Saturday, May 25, 2013

Artichokes and Teeth

Monday 13th May

I have to admit to drinking an excessive amount on Friday night. After wine and brandy at the Gabbiano I made the critical mistake, when back here, of deciding to have some raki. As many hardened soaks out there know: it always seems like a good idea at the time. I spent the next day feeling like crap and with an indescribably foul taste in my mouth and was of course telling myself, ‘Never again!’ In the evening, after an internet session down at the taverna, we strolled back to the house past and above our new neighbour’s little terrace. Anna and Babbis were down there eating and drinking in the typical Greek manner and invited us down. Both of us immediately said, ‘No!’ ... as in ‘No, please don’t make us do it.’ After some explaining they said okay, but then Babbis demanded that we go down for coffee the next day. Come Saturday we felt much better and ventured down to see them at about 10AM. Some nice frappes were duly served and we sat there chatting. Anna then turned to me and said something in a combination of slightly broken English and Greek which, with reference to my Greek/English dictionary I finally managed to work out. Many years ago we knew Anna and her husband (now divorced) and during one evening out with them she labelled me ‘the alcoholic writer’. What she had just said was, ‘You will soon see it is your destiny to be an alcoholic writer’, whereupon Babbis came out of the house with a plate of ‘aginara’, which is the edible part of a globe artichoke, raw, soaked in lemon juice and sprinkled with salt, along with a bottle of raki. It would of course have been rude to refuse a second time. Raki at 10.30 in the morning. *Sigh* Well, at least I read on the internet just recently that artichoke is very good for the liver and may even help it regenerate...


On Sunday night we watched the last season of Deadwood, impatient, annoyed... The first season, once we were past the language barrier, held out so much promise. The second season was a bit meh but we felt it worth staying with and were a little annoyed hearing it had been cancelled after three seasons.

The third season was when the writers completely lost the plot. From a writer’s perspective I can see where it went wrong. There were too many ‘characters’ that for some reason had to be given their own little story, some of those stories just plain irritating, and this resulted in a proliferation of irrelevant sub-plots. Additional characters were introduced when there were more than enough already. I mean, all that prickery about an actor’s troop arriving? The overly complicated and convoluted verbiage had grown. And in the end there was too much concentration on ‘character’ and not enough on the story with the final result that it all fell apart. That ending: the Chinese being armed, Sweringen hiring 18 gunmen, the other saloon guy killing for no apparent reason, the killing of the whore, the woman selling her gold claim ... what a completely unsatisfying mess. Deserved to be cancelled.

Wednesday 15th May
We went down to Sitia yesterday where I had booked an appointment to have my teeth cleaned. I’m not sure how it is now on the NHS because I haven’t been for a while, but my recollection was of a 15 minute check-up and polish then out the door to pay the receptionist about £20. The traumatic session in Sitia cost €70 but took one hour and ten minutes with every tooth meticulously cleaned. Next it seems I need a small filling and my crown replaced because my gum has receded – I’ll have the latter replaced with a ceramic job this time.

I’ve not talked much about other costs and changes here, and there’s a classic one I have to mention. Our nearby English neighbour outside of Papagianades looks after our car in the winter and, as well as taking it either for its MOT or emissions test, gets us our road tax. In its wisdom the Greek government has decided to save money on the printing of the sticky label to go in the windscreen showing that you have paid for your road tax. It’s now just a piece of paper you keep inside the car. This means that even less people will be buying road tax because now they’ve no fear of being caught not displaying it.

In response to the BBC-promoted idea that evil western capitalists cause building collapses in Bangladesh by buying cheap T-shirts, I hear that clothing retailers have teamed up in some ‘safety accord’. I despair. So are these retailers going to employ building inspectors to ensure the right amount of steel and cement has gone into the concrete buildings the manufacturers will base themselves in? Will they be scanning the walls and testing samples of the concrete in buildings every time one of these manufacturers starts up or relocates, in a chaotic country with a population of over a billion? No, of course they won’t, this is just another fillip to that good old white man’s guilt.

Thursday 16th May
Ah regarding that trip to Sitia on Tuesday. It was sunny but breezy with a scattering of cloud when we went down. As we returned the mountains were disappearing in cloud and were being crossed by curtains of heavy rain. When it rains here it rains. At one point on the road up I was travelling at about 10 miles an hour with the windscreen wipers going at full pelt and the road about half an inch deep in water all across. Of course, as is usual, someone wasn’t taking sufficient care – I had to circumvent a van sitting sideways across the road, past a mangled car and avoiding the fragments of both scattered all over the tarmac.

Hey, what a surprise in France? Vote in Hollande, a high-spending socialist twit, and the country ends up going into recession. What a shock that pissing more money up the wall and heavily taxing wealth generators results in the economy tanking. I think I made some acid comments about his election last year when he announced massive spending to regenerate the French economy. I can’t be bothered to search them out.

Tuesday 21st May
Penny Royal III is now past 140,000 words but, as I noted before, I’m going much slower now. As I approach the ending I’m finding I have to tweak quite a lot in the previous books. Certain characters have to be made more dangerous, others less moral while another one, who has only appeared in this book, needs to now be established in the previous two. In some cases this involves rewriting entire sections, in other cases it’s just a line or two to be added, subtracted or altered. However, every case requires a great deal of searching and rereading.

Meanwhile, on the Papagianades front, I stormed down to our noisy neighbour the other day and, with fists clenched and murder in my heart, politely asked him to turn his music down, which he did. The thing about this sort of problem is that you have to be smart. If I shout at him that may well stop him playing his music loudly, but it could also result in offended pride and a worse situation. If I drove the point home by punching him on the nose that could result in me ending up in a jail cell in Sitia or receiving a visit from some of his relatives. In the last case one has to remember that they’re so interbred here the relatives of one person can include half the island population. Therefore, the next time he plays his music, and if it is not loud, I’ll go down and thank him for being considerate.

Friday 24th May
Um, well, I don’t know when I’ll get round to posting this blog. The taverna in the village has wifi so I had decided to use it whenever I wanted to do something on the Internet with my laptop, like collect emails and post blogs. Both of these I don’t want to do on the Ipad because I haven’t found out if there’s a way to transfer anything other than pictures between it and my laptop. Now we’re spending more time in Makrigialos where I don’t like taking the laptop (I don’t like leaving it in the boot of the car where the temperature has to be not far off that for roasting potatoes) but do like taking my Ipad. I must make time, once a week, for that laptop internet connection.

Well, I’ve had my filling, which turned out to be two fillings, and I’ve had my old crown taken out, impressions made and a temporary inserted until the ceramic version arrives. It’s interesting to hear the dentists here (two of them – husband and wife team) using the word ‘caries’ which I’m guessing many English would not recognise even though it is an English word for tooth decay. It’s probably more commonly used in the dental profession. Also, following the advice given on my previous appointment I’ve been using those things that look like microscopic bottle brushes to clean between my teeth. This is all very well but, when you have all your teeth with hardly any gaps between them it’s almost impossible to get the brush between the back two. I guess I need this:

I opened one door of the cabinet and took out a small brushbot, inserted it into my mouth and waited while it traversed round my teeth cleaning them perfectly. Took it out and dropped it into its sanitizer, then went back into my room to dress.

Saturday 25th May
So, we walked into this bar where we met Mikalis the Psaris (fisherman). Stephanos, the owner of the bar, knows we’re not tourists and would be a handy addition to his regular cliental. His face was a picture when he saw that, ‘Oh my God they’ve walked into my bar for the first time in weeks and have got the nutter again!’ On the previous occasion it was a drunken Kurd of our acquaintance who fell off his motorbike outside the bar before deciding to join us. This time we had Mad Mike who was insistent on explaining to us that the two psychos who cut the head off a soldier in London should, ‘not live one minute’ and should, ‘die now’ apparently in the same way that they had killed, and that we ‘do not understand’. Well we bloody well did understand and told him so, but he had to continue his rant. Anyone not familiar with the Cretan man would have thought he was about to turn violent. It’s not that, it’s that they tend to get a bit excited. Then, before we could make our escape, he bought us each a beer we didn’t want, but we managed to divert him onto other subjects.

Back on the subject of the decollation: I saw that the police were doing a fingertip search of the area for evidence. Why? I would have thought two nutters covered in blood and wielding knives, a meat cleaver and a gun was evidence enough. Our taxes would have been better spent on a rope or, even better, the police that shot these two should have finished the job. To save on further bullets they could have used the meat cleaver, then found some handy spikes on the Tower of London...

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Showers and Sharks

Monday 6th May

It’s been boiling hot lately – 25C up in the village and 30C down in Makrigialos – so on Sunday we decided to go for a swim. It being Paska we found that most of our usual haunts were closed so tried one called by some ‘the shack’ (I tried translating the Greek name for it and its comes out as something like ‘service’). There we had some souvlaki before venturing down on their sun beds where, despite the umbrella, we were soon frying. Into the sea for a cool off, therefore... I have a feeling that we have been in the sea before at this time of year and my recollection of the experience is the same. It was too hot not to go in the sea but the temperature contrast was almost painful. I got past that by throwing myself in head-first when the water was deep enough (about twenty yards out) while Caroline dithered standing on tip-toes with the water up round her waist. I later took a swim to the harbour, checking everything unusual under the water because of someone telling us of a nine-foot shark recently caught off the coast here.

Tuesday 7th May
Of course when I write about our time here on Crete it always reads like Paradise but, unfortunately, Paradise has its snakes. The first snakes we encountered where neighbours that just would not leave us alone until I finally got angry enough to shout at them. At the time we got on okay with another neighbour called Yorgos. Now things have switched around. The neighbours that were originally a pain are no problem at all now, while Yorgos is a dick. He plays his crappy Cretan music at ridiculous volume as if it his prerogative to ensure everyone in the village hears it. Meanwhile some new neighbours have turned up between us and him. Three houses next to us are owned respectively by three daughters but have only been used occasionally. Now one of the daughters, after a divorce/depression/affair saga three years ago, has moved here with her new squeeze. We’re hoping they’ll tire of Yorgos’s loud music and shout at him in his own language.

Wednesday 8th May
After I’d polished off my 2,000 words yesterday we went down to Makrigialos more in hope than expectation of a swim. It was a mistake. It was hot up here and as we drove down it got progressively cloudier and cooler. In the end we found ourselves sitting in Revans buggering about on the internet, drinking wine and watching hardier souls than us braving the sea. As we returned here the temperature steadily rose again and we ended up sitting outside until sundown. Later we returned inside and got all soppy watching Forrest Gump.

Thursday 9th May
We had a down pour yesterday but, even so, the temperature was up in the 20s. It was really needed because after a dry winter and the soil here was like powder. As usual I did my 2,000 words then spent the rest of the day finishing off Elizabeth Moon’s Trading in Danger (brief review here). Later we started on the third season of Deadwood – it took me one episode before I even understood half of what they were saying.

This morning there’s a bit of cloud about but whether or not it’ll rain I’ve no idea. I wish it would. After just one day of it the plants out there are looking a lot better – rain always boosts things better than any equivalent amount of watering. And, regarding plants, as is becoming a bit of a tradition now, here a picture of how my salad veg is getting on just to annoy Heidi (next door neighbour in England) and my brother Paul:

Friday 10th May
Two days of cloud and a brief heavy shower and we wake this morning to rumbles of thunder coming from Sitia way. I suspect we’re in for a hammering but it’s needed. The downpour of the day before yesterday still left dry patches under various shrubs and other sheltered places where the soil remains dry and powdery. I am also still finding places for our waste water, while last year at about this time I was using it to wash down paths.

Writing: Penny Royal III is clear of 130,000 words but I’m now working a bit slower as I chop out large chunks of text and shift them around. It’s very unlike me to do this but yesterday I chopped out a whole space battle, shifted it off the end of the book where I keep such ‘spare’ bits, then wrote a whole new one at a different location. Why? Because there was something the Polity AIs had to know that would stop them dead in their tracks, while there was something a nasty AI had to know (not Penny Royal) that had to put it on a different course. There are fine lines to walk here. I am writing about entities with superior intelligences who won’t be fooled my something a dumb human would miss, so they have to be a few steps ahead of the story. Meanwhile I don’t want to insult the intelligence of my readers, but simultaneously I don’t want them to be confused by what’s going on.

Saturday 11th May
Yup, it did absolutely hammer down yesterday and I finally had to admit that two of our roof windows weren’t dripping condensation but are leaking. Off to Sitia today for shopping inclusive of a couple of tubes of mastic for repairs. Then down to the taverna this afternoon to put up this blog post along with the two book reviews prior to it.

Trading in Danger - Elizabeth Moon

Elizabeth Moon is a name I’ve heard in science fiction for a long time but I’ve never read one of her novels before. She’s American (and a former marine) and I may have come across her in Asimov’s. I guess the fact that I’ve now read one of her novels is down to the power of having a book, with an eye-catching cover, sitting on the shelf in a book shop. Now I have read one I’m happy to discover she’s written over 20 of them, and I’ll be happy to buy some more.

Trading in Danger has a slightly old-fashioned feel to it in that it could have been written 30 or 40 years ago. You’ve got the space ships, space marines and merchants, the needle guns and the ansible that were all staples of the kind of books I was grabbing from the second-hand book shop to feed my rapidly expanding teenage SF habit. No off-putting slide-rules are being used to calculate a ship’s course and there are concessions to the modern age in cerebral implants and advanced medical technology however, that there isn’t much detail about the tech you’ll find in the Hamilton GNR or in my books doesn’t matter at all, because this is about the characters and story. I began to care about the people quite rapidly, thoroughly enjoyed their interactions, and was engaged and dragged along in their story from page one. Highly recommended.

Great North Road - Peter F. Hamilton

It’s been a while since I picked up a Peter Hamilton book, mainly because of an aversion to great big doorstops. However, I really shouldn’t have let that effect me since I very much enjoyed his previous enormous tomes including a trade paperback version of The Naked God that made my wrist bones crunch every time I turned a page. My version of The Great North Road weighs in at over a thousand pages and, had I not started it in England and then finished it in Crete (with much ado between) I would have finished much sooner than now. Was there stuff that could have been cut without detriment to the plot? Well, yes, but that was world-building and thoroughly enjoyable. Did I find myself skipping any of this and thinking, ‘Oh get on with it?’ Not at all. Right from the start I enjoyed this look into this future and every time I put the book down it was with growing confidence in future enjoyment when I picked it up again. A great big sprawling enjoyable science fiction read. Does what it says on the tin. I finally closed it with a sense of satisfaction and the intention to now get hold of the Void trilogy...     

Thursday, May 02, 2013

Into May

Sunday 28th April

The new taverna at the bottom of the village is a handy addition for us here. I’ve learned that it’s called ‘To Avli’ which translates as ‘The Yard’. We like chilled white wine in this climate while the old kafenion down there was limited to beer, coffee, raki and soft drinks, not so the Avli. We don’t have internet in our house here because, until recently, every option seemed to work out at about €50 a month. Our only internet connection was a 20 minute drive away, but not any more: it is now available just a couple of minutes stroll away. It’s free for customers, but purchasing a €2.50 carafe of wine, with free mezes, is no hardship. Civilization is now reaching Papagianades, which comes as a surprise since Greece as a whole is still falling apart, tourism is down, unemployment is 27% and money is tight.

Tuesday 30th April

Back to work today, which seems a shame what with the temperature having climbed about 10 degrees in the last week. When I say work I of course mean writing. I was going to start yesterday but I had one more thing to sort out for the house. Our way of stopping insects getting in through the terrace doors has been a bead curtain. After last Autumn, which I shall call the Autumn of the Wasp, I decided we needed something a bit better. The problem, however, was a combination of doors and shutters which, due to the thickness of the walls, only have 90 degrees of movement, while the gap between them in just an inch or so, which leaves little room to manoeuvre. So I spent yesterday constructing a fly screen hinged at one side and in the middle, secured with magnetic catches, and with chunks carved out to stop it snagging on various items. They work, but warped wood and some slightly haphazard sawing means they are still, ahem, under development.

Wednesday 1st May

Damn, not a very good day yesterday at all. It was over 20C in the house and higher outside yesterday but I felt cold and quite rough. Too much wine, too many cigarettes? No, in retrospect I realise I wasn’t treating the sunshine here with the respect it is due. Having spent most of Monday in direct sunlight with little in the way of protection my head was roasted. I believe I was suffering from sun stroke. Daft really, since we always warn visitors here of that and chortle at the lobster tourists on the beach.

After further work on the fly screen it is now past the development stage and working properly i.e. I don’t have to bugger about it every time we want to open and close it. Now I just need to tidy the thing up: fill in various screw holes where I moved hinges and catches, paint the thing, cover the rough edges where I cut the netting ... but I have to say I prefer this kind of work to mixing up cement to fill holes in the outside walls.

Thursday 2nd May

You gotta laugh at the white man’s guilt at the BBC. A clothing factory collapses in India and what do they concentrate on? Do they examine the rampant corruption in India, the politicians planners and local officials taking back-handers, the builders who increase their margin by putting just a bit less cement and reinforcing steel in their concrete, or the inspectors looking the other way either because they’ve been paid too or because they’re too lazy to get off their arses and step out of their air-conditioned offices? Do they buggery. No, in BBC land this cannot be the fault of anyone with dusky skin. It’s our fault for buying cheap clothing. What do they honestly think would happen if the price went up? Would the extra money in any way reduce the corruption and inefficiency? No, the people involved would just end up pocketing more.

In a partial answer to this a sour faced harridan said that the EU must place restrictions on such trade until such places get their act together. Oh yeah, that’ll work. The EU already has trade restrictions on other countries. Many African farmers, for example, cannot sell their goods to the EU. The result of this is less wealth heading that direction, and poverty. But that’s okay, because then we feed them money via the likes of the DFID making them dependent on charity. They can look admiringly at their fucking windmills while they starve. Gotta keep them in their place. Strange how those who are so active against racism cannot see how implicit it is in their attitude.

Rant over. I did my 2,000 words yesterday and I’m back on track. Penny Royal III has reached 123,000 words and I’m now into the end game.