained world-wide ‘popularity’ (how dreadful). The first of these was an ‘upstart crow’ full of ‘bombast’ and ‘conceit’ according to one critic, while the second was sneered at by his contemporaries. They were respectively William Shakespeare and Charles Dickens. I just have to wonder how many of the books and authors being critically praised in the rarefied field of contemporary ‘literature’ will stand such a test of time. My guess is that they won’t, and that writers like Terry Pratchett and Stephen King will be retrospectively praised by future critics long after Booker prize-winners and the pompous literary critics of our time have turned to dust.

Thursday 20th October
There were riots in Athens yesterday, on the second day of a general strike, and there will probably be more today. I had to allow myself a cynical chuckle about one piece of ‘austerity’ legislation they’re objecting to. Apparently it will now be possible for civil servants to be fired. Ah, the poor little darlings. Now they’ll have to live in the real world like those in the private sector they’ve been parasites on for so long. Now, when they’re lazy, unproductive, corrupt and generally just a waste of space, they can be shown the door. Welcome to the real world!

I’m off to the orthondiyatros (dentist) today to have my teeth cleaned. The guy is a private dentist originally from Iran, and his wife the hygienist. I consider the cost well worth it since in Britain under the NHS a clean of the teeth consists of about five minutes of scraping, followed by some paste and a polishing wheel, then out the door and ‘Next!’ The clean I get here takes over an hour with every tooth individually cleaned. It is the case that only when you start looking at private dental (and medical) care that you realize just how bad the NHS is.

But I wonder if private or public medical care will make any difference for the son of Yorgos (this particular Yorgos is one of the brothers at the Gabbiano, and runs the kitchen there). We wandered in there for a meal a few nights back and noted how down in the mouth they all seemed, and shortly afterwards we found out why. Yorgos’s son, who is 17, had come off his motorbike and broken his back. A vertebra was shattered and pieces of bone shoved into his spinal cord and, because he was thought to be drunk, some people tried to help him up. In the hospital they’re to operate and, as far as I can understand with my limited Greek, rebuild the vertebra with artificial bone. Last I heard the doctors were preparing to tell him that the lack of feeling in his legs has nothing to do with the drugs he’s on and that, at best, he’ll not be walking for a year. At the worst he’ll be in a wheelchair for the rest of his life, and Crete is certainly not a great place for one of them.

I see that Gaddafi was found, just like Saddam Hussein, in a hole in the ground. Since he was found by Libyan fighters he didn’t last for very long after that. Of course I already hear some twats crying that he should have been captured alive, questioned and tried, and all his crimes closely examined. Oh, and right now they’re whiffling on about how he had surrendered before he was shot. Bollocks. He was responsible for thousands of deaths, including all those people taken out by the Semtex he supplied to the IRA. Good riddance.

Friday 21st October
After much partying over the night many Libyans are waking up this morning with joy in their hearts and enthusiasm to rebuild their society, and hand in hand they’ll venture into a brave new future. Then, as the party atmosphere dies, and as they start clearing up the mess, and as they start turning and threading the nuts-and-bolts of their society, they’ll begin discovering that the guys they were fighting alongside have altogether different enthusiasms and a completely different idea of what constitutes a ‘brave new future’. While some Libyans will be looking forward to voting in a democracy, others will be thumping their heads against prayer mats and dreaming of caliphate, of Sharia law and insuring western influence is forced out, and they, and others, will be gathering up guns and explosives and harbouring tribal thoughts of vengeance. Expect the bickering to start if not now then in a few weeks, then wait for the killing to ensue. If I’m wrong about this I’ll be very happy; if I’m right I’ll be utterly unsurprised.

Ah, it’s like coming home hearing the sound of electric chisels, the thump of hammers and the chug of diesel engines. Mikalis, who rebuilt our ‘ruin’, has now set to work next door. First on the agenda is digging out a trench three and a half metres deep around the neighbour’s back walls ready to seal them with a membrane and concrete. Little side jobs include chiselling out cracks and sealing them, lifting broken and badly-laid tiles and making repairs. Future jobs will, I suspect, include joining roof plates with steel and concrete, tearing up all the tiles to put down a layer of sealant, and putting down new tiles with the correct slopes on for drainage since two corners of the roof collect pools of water at least an inch deep. With any luck Jean-Pierre won’t have water running out of electric sockets and buckets spread throughout his house to collect water the next time it rains.

Saturday 22nd October
Apparently the UN wants a ‘full investigation’ into how Gaddafi died. Why? Why do they want to piss money up the wall finding out? Oh yeah, got to ensure their liberal credentials. Like numerous similar tossers appearing on the TV lately they have to frown and beat their breasts over such uncivilized behaviour. They have to demonstrate their moral superiority over other more primitive peoples. Of course these liberal pricks fail to realize that their patronizing attitude is tantamount to the racism they supposedly abhor. And don’t these same pricks also believe in equality? Then why aren’t they demanding investigations into all the other deaths in Libya? By demanding an investigation into Gaddafi’s death they are showing how they feel his life was more important than other lives. But of course they are all political animals so probably don’t like seeing summary justice dispensed to their kind, since it might be dispensed to them next.

So, the world population is going to be reaching 7 billion this month. When I was born in 1961 it had just passed 3 billion and in the mid 70s passed 4 billion and by 1990 passed 5 billion. The rate of growth now, apparently, is about 80 million per year – more than the population of Britain each year. This is why a major tsunami kills 300,000, floods in India or Thailand kill hundreds and make thousands homeless (probably because so many of them are now living on flood plains and so much land that would have soaked up the water is networked with drainage ditches or under concrete and tarmac) and why earthquakes, hurricanes and tornadoes now have larger body-counts. This is why so many natural disasters are such disasters. So the next time some ‘environmentally conscious’ twonk connects such events to the usual shibboleth or berates you for not sorting your trash properly or for driving a big car, ask how many kids he or she has.

Tuesday 25th October
When Mikalis and crew did the roof on our ‘ruin’ they first piled sand and cement on the roof of the house next door, then brought up a concrete mixer, then mixed the concrete, whereupon a team of six guys hauled it by bucket to the new roof. That’s the thing about building work in these villages: the work itself is difficult enough but getting materials and machines where needed can sometimes be even more difficult. I therefore wondered how Mikalis intended to go about concreting the back wall of the neighbour’s house. Now I know: he is pumping the wet mix through a pipe:

Oh, and here’s one of the builders in flight for the delectation of all those safety officers out there:

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

And Rain Like a Vertical Sea

Wednesday 12th October

I’m grumpy this morning. Doing my usual insomniac thing I was awake at 4.30 and just couldn’t get back to sleep. Next, upon getting up at about 5.30, I saw that rain had managed to get into the stove flue and sooty water had dripped over the tiles and splashed up the kitchen cupboard. This is doubly annoying because it leaked last week and, yesterday, I decided to solve the problem: the first section of flue sloped down as it entered the house so any water that came down the chimney and managed to get in the end would run inwards. I chiselled out the hole in the wall by hand to alter the slope of that section, then chiselled outside to ensure water coming down the chimney ran out of the wall (the chimney is set in the wall) and into a drain pipe connected to our waste water. I can only assume that our revolving French chimney pot, which has nicely increased the draw on the fire, isn’t keeping the water out, and that last night we had one of those ‘vertical sea’ rainfalls we get here. I need to buy an electric chisel to open up the wall to increase the slope of the drain and fit some kind of baffle.

But things aren’t as bad here as they are for our neighbour. Like us four years ago he is about to spend his first winter in a house that looks wonderful and is in a wonderful location, but was built before anyone thought of damp courses, has a soggy garden sitting against the back wall (three metres deep) with no drainage at all, and was renovated by the sort of monkeys who would sell you a car in England that looks okay until you get it round the corner, whereupon the filler falls out, the exhaust drops off and the engine heat burns a hole through the wooden piston. He has mud leaching through to stain the paintwork of his back wall, leaking windows and has already experienced the joys of stepping out of bed into a swimming pool. Later he’ll have the pleasure of watching his ceilings turn black with mould, and falling asleep to the sound of water dripping into buckets.

I’m still having trouble with the damned stove flue. I stripped the aluminium tape off the joints, dried and cleaned them, put fire cement round them and new aluminium tape. But there’s water still in the flue and in the joints so with the heat from the fire it buggers up the water-based fire cement and steams under the glue of the aluminium tape and leaks again. I’ve cleaned off the joints yet again and now have bucket under them while I keep the fire running in the hope of drying them out. Next I’ll put on fire cement and wait until it dries solid before putting on the aluminium tape. Ah the joys of having a stove...

Friday 14th October
Here are some pictures for Chris Haringa and others who have visited Makrigialos over this last year. This disappearance of the beach seems to be becoming a regular yearly thing. From hearsay I learned that this has always happened, but from hearsay I have also learned that the beach used to be twice as wide (possibly until they built a rock barrier across the harbour). It gets eaten away like this when the wind is from the south and there have been storms out at sea (apparently).

One must always take people’s assertions about what the weather does with a large pinch of salt. Weather changes by the hour, day, week, month and seasonally and it changes in cycles of years, decades, centuries and of course thousands of years and more. When someone told me it never rains here from June to August, I should have remembered that she had only lived here for three of four years, or when Yorgos in Revans was amazed by a heavy downpour in June, I should remember that he has lived here for a mere lifetime. Our weather forecasters can’t predict the weather, except in very general terms, for more than a week (though Piers Corbyn manages to do better than the Met Office super computer), so hearsay should be ignored. When someone cries, ‘This has never happened before, something major is changing!’ I should note that an ant here might say the same the first time its nest gets hit by the garden hose.

And here, four days later, the beach is back:

I’ve maybe solved the leaking stove flue problem. It leaked again on Thursday and I realized, by the position of the leak and the lack of rain, that the problem wasn’t really rain getting inside it. It is very damp here at the moment and the enamelled insides of the new flues are perfectly smooth. Condensation is gathering and running straight to the bottom of the flue and then into the joints, subsequent heating flexes those joints and boils the water in them, pushing it underneath the aluminium tape. I’ve now used heat-rated instant gasket on them and on the worst one wrapped round thin steel and a large jubilee clip, then the aluminium tape. Fingers crossed!

Monday 17th October
Well, using the perfectly unscientific method of estimating from how much buckets sitting out in the garden have been filling up, I would say we’ve had over a foot of rain during the last week and a half. The water butt filled up during the first day of heavy rain and I’ve now diverted the drain pipe so the water runs down the path to our house. I’ve no need to collect the grey water from the house, and I finished connecting up the drain pipe from the ‘ruin’ to take the water off the back garden. Thereafter I sealed various broken tiles and cracks (the second step between roofs is still in need of work and won’t be done this year, so there was plenty to do there) and now I keep checking the internal walls and ceilings in the expectation of seeing water coming in. I rather suspect our neighbour is looking for places where the water is not coming in, and is probably going to bed wearing a snorkel.

I see we have George Soros (the absolute apex of lefty hypocrisy with his righteous prating while sitting on a $22 billion fortune) funded protests on Wall Street and elsewhere in the world. The usual anti-capitalists are there, and all the sign-wavers are objecting to corporate power and profits, government-enforced austerity, governments supporting the banks, the rich getting richer and the poor, well, not getting richer, and a lack of jobs (and in the mix are a few puzzled looking hippies who dug out signs they used to wave about in the sixties). Some of what they are saying I absolutely agree with, and some not. Objecting about the rich getting richer is just the plain envy that is the engine at the heart of socialism. The lack of jobs should not even be in the remit of governments, and them creating jobs (usually in the public sector) is one whole chunk of the problem: using tax money to create jobs is like running a car by taking out the petrol, then spilling half of it while putting it back in again.

Austerity is a good idea, however, if that means hacking down the state sector, but it’s a really crap idea for wealth and job creation if it means ramping up taxes to keep the state sector funded. Even an idiot must realize that by putting up taxes you get a toxic combination of everything going up in price while people have less to spend. Supporting bankrupt governments is a mistake: we need something better than them mortgaging our future to support bloated parasitic state sectors. Supporting the banks was a mistake too: they should have taken a fall and those responsible should have been prosecuted for fraud. In fact (and I hate to say this), they should not have been allowed to fuck up so badly in the first place, because it’s true that they, and those wielding corporate power, do need to be controlled. Where was the legislation and oversight to stop them playing fast and loose with other people’s money? Probably either unavailable or unenforced, because the problem we have here is that our legislators, who managed to piss all our money up the wall and rack up massive debts, are precisely the wrong people to draw up the rules and enforce them. You don’t put paedophiles in charge of the day-care centre. What’s the answer? I think it starts with a combination of ropes, lamp-posts and politicians, but then that’s just me.

Tuesday 18th October
I few days ago I felt a pain in the sole of my foot and, inspecting it, saw what looked like a thorn stuck in there. However, closer inspection revealed a white sac on the blunt end. It looked like a torn-off sting from one of the scorpions around here. My foot was hot and painful for just a few minutes, and then it settled down to itching, which it did for three days. If the sting had been elsewhere I would have gone through the skin with my fingernails, but then such itching is the same with mosquito bites so nothing unusual. I never found the rest of the scorpion, and I wish I’d kept the sting to put under my USB microscope!

Raki time draws nigh and, in preparation, Nectarius was here with three Albanian masons who stone-clad the back concrete wall of the kazani. Whether they were going to clad all the concrete I don’t know. It might be that the heavy rain or Nectarius’s generosity with the raki finished their working day. Certainly the stone already up needs pointing:

So Hamas are getting a thousand prisoners back in exchange for one Israeli soldier and of course consider that a victory. It occurs to me that the Israelis could assert that one of their soldiers is worth a thousand Palestinian terrorists.

We sat watching a satellite channel called Persian Star last night, which shows English language films etc. The commercial breaks are hilarious and consist entirely of adverts for hair care products, condoms and slimming pills. Apparently using the condoms results in couples leaping through falling rose petals, one of the hair products is a miraculous herbal cure for baldness and the slimming pills knock twenty-five years off fat fifty-year-old men and provide them with a six-pack. I just have to wonder if Persian Star is broadcast in Iran, and why the people involved haven’t been stoned to death yet. Or could it be that the way the majority of the people live there has little to do with the jingoistic drivel coming out of the mouths of their politicians (rather like us), and even less to do with religious fanaticism and nutters with bombs?

Monday, October 10, 2011

Still Sombre

Tuesday 4th October

Every now and again, when we had Sky TV, I would catch part of an episode of Farscape and think to myself, ‘Mmm, now that looks interesting’. I never got round to watching a full episode and I never actually figured out what was going on. However, I did pick up four episodes of it in a charity shop and on the strength of those bought the entire first season. We finally sat down for a Farscape-fest about a week ago and at episode 12, about three episodes after Caroline, I finally felt that old Vorlon malady of my intestine crawling up my spine to strangle my brain. I like the Henson puppetry and special effects, and I could see huge potential for a story arc there, but the stories themselves are dire, and probably because of that, the acting was a bit naff and often sliding into silly melodrama. This will go to one of the bars here for someone to enjoy, or not. I’ll not go any further because life if too damned short for this kind of dreck. Such a shame.

Wednesday 5th October
It’s time today to change the stove pipes. They’ve been up for two years, are blocked again and almost certainly reaching the stage where rust holes will start to punch through. They are also the cheap galvanized ones that don’t look all that great.

There we go: I’ve replaced them with the enamelled version they have here, though admittedly mainly because those were the only ones they had in the hardware shop in Makrigialos, and I couldn’t be bothered with a trip to Sitia for the cheaper version.

The main galvanized pipes inside the house weren’t too bad, so I’ve left them down by the bin where, as is usual here, if someone wants them they’ll grab them, or passing gypsies will pick them up as scrap metal. And if not the dustmen will take them away. There’s none of the silly penalties for not closing the bin lid, or making sure everything is inside, or putting your rubbish out on the wrong day. That might be a bit difficult to enforce since one bin serves about ten houses, and the Greek wouldn’t put up with it anyway.

It’s a lovely October day today with the temperature in the steady mid 20s today and very little wind. It will get colder in the evening and, when we fire up the stove again, we’ll need the windows open to get rid of the fumes from the new pipes, aluminium tape and the releasing fluid I used while forcing some of the pipes together.

Thursday 6th October
Still on the learning curve ... So, until recently I’ve always called (and I’ll use phonetic spelling) a stove pipe a ‘somber solina’, which is a literal translation. Whilst asking Kostis, at Revans, where I could buy some new stove pipes in Makrigialos, he came out with the words ‘boori, booria & kaminatha’. I found the last of these to mean chimney, whilst also discovering that a chimney can also be a ‘kapnothokos’ but couldn’t find the other words under the letter vita (beta). I later learnt that the two words do not begin with vita, but with the digraph µπ which gives the sound of our letter ‘B’. A boori is a section of flue, while booria is the plural.

Meanwhile, being unable to sleep in the middle of one night, I spent some time searching for boori. I didn’t find it then but I did find ‘votsalo’ (beginning with vita) which means pebble, and now know that a taverna down by Makrigialos harbour, called Votsala, translates as ‘Pebbles’. The mnemonic I now use to retain this is an odd one. Just along the harbour edge from Votsala is a place called ‘Makis’, which is named after the owner who, we were told and now thoroughly agree with, looks like Fred Flintstone. Now Fred Flintstone has a daughter called Pebbles... I’ve subsequently learned that there’s another taverna in Koutsouras called Votasalachia. Now knowing that the addition of that ‘achi’ (or ‘aki’ on the mainland) at the end of a word reduces the size of the object concerned (the additional ‘a’ making it plural), this other place translates as something like ‘Little Pebbles’.

Friday 7th October
Here you go, this shows you how thoroughly entrenched science fiction is in my mind. Whenever I see one of these buggers I think they’re fascinating, but the first image to arise in my mind is a vaguely recollected picture on a cover of a Fred Saberhagen book:

Sunday 9th October
It’s muggy grey and pouring with rain today, but is hardly what you could describe as cold, the temperature right now, at 10.00AM, being 21.4C. However, we are keeping the stove on and chugging away at the lowest possible setting because it’s nice, comforting, and we like it. The problem here is that with the new stove pipes, well dried wood and one of those revolving French chimneys above, the lowest possible setting leads to a house temperature of about 27C, even with windows and doors open. I salve my conscience with the knowledge that wood is carbon neutral, we’re not using the cooker (everything goes on top of the stove, like today’s chicken, leek and butter-bean soup), and having bought the wood I’m helping to prop up the Greek economy (removes tongue from cheek).

Monday 10th October
Okay, so you have this space ship which on conventional drive can only accelerate to about half the speed of light. It does, however, have a ‘hyperspace drive’ it can engage when it has built up enough velocity. This time, when the crew engages that drive, it goes wrong and upon being shut down hurls the ship out into normal space travelling at nine-tenths of the speed of light. The ship then decelerates to finally dock at its destination space station.

Now, read through the above again and if you can’t work out what is completely wrong with that scenario, then don’t try to write science fiction.

Another thing you really need to know is the difference between speed and acceleration and that, in vacuum, an object travelling at say, a thousand miles an hour, will, without some force applied to decelerate or accelerate it, continue travelling at that speed forever. Go look up Newton’s laws of motion.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Sombre Time

Tuesday 27th September

After today’s Internet sessions we spotted the boat pictured sitting out on Makrigialos bay. Much was the idle speculation about who might own something like this, it certainly costing somewhere in the millions. Could it be Greek government officials cruising around Crete trying to figure out a way to tax the waves? Was it one of those Athens’ doctors with submitted earnings of less than €20,000, but palatial homes and one acre swimming pools? I noted that it probably belonged to a Greek politician and then, checking through binoculars, realized it must belong to a politician with a deep sense of irony. The boat is called ‘Integrity’.

Wednesday 28th September
There are more huge moths knocking about, almost certainly attracted by the scent of that night flower outside. This one was in our hall. I didn’t manage to put a ruler up against it before it took off, but it was about two inches long:

Thursday 29th September
I’ve just seen a news story about a Spanish town whose council is about bankrupt. A local garage owner is owed €40,000 for fuel by them, policemen are now on foot, mobile phones off and numerous state workers haven’t been paid for months. The mayor of the town said they need extra cash immediately and went on to bemoan how they must ‘cut all but essential spending’. There we go, he’s a cipher for all those governments now faced with debt: first they want more money to spend, and only as an afterthought consider cutting all but ‘essential spending’. Well maybe if they’d not pissed all our money up the wall in the first place on non-essential spending...

Monday 3rd October
Well, with a surge of writing on Thursday I had the satisfaction of writing THE END for Jupiter War, or The Jupiter Conflict, or The Jupiter Incident. I still have a lot to do what with the addition of a couple of sections and my chapter starts, an alteration throughout to a certain character’s attitude, and I also need to read up on some of the science when I have permanent Internet access in a month’s time.

It’s got cold enough for us to have the stove on for a couple of days. I note that as seems to be par-for-the-course on Crete (in the mountains in Eastern Crete) in the spring and the autumn that while the temperature here has dropped the temperature in Britain has leapt up. While you’ve been enjoying 25 upwards it’s been hovering around 20 during the day here and below that during the night.

There’s a machine with a great big cutting wheel which, over the last few years, we’ve observed working its way along roads of the island cutting a narrow trench to take a cable. At the start of this year it was between Irapetra and Makrigialos. Now it’s past the village of Lithines and more than halfway from Makrigialos to us, and will continue on to Sitia. I’m told this is fibre-optic for cable TV and Internet, but whether there’ll be a spur into our village I don’t know (we only have 60 or so people here and I doubt many of them want or can afford Internet), but I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

Tuesday 4th October
Interesting, I exchanged a few words with the neighbour’s boy this morning. Since school has started here I asked him, ‘Oshi skolio?’ (no school) to which he agreed. I went on to ask ‘Mono tholia tora?’ (only work now) to which he also cheerfully agreed. I found this surprising because I’m fairly certain he’s no more than fourteen. Certain questions occur: What is the law is here in that respect? Can parents take their kids out of school early? Has he been taken out because the family simply needs him to get to work? Are kids being sent home because of a lack of funds to educate them? Could it be that the family simply cannot afford the bus fair to send this kid to Sitia every day?

I remember the school age being raised from 15 to 16 when I was a kid (and how annoyed I was about that since I wanted out of that hell-hole) but I wonder how many years before that it was raised from 14 to 15? When, in fact, did school become compulsory? When I was there many of us would have benefitted from leaving early. My real education began when I drove my moped out of those school gates and buggered off to work. However, that might have been because of how completely fucked-up our comprehensive school system was at the time.

Wow, we’ve been thinking, this summer seemed to zoom by. How can it now be October? How can it be that we are now putting on the stove and contemplating our return to England? Well, I have a theory about that (and it almost certainly isn’t a new one). I just made cups of coffee for me and Caroline. This is something I’ve done thousands of times before but, of course, I cannot remember every occasion. My long-term memory just retains a general file we can call ‘making coffee in Crete’ while my short-term memory either discards the most recent example of it, or doesn’t bother to record it at all. (This last is just like on those occasions we’ve all experienced when we arrive at work and just don’t remember the journey at all, or when we have that moment of panic about turning off the cooker, but always have.)

I’d also submit that because every occasion of ‘making coffee in Crete’ is not added to my long-term memory, the time stamp isn’t either, so my perception of the day is shortened by the few minutes it took me to make that coffee. Time seems to pass more swiftly as we get older because, as we get older, we have done more and thus there is more unrecorded repetition in our lives. Therefore, if we want to slow down our perceived passage of time, we need to do different stuff, learn new things and break entrenched patterns of behaviour. This is also why many older people tend to have an inability to change, absorb new ideas or think out of the box – the repetition leads to hard-wiring.

On a Departure

On a previous post someone who signed in as Northern Fop had this to say in the comments section, and I’ve brought it here because my reply is going to be a lengthy one:

Hi Neal. I'm a long-time fan so I was a little taken aback by the negative reviews "The Departure" has received on Amazon. I was curious how a writer (well actually, you) deals with this.

Do you ignore it - after all, the book is still selling by the bucket-load - or try and view it as constructive criticism?

I suspect some of the whining is driven by the "but it's not the Polity!" brigade, but the reality is these reviews will have a negative impact on your income, which has got to hurt. [I get the impression from your blog that you're not yet on Tom Clancy levels of income...]

Nope, I’m not on Tom Clancy levels of income, but the pain is not about income. Even when I can logically rip apart such reviews, or when there are a hundred positive reviews to balance against them, they still hurt and feel personal. No writer wants his book to be disliked and no human being wants to be personally disliked. However, anyone who paid the entry fee, i.e. bought the book, has a right to a say. If what they say is constructive I’ll absorb and inwardly digest it, but let’s be honest here, when someone dislikes a book, their comments are usually completely negative. ‘Like’ or ‘dislike’ usually come first whereupon the reviewer searches for justifications. I can be as guilty of that as anyone and, because I know how it feels, I generally try to avoid reviewing a book I didn’t like, or didn’t finish.

So, what I have to do is just take it on the chin and carry on. The title The Departure, it’s now becoming evident to all, has a double meaning. It is also a dystopia which for me is also a bit of a departure in itself. The Polity books are all usually set on the Line – some border or war zone – but in essence are somewhat utopian and positive in their outlook: the people have all the wonderful toys of advanced technology, the prospect of living forever in a lurid and busy universe full of wonder. In writing The Departure, I half expected to be punished for ‘departing’, for there are those who feel betrayed when a writer doesn’t produce more of the usual. So why did I take this risk? Why not just keep on pumping out the Polity books?

When I look around at other writers I see many of them confined by their fans, by their publishers, and by fear of failure, to a single narrow milieu. Continuing to write the same thing they can become dry and stale, and quite often just fade away. Also, those who followed their initial success with lots more of the same, are always punished for daring to venture off into something different. After the lengthy Thomas Covenant fantasy, Stephen Donaldson tried science fiction and got pilloried (though I’m going to be reading his first two SF books soon). Martina Cole, trapped in her narrow London gangland milieu, is being steadily dropped by her fans. And I’m sure you can all also think of writers who produced one excellent series, then seemed to just disappear.

Because of this, right from the start I tried to keep myself out of the trap. This is why you didn’t get the Cormac series delivered one book after another, or the Spatterjay series, and why various outliers like Hilldiggers and Cowl were also dropped into the mix. In itself this wasn’t too risky, since most were Polity books, but I can see how, if I had written the Cormac series first then followed it with the Spatterjay series, there would have been those protesting the change and demanding another Cormac book. I did take a risk with Cowl and, when I delivered it, an editor’s response to someone else was, ‘We might have made a mistake here’ whereupon that book went on to be shortlisted for the Philip K Dick award. I took a risk writing Orbus in present tense, and that polarized opinion with some hating it and some thinking it my best book to date.

So, I departed with The Departure because I did not want to be trapped in the Polity forever. I took this risk because I didn’t want to become stale. I’ve opened up another option, another future in which to set books because I’m here to stay and intend to keep on writing books until they nail me into a coffin. Yes, I’m getting some negative responses, but I’m also getting some very positive ones too. I suspect that most of those Polity fans that dislike this book are not going to dump me at once. Maybe they won’t buy or read the next two books in this trilogy (which would be a shame because it gets a lot more sfnal), but they’ll probably pick up the next Polity book I produce (which I’m thinking of calling Penny Royal – I may have ‘departed’ but that doesn’t mean I’m never coming back to the Polity). Meanwhile, this book is attracting new people to my stuff, and it’s expanding my market, since many of those new people will go on to try my previous books.

Note One: I never judge a book’s success or otherwise from reviews on Amazon. Over the last ten years I’ve seen books there roundly praised in hundreds of comments, but have known, from those in the industry, how few copies actually sold. So, in answer to your question, Northern Fop, the reality is that there isn’t much in the way of a ‘negative impact on my income’ because of them. I’ll just wait and see what sales figures the publisher comes up with which, thus far with that visit to the top 20, may well be good.

Note Two: I don’t bother with reviews from those with a political axe to grind. I’m aware of reviewers who are quite prepared to attack me solely because my political views are contrary to their parochial left wing stance. Of course it’s okay for writers they agree with to wax lyrical about the delights of socialism and anti-capitalist greenery, but I must keep silent. Don’t you just love the stink of hypocrisy?