Thursday, July 31, 2008

Strong winds again, still cool, and fleecy cumulus clouds. Does this mean another August downpour and a repeat of the time when Douglas took the roof off the main house and we had a two story mini flood a la the mythical Noah? Not to say there wasn’t, at the time, a flood in the Euphrates valley, but the whole world? The problem with creationists and fundamentalist Christians is that it is all faith, naturally, every word in the Bible is sacrosanct and logic goes flying out the window.

An extract from the follow up, DEAD ON TARGET, (written but not yet published) of the sequel, JUST IN CASE (written but not yet published) to DEAD ON TIME (Published 2007 – available on Amazon)

“In the first place is there any mention in the Bible of the billion insects both flying and crawling that needed to be accommodated if they were to reproduce after the flood? Some were naturally accommodated of course, like fleas and ticks and intestinal worms but it was a golden opportunity for God to get rid of some pretty obnoxious creepy-crawlies like mosquitoes and locusts but he obviously had no intention of doing that. Maybe he needed them up his sleeve for a few future plagues. Secondly old Noah and family might have been able to round up pairs of African animals from as far away as the Cape Of Good Hope, particularly if the hand of God was shooing them in the right direction, and they could have been collected from the east as well, tigers from India for example, pandas from China, even orang-utans from Borneo, but how in hell’s name did they get kiwis from New Zealand or kangaroos from Australia, let alone Tasmanian devils and tiger snakes! There was an awful lot of ocean to cross before the rains even started. And what about the South American fauna: possums for instance, and giant anacondas? Animals coming from Chile would have had to make their way the full length of the continent, all the way up to Panama, cross over into North America, continue further north into Canada, the Arctic Circle and then, those that hadn’t died of exhaustion, dehydration, frozen to death or been eaten on the way, then descended through Europe. Just how long would that journey take? Would they make it? Highly doubtful.

To be cont…

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Say What Shall My Song Be Tonight?

Many years ago, must be all of thirty or more as we were still living in Richmond Road, Hackney, I thought it would be fun to do a Victorian evening and that was to be its title. I’m reminded of it because I have just finished rereading my autobiography (all 251000 words of it) and hadn’t really thought about just how much music has meant in my life, starting with songs I first heard my mother sing and, occasionally my father who as befits a Welshman had a beautiful tenor voice which unfortunately he was shy of using and had to be coaxed to perform. His favourite song was Somewhere A Voice Is Calling. The Victorians were so full of beautiful song. All right, many of the lyrics were as corny as all get out but the melodies made up for it. Some of George Leybourne’s lyrics makes you wonder how on earth he got away with performing the songs on stage or even for that matter having them published, but the tunes are often extremely catchy, some quite haunting. I think in particular of Ting Ting That’s How The Bell Goes and The Broken-hearted Shepherd which I used in my production of Henry James’s The Innocents at The Wayside Theatre, Virginia. I wondered if Say What Shall My Song Be Tonight would go down well in Crete but somehow I don’t think so. It’s not karaoke for starters and most of the ex-pats here would more than likely consider it old-fashioned and boring. The evening wasn’t to be all song but included spoken humour, bits and pieces and extracts from various magazine articles of interest or, at least, what I thought would be of interest. Somewhere lying around there is still a folder with the heading and a few scraps of paper inside and ideas for which songs to consider using to make a balanced evening. We have a huge collection of sheet music, some songs beautifully bound in albums, others loose, others in published books, especially where folksong is concerned.

Alas, there is so much on the go, I fear What Shall My Song Be Tonight simply will never happen. Chris and Douglas have got themselves involved in theatre again – this time in Athens – and the future for them looks very busy. As for me I will sit here and write and, when the weather gets cooler, get back into the jungle that is the garden. To work there at the moment is impossible. By eight in the morning you are already in a muckle sweat and anyway I was never an early riser though I have to admit, when I have got myself out there with the fart of the first sparrow it has been a very good time. But there you go, let the sparrows have it.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Do not go gentle into that good night,

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

So wrote Dylan Thomas who, I presume, did exactly that when his time came. Hortense isn’t raging but she’s putting up a terrific battle in a war she cannot win. For the pasts five days she has been alternately sleeping (or in a coma?) and struggling on ever weakening legs the few yards from one place to the next. She has had little in he way of nourishment, forcefully fed some vitamin paste and every now and again a few, very few, licks at a mixture of yoghourt and evaporated milk. Her weight must be counted in ounces and I expect the breathing, so shallow as to be hardly noticeable, to stop at any moment. She doesn’t appear to be in any pain and I am sure she will go gently and peacefully into that good night, though every now and again I get accusing looks from those deep sunken eyes as much as to say, this is all your fault, whatever it is that’s happening to me.

Talk about the winds of Crete: we’ve had four days of force nine gales or certainly what feels like force nine gales even if they aren’t. Fortunately the winds are coming from the north and are cool, unlike those we get from Colonel Gaddafi that bring half the Sahara with them when the sky turns orange and everything, buildings, plants, cars, are layered with yellow sand or, if it comes at the same time as rain, yellow mud.

Last night watched the movie, Archangel and came up with the universal cry of not as good as the book. Well, the first part was because it stuck pretty close to the book but in the second part it went off the rails somewhat. I still maintain though, much as I enjoyed reading the book, that there is an enormous flaw in the story. What I can’t understand is why Beria, as soon as he found out about the child’s existence, and with all the resources of the fearsome NKVD at his command, didn’t set out to have it killed then and there, no matter how closely guarded it was. There was also a real humdinger in the train when the notebook was suddenly reintroduced – this after our hero had swum in freezing waters (which surely would have killed him), never got dried off as far as I could see, purchased a coat from a local fisherman to keep himself warm, (still dripping wet?) and the girl had come out of prison and didn’t appear to be full of the necessities. So as soon as the red folder was produced I heard myself saying, “Where did that suddenly come from?” Does the word colander spring to mind?

Saturday, July 26, 2008

It’s coming up for a quarter past eleven and there is no point in going to bed, not to sleep anyway as a trio is playing traditional Cretan music up at the village square which is some distance away. It’s amazing how sound travels here. It’s amazing how the Greeks have taken to amplification like it’s a gift from the gods. The motto is obviously the louder the better. Like mobile phones it’s everywhere. Crete has so many wonderful musicians available for all social functions and they all believe in multiple decibels. Once a year we go to a celebration at the village of Litsarda which is three kilometres away and, on arriving back in Vamos we can still hear the musicians playing. I have no doubt tonight’s music will continue till the early hours And what I wonder did the priests do in church before they were given the use of the microphone? So, if I’m to listen to music for the next hour or so I could always carry on reading, my bedside book at the moment being A World To Build by David Kynaston, subtitles, no surtitled rather, Austerity Britain 1945-48. I usually have at least three books on the go: a bedside book, a loo book, usually a thriller or novel, and another for the avli or breakfast room. Don’t really now what to call that part of the house. Breakfast room is wrong because it’s also lunch and dining room. Originally the property consisted of two separate buildings and Douglas joined them up with what we refer to as the avli, or courtyard, even though it’s roofed, with plastic and is full of exotic plants including an enormous weeping fig that has grown out of all proportion so it’s really a conservatory of a kind I suppose. A recent loo book was Beloved Boy by Henry James, his letters to the Norwegian/American sculptor Hendrik Anderson. I got it because somebody lent me a novel The Master which was based on James’s life so, when I saw Beloved Boy was published I got that. I also only got halfway through it when I gave up as all the letters carry virtually the same message and it got a bit boring. I could of course carry on rereading my autobiography for any corrections as hopefully it will be published later this year. It already has an IBSN number so I had better get on with. It is of course, wouldn’t you know, titled No Official Umbrella.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

A blog a day keeps the blues at bay – I should co-co! This blog will be of absolutely no interest to anyone who has never loved and lost a pet. For the past five or six days this house has been what the Victorians I suppose might have called a vale of tears. We knew it was inevitable but it doesn’t help, looking into those sad eyes and wondering what was going on behind them. Was she aware that her end was near? Michael, the vet, told us she would be in no pain and she gave no indication of being in any but it must have been more than a little uncomfortable carrying that weighty burden of liver cancer around. Her belly was like a football and as hard and she had lost all flesh so that every bone in her body could be felt. It was like a skeleton with skin and fur on and she had become a caricature of her once pretty self. And she was pretty. People would stop in the street to admire her. He gave her six months at the most and she lasted four? In fact when he saw the results of her blood test he marvelled at the time that she was still alive. The last three days she couldn’t eat so yesterday Douglas called Michael to arrange for us to take her in this morning to be put to sleep but, when we finally went to bed last night, she was on the snuggle, either asleep or in a coma, and when I went out just after six this morning she was under the mandarin tree, having died in the night. I went back to my bedroom to have a cup of tea and when I came out again she had gone. A weeping Douglas was already down the bottom of the garden and he dug her grave so that we put her in it about six-thirty. It is becoming a regular pet’s cemetery down there but no matter how many well loved animals you bury it doesn’t get any easier.

Unfortunately we think two more will go before the year is out. Hortense the cat is 22 and weighs no more than a feather. She can no longer clean herself so her fur is all in matted clumps and she gets very bolshie if you try to do anything with it. She relieves herself wherever she feels like it but fortunately most floors here are tiles so easily mopped. Sweeney, the dog, is fourteen, and her degeneration took me completely by surprise and caused much anguish. One day we were in the garden with her chasing her ball all over the place as usual, even though her sight was going and she had to eventually find it by smell, and then suddenly she never went in the garden again. She is deaf and almost blind and losing most of her fur in the heat. These are the last two animals we brought out from England, Bridget the cat and Candide the dog having gone before.

Looking into her eyes (was it human imagination or were they really so sad?), stroking her, holding her, I cried a few times while she was still with us but I managed to hold it in this morning until I phoned Michael to say we weren’t coming in, and as soon as I said, “She died last night” the floodgates opened and I howled and there was no holding back. I apologised through my sobs and put down the phone.

Michael is very good and very sympathetic. He’s heard me howl a couple of times before. This time I wonder the whole neighbourhood didn’t hear me

We will miss her, dear little thing, only eight years old. Good-bye Puccini, known as Pooch, much loved little dog. I’m so sorry.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

I have to admit to a slight depression today thanks to the mail. The Union Castle Line book that Douglas in the kindness of his heart ordered for me from Amazon is I am afraid of not much use. Very interesting history of the line but I am interested in only one ship, RMS Pretoria Castle and the routines involved in sailing her and about her passengers, especially on her maiden voyage in 1948, so it’s back to the internet to see what I can find. The reason why the book is of so little use is that it is a collection of company postcards with hardly any interiors and certainly no interiors of the Pretoria. If my memory were better I could use my experience as a crew member on the Braemar Castle but it was more than fifty years ago and my memories are all of work. Still, it’s a nice little book to have so thank you, Douglas.

A nice cheque from the BBC, Doctor Who – The Sontaran Experiment - (UK Income Tax taken off at source at 20%) but the second reason for the depression was a cheque from Raider for all of £5 plus for the sale of two copies of DEAD ON TIME. Whoopee! What does one have to do to bring prospective readers’ attention to this book? I suppose 120000 to 1 in any one year of English publication are pretty long odds but we have tried to get reviews in the UK, USA, South Africa, Greece, all to no avail. As DEAD ON TIME is the first of three books featuring the private eye Thornton King and his sidekick Holly and is meant to be a fun read if nothing else, and the following two already written and waiting, I could wish with all my heart that readers would take it up. It’s had good readers’ reviews on Amazon and through my website but it is still an unknown quantity out in the big wide world. We read somewhere that you shouldn’t try to sell your book through your blog so this isn’t trying to sell it, no no, just thinking of ways and means of putting out the news that it is a great little old read!

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Ceri, my sister, has asked me the meaning of “Blog” or how it came about but neither Douglas nor I know the answer. Perhaps someone out there can enlighten us? It’s a really weird word to begin with. Is it an acronym maybe?

Poor Puccini, usually just called Pooch – our youngest dog – was diagnosed a while back with cancer of the liver and is not the pretty little creature she once was but has a midriff like a solid football and no meat on her bones, all of which protrude horribly so that the entire skeleton can be felt. Her whole face has changed in consequence with a pointy snout that was never there before.. Our vet, Michael, was amazed when he saw the results of her blood test, that she was actually still alive and gave her six months, most of which is up but except for occasional moments of languor, she seems as sprightly as ever. Has lost her appetite though but will forage in other animal’s dishes to see what’s there, and allowing other animals to eat out of hers, very undoglike. Fortunately she appears to be in no pain which is strange because I was always led to believe that cancer is painful. I think of Douglas’s dad, William, who died last year of pancreatic cancer and who, in the hospital eventually said, “That’s enough of this,” pulled out all his tubes, fell into a coma and died. I remember our dog Isolde back in London who developed a growth (on the pituitary gland I think it was) and she was definitely in pain. She would come to me for comfort and me, in my ignorance and not realising it, would brush her impatiently aside and I still feel bad about that. Then one morning she appeared with her left front leg looking like an elephant’s foot and of course was rushed to the vet but, alas, too late. Such a beautiful, gentle creature. As Ceri has said, you get a puppy, or a kitten, and you are buying future heartache. So now we have three animals ailing; Pooch, Sweeny who is fourteen years old, and the cat, Hortense who is 22. Our last one died at 25 much to the amazement of our Cretan friends, the average life of a cat here evidently being about three years.

So I ask myself, if animals get sick and die, and even plants get sick and die, and even rocks can get sick, what was Mary Baker Eddy on about? And why does the church she founded have such a following of believers when it is obviously based on a false supposition? No worse I suppose than film stars who believe in the writing of a certain science fiction writer of dubious … ah, well, let’s leave it at that.

Interesting that Pooch’s blood test cost 130 euro and Douglas’s two day stay in hospital with all that entailed cost 161.48.

Could there be anywhere in the world free of corruption in one way or another? While the world is full of ultra-greedy “snout in the trough” hogs I guess financial scandals will keep popping up. British politicians and MEP’s seem to be the latest in a long line of I’m all right Jacks.

Greece and Albania evidently being the only two countries in Europe without a land register, Greece was given an enormous sum of euro by the European Union to create one. The money seems to have disappeared, apparently without trace, or so we are informed, and Greece has been ordered to pay it back. Consequently we, the householders, now have to individually foot the bill for this creation, face enormous fines if we do not, and some of the poorest Greeks are going to be in a lot of trouble. But the problem is not just in the financial outlay but in good old Greek bureaucracy because the three page form is so complicated not even the Greeks themselves seem to understand it, let alone us expats who are what you might call deficient in the language and no one seems to know exactly what is gong on.

For weeks The Athens News has been full of questions and answers and I have no doubt there will be a whole lot more. What for example do the people who have property in Greece but who do not live in Greece do about it? A Greek neighbour in Athens is so bemused by it all she has decided to pay a lawyer (adding to the initial cost but relieving herself of the burden) to do it for her and, thankfully, she will get him to do ours which still leaves us floundering as to exactly what we have to do, if anything, in Crete because there are evidently areas where it isn’t happening at all! Supposedly it will all be wound up by the end of September. After that beware the fines!

Anyone having anything to do with Greek red tape knows how frustrating it can be. At the moment my sister and her husband hope to visit us from South Africa in September and have for weeks been trying to sort out visas. The amount of information required is out of all proportion for a simple two week holiday in this beautiful country which, at the moment is bewailing the drop in tourists and holiday makers. The latest bit of nonsense from the embassy in Cape Town which was not stated earlier is for proof of identity of the person standing guarantor who two weeks ago dispatched a letter of invitation, duly stamped. The Greeks love rubber stamps – desks sometimes hold carousels of them and in one government office I visited the girl attending my needs had a shoe box full and couldn’t find the one she wanted.

When the electricity in this house was transferred into my name I paid a not inconsiderable sum for it to happen; for the box, the plan of the house, the signature of the man who affirmed the plan to be accurate, the electrician who supervised everything and gave the okay, settling of the previous owner’s bill and a required donation to the electricians’ trade union, all in all a hefty sum. Having paid this at the cashier I had to go over to a desk to have the paper stamped at which the gentleman extended his hand and said, “Two hundred drachmas.”

‘Two hundred drachmas! What for?’

“For the stamp.”

‘I’ve just paid out thousands of drachmas and you want another two hundred for the stamp?’

“It’s the law.”

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Two movies, well one and a third actually as the second one I couldn’t finish and switched off. The first one I would have switched off as well if it hadn’t been for the English subtitles we added ten minutes after the start because once again the modern bugbear of movie-making struck and we could not understand a word of the dialogue, well hardly a word. What is it about modern actors that they simply do not know how to use their mouths except for, I take it, eating and possibly other things, but certainly not for saying their lines? What one gets are grunts, groans murmurs and mumbles.. The whole phenomenon started, as most things seem to do these days, in the states, but unfortunately British actors have taken it up and are almost as incomprehensible. There was a time if you slammed a door, scraped back a chair or rattled a teacup in the middle of a sentence the sound engineer would demand a retake. These days it would seem the writer is wasting his time with dialogue because no one is going to hear it anyway. With Nicole Kidman usually I can understand one word in eleven. It’s no use telling me that, as almost a geriatric, I am deaf as a post because that is not the case. A little hard of hearing for which I laid out the magnificent sum of 1200euro for a state of the art hearing age which should enable me to hear every word Nicole Kidman says. I am informed that possibly her voice is in an awkward (that’s putting it nicely) range for my ears. Now it may not be entirely her fault. It could be the director, it could be the sound engineer and editors – background music has become thump thump thump in your ear foreground music with dialogue relegated to the far distance, or it might partly be the reception. Whatever the cause, and I still believe it is mainly due to bad diction, it puts one off movies unless one can have the cushion of subtitles. Take for example Saving Private Ryan which we actually saw in the cinema rather than on DVD, the only person whose dialogue we could hear was the actress playing the mother. Now if, in a scene involving two people, you can hear one quite clearly but not the other, where does the fault lie? The first film I am talking about is Signs, not a bad movie on the whole despite the holes but could I hear a word of Mr Phoenix’s dialogue? Could I hell! Take any film of the forties, fifties or sixties and you hear what actors are saying without over-enunciating but now we have what is called modern film-making, and don’t tell me it’s all about moving pictures because one still needs to follow the plot if there is one. The Victorians didn’t used to say as we do that they were going to see a play, but they were going to hear a play. I wish I could say the same thing about modern cinema. Less might be more but too much less fades into obscurity.

The second movie, of which I watched about one third, was called Mists of Avalon and was the biggest load of hooey imaginable. The myth that there was an English king named Arthur round about, let’s see now, was it 5th century? 6th? Maybe a wee bit earlier or a wee bit later? Who knows? With all his knights, his Camelot, his round table it has certainly given film makers a lot of mileage. Pity it’s all such bunkum. Oh yes, there was an Arthur, there was a Gwenivere, there was a Lancelot du Lac. There was even a Merlin and a King Llyr but they lived and died round about the time of the Emperor Claudius. There was no round table, no Camelot. Just because a medieval writer used the words “fought like an Arthur” does not necessarily mean Arthur was a medieval king. It wouldn’t be so bad if the films were up to scratch as films but, alas, mostly they’re crap. In my humble opinion so is the musical.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Following on yesterday’s blog, my sister e-mailed me a dozen photographs of Mugabe’s new palace, a building of such outrageous and tasteless opulence it is hard to imagine. The man is completely out of his mind. Only a megalomaniac in the fullest sense could dream of living in these marble halls. He is so out of this world I really am surprised that, like Bokasa before him, he hasn’t proclaimed himself Emperor. The cost of this building and its furbishing must have been astronomical in a country that he has evidently led to bankruptcy and starvation.

Yesterday our neighbour Jannis died aged 93 so this morning I will attend his funeral. This happens very fast here. You die, you’re gone, no hanging about. On returning from a swim and a lunch date we found their gate open and knew immediately what had happened without even noticing the coffin lid standing behind it so, as soon as we had parked the car and changed into suitable clothes, we went across to pay our respects. He had only been dead about five hours. This is the fifth death of an immediate neighbour since our arrival here but they have all been of a ripe old age. The family would have kept an all night vigil with him and I shall miss his cheery greeting of an evening when he saw me watering the terrace. Chris, Douglas and Diane will be on their way by ferry to Athens, all previously arranged and can’t be rearranged for the funeral especially as the reason for the trip is to attend the Bolshoi production of Boris Godunov, a once in a lifetime experience.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Have just finished reading Peter Godwin’s remarkable book WHEN A CROCODILE ATE THE SUN. I wonder if anything will ever be done about Robert Mugabe, now into his eighties, or whether he will die a natural death and someone equally evil, if not worse, will take over. What is it about Africa that it throws up these hideous monstrous creatures? Mind you, reading in Godwin’s book about happenings in the Treblinka death camp, too horrible to even credit that it was being done by so-called human beings, Africa is not alone.

Two things I think about from when I was a kid. One – my Jewish school friend, Peter Lasker telling me the family, mother and two sons,( the father was killed in the desert fighting with the Eighth Army), were moving from South Africa to Rhodesia because that was the country of the future. Mother of course must be long since dead but where are the Lasker boys now I wonder in the country of the future, modern Zimbabwe? Two – we had a saying which went “sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me.” A bit simplistic maybe but when one thinks of Mugabe’s thugs using sticks stones and, of course the ubiquitous AK47 in Zimbabwe and someone in Britain or the US wailing about being called a name they object to, for example “Paddy” or “Taffy” and receiving thousands in compensation for hurt feelings, it rather puts the compensation culture into perspective does it not?

I understand the aims and objects of political correctness but I so sincerely hope the pendulum, if it hasn’t already, will start to swing in the opposite direction. I’m also fully in accord with men and women being treated as equals, even though it’s perfectly obvious in the nature of things that they’re not, men cannot have babies for example, I am old-fashioned enough to wish that when, as a gentleman, I open a door for a lady or make a similar gesture, that I am greeted with a thank you and possibly a charming smile rather than a scowl and a growl. The former helps the day along. The later does nothing for anybody, male or female. And how about jokes that used to go “there was an Irishman, A Welshman and A Scot and …?” Perish the thought. It’s no wonder modern comedians seem to make jokes only about sex. There’s nothing else to make jokes about in this pc world of ours. Shame really.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Back to Blogsville after a short absence (since Sunday) caused by the excruciatingly painful condition suffered by Blogmaster Douglas. He had been complaining for a couple of days about what he thought was possibly a strained muscle but it turned out to be a vicious abscess in that place where the sun does not shine, as we used to say. Sunday morning he was standing naked in the kitchen literarily howling in agony and yelling, “It gets worse! It gets worse! So it was to the Health Centre for a pain killing injection and from there to the hospital. He wouldn’t let me drive because he said he wouldn’t be able to sit in our car and he wouldn’t let me call an ambulance because he said it would take too long coming. Anyway, I was by now in such a state I couldn’t even remember the Greek for ambulance although it was a word I knew perfectly well. Our own doctor had just started her holiday and was away but fortunately good friends were on hand with a large 4WD to do the necessary. Now he is back home and can perform his blog duty. There was no need for an operation as modern antibiotics do the trick and that is a great relief all round. Since coming out of the hospital we keep hearing of people who have suffered the same complaint, one as young as 12, though we learn in Wikepedia it is usual in the third or fourth decade of one’s life, so it would appear to be much more common than thought, though not talked about unless one has suffered it and brings it up in the conversation. After all who wants to go around discussing ailments of the a…….? It strikes me that when God tried to create us in His image, or so we are informed (erroneously I think) he either did a rushed or a lousy job. Whatever, something went disastrously wrong and he really should have gone back to the drawing board or waited until He had a bit more experience in creationism.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Happy celebrations to all our American friends and let us hope your next president turns out to be a great statesman and worthy of the position and not another George Bush. How is it that America seems to be in the habit of electing the worst candidates to be their leader and commander in chief? They’ve had Nixen, Clinton, Bush to name but a few! Mind you the British aren’t that far behind. From this distance it looks as though, is it ten years? of New Labour have sent the quality of life in the UK plummeting to an extraordinary degree, and these are supposed to be socialists!

Greece is a great place in which to live if you can put up with the interminable red tape, the litter, the graffiti, the topsy-turviness of it. Mind you all that can apply to so many places, especially the litter and the mindless graffiti which is sheer vandalism. The one thing it is difficult for a soft-hearted Anglo to live with is the careless, sometimes horrifying ill-treatment of animals and the fact that it would seem that for most Greeks laws are passed for people who don’t include themselves unless it’s to their personal advantage. Driving is a subject all on its own.

It would seem also that the Greeks to whom tourism and holiday making is a major contribution to the exchequer also go out their way to put prospective visitors off from the start. This is part of the bureaucracy mentioned above . My sister and her husband wish to visit us from South Africa in September. For their visa the Greeks require a letter of invitation stating they will be housed and looked after, medical insurance (that’s okay), forms stating mother’s and father’s full names (these intended visitors are in their late sixties/ seventies) plus a whole of other information and THREE MONTHS bank statements! Does any other country have such rigid requirements? This summer the big complaint has been the drop in tourism and it is not all down to the rising cost of oil or the weak exchange rate with the pound. There are other factors involved like putting up prices more than is necessary purely out of greed. There are cheaper destinations – Turkey for a start. And, of course, there’s all the red tape.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

More than half the year gone! Vicky’s three week holiday over in a flash. It is startling how quickly time is now flying. Douglas and I have gone on a diet. This is the third day. I think it is a Transylvanian diet for vampire slayers as whoever wrote it spelt steak ‘stake.’

The diet consists mainly of stake - whoops! steak, ham, lettuce and eggs. In other words 99% protein, almost the Atkins diet really. He got it off the internet. It’s quite amazing now what one can get off the internet, and very depressing. The amount of information on books, printing, publishing; there are hundreds, no thousands of writers producing thousands of books in English and how do you get anyone interested enough to buy the ones you produce yourself, starting with publishers in their ivory towers – money money money as the song goes, probably more than one. Of course one wants to make money but on misery memoirs? Chick lit? Now you see them, now you don’t Celebs? It was incredible that Wayne Rooney was paid £5000000 for a possible three books on his eighteen year old life and now a tennis player still wet behind the ears gets a whopping £75000 advance. Does that include the ghost writer’s fee? Meanwhile what is happening in the world of literature? Well … I struggled through Ian McEwen’s Saturday, a book so portentous, pretentious and boring it left me with absolutely no desire to read anything else by this author despite the highest praise he has received, especially I gather for Atonement so I will probably get the film on DVD.

Starting to go through the April/May CULTURES I see Jeffrey Archer’s new book has received a panning and in its first week went right to the top of the best seller list.. Po po po! as the Greeks say. I once tried to read an Archer novel that appeared to me to have been written by a not too bright sixth former so, again, there’s never been any desire to read another. Same applies to Dan Brown. Okay so okay, whatever the quality of their writing these guys are al laughing their various ways to their various banks and no doubt in line for prestigious prizes which still doesn’t explain their popularity. Oh, I admit The Da Vinci Code is a fantastic page turner (Douglas nearly suffered sunstroke sitting on the harbour in Xania whilst he was turning those pages) but the writing is crap. There’s no other word for it. Don’t know what editors are paid for these days. Am reading an American crime novel at the moment one chapter of which starts of “She met him at the door wearing an apron.” What kind of aprons do doors prefer to wear I wonder? Another book on Shakespeare (how man books on Shakespeare do we need?) refers to Hackney carriages in Elizabethan London. Oh, boy! There’s an anachronism for you.

But just in case all this sounds too much like sour grapes, what books have I enjoyed? Whose writing do I love? I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the Shardlake novels by C.J. Sansom. I’ve actually enjoyed the Harry Potter books; yes, all of them bar one, which I found a wee bit over complicated and unnecessarily so. I was totally enraptured by the Irish author Jamie O Neill’s At Swim Two Boys and the South African writer’s Embrace. I loved the Colleen McCullough Roman novels and am a terrific fan of Donna Leon and her Venetian detective Commissario Guido Brunetti and Boris Akunin’s Russian detective, Fandorin. There are more of course but these are the ones that spring immediately to mind.