Monday, March 30, 2009

I have been criticised, or given a slight ticking off rather, for talking so much about religion in my Blogs but as religion is always with us and impinges on most people’s daily lives whether they realise it or not it is a little difficult not to talk about it, even if it does spoil the party. (Never talk about religion or politics?) You only have to travel by plane and be forced to take your shoes off at the barrier to know that religion is with you, or at least its effects. Yesterday evening I found in the garden a pamphlet obviously thrown through the gate, and another in the letter box, informing us of a revivalist, evangelist, fundamentalist, whatever you want to call it come to Jesus and be saved meeting to be held in Vamos on April 9th. On one side there is a picture of Jesus, a dead ringer for Tom Cruise, holding out a cup in his right hand and his left hand making a sort of come to me gesture. Sylvester Stallone is standing just behind him. On the reverse we have a photograph of a meeting with the preacher standing at a lectern facing a mixed bag of obviously middle class Americans with open Bibles on their laps and all gazing at Mr Preacher Man with rapt attention. To the side of him is a table with three full glasses of red wine and three plates of what looks like pitta bread. Oh, boy! Goodness only knows what this display is meant to signify. The sixty four thousand dollar question though is, why would anyone want to conduct a revivalist meeting in Crete when 95 percent of the population are Orthodox and have been coming to Jesus from childhood? When we first moved here there was one lady just down the lane, long since dead, who was in fact First Day Adventist and who appeared at the door with The “Watch Tower.” However she was rebuffed and never bothered us again though we remained friendly neighbours.
Easter is nearly with us, the biggest festival in the Greek calendar, much more important than Christmas. There will be a midnight service when the holy flame from Jerusalem will light all our candles (yes, I do go to the service believe it or not though I have a sneaking suspicion that, as it is performed in secret, the holy flame is lit with a modern cigarette lighter but that is just me being cynical). We will kiss those friends and neighbours we feel inclined to kiss (some shepherds, like their goats, are just a little too hairy) and we will say ‘Christ is risen’ to which the response is ‘He is truly risen.’ Guns will be fired in the air and the bonfire lit, usually enormous, and Judas Iscariot is sent to hell in the flames. The year of the Afghanistan invasion, Judas was given a Bush Jnr mask. Now comes the truly superstitious and, if I may say it, ancient pagan bit. If you can get all the way home with your candle still alight so that you can make the sign of the cross in soot on the lintel of the front door, that means good luck for the year. If on the other hand a nasty little wind comes up, maybe unexpectantly so you are not prepared for it, and blows out your candle, woe, woe, and thrice times woe to quote a corny old BBC series.
But getting back to our revivalist meeting attempting to convert the Cretans to a more rational(!) form of Christianity – after all Orthodoxy is riddled with much too much ceremony and services do tend to go on for hours on end. You have to have stamina to be Orthodox, though if you feel like a smoke during the service, you can nip outside and have a quick drag before returning. Keep to the point, Glyn. Yes, well the point is very well put in an article by George Zarkadakis (obviously of a Cretan family if not Cretan himself) who writes in The Athens News – ‘Just as Darwin predicted, the reaction to his ideas from religious believers was a combination of denial and ridicule.’ He goes on to say that evidently although many states in America had banned the teaching of evolution, when the Russians put Sputnik into orbit that was hurriedly changed, Eisenhower realising America was falling scientifically far behind the Soviets. So there you have politics and religion all in one bag. What’s new about that? ‘Congress agreed that the constitutional separation between church and state ought to be enforced in the schools. Federal courts began to try cases where teachers were persecuted by state school boards for teaching evolution. In a series of famous rulings the courts defended science and declared “creationism to be religion, not science. And yet, despite all that, recent polls indicate that only 14 percent of Americans believe in evolution whereas nearly 45 percent completely trust the Biblical version of Adam and Eve and the repacked form of creationism, intelligent design. It seems that no matter what Federal courts decide and what scientists publicly decry, minds are next to impossible to change. Abandoning scientific enquiry, rejecting evidence whenever it clashes with scripture, sanctioning academic liberties on the basis of dogma and obsessed with “proving” religious notions can only result in our world return to the Middle Ages.’ And if some modern Islamists aren’t a good example of this I would like to know what is, which brings me back to the Greeks. Evidently thirty percent accept the Genesis story and another twenty percent strongly doubt the theory of evolution. That’s a pretty hefty slice of the population.
Zarkadakis’s article is lengthy and an excellent argument for the non-existence of God but I cannot quote it in full. He ought to put it on the internet where the controversy still rages in its usual manner, science putting forth arguments, the religious putting forth faith. I wonder how many will be interested enough to attend Mister Preacher Man’s meeting. Good luck to him, that’s what I say.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

This computer, nobody knows why and I shouldn’t look a gift horse in the mouth because it was given to me by Nick Urwin, has a tendency to switch itself off and on again whenever it feels like it and it can be extremely annoying. Consequently I don’t trust it and save work every few sentences in order not to lose anything. Even though there is automatic saving to a point if I haven’t done it manually when suddenly whoops! The screen goes blank it can then result in going through a whole rigmarole to get back on track which, when one is writing and the ideas are flowing, can be very grrrr making.
Way way back, more’n fifty years, 1957 to be exact when I was working in Ventnor on the Isle of Wight I decided to write a play the sole object of which was for it to be commercial. The result of course was crap. I don’t know where I found the time anyway to write a full length play being engaged in weekly rep, playing major parts and stage managing though I even managed some time to go to the beach. When I was young, I was a water baby. If the sea was there the sea was there to be swum in and you couldn’t keep me out of it, but I digress. Maybe I magically crammed forty-eight hours into each twenty-four. The play was called ENTER ANTHONY; the dialogue was pretty putrid, the characters two-dimensional cardboard figures but the plot … well the plot was good. So a year or so back, maybe more, one loses track of time here on Crete, I pulled out the old script and did some rewrites but you can’t, as they say, make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear and it still wasn’t very good as a play. So, mainly because of the plot, I decided to rewrite it as a novel where I could flesh out the characters and make them more than two-dimensional, hopefully make them real people, and am now over 95000 words along the way. Actually I had hoped to finish it a month or two ago but evidently that was not to be so I am still ploughing ahead. I stopped yesterday when I came up with a major problem but lo and behold, the brain works in mysterious ways its wonders to perform. I woke up at about one thirty and in my head I wrote the whole necessary scene that solves the problem. I did think of getting up and actually writing it then and there but decided it could wait for morning. Often one gets ideas in the night that in the morning are forgotten no matter how much one wracks one’s brains trying to remember them but this was too major to forget and now that I have written to-days blog and wished the world a jolly good morning, I shall write the new scene into ENTER ANTHONY and hope I can get through it without this machine having one of its megrims.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Have finally finished reading the Bruce Chatwin biography. It has been my last thing at night bedtime book for weeks (550 pages a few at a time) and what a fascinating story it is. Thank you Ray Peters for giving it to me as otherwise I would still be in ignorance of this particular life. According to Nicholas Shakespeare, author of the biography, “In 1998, paperback sales of Bruce Chatwin’s works in Britain sold over a million copies and he is published in 27 languages earning more for his estate than he ever managed to achieve in his lifetime” although one must say that in the last few years of his lamentably short life when his books did fly off the shelves he earned a not inconsiderable sum. Up until now I never knew of his existence so have not read any of his work though he is reputed to have been a major influence in English letters.
The debate God versus atheism rages on in full swing, various opinions from one hundred percent belief to the exact opposite being expressed on BBC News. No one has ever been able to prove the existence of God. The only reason He (notice how I’m capitalising Him, no blasphemy here) exists is because of one little word – “faith.” No proof, just faith. So of course I believe in God. I also believe somewhere up there is a place called heaven and somewhere down there is a place called hell where we will burn in everlasting fire (despite not having a corporeal body which, if we did still have, wouldn’t last five minutes anyway) for being naughty, wicked and sinful whilst on earth, every one of these naughty, wicked and sinful goings on being recorded and held against us on the day of judgement when we’ll all pop up out of our graves once more to face our everlasting fate.
It will be standing room only such will be the crush on this overpopulated planet. I also believe in angels, archangels, cherubim and seraphim. How else could all those Medieval and Middle ages artists have painted them so beautifully if they didn’t have models to go by? I believe in dragons, mermaids, Neptune, those naughty gods on Mount Olympus, fairies, pixies, elves and hobgoblins, werewolves, vampires, warlocks and witches with the most amazing powers that never stopped them from a ducking or being burnt at the stake. I believe in tree spirits, mountain spirits, and house spirits. I believe in the goddess Kali, Anubis, Isis, Osiris and there are plenty more where they came from. If you’re lacking a faith and want a personal pet god to worship you can shop to your heart’s content among that lot. There is definitely a River Styx to cross over after death and Cerberus to throw a sop to, whatever is to hand I suppose though what happens if you don’t have the right kind of sop I really don’t know. There are demons galore, monsters and genies to boot, though magic lamps and lucky horseshoes, rabbit’s feet and Cornish piskie charms, talismans and crystals are there to ward off the evil eye.
The Archbishop of Cantab has said that Sharia law will come to the United Kingdom. Does that mean punishments will include stoning, the cutting off of hands, public flogging and beheading?
Philip ll of Spain on his deathbed was bemoaning the fact that he had sent thousands of heretics in the Netherlands to the stake and his confessor tried to comfort him by saying it was all for the Faith to which Philip responded by saying yes but had he killed enough.
A devout Hindu living in Newcastle-on-Tyne has attacked UK law for not allowing him to be cremated in the traditional fashion on a pyre in the open air so that believers may witness his soul flying to heaven. I have no doubt sooner or later in court the yooman rights act will come into the equation. It wouldn’t surprise me either if this measly cringing appeasing government didn’t eventually capitulate though it would seem a much better idea just to offer to pay the gentleman’s fare back to the Ganges where the smell of his burning corpse won’t upset the locals.
Bruce Chatwin in the end and dying of AIDS related illnesses, after showing no signs of a religious inclination during his life, converted to the Orthodox faith. Like Byron he was a Grecophile so was it an epiphany or the fear of death?
O God Almighty who knows and sees everything, when are your children going to grow up?

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Here we are almost at the end of March, fruit trees have been in flower for weeks and spring flowers are everywhere but the winter dies out with a sting in its tail. I reckon the last three days have been the coldest of all and if it stays this way we could be very short on wood. As it is the store of heavy logs is depleted. However Chris has discovered a store on the beach and he and Douglas are about to make a foraging expedition. Waste not, want not, pick it up and use it. Heating oil has been ordered as the tank is almost empty and we daren’t turn on the central heating for fear of emptying it completely and no doubt causing something nasty like an air block. Hopefully the oil should arrive today. Roll on April. April is the yellow month when the wild sage and broom are in flower. Van Gogh would have loved it. He called yellow god’s own colour.
Douglas tells me he thoroughly enjoyed “The Snapper” so it’s just as well we don’t all have the same tastes. I didn’t find “Jimmy Rabbitte all over Ireland” particularly funny when I read it but when, at table yesterday evening, he said it out aloud with an Irish accent, we fell about. Obviously his North of England roots are closer to the Irish than my hybrid lot are.
I once read somewhere that, when a person reaches my ripe old age, if he or she has half a dozen friends that go back twenty years or more they can consider themselves extremely lucky. Guess I am one of the lucky ones then as, just quickly brought to mind, I can count over a dozen. It’s not only death over the years that robs one of friends acquaintances, colleagues, some dying far too young, particularly with the advent of AIDS, it’s people who seem to disappear off the face of the earth and one never finds out why. This seems to apply particularly, but not solely, to Americans for some reason or other and one has to ask, what did I do wrong and whatever happened to so-and-so? Whatever happened to Ron Copeland for example or Tee Morris who was for so long in touch? And a good example is Andy Leech who we first met in London in 1983(?) when he was a huge fan of “Cats”. He and his lover came to Crete on a visit nine or more years ago, left, and we have never heard from them since. Why? An English example is Peter Mackie who we last saw at Hollings Farm, twelve years ago or more, when he visited with his wife and since when he has totally disappeared. I tried to contact him through The Writers’ Guild only to be informed he was no longer a member. Another even weirder example is Dave Penfold, last seen at Hollings Farm for the farewell party and never seen again. Even mutual friends in London have no idea where he is or what he is doing. So there you are, “whatever happened to?” applies to so many and I doubt we will ever know the answers. A shame really when they were at one time close and much appreciated friends.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Have just this minute finished rereading JUST IN CASE, the sequel to DEAD ON TIME, rectifying a few typos and making one or two small amendments but will be happy now to see it published, hopefully, in June. It is three years since I wrote it and there is a third Thornton King adventure to follow written shortly after, possibly for publication 2010? Started on a fourth but have been sidetracked. Am really, even if I do say so myself, rather pleased with this one. It has more comedy in it than I remembered, some really interesting atmospheric episodes and the plot works like a dream so let’s hope that when it is added to the Jones list they all start to sell and make us some money. The returns so far have been negligible and the winter bills have piled up waiting to be paid. I reckon the cost of living in Greece is now three times what it was when we first arrived. Our accountant Georgos, his wife, Eleni and two kids being in the neighbourhood came around for coffee today. I only hope that, on seeing the house for the first time, he didn’t come to the conclusion that we are loaded.
Haven’t got any further with the new resident permits. Half the population tell us they’re not necessary, the other half of the population say they are. This is typical of Greece. There are two different tax offices in Xania, A and B. A told us we needed pink slips from the bank to show what money we were bringing into the country, B told us the pink slips were unnecessary. It’s all up to George now so I have no idea whether it’s A or B. Whichever it is, it appears Douglas has to get himself an IKA number (National Insurance) to satisfy the authorities before he can get a new resident’s permit which, according to EU regulations, is unnecessary. Chris and I are aok as being pensioners we automatically qualify for IKA. I do hope though not to be a drain on the system as it is struggling. Last year there was a brief strike of pharmacies because IKA hadn’t paid them for months for the medicines they had supplied on prescription. Was supposed on Friday to go for abdominal and thyroid scans but the day before got a phone call to say it had been put off, don’t know why, maybe the doc just didn’t turn up, and it will now be April 29th which is a long way away. Unfortunately it’s not until two in the afternoon which means a half day of grumpy starvation!
Much too cold for the garden today. Managed about an hour which achieved virtually nothing so it became haircutting day. Chris did Douglas, Douglas did mine. That Remington do it yourself hairdressing set has certainly paid for itself many times over since we bought it. I loathe having my hair cut; always have done, even as a child, so have it cut as short as possible, looking like a Doré illustration of a Victorian convict so I don’t have to get it cut so often.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Am almost at the end, only a few pages to go, of a yet to be published book (I have a proof copy and it’s hard to believe the number of typos in it) and I am not going to name either its author or its major publisher because my reaction is not exactly euphoric, quite the reverse in fact. It is a lengthy volume of almost five hundred pages and I was tempted to give up on page three. The writer is well known having written something like thirty books and his name is printed twice as large as the book’s title. He is a number one best selling author and, according to his publisher, the world’s greatest story teller so why was I tempted to give up by page three? Well it was here that our nineteen year old hero has it off with a recently widowed lady ten years, golly, yes, ten years his senior, who takes him to paradise! However, the good widow having been despatched by the moral majority of the period was unable to take him to paradise again and, having got over this scrap of truly awful writing, I decided to continue my read to discover the book is really a continuation of boys’ own literature, a ripping yarn after the manner of Henty and his like in the nineteenth century and the adventures of Biggles in the twentieth with modern naughty bits added, though I was pleased he didn’t fall into the trap of so many writers of today (like film makers) who use the f word with such diabolical frequency simply because, without censure, they can and it becomes a total bore. However this best-selling author and greatest of story tellers simply, as on page three, cannot write a love/sex scene without causing toe-curling embarrassment. A lady enters our hero’s life and they naturally fall in love and, from here on in, the corn is as high as an elephant’s eye and gets cornier and cornier. His descriptions of love scenes and especially the dialogue had me bursting into laughter they are so appalling and so false. I simply could not believe in this day and age someone could write dreadful crap like that and what is more that his publisher and his editors didn’t pick up on it. I may not be a world’s best selling author or the world’s greatest story teller but, quite candidly, if I wrote and then read back to myself shit like that I would hide my head in shame. Still, I am sure the book will sell millions and the author can laugh all the way to the bank, the publishers will be satisfied at having produced another block-buster and good writing will have suffered a major defeat.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Winter has returned. Showery weather as opposed to a continuous downpour but it has been very cold even with the sun out. Last night I finished going through the new novel for the second time (23 chapters, 89000 words) and am now back to the beginning again. It needs fleshing out without padding.
We have been watching the television “Cranford.” This was one of my set books at school but I don’t recall Mrs Gaskell setting it in Cheshire. I seem to recall it as Hounslow or somewhere like that or is this a memory of some other book? Well, no matter where it is set, it is a lovely piece of work and congratulations to all the ladies involved. I say all the ladies because the main credits are all for women except for the director, and the cream of English actresses are in it. Surprised Miss Thompson and Miss Redgrave aren’t there but this was one project where actresses of more advanced years could not complain about a lack of work. It really is a gem in every sense.
For the third time in a couple of weeks we drove around to the police station this morning to try and sort out our new in perpetuity resident permits and it looks like it is going to take at least one more visit. The young guy who deals with this new piece of Greek legislation has been elusive but we managed to corner him this morning just as he was returning to the office.
So Popie is in Africa and telling the Africans to refrain from sex because they are being very naughty if they use condoms; this in a continent with over 22000000 AIDS victims and he seems to believe that condoms are aggravating the situation. He really is never never never going to face up to the realities of life and nature but will continue to blindly beat his head and wail against that proverbial brick wall. M’lords, ladies and gentlemen! I give you in the blue corner, Pope Benedict XVl (hoots whistles applause prayers) and in the red “in tooth and claw” corner, mother nature. (boos, slow handclap, cries of despair from the religious.) This is an interminable fight of any number of rounds each and every one of which mother nature will win.
Another interesting piece of news, it would seem those of a religious bent are most in fear and most resistant to the thought of dying. I wonder why?
It would also seem though that in previous blogs I have done the almighty an injustice as I discover the story of the Massacre of the Innocents is not headline news in the Bible as I previously thought but in fact is mentioned only once and that tucked away among the small ads in Matthew 2:16. According to the opinion of recent experts(!) Bethlehem being a very small town, the number of innocents beneath the age of two years likely to have been slaughtered would be somewhere in the range of 7 to 20, not the hundreds we have always imagined.
Mind you, even 7 to 20 is 7 to 20 too many, like Bishop Williamson and his three hundred thousand Jews.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Watched “Gladiator” again, a Ridley Scott film, Hey-ho! The list of credits at the end is almost endless. Actually for once I suppose Mr Scott should get full credit for the end result of such a complicated, enormous and ultimately satisfying enterprise. I did enjoy it third time round but feel it would have been much better if one could understand Mr Phoenix’s dialogue. Another actor who doesn’t now how to use his voice. Strangely on the extras he speaks quite clearly. Think in the movie I caught maybe one word in ten. Douglas made a remark about how many accountants were on the film. Looking at what was involved over four different widely spread locations and the number of personnel involved, I’m surprised there weren’t more. What an achievement. We are puzzled though and, without watching the movie again, will most likely remain puzzled for a while. The question is where was Maximus’ home? When he escapes from the German forest he rides through landscapes that look suspiciously Spanish and he is known as the Spaniard and it’s not even a hop, skip and a jump from there to Morocco so why then does he tell the emperor his home is in Northern Italy?
Someone sent us an e-mail of “funny cats” and there was with it videos of “weirdest, scary and creepy” and “ugly people.” People used to go to Bedlam to mock the lunatics or to freak shows to gawp at the malformed. Today we can do it on the internet. Very interesting one of the ‘extras’ on Gladiator was an essay into the history of Roman blood sports. Maybe the crowd enjoying the spectacle were saying to themselves ‘there but for the grace of the gods, go I.’ Maybe the same applies to this prurient curiosity even today into the gross malformations of the human figure which brings me back to the question I persistently ask – if god created man in his own image, as we are all physically so different, what was his template?
An interesting e-mail also from PRS (Performing Rights Society) about Google and music royalties. The whole matter is so complicated these days and I would still like to know how Cherry records can be using my songs from 'The Double Deckers' and I don’t see a single penny for my work; never have done, even going back as far as 20th Century Music and all the others in between who simply, on making enquiries, pass the buck. Nothing to do with us, it’s down to Warner Chappell. Nothing to do with us it’s down to EMI. The ultimate why don’t you go get stuffed was, sorry we’ve lost the records! Great, isn’t it? They’re all a bunch of thieves.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

A great brouhaha around the breakfast table this morning criticising my blogs. As previously noted a while back, Wolf Kern, at the moment on his way to the airport to head back to Munich, told me he thought I was too much the grumpy old man and should lighten up, and this morning Chris joined in the attack because I was as usual, inspired by Littlewood’s column in the Daily Mail, going on about life in the UK today, in particular the daft doings of the elf and safety brigade and British Muslims. Chris said, ‘No doubt you will be ranting about that in your blog’ which is what started the brouhaha. On the other hand some time back Glyn Hughes told me my blogs were too bland so which of them is right? Am I blandly irate or angrily bland?
I have been meaning for a couple of weeks or more to have a rant about members of the so-called reformed House of Lords and members of the British parliament and the sleaze of New Labour, there having been two newspaper cuttings on my desk all the while to give me ammunition but other topics kept cropping up so here at last I can get rid of those cuttings. The first is headlined “Police chiefs quiz Lords leader over peers (sic) claims” and the second with, “MPs in new dodge to keep details of expenses secret” and both articles state in no uncertain terms just how corrupt this government is but what is the point of going into it? It would seem they’re all at it and passing the gravy boat on to members of their families, but then sheer unadulterated greed and something for nothing seems to be top of the agenda in society these days which is evidently why the world is in the financial mess it is.
I was tempted to make a comment by e-mail to The Evening Standard about the latest piece of Islamic nonsense by one of the most lunatic of their hell-raisers who states he won’t be happy until the flag of Allah flies over the Houses of Parliament and England is subject to Sharia Law. All women, Muslim or non-Muslim will have to be veiled, drunkenness (strange how Arabic poetry is full of the wonders of wine) punished by flogging and adultery by stoning. Dream on, bearded baby. Where does this brain-washed idiot come from, the 13th century? Mind you, the way Muslims are cow-towed to in Britain he could be closer than we think to his ridiculous ambition. Hitler, after all, was democratically elected.
My computer earlier objected to what I was writing and froze. It obviously got over its megrim to let me finish.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

I see on the news that a man has been put on trial in Germany accused of being a camp guard and personally responsible for the death of 29000 Jews so Evie, the leading character in my play “Red In The Morning” (published Samuel French NY), could be up to her evil ways even now let alone twenty years ago when the play was produced at JMU.
Had to have yet another blood test yesterday (how many is that?) so was up at sparrowfart and then, afterwards, took Wolf into Xania for a little exploration. I suggested first of all we visit the War Museum but he was adamantly against that but the Naval Museum was evidently more to his liking so we visited that. Unfortunately he wasn’t at all impressed. He criticised some of the models as being inaccurate, shop bought, he said disparagingly and not up to his standard of model making. I, in my ignorance, thought they were pretty terrific and I was a bit surprised at his criticism considering the navy and seafaring are matters of the greatest pride with the Greeks. I managed to do a little bit of good though as, having felt a nasty twinge in my lower back as I stepped where the floor should have been but wasn’t because of a shallow step, I told a girl in the office that it was highly dangerous and really visitors should be warned about it. Before we left she had already printed out a notice in Greek and English – Mind The Step – so, hopefully, there won’t be anymore twinged backs. I know there probably isn’t such a word but I’m using it anyway. At least three of the smaller rooms in the museum are dedicated to the Battle of Crete but I thought this material should be in the War Museum as it really had nothing to do with the navy.
The humanist posters on British buses (the posters have been banned in Italy of course, most probably in every other predominantly Catholic country) proclaiming there probably is no God so relax and enjoy yourselves have instigated the inevitable backlash from Christians and Bible thumpers. Their poster evidently states quite categorically that there is a God which has quite naturally engendered a thousand complaints to the Advertising Standards Authority because the humanists had the nous to say “probably” but the religious have stated definitely but have not, as has always been the case, come up with any proof as to God’s existence. Their attack consists simply of abuse and cherry picking quotations (as is always the case) from that ancient Bronze age book, the Holy(?) Bible. It is noticed that whenever the Bible comes up with ridiculous admonitions that might have applied to the tribes of ancient Israel, but which have absolutely nothing to do with the advancement of civilisation, these are ignored, as are those verses that make God out to be the supreme egotist and the most bloodthirsty of tyrants – kill their men, their women, their children, their oxen and their asses. In fact kill everything that moves. Mankind is quite capable of doing that as we know only too well but it could be comforting I suppose to believe that if you’re in the mood for a little blood letting God is egging you on. I think I might have mentioned this before but I cannot understand how a god of love, according to Christians, who is eternal and all knowing, didn’t take into account that when he came down to earth as man he would cause a number of infants to be ruthlessly slaughtered. If nothing else did he have no feelings for their mothers? The Athens News every week has three or four advertisements from various churches or groups inviting us to join their “Bible study” sessions. One of these days I might just be tempted to go along and start asking some pretty awkward questions. I’m sure I would not last more than five minutes before being politely requested to leave.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

When the other day I described the colours of the DVDs hanging beneath the grape vine I should have prefixed the description with the word flashing. At the moment, in quite a high wind, they are flashing their messages fit to reach as far as Mount Ida if the house, like the old music hall song, wasn’t in the way.
Yesterday was a sparkling spring day so it was work in the garden time. We could have wished for that weather on Sunday when we decided to take Wolf to our favourite restaurant for lunch at the wells, Agriopoli, the ancient town of Lappa. Unfortunately, even as we were heading towards the mountains we could see the black cloud building up and by the time we got there it was raining the proverbial Greek chair legs. We were a little surprised that the sons of the establishment were nowhere in sight as usually they are busy serving customers but their mother informed us without any prompting that Spiros, the eldest, is in Athens training to be a fireman, and Jannis is doing his stint in the army. I didn’t catch what the baby of the family was up to. He must be into his teens by now. What was he when we last saw him? Eleven? Twelve? It’s a while since we were there. On the way back because of the weather we didn’t stop as is usual for coffee at the lake (Kournos) but gave Wolf time to take a couple of photographs before moving on and had coffee at Titos’ Bar in Georgopoli instead. Tito’s done very well over the years as improvements to the roof, furniture, snazzy windbreak and three enormous TV screens testify. Not surprising really; two cappuccinos, a Greek coffee and a gazoza (Cretan soft drink a little like cream soda) came with tip to ten euro!
We have to register for the new Greek resident’s permit which last a lifetime instead of having to renew it every five years so we all three went to the police station nine or ten days ago and spoke to our local police woman, high heels and gun on hip, who informed us that the man dealing with this was away and to phone yesterday which Douglas duly did, only to be informed he, the polieman, wasn’t in the mood for work so call again Wednesday and he’d let us know when to come around. That’s the way it goes here.
Many many years ago when I was still working at The Sunday Times and acting in plays with an amateur group called The Taverners, from which you can guess the plays were performed in pubs, and one of the plays, of which I have absolutely no memory, was called “The Fifty Mark” so presumably it was about a guy depressed at reaching that venerable age. Well, today, my nephew Mark Wiercx celebrates his forty-ninth birthday and so enters his fiftieth year but I hope he isn’t depressed about it, he’s got a long way to go yet to catch up with his uncle, so a very happy birthday, Mark, and may your fiftieth year be a glorious one as they said of Victoria’s Jubilee.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Our first visitor of the year, Wolf Kern from Munich who we first met while holidaying there in 1971, has arrived complete with his copy of “No Official Umbrella”. Evidently he has discovered two mistakes; they being that what I have called Jungstil should actually be Jugendstil and my Praktika camera is not Russian made but came from East Germany. Well, there you are then, only a German would have ticked me off on these two points. When I was working in Hamburg, whenever I heard someone mention Jugendstil, it sounded like Jungstil so therein lay the mistake. How can you trust the pronunciation of someone who pronounces his home town as Hamboish? At least Wolf has been interested enough to purchase the book. (he is mentioned in it). According to the latest summary from Lightningsource, that is up to February, friends and acquaintances, except for America, aren’t exactly rushing to find out what I have written, even if they happen to feature in the book. There are those I thought would have rushed to get it but obviously not. Amazon USA is featuring it in tandem with “Dead On Time” Amazon in England is pretty dull in comparison.
Wolf has also brought with him mementoes of the past; photographs of Yorkshire, in particular my sixtieth birthday party at Hollings Farm. I had thought it was the farewell party when we bought the house and moved here to Crete but, Like Jugendstil and praktika, he put me right. There is also a photograph of me in my old blue cotton dressing gown I knew nothing about and in which, fortunately, I look quite dashing in a morning after sort of way! That must have been taken in London. Also there are some letters he has kept regarding the dead in the water company Akenglen that was supposed to do wondrous things but unfortunately the other director, who originally came up with the idea and who roped me in and who shall remain nameless, turned out to be an alcofrolic, an habitual liar and virtually a bankrupt without letting on and totally out of it, so the whole concept of providing everything and anything for show bizz, from A to Z as the brochure boasted, went down the proverbial tubes, was stillborn rather.
Another Irish number from Marie, “The Snapper” by Roddy Doyle and once again I am at odds with the critics. “A superb creation, exploding with cheerful chauvinism and black Celtic humour. You finish the book hungry for more.” And “While recognising that we have all sat po-faced through novels which other people have assured us were hilarious … all I can say is that The Snapper creased me up.” And “Not since I first delved into Flann O’Brien have I so consistently laughed out loud while reading a book.” Well, I have chuckled a couple of times but I have to admit I’ve got to page 160 and am growing just a little bit bored by it. Maybe I’m just not on the right wavelength. Maybe the restrictions of the Irish working class vocabulary just don’t have the power to crease me up
We’ve had Gadaffi’s rain again. The wind has blown over the sands of the Sahara so everything; houses, cars, gardens, is covered in yellow mud. Hey-ho, it will take another shower, clean this time and heavy, to wash it all off.

Friday, March 6, 2009

After our three days of balmy spring weather the cold, high wind and possibly rain, judging by the heavy cloud, are back.
Every three months or so, thanks to the Maffins of Huddersfield, a rolled up bundle of Sunday Times “Culture” sections lands on the doorstep. Some time back, can’t remember exactly how long, we decided after forty or more years of loyal readership to give The Sunday Times a miss. This was because our paper, expensive enough, was gradually being whittled down to virtually nothing as one after the other the extras were removed (though the price needless to say remained the same), and when the Culture section went, despite howls of outrage from readers, that’s when the Sunday Times also went. Since then I get the Mail on a Friday for the reviews; film, theatre, books, and the Maffins have provided the missing Culture section. For a single postage at slightly more than the cost of one issue of the Sunday Times I get three months worth and the paper loses that revenue. I had hoped a lot of other expats would follow my lead but somehow I doubt it.
I love A.A.Gill’s TV column, and any other he may happen to write. In fact, to put it mildly, a faint feeling of jealousy creeps over me every time I read him but I must say, over the years, he has given me so much reading pleasure, every time I break into a chuckle or sit back in admiration, I can put the jealousy aside. In the issue of the 4th of January he writes about “The 39 Steps”. I read this book many many years ago and of course have seen the Hitchcock movie a couple of times but I never knew anything about John Buchan and A.A. told me all I need to know in a potted biog of half a dozen sentences. And how is this for summing up our hero in this book? “the strange, sensually neutered understatement and studied insouciance that is the default setting of your archetypal Edwardian hero. Those weird boy-men, tongue-tied around women but effusive with horses and dogs, scrupulously fair but comprehensively prejudiced, a bizarre collection of public-school contradictions, repressions and neurosis became the template for derring-do heroes.”
Of course there are other S.T. writers I miss. India Knight’s column I always enjoyed but she has an equal in the Mail so I will stick with that.
In the same issue is a revue for a recently published book titled “From Genocide To Continental War,” a history of what has been happening in various African countries since the 1950’s and you can only wonder what the future of the dark continent can be when you realise what has been happening over the last fifty and more years: the intertribal conflicts, the wars, the coups, the genocides, the corruption, the crime, the starvation, the disease, AIDS, the torture, the lopping off of limbs, the child soldiers, the looting. Leopold might have looted the Congo when the colonialists were in charge but somehow they were as nothing compared to modern times. It would seem Africa’s riches are there for the grabbing by the few whilst millions live in direst poverty or starve. That fruitcake Mugabe in Zimbabwe is a prime example, building his garish vulgar sugar plum palace at what cost when his country is printing notes for a zillion because of inflation, and the vice-president of that benighted country who is supposedly worth millions is trying to defy sanctions by illegally selling off Congolese gold.
Not mentioned in this book are the ridiculous beliefs of the incredulous; that raping a baby will cure AIDS or that the body parts of murdered albinos as is happening in Tanzania will make powerful muti, or that some police have to be corrupt because if they don’t obey the wishes of the local witch-doctor they might as well call it a day. Perhaps the day when all this is past will come but it will be a long time coming.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

I enjoyed Edmund White’s autobiography “My Lives”. Actually I’m not sure enjoy is the right word for it but I can’t think what is. Not being remotely into S&M, my sexual tastes being more what an American student referred to as “vanilla”. I am no prude but could have done without the graphic details of Mr White’s sexual peccadilloes, a mild word for what he got up to. What was more interesting are his thoughts on life and the people he knew, in particular writers, French and American, nearly all of whom I had never heard of. Unless the writer is a giant: Balzac, Dumas, Proust, Gide, Genet, Racine, Moliere, Flaubert, even Rabelais are names that spring immediately to mind, there are just too many writers, even too many good ones and, as old age creeps up on you – creeps? Gallops rather with time’s fiery speed, you realise just how ignorant you are, how little you know. I like White’s comment, “It’s interesting to grow old and to see how stories turn out.” In other words, looking back, what would have happened if? I also appreciate his comment about how difficult it is trying to learn a foreign language after the age of forty. Eleven years in Greece plus night classes for two years before arriving here and my Greek is still practically non-existent. Part of the problem of course is that, living in an English house and speaking English the whole time, despite being surrounded by Greek neighbours, it’s a case of use it or lose it. I should have done what Siobhan did when she arrived all those years ago. She ordered her Greek neighbours, everyone in her village of Gavalahori in fact to speak nothing but Greek to her so was forced to learn fast. There were hardly any expats there then but, with the proliferation of estate agents all selling “the dream” and get rich quick builders after spoiling the place, the Greeks eventually got to calling it Anglohori. The number of estate agents is now dwindling with the recession and builders going out of business. The bubble seems at last to have burst. There are concrete frames that have been standing for months, in some instances years, with no further work being done. I have no pretensions towards being psychic but when we were looking for a house we were shown one in Gavalahori I wanted nothing to do with, that gave me the absolute creeps the moment I walked through the door. Later I was told the story of this house. Evidently during the Turkish occupation, a young Turk took a fancy to the daughter of the house and approached her father with an offer of marriage, or so he said. The father, being a Greek, was not going to countenance his daughter’s marriage to a Turk but knew if he resisted he would simply be killed and she would be abducted anyway, so he told the Turk he would think about it and to return the following evening for a drink of raki and to talk which the man did, accompanied by two friends. They drank the raki, the evening got more and more boisterous, the Turks more and more drunk until finally they were so sozzled the father and his sons had no difficulty in hanging them from the beams in the kitchen and threw their bodies down a well. I only hope the Greeks had the use of another well but, knowing how it seems to be a national trait to act first and think afterwards, it’s quite possible they went without drinking water for a very long time.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Have finally finished reading Colm Tóibín’s “The Blackwater Lightship” given to me at Christmas by Brian and Marie Smith. A nice gesture but it has taken me this long to get through it, although it is only 273 pages. Putting it down I found it difficult to pick up again and in the meantime have got through a wealth of reading elsewhere. Am I completely out of step with the literary world? This book was shortlisted for the 1999 Booker Prize and one critic wrote of it “I know of no novelist under fifty who is Colm Tóibín’s equal. In this his fourth book, his prose rises to heights of extraordinary beauty.”
Well, pardon me, I must be missing on a couple of cylinders here because I found his prose to be, could there be another word for it, ordinary? It isn’t half Marie’s book “A Place In The Choir” either in style or content and for which Douglas is having such a hard time finding a publisher. It got close with Penguin Ireland but a miss, as they say, is as good as a mile and each submission takes an eternity for a response. With “A Place In The Choir” I laughed, I cried, when I had to put it down I couldn’t wait to pick it up again and never wanted it to finish. (I’m pleased to say Marie is undaunted by its so far lack of success and is writing the sequel). Now would “The Blackwater Lightship” have found a publisher I wonder if it hadn’t included AIDS? I ask the same question of “The Island”. Would that have found a publisher if it hadn’t included leprosy? Or was it contacts within contacts? Who knows? Having not read any of Colm’s previous work I really shouldn’t judge him on this one alone but, as it is his fourth, I must presume he has found his style.
The first day of March arrived warm and sunny, at least until late afternoon so, at last, I could get a little done by starting to clear away the jungle that used to be a garden. I don’t think it has ever been so neglected for so long a time. The plum is flowering nicely I noticed so hopefully there will be plenty of fruit for Vicky’s breakfast when she comes out. The prickly pear is now of gigantic proportions and must be severely cut back but it’s what to do with the cuttings that’s the problem. Last year it bore so much fruit we could have lived off prickly pear all summer.
It didn’t rain on anyone’s parade but we’re told Kalyves cancelled their carnival celebrations because of lack of funds. If this is true it’s definitely a first and in a small way shows what a sorry state the world is in.
Another cloudless morning so it will be back into the garden. Last year in order to keep the rats off the grape vine (the previous year they ate the lot) I hung spoilt DVDs from the trellis which did the trick. We had a bumper crop. Now, as the discs exposed to the morning sun, twist and turn in the breeze they flash the brightest most wonderful
metallic colours: red, blue, purple, yellow, green. It’s no wonder they scared off the rats. Whenever I mention rats people tend to shudder but these are not those nasty big grey dirty town rats. These are their country cousins and quite beautiful in their own way. If I find a dead one in the garden I feel quite sorry for it. But we can’t be doing with them eating our grapes! I’ll have to hang a couple of discs in the pomegranate as they go for that fruit too.