Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Stirring the Mush

Wednesday 19th September

Over the last couple of years Nectarius, husband to Eli who owns the raki still and building next to our house, has co-opted me into the raki making. Since he and she don’t live here it’s a bugger for them to come to stir their barrels. This needs doing every day because the fermenting grape mush quickly forms a thick crust that slows down the process. My job is to go out every day, shove my hand in and scrunch up that crust, then dip my arm in and stir it into the fluid below. I was worried about cleanliness and the possibility of introducing vinegar bacteria, but the initial fermentation is so fierce this doesn’t seem to be a problem.

Caroline recorded the last rain of spring on May 19th. While we were down in Makrigialos yesterday it spotted a bit and we were told it had rained here in Papagianades. The roads were wet on the way back and when I stirred the grape mush I found about half an inch of water sitting in the barrel lids so it must have tipped down, bearing in mind that the barrels are underneath a metal roof. So, we had zero rainfall for four months minus one day.

Friday 21st September
There was a discussion on BBC World about the Moslem reaction to that American film (and the subsequent French cartoons) and the talking heads were busily discussing what the reaction should actually be. Just a thought here, but how about behaving like and adult and not throwing your toys out of the pram? I note that there was a complete lack of burning embassies, murdered consuls and riot deaths when The Life of Brian came out. There was also much talk on the show about freedom of speech and how much should be allowed. The answer is quite simple: all of it. This was basically what various Americans have been saying but the good old BBC interviewers weren’t very happy about that and tried to shut them up. Perhaps they were uncomfortable about the way the state has undermined free speech in Britain.

Saturday 22nd September
Wow, during the backlash in Libya against the militias the main target was the extreme Islamist group accused of the embassy killings. It was notable the lack of cries of ‘God is great’ in this protest. These were younger people in T-shirts and sunglasses with a lot less spittle on their chins, which were generally shaven. It was nice to see this attack of sanity.

I see that Mitt Romney has had to reveal how much tax he’s paid, and the fact that his worth about 250 million apparently means that he’s ‘out of touch’, while Obama is of course a horny-handed labourer. Now, just a thought here, but for a country that is trillions in debt wouldn’t you want someone in control who knows how to accumulate wealth? The implication from the Democrats of course is that here is a rich man creaming a fortune off the backs of working plebs, once again demonstrating how socialists fail to grasp that the economy is not a zero-sum game.

Tuesday 25th September
Enough of this political shit. I put down my ranting to me not feeling so well over the last few weeks and therefore having less immunity to some of the idiocy I see on the TV. But now back to writing.

Penny Royal II is definitely more than halfway through which means I’m course to finishing the first draft in November (maybe). This gives me nine months to do the next book and then tidy up all three. I am very much enjoying myself with this – venturing into some weird territory with forensic AIs, strange physical transformations, some games with the unreliability of memory when it can be edited, all of course interspersed with exploding space ships.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Ecko Rising – Danie Ware

Anyone who has frequented Forbidden Planet London in the past, either to buy books or sign them, will probably be familiar with Danie Ware. Good on you Danie for keeping your own writing under your hat and not bending my ear about it. Now I’ve just read an uncorrected proof copy of her book.

I found Ecko Rising a tad confusing at first but intriguing enough to keep me reading and the slowly introduced back-story began to clear my confusion. Being a roll-up smoker myself I could have done with a little more of that background/back-story earlier rather than so much focus on how a character called Lugan smokes his roll-ups. Next I was getting much more into it with Ecko on the move, but then the switch from an SF scenario to what is effectively a fantasy one (and on flicking ahead to discover the fantasy stuff seems to be most of the book) nearly lost me. It shouldn’t have really since any jerk reading the cover will see the words ‘cross genre’. However, a chapter titled 'The Monument' dragged me back in and I started really enjoying it.

Okay, you all know me well enough to know I won’t post a review of a book I didn’t enjoy. Generally I don’t finish such books so reviewing them would be unfair. This book had its frustrations for me like: stop moping and bloody do something will you Ecko, the way characters are introduced making me feel I should have read them in a book before this and some generally confusing scenes/conversations that just didn’t seem to go anywhere. But, the idea of the contemporary (well, near future) character dropped into a fantasy world that might be a virtual reality is a good one and well done. I like the contrast between fantasy characters and the smart-talking technologically upgraded Ecko. I liked the way that the reality of wounds in a spear and hack-em’ world was depicted. On balance there was a hell of a lot here to like, and I motored through this book. It’s a page-turner and I’ll be getting hold of the next one.

Stoves & Kittens etc.

Tuesday 11th September

One thing I will say about the Kindle, especially when down on the beach, is the speed of sales. A lady came over to us who we have seen here year after year – she and her husband take a holiday with their disabled daughter. She’d been told that one of us was an author and came over to ask about that, directing her question to Caroline. Caroline got about five seconds of fame before I claimed the position. We chatted with her for a while then her husband when he came over. About ten minutes after that he was lying on the beach and buying my books through his Kindle. Of course, my then nerves set in: I wonder what he’s saying over there? Is he enjoying what he just bought?

Wednesday 12th September
I’m lagging behind a little bit but Penny Royal II has passed the 60,000-word mark and is progressing nicely. I do get these stops and starts during which I have to consider where to go next or what to do with a certain character. Last time it was the latter and, as always seems to happen, I discovered I’d already laid the groundwork for that character’s story and, once his course was clear, wrote a couple of thousand words in a couple of hours.

Meanwhile, Mark Croucher, who I met during some of my Forbidden Planet books signings, has won a prize in Macmillan’s ‘Neal Asher Ultimate Reading Initiative’ competition. Here’s his prize:

Friday 4th September
What rosy-spectacled visionary coined the phrase ‘the Arab Spring’ and whoever thought the Arabs were fighting for ‘freedom and democracy’? All they seem to want is the secret policemen, with their propensity for giving people an anal examination with a cattle prod, replaced by fanatics who wants rip into those who fail to ‘respect’ their belief in a sky fairy. Those protestors in the Middle East need to understand (as do the politically correct and permanently offended in Europe and the US) that respect is not a human right, but has to be earned. All those protestors are earning is contempt, while destroying any prospect of earning one red cent (or pink pound) from tourism. It’s sad to see people throwing off the chains of autocracy only to don the chains of theocracy.

Note: there’s a large difference between respect and being polite or politic.

Monday 17th September
Ah the cloud is starting to arrive and I expect the rain will be along shortly. In response I’ve started cleaning up our stove here since both glasses were cracked and need replacing, and the whole thing is a bit grubby with rust here and there. As is always the case when I start on a job like this it’s turning out more difficult than expected. The screws into the clamps that hold the glass in place are completely seized in place. On the first door I had to drill down the centre of them with a small drill, grind the heads off, then drill them out larger and re-tap the holes. Of course a drill broke off in one of these so I had to use a Dremel to grind that out before drilling for a larger thread (M6 to M8). I guess all those years in engineering still have their use.

Tuesday 18th September
It was interesting hearing Salman Rushdie talking yesterday. As he pointed out, the protestors and preachers in the Middle East are using words like blasphemy, apostasy and heresy, which are all from a medieval vocabulary. The interviewer was pushing Rushdie, suggesting he had been a bit too provocative, but he wouldn’t back down. When asked about how we in the west should respond he was quite firm: we should adhere to the principles of freedom and free speech, and we should be braver. Are you listening Hillary Clinton?

And just to finish on a positive note. Penny Royal II is now past the halfway mark, and the disappearing kittens returned – the cynical old bastard writing this blog being wrong:

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Sauce and Skyscrapers

Wednesday 5th September

Somebody asked me on Twitter about my chilli sauce recipe. It’s quite simple: I put half a kilo of chillies and a bulb of garlic through a food processor (green bits removed from the chillies and the garlic peeled, obviously). This lot goes into a saucepan with two cups of vinegar and two cups of sugar and a dessert spoon full of salt. I bring this to the boil for about five minutes, take it off the boil to stir in corn flour (mixed with a bit of cold water) to thicken it, boil it up again then put it into hot jars or bottles – use those with metal lids. This is the basic recipe but variations include adding red peppers or tomatoes to bulk it out and bring the heat down a bit, and another recent variation where I’ve added root ginger which adds another dimension to the heat. I might also try adding Cretan basil too since masses of the stuff grows here. I also heard about a chilli dressing in which peaches are used and, since we’ll be getting good crops of peaches henceforth, I might try something with them. Here’s our very first crop:

Saturday 8th September
I just watched a program on BBC World about Shanghai which was quite interesting and rather confirms my contention that in the next ten years we’ll be seeing Chinese on the beach here and buying holiday homes in the surrounding area. However, I just kept on cringing every time I heard the tagline of this program: ‘Shanghai, the city where skyscrapers grow faster than trees’. No shit Sherlock! Whoever made that one up really needs to get out of the office, and out of the city a bit more. Perhaps the BBC should employ David Bellamy as an advisor, ho ho. To be quite crass, if skyscrapers didn’t grow faster than trees those aeroplanes would have missed the World Trade Centre by several thousand feet.

Monday 10th September
Francios Hollande claims he will turn the French economy round in two years. Apparently, against all reason and the wisdom of Keynesian economics, pissing money up the wall by employing more public sector workers and driving the ‘super rich’ out of the country with a 75% tax rate doesn’t seem to work. He’s now got to make about 30 billion in cuts. Socialists talking economics would be hilarious if they didn’t get into power. As it is Hollande is like a donkey claiming to know how to drive a truck.

The paralympic games have been the most successful ever. ‘This success must be placed at the feet of athletes like Oscar Pistorius.’ Really, some BBC presenters really need to think very hard about what comes out of their mouths.

Tuesday 11th September
Ah, recovering at last. I had an infection in my eye for a few days and generally felt quite rough (hence the tetchiness of the comments above) then, as I was recovering, we went for a meal at the Gabbiano and came back here with a litre of cinnamon raki, which we polished off that evening. The next day we went along to a charity event to raise money for a dog’s home here, whereupon I drank far too much wine. So, a couple of days feeling rough because of a bug followed by a couple more that were my own fault. Back to work.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Into September

Wednesday 29th August

Apparently, after four decades of study, scientists have concluded that cannabis smoking when you’re young will reduce your IQ. Putting aside how laughable IQ tests are in the first place I wonder what they could possibly have used as a control in such a study. I also have to wonder, as is so often the case in many ‘studies’, if those old favourites ‘correlation is not causation’ and ‘confirmation bias’ are raising their ugly heads. I would suggest that a forty-year study of the effects of cannabis smoking on intelligence was not aimed at proving that there is no effect. How do you prove someone is thick because they smoke lots of weed as opposed to smoking lots of weed because they’re thick?

Apparently tropical storm Isaac has political implications. It delayed the election of Mitt Romney to the leadership of the Republican Party. It’s not quite a hurricane yet but the connection is there to hurricane Katrina because it’s, well, a storm. George Bush is a Republican and he didn’t do enough in response to Katrina, therefore, if you’re still following this tenuous thread, it can be seen that Mitt Romney will have to answer some hard questions about his attitude to hurricanes, or tropical storms, or something. Not much in the way of bias and agenda then in this report from the Obama-worshipping BBC. To top this off, Mitt Romney the ‘multi-millionaire’ is also aloof from the American people. I look forward with bated breath to the BBC examination of just how much President Obama is worth now.

I note now that Isaac is hitting New Orleans with winds gusting to 130 kilometres an hour and is being described as a hurricane. So in real money that’s 81.25 miles an hour so makes it to hurricane status by 6.25 miles an hour. Phew. Those damned Republicans.

Thursday 30th August
Ah, Isaac has now been downgraded to a tropical storm but is still ‘lashing’ or ‘battering’ New Orleans. I also see that water has been flowing over the levees again and flooding out some houses. So will the Democrats be blamed for this inadequate work?

Meanwhile the wind that arrived here on Tuesday blasted all that day, throughout the night then into the following morning. When we went down to Makrigialos on the Wednesday most umbrellas were folded down, the beach abandoned and only diehards in the sea. However, the wind was dying and my prediction for the wedding at Revans bar was wrong. They got really lucky, since over the summer when that wind arrived it blew for a minimum of four days. On this day it just died off. We took a look in the bar before heading off for a meal, then afterwards took some photos, and very nice it looked too.

Friday 31st August
With the wind having chilled things down a bit and summer heading towards its end it’s not so pleasant sitting outside so much (up here), so we settled down to watch a film Caroline had bought. This was The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, which I found enjoyable, but with some qualms. There seemed moments of desperation in the plotting, it was a tad chaotic, various excellent actors seemed to be playing caricatures of themselves and the apparent aim to capture the essence of India, old age and alienation, failed. Meanwhile Caroline, who had read the book, was baffled and said she remembered very little of what was going on from the book.

The book was here so I thought I’d give it a go. It was wise, sometimes sad, often funny enough to have me laugh out loud and perhaps beyond the grasp of those who’ve yet to feel intimations of mortality. It was also a little chaotic and not some easy straight line plot. Like the film it tried to capture some essence of India, the realities of old age and alienation, but it succeeded. It was about feelings, human relationships and life, really, and it was excellent. But in the book there was no homosexual high court judge seeking out an old Indian lover. No one went there for a hip operation. No pensioner got a job in a call centre. In fact the list of things that happened in the film and did not happen in the book runs just about all the way through it. The only connections are that some characters had the same names and there was a Marigold hotel some pensioners went to. Read the book and enjoy it, watch the film and enjoy that too but in your mind call it The Marigold Hotel Revisited by Posturing Actors.

Monday 3rd September
If I needed any further proof that dancing to the Wii is effective then I have it now. Throughout August, because of eating out so much what with visitors here, my weight steadily increased (as did my girth), despite my swimming for miles each week. Even after we stopped eating out it just hung on. Four days now of dancing to the Wii for half an hour a day and it’s already heading down again, being the lowest it’s been today since early August. Really, if you can get past feeling like a berk, I recommend it.

Penny Royal II is now past 50,000 words and I am having fun with it. As I pointed out to Caroline, after polishing off my last 2,000 words in a couple of hours, there’s nothing like a good space battle to get the juices flowing ... so to speak.

Tuesday 4th September
Damn but it’s easy to sit up here in the mountains at this time of year and think that the warmth is all but over. The house temperature has been a steady 25C, the temperature outside not much higher during the day and plummeting to 21C in the evening. Of course this kind of warmth would be very welcome during an English summer but here acclimatization has to be taken into account: when you’ve been used to the high twenties and it not dropping much below that in the evening you tend to start piling on the clothing. Then there’s the difference between the mountains and the coast. We went down to Makrigialos yesterday to find a temperature of 34C and a nice warm sea.