Saturday, October 31, 2009

Rain,rain,rain and more rain! Plus now it has turned quite chilly and the zompa is alight in the breakfast room. We call it the breakfast room for those who do not know the Greek word “avli” for courtyard. Originally the house was two separate buildings with an outside loo and no bathroom so it was open to the skies but Douglas covered it over with clear plastic whatever it’s called (can’t think of the name offhand) so that it joined the two together. There is still a courtyard and the first year or so I was here, if it was raining it meant an umbrella and a hop skip and a jump across the courtyard to the loo . It was a water closet but had no cistern so had to be flushed from a bucket and there was no door so it was pretty chilly in winter, but a wonderful view. The older of the two buildings which was what the family used consisted of two stories with a kitchen, now a bedroom, and storerooms down below and two rooms up above reached by an outside staircase, again umbrella time when raining though I shouldn’t think the Cretans bothered with umbrellas much they’re so used to their weather. The two rooms above were originally one but were divided by a reinforced concrete wall. Presumably, as it was not a retaining wall but merely a divider it was reinforced concrete because of possible earthquakes. In the storerooms down below when cleaning out the rubbish I found bottles and bottles of live ammunition of all calibres, oil drums containing goodness what and a box in which to keep snails. Also in knocking the plaster off one wall I unearthed a nest of fifty cockroaches or more. The larger of the storerooms is now a bedroom and the smaller (where the cockroaches lived) a completely marbled bathroom. I never did see anymore roaches but if there are any they certainly can’t eat their way through solid marble.
The second house was newer, built we think some time in the early thirties. This consisted of a large room, now our kitchen, and a goat shed. You entered the goat shed from the avli by way of a small area in which was an old beehive oven, unfortunately in too bad a state to be restored, and then through an arch into the room itself. It was full of junk. Between the first room and the goat shed was a wall cupboard with a reinforced concrete back wall. That was taken down with a great deal of effort, as was the wall upstairs in the first house, to make a doorway between the two rooms so that what was the goat shed is now my bedroom and where the oven was is now my bathroom.
We have been told, though I can’t vouch for the truth of this, that what is now our kitchen was during the war Gestapo headquarters in Vamos.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Kronya Pola Dennis and Ceri Weircx of Somerset West, South Africa. Congratulations on your fiftieth wedding anniversary. May it be a golden day for you. With fondest love from Crete. Glyn, Chris, Douglas.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

It has to be admitted that when it comes to modern technology I am the complete Luddite. All yesterday and well into the evening I couldn’t fathom out why, when I switched on Skype, nothing further happened. I kept wondering why that little green arrer wasn’t on the bottom line and why not a single contact was showing a yellow or green symbol. It was only this morning I realised Chris had switched me off-line and I had to switch myself back on. Silly mois. Also I am supposed to save my Blogs in a file and I have already forgotten how to do it. It can wait a few days till he gets back form London. I don’t know why he wants to save them anyway.
After all that rain, clear blue skies this morning but heavy rain is forecast so I suppose it’s only a matter of time before it hits us.
Sex rears its ugly head again, this time in Saudi Arabia where a man appeared in a television programme telling how he seduced a number of women and evidently going into quite graphic detail. For his temerity (and his stupidity I feel) he has been given a lengthy prison sentence and sentenced to 1000 lashes and no that is not a mistake. The questions I have to ask are, how are the lashes administered? Are they at intervals over the length of his sentence or do they happen all at once? Presumably whoever is administering the punishment, when his arm gets tired, hands over to a replacement etc., and how on earth can anyone survive one thousand lashes? It fair boggles the mind. I should think, if he does survive, he fervently wishes he had been born anywhere but in Saudi Arabia or born without the cock that has got him into such a perilous predicament. On the other hand it wasn’t his cock but his own boasting stupidity that landed him in it.
I haven’t talked books for a long time which is neglectful of me considering the number I have been going through but it can wait another day. Must mention though that I have just finished another Karen Slaughter and hugely enjoyed it once again. That girl can really spin a page turning yarn. The only reason I mention it is because I saw only one typo in the whole book and that was “public bone” for “pubic bone”. Easily missed, and the only reason I mention it is because Chris found a huge one in my new book, “The Journeys We Make” despite both Douglas and myself proofing and proofing and proofing. How we missed it I really do not know. At one point (page 124) a character mentions Cockney rhyming slang and talks of “apples and pears” for which I have written “apples and pairs!” Oh, wow, how on earth did we miss that one? The spell-check didn’t pick it up of course because pairs was spelt correctly so why question it? The question now though is: does the next proof get redone for that one horrible mistake or shall we let it pass? I leave the decision to Douglas Foote.
A friend in New York, Lionel Wilson, was mad for Cockney rhyming slang. ‘Come on Glynnie, tell me more, tell me more!’ He would have picked up on that one straight away.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Four people were injured last night in Ommonia Square and two were arrested. The injuries were caused by gunshots and neither of the two arrested men was Greek: one was Italian, the other Palestinian. Hey-ho in the very centre, the Piccadilly Circus, of Athens! Also in a northern suburb a ten year old boy was shot in the leg during a shoot-out between his family and a rival clan. Evidently the adults who started the fracas escaped unscathed. The boy is said to be in a critical condition.
Wet towels, wet towels, wet towels! What a deal of mopping up as the heavens opened and the torrential rain has been hitting us for the last twenty-four hours. The first autumnal storm and, as I write, the thunder is still rolling with hardly a break between rolls. The reason for the wet towels is because they are placed at the foot of exterior doors that tend to flood and of course the dryer would pack up at this time of the year. What did Cretans do before the advent of modern civilisation? Be careful what you wish for, your wishes could come true. Earlier I said to Diane that I hoped it would rain so I didn’t have to bother with watering the garden. What I didn’t wish for was the deluge we’ve received, rather I had hoped for that gentle rain from heaven.
Well, or lipon as the Greeks would say, my visit to the Health Centre was another anti-climax. We got the prescriptions renewed but as far as the breathing difficulties are concerned it was a case of a quick all over with the stethoscope and “see a specialist”. And as for the little lump on my leg, they gave it a couple of thumb presses which made me yell, asked if it hurt when I walked to which the answer was no, and then seemed to lose interest. So four doctors have now seen it and don’t seem to be particularly worried. At some point it will have to be excised but there is evidently no hurry. We have learnt that the little girl Elizabeth a couple of doors down the road who we knew when we first came here is now a fully fledged doctor and is working in the hospital in Heraklion. What is more she is a lung specialist so that is who I will make an appointment to see, and have the leg looked at again at the same time. And, talking of time, the clocks went back an hour last night so the days of sunshine, when we get them again, are going to be shorter.
It was at this point that I had to switch off as the lightning was too close for comfort and too many computers and telephones have crashed in this kind of weather.
But here I am back again. Still hear the thunder but distant now. Last night we watched the film “Maurice” again. I was in Washington DC when I first saw it all of twenty odd years ago but have seen it on telly a couple of times since. Watching it last night I was struck, as I wasn’t particularly before, at just how handsome, beautiful even, young Mr James Wilby was and how small Mister Rupert Graves, though equally as handsome: a beautiful movie with an all-round terrific cast and just as enjoyable as previous viewings. Many many years ago, all of thirty or more, I wanted to write a screenplay based on Mister Forster’s novel and tried to get interest in it from the film world but at that time no one was interested. Timing really is so important in life, n’est ce pas? It was the same with “Lorenzo’s Oil”. When I read the article in the Sunday Times I immediately called Roy Simpson, the only producer I was on first name terms, with but his response was, if the story was that compelling he was quite sure a major studio would snaffle up the rights and so it turned out to be. The resultant film was hardly a box-office breaker but beautiful with the most extraordinary, brilliant performance from the child. Not box-office breaking but certainly heart-breaking.
Would you believe Firefox cannot gain access to Google so this Blog can’t be sent yet? There are two reasons for this; firstly always seems to have trouble at week-ends and secondly, the bloody weather! It is now 11.05. I will try again later. If no success this one will have to be published tomorrow

Friday, October 23, 2009

A quickie this chilly morning as shortly I will be up at the Health Centre to stock up on my drugs for next month, have a word about this breathing problem, and possibly undergo some minor surgery on my shin where there is a nasty little bump the doctor in Heraklion diagnosed as a vein thrombosis. Oh, dear! Growing old is not pretty but then sometimes being young ain’t so good either. Douglas’s phone call last night was not exactly a bundle of laughs. He had been to see the oncologist during the day who gave him the worst possible scenario as to his cancer treatment and possible outcome and it sounds as if the treatment is as bad as the disease. Douglas is only forty-five, half his life ahead of him. I have decided that at my age should something like this happen to me I will refuse treatment and just ask for the pain killers. You feel so helpless witnessing a loved one’s pain, knowing there is not a damn thing you can do about it.
I see in yesterday’s headlines that the Americans have at last got tough on the obscene bonus culture, even to the point of reducing payouts by ninety percent, and high time too. Now why can’t Gordon Brown and his lot do the same? They can’t wait to put their fingers into everybody’s daily business, making laws to run people’s lives from morning to night and vice versa, but when it comes to dealing with something like this they’re all blab and flab. They haven’t lifted a finger to prevent what could be one of the most disastrous bits of industrial action of the last decade – the postal strike. Brown had the nerve in parliament to tell the Tory leader not to bring politics into the equation! What the hell is he if he’s not a politician, a prime minister supposedly there with his party to govern the country? Or are they there merely to fiddle their expenses? What a shower!
Still with the B’s (after bonus) I see also that the Bosnians are still unable to come to an agreement as to the constitution of their country and once again it is still religion that is the great divide, more than ethnicity. As it forever seems to do, trouble looms once more in the Balkans. Hey-ho, what a world!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

There is a real chill in the morning air now, the walnuts have dropped most of their leaves and the millipedes are all over the house, climbing walls and crawling across floors, not to be trodden on; it’s that time of the year. It must have been this time last year that I looked up millipedes to find out (a) why they come inside in the first place and (b) what they eat? Whatever I learned I’ve forgotten. It’s just as well the central heating boiler was serviced yesterday though the clothes dryer is out of action which is not good for coming wintry weather. And it would seem I’ve caught the first cold of the year.
I see in “Headlines Today” that in Thailand 8000 volunteers took part in a trial for an HIV vaccine. This means that 8000 people had unprotected sex and naturally some of them became infected and there are evidently now grave doubts about the efficacy of the vaccine anyway. I realise the 8000 were volunteers and probably enjoyed it all while it lasted, but what kind of morality or scientific justification is it that puts them at such a risk and how do those who ended up contracting the virus feel about their participation now? It really is a queer old world. Al-queda started as fanatical militancy towards the west, particularly I suppose the USA, but now they and the Taliban have been creating merry hell in Pakistan, a Muslim country. Sooner or later I suppose it was inevitable they would be at each others throats as are the Sunni Muslims and the Shias in Afghanistan. As bad if not worse as Catholic versus Protestant. Tribal loyalties seem to enter the equation as well as religion and who knows whether tribal loyalties will ever die out. Fat chance I reckon.
I see also on the news that a woman in Manhattan is suing the management of her apartment block and Madonna because ever since the latter moved in she has had to move out whenever they have a rehearsal or jam session, (good old-fashioned expression that) which is evidently pretty frequent, because of the noise. She is suing the management because they have done nothing about her complaints. I know very well how she feels and she has all my sympathy. When we bought the house in Farleigh Road, Stoke Newington, the house on one side owned by a housing association was occupied by West Indians who partied all night long and what one got in the bedroom was the thud thud thud of the bass reverberating through the wall. It drove us mad. In fact I don’t think I’m exaggerating if I say it almost turned us into nervous wrecks. No amount of complaints to the housing association brought relief and if any night the police were called the noise would stop for half an hour, just time for the police to come and go, before starting up again. Naturally these nightly shenanigans were not just house parties. They were running what was virtually a nightclub next door. When I went in one morning to remonstrate I was proudly shown speakers large enough to have done duty in the Albert Hall. The problem with terraced Victorian houses is that they were not built for noise. On the other side was a charming West Indian couple who ate their supper in the kitchen at the rear of the house while watching television which was on at the front. Naturally the volume was on full blast but when we mentioned it to them they did turn it down. Even someone vacuum cleaning could be heard through the walls loud and clear. We had double glazing fitted that stopped the noise from the street but had the effect of enhancing the noises from within.
Natural street noises at night one can get used to. I got used to New York which must be the noisiest city in the world from dusk to dawn and back again and I get used to the traffic outside the flat in Athens very quickly but that thud thud thud in Farleigh Road was more than our hearts could bear. Anyway it came to a head one night when a shaking bruised and bleeding African girl came climbing over our garden wall seeking sanctuary. She had obviously been beaten and was scared out of her wits. We took her in, called the police and very soon after that the noisy West Indians were removed. That made room for the builders which is another story altogether!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Lovely gentle intermittent rain for two days so the garden won’t need watering for a while. This coming week after a dry period I will have to start burning. The summer’s over so the chances of starting a conflagration are minimal though I will see there is water standing by should things look as though they’re getting out of control. There’s an awful lot to be got rid of as well as a mountain to climb cutting back what has become an absolute jungle. The garden is large, 1500 square metres. It was originally 2000 but was reduced when we had the extension built. We have planted a number of trees, ornamental as well as fruit. There are four orange trees, three varieties including a Seville, bitter and great for marmalade. Three of these were here when we bought the house. There was also a lemon just outside the kitchen door but we lost that some years ago, in consequence of which we’ve planted three more. There is also a mandarin. All the citrus is bearing masses of fruit at the moment. The avocado pears are coming on as well, the winds of Crete not having knocked them off, and the pomegranates are ripe. Prickly pears are finished for this year, most of them lying beneath the plant and rotting. You can smell the alcohol a mile off! We have a nectarine, a present from American friends some years back but unfortunately that bugger has never born fruit, only peach curl which we’ve had to spray in an endeavour to get rid of every year. Maybe next year it will bear fruit. The nut-peach though has given us masses of fruit every year and so has the quince. There are five olive trees, two different varieties, all we could find space for and two different grapes. Right at the far end of the garden is an ancient pear, god alone knows how old it is and at most we get a dozen or so pears off it if we’re lucky. But it is such a venerable old man one would hate to see it go. There are four walnut trees which reminds me to go out now and collect this year’s fall although we’ve got sacks of them going back two or three years. Can’t get through them fast enough. What have I forgotten? Oh, yes, the loquat and two mulberries, purple and white, the white being much the sweeter of the two, and two varieties of apricot, one smallish and quite firm and the other large and very juicy. Both trees give an abundance of fruit in consequence of which the store cupboard holds quite a few jars of apricot jam and preserve and I have made apricot wine as well. There is also a wild almond and we did have a granadilla vine from which we got a lot of fruit but unfortunately a couple of years back when we had a rare fall of snow the cold killed it off. Oh, forgot the plums! Two varieties, red and yellow. These were also here when we bought the house. Used to have a third but that suddenly died as well. Provided quite a lot of firewood though. Whoops! Forgot the figs, brown and winter green.Then, at ground level, there is the strawberry patch that does well every year. The plants don’t seem to know what the seasons are as we sometimes find fruit on them in December! The big disappointment is apple, difficult to grow here because like parsnips they need a really cold spell and don’t get it. The apple tree we planted simply didn’t take off at all. Altogether though not bad for a village garden.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

To end the hospital saga, we arrived there just after nine thirty to find the approach road jammed with cars parked either side a good half mile or more, cars in the car park and a nose to tail line ahead of us. God only knows what time people start turning up but the world and its mother were there, virtually every chair in the corridors was occupied and people just milling around like lost souls. Our man arrived at ten and pinned his rota up on the door of his office. We discovered we were number eleven so I fully expected a very long wait. However it was quicker than expected and it was we who held up proceedings for number twelve onwards. During our wait Doctor Maria walked by and Chris stopped her to ask questions, none of which she could answer of course without seeing my notes. She was quite amazed that we had never been given them and trotted off to reception to make a phone call to the secretary in the cardiac unit to look for them. They were eventually found, too late to be of any immediate use, and we are now waiting for them to be e-mailed or mailed to us.
The journey both ways was uneventful. There wasn’t too much traffic though two or three Greeks were driving in harebrained fashion which is only to be expected. It is a long drive and Chris was pretty tired on the return though we stopped at Gregory’s for a bite and a drink and stopped again just before Georgopoli for an ice cream and Chris had a reviving walk on the almost deserted beach. We noticed hotels along the way that were already closed and shuttered and the season has another week or more to go so it really has been a very bad year all around. Yet there is still talk, and plans, of more hotels being built which is simply crazy. The bottom has dropped out of the real estate market for a start and Greece which once provided cheap holidays is now expensive with places like Turkey taking over. It is a very scenic drive, mountainous towards Heraklion with lots of bends which is why one has to be wary of Greek drivers. Unfortunately the graffiti vandals have disfigured virtually every road sign on the way with their ridiculous political crap. Who knows what ‘13 Xania’ means apart from themselves and maybe the police if they’re an anarchist group which is more than likely? Greece is plagued by these small groups who still believe letting off bombs and plastering slogans everywhere is going to change society. Some of the road signs are enormous standing a good ten twelve feet high and about eight feet across, I’m not going to measure metric, too used to t’other, and some of the smaller ones have been so vandalized they are almost illegible. Apart from the disfigurement that must have foreign visitors tut-tutting and wondering what they have come to, it giving a truly bad impression, the expense involved in replacing these signs would be astronomical and the question is, would it be worth it? They would more than likely only be vandalized again and again. Where do these people keep their brains? That is if they have any!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

What a jolly old swizz, to use the vernacular of the early twentieth century, what a let down. The magic day October 14th has been and gorn. Here was I all geared up ready to have m’ groin mashed and electrodes shoved into m’ ticker and what happened? Nothing happened. Sorry, folks, show’s off. This morning I should have been rolled into a theatre and laid out on that hard table with the lead blanket thrown over me, m’ crotch liberally swabbed with antiseptic, instead of which I am here at home writing this for the hedification of my merry readers. Now neither Douglas nor myself dreamed up the scenario we thought was to unfold yesterday so imagine Chris and my surprise when Doctor Goldentummy had no recollection of ever mentioning something like a hole in the heart and an operation to repair same but this is what both Douglas and I remember as we were waiting at cardiac reception for me to be discharged after having the pacemaker installed:-
Dr.G: You have a hole in the heart that must be fixed. It means the blood is going round and round, how can I put it? In a loop. (He holds up his hand, forefinger an thumb making an O). This is the doctor who will perform the operation. (He indicates Doctor George standing by) It is the same as the angiogram except we use a vein instead of an artery. We cauterise it and you won’t feel anything. When can you come in to have it done?
Now neither Douglas nor I could have independently dreamed up this conversation, especially as there and then it was eventually decided my return would be on October 14th when the new pacemaker had had time to settle in and Doctor George took Douglas and Chris into the office to make the appointment. But yesterday Doctor Goldentummy evidently had no memory of ever mentioning the word blood let alone hole in the heart though I repeated all the above to him verbatim. Instead, with the magic instrument on my chest, as he poked the screen of his computer testing the efficacy of the new pace maker and while we kept the next patients waiting, he made numerous phone calls trying to trace my notes (they were eventually found when everything was almost over). Anyway, the upshot of all this is, no hole in the heart operation, the p-maker is working beautifully and what a clever little thing it is, giving the complete history of any aberration since it was put in in July; date time and duration. I never cease to be amazed at what modern computers can do. For example, arrhythmia seven times in July, four in August, only one in September and so far in October none.
So why still this shortness of breath? Well evidently it is not so much the heart as the lungs to blame. After all those years of smoking and with advancing old age they have lost some of their elasticity. I don’t suppose the attack of pneumonia I had a couple of years back helped any.
So there we are – back home and not expected back at the hospital for another check-up until the 1st November 2010. Who knows what the pacemaker will have shown up then?

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

This time tomorrow Chris and I will be on our way to Herakleon where, hopefully, I will be admitted to the University Hospital for the second heart procedure so this should be my last Blog for a few days. I say should and hopefully because there would appear to be a bit of an old mix-up. When Chris called the hospital yesterday in order to find out some details like, for example, how long it would take, the girl who answered the phone said, ‘Oh, fifteen minutes.’ Well that was definitely wrong for a start but it turns out she believed, presumably according to her records, I would be there only to have the pacemaker checked! A long way to go, 135 kilometres, for fifteen minutes. When Chris said, no, it was for repairing the hole in the heart she knew nothing about it. So maybe I will be there and back in the winking of an eye which is going to create problems as (a) Diane is coming from the UK today to look after house and animals and stay on for a while. I feel bad about asking her to act as nurse to poor incontinent old Sweeney but the alternative was to have the old girl put to sleep and we haven’t had the heart for that. (b) Chris has to go to the UK at the end of the month to do a job for the Beeb who want him to do a bit on George Leybourne for a TV programme called “Rude Britannia”. (c) Douglas’s treatment in England means he won’t be back until Christmas. If the hospital has made a boob we will have to try persuading them it is imperative we stick to the time-table or who knows when it can be done? Hopefully next time I write the hole will have been mended and all will be well. I can’t say I am looking forward to it but when I think of what Douglas will be going through with chemo and radiotherapy for six weeks, he’s going to feel like hell no doubt, I gird m’ loins and put a brave face on things. It will be the same as the angiogram which will probably result in nothing more than a bruise the size of a dinner plate in the groin area and back-ache from having to lie still for six hours or more. That is the really boring bit.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

I have at last seen the documentary “The real King Arthur”. It has been on the government TV channel half a dozen times but I have either missed it or, settling down to watch, found it replaced by something else, usually political. This happens on Greek TV, particular on the government channel if there is an important debate going on. Anyway, as I said, I have finally managed to see it and quite interesting it was too although still totally false. The conclusion as to the real identity of this king, getting away from Geoffrey of Monmouth and the Middle Ages, was to make him a warlord(!) in the fifth century. At least the Romans were still in Britain, just, but in my book that theory is four centuries too late. “The story (or was it tales?) spread from Britain to the continent.” Wrong. The tales spread from the continent to Britain. But I think I’ve already been into all this after the Real Merlin programme so apologies for repeating myself.
Three interesting religious stories from the realm of weirdo. A group of Christians in America (where else?) are having ultra-large families, ten seems to be the norm, who will go out into the world spreading the news and saving the world from vice and degradation by bringing people back to Christ. What makes them think that all the children in each family are going to be models of Christian correctness? There definitely will not be a single bad apple in the barrel? And reading today that one in four is now Muslim they will have a pretty steep hill to climb to push their particular brand of Christianity.
Second story, a couple, also in America, allowed their sick young daughter to die because they believed God would save her, so they sat around with like-minded idiots praying and believing and didn’t call anybody else in until the child’s breathing stopped.
Sent for trial the Judge found them guilty of something or other because, in his words, they were really very good people, just misguided. He sentenced each of them to six months imprisonment to be served a month a year at different times. If I remember correctly the husband would serve his in March and the wife in September. In the meantime social services would be paying regular visits to the household in case anything similar should happen with the other children. The husband’s only reaction was he still believed in God and, if you want my reaction,. The judge was just as cuckoo as the rest.
Third story, not quite so weird because it has been going on for some considerable time and that is confusion in the Church Of England about female bishops. Can’t see what all the fuss is about myself. In the good old day of paganism there were priestesses and high priestesses so why not have female bishops? This Gordian knot together with homosexual clergy really has people’s knickers in a right old twist.
Another cautionary tale, this time from the weird realm of science-fiction, more fiction than science: Half the world goes naked but Tom Cruise’s three year old daughter Suri allegedly has a fashion wardrobe valued at £2000000! She has no friends her own age but does have birthday parties at £64000 a throw. She goes on shopping sprees followed by her mother who buys her whatever takes her fancy and acts as bag woman. The child throws tantrums. Is it any wonder? Children according to Scientology should be treated like adults and as Cruise is evidently numero duo in the hierarchy and money is no object his little girl is going to grow up, that is if she grows up at all, a complete unbalanced mess and her pseudo–religious parents will have only themselves and Scientology to blame.
And yet another cautionary tale: three brothers in England are charged with the murder of the fifteen year old daughter of one of them as she had lost her virginity to a boy friend and was therefore damaged goods but, just as important in their minds, if not more so, the boyfriend who she wanted to marry was of a different religious sect to the family and marriage would be out of the question. The fact they were both Muslims was immaterial. Does Islam really condone the honour killing of a fifteen year old girl? Apparently so.
All those people brought up on the legends of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table and the search for the Holy Grail etcetera who believe Arthur was a Christian hold up your hands. Thought so. Wro-ong! He was a pagan through and through.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Finally, following on “Turns”, on the same tape is a documentary on Stephen Sondheim. Now I am an avid Sondheim fan, I believe he is totally brilliant and love everything he has written, everything I am familiar with that is, Merrily We Roll Along, A Little Night Music, Sweeney Todd, Into The Woods, Pacific Overtures etcetera, everything – except – “Sunday In The Park With George!” which I simply can not be getting on with. You would think I could if you listen to Pacific Overtures but I remember a fair amount of the music from that show without having to be prompted. With Sunday In The Park I don’t recall a note and I think that is not what musicals are about especially as Sondheim is pretty adamant about having to think of your audience. And what was this documentary based on? You guessed it. Sunday In The Park, the National Theatre production, also Sondheim teaching in Oxford courtesy of the chair inaugurated by Cameron Mackintosh, most of it seemingly using Sunday In The Park as an example. When I was teaching a class of total ignoramuses in America, in “Intro. To Theatre”, I ended the semester using Sweeney Todd as an example of everything I hope I had taught them over the previous weeks. They loved it. And I love that show. If I were thirty years or so younger I would give my eye teeth to play Sweeney. Even now I would give my eye teeth to direct it. That’s purely metaphorical; I don’t have any eye teeth! I have to admit I didn’t really appreciate Hal prince’s production at Drury Lane and I really have to admit I do not like Tim Burton’s film, not at all, not at all, but I think I might have mentioned that before.
The two other tapes I had taken out for possible viewing were a concert version of “Les Miz” and the film of “Bitter Sweet.” Ah, well, thinks I, we’ve just been watching something from the new master; let’s watch something from an old master, I mean from a previous generation, so I chose The Coward. Wro-ong! Hadn’t got too far into it when I remembered we watched it not all that long ago and it is an appalling MGM production Whatever one may think of Noel’s dialogue and lyrics, a product not just of his but of his time he deserved better treatment than this, from the twee background to the opening credits to Nelson Eddy playing serious, i.e., boring, to Miss MacDonald over-acting and telegraphing everything from a mile off. Maybe it was the hideous costumes she had to wear and the hair style having an effect on her. I doubt we will watch any more of it.
Still on the subject of musicals, I read in The Athens news that the Megaron is hosting a production of a musical based on Shaw’s “The Millionairess” so, as we have the complete plays and the companion prefaces and, as it is a play I had never heard of, I thought I would look it up. Alas, our volumes are not the complete plays after all as they were published in 1934 and this particular play was first produced in 1936. He was pretty prolific was old Shaw.
Still on the subject I also read that Android Lord Webster is offering shares in the sequel to Phantom Of The Opera at twenty five grand a throw. As it is opening not just in London but in various other parts of the globe a whole heap of money is required I reckon, even taking inflation into account. Very different from when he was looking for backers for Cats at fifty pounds a throw. At the time we didn’t have fifty pence let alone fifty pounds otherwise by now we might have made quite a lot of money. Should have borrowed it but then who was to know it would be such a smash hit.
Still on the subject, Chris of course was in A Little Night Music in London which was our introduction to Sondheim and he was also in Cats so we did get something out of that one.
And finally, the original score for Black Maria has at last been found and hopefully will be in our hands in the next few days. And if you don’t know anything about Black Maria, maybe some other time.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

With little of interest to watch on any of Greek’s multiple television channel’s or at least little we want to watch we’ve been going through old tapes recorded many years ago and these last two evenings have been watching “Turns”, Jimmy Perry’s reminiscences of Music Hall and Variety with rare archive film clips. Nostalgia is all very well but Music Hall and Variety had come to the end of their time and had to die. Some of the acts would today get no further than the stage door, in particular some of the comedians, and there were acts that would have given the elf and safety fascists the screaming habdabs. (On my spell check there is a word – lablab – what can that mean? Curious. Must look it up.) For example an adagio act that included walking up an A frame possibly about twelve feet to the top, the man beneath doing the climbing while his partner was standing on her head on his head, both of them with their arms outstretched. Up they went and down again. No safety wires. Then there was a quite amazing juggling act by three men who kept it up at terrific speed, one of them playing clown, walking through the flying Indian clubs (can one still call them Indian clubs?). Now would elf and safety allow that today? Golly gosh! They weren’t even wearing safety helmets. Any moment one of them could have been hit by a flying club and laid out unconscious if not suffering something worse. It was interesting to watch acts like Wilson Keppel and Betty again, I hadn’t realised their sand dancing act was quite as intricate as it was, and Little Titch with his elongated feet, another act that would give elf and safety a nervous breakdown.. A lot of the acts were from the thirties so you couldn’t really call them Music Hall which, unlike Variety killed by television, isn’t quite dead, there still being the Players in London (is there still?) and a number of artistes performing in pubs and various venues. When not gainfully employed in the theatre, like “Cats” for example Chris played any number of gigs and had a truly varied repertoire of numbers: Gilbert The Filbert, for which I wrote him an extra verse (see my autobiography No Official Umbrella available on Amazon) George Leybourne’s Oh The Fairies, In The Twi Twi Twilight, Oh That Gorgonzola Cheese, She Pushed Me Into The Parlour, Anchored, Put On Your Ta-Ta Little Girlie, Paree, etcetera. He discovered a number called Why Don’t We Nationalise The Ladies which he performed only once in Hackney where it was roundly hissed and, after she show, the pair of us were confronted by and verbally brutalised by a bunch of Diesel Dykes incensed at this disparagement as they saw it of the fair sex. In vain did we argue it was all part of Music Hall history and only a piece of fun. They weren’t having it – no way. We managed to eventually escape intact but, as I said, it was not performed again. With the passing of time what was acceptable to one generation is not acceptable to the next and you do have to be careful about what you perform I suppose. When I was at JMU in Virginia I was playing in The Fantasticks in which there is a number about rape. We, the cast, suggested to Tom, the director, that in view of two rapes that had taken place recently in the town, the number be cut but he wouldn’t hear of it. When it came up you could literally feel the audience freeze every night and it took a long while to get them warmed up again. An interesting footnote, well interesting to us, I see in my spell check (I thought I had misspelt Leybourne) that there is a Claiborne. Who or what was Claiborne I wonder? Maybe he was a lablab! And the interest is that Leybourne was called that once amongst other mutilations of his name, like Gayborini. Don’t know how the typesetter came up with that one but George must have been a bit put out at least. I know how he felt because my own very simple name is constantly misspelt but ti na kanoume? What can we do?

Monday, October 5, 2009

So the country has chosen and Pasok (the Pan Hellenic Socialist Party) after five years in opposition are once more in power and good old George Papandreou is the new Prime Minster. Karamanlis, who called the snap election, has resigned as leader of New Democracy. The result was really a forgone conclusion. The question most Greeks will be asking now is will things be very different or will it still be broken promises, corruption, nepotism and scandal and carry on as before? Do politicians ever change? Does the leopard lose her spots? At dinner last night we were told (I don’t know how true it is but I can believe it) that of the working population of Greece, half are employed in some government agency. Dinner, very English, roast beef and Yorkshire pud, the beef the tenderest I have ever tasted, was at Callum and Fran’s house (don’t worry that you don’t know who Callum and Fran are) in a village beneath the mountains called Embrosneros which means “Come forth water”. Some villages do have strange names when you translate them. Kalyves for example merely means “Shacks”. Come to think of it some personal names are a little strange, for example Zakarania which means sweetness. The house is a converted olive mill, very spacious, very modern and with a beautiful view of the mountains. When they bought the property it consisted of one enormous room evidently and is now a many roomed mansion almost. Apart from the roast beef and ice cream to follow, Fran served up what she called her favourite salad and I, not being a salad man usually, agree with her that it is a delicious mix – lettuce, spinach, chopped walnut, blue cheese and apple drizzled with honey. Talking of food, unfortunately, unable to take the simplest of physical exercise without still getting breathless, despite the pace maker making life and breathing that much easier, no palpitations, no irregular beat, I have put on an enormous amount of weight that I will really have to do something about. I have at last raked up enough energy to at least start in the garden again but am hoping after the next heart procedure in eleven days time I will be back to my old self. How time flies. After the first bout in hospital, the second seemed such a long long way away and now it is nearly on us.
One thing about having time on my hands, i.e. not spending days in the garden, I can select books from the home library that have been sitting on shelves for years and finally get around to reading them. One of them is “Old Wilds” re-published by the Society for Theatre Research and originally published in 1888. Old Wilds was a travelling booth theatre in the middle of the century and the book gives a wonderful insight into provincial theatre of that kind. More anon but, in the meantime, I found in it the perfect epitaph for an ex-theatrical – “Tired, he sleeps. The play is over.”

Saturday, October 3, 2009

I read in the paper that John Cleese is doing a one man show in Norway where, evidently, he is very popular – to pay for his divorce he says. This is divorce number three and the settlement to the ex-wife amounts to £12000000! Wife number two got off pretty poorly with only £2000000. There was no mention in the article of wife number one. Finding the twelve million settlement leaves poor Mr Cleese with a measly £10000000. Two questions arise from my seeing these figures: firstly, why do judges feel it incumbent upon themselves to constantly award these ridiculous amounts of money? Just because it might happen to be there? After all the marriage only lasted a few years during which time it was Cleese who was earning the brass so what entitles her to this enormous amount? The second question is, how do people like Cleese manage to amass these fortunes. Has it all come from constant reruns of Monty Python and Fawlty Towers? Twenty four million is a pretty sizable sum. These days one is aware of bankers’ bonuses, pop singers’ royalties, footballers’ wages and people like Jonathon Ross but artistes of an earlier time surely were not in the same league even though those who were in a popular TV series never have or had to work again. But Are You Being Served, It Ain’t Half Hot Mum, Dad’s army, never generated that much income surely?
Well, we obviously will never figure in the Sunday Times rich list but we have something much more important that riches can never buy and it has been brought home to me by the current situation that has naturally caused problems and that is – friends – not just friends but good friends, wonderful friends who have been standing by with all their offers of help and encouragement. They are many: English, Greek, South African Australian, German, American, and not to forget the Irish. It has been a constant ‘If there is anything we can do.’ ‘If there is anything you need/want.’ ‘Anytime, don’t hesitate.’ There was of course the problem of Douglas in hospital in the UK and my going into hospital in Herakleo in less than a fortnight now, most folks’ summer holidays, I will have had my groin prodded as Dame Edna might say and undergone the second heart procedure and even if it’s only for a few days, who would look after the house and the animals? My sister Ceri offered to come over from South Africa but, much as I would have liked that, we gratefully declined the offer as it would have been enormously expensive (all things are relative but to both the Wiercxs and us it would have been enormously expensive). The problem has been solved though by our lovely friend Diane Shaw in England who has offered to come out and, much to our relief, take over.
Chris has been keeping everyone up to date with a round Robin ostensibly from our dog, Merrill and nearly everyone has really appreciated them, some replying in as camp a mode. What the hell, there was no intention of being facetious, it is simply a case of laughter being the best medicine and we’ve all, including Douglas whose wish was to have it treated this way, had a good chuckle over them.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Here I sit in front of my own computer and keyboard. After much struggling and sotto voce swearing, well some of it not quite so sotto voce, Chris managed to marry the machine to the screen and connect up to the internet except that it still won’t accept or send emails. That still has to be sorted. Before I could do anything this morning (I did say I am a complete ignoramus as far as modern technology is concerned) I had to call him because a couple of strange notices came up about neither of which did I have a clue. What a strange sentence. Two blogs already written that should have been sent out on the 24th and 26th have disappeared into the great blue yonder and I no longer have any idea what I wrote – possibly a rant or two! Anyway, while I sat here, as Chris went about rectifying problems, I picked up the programme of the UNCLE VANYA I directed at James Madison University all of twenty years ago. I only picked it up because it was within reach at the top of a box of American ephemera so I thought this morning instead of coming up with something fresh I would use my Director’s Notes as today’s Blog, so here goes – Strindberg, Ibsen, Chekhov, three giants of nineteenth century drama, all of whom had a great deal to say about the human condition. So why Chekhov? And why “Uncle Vanya?” Forgive me, we are approaching the 21st Century: we live in the fast lane of superhype and MTV and “Billions sold!” We’ve set foot on the moon and sent unmanned probes into deepest space to explore planets our Chekhovian ancestors could only look at and dream about with their feet planted firmly on the ground, so what are the words of this 19th Century Russian to us? A different world, a different time. Really? Wait a balalaika pickin’ minute here. What is all this talk of Astrov’s about greedy man’s destruction of his environment? ‘Every day the earth grows more impoverished and ugly.’ Sound familiar? And why does Elenya talk of faithfulness and purity, and the capacity for self-sacrifice? The human condition is sad, it is painful, and Chekhov, in the English speaking world, has been accused of being morbid, depressing, a gloomy pessimist with too much “Russian Soul”. But the human condition can also be funny and happy and, more than anything at the end of the day, filled with hope. Chekhov knew well how bitter-sweet life is but there is always hope as is expressed most beautifully in some of Sonya’s final words in the play, ‘We shall see the whole sky light up with diamonds. Our life will grow serene, tender, sweet as a caress. I believe. I believe.’ If there was anyone who hoped to see the world a kinder, gentler place, that man was surely Anton Pavlovich Chekhov.