Thursday, July 30, 2009

Blog 23

Just for the sake of some variety, despite the hospitalisation being paid for by the Greek health service IKA, falling ill can be an expensive business. It all started on a Tuesday morning. I had been suffering from gasping breathlessness for sometime and on the previous Monday we had driven up to Doctor Elizabeth’s only to find her surgery closed – All Saints Day, everyone in church. So Tuesday morning I sat up in bed and started to get dressed when, suddenly, I went blind in my right eye. This was quite frightening so, as it obviously constituted an emergency it was ridiculous to think of driving into Xania to see our IKA doctor but was straight up to Doctor Elizabeth whose consultations cost 35euro and who immediately put me on the oxygen and took heart readings. In the space of a minute or two and two print-outs later she said to Douglas, ‘Look at this. It could be two different patients; the readings in that short space of time were so far apart.’
So it was on to the Medical Centre in Xania for an x-ray (73euro) and a brain scan (150 euro). This was because Elizabeth was worried about a possible thrombosis, and then on to the ophthalmologist to see to the eye. This lady was well up to date with all the most modern equipment, trained in America evidently, but she was expensive (210euro) and unfortunately there seemed little she could do, there having been a massive occlusion evidently. Between her and Elizabeth I have been on a drug which has improved the situation and there is now only a small shadow over the centre of the right eye. Hopefully it will clear up altogether. If not I will just have to live with it.
On to the cardiologist, two visits (150euro) and then after a 24 hour monitor a phone call from him saying he was very worried that my heart was taking three second time-outs, he didn‘t have the means of testing further and he would like me to go to the hospital in Heraklion which is about 150 kilometres away. This meant Douglas had to stay with me and his accommodation came to 215euro which all comes to over 800euro. Add to this incidentals like 2 day car hire for Chris in Vamos who was without food in the house both human and animal (90euro – high season prices) the cost of petrol, in and out of Xania and three trips back and forth to Heraklion, 30euro for prescriptions and 30 for two further blood tests and we’re over the 1000euro mark. If it had not been such an emergency of course some of these expenses would have been covered by IKA (we’re hoping the ophthalmologist’s bill still will be pm appeal) but that would have taken time and I do believe time we did not have. It’s all relative I suppose. We are reliably informed that a private angiogram in London costs £4000! I wonder what it costs in America. A very dear friend in Germany, without a second thought, deposited 600euro in our bank account. Money at the moment, well as usual, being as tight as it is we will be forever grateful to him for this generous and spontaneous gesture.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Naturally lying in a hospital bed one soon finds the situation tedious and reading is essential to relieve the boredom. I didn’t see a book in anyone else’s hands. The Greeks are just happy to talk. I started by reading again, after many years, INDECENT EXPOSURE by Tom Sharpe. I’ve always thoroughly enjoyed Sharpe’s humour in everything of his I’ve read and I remember being highly amused by this one first time around, but reading it for the second time I found it way OTT, a satire on the South African police of truly farcical proportions. I presume he wrote it after his expulsion from that country then still suffering under apartheid and of which he was very critical. It is still in many ways a very funny book but I wonder why he refers to Natal as Zululand. Of course now it is Kwa-Zulu Natal. Also I think today the depiction of 110 konstabels all turning gay after aversion therapy smells just a tiny bit of homophobia and I don’t think it would really pass muster in today’s climate of political correctness. Why, I wonder, did all 110 have to be primping prancing pansies? a thoroughly outdated cliché. Three and a half stars.
Next on the list was Kingsley Amis’s LUCKY JIM. The only reason for reading this tome from the fifties that supposedly had such an influence on English literature was because I found the Penguin edition in the bookshelf upstairs as I was searching for books to take with me. I didn’t even know we had it and I thought I would find out what all the fuss was about. The blurb makes out that it is hilarious and a laugh a minute out aloud read so how come I smiled a couple of times but not even a chuckle escaped me? No, I’m afraid a rather tedious much over-rated book as far as I am concerned though I did manage to finish it. I wonder if that would have been the case had I not been lying in a hospital bed. Two stars.
Karen Slaughter’s latest – FRACTURED. I’ve always enjoyed this writer’s work and I think this one up to her usual standard. If nothing else five stars just for sheer reading enjoyment.
Now a really interesting piece of work mentioned in my last Blog; highly imaginative and well-written to make for easy reading, good plotting, believable characters, suspense – THE BOOK OF LIES by Brad Melzner – definitely five stars.
And finally ABOVE SUSPICION by Lynda La Plante. This must be one of those books summer visitors read on the beach and leave behind after their holiday. There are a number of such volumes in the guest suite by various best-selling authors. It certainly isn’t something any of us would think of buying. We leave them there for visitors who don’t bring their own. What to say about this one without being too highly critical? Pretty clichéd writing, uninspired, and I was one step ahead of her all the way. There is the inclusion of a totally unnecessary and rather embarrassing sex scene. Why do writers feel this is necessary? To spice things up a little maybe? Why, in this day and age, when the world is smothered in pornography? Three stars I’m afraid and even that is being generous; but she can laugh all the way to the bank.
And here I’m afraid I ran out of reading material unless I wanted to reread my own as yet unpublished book THE JOURNEYS WE MAKE (title courtesy of Douglas Foote) on which he, as my editor, and I were working as he watched over my welfare in the hospital, and I have already made his suggested changes. He is really an acute critic.
Of course the reason for running out of reading matter was because “You’ll only be in for two or three days” I was assured but, as things were a lot more complicated than at first realised, the two or three days turned into nearly two weeks with more to come in October. Hey-ho! Hopefully that WILL be just two or three days but I’ll sort out plenty of reading just in case.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Friday Chris drove me into Kalyves for a visit to the Biological Lab for a blood test. The girl who did it was so adept and gentle I didn’t even know she had done it until I saw her remove the syringe. Then, as we had two hours to kill before the results were ready, Chris went to the bank. I don’t know why our banking seems to be so complicated. This time he was at the counter for a good forty five minutes while the occupants of the chairs grew in number. If I had been an impatient Greek I would have been yelling blue murder. Fortunately this time they seemed to be a good-natured crowd, and this time part of the problem was the bank having produced new books for old (yes, Greek banks still use old-fashioned bank books, regard cheques with great suspicion and the amount of paperwork involved in running a bank is truly amazing). As we have four or five accounts, each book had to be changed and this took a great deal of time. Don’t ask me why we have so many accounts (Douglas is treasurer and looks after the finances) but you would think we were a multi-national globalised company. Our banking dealings are pretty miniscule really. I see in the paper a photograph of that lying hypocritical leech and multi-millionaire property dealer, Tony Blair enjoying yet another freebie this time on a friend’s magnificent yacht. The friend, I read, is the fourth richest man in the world worth about three and a half billion or more. A sum of money this huge simply boggles the mind. If our pathetic four or five accounts add up to a thousand pounds in total at any one time we consider ourselves to be well and truly solvent though that doesn’t leave much room for emergencies. Money comes in, money goes out. I have just been interrupted by Chris who tells me, although it seems to be a common mistake, that it is not the “Marie Celeste” but the “Mary Celeste”. I stand corrected. Now where was I? Oh yes, talking high and low finance. To digress once more, I wonder what it must be like to know that your (in)famous father, a figure on the world stage, a colossus with feet of soggy clay, is one of the most despised humans on planet earth. Or is it water off the proverbial duck’s back and do they really care?
Our friend Diane who is holidaying with us at the moment brought half a dozen DVDs with her for our enjoyment and the other evening we watched SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE, a much over-hyped movie. How it managed to win eight academy awards is beyond me. Political Correctness? Apart from some stunning photography and opening one’s eyes very wide to the terrible terrifying conditions in India’s slums, and terrific performances from the kids, it didn’t really grab us. You knew what the ending was going to be and by the time he/she got together you couldn’t really give a toss. As for the dancing on the station platform to accompany the end credits, what a wank! The only reason I mention it now is because I want to think of the comparison between Tony’ Blair’s friend and his three and half billion and those terrible terrifying conditions in the slums of the world. Think of Monster Mugabe building his hideous palace while the people of Zimbabwe starve. Think of the oil rich sheiks, the footballers who earn more in weeks than I have earned in my entire life, the eighteen year old film stars who are worth twenty million or more and then think of those slums. In the words of the song, what’s it all about, Alfie? Life really is so unfair. In Brad Meltzer’s book I learn that Jerry Siegel of Michigan who, as a kid, created “Superman” spent most of the rest of his life in penury while his creation made millions for others. How many artists have metaphorically starved in garrets? Modigliani springs to mind. Having hardly sold a painting in his lifetime, after his death they couldn’t go fast enough. Mozart died a pauper. Wagner was forever on the cadge. Today some minor celeb will write a cheap piece of chic-lit that will have publishers salivating, housewives and beach bunnies will buy in droves and make her a millionaire. Am I jealous? Of course I am. I can’t write that sort of shit. I wish I could. I tried some years ago to write a Mills & Boon. It was called “Wendy’s House” and the setting was our Yorkshire farmhouse. It was immediately rejected of course. Evidently I didn’t stick to the formula as I didn’t introduce a blue eyed, lantern jawed hero early enough. So all I have at the moment for a lifetime’s work is three published plays and three published books lost in the three and half million on offer. But I have something no amount of money can buy – the love of good friends and a deep satisfaction and sense of gratitude for a long and on the whole a joyful life.

Friday, July 24, 2009

The University Hospital of Heraklion is huge. It is built on a hill outside the city and its corridors seem to go on for miles. The cardiac unit is on the second floor of the third building and commands a breathtaking panoramic almost 360 degree view. To the north the city and the sea and coming around to the south a beautiful vista of a countryside that could not have changed much in a hundred years or more. The only thing to bring modern times to mind is a row of five white windmills on a mountain top. The wards, I was in 44 facing south, are all of three beds and looking out the glass door I could see some of this landscape but, if I walked out on to the balcony that stretches the full length of the building (very useful for smokers), I got the full, as my American students would have called it, “awesome” view. If one ignored what was at one’s feet two floors below, obviously something horribly unfinished and consequently a bit of a wasteland, immediately beyond that a row of fir trees and red oleander, a vigorous highly decorative shrub that grows all over Crete, mostly pink and white flowers, occasionally cream and red, that line either side of long stretches of highway. There is a road just on the other side of the wasteland but invisible behind a screen of foliage and only noticed when vehicles drive by. Then rolling hills dotted with a few white buildings, a little white church and a patchwork of olive groves and, from a distance, what looks like vineyards. Beyond a small village beneath the mountains that loom up all grey and barren to complete a picture I never tired of looking at even when limited by my being in bed. I’ve not been to Tuscany but I have seen pictures and that is what this landscape reminded me of.
Everything in the clinic is on wheels, with the exception of personnel of course, and nurses were constantly wheeling in heart monitors, blood pressure gauges, etc., even the weighing machine fitted with a chair. A daily blood sample was taken and Douglas was quite convinced there was a vampire somewhere on the premises. To begin with I was the sole occupant in 44 in the bed nearest the door but that didn’t last long. The far bed was soon occupied by Manousis who I was informed had been a high ranking police officer and who deserves a blog all to himself. I should have known by the fancy blue silk pyjamas that we had a bit of an ego and a feeling of self-importance here, especially when I saw the first thing he did was wipe down the surfaces of his bedside locker with meths.
The first two nights Douglas found himself a hotel room in the middle of town but at 55 euro a night it would be getting a mite expensive to spend his whole time there so for two nights he slept on the empty bed next to me but then that too became occupied, by Manolis. The hospital has an adjoining hostel for visitors and Douglas managed then to get a shared room there for the rest of his stay at only 15 euro a night. Quite a difference and so much more convenient.
The third occupant of the ward when Manolis number one was discharged after only a couple of days was Manolis number two, an extremely frail old gentlemen but such a charmer, uncomplaining and highly independent despite his age and frailty, the very antithesis of our ex-policeman. We took to him immediately. Manousis hated him!
More on ward 44 another time.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Talk talk talk talk talk talk talk. If there is one thing the Greeks like more than anything else – more than eating? Drinking? Smoking? Making love? – it’s talk, and Greeks do not to it quietly. Goodness only knows what there is to talk about but a conversation can go on for hours. Often by the volume of the voices and the gesticulation one is hard put to know whether a flaming row is in progress or merely a pleasant sociable chat. Greeks talk everywhere. They talk in bars and tavernas and kafenios, they talk in the street, they even stop their cars in the middle of the road to greet friends and have a quickie. They talk in and outside church and they particularly like talking on television, giving their thoughts on something in the news; so often you get a screen divided into five with the newscaster on his own to one side and four others on the other, each in his or her own little box (it’s usually a him) all trying to outdo each other in venting their opinion. Like Greek drivers who can’t bear to linger behind another vehicle and put their own and everyone else’s lives to the hazard, they interrupt, object, shout louder and it looks sometimes as if apoplexy is about to take place while the newscaster endeavours to keep the temperature down. In consequence of this trait in the Greek character a Greek hospital is not a place of peace and quiet but for great lengths of the day and night reverberates like a cockatoo’s cage or an animated cocktail or garden party, or gives the impression that it’s more like a picnic. The reason for this of course is the method of Greek hospital care which provides basic nursing but expects family and friends to provide the frills so the wards quite often have three times the number of visitors as there are patients. With chronic illness some stay all night, sleeping on chairs. Neither does the medical staff feel they need keep their voices down. Why should they? There is so much noise going on they do need to be heard. Add to this the television sets in each ward blaring away, probably not even being watched as the chatter continues, and you get an idea of what it’s like, particularly if those who have the TV on happen to be a little on the deaf side.
Heraklion University Hospital of a morning is like Grand Central station at rush hour. The hospital is enormous, employing just under 2000 and having beds I suppose for fifteen hundred patients, the logistics of running the place with its myriad clinics and departments must be horrendous and the expense! Just noticing the amount of product on the cleaning trolleys for instance I decided if ever I were to invest money in the stock exchange it would be in firms that supply hospitals. How could you lose? Everywhere there are cardboard cartons stacked high with medical, catering, cleaning and all the other equipment such a hospital needs and it is state of the art although the actual fabric of the building is beginning to deteriorate somewhat and fixing it would again cost a small fortune. In the almost endless corridors there must be simply hundreds of hard plastic chairs for all those having to wait around including in-patients in between treatments. The reason for the busyness during the week is because of the A & E, always busy, and most significantly the out-patients’ clinics. Saturdays it quietens a little, Sundays, downstairs and in reception, it’s like the Marie Celeste. More next time.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Still in Hospital

Dear Bloggers

Just in Case you have been wondering why nothing has happened for the past few days, my expected 2-3 days stay in hospital is now turning into a longer saga. Because of this and no internet conection I'm afraid my next blog won't be for another week. Many thanks for all the good wishes which have been passed on to me via Chris & Douglas.

Monday, July 6, 2009

This will be my only Blog this week as the latter half of the week I will be in that Heraklion hospital. Stelios informs us it is not only the best hospital in Crete but the best in Greece. My previous stay in a Cretan hospital, Xania, was excellent, couldn’t have been bettered – except for the food, but isn’t that always the way with institutions?
A pity I lost wot I wrote last time, not that it was anything of great import. When you are virtually an invalid and the slightest expenditure of energy brings on a fit of breathlessness, even something as simple as getting dressed or taking a shower or feeding the pets, there’s not much happening in your personal life. Two events to excite me somewhat: Douglas has got “The Journeys We Make” (previously “Enter Anthony”) ready for publication and has put together a terrific short video to e-mail as a round robin advertising the books, though he hasn’t quite got the distribution of it sorted out yet, that is, making sure it is easy for the recipients to open. It’s a matter of the right programme evidently.
Fame! Michael Jackson dead is probably twenty times more lucrative than when he was alive as I read even hitherto unpublished stuff is being brought out to bolster the coffers. Tickets for his memorial service have been applied for by thousands of fans on the internet and it would seem half the world has been in mourning. Was he really that terrific? I’m afraid I wouldn’t know. I have never sat through a Michael Jackson number or heard one played. The brief glimpses I saw of him in TV extracts he looked merely like a skinny puppet jerking stiffly about surrounded by a lot of hi-tech production value and it did absolutely nothing for me. Other than that all I know about him came from various news items, like holding his baby over a hotel balcony, being charged with child molestation, trying for white and making excuses for it and looking at early photographs he was a handsome child. How come his life went so pear-shaped like his face?
I see the moose lady has given up her governorship of Alaska a year early and speculation has it she’s going to try for the Whitehouse next time round. God forbid! I don’t think the Americans could get a more disastrous president that Bush but you never know.
So Andy Murray, despite her majesty’s good luck message lost it in the semi-final, won’t follow in Perry’s footsteps, and America will possibly once more produce a Wimbledon champion – depending of course on Federer. Maybe next year, Andy. Henman reached the semi-final four times but maybe next year, Andy. Fingers crossed.
I see a Nazi war criminal is being extradited to stand trial so “Red In The Morning” even today is still feasibility.
And farmyard porn is still flowing in blemishing cyberspace or wherever. Pity it can’t be stopped at source or so it would seem. I can’t be doing with bestiality. Animals should not be degraded in this fashion though I suppose like every other aspect of sex the clerics can’t get their heads around it has been going on since time immemorial.
Nope – Federer has done it again.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Damn it. This morning I had written a couple of hundred words of this Blog when – whoosh – I look up at the screen to find it has completely disappeared. I really do hate computers and I am not going to write it all over again so happy 4th July to all our American friends and I’m calling it a day.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Longevity really does seem to be the name of the game these days. I see Karl Malden has died at the age of 97. Mollie Sugden at 86 and J.D. Salinger is still hanging around at 90 and winning a lawsuit again a Swedish author who evidently has plagiarised his famous book of 1951, one I have never read by the way and, as it has evidently been so influential, maybe I ought to get around to it and find out what Holden Caulfield is all about apart from adolescent rebellion. So at 78 I am still a stripling really. I did read somewhere that 1931 was the bestest year to be born as far as longevity and health is concerned but I think one of the reasons for this long life must be the amazing advance in medicine. Thinking about my visit to the cardiologist and the fact that Douglas could actually see my heart beating and its valves opening and closing – and with colour forsooth! – I said, maybe if medicine had been this advanced back in 1959 my father would have recovered from his coronary and lived to a ripe old age. Anyway, old age doth creep up on all of us and the body begins to totter as parts wear out. You simply can’t go on forever. Evidently my heart is the cause of all this breathlessness that leaves me unable to do anything requiring the slightest amount of energy and a call from the good Doctor Georgos informs us that it now has a habit every now and again of stopping for a three second time-out so I have to go to a hospital in Heraklion for further exploration. I can’t honestly say I am looking forward to it with eager anticipation but there you are, what must be done must be done. Most of my innards from my brain to my pancreas have now been photographed and, the heart apart, most seem to be doing well. Thanks to the micro-chip we’ve come a long way since Marie Curie discovered radium.