An irregular, irreverent, post-modern account of the surreal, the ordinary, and the bizarre happenings on and around the Felia lavender farm in Crete

Wednesday, March 29, 2006


Days come and go. We have good days and we have great days. Very occasionally we have bad days. Sometimes we have absolutely brilliant days. You judge today.

Needing to get up at at eight I set my internal alarm clock for seven last night as I nodded off. My internal clock has not adjusted to the DST arrangements yet. I woke at ten past eight. Sun was streaming into the bedroom through the bathroom window. When I opened the window while micturating all I could hear was birdsong - sparrows and chaffinches with their boringly beautiful, insistent songs.

The girls were cuddled up by the gate of their run catching the first thin rays of sunshine - warming their bones - supper finished. The aloe vera that G planted out yesterday by the stairs nestled cheek by jowl with some beautiful orange and purple vetch and now that the rosemary and thyme are in bloom they drag ones eye away from the olive blossom beside the dog run.

Coffee and wake up to a backdrop of sunshine and birdsong as bees and wasps wander through checking out the books and paintings. A sparrow flies straight through the cellar - in the stable door and out of the south facing window. Two pots and we're ready for the fray in Rethymnon.

Check the bank account before committing to the trek to the bank, it's at the other end of Reth to the car park, and what a lovely surprise - the pension is in and it's been increased! Check out LuLu and - lo and behold someone has bought a copy of the blook! Hooray. (Later I'll discover that it was Kell, one of my daughters, but that makes it even better) And then it's off to Reth with the sunroof down and cruising past a cerulean, almost turquoise, blue sea ruffled only mildly by a breeze. Hola, there are people sunbathing already.

We shop the shop and manage to find a nice thin glass to replace the one G broke earlier this week - and not one of those jamjars that pass for wineglasses here - that must be 3 cheers now. Only 6 euros and for once we didn't have to buy a set of six. Dog food is in for the next month; coffee wine and beer for a week. Stop for a frappe in the sun overlooking the new pubic greenspace where the taxis wait - in front of the big church.

On the way home we stop the car before Xrysos Asteria and watch a few moments a scuba diver in the rocky bay beneath us as a we wait. And then it begins: the heat leaves the sun and a strange faux twilight begins. The sea flattens. Other cars pull over beyond us. We are in the thrall of a full solar eclipse. By strange contraptioning of sunglasses and mirrors we watch the sun, a blazing disc until now, gradually eclipsed by the new moon - reducing it to a meniscus, a crescent.

So, you judge. A good day or a brilliant day?

Monday, March 27, 2006

Surreal stories

"Tell us a story, tell us a story, go on, tell us a story please"

"Come on - I know what you're up to - you just want to get out of going on the table"

"Go on - please - tell us a story - tell us a story - pretty please"

"What? Both of you? You both want a story? Well don't think it'll get you out of anything but while I have another coffee and a cigarette I'll tell you a story, Now, which one do you want to hear?"

"Tell us the surreal story!"

"Yes - the surreal story, please. please, please!"

"You mean the one about the lady with the flower growing from her heart?"

"No, no, not that one - the other one"

"Oh, the one about the ten thousand mile bicycle race and the Indian celebrated by Theophrastus?"

"No, don't be silly, no, not that one, that's got too much sex in it, the one about you in London!"

"Oh come, come, girls you know that that isn't a surreal story really. I've told you so before. It may seem so to you but it isn't it's true."

"Tell us about the big machines that take the millions and millions of people into London in the morning and then takes them out again every evening. Millions and millions of them."

"Trains you mean"

" ... tell us about the cage you had to sit in all day"

"The office, not the cage - though it felt like a cage sometimes"

" .. and how there was no sun so that you lived your whole life in the dark "

"But I don't understand, if it was dark all the time when did you work in the fields? How did Gill grow her lavender? Did you take your dogs to the beach in the dark?"

"OK, it's true that we got up in the dark and came home in the dark most of the year, or at least it seemed that way, but it wasn't because there wasn't any sun. And we didn't have a farm in London and there was no lavender"

"What about the beach? and the dogs?"

"Well. there was no beach nearby and we didn't have any dogs - we didn't have the time or the space for dogs ..."

"No dogs? That's not healthy. How did you manage to stay sane? What did you do in the cage? Couldn't you have taken a dog to the cage with you?"

"Office - it was an office - and dogs aren't allowed in offices. As for what I did all day well now that you ask, it sounds a bit odd, but I used to be paid to think. To have ideas about software for computers. To design big, complex, systems of hundreds of programs that worked together. I used to enjoy it I suppose."

"More than you enjoy it here?"

"No, not really but yes I did enjoy it and I was good at it but in retrospect it does look kind of surreal I guess."

"And Gill did the same stuff? When you didn't have a farm or dogs?"

"Yes she did but she was paid to organize lots of people to build the sorts of software systems that I was paid to think up"

"So she worked in your office with you?"

"No, we worked in separate offices a long way apart - both in London but a long way apart. OK girls, I've finished my coffee now, enough questions - I'll tell you the story once we've all done some work ... OK?"



Sunday, March 26, 2006

Beach babies

Clock change this morning and so everything is warped out of true today and so we take things easily, pushing nothing, rushing naught just meandering on through the hours. The four of us out to the beach this afternoon walking along the strand just looking and staring and noticing - ugly scars appearing up by Exopolis where a new estate or two will be carved into the once beautiful vista - claiming the beach again before the tourists begin to arrive and take it back from us for another summer of oiling and roasting of human flesh.

So the blook (odd word but it might yet get some traction although I doubt it) is published and already some mean old sods of Scottish origins and Scotch predilections have complained about the sales price! Sheesh already. Get your sporrans open and shell out because I have great news for you - it's a bargain.

After the green meanies started whining I did a little checking around on personal printing costs and by my reckonings if you downloaded the PDF version and printed it out it would, in ink and paper alone, cost you almost the price of the perfect bound copy you could get from LuLu (minus shipping). On a laser printer you would be looking at $21. On a SOHO ink jet the costs could be anywhere between $22 and $30. Add on the cost of the PDF and you've probably covered the shipping too. And let's be fair, who wants to be holding a ream of paper in bed when they can be holding a paperback book?

All of the above does not begin to mention the value of the content which is, needless to say, beyond rubies. And now that that is behind me it seems inevitable that I should turn my attentions back to the long gestating novel. It might mean that entries here will become less frequent or less detailed. It might not. We shall see. But then, should is not will.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

PUBLISHED - at last

The weather was threatening us all day with rain, Dark clouds came and went. An odd shower happened. After the chores and the washing and the shopping we settled indoors. I polished the furniture and then, procrastination over, I finally got round to polishing off the LuLu business.

The blook is now available for purchase:

Buy early and buy often - if you missed the first years of this blog you now have a way to catch up - if you want to read in bed - if you just want to re-read those compelling early years - just buy it!


Thursday, March 23, 2006


Our Northern Correspondent; the illustrious and much feted Finn McEskimo; that pillar of the Greens and maybe the pinkoes too; husband and helpmeet to the divinely musical Mrs McEskimo; raiser of childers; tearer down of idols and the idle, reaches a turning point in his mortal life soon - and it is one from which he cannot turn. A man with fire in his veins and a rumble in his tummy Finn rode in on a snow black charger from the coldest, most inhospitable northern reaches of Europe, where winter lasts all day and all day lasts all year. He swept up the fair maid who he would have to wife and carried her off to glory and joy but all of this was many childers ago and now he stares down the barrel of a .40 magnum. Some two score years have allbut slipped behinder him and by Biblical rote and reckoning a mere score and ten more remain to his lease. Piffle and balderdash! say we of the halfhundred club - a club we use to beat and berate all and sunday. That silky sinuous demon oldpa thyme does not have an expiration date written onto a one of his leases - no thing could be farther father from the true, they are all aclaused for whatever perpetuity we can muscle and rustle up though should we rustle up a horse or sheep or three then woe betide us for the tide of woe will engulf us sure as eggs are chicken babies. One word to those with birthdays looming over close event horizons - buggerage! Why use two when one will do? The pension scheme at the Lavender Way for peripatetic contributors is non-contributory but mean saving that for the ringmaster in chief The Laz, and his divine eternal creature comforts alone are assured. We fully intend to wring more years from his ears and his tongue and will not hear of an early bath for the dirty devil before he makes two thirds the mark of the beast on the scribblings of the Way.

"Life begins at forty" old crumbly fools once would intone but what apart from nonsense could we hope from those obsessed with the passing of the waters and the stools of life into Chronos' perfect timekeeping mechanism. The slop pail and the soil closet await those so inclined. Rather look up and forward for having eyes in the back of our heads is not natures way - we face forward because that is where we are going. Reverse glancing is, like reverse perambulation, uncomfortable, uncomforting, unnatural, incommoding, inelegant, counter-intuitive and downright, damnably awkward. Life begins only when you take it by the scruff of its scrawny, wrinkled, scrotum like neck and shake it into your shape. If you haven't so shook it by the time you've pushed 40 good years behinder you then it's not a bad time to start but you'd have wasted so much of it already were you to wait so long. Grab life by the balls (and scrotum - either one) and make of it what you will. Anything else is a betrayal of the force itself and, light saber or not, without the force what odds against a good outcome?

In honour of our Finns impending half life running out we crew are packing up the Lavender Way roadshow and decampning. The big tent is defenstrate, rolling begins tomorrow. We are off on the road to the party. Invited or not, welcome or not, we are taking our cheery words and thought and bringing them in person to our gallant Gawain of the Ice Floes where he is to celbrate his his story. But, and it is a big but we will go bearing gifts, well one! Professors Shem and Shaun, in consultation with the academic board of this fine establishment of education have decide to award the young swain from the sward an honorary doctorate. Ermine is in order and if we can find some on our travails ermine there shall be for Dr. Finn McEskimo - Professor Emeritus of Non-Indo-European Babbel at the Poundemonioum Circus, PhD.

Monday, March 20, 2006

The palm is trimmed

You can tell that spring is really on its way. The out two rows of lav2 have been fully weeded. The two inner rows should get finished tomorrow if Gill has her way and she probably will. The farmboy twins have been rigging up a new set of lavender drying wires in Gill's potting shed. Visions in red, all three. The bench on the sun terrace has been rubbed down and Gorried - 4 coats in al - and the new bench will be erected tomorrow after a swift trip to Lidl's.

Life is getting going all around us too. Palms are being trimmed. Oleander is being pruned. Flower beds at the hotels are being weeded. New walls are going up. Old walls are being painted. Windows are being cleaned and carpets hung out and beaten. We are into Lent - the vernal equinox is with us and daylight saving time starts this weekend. The carage is being dried out and cleaned out and re-organised.

Electricity has been run out to the potting shed. Painting the walls next. And running gas tubing so that we can have the cooker gas cylinder outside - away from the kitchen. There is so much to do and we have to get the bulk of it out of the way before the real heat starts up.

The roadsides and the old vegetable plot are covered in beautiful purple flowers from the borage that grows like weeds. Finally the yellow flush that oxalis gives the valley is giving way to a wave of new colour. The backwash is still a garish green but Gill's nasturtiums are flowering in the front garden and pushing through the grasses and the wild carrot. A vivd orange one has nudged its way up through the fennel that comes back every year next to the "not jacaranda".

We have busy days coming up but still we've found time to take the girls, now their seasons are done and dusted, to the desolate beach where they picked through the dead sheep and uprooted bamboos that litter what will, within a month, be a perfect sunbathing beach. Everyone has a lot to do before the tourists start to arrive. But what the hell - we have spring to help us out of bed and into work-mode.

Saturday, March 18, 2006


Refugee. Immigrant. Asylum seeker. And the latest: economic migrant. According to the prejudices of the gutter press in the UK and large tranches of Europe all of these terms are pejorative.

When I was young the British government were busily shipping huge numbers of people into the country to fill vacancies throughout the newly formed national health service. Jobs that a lot of native Brits did not want to do for wages they wouldn't suffer. Many, the majority, of these new workers were from the caribbean countries. To "work like a nigger" soon became the working class phrase to connote genuinely hard and applied labour. Within a generation, however, this admiration for a work ethic had turned around and since then just about every available term that has been used to describe incomers of any description has been imbued with some kind of xenophobic overtone. Post WW2 Europe would be a very different place without mobile labour and skills - and that, after all, is what we are really talking about.

One of the latest terms in use is the "economic migrant" tag and implies a group of people who are coming from abroad simply to take money out of the system - out of the mouths of the natives. What they are bringing to trade for this money is seldom considered at all or if it is considered, then it is severely discounted. What contribution they make socially and culturally is entirely ignored. Now it is fascinating that Rupert Murdoch, when he took up US citizenship, was not called an economic migrant. The Mittal brothers are not called economic migrants. Mohammed Al Fayeed is not an economic migrant. Funny but true - rich people who move themselves and their money around the globe, do so at will and are never impugned for it. And yet the Mittals and Murdoch and Al Fayeed are all economic migrants inasmuch as they changed where they live for economic reasons - for economic advantage. And yet - how much tax do they pay in their new countries? Precious little! How much do they contribute? Less still. But they are not vilified. There is a built in assumption that people with money are nett contributors. It is wrong but it is built-in.

Now, Greece is experiencing both types of economic migrant and in surprising numbers. Eastern europeans come to fill lowly paid. tough, and dirty jobs in the building and service industries. They save what they can, to send home to the families that they are economically estranged from. At the other end there are elderly British, German, and Dutch people flowing in with money earned in high income European states to a country where the costs of their living are cheaper and the climate more forgiving. The cheap labour from Eastern Europe, the impoverished economic migrants, build and fit out the high quality, cheap homes that the monied economic migrants have as second, occasional, homes or retirement homes.

The nett effect is not, as it might appear at first glance, economically neutral with inflows and outflows cancelling each other out. The cheap money coming in with the monied economic migrants has pushed land and house prices beyond the grasp of the impoverished economic migrants who live in cramped shabby rooming establishments. In fact, the price inflation fuelled by this cheap money is beginning to move land and house prices beyond a lot of the native population. It is perhaps ironic that the children or grandchildren of the Greeks who have cashed in on the immigrant building boom may not be able to afford to build houses of their own.

The standards that our monied economic migrants expect, demand, and lobby for, are placing and astronomic burden on the infrastructure of the country: water supplies (swimming pools, garden irrigation, and the like), electricity, and roads (4x4 off-roaders almost to a man or woman). And yet, these same monied migrants sometimes take up poorly paid jobs in tourism and so deny them to the natives. Some become shopkeepers, some go into business as craftsmen - serving the ex-pat community, that hates to speak Greek or do business with Greeks, almost exclusively. Once they are in place and housed, a lot of the money that comes in with these economic migrants circulates purely among the ex-pat community.

For now I shall gloss over the massive increases in corruption and criminality that have been engendered by the huge influx of building and land monies.

Three Cretans are sitting in a kafeneion sipping coffee and smoking and enjoying the early spring daylight. Mikhiali used to be a shepherd but the people on the new, English-only estate, Germans will not buy houses on predominantly english estates, have stopped him from grazing his sheep on their huge plots that slowly revert to scrub around their swimming pools, and so he no longer has anywhere to graze them. Now he spends all his time in the kafeneion. Andreas is the mayor. He is constantly beset by incomers demanding made roads and irrigation water supplies for their swimming pools and their toy flower gardens. Dimitri sold most of the land that came with his wife to the developers who built the English estate. His wife's house is now surrounded by German settlers who have taken over her home village. Last week he wanted to buy an olive grove for his youngest son but was outbid by an English couple who paid building land prices for the grove in order to stop someone else spoiling their view. It is just six in the morning and the sun has just risen. Dimitri throws a note an some coins on the table to cover the coffees, they each pick up their rifles and head on out. They are going hunting - shooting small birds for sport. They will make their way up to the estate - the birds have not moved on yet - and so what if the new folk complain!

Friday, March 17, 2006


Exile or ex-pat? What is the difference in any case? As is not uncommon the dictionary definitions yield no obvious differences although the day to day social meanings are quite another thing. There is something pejorative and provincial about the ex-pat for me and something romantic and creative, possibly even slightly dangerous, about the exile. Joyce and Beckett were exiles -self imposed exiles. The dour memsahibs who were the backbone of the Raj - the British occupation of India - were ex-pats as are the middle aged men from the north of England whose livelihoods were taken away from them by Thatcher's close down of the north, and who now work in Saudi Iron and Steel for the mighty Real. And there I suppose is the nub of it - the difference that is. Exile, or ex-pat, I am not talking here about unwilling separation from ones homeland.

We left our birthplace, not because we were disenchanted with it. not because we were looking to set up a little England, not because we had to, and not simply because it would be cheaper to live here rather than in London although the last mentioned is certainly true. We were not running from anything - we were moving toward and hopefully into something that we loved and not just the scenery (I'm with Huysmans on landscape and such) and the climate, wonderful though they are. Ex-pats here, on the other hand, love the scenery (at the same time as their estate developments spoil the very scenery that they profess to love) and the climate whilst a great number of them do not actually seem to like the people or the ways of life. They also love the fact that their money buys so much more here than it would at "home" whilst ignoring the very real distortions that it produces on the local economy.

Now "home" is an interesting ex-pat sentiment. Ex-pats never give up on their birthplace as home: never take on their chosen place as home. They take trips "back home" and often ask "when did you last go home?". People -often family -visit them from "home". Their lives in their adopted domicile and everything relating to it is compared to standards and norms "back home". There is a strange dualism that operates in ex-pats: many have left "home" because they had serious objections to what it had become or was becoming and yet they constantly use it and its ways as the measuring stick for everything in their new place of residence. In fact many of them seem to spend a lot of their time complaining either about how things here are not done in the same way as they are "at home" and at the same time running down "home" for all that they perceive as wrong with it. They live daily with a very real dichotomy: constantly attempting to construct a simulacrum of "home" in a foreign land that they supposedly love and that will be changed irrevocably should they succeed and that is damaged irreparably in the attempt, and that is where my carping reference to neo-colonialism comes from. If these people succeed in making this place a home from home will destroy it - or at least will destroy their part of it.

We, on the other hand, simply and gratefully. accept the otherness and the beauty of the people and the place. We chose this place to live in as it is and not to change it to suit ourselves and our social and cultural prejudices. We chose these people and their ways and we live deep amongst them - not in some peripheral, exclusive, ghetto. We accept, and we try to understand but to the ex-pats we have "gone native". We cannot and do not want to be Cretan. In the same way that Joyce and Beckett lived abroad, lived the French life, and remained intrinsically Irish, Beckett even wrote in French eventually. so we remain English while living the Greek/Cretan life. We are English living in Crete but we are not ex-pats.

This is not the piece that I was talking about writing but there was some interest in how we saw ourselves as different from the ex-pats and this is a sketch of what it means to us. The effects of the influx of the cheap money that ex-pats bring with them is the subject for another blog.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Sex and sensuality

Do I want to share this with you? Really? Something so personal? So sensual? Why not? We do, after all, share an awful lot of very personal stuff here in The Lavender Way and that is how we all like it right? Share and share alike. Can you handle sheer sensuality? Let's see! (What a lot of non-normative punctuation we are using today.)

First stop on the journey (both senses) of sensuality cam awaking in our new bed to the sight of sun streaming into the room. Eight of the clock and appointments in Xania for Gill's annual MOT start at midday. There is almost no wind and the day is mercifully dry. Stepping through the front door and lapping up the rays of sunshine radiating down from a cloudless sky. Standing on the south facing winter terrace and soaking up the bone warming heat of those rays - good morning Molly and Bridey! Next up, a delightful, satisfying, first cigarette of the day while making and brewing (cafetierre) a pot of Guatemalan coffee to be drunk hot and black en famille. Open up the blinds to let the heart lifting light in - golden and all-illuminating - picking out motes on the air that stirs at my movements. And then open up the windows to let in the clean sweet air and examine the primulas that are already open in the early sunshine.

Clean out the cellar and then spend time with the girls in their run - cleaning and cuddling up together. Bridey pushed her muzzle into my neck as we smooch on their sun deck. Molly climbs all over me, licking my hair and face. Gill too. And then cleaning out the ashes from last night's stove - the aroma of fully combusted olive wood. The scent of lavender everywhere in the lounge from the bolster Gill made from withered flower heads.

With bowels and bladders emptied we don sunglasses (yes it really is that bright) and it's into a sun warmed car for a short trip down to the national road where we tarry in the sun waiting for the bus into Xania (the X is pronounced much like the "ch" sound in the Scottish word loch). Watching small banks of cloud near and then bypass the sun that hangs over the snow capped mountains - the azure blue sea 50 metres to our left. Our life is not so hard on days like this. And then a chauffeur driven, luxury drive into Xania watching the burgeoning of spring in the fields and gardens as we go. Finally catching sight of Souda Bay cerulean blue as we pass the bend that reveals the ancient site of Aptera. Mentally blanking the idea that there may be nuclear weapons stored in US naval facilities there.

In Xania we drop into a favourite cafe but, finding it too crowded with the sun drawing so many people out of their homes, we simply acknowledge an old friend and make our way down to the agra where we are served good strong coffee frappe by a friendly waitress while we watch crowds gather for a protest march - demanding more money for schools and less for bombs - in the midday sunshine. Speeches, singing, and chanting interspersed only with birdsong and the odd whistle of a traffic policeman. Gill wanders of to her first appointment but I linger awhile finishing up.

And then, for me, it's off to an English bookshop. Behind the minaret this little shop nestles in a narrow shady back street. There are not miles of shelving. It is not an Ottakers or anything like one -it is not a Foyles. But, several shelves of english language books will do for one so deprived of this rare pleasure. Head on one side, I graze for some minutes, savouring, before actually touching one. Saramago filed under detective fiction? I slide the volume from between its shelf partners. Read the puff on the back over, breathe in that rarified scent of paper and print, finger the covers and caress the spine, take in the cover illustration and open it at random. Begin to read a paragraph, a page: good quality prose, intriguing. Riffle back a few pages - perhaps a chapter - and repeat. Riffle forward - and repeat. Delightful. And so it goes on for an hour or more. Finding and sampling the delights of real books, in the flesh as it were. Feeling up the dust jackets, reading the publishing histories, checking out the other titles, dipping into the author and translator biographies. Sniffing deeply of the second-hand volumes and checking for annotations, corrections and dedications. The varied colours of the papers between publishers and the different densities of text. Hours of endless sensuous fun.

So I exhausted his stock and discovered that he is closing at the end of this month (make a note in the diary to check in there for the closing down sale ( Jose Saramago, Tom Robbins and few others on the list). High on the sensations of the bibliophile I wandered next across to my favourite record shop. Not your run of the mill, tedious, modern record shop where those diminutive and boring CDs and DVD nestle cheek by jowl with computer games and vacuous coffee table volumes on cookery and the like, calendars and dodgy prints. No, not at all, this is a proper record store with real records all along one side - 12 inch vinyl - and a lot of it virgin vinyl or heavy vinyl with thick covers and proper liner notes! The owner suggests new stock I might enjoy - he knows my tastes - and plays suitable tracks as I browse aimlessly and without cash. There are gems to be found. I found them - every one of them. The heft, the scent, the almost nostalgic reverence descends and I lose myself.

Some modern media cannot replace and will never supplant my love for the forms in which I first found these treasures. I love DVDs above VHS tapes but books made of paper and board, and records made of vinyl, are among my first loves and lasting attachments.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Cocaine nights and mirror neurons in Super Cannes

I have two ongoing issues right now and they are mixing badly in the background partition of my brain. One is a reflection on my own knowledge and is prompted by recent very local incidents and one is an acquisition of new knowledge (scientific) and the necessary assimilation of that knowledge into my own knowledge base and hypothesis repository.

Neo-Colonialism, and Mirror Neurons are the two topics. One is a cultural phenomenon and the other a physical phenomenon with cultural implications. It's some time (months) since I undertook a detailed acquisition of brand new scientific knowledge and there's a lot of research yet to come despite mirror neurons having been discovered in 1995 so this is also taking a lot of foreground processing. The neo-colonialism thread was bumped to the top of my priorities this morning by the report of an English couple in Crete being murdered although I have been considering this piece for a long while now and thus may surface first as a full blown blog entry.

I want to briefly sketch the pair, and or where they fit with my weltanschauungen, so that, a) you know what to expect (or possibly as a teaser, b) so that I can refer back here myself to crib (or to double the value of a single entry) and c) to fill an otherwise empty blogspot (outside of these two items there really isn't much space in my craniosphere for anything else).

I am often berated here, especially among the subjects of these musings, and elsewhere for referring to the recent incomers to Crete as neo-colonialists and for likening them to the communities featured in Ballard's Cocaine Nights and Super Cannes but now I'm close to having worked the whole hypothesis through in fairly rigorous fashion both socio-economically and culturally. That double murder this morning prompted me to look at an ex-pat website on Crete and that experience itself gave my ponderings an additional impetus.

I came across mirror neurons quite by accident in a short piece on Radio 4 this weekend and the idea that they might support my recent hypothesis on empathy piqued my interest no end. In those pieces (on the topic of sociopathy) I hinted that I might believe empathy to be a hardwired - possibly genetically encoded - human ability and these little monkeys, the mirror neurons, appear to be the actual mechanism that enables empathy (as well as explaining a couple of other strange human abilities). I cannot resist. But, there is a lot of material to sift through so this piece might be delayed for a while. Suffice to say that what I've read so far suggests that these little monkeys might hold the clue to a much better understanding of what it is to be human, how we got to be homo sapiens, and may even destroy the intelligent design morons in a cloud of neuronal dust. I'll leave you with one fact that speaks volumes - some monkeys have them (in fact they were first discovered in monkeys) while autistic humans do not have them!

An interesting week lies ahead of us!

Friday, March 10, 2006

Photo essay

We have decided to exorcise the spirit of the post-modernist that has been haunting this place the last few days by showing you what it really looks like here and now. Photography courtesy of Lavender Lil.

front garden one -
and front garden 2 -
Primula -
Wild plum -

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Sex in the countryside?

OK just a short one today. Why do none of us have, outside of the 2 principals, a partner, girlfriend, or sex life? Is this some kind of discrimination? Or are we simply weird? Look, even the foreign correspondents have partners and or sex lives - Finn and Curmudgeon at least. What;s wrong with us? Hey, maybe we are all queer? D'you think? Or is it like BSJ says toward the end of Albert Angelo about people using the toilet? We aren't benders by the way. Maybe we're too old? Seems unlikely! Perhaps we're all to busy? The strange thing is that most if not all of the visitors to the farm are female, we are all male, so why no hanky panky? Is it because the sites that this gets posted to don't like sex? Maybe the Guv' just can't write it - no that's not true - I've seen some of his other stuff and trust me, he can - just wait until you get a load of the novel he's been working on for years. Too intellectual? Might work for me and S but Farmboy and Eddie? No way!

Forget all that for a moment. Why are we all blokes? And what gives with the twin thing? There are so many questions to which there are no answers. Is there a reading that we have not, between us, found? Are any of these things significant or are we attaching signifiers to random events that are unconnected? At the end of the day human beings - even fictional ones - are sophisticated pattern matching machines. Pattern making might be a better term. To be honest though, the patterning software in the Guv'nor's makeup seems a bit lacking so it could be us. Who knows? Who cares? We do but we have no way of penetrating the mists of creativity.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Reader's proof

The blook is with publishers and in one of their recent emails they inadvertently left an attachment attached - it turned out to be a precis of the reader's report and we reproduce it below. No name no pack drill on the publishers - we simply leave it to you.

The Lavender Way is the episodic story of D&G. D&G were highflying, overachieving, members of the London IT set whose social circles overlapped the arts and the artistic until a deep ennui set in. We discover them after they have forsaken their old lives and have begun again on the beautiful Mediterranean island of Crete. Drastically downsized, their new life is chronicled, but not from the beginning, by D's journal. D has become a dilettante writer while G has become a gardener par excellence. They live on a farm in an olive grove where an alarming influx of twins and possible mental patients washes up largely unremarked.

"The Lavender Way" of the title suggests, or remembers, Proust to us but the work itself, I'm loth to call it a book or even a story, feels more like a Topsy and Tim book written as an Oulipian collaboration. The mysterious Papalaz who may or may not be one of the protagonists - it is never made clear - teases entries from the daily trivia and minutiae of life on a farm, or does he? Half a dozen people write in the work but they are all linked by and to the land of the farm itself. As G carves a lavender farm out of an olive grove Papalaz and his cohorts carve a post modern meandering shaggy dog story out of the fibre of the life itself.

Our ringmaster and master of ceremonies displays a dazzling, sometimes overwhelming, admixture of erudition and common or garden stupidity as he guides us through the labyrinthine turns and twists of the Lavender Way (a title that in and of itself references the gentle humorous wordplay of Finnegans Wake). It is, I am sure, not a mere coincidence that a riveruns down past D&G. Is Papalaz's coon show make-up a camouflage or is it the real face of the author? The Lavender Way is full of such masks that may not be masks at all - Fanon would be proud of our guide through this new life; the way we are shown glimpses of a reality that might be a falsehood; of lies that just might be true.

Themes and ideas thread their way through this bizarre narrative, surfacing and sinking from sight at the whim of our ringmaster and his characters and cohorts; just as we become accustomed to a "feature" and look forward to it in the next episode it is withdrawn without notice or remark: the "Myra Hindley says:" series is a classic example: as are the strangely Flann O'Brien-like "The Odd Couple" vignettes. But, when Papalaz takes away with the right hand he gives back in trumps with the left. Just when you are mourning the passing of one creation you are presented with another innovation. There seems to be no end to the inventiveness of the author.

NOTE: The online version of this major work is enlivened by superb photographs allegedly by G but for reasons of economy our version, were we to decide to handle this property, would have to omit them.

In all my years as a reader I have never ever been so enthralled and appalled by a manuscript. The author may be a genius - an original literary luminary. He may be a charlatan. I genuinely cannot make the call. This manuscript looks to me as Ulysses must have looked to readers of its time. It is a long work, estimated 780 pp, but I cannot think of an editor who could do anything with it or one who would even attempt the feat. Would it sell? Would it make money? I don't know. I honestly do not know and I am not ashamed so to say. Should we handle it? Yes. yes and yes again. We may not get a property like this offered to us again in my lifetime and all I know for sure is that I would hate to have missed it. It may be the future. It may even be good.

PS If we buy this we MUST option the next work from this author which is currently unfolding on the web.

PPS I realised after writing this report that Sterne springs most often to mind when mining this rich web of storytelling.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006


Squint eyed sleep eyed Humphrey was waked and wondered why laying down and a list to the jangly bangly of the windchimers beyond and below clanking mad. The wind it is he thunk and let go a mighty fart in opposition into the bedcovers turning as he did upon his side and sniffing deeply to clear his nasals. The comfy cozy snuggly bedsheets hugged him tighter and the pillow bolster snuggled to his earwicks close and safe warm and woozy. Dark it was and wet outside he bethought himself. Caaaaaaaaarrrrrrrrrrrrackkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkk the thunder flaaaaaaaaash the lightning gashed the skies throwing shadows into the dark wombroom. Smell of bodies two dark and safe sweet and human too. No rest for the wicked or earwickered though and Humph harrumphed heself out from the duvet sheets and pillows off to where the cold tiles froze his tootsies and the rain was alashing at the fenestre like a frenzied thing lash lash lash and so he slashed to the lashing emptying a bladder full of night accumulated micturate into the purewhitesurewhite porcelain it rushed past a prostate the size of a solomonic pomegranate steaming and stinking splashing and plashing. Relieved and shivering in the chill Humph glanced windowards once more and shook his goodbyes to the bowl flushing on his way as he liberally applied some vaseline to his lips parched after a dry night of snoring his blind dreams out to the world. Past the sink that cried to him to clean heself he reengaged the womblike space where they slept and digging under the net regained his place in only lightly chilled and soiled sheets. Eight of the clock and no time for a man of leisure and repose to be about on a day so foul and short of promise a day so wet and windy. On another thunderclap he shimmies down into the covers and huddlecudlles in the envelope of warmth he finds shuddering off the shivers of the bathroom and resuming his half waking sleeping dozemode. Spooning in behind his missus he thinks himself a sleep with the mantra whenamansretiredandthedyisshitetheresnoneedforhimtoshiftuntilhewillsit. And the warmdry reverie of night comes over him like waves of comfort pulling him back under the tide of sleepdrowse as he hears the twins arise and getting about below.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Froggy went a courting

The Frambot is in pain - has been all day. His right arm is totally jiggered. Forearm rotation, shoulder flexion and hand extension. He has blisters on his right hand. He's paying for his exploits of yesterday. He spent most of the day servicing and then attempting to start Starsqui the brushcutter. A fine piece of Scandiwegian technology - the Husqvarna 325 LDX with easy start engine technology!

Instead of the air having been blue with the smoke of a two stroke engine it was blue with the indescribable expletives of the red overalled one. Eddie was hanging about the carage covered in filth and petrol and looking kind of sheepish. All afternoon Frambot was pulling on that starter cord. Now and then the engine would splutter into life briefly only to extinguish totally when he reached for the choke or the throttle. As the engine gasped its last Farmboy would produce yet another flood of cuss words. Originals every one.

Eventually the stink of petrol drove me round the other side to watch Gill potting out french lavender cuttings. Potting up night jasmine and morning glory. Laying stones gathered from the road alongside the newly cleared path. Planting out my new raspberry by the girls' run. And here was peace - perfect peace. No cursing, no ire, pure peace. A contemplative contrast to the anger and frustration just around the other side of the house. Cleaning up winter depredations on the avocado she pottered gently on - a vision of fulfillment.

A gale blew in this morning from the south so not much going on outside but the "proofs" of the book are coming along - 757 pages so far - set in DIN regular alternate at 1 and a half line spacing but, as has been said, no photos. That's going to be a fat little volume! Title? Provisionally, "The Lavender Way ~ the modem years". What do you think? No kite flying today - kites are traditional Clean Monday sport - unless you count the preceding. Lent starts. Bank Holiday here.

The Guv'nor and Gill are pulling their hair out as the inland revenue in the UK continue to harass them from a distance. Poor pensioners being stalked by comfortable civil servants - doesn't seem right somehow but as they say, the more things change the more they remain the same. The tax authorities have ever hassled the pair of them and all for no obvious reason.

We had a visitor last night - a frog or a toad - some type of amphibian anyway. G managed to stop the girls killing it and D photographed it! They're on good form lately!

Saturday, March 04, 2006

God does indeed play dice - with Bush and Blair

Now youze guys know I'm no Eisenstein but when The Boss was reading the news out today - he likes to do the Cuban cigar factory thing - it totally freaked me out when he got to the bit about Blair and his little talks with God. I know it's not just me! The idea of two (go on count 'em Bush and Blair) leaders of the so-called civilised world getting down on their bony little knees beside their beds and asking this God feller of theirs whether what they're doing is OK or not, sends bloody shudders down my spine. For the love of Mike why didn't they ask their electorate? Maybe because they would've got a resounding NO!? The Boss has written a lot over the past years about America descending into another dark ages what with the intelligent design stuff passing itself off as science and the advisors Bush has that discount global warming as nothing to do with humans and to be perfectly honest I always figured he was exaggerating to make a point but suddenly I can see what it is that puts the willies up him about this whole crapshoot that western foreign policy has become for the rest of the world.

It's posi-bloody-tively bizarre to imagine two grown men in the 21st century praying to some imaginary deity (it ought to be enough to get them locked up for life) to decide the fate of an entire geo-political arena. We elected these guys for Pete's sake to rule - not to go whimpering of to some supposed higher being! If they'da told us they were going to ask God about all this difficult stuff would we have elected them? In this day and age? Well, would we? By the way - how come they didn't ask us? Is this some sort of theocracy we've got ourselves mixed up in? Sure beats me buster. And those two guys are recommending - hold that - forcing, this crap on other countries? And they're calling it democracy? Do either of them actually know how a democracy is supposed to work? NO wonder Bush referred to the invasion of Iraq - admittedly he tried to withdraw it - as a crusade! They really are living in an alternate, time slip, universe.

What's really interesting is that neither of them would have owned up to this nonsense if they'd been facing an electorate again. Bush thinks that Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Pakistan are sufficiently democratic to get his seal of approval. While Blair becomes increasingly messianic (is that the right word) about everything dear to his heart - good, bad, or indifferent - and abuses his power. Between them they may yet drag us back into the world of Fortuna's wheel and Boethius! At the next election make sure you ask some serious questions about the rationality of your candidate - ask him about God and see how scary his eyes get!

Friday, March 03, 2006

The Killing Joke

The mattock. The Hammerite. The red overalls. The brown straw hat. Birdsong and the the sound of the river rilling. Mint and fennel on the air where someone has trodden them down in passing. Poster colour yellow Oxalis carpeting the slopes and pouring down in to the olive grove. Tiny blue and orange vetch peering out from behind the burr clover and the twitch grasses.

Two overall clad men are rubbing down a bench readying it for Hammerite and Gorri - the dust rising in the northerly breeze that keeps them cool. Two Irish terriers lazing on the decking in the sunshine their coats long but well kempt. A lone figure with a mattock, her back toward us, an old brown hat slouched jauntily to the left, works around a bottlebrush tree clearing weeds and retying the boughs. Finished she moves on to uncover the patch of mint that she is encouraging to spread out into the lawn (no lawnmower here though - the philosopher De Selby would never approve).

The real twins are lounging, as is their wont, chattering and soaking up the warmth of a warming day. gazing up toward Kastellos. They are discussing their favourite quote of the year from Laughing John Tierney. John's wit is dry and almost without exception is delivered in a total deadpan. During the aftermath of hurricane Katrina, when civil society was collapsing around the very lugs of it's remaining, abandoned inhabitants The Boss says to John "Things are looking pretty bad in New Orleans, John, what do you think?". John, "It's gonna be OK you know - I heard today that there's a planeload of experts being flown out from Liverpool to help out with the looting." Deadpan. Not even a hint of a trace of a smirk.

The woman next door takes her dog out "for a walk". "For a walk" is a euphemism for "to use the road as a toilet". She regularly loiters by Betty the DS hoping against hope that she can persuade the recalcitrant hound to crap beside our car. They have three dogs and often one of them will oblige. Between them they are turning the road into a dog toilet - which is nice. After all isn't the countryside just one large animal toilet?

The Guv'nor takes a stroll to the bins at the end of the road to deposit a bag of dog crap, which is collected as soon as it is deposited, from the girls' run. This stuff will not easily compost. Takes all sorts I suppose.

Thursday, March 02, 2006


We took the girls out into the garden today on long leads to stretch their legs and let them see a bit of variation - it's been so nice lately that it seemed a shame not to. And so, after Gill has spent the morning clearing and weeding borders - around the rose and the bottlebrush tree and along the path to the girls' run, we took them out.

Hardly had we reached the bonfire at the bottom down by the river when Bridey caught a scent. In very short order she had found, flushed and killed a hedgehog. True terrier grit. There was a lot of blood around her mouth but none of it, as it transpired, was hers. She had managed not to damage her mouth at all despite the hedgehog having assumed the classic defensive position of rolling into a ball.

Gill finally managed to drag her off and as she did Molly leapt in to make sure that everything was complete. And people ask why we don't let them roam the valley!

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Is Spring sprung?

We have not needed the stove of an evening for a week now. Nor have we had to have the fire on in the cellar. We have had lashings of hot water every day for 8 days (and so we are remarkably clean for February/early March).

Gill has started potting plants and cutting on and out respectively. She bought three packets of flower seeds today and two pot plants. We collected 90 litres of potting compost 4 days ago.

Farmboy has started servicing both the brushcutter and the cultivator (Husqvarna madness). He will be buying petrol for both tomorrow or Friday. The search for more logs has been put onto the back burner for now.

Today was the first session of tick pipetting the girls and Bridey's season is over while Molly is a week and a half into hers (a huge-boned cross-bred dog accosted me at Figaro's today ans slobbered all over my legs and arm - the girls mirrored his behaviour when I got home)

In England there is a fuss brewing over whether the Meterological Service has the right to declare Spring officially begun. Here, we think it started last week.