Saturday, January 30, 2010

Well, here’s my last Blog for January! Soon it will be Easter and then, before you know it, Christmas will be around again and you will wonder where the year went. Another beautiful sunshiny day though still a bit on the chilly side but that’s easily remedied; just add a few more layers. Before the advent of central heating when houses on the island were cold and damp that was all the Cretans did – just put on another pullover. We have been watching “Tales From The Green Valley”, the series that purports to demonstrate life on a Welsh farm in 1620, and absolutely fascinating it is too. I mention it in relation to the cold because last night’s episode was January. There is an episode each month of the year. The farmhouse must have been very much like Cretan country houses until very recently except that most Cretan ones would probably have been even smaller. Kitchen fires would have been the sole method of heating. It’s strange here to see men of the older generation walking about the village wearing full winter garments in late March because winter isn’t officially over though the day might be as hot as an English summer’s day. I suppose there is a Cretan equivalent of cast ne’er a clout till may be out. No one has been able to tell me whether that is the month or the plant.
I remember so well the very first January we had here all of twelve years ago when, driving from Kalives into Vamos, we stopped to admire the view, the snow on the mountains chiefly and I sat at the side of the road and said, “Hot hot hot,” and have been sent up about it ever since. As we had left England so cold, so wet, so grey, so miserable, here I was sitting in glorious sunshine and had every reason to say appreciatively, “Hot hot hot!” The mountains at the moment are heavily blanketed with snow right down to the foothills and look quite beautiful. The first weeks of winter were so warm we wondered whether they would look like this. On first arriving in Crete, Chris and I spent the first night in a delightful little hotel overlooking the Venetian harbour in Xania and them, for a few days, until we had beds made and the house became habitable, we stayed in a holiday apartment in Kalives right on the beach – and that at night was cold! This house had no bathroom and no indoor toilet so you had to march across the courtyard (umbrella if it was raining) to go to the loo, the door of which wouldn’t close. That was chilly but at least you could admire the view. It did have a flush toilet but no cistern so had to be flushed by means of a bucket. When we had the extension built it was pulled down and I came back from a shopping expedition in Xania to find I had no loo. A temporary one was hastily put up and, in the process, the builder tried to find the old cess pit with no success. Where all those years and years of shit went to is still a complete mystery. The new cesspit was dug out and a friend, looking intro it, remarked “You could have a million shits in there!” and, as far as we know it is still working perfectly. I was reminded of this by the Green Valley programme when they had to rebuild the privy yards from the house and do it in flurries of snow. What I wanted to know was – what did they do in the ten days it took to do it?

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Not a cloud in the sky this morning, at last at last. No doubt later the sun will warm things up, at last at last.
Am struggling to write a new lyric for BLACK MARIA. Not easy. It mustn’t sound like “I am what I am” from LA CAGES and it mustn’t be “I have a dream” like Martin Luther King but it has to be somehow along those lines – just different. Added to the problem is the fact that I am trying to set it to an already existing piece of music with quite intricate phrasing so altogether quite an interesting exercise. Placing it in the script where I have also means the number following, a very slow ballad, torch song really for the juv, is too close so has to be moved and I am thinking of making that the eleven o’clock number. If that doesn’t work it will have to be moved forward.
My sister has sent me from South Africa an article on Durban’s buses, or rather the complete lack of them. There is no doubt that once beautiful city has degenerated into an unholy mess. Why did it have to happen? One would have thought that of all African countries, South Africa would be the exception to chaos but obviously not and evidently it could only get worse. Admittedly it hasn’t gone the way of Monster Mugabe’s Zimbabwe so that at least is a mercy, but inefficiency, bureaucracy, despotism, and corruption are obviously rife.
Have moved on from watching YES MINISTER to watching YES PRIME MINISTER, just as terrific. Made twenty odd years ago last night’s episode was all about a cabinet minister trying to push through an anti-smoking bill which would include a ban on smoking in all public buildings. Of course there were all sorts of objections raised but it was fascinating when one thinks that in fact it has come to pass. One expected the Brits to toe the line like good boys and girls but in Italy we were surprised to find the law was being obeyed to the letter. The first large hotel we stayed in had signs up everywhere. “It is against the law to smoke in this building” and it applied everywhere we went; but what about the Greeks, a country of really heavy smokers? No longer will the surgeon at the end of a successful operation still in the theatre be able to light up his cigarette and take a longed for draw. The law is definitely being obeyed in hospitals, clinics, surgeries, (I think) the roads and areas outside being littered with cigarette butts but I don’t think they’re going to put up with not smoking in bars, tavernas, etcetera, and Chris tells me in the bank yesterday there was still the aroma of stale cigarette smoke in the air so, even if customers are obeying the law, bank manager and tellers were no doubt pulling at a sneaky drag. As for me I am just glad I gave up six years ago and only wish I had managed to do it sooner.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Createspace and Amazon together with Penguin USA are holding another literary competition, this time not for a short story but a novel and, once again, Greece is omitted from the list of eligible countries. Why? What on earth has everybody got against Greece? It is part of the European Union for goodness sake, as much as any of the other countries mentioned as eligible. In actual fact there is no reason why the competition shouldn’t be open world-wide as it is anyhow limited to the first 5000 entries within a certain time. How does Amazon and Penguin USA know they are not losing an absolute gem? I am fully aware that writers are in fact two a penny but there have been excellent ones from countries not mentioned in the eligible list. Strikes me as being most short-sighted.
Still very cold, still wet. At least the windows aren’t running with condensation this morning but the dehumidifier in my study is having a hard time of it. We have it on every night because, in the beginning, we lost three or four beautiful books to damp and mould. It is set at 30 and usually when switched on it reads about sixty but these last few nights it has read more than 70 and in the morning I find it has reduced that figure to about 55.
Normally the fire in the breakfast room isn’t lit until well into the afternoon but these last few days it has been going all day and the central heating has a morning as well as an evening spell. Will have to check and see how the oil is holding out. We might as well be back in England.
I had thought this morning I would be writing all about Sweeney, fully expecting when I got up to find she had gone. She has been refusing food the last three days and she gave us no end of false alarms yesterdays. It really did look like the end but, no, this morning she was sitting up in her snuggle rather than lying comatose as she did all yesterday. It is now fifteen months since we dug her grave because we thought the end was about to come and she is sixteen years old. I have no doubt my next Blog will be all about Sweeney.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

This has now got beyond the ridiculous. It is still raining; a steady downpour. I now know the description of leaden skies is a true one and it is depressing. We have had it for almost two weeks. I think this is the longest period of incessant rain I can remember in Crete. Even the farmers have found it, together with the cold, too much to be out in and have called off their blockade with their tractors of the main highways, an oft recurring event whenever their grievances get too much. Well, the old cliché has it that it never rains but it pours and poor Greece, a country in a frightful financial mess, is evidently now having Rumania demanding ten million euro compensation because of the farmers’ blockade that has closed the border and prevented their lorries from delivering goods. Maybe the rain has come to the rescue and the lorries can pass. Evidently it is quite true the farmers are having a really tough time with the cost of diesel being what it is, the cost of living altogether being what it is and the price of crops and EU subsidy not being what it should be, the subsidy on cotton at one time was worth 1.50euro and is now 28 lepta, but in some ways it is their own fault. I am led to believe that, instead of using it for improvements, they squandered their first lot of subsidies: the lure of a new Mercedes or BMW being too hard to resist. Also they will not change old ways; they will not change their crops. Evidently, though I have no firsthand knowledge of this, cotton is an easy crop to grow and therefore gives the farmer an easy life. You don’t have to get up at five in the morning to milk the cotton. But it has created its own problems, mainly in that cotton requires masses and masses of water and has seriously depleted the water table in parts of the country, rather like the Greek exchequer I reckon. Mind you, if it is raining there as it is here I should think the problem has been momentarily eased quite considerably.
As for Greece’s financial situation which is as bad if not worse than the UK (are there any countries not hopelessly in the red?) the question being asked is, will it go bankrupt. Evidently it did once before shortly after it became a nation with the fall of the Ottoman Empire. Well bankruptcy may be avoided but what won’t be is the inevitable rise in taxes starting with those usual obvious targets, booze and tobacco, but there is evidently also talk of a new property tax. This probably wouldn’t be necessary if Greeks did not have a thousand ways of avoiding tax altogether. Reducing or even eliminating the the black economy would be half way to getting Greece out its financial fix.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Oh, dear! Yet more rain. I guess the country needs it but does it need quite so much? When is St. Swithin’s Day? Do we have this for forty days I ask myself? And the dreary cold that goes with it. Poor Douglas, came home for sunshine, brought the English weather with him, and now he goes back to England tomorrow the hours of sunshine he enjoyed counted on fingers, possibly a bit more than one hand – but not much.
When I wrote about all the good things visitors brought to the party I forgot to mention the mooseburgers! Yes, mooseburgers, brought by Norwegian friends. I think interesting might be the word. No, actually they were very good and supplied a second dinner after the goat. The Norwegians have also been quite liberal now and again with the smoked salmon, one luxury I could O.D. on.
The Bosie biography has had to be delivered to Torquay as the book-seller through whom Amazon got it does not deliver to Greece. This is not the first time this has happened and it is so annoying and rather silly I feel. I have no idea what their objection could be. After all, with credit cards and Paypal they don’t run the risk of not getting their money, the Greek postal service is actually as efficient as anywhere else despite what people might think and finally there is insurance should something go wrong, so what is the objection?
Annoying also is the courier company used by Lighningsource to deliver my books as they take forever. Four copies of THE JOURNIES WE MAKE were dispatched days ago and I suppose are till sitting in Heraklion as happened before. Then, when they do get around to delivering, they refuse point blank to try and find the house (not difficult; Vamos is hardly a large city or even a big town and there are plenty of landmarks to show the way) but fortunately our friend Georgia who runs the pandopoleo in the square will take them in and hold them for us. The reason for there being four copies is that the National Library of Greece likes to have three copies of books published in Greece. Three! What do they want with three? Does the British Library ask for three? Or congress? There are Greek publishers who produce some wonderful books including very large coffee table ones and where does the library store them all at three copies a throw?
Writing and being published in Greece has disadvantages in other directions as well. For example, Amazon and Penguin USA are running a short story competition with quite a hefty prize in dollars but Greece is not included in the countries eligible for submission. Douglas thought of submitting THE JOURNIES WE MAKE for the Booker prize but guess what – it is published in Greece so not eligible. Also they would more than likely consider it to be vanity published as DCG is not one of your big regular publishers. Ah, well, can’t win ‘em all.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

We’ve been watching old BBC productions, series they used to know how to make such as DAD’S ARMY and YES MINISTER which is still one of the funniest and wittiest ever produced, brilliant scripts, brilliant performances. I wonder, did it win any prizes? If not, why not? I know I have been out of touch a goodly while but it seems to me, as the old saying has it, they don’t make ‘em like that anymore. After all that reality television does anyone in England still know how to produce quality? That might sound cynical but is it all that far off the truth?
Have at last finished reading Richard Ellmann’s biography of Oscar Wilde and fascinating it has been. It seems to have taken forever to get through it but that was only because it has been my bedtime book and so was read a couple or more pages at a time before going to sleep. Was there a streak of madness in the Queensbury family? If Queensbury himself was a most disreputable character, Bosie was equally if not more so; a vain, completely selfish, mendacious, spendthrift, probably as violent in his temper as his father. Well, in order to possibly get a different perspective on the man I’ve ordered a biography of Lord Alfred Douglas and we will see what that has to say about him.
Have also finished the Sophia Tolstoy diaries. Got through that in no time at all and was finding it rather repetitious towards the end. It did paint an interesting picture of their lives in nineteenth century Russia but what a strange woman! At one point she remarks on her full and happy life and the next moment she is suicidal yet again. This suicidal bit happens with alarming frequency. It seems a remedy for it was to go and play the piano for a few hours. I do have the feeling that this obsessive love (if you can call it love?) for Lev Tolstoy wasn’t quite normal and he, in his own way, seems to have been as big a shit as Lord Alfred Douglas.
My loo book has been “So long and thanks for all the fish” by Douglas Adams, described as “the fourth book in the Hitch-Hiker trilogy”. Well, as much as I enjoyed The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, I simply couldn’t get on the wavelength with this one so I am afraid have given up three quarters of the way through.
We have had ten days of intermittent rain, well more than intermittent actually. Looking out of my window now I see only blue sky but I saw that yesterday for a brief moment before it poured down again and continued through the night with occasional thunderstorms. On Sunday there was a welcome home party for Douglas and it was chucking it down in buckets, so much so I honestly thought no one would come and it would be a complete washout, but they did come, bar three or four. They braved the torrents, arrived dripping wet, and we had a wonderful five hours party. It ended up forty in all. There was plenty of food (Chris had been baking for two days) and drink and it is the custom in Greece when visiting anyone’s home to bring a little something so there was more – cake, biscuits, chocolates, wine, tsigouthia. One Greek couple brought goat which we had for dinner yesterday evening, another brought an enormous bag of oranges and one of mandarins! What are we going to do with them all? And interestingly, an English couple brought two books: hospital reading they said for Douglas who is going back in a couple of day’s time. One, a massive tome, is on Ellen Terry and Henry Irving and the other a book called “The Actor Manager” by Leonard Merrick. A book republished by Bibliobazaar in South Carolina. I don’t know the original publication date but nineteenth century or very early twentieth. I don’t know about hospital reading for Douglas but they will certainly take the place of all the books I’ve just finished.

Monday, January 18, 2010

As examples of trust, here are three: the tank for the central heating oil is virtually empty and winter has a while to go yet but we have no money. To fill the tank will cost somewhere in the region of 750 euro. ‘Pay me when you can,’ says Haralambos. ‘It won’t be for a while,’ we say. ‘Then berazi’ says Harralambos, ‘it doesn’t matter, whenever.’ And it was a couple of months before we had the wherewithal to pay him. Medicine needed but again no money. ‘Pay when you can,’ says Eleni the pharmacist, ‘it’s an emergency.’ Somehow I can’t imagine that happening at the chemist in Hebden Bridge. Douglas is in England undergoing his treatment and here one of the cats is taken ill so has to go to Michael the vet. ‘Just pay for the medicine,’ Michael says, refusing all payment for the consultation. ‘You need the money for England.’ Once when the bank was on strike and we were complaining to him about not being able to get any money his answer was, ‘You live in a village. You have neighbours don’t you? You have a garden. You grow potatoes. What do you want money for?’ The fact that the only year I tried to grow potatoes it was an abject failure was beside the point. We knew what he meant. During yet another bank strike, and because of it, Judith and Dimitri who run the bookshop Papyrus in Kalives were unable to deposit takings so offered them as a loan to tide us over.
I can’t remember when last we bought olive oil. With the first pressings come the first gifts from our neighbours, beautiful green virgin oil. We are given wine, tsigouthia (raki), fruit, eggs, cheese, traditional Cretan cookies and goodness knows what else such as glika (sweets made from fruit) and moustalaveria, a delicacy made from pressed grapes. It evidently takes at least two days to make and is quite a complicated process but the end result is delicious.
This is not to say that generosity doesn’t exist elsewhere. I have already mentioned this in part but I think it’s worth my saying it again if only to reiterate our gratitude for generous friends who came to our assistance last year without being asked or us even thinking of asking in the first place. Despite the Greek National health Service which is excellent and the British one that took care of Douglas, falling ill can be very expensive and deplete the coffers pretty fast which is the reason for our gratitude. Douglas’s brother and sister in law, William and Susan also have to be thanked for taking such care of him and how lucky that they live in Torquay not that distant from the hospital in which he was being treated, and Tom Austin for providing a much needed taxi service if nothing else. Such good friends and much appreciated.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Have been reading “Blue Skies and Black Olives” by John and Christopher Humphrys and thoroughly enjoying it, not because it is a great piece of literature but because it is so humorous and so often parallels exactly what we have experienced living in Greece though we have never had a peacock named Henry. That chapter had me laughing out loud all the way through. I could see it all as a film. Unfortunately what I can’t see is Henry taking directions.
What is it that makes living in Crete such a joy even having to cope with rules and regulations that seem to change constantly and all the bureaucracy that goes with it? The way Greeks never tell lies but will tell you what they think you want to hear; the way things work or do not work and tend to take you by surprise? For example, water. In the twelve years of living here a water bill has been delivered to the door once. The water board offices have changed three times the last few years being a room in the town hall where one goes to pay – but who knows when? There was one year when the bills were left in the local pandopoleon (ie., the shop that sells everything; now usually called a mini-market) but that didn’t last long because the shopkeeper decided it wasn’t worth his while, probably because it wasn’t bringing in any extra custom so why should he bother? So last year when we thought, ‘Hey, haven’t had a water bill for an awful long time, better go and see what’s what,’ we were fined for being late in paying! Only a very small fine but a fine nevertheless and no arguing. On the other hand electricity bills can be left dangling for a while as the amount owed mounts up. It takes a goodly while for the threat of being cut off to come into force and here there is no fine for paying late. Pay by a set date and you can do it at your local post office. After that it’s a trip into Xania to pay at head office. The electricity bill includes rates, police, television, street lighting, refuse collection, so one never has to bother about a separate rates bill and television licence and the system works as follows: there are three bands, let’s call them small, medium and excessive and your total bill depends on how much electricity you use. Stay in the small band and you’re quids in, move to medium, still not too bad but go to the top rate and you are definitely paying which is why there are jokes like the Cretan peasant who drove his truck without headlights in case he had to pay for the electricity.
But I haven’t mentioned the really good things, apart from sun, sea, and retsina; being able to walk outside your kitchen door and pick oranges, lemons and mandarins and make your own really fresh juice, which makes me wonder why cafes charge so much for a glass of orange juice when the trees are so laden with fruit that much of it lies rotting on the ground, like an abundance of olive oil that would cost a fortune in the UK, like dates other than at Christmas time and halva bought by the pound instead of the ounce, like neighbours who are genuinely concerned about you and show it if needs be, the hospitality and generosity of the people. Of course there are shits, that’s life, so let’s not look at it entirely through those old rose coloured spectacles, but I don’t recall ever seeing anyone legless from drink or ever had a sense of possible aggro, not even in Athens with its terrorist organisations, bombs, and rioting. Strikes can be a disruptive nuisance but that is the purpose of strikes anyway, the banks are continuously going on strike and when that happens people simply support each other in any way they can. ‘Pay me when you can,’ is usually what is said, and talking of banks, here I come to a really good reason for living in Crete: at our bank the girls have been avid for news of Douglas all the time he has been away in England having his cancer treatment so when he and Chris walked into the bank a couple of days ago they were greeted with tears of joy and a round of applause. Can you imagine that happening in an English bank? I don’t think so.
To be continued … Maybe.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Weird how a runaway mouth can in a moment bring about a downfall; Fanny Cradock with her “You’re among the professionals now” whose broadcasting career came to an end at that moment, Oscar Wilde who sealed his doom when he said he never kissed a boy because he was too ugly, Jonathon Ross with his little bit of obscene joking with Russell Brand. And who might Russell Brand be I asks? He’s a comedian is he? Right, I’m with you. But it evidently was a joke that back-fired on his friend Jonathon. It seems to me if you want to become a multi-multi millionaire in showbiz you need to have been deprived of toys as a child and, like Peter Pan you don’t want to grow up unless you can have all those toys of which you were deprived, viz Michael Jackson with his Never land and Jonathon Ross whose mother evidently still gives him toys at Christmas, or so I read in the paper. Then you can have the obligatory four to five homes and fleet of cars that seem to be the symbols of success. I’m not ranting here, Frank, merely musing on matters material. The fact is that Jonathon’s Ross’s £14000000 contract with the BBC was outrageous and Graham Norton’s milking the old cow as well. Meanwhile producers of smaller shows are scraping the barrel for cash. Ah, well, now that he is no longer with the Beeb we must wait with bated breath to see what Jonathon gets up to next. How are the mighty fallen, not that, with all his wealth, he need worry about the pennies, but there is the possibility that away from the fans boredom will quickly set in. It’s a strange old, world, Frank, isn’t it? Stranger still, here I am writing about someone I simply do not know, not personally or as a performer because that I suppose is what a DJ is basically. I have never seen Jonathon Ross on television and have never listened to him on the radio. His talent and why the BBC nabobs considered him to be worth so much money is to me a complete mystery. Mind you, I never saw Michael Jackson in action either except for snippets on television so, apart from what seemed like some sort of supercharged electrical energy and a sinuous body, particularly around the hips, did he have that made him the super-star that he was? That I will never know.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

“And here may I speak of what may be written about you? Never be either elated by good notices or dejected by bad ones. If you have failed in a part you will be quite aware of the fact, and to be told so in print, although a little humiliating, is something which the greatest actors have had to put up with, so why worry? If you have been savagely attacked take it philosophically. To be praised of course is very pleasant, but only get really excited about it if the writer of a good notice is someone on whose opinion you set great score. A certain section of these gentlemen endeavour in their notices to be thought extremely clever themselves (Kenneth Tynan perhaps?) and, this being so, only the minority are to be taken as profound and unbiased experts.”
Admittedly Seymour Hicks here is discussing performance, and as a stage performer I have always been fortunate enough to have been treated kindly by the critics but, as a playwright, that is an entirely different matter. I have had two plays put on in London and twice the critics with hardly an exception have given the play a thorough mauling so I think I know how an actor would feel getting the same treatment. I am writing this after my previous remarks about the actress playing Mrs Barrie in the movie “Finding Neverland”. Stage performances are ephemeral: if you’re bad in a play it can be for the most part forgotten, certainly never resurrected; film unfortunately is not and if you have been pretty rotten it is there for keeps. I was never much good at acting for film until very very late in life when I was cast as a murdering paedophile in a BBC docu-drama “The Lost Boys”. Fortunately all the parts I had in film and television up to that point were small so did not attract the attention of any critic, clever or otherwise.
Things got so bad with the critics that at one point The Royal Court in London threatened to ban them from the theatre. This set up howls of outrage and cries of depriving journalists of their livelihood. What do critics think they do in turn when the boot is on their foot? Those who have read my autobiography “No Official Umbrella” will know a whole chapter is devoted to my play “The 88” which was produced at The Old Vic thirty years ago. It took fourteen years after completion for it to be produced and it came off in fourteen nights thanks to the critics. And was it the play that was at fault? Was it really as bad as they made it out to be? Judging by audience reaction I would say not, but it was most certainly the subject t matter they took objection to – this was not fair on the play itself and, as Douglas sometimes reminds me, even after thirty years it still hurts.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Been watching movies previously seen, “Cabaret” which holds up really well. Based on Christopher Isherwood’s autobiographical stories, Berlin 1931, the year of my birth and the burgeoning of the Nazi party. Almost strange to think all that horror took place nearly eighty years ago. It would seem that emblem, the swastika, had half a nation in its thrall. There was just enough of what was going on to give one the shudders without overdoing it; for example ash blonde youth singing a beautiful waltz “Tomorrow belongs to me,” the song intensifying as it moves along and everyone joining in, camera panning down to swastika on the boy’s arm, the song ending with the Nazi salute. Strange also, the one and only stage production I’ve seen of this musical I did not take to at all.
Next was “Total Eclipse”, what the Americans might call a bio-pic I suppose, about the affair between the French poets, Verlaine and Rimbaud: David Thewlis playing Verlaine and Leonardo di Caprio playing Rimbaud. Great performances apart, For once amazingly good look-alike casting. Okay, with Verlaine, the baldness is half the battle but what about the adolescent Rimbaud? I really knew nothing about these two, not their lives or their work but, having watched the film again, I looked them up on the internet. I don’t think one exaggerates when calling di Caprio beautiful. There are no two ways about that, but looking at photographs of the eighteen year old Rimbaud the resemblance is amazing, except that Rimbaud’s face was much thinner, this despite Verlaine referring to it as chubby. The features though are strikingly similar to di Caprio’s except I would say Rimbaud was pretty rather than beautiful.
Leaving aside obvious shows like “La Cages Au Folles” there was a time not so very long ago when no actor, let alone a big star, would dream of playing a gay character, especially in a film showing actual love making, but how things have changed. Hugh Grant, James Wilby, Rupert Graves all did it in "Maurice." Naturally a film about Oscar Wilde and Bosie demands it, so Jude Law had no compunction about stripping off and getting down to it, if you’ll pardon the expression, but Russell Crowe has done it in an early movie (this aspect of the character in” A Beautiful Mind” was avoided though), di Caprio has done it, Michael York in Cabaret did it (bisexual) and now it is the turn of Colin Firth evidently who is starring in another Isherwood based work “A Singular man”.
Last evening I watched “Finding Neverland” which is a lovely film but I would have enjoyed it that much more if I had been able to hear the dialogue. I’m fed up with mentioning this so will out of charity put it down to our television set causing sound to be muffled though, in truth, Mrs Barrie was telephoning in her performance it was that dull. Playing a little grey mouse is a very difficult thing to do and not be dull. Next time I will watch it with sub-titles.
Seymour Hicks has wise words to say about critics so – next time.

Friday, January 8, 2010

The UK is in the grip of deep winter; snow, ice, plummeting temperatures and Douglas is due to fly out today but Gatwick is closed so he obviously won’t be flying from there. Hopefully he’ll get a refund on his cancelled flight. He has booked another from Heathrow as an alternative. Hopefully that one won’t be cancelled as well. Meanwhile here in Crete we are having spring like weather. Last night I didn’t even bother to light the wood stove or turn on the heating it was that warm. But it’s an ill oboe nobody blows good. The worry is that all the nasty little things that should have been killed off in the cold are thriving. Does that mean a real plague of mozzies this summer? Also with no snow on the mountains, what about the water table? We haven’t seen rain for days. Still it’s early days. Maybe our winter is yet to come.
There are of course, in this warm weather, still flies around, especially those strange little creatures I’ve mentioned before that fly around in circles but never seem to land anywhere. In high school we had an Afrikaans set book called Die (pronounced dee) Skarlakin Eskadril, The Scarlet Squadron, all about a secret squadron stationed in what is now Namibia. I don’t know why it was there or how the story evolved but I still remember the title after all these years and the little flies going around in circles invariably remind of it. Tenuous connection I know but that’s how the brain works I suppose. Another Afrikaans set book was called Toiings, all about a black man of that name, and I still have that in the bookshelf. Why? I must have carted it around for fifty odd years from address to address, but why? As an eight year old in boarding school I read a book called Lost On The Prairie all about a little boy like me of course, far from home. It had me weeping buckets I remember and I have always wondered if I would ever find a copy again. Every secondhand bookshop I go into I look for it but, alas, so far obviously without any success. It is nineteenth century in the Henty tradition although not one of his. The nearest I’ve got to it was in Perth, Australia where in a bookshop I came across a reference to it. But that was it. Now there are no secondhand bookshops near for me to search so I doubt whether I will ever find it again. Another of my favourite books at the time was The Sea Hawk by Rafael Sabbatini and I remember later on I was terribly disappointed when I watched the Errol Flynn, Flora Robson film of that name which had no connection with the book. But there you are, there is no copywrite in titles. We have the film on cassette and what a lot of old codswallop it is.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

I wonder how long it will be before newspapers as such, the paper bit I mean, are a thing of the past. They are already on line and complaining bitterly that advertising revenue has dropped considerably as well as circulation which is hardly surprising and some have already gone to the wall. I remember a time when newspapers were so affordable that even on a small income or hardly any income at all, we used to get half a dozen of the Sundays, during the week a morning paper and an evening paper, plus The Stage once a week and, moving to the country, a local paper once a week. As the price of newspapers increased and the income didn’t increase in proportion gradually the Sundays were whittled down until only The Sunday Times was left. And we carried on getting the Sunday Times here in Crete until one day we stopped even that. Why? Because of an executive decision or somebody’s decision for a plan to save the paper money. The S.T here costs 5euro, the equivalent of roughly, depending upon the rate of exchange, £4.65 and, all things might be relative but that is a not inconsiderable sum to pay for a newspaper. Fine though if one were getting what readers in the UK get for their money but … here for a start the magazine was never included and gradually all the other extras were withdrawn until finally we were left with the main pages and situations vacant. Now why situations vacant? Nobody here is looking for employment in the UK. If they were looking for employment in the UK that’s where they would be. The final straw was when the Culture section was withdrawn. There were howls of outrage of course which somebody at the office tried to smooth over by saying the paper did take its readers’ objections into account and oh blah blah blah. Of course there was no reversal and since that time the Sunday Times has been boycotted. That means we have saved over a thousand pounds and the paper has lost over a thousand pounds, about £1209. If ten households had followed suit that would be £12090 and, if a hundred or more had followed suit, well, serve them right for NOT taking their readers’ objections into account. So, after having been a loyal reader for nearly fifty years, all I can say is piss on The Sunday Times. We now get the Culture section sent to us every few months from friends in England and all it costs is the postage, the equivalent of about one edition of the paper.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Evidently porn channels on the internet are going to be banned in India. Strange, temples decorated with every known Karma sutra position in bas relief are tourist hotspots but porn on the internet is banned.
A member of the Irish parliament has proposed an anti-blasphemy bill that has Ireland Atheists up in arms and not surprising. What gives with these people who never seem to realise what idiots they make of themselves when sex or religion or both raise their heads? I’m talking about the Irish parliament being idiots not the atheists.
There is certainly far too much pornography on the internet, waves of it, sex of all kinds, some of it rather dark and horrid in my opinion, but if that’s the way certain people get their kicks and it isn’t harming anyone else, why not just let them get on with it? At least cybersex, if you’re into that sort of thing, is physically safe. No chance of STDs or AIDS, no unwanted pregnancies, no S and M going disastrously wrong (unless you’re doing it solo), no unnecessary violence or queer bashing and, with the advance of technology, it was pretty inevitable anyway. I don’t know whether any has ever been found but I’m sure it is possible some form of sexual carrying on could be painted on a cave wall somewhere. The Greeks proudly produced a terrific amount of pottery the decoration of which showed a whole lot of naughtiness going on. The Romans weren’t averse to plastering their walls with it and then later on came illustrated books, magazines, photography. Is it true that in Norwich cathedral beneath the choir stalls there is a frieze showing monks doing naughty things with donkeys? Or is that a myth? Then came video cassettes, followed by DVDs and finally in natural progression the internet.
What is the difference between pornography and erotica? Is there a difference between pornography and erotica? Can erotica exist without porn? I ask these questions because a friend has just lent me a book, “The Mammoth Book Of New Gay Erotica” over 30 original stories. Why can’t that be 32, 34, 35 or however many stories? Actually it’s 32, I counted. Anyway we are informed there are over 30 masterpieces of homoerotic desire. Wow! That is some claim, masterpieces? The book is edited by Lawrence Schimel (unfortunate name, could easily be misspelt) who advises the reader to skip ahead if a story doesn’t appeal and I am afraid that is exactly what I have been doing, so much so that I am three-quarters through at the rate of knots. Virtually every piece is little else but pornography and in consequence, for me anyway, dull and uninteresting. Of the five or six I’ve read right through because they have been beautifully written, even a couple of these authors couldn’t resist descending into porn towards the end. These stories though involve some unusual situation or deal most importantly with emotions rather than mere raw sex and these are indeed erotic. The rest, far from being masterpieces, are crap.
Okay, you say, if you’re such a critic, how come you haven’t written an erotic story? Well, I must confess some years back I did, just for the hell of it. My story takes place in a gay bar which has just hired a new barman – a drop dead gorgeous young Greek god who every customer entering the place immediately lusts after but he will have none of them. The story ends in the washroom. He is by himself and has just ejaculated over a mirror and is standing admiring his reflection. The story is called “Narcissus”. Erotic? Or pornographic? I like to think the former which maybe answers my question anyway.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

New Year ’s Day started off with great warm gusts of wind courtesy of Colonel Gadaffi. It could have been a spring day; hardly a cloud to be seen. After lunch the winds dropped and anyone wanting to sunbathe would have really enjoyed it. No need to light the fires in the evening it was that warm. Evidently though because of the unseasonable weather, allergies are rampant. You can’t win.
We didn’t bother to see in 2010 but took a book to bed about ten thirty and fell asleep before those midnight chimes. I’m surprised I didn’t wake up with the sound of gunfire as I am sure there must have been any amount of it; that is the way Cretans celebrate an occasion, as well as fireworks. For us the quietest New Year’s eve ever.
An interesting e-mail from The Pardoes in America wishing us all the best for the New Year (it has just got to be better than 2009) and saying they were very surprised to see a long article on Vamos in the N.Y.Times, so I looked it up on the internet and very interesting it is indeed. It appears our olive growers’ co-operative has been cooking the books and taking the European Union for a very big ride with the subsidies. They have presented unbelievable figures in order to rake off a pretty considerable sum of money. For example, an olive tree should evidently produce about fifty kilos of fruit, enough to make five litres of oil but, according to our fraudsters, the trees around here have been producing something like 150 and there are hundreds of thousands of trees! So what’s new? When organisations can cover up their members naughtiness, like the Teamsters or Tammany Hall used to be in America, the boys will feather their nests and enough is never ever enough. Unfortunately in this instance the farmers the co-operative represent lost out. But then the workers in the Teamsters Union also lost out, didn’t they? Anyway, any little piggy who can get his nose in the trough is bound by his very nature to do so and, what is more, squeal when caught.
Caught an enormous rat in the downstairs bathroom trap last night. He was very pretty, not just grey, or just brown, but a bit of both. Don’t think I’ve seen that before. I always feel so bad when one of them is killed like this but they are unfortunately destructive little buggers. This one, or one of his mates, had even started chewing through the plastic waste pipe and that could have been a small disaster. So RIP Mister Ratty.