Monday, January 30, 2012

Dark, dismal, dreary, drizzling, depressing and what is more very very cold. It’s been this way for weeks with a few hours of intermittent sunshine and we might just as well be living in Yorkshire as the rain never seems to stop. Has this winter been sent just to add to Greece’s agonies? Much more of it and we’ll all be going stir crazy and screaming for summer. Then no doubt we will be complaining that it’s too darn hot.

Have finished writing Thornton King number six, ‘Men And Their Toys’ all 80000 words of it so there is nothing else on the horizon. Am very pleased with the way it has turned out as I never thought I would write a sixth Thornton King. Will I still be around to see it published? Who knows? It’s a long way off that’s for sure. My Gothic horror, ‘The Museum Mysteries and other Stories’ is on the cards at the moment and T.King number five, ‘Celluloid and Tinsel’ is still to go, presumably later this year.

I still want two plays published, ‘Twilight of Aunt Edna’ and ‘Rosemary.’ The latter has already been published but I have made amendments so it will have to be done again.

Got my nose into a very interesting book at the moment. Surprising what one can find on the shelves. At the last count before we left Yorkshire there was a library of over five thousand books. Now it must be touching six thousand if not more. No wonder Douglas is always yelling, ‘No more books!’ In fact there simply isn’t room for any more. There are two sets of shelves in the guest bedroom crammed with books in double rows; there are books in the library downstairs including all those stacked on top of the piano for which there is no room on the shelves. There are books in my study, books in the office, books in my bedroom. At our doctor’s surgery last month we met a very interesting German woman who was a librarian before moving to Crete. She has a collection of books she wants to get rid of and was bemoaning the fact that she can’t even give them away so what will happen to our six thousand and more when all three of us have popped our clogs? The books in my study are all on the performing arts; plays, histories, theories, biographies, and more in my bedroom. Together with the large collection of theatrical ephemera we have, gathered over the years, I suppose those could be left to a university that might appreciate adding to their theatre collection. That is if they are prepared to collect and ship. For the rest? Again, who knows? All of which has got me off on a tangent and I haven’t continued with the interesting book I was going to write something about. Well, for now, it is called ‘The Hollywood Writers’ Wars’ by Nancy Lynn Schwartz, a heavy hardback tome (in weight that is) published in 1982. I’ll get around to it next time.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

The earthquake was followed up by another twenty-four hours later so I have now slept through three earthquakes. I’ll never forget as a kid seeing the 1936 film ‘San Francisco’ and being terrified out of my mind by the panic in the streets, the falling masonry and in particular the bar scene during the earthquake.

It’s the memory of the swaying and then crashing chandelier that I can still see after all these years, such was its impact. Chandeliers must have a certain cachet in show business. Think of ‘Phantom of the Opera.’ And there are possibly more. It’s a good effect. The film received six Oscar nominations but won only one – for best sound recording.

I can still see Clark Gable in that movie though I have no recollection of Spencer Tracy and Jeannette MacDonald who also starred in it.

Finished reading the ‘Kenneth Williams Letters’ and I was really disappointed to have reached the end because I would have liked more. Judging from these letters he really was quite a remarkable man; not just a funny face and a funny voice but erudite and obviously a deep thinker. It’s a shame he had to suffer so many painful ailments and really I suppose his death at sixty-one came as no surprise. I found myself wishing I had known him. He had something of a reputation of being a viper but was obviously extremely loyal to his friends and in fact I think it was simply that he didn’t suffer fools gladly, and my god the world is full of fools.

We have met a sprightly old lady of 91 who lives in Xania. She is a real charmer and recently she discovered that her life savings of over five thousand euro had been stolen from her bank account and there is no way she can recover that money. Not a nice thing to happen to someone of ninety-one. Not a nice ting to happen to anyone for that matter. What makes the situation even sadder is the police discovered the thief to be a Bulgarian woman who our acquaintance employed to clean her flat and had done so for the last ten years so they obviously got to know each other very well. I don’t suppose they could be referred to as friends exactly but the lady after all this time was naturally completely trusted. Evidently she filched the old girl’s bank card and every two days withdrew seven hundred euro, putting the card back after each withdrawal. She has two children and must have been desperate, the state of affairs in Greece being what they are. The first time was easy, so the second time followed, and the third, and the fourth until Marie went to the bank on other business and discovered the loss. One has to feel sorry not only for her losing all that money but for the woman ruining her life.

But the economic situation in the country gets worse day by day. There are now more people queuing up at soup kitchens and more and more people being made homeless and more and more crime. It is the great depression all over again. In the meantime the government has a list of over 4000 people owing billions in unpaid taxes – a total debt to the state of almost 50billion euros going back many years including –

Yiannis Raptopoulos 14,300,000

Pavlos Psomiadis 1,150,000

Sami Fais 1,820,000

Yiorgos Batatoudis 2,500,000

And a single individual, Nikos Kasimatis owes a staggering 952million!

There is little chance of much of this loot being recovered. And just how did all this come about? I think arrant corruption over many years has a lot to answer for.

The rich get richer. The poor get poorer.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Yesterday morning at 5.20 Chris and Douglas were both woken by an earthquake, 5.2 on the Richter scale. (There’s a coincidence.) For the second time since coming to Crete I slept soundly through an earthquake. I remember the first time I knew nothing about it until I came across all our neighbours standing at the bottom of the lane in a state of great excitement and they immediately asked the question , ‘Did you hear the earthquake?’ to which the answer was ‘What earthquake?’ Strange way of putting it, did you hear rather than did you feel. Anyway this one was evidently half way between Crete and Santorini and not very far down so Heraklion and the eastern end of the island would have felt it more than us. As far as we can ascertain there has been no damage. Phew! If we were badly damaged by a quake we would be in deep shit and no mistake. Earthquake insurance is very expensive and we’ve never had it.

A further mention on the euthanasia debate: Seven years ago, former rugby player, Tony Nicklinson was the victim of a stroke and suffers from locked-in syndrome, a paralysed body able to move only his head and an active mind; he communicates by using a computer that detects his blinking. In a statement, he described his life as "dull, miserable, demeaning, undignified and intolerable." and he wants to die. He cannot speak and obviously needs constant care. He recently asked Britain's High Court to declare that any doctor who gives him a lethal injection with his consent won't be charged with murder. Under U.K. law, anyone who helps Nicklinson die could be charged even if they are carrying out his wishes. A murder charge has a mandatory life sentence, regardless of motive or circumstance. Nicklinson’s argument is that British law hinders his right to a "private and family life" — guaranteed by the European Convention on Human Rights — on the grounds that being able to choose how to die is a matter of personal autonomy. Since my previous Blog I have discovered that apart from Holland and Switzerland, euthanasia is also legal in Belgium, Luxembourg and the state of Oregon in the United States. So what is the position in the UK at the moment? Evidently there have been forty cases of assisted suicide in the not too distant past but no one has been prosecuted so isn’t it really time the law was changed? Unfortunately for Mister Nicklinson even if it is changed the way the reformers want, suffering as he does from locked-in syndrome, sadly he would still be denied his wish.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

I believe in euthanasia and I believe, even if it happens very gradually, that eventually the practice will be accepted virtually everywhere. What is the point of continuing a life that has no quality, that has no hope, which has nothing but pain? I only know that if my life gets to the stage where I would like it to end it than someone should be allowed to send me peacefully and painlessly into oblivion. So far, as far as I know, only Holland and Switzerland allow assisted deaths and I think one Australian state has tinkered with it. In Holland there has to have been a long rapport between doctor and patient before it is allowed whereas in Switzerland a number of foreigners have gone there for the sole purpose of having their lives ended. Good grief! We do it for animals, why not for humans? Ah, the objectors say, because life is sacred. Life is sacred? I consider this a fatuous argument when you consider how many people are killed in wars, under dictatorships, as the result of crime, accidents, early deaths, natural disasters, from disease in early life, deaths at birth, cot deaths, abuse. How is life sacred? If life were sacred all of us would live to a ripe old age as happy as Larry but that just isn’t the way it is. The other argument is the tired old religious one that so many still cling to, that suicide is a sin and euthanasia is a form of suicide. Neither of these arguments holds water for me. The third argument is that euthanasia will be abused, i.e. let’s get rid of granny, she’s a flaming nuisance and any way we want to inherit her estate. This argument does hold some water. There will always be those ready, willing and able to abuse any system but on the other hand there would not be a rash of illegal killings so it is not an argument worth considering.

Campaigners who want to see the law changed have set up a ‘Commission on Assisted Dying’ saying the current law is inadequate and that assisted death should be allowed within a strict set of rules so as not to be abused. The commission was chaired by Lord Falconer, a barrister and former justice secretary, and included a wide range of experts including doctors, an ex-police commissioner and a former president of the General Medical Council. The panel received evidence from more than 1,300 sources during its year-long inquiry, although some groups opposed to a change in the law refused to take part because of its remit and way it was put together. Wouldn’t it have been better if their arguments are valid to have joined in the discussion and put their point of view? Boycotting strikes me as throwing the baby out with the bath water. The group said that assisted suicide should be allowed if a person was over 18, terminally ill and judged as having less than 12 months to live, making a voluntary choice and not impaired mentally. Before it should be allowed, the person would also need to be independently assessed by two doctors, the report said and that they should also be acting under their own steam and not be mentally impaired in any way. In practice this means that dementia patients would not be eligible, including the author Sir Terry Pratchett, who helped to fund the commission, as those in the final year of the condition would not be considered mentally fit enough. Nor would a person who has a significant physical impairment, such as locked-in syndrome, as they would have longer than 12 months to live under normal circumstances.

The commissioners said the current arrangements were "inadequate, incoherent and should not continue". But one of the commissioners, the Reverend Canon Dr James Woodward, disagreed with the conclusion.

Sarah Wootton, chief executive of ‘Dignity in Dying,’ said the report was "comprehensive and robust", adding she hoped it would "form the foundation of future legislative change" but Dr John Wiles, chairman of ‘Care Not Killing’ - "The safeguards proposed... are really inadequate" and Dr Peter Saunders, campaign director of ‘Care Not Killing,’ an alliance of faith and disability groups and doctors, said: "This investigation was unnecessary, biased and lacking in transparency, and its report is seriously flawed. It is being spun as a comprehensive, objective and independent review into this complicated issue. It is anything but." Rubbish.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Another couple of movies out of the cupboard, seen before but well worth watching again. We seem to have accumulated quite a collection of DVDs since moving to Crete and of course brought out from England a few hundred video tapes embracing all manner of programmes from mainstream film, opera, ballets, to ‘Carry On’ movies to comedy shows, documentaries, odds and sods that interested us at the time. Some of these tapes have deteriorated which is a shame. I would have liked the other night to have watched again the Merchant/Ivory film ‘A Room With A View’ but this tape was one of those no longer viewable, the flickering and jumping of frames was jut too irritating. One of Douglas’s favourite films is ‘Thoroughly Modern Millie’ which he must have watched at least twenty times and knows off by heart.

I love Japanese period films, especially the work of Kurasawa, ‘Seven Samurai’ ‘Rashomon’ ‘Throne of Blood’ ‘The Hidden Fortress’ ‘Ran’ and a wonderful movie called ‘The Burmese Harp’ directed by an equally brilliant Kon Ichikawa, and I particularly like what I call small movies, ‘Tea With Mussolini,’ ‘Ladies In Lavender,’ ‘Maurice,’ ‘Death In Venice,’ ‘The Madness of King George,’ ‘The History Boys,’ the films of the Spanish director Pedro Almodόvar for example and the two we watched the other night fall into that category. Firstly that beautiful Italian film that won any amount of awards and quite rightly too – ‘Cinema Paradiso’ I can’t remember how many times we’ve watched it but this time it was the director’s cut which added three quarters of an hour to the film. I still loved every minute of it. Douglas said he could do without the extra three quarters of an hour thank you. Too many lingering shots.

The other one we watched again was ‘Total Eclipse’ with David Thewlis as Verlaine and a young Leonardo DiCaprio (well he had to be young playing a sixteen year old) as Arthur Rimbaud. Marvellous casting if one looks at photographs of Rimbaud and beautifully played by diCaprio. He really is a very fine film actor. The only performance of his I have seen and haven’t taken to was his Romeo but then I didn’t rate the film highly and not everyone can play Shakespeare.

The spiel on one of the many posters for ‘Total Eclipse’ reads –

‘Touched by Genius

Cursed by madness

Blinded by love.’

DiCaprio certainly doesn’t shy away from controversy. In an earlier film ‘The Basketball Diaries’ he plays a young junkie who in order to get money for his habit allows himself to be fellated in public toilets. Now he has just played J. Edgar Hoover, reputed drag artist and homosexual.

Rimbaud had a four year old affair with his mentor, the poet Verlaine who was married and a father, and in ‘Total Eclipse’ the physical aspect is not shirked hence, I suppose, the ‘Blinded by love,’ for who knows where love will take one?

Rimbaud, who evidently changed the face of French poetry at that young age – ‘Touched by genius,’ was it seemed a total iconoclast with little respect for anybody and anything – ‘Cursed by madness.’

Verlaine, whilst they were in Belgium, bought a revolver and shot Rimbaud in the hand. He was arrested and then accused of unnatural practices, something not to be encouraged in Belgium. Having been examined by doctors none too gently the verdict was that he had committed ‘acts of sodomy both active and passive’ and sentenced to two years in prison. Now I might not be up on medical procedures, I can understand how passive intercourse can be ascertained, but how on earth can active be proved?

Anyway, having served his prison sentence Verlaine and Rimbaud met one last time, Verlaine wanting to resume their relationship but Rimbaud having none of it. He gave up writing at an early age and the rest of his life was travel and adventure until he died of cancer at the age of 37.

The film’s screenplay is by Christopher Hampton and is based on his stage play. It is a gem.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

At last some glorious sunshine after weeks of rain and grey cloud filled skies but a bitterly cold wind blowing down from the north and the courtyard littered with fallen oranges. Algeria has seen quite heavy snow and when last did snow fall in North Africa? The wood stove in the breakfast room has been going all day, previously unheard of, being lit only in the evenings, and the central heating has been switching itself on all night despite the thermostat being turned down another coupe of degrees. I have never known Crete to be so cold so my prediction some weeks ago of a hard winter has come to pass. In the old days before modern heating when there was probably one fireplace in the house I believe if a Cretan felt the cold all he or she did was put on another sweater. That might warm the body a bit but would have no effect on the damp and it can get very damp, especially after days of rain. An English friend visited our lovely Doctor Elizabeth as he was suffering from bronchitis, something he had never experienced before, and she said chest complaints are common among northerners this time of year being caused by a combination of the damp and an allergy due to spores from the olive trees as the fruit is reaped; the branches being thwacked quite violently so that the olives fall on to the nets spread out below.

The chest specialist at IKA (National health) Doctor Vilgarides, who I see once a month for a check-up, is a delightful bundle of charm, always full of high spirits. ‘That’s what you came to Crete for,’ he said with a laugh, ‘the climate.’ I must admit that despite all the current woes created mainly by the short-sighted corrupt ones and the financial situation, petrol has gone up dramatically by 10 cents a litre in a matter of a couple of days and now stands at nearly two euro! Which means everything else must go up. Going into Souda yesterday to see Doctor Vulgarides there was hardly a car on the road and despite being Friday when people do their shopping for the weekend, the supermarket and Kalyves town were practically deserted as everyone pulls in their horns. This does nothing for the Greek economy. It is a never ending downward spiral unless the stupid politicians which include the French and Germans change their tactics and the banks are made to pay for their incessant greed. The Cretans on the whole though are a philosophical lot. When there was a bank strike and we had no cash in hand our vet said, ‘What do you want money for? You live in a village don’t you? You’ve got a garden haven’t you? Keep chickens, grow potatoes, grow tomatoes. You have friends you don’t need money.’ I think I have mentioned before how in circumstances like this, not being in a position to pay, the usual reaction in the village where people know you is pay when you can. And indeed the garden has over the years, while I was still capable of working in it, provided us with a variety of vegetables, and of course masses of fruit. Oranges and lemons at the moment (humongous lemons, bigger than a cricket ball and juicy) and we have just reaped our first olives from the six little trees I bought some years back. They have at last taken off. Eggs we sometimes get from a neighbour when her chickens are laying well and I can’t remember when last we bought olive oil as friends who have olive trees constantly supply us with all we need. I remember in England how sparingly we used olive oil and how here we go through litres of it every year: virgin, cold pressed and pressed and it is all delicious.

All right, so it is not the country we came to fifteen years ago but the world is not the same world, is it?

Thursday, January 19, 2012

An interesting few evenings viewing. As the Greek TV stations usually put out what could be a movie worth watching very late at night we seldom see them. Once or twice one has been recorded for viewing at a decent hour otherwise we haven’t watched Greek telly for weeks except for the government channel Vouli that broadcasts a ballet every Saturday, an opera on Sundays, and occasionally an interesting documentary. So we have been selecting programmes from our archives and this time came up with ‘Broadway Melody of 1935’ and ‘Broadway Melody of 1938’ also the television production of ‘Pennies From Heaven’ in which Chris dances as a prostitute and as a cowgirl, both very pretty I have to say. It was fascinating watching it again after all this time. Douglas was a little discontented, not grasping the concept but Chris and I enjoyed it enormously and we all agreed the performances were fabulous. We then watched the American movie which we remembered as a disappointment and it still was second time round, mainly because in order to fit a movie time-scale it became a précis of the original and fascinating sections had to be left out. It did have a couple of simply enormous extravagant production numbers but even they didn’t do all that much for it. We had previously spent many evenings watching the American programme ‘24’ starring Keifer Sutherland and were really hooked on it. This was the first series and evidently nine were made!

With my first attempt, at a Gothic horror, ‘The Museum Mysteries’ to be published later this year. Douglas is of the opinion that I end it too abruptly but I can’t agree with him as to drag out a climax is to defeat its purpose which brings me to the endings of both ‘24’ and ‘Pennies From heaven.’ In the first there is an ending and an alternative ending. In the ending the wife of the hero, having gone through hell and high water is shot and killed and in the alternative ending she’s rescued and they all live happily ever after. Now Douglas and Chris both go for the first ending but I, being a real soft-hearted Nellie, go for the alternative. We do however, all agree about the ending of ‘Pennies From Heaven.’ I nearly misspelt pennies there and that would have been a Freudian slip would it not?) No, actually because it was sex, the desire for and the lack of it from his wife that got our hero Arthur into all his trouble, I suppose a misspelling wouldn’t be totally inaccurate. But to the ending – Having been accused of a murder he did not in fact commit, Arthur is sentenced to be hanged and in the TV version we witness the actual hanging. In the film version it is glossed over by Arthur standing on the scaffold next to the rope and singing but we presume that is where he met his end. And that is where the show should have ended. Maybe a shot after of the girl-friend Eileen standing on a bridge looking down at the river but nothing more. Unfortunately Arthur puts in a surprise appearance with the rather fatuous line ‘After all we’ve been through we deserve a happy ending’ or words to that effect. Sorry, fable though it may be, for me Arthur is most definitely dead and does not put in an appearance to wind up the show. Of course in the film having Arthur standing by the rope singing was artistic licence – I think and we don’t actually witness the execution. The method of execution in Illinois in the ‘30s was the electric chair by the way. Also I felt the location chosen for the blind girl and her subsequent murder was totally inappropriate consisting as it did mainly of what appeared to be rundown or abandoned factories. What was she doing walking there? She said she lived in a house over the way but that house never came into view. In the TV version the girl walks trough a field just off the road and with a beautiful scenic background. Evidently the ground belonged to her family and that is perfectly reasonable.

And the small cheats: the policeman talking to Arthur’s wife says his shoe matches a footprint found at the scene of the crime. Again perfectly feasible in a possibly muddy field that doesn’t have much in the way of human traffic but on concrete paving where any number of people might have walked? He also states that they have Arthur’s fingerprints on a cigarette packet discarded at the scene. Hey, hold on one cotton-picking minute there, buster. When did Arthur have his fingerprints taken that they could be compared? Tch! Tch!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Back in December I wrote about a play, ‘The Wit To Woo’ by Mervyn Peake that was produced at the Arts Theatre, how the critics gave it a right mauling with the consequent disastrous effect that had on the author. I have just come across a reference to the play as I am in the middle of rereading Kenneth Williams’ letters and in 1971 a gentleman by the name of J.B. Batchelor, lecturer in English at Birmingham University wrote to him asking for his comments on the play. I didn’t know Williams was in it but this is what he writes –

‘I read the play in February 1957 and I was struck by the nature of the dialogue. It is always the words that interest me and I hardly ever find myself thinking in critical terms of construction or plot or technical details of stage mechanics. Mervyn Peakes’ dialogue was full of verbal conceits, wonderful imagery, natural fluency and, above all, theatrically effective. I had no hesitation of accepting the part of Pike. I thought it glittered with malevolence and vituperative wit.’ He then has a brief word about his ability to play the part and continues with, ‘The play needed wholehearted bravura acting and vocal relish. In the vent it was played in a modern high comedy manner with considerable throwaway technique’ (Director’s choice I ask myself?) ‘You will understand it would be impolitic of me to discuss what I regard as shortcomings in performers or in the director …With the right cast and management, a rare combination I admit but not an impossibility, I think The Wit To Woo could be an engaging Gothic comedy and a profitable venture.’

That was his opinion and so what went wrong? Was the play blamed for the shortcomings of director and cast? Well it would most certainly not be the first time and it wouldn’t be the last. Mister Williams and I concur on the abilities, or lack of, of many a theatre director. I’m sure there are actors who say the same about me. But this is what he says in a letter to Stanley Baxter whilst rehearing for the play ‘The Platinum Cat.’ – ‘The cast have all got better and better during the four weeks and this is mostly due to Bev (Beverley Cross). I know this is not saying very much but it has been the first time in my life that I have worked with a real director. I know that this is probably, because I have met with so many bug-eyed phonies and I have always tended to dismiss them all as a bunch of meretricious parasites.

I wish I had met Mister Williams. His letters are fascinating, humorous, intelligent, educated and in many instances wise, a natural philosopher, not at all what one would have expected looking at the Carry On films which is what most people remember him for these days, especially that wonderful line when he is playing Julius Caesar, ‘Infamy! Infamy! They’ve all got it in for me!’ This certainly too often applies to the critics.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

An estimated 3,000 people dressed as zombies took to the streets of Brighton one day last year.. It's the latest proof, if any was needed, that the undead are really on the march - culturally at least. Nearly 10,000 people have paraded in Mexico City dressed as zombies in what organisers claim is the biggest "zombie walk" ever held. Evidently the zombie craze is mostly down to video games, children playing them despite the 18-certificate. Zombie video games are a niche market which makes millions of dollars a year and consumes millions of hours of youngsters' leisure time. But it's not just games. Ever-growing legions of the undead have been appearing on TV and cinema screens: the blockbuster series like ‘The Walking Dead’ or ‘Dead Set’ or of Brad Pitt's latest zombie movie ‘World War which is why Mexico claims the biggest zombie walk and why three thousand people in zombie costumes turned up to amble, shamble and groan their way through Brighton’s city centre and along the sea front. But some media critics and cultural commentators have begun to wonder whether this explosion of zombie enthusiasm is, as well as a bit of fun, an expression of something else. So what might the current zombie craze, this mass of rotting flesh, tell us about the world we're living in now? Paul Gilding Author and former Greenpeace CEO said "Zombies are incredibly popular, the growth is phenomenal - not only are they in films, TV shows and fan productions on You Tube, but there's a vast growth in books, with zombie survival guides selling very, very well on Amazon. You even see small garden ornaments dressed as zombies - zombie garden gnomes!" In fact, Winchester is soon to become the first university in the UK to offer a study module devoted entirely to zombies. A Dr Leaning said "We're living through the hardest economic times in most young people's memories. Maybe zombies speak to austerity Britain in a way other monsters don't." Nick Pearce, director of the Institute for Public Policy Research, is a man who spends much of his time reflecting on the interplay of democracy, economy and citizenship says, "Even before the global economic crisis we saw unskilled young men finding it much harder to get a foothold in the labour market and since the crisis there has been a rocketing of youth unemployment. There is something in the idea that if you can't see a future, if you don't have a sense of progress for yourself personally, then you are stuck in the present tense, and this would lend itself to the notion of a kind of recurrent nightmare of repeatedly being a living-dead." Some of Brighton's 'un-dead' said they dressed as zombies just for fun

Paul Gilding believes that something more profound might lie behind the recent boom in zombie culture. He suggested, this is why the anti-capitalist protesters on Wall Street and elsewhere have sometimes dressed in zombie costumes to underline their point. "The system is eating itself alive," he said. "The idea that we can have infinite growth on a finite planet is just not physically possible." So have zombies really been rising in such numbers in recent years because they're a metaphor for our times? Whatever the reason there is most definitely a zombie craze.

The current Guinness world record is held by Asbury Park in the US, where 4,093 zombies marched in 2010. Zombie walks have grown in popularity worldwide in recent years. A group in Brisbane in Australia has also laid claim to the record after massing 8,000 zombies last month. Apart from Mexico elsewhere in Latin America, Lima in Peru, Santiago in Chile and Sao Paulo in Brazil have all staged zombie walks last year.

Friday, January 13, 2012

It is cold. In fifteen years I have never known Crete to be so cold. The central heating is switching itself on at the point we normally turn it down to at night and the wood stove has been going all day for the last three days. Can’t remember when we last saw the sun and the rain has been incessant, not heavy but a depressing drizzle, plus a freezing wind and hailstorm for added interest. Looking out at the courtyard first thing this morning I saw it was littered with oranges the weather had knocked off the branches. Despite this the trees are still laden, so much so that some branches are hanging virtually vertical to he ground, but I learn from the news that orange juice is going to shoot up in price. Doesn’t everything? Orange juice prices hit record levels reads the headline. More than half the world’s orange juice comes from Brazil and traders say the main reasons for the price hike are safety concerns about juice from Brazil and cold weather in Florida. The US Food and Drug Administration said carbendazim, a fungicide, has been found in shipments from Brazil. Orange juice has risen by about 25% since the beginning of the year, to $2.12 a pound. Carbendazim is banned in the US, but is used legally in Brazil to treat black spot on trees. Consumption at the low levels that have been reported does not raise safety concerns, the FDA said in a letter published on its website but any orange juice which could be a risk to the public would be removed from supermarket shelves. The US is the second-largest producer of orange juice, with production mainly concentrated in Florida. Why did I always think it was California? Did Mister Steinbeck make me think that? Maybe they gave up oranges for grapes, wine being more profitable but that’s only a guess. A few days of cold weather in Florida has led to ice being found in some fruit and damage to leaves so it is not only Crete feeling the ravages of winter. Interesting that oranges grow in profusion on Crete and right now they are everywhere but the EU I believe banned their export because they are too big!

Never mind the orange juice, overnight the cost of petrol has risen alarmingly, from 169 to 176 lefta (cents) a litre. This means the heating oil has gone up again and I dread to think what it will be. Two thirds of a tank at the start of winter cost 660 euro

We have had three tons of firewood - 450 euro and the last two electricity bills plus the new property tax has cost us almost a thousand, so Greece sure ain’t what it used to be. And although this means every time some money comes in virtually all of it immediately goes out again. At least our income is in pounds so we are not as badly off as 20% of the population living below the poverty line. It has got so bad some mothers are giving up their children to charitable organisations because they can t afford to feed them and children are the whole reason for existence in Greece.

Doesn’t it make you want to bring down every curse on the fat cats who have fled the country taking their money with them and those who owe literally millions in tax and seem to be getting away with it.?

Rising energy prices have pushed Germany's inflation rate up to 2.3% in 2011, the highest since 2008, official figures show. Big deal!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

So the French are trying to ban prostitution in Paris and one of the world's biggest insurance companies in Germany organizes an orgy with prostitutes for its top salesmen at a Hungarian spa! Ergo, a division of the firm Munich Re, has confirmed that this happened in 2007. Gerhard Schneibel, journalist for the media organisation Deutsche Welle, said: "There was plenty of alcohol and 20 prostitutes there. They had colour-coded arm-bands, apparently. One was for regular hostesses, the other was for prostitutes, and the white ribbon was for prostitutes reserved for top management." Top management always get the cream do they not? Didn’t the girls not chosen for top management feel their noses had been put somewhat out of joint? There’s nothing more depressing than being second class.

Still on the subject of sex, a subject of never ending interest you must agree, those of a religious bent are totally engrossed with it one way or another, an account of a frenzied encounter in a shower has earned US writer David Guterson the annual Bad Sex In Fiction Award. He beat the likes of Stephen King with a scene from his novel Ed King, a modern version of the fable of Oedipus. The offending passage in the book is introduced as "the part where a mother has sex with her son". On hearing of his win, Guterson said: "Oedipus practically invented bad sex, so I'm not in the least bit surprised." East Enders star Barbara ‘boobs to the fore’ Windsor (who else?) presented the award to the author’s publishers, he being unable to attend the ceremony which is now in its 19th year, having been established by Auberon Waugh in 1993. Previous winners include Norman Mailer, AA Gill, Melvyn Bragg and Tom Wolfe. The award is run by The Literary Review, which says its purpose is to "draw attention to the crude, tasteless, often perfunctory use of redundant passages of sexual description in the modern novel, and to discourage it". It’s a pity there isn’t a similar for film, or is there?

Ed King, Guterson’s fifth novel, takes the Sophoclean tragedy Oedipus Rex (the title is a pun on the original and I’m glad he didn’t call him Thornton) and transports it to late 20th Century Seattle. As with the Oedipus tale the story revolves around a baby boy who is given up for adoption and goes on to become one of the world's most powerful men, killing his father and sleeping with his mother in the process. Branded a "sweaty-palmed narrative" by the Washington Post, the novel contains several pages of explicit exposition. One goes into exhaustive detail about an erotic massage, where the protagonist "massaged, kneaded, stretched, rubbed, pinched, flicked, feathered, licked, kissed, and gently bit her shoulders." But judges said they were finally swayed by a passage that begins: "Ed stood with his hands at the back of his head, like someone just arrested, while she abused him with a bar of soap." The scene concludes: "Then they rinsed, dried, dressed, and went to an expensive restaurant for lunch." Reviewing the novel in the Express, David Robson argued that "Guterson's descriptions of hyperactive incest are absolutely unbearable and not in a good way".

Well it’s all good publicity I suppose even if it’s not good literature. Should make the best seller list in no time if it hasn’t done so already.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Vamos is icy. This is the coldest I remember ever being on Crete. The kitchen and my study are the two areas without central heating and walking into them is like walking into an icebox. We have however been spared the simply dreadful weather that has engulfed the rest of Europe. I see pictures where men in Orthodox countries brave icy waters for Epiphany. In Greece priests throw a crucifix into the sea and a dozen young men or more all dive in after it. I presume the one who claims it gets good luck for the year, that is if he recovers from pneumonia. Mind you, in Russia they have to break the ice. They’re all mad. The things people will do for religion!

It is said that those the gods wish to destroy they first make mad and without doubt the world is due for disintegration pretty darn soon because madness has surely set in.

As though the world didn’t have enough superstitions, enough religions, enough sects, the Swedish government has recognised a new one. The Church of Kopimism claims that "kopyacting" - sharing information through copying - is akin to a religious service. Can you really believe this? The "spiritual leader" of the church (or should one say charlatan to join all the other charlatans) said recognition was a "large step". But quite naturally others were less enthusiastic “It doesn't mean illegal file-sharing will become legal, any more than if 'Jedi' was recognised as a religion everyone would be walking around with light sabres,” he said.

A music analyst said. Kopimism as a religious organisation was registered shortly before Christmas. Gustav Nipe, chairman of the organisation said, “We had to apply three times.! Gosh! Third time lucky huh? The church, which holds CTRL+C and CTRL+V as sacred symbols, does not directly promote illegal file sharing, focusing instead on the open distribution of knowledge to all. It was founded by 19-year-old philosophy student and leader Isak Gerson. He hopes that file-sharing will now be given religious protection. "For the Church of Kopimism, information is holy and copying is a sacrament. Information holds a value, in itself and in what it contains and the value multiplies through copying. Therefore copying is central for the organisation and its members," he said in a statement. "Being recognised by the state of Sweden is a large step for all of Kopimi. Hopefully this is one step towards the day when we can live out our faith without fear of persecution," he added. Despite the new-found interest in the organisation, experts said religious status for file-sharing would have little effect on the global crackdown on piracy.

And that is what this ridiculous bullshit is all about – the protection of internet piracy. The government is pushing ahead with the controversial legislation despite continued opposition.

Further to my previous remarks regarding the feral youth of today, how about this for a bunch of bent bananas? A 10-year-old boy has been arrested over an alleged attack on two teachers at a school in south-east London. One of the victims, who are both women, suffered a broken leg and suspected dislocated kneecap and the other had a facial injury. The boy, who was arrested at the scene on suspicion of causing grievous bodily harm, has since been bailed to return on a date in mid-February. Both women, who are in their 50s, were taken by ambulance to a nearby hospital in Orpington. What do you suppose will happen to the boy? He will be told don’t be a naughty boy and don’t do that again.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

The compensation culture in the Disunited Kingdom has really gone beyond the pale, quite ridiculous in fact. Is this all because of elf and safety or just about the freebies one can get for trifling accidents? A school teacher stubs her toe in class and is awarded damages of £500. Okay, you say, so what is £500 out of the education budget? Wait for it. The lawyers in the case earned over thirteen thousand! And this is not an isolated happening. Some compensation paid out is more than five hundred of course but always the lawyer’s fees are in five figures. One teacher was paid compensation for having her thumb dislocated by an unruly pupil and was awarded a nice tidy sum, but who was to blame in this incident? The school? The modern educational system that is without discipline and allows children to be as feral as they like without fear of punishment? The violence in the media and computer games? Bad vibes from the internet? The parents who would simply wash their hands of the whole thing or rush to absolve their little darling, probably putting the blame fairly and squarely on the teacher who shouldn’t have had her thumb there in the first place or what was she doing that the boy had to defend himself from possible serious injury and hospitalisation? Of course the union backs its members in their claims but the union’s officers seem to have about as much sense as Greek politicians when they cannot see the damage they are doing, the never ending drain on limited resources. It’s all very well decrying financial cuts and calling for more money and then it is wasted. Now I don’t argue that a stubbed toe or a dislocated thumb are very painful conditions but worthy of compensation? I really do not think so, not for one moment. Thank god the compensation culture has not reached Greece. If you saw the state of some of the pavements in Athens you could be quite sure Greek lawyers would make a fortune but in most cases the answer would simply be watch where you put your feet.

As far as children and the internet is concerned evidently four leading web providers are to offer customers the option to block adult content at the point of subscription.

BT, Sky, TalkTalk and Virgin will offer the protection for smartphones, laptops and PCs.

It comes as David Cameron met industry representatives amid concern over the sexualisation of children. The prime minister also launched Parentport - a website to help parents complain about inappropriate content.

Mr Cameron said there was a "growing tide of concern" amongst parents who were concerned about children being exposed to "inappropriate advertising and sexual imagery. There's no doubt that the sort of pressures - what you see on television programmes and advertising hoardings and sort of a mixture of pester power problems but also just the sense that our children are being forced to grow up too quickly," The new measures, aimed at helping parents protect their children from internet porn and other explicit sites, follow a report earlier this year by the Mothers' Union Christian charity known as the Bailey Report.

But will it really work? How do you control mobile phones for example? Kids are also very smart and have proved themselves more than capable of getting around the filters set up in schools so it won't be long until there is widely-available "advice" online about how to avoid the home versions. TalkTalk blocks a variety of websites, including suicide and self harm, violence and weapons, dating sites, gambling sites and file sharing. Parents decide what sites they want blocked but the fact is technology is not the answer – parental control is, except these days parents just don’t seem to have any.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Watched the movie “Fried Green Tomatoes at the whistle stop café.” Amongst all the dross Hollywood churns out, now and again it comes up with a gem and this is one of them.

What a delightful surprise for the start of the New Year. Our friend Ian Dean sent us a DVD “At The Haunted End of the Day” a biography of William Walton whose music I am particularly fond of, especially monumental works like “Belshazzar’s Feast.” We played it almost immediately and all three of us thought it quite wonderful. What a history, what a career, what music! If you are unfamiliar with Walton’s music you might know it from Olivier’s three Shakespeare films, the beautiful haunting funeral music from Hamlet for example or the truly thrilling Agincourt music building up to its climax with the shower of arrows desiccating the galloping French knights, a scene I never tire of watching and it is the music that really makes it.

Books, books, books, another Christmas treat, this time from our friend Ray Peters who sent me “Bull’s Eyes,” some memoirs by the actor Peter Bull. It is not a volume I would have thought of buying or even reading for that matter but having opened it, it has been difficult to get my nose out of it; what larks, Pip, as Joe Gargary would say. I haven’t laughed so much over a book in quite awhile. Sometimes a little on the twee side but for the most part written with such refreshing wit and self-effacing charm, how it evokes memories of my early days in the theatre despite his career being well ahead of mine, starting in fact in 1931, the year I was born, and mine starting twenty years later. But the experiences were so similar. He died ‘unmarried’ but he had a friend so you know what that means and it would seem he was a great person to know. I’m sorry our paths never crossed. These memoirs are extracts put together and edited by Sheridan Morley from different writings and very well done too. Apart from his early experiences I particularly enjoyed his description of Hollywood where he was under contract for six months, did four days work and finally didn’t even end up in the picture. A young English actress put under contract had to undergo two film tests a week, one on Monday, one on Thursday, because the studio simply had no idea of what to do with her. Eventually having done precisely nothing she returned to England where she immediately made a big hit in an English picture. I wonder what the studio executives in Hollywood thought when they watched that. As William Goldman said, in Hollywood nobody knows anything.

Brooding on the name Morley brings to mind another book I have just finished, this one called “The Muses darling” and based on the life of one of my favourite Elizabethan characters, that roistering boistering (no such word according to my computer) boy genius, one Christopher Marlowe whose name was sometimes spelt Morley but that can wait till another time.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

So The Daily Mail will no longer be printed and available in Greece. We have been getting it every Friday for the theatre, film and book reviews and Jan Moir’s column which I always enjoyed but alas no more. It advertises in the last issue that the paper will still be available on kindle or I-pad and as I am not a proud possessor of either of these expensive toys and have neither the means nor desire to get them in the immediate future that’s the end of The Daily Mail for us.

First of all we lost The Sunday Times which we relied on for reviews but this was from choice as the price stayed the same, a hefty five euro, but the paper gradually became a skeleton of its former self starting with the magazine and the comics and finally, despite howls of outrage, the culture section. They did leave in car sales but what ex-pat is interested in British car sales for goodness sake? No reason is given for the demise of The Daily Mail but I can only assume it has all to do with the economic situation in Greece. Were the publishers not being paid? More than likely. But it is sad really because it is a blow, albeit a small one in comparison to much else, to the Greek economy and of course it means more people out of work.

Well, here we are already in to the third day of the year, only 352 days to Christmas. Apart from being invited by friends for lunch this last Christmas Day and again on New Year’s, the festive season passed by hardly noticed. I don’t know if there were many in Greece who felt festive. We sent no cards for the very first time. The money that could have gone towards that went on the iniquitous new property tax the government have brought in. Interestingly the financial situation of Greek’s politicians reveal that most of them, apart from drawing pretty hefty salaries, have well over the million euro stashed away, and that is apart from other assets they might have like one of them owning six rental properties. They all obviously had a very festive season, no worries there, though I am sure none of them are looking forward to the next general election. Lose your seat and you lose the gravy train and, as the banks aren’t paying decent interest these days, you’d best find yourself a decent job or be another of the ever increasing number of unemployed. It’s a bloody mess and no mistake. Happy New Year, Greece.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

The first day of 2012: to whom shall I send best wishes for a happy and peaceful New Year? First of all of course to my nearest and dearest, to family, and then to good friends far and near. To those who were once friends but who for some reason or other best known to themselves have dropped out of our lives but who we still remember with affection. To the poor people of Iraq and Afghanistan, Somalia, and any country living under the threat of militant Islam. May their lives be made easier and less frightening. To the mad Mullahs and brainwashed Jihadists themselves, may they find peace and discover that truth does not exist in murder and mayhem, bombs and bullets and that they are as far away from the prophet as it is possible to be. To the Christian fundamentalists who evince such unchristian hatred, ditto. To the Iranian people and the Zimbabweans and any others living in the shadow of a malevolent dictatorship. To those living under regimes that allow torture. To the gays of Ghana, Nigeria, and other African nations reverting to the perceived morality of ancient tribal Israel and the unforgiving religion of the Middle Ages who are liable to lengthy prison sentences, torture, and in some countries even death, simply for being themselves.. To druggies everywhere in the vain hope they may be cured of their addiction and to those who feast and grow rich on their pain. To the sufferers of cancer and HIV and in hopes that a positive cure might at last be found. For the homeless, the destitute, and the starving. For the corrupt politicians of any nation in the hope that this year might possibly see them turn honest and put their country’s and ordinary citizen’s interests first. For the fabulously wealthy both individual and institutional. May they find it in themselves to use some of that wealth to succour those less favoured. To the bankers without conscience who helped create the state the world of finance is in and are still paying themselves millions in bonuses. To the Jewish community in Israel where ultra-orthodox Jews are evidently trying to force their beliefs on those of a more secular frame of mind. You would have thought, thinking of Jewish history, that they would be able to get along without friction in their own land but evidently when it comes to religion such is not the case. For the priests of the Orthodox and Armenian churches who have recently disgraced themselves at Christmas by brawling with broomsticks like hooligans in the Church of The Holy Sepulchre. To oppressed and abused women everywhere.

Love, peace, and a happy New Year to one and all.