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

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Long bus journey into Tooting

Turned left looking up at the sky - overcast but no obvious downpour so I wander on down past the grotty little second hand shop - junk shop more like, I've never seen anything in there that wasn't worth burning - past the bookies and on to the bus stop. Garratt Lane - what a crap hole, despite the supposed gentrification - always has been - always will be. Just up there on the right is the Henry Prince estate - one of the shittiet places I've ever had the misfortune to visit - and trust me - I've done shitty - big time. Three buses come along together, ain't that just typical, and I grab the last one - poxy OMOs where's the lippy clippie? - it smells of second hand clothes and old ladies - junk food containers litter the floor (no discernment - those people would have been better off nutritionally eating the containers and dumping the content - thank Christ they didn't). Garbage in garbage out. The bus sweeps past the Henry Prince and its imposing brick arch flits by - on the other side is a small development of council housing - hutches not two feet from the road - I wonder what they breathe in? Why do only old people use buses? All of these buses are going down Garratt Lane - Tooting here we come. Yum yum yum - NOT. Developers and property crooks have done everything they can - and for the last 20 years - but it doggedly refuses (dogggedly - yeah the pavements are deep in dog shit most of the time - who'd be a street sweeper down there? - still, they did away with street sweepers years ago so it' not a real problem) to come up-market. We crawl past Rayners and on under the dark bridge of Earlsfield station - no amount of netting that they put up seems to stop the pigeons from nesting up there and crapping all over everyone (shoot the fucking lot of them I say - go on Ken - shoot 'em all). Indian and Chinese restaurants left and right - the abandoned police station on the right just before Summerstown and on past the closed community - and then we're there. 15 minutes to cover about 2 miles - brilliant. 15 minutes of discomfort par excellence. The driver - nasty mean sod - refuses to open the doors at the lights - bloody jobsworth - makes his day - as if the traffic hadn't blocked the whole system! The bus turns left - shit! OK - I can cut in round the back. Past the dodgy tailoring shops and finally Mister Misery deigns to stop. I wander down the bus and intentionally get off the on ramp - I throw him what I hope is a withering sneer - "SHITHEAD" I growl. The two old lades getting on push, elbows sharpened at sundry jumble sales and church bazaars, dig me and jostle me. "Watch the driver", I say "he's a fascist bastard". They give me the sort of look I just tried to give the driver. The shorter, and uglier of the two white haired old biddies drags her shopping trolley up my shin. "Cheers love - hope your prolapse drops!".


Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Fry Up up

Must've taken me all of two minutes to get round to Sultan's. Well, at least it didn't rain. The builders had done breakfast and hadn't got back for lunch yet so the place was quietly deserted - plates cleared, floor swept, tables cleaned - worn out formica shining in the harsh overhead lighting - spotless. Ali was behind the jump scraping burnt fat off the griddle - getting ready for the next rush. "Hello Maisy - where's Merril?"
"Merril does Thursdays you big dope - it's Friday - just me today, June's at the clinic so I'm on me Jack Jones - no looking down Merril's top for you you mucky little git."
"Hi Ali" - Ali grins and nods
"Hello mister Charlie - no sushi today?"
It's an in joke and I won't bore you with it.
"What's it to be Chas? Coupla rashers in a bap?"
"No Maisy, not today.
Ali do me the works will you? Three sausages, 5 bacon - streaky not back - chips, beans, mushrooms, fried tomatoes - not those shitty tinned things - fried onions and stick a couple of slices of fried bread on too."
"You on a diet mister Charlie? No black pudding?"
"Oh go on then, just a couple".
"D'you want some toast Chas?"
"Leave it out Maisy - what sorta gannett d'you think I am?"
"How many sorts are there Chas? - anyway - who's springing for this one you tightwad?".
"Fat George gave me a bet to put on but I stuck it in me pocket - loser".
"The nag or George?"
"Both Mais, both - one born every minute - no skin off my five though - gissa fag Mais"
Maisy reached into the pocket of her pale blue overall and produced a packet of Bensons.
"Go on - take one for Ron too. I'll get you an ashtray."
"Ta darling - you'll get your reward in heaven ... unless you come round to my place later ..."
"You wish lover boy ... I'd make mincemeat of you. No, I'll stick with Sid thanks ... he knows how to make a lady feel special ..."
"Your loss Maisy but that's life ... now put that ashtray down and clear off for a bit willya? Got a new job on ... gotta think"
"OK Chas OK - you want tea or coffee?"
"Coffee - Black - ta - make it a mug will you?"
Five minutes later the coffee turned up and Maisy stayed mercifully quiet when she put it down - she emptied the ashtray too. And then it was "grub up". Well, I was more than ready for it and demolished the whole lot in v short order. All that grease and vinegar did me the world of good I'm telling you - put a lining in my gut no probs.
"Thanks Ali - that was smashing - another coffee if you don't mind".
And there I sat with Maisy topping up the coffee regularly until the hairy arsed building crew that's ripping the guts out of the old laundry prior to turning it into another gated community for the yuppy incomers. Pretty much as soon as they began to dribble in it got way too noisy to think properly - why don't the blokes who want to talk to each other sit together? How much is there to discuss about the tits on page 3 any way? And the "politics" - don't get me started on that ... So, I slipped Maisy the tenner and shoved the bacon sandwich that Ali had made me in my jacket pocket. Stick that in the microwave later - drop of OK sauce - that'll do for tea. Brain food. The windows have started to steam up and the cigarette smoke has begun to fill the top foot or two of the fuggy cafe as I push out into the street past a couple of burly brickies covered in mortar who are clearly in a hurry to get at their grub.


Tuesday, November 28, 2006


And that, pals, is it. That was all there was in the file the boss had handed me - what? - 5 minutes previously. The lot. Three crappy sheets. Bugger all basically. Now I'm used to starting without very much but that seemed to me to be taking the piss. And I said so. For all the bloody good it did me. Like the man said "I can't give you what I don't have now can I? That's all we've got! You're gonna have to make something out of it as best you can. First report is due Friday. 11 hundred hours. Go on get to it." And that was that - I was dismissed. I'd known him long enough to know there was no point arguing. He wasn't going to tell me why we'd picked this one up or even what exactly he wanted. I was, to use a company euphemism "to use my initiative". Thanks Buster. Thanks a bunch.

I dropped the file into the shredder as I got to the door. And it jammed. The boss looked up at the grinding noise - "For Christ's sake Charlie - how many times? - don't put the bloody folder in too - they cost good money - oh get the fuck out out and send the beardy guy in". I was trying to get the machine into reverse, pushing buttons and pulling levers, so as it would disgorge the folder but all it did was make some more grinding noises. "Leave it alone for the love of God and get out - go on sod off and do your job - it's what we pay you for - not as a bloody office machine mechanic - - - Friday remember - 11 o'clock - don't miss it - don't even think about it". "Well done Charlie, " I said to myself "bramah, you really pissed him off royally - that'll be sure to keep him off your back".

I nodded George in as I went through the outer-office - "He wants you - seems the shredder jammed again ... ". George was picking coleslaw out of his beard, it was about ten and time for his mid-morning munchies - greedy gutted git - "Tell me you didn't Charlie." I shrugged and gave him the fat bottom lip. "Oh you bastard ... that'll take me all afternoon - everything gets screwed up when you do that". He reached into his drawer and pulled out a little tool roll. I moved on - shrugging still. "Hold on ... hold on ... he caught me and passed a piece of paper rolled up in a tenner. "Put this on for me will you? Come on ... its the least you can do ... it's a winner ... Hedgehunter, in the Gold Cup ... you wanna get some on yourself ... take the price off the board - he'll shorten close to off".

I pocketed the betting slip and the cash and winked at him. "OK - you want it on at William Hills or ..." "No no Hills'll be fine ... wouldn't want to put you out even as I should ... on the nose Chas - and pay the tax will you?" "OK George - will do". Would I buggery. It was a loser no matter what he thought. What did fat George know? Outside of shredders and copiers - bugger all that's what. I slid out of the building and sloped off round the corner to Sultan's cafe. A big fried breakfast would go down a treat about now and it was about time to get down to the new project. Bugger Poirot and his grey cells. Gut instinct works for me and what better to feed the gut than a big boy brekkie? And George's tenner would cover that nicely. I slung his slip in the bin on the lamp post and crumpled the tenner in my pocket.


Monday, November 27, 2006

Intercept 101

Boris arrived "safe and sound" though I have serious concerns about his mental state and with his history ... The overland route seems yet safe from scrutiny. How close did they come to capturing him? He seems very shaken up and possibly verging on paranoid. As agreed we have put him in the house in Tooting and I shall make sure that he is seen every other day by one of our men. It is a good area where surveillance is light. By the way the value of the house has increased some 7 percent in value in the time since we bought it. The house price boom is certainly good news for laundry central. Do you have something in mind for him while he is on vacation with us I wonder?

As far as red Sonia and the colonel are concerned I think that I have put their minds at rest as you suggested. I met up with them last evening and we evaded prying eyes quite easily. They are aware only that Sonia's base might be subject to scrutiny. The colonel thinks that he is clean. Passing off Anna's end as a state assassination convinced them of our clean hands and I hope it sticks. Is it only us watching Sonia? I hope so. I really do because if the FSB or Obshina are on the case then I doubt we can contain things here - even with Boris in residence.

I am "worried" about the colonel. And you?



Sunday, November 26, 2006


S (quizzically): Alex, what are you doing here?
A (angrily): Nice welcome ... and what sort of day did you have? Hi Alex ... what a lovely surprise ...
S: You know you're not supposed to come here ... don't be so ... so hard nosed ... so reckless ... so flippant ...
A (firmly): I know well what I am supposed to do and what I am supposed not to do ... better, most likely, than you ... (sighs...) let us not argue ... I am here ... that is important ... do you not want to know why?
S: ... but what if we are being watched?
A: not if but by whom ... that is a more useful question ... of course we are being watched ... but it makes little difference ... now ... it is too late to worry now
S: ... not worry? How can I not worry? why too late? what has happened? what drags you down out of North London? from your little cave? your little haven? what winkled you out?
A: (big sigh) Alex rang ... Anna is dead ... it is all coming unravelled ... we have to regroup ... Alex says we must act ...
S: Anna dead? how can that be? who? where? how? was she poisoned? or shot?
A (very curtly): a bullet in the back of the head in a lift ... poison is out of favour after the Beslan attempt ...
S: ... the gun was left behind? it was in Moscow? ... and what does Alex think we should do? who is going to be blamed for this? does Alex think we are safe? ... does he? ... well?
A: ... for now he thinks we are OK but ... for how long ... he cannot say ... or will not ... they will pin it on the Russians ... this one will stick ... it is what people want to believe ... we may yet be OK ... it depends who really killed her ... Alex would not say ...
S (her voice catches): what if it was Bruno? it sounds like Bruno's way ... I thought Bruno was ...
A: maybe he is ... and maybe he isn't ... after the business with Kozlov who can tell? who was he working for then?

2 minutes of silence - there may be crying in the background track - A sighs deeply several times -

A: Sonia stop (inaudible) ... Alex will be here soon ... we have to go and meet him ... he will not come here ... Sonia, pull yourself together ... Alex will know what to do ... let us at least hope so because I don't ...

5 minutes later a toilet flushes and the pair leave the house arm in arm. They turn left.


Saturday, November 25, 2006


A small, slight woman in a large red coat steps out of the tube station and looks up at the grey damp skies. A downpour has ceased not 5 minutes since. Zoom in. Her features are sharp and her skin pale. There is a blemish on her left cheek. Just in front of where her headscarf hides her ear. Zoom out. She stares across the crossroads towards Garrat Lane where two double decker buses are tailgating. She squints - 249s?

She decides against the umbrella and turns right into Mitcham road, walking briskly and picking her way between the loiterers and late shoppers. It will be fully dark within the hour. She checks her reflection in the window of a charity shop and adjusts the collar of her coat. Zoom in. She feels in her pocket for her keys and confirms to herself. She makes to the kerb and steps between a Mazda and a Toyota. Zoom out. The road is full at this time of evening - car drivers going home, buses taking people to the hospital or the pub or the junction. She waits, her head moving, checking for an opening. We assume her eyes are gimletting.

After perhaps three minutes she darts to the half way point and waits again. The traffic shows no sign of ceasing but after another few minutes it grinds to a complete halt. The traffic lights have broken. Spotting her chance she runs the last few yards to the pavement and safety. Her left heel catches between two paving slabs but she wriggles it free without damage to her or the shoe. Zoom in. She bends and checks the heel. Her handbag swings freely as she adjusts the toe of her stocking before stepping back into the red stiletto. Zoom out.

Instead of turning right or left she carries on and enters Undine street. Three houses in she opens the gate and springs up the front stairs with her keys in her hand. The dark green, glossy door opens and she disappears inside. Above the door there is a stained glass light. Light electric pours out through this light architectural. Zoom in. We can glimpse the back of a man's head. He is blonde and tall. Over six foot tall. He is wearing an arran knit cardigan that swings loosely about him.


Wednesday, November 22, 2006


First it was customer details from a large high street bank. The loss occurred months ago but the bank only divulged the incident recently. Today the salary details of a half of the metropolitan police force are revealed as having gone walkabout. Now there is no reason to suspect that either of these thefts was intended to steal the data that have gone missing. Both of the "victim organisations" assure everyone who will listen that identity theft is not possible using these data. The bank goes further and guarantees that none of its customers will suffer financial loss as a consequence. But those reassurances are rather beside the point.

I am assuming that you spotted those irony marks around the phrase victim organisations in the preceding paragraph because they were no slip of the finger and they are there to indicate my disgust with the organisations involved. Their assurances do not wash for the simple reason that not in either case did they address fundamental questions that nobody seemed to be asking - and questions that need to be asked.

Both thefts were of laptop computers and laptop computers are notoriously, almost definitionally, portable. Much more portable than say a mainframe or a big server. Now every book I have ever read on data security, and every article that I have ever written on the subject, addresses physical access as the first line of defense in a secure environment. The less secure the physical location of the data the more secure the other protections should be. Laptops left in any IT organisation that I have ever worked for have been securely padlocked to desks for that very reason. Now given that the stolen laptops all had very sensitive data loaded onto them one has to ask why they were not physically secured. Neither of the thefts appear to have required forcible removal of locks or chains and perhaps if they had then the thieves might have walked off with something a little less obviously problematic.

As we have just explained if the computers themselves were not physically secured then it stands to reason that the data upon them should have been electronically more secure than the original datasets but before we get to that issue let us first ask what to me is the key question here: what was live data doing on those machines in the first place? And why so much of it? Back in 1985 when I was working for a very large insurance company if I had wanted access to even a single live customer data record I would have had to have had a very good reason and then to fill in a form in triplicate to be submitted to and cleared by our data protection officer. And this under the 1984 Data Protection Act (repealed by the Data Protection Act 1998). So how is it that some employee of the Nationwide has the live customer records of possibly 11 million customers downloaded onto a laptop and slung in the back of his car/sofa? Where in these cases is the Data Protection Registrar (or is it commissioner these days?) in all this data theft? Strangely quiet, if not entirely absent methinks.

Turning now to the question of electronic or non-physical security of sensitive data it may come as a surprise to some of you to realise that in this, the 21st, century the customer data in most financial computer systems or databases and probably most government databases too - this is your data we are talking about - is in clear form. And when I say that your personal and financial information is stored in clear form I mean it is not encrypted. If you can find it you can read it without any extra effort or processing - it is not encoded at all! And it should be! It should be encrypted where it is stored and it is not. It is not difficult technically. It is not unduly onerous in computing terms. But it is not done. If it were stored in encrypted form then it is most likely that whenever it were transmitted or transferred then it would be encrypted until needed.

Now you may be wondering what extra security could have been applied or should be applied when data leaves its home location (preferably a data vault) and is loaded out onto something as inherently insecure as a laptop. The answer is fragmentation. Only parts of any live record should be made available to any insecure device or location. Ideally, all sensitive data records should be both encrypted and fragmented in the data vault and access to them only granted through a specific application or system and only at secure locations. Customer data downloaded to insecure devices or locations should be both incomplete and encrypted. End of story. So why isn't it? And why does nobody ask why it isn't?

Monday, November 20, 2006

Synthetic velcro

It's just gone half past midnight.
Outside it is cold and clear.
There is next to no moon.
Here inside it is warm.
The tiles have warmed.
The stove has been fed its last logs of the evening.
The house is snug.
And I'm just settling down in bed.
Warming G's side.
And then it begins.
The three note bark of Molly.
Repeating and repeating.
Bridey joins in now and then.
But only desultorily.
Molly begins to squeak her high pitched hedgehog squeak.
Distinctive and piercing she only uses it when hedgehogs are at bay.

G plods downstairs and pulls on her boots and a fluffy jacket, she switches on the outside lights and steps into the chill.
Both terriers point at the offending creature.
Moll squeaks and Bridey barks.
G goes to retrieve the whisk broom.
Clomping around in the ankle high oxalis, damp with dew already, she finds the hedgehog.
It rolls into a ball.
Spikes outermost.
And as she sweeps it it sticks.
Its spines dig firm in the undergrowth and the damp earth.
The dogs go noisily mad at G being frustrated by this creature.
They want to kill it.
With firm resolve G moves it on only a few metres and
pots it tidily behind the dog-shit bucket.
Masking it from view.
Masking its scent.

The girls fall silent.
On the tip toe of anticipation.
But mute.
They wait.
For the hedgehog to re-appear.
G hopes that it will vamoose.
And goes back indoors -
to warm herself by the stove -
before retiring at last -
to the now warm bed.

"A hedgehog in oxalis is like a natural form of velcro" she says
before I drop off
not really bothered
by the prospect of a return visit.

And Molly starts up again
twenty minutes later ...

Saturday, November 18, 2006


Good grief that Shem is one helluva clever feller. Plug in my power tools and call me the logman cuz I've got a tale to tell - a shortun admittedly but Barry Bucknell would love it.

Last weekend, as you know, we had massive rainstorms and me and Eddie spent some time mopping up. There was thunder and lightning too and we went off grid for a couple hours. At that point we all realised the value of the old photovoltaic system - the light in the cellar toilet is DC powered direct from the batteries upstairs and so with that and the gas lamp we were fettled until DEH got the grid back to us.

The day after the power cuts Shem got me to replace the mantle on the gas lamp (shoot, I didn't know what was inside one of those babies until Shem told me). And then he started going on about how we needed more DC lamps.

Two days later he had dug up a busted old desk lamp that had also blown its transformer and then he started sketching out ideas for us ( for us read me- Shem wouldn't be getting his hands dirty - he's strictly an ideas man) to make a new DC lamp. The problem was finding some way of housing the bulb holder and between us we turned up a few candidates in the boxes of crap we keep in the carage. But not a one of 'em suited him.

Looked fur a while there like it was another project on the backburner -after all the gas lamp was newly fixed - but no, Shem was just thinking. What he's looking for - it turns out - is something to blend in with the middle floor - natural and invisible he said it had to be.

Come Friday and G has cruised on into Xania to get some translation done and ketch up with her white witch coven and Shem turns up with a log in his hand - this is it he says and hands me this mother log that he's just selected from the log pit where Eddie's doing stove duties for the day. A big fat olive log with one end square and the other angled. That will make a great uplighter says Shem - and it'll blend perfectly. And then he goes on to explain how it's going to work.

Scoop out a hole in the angled face for the lamp head and fittings ( I used a hole saw and a chisel and mallet and a lot of elbow grease); drill thru from the scoop-out to the bark on the long side to take the cables (interesting angle to drill at); set the lamp head into the scoop out and fix- bring the cables thru to a cigarette lighter plug; file off a couple dimples in the ally; cut a piece of perspex to the exact contours of the log and fix over the top of the lamp holder (junior hacksaw required plus surform, files, and sandpaper).

And now it's all done and it looks great.

Job jobbed.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

The love and pain that cannot speak their names.

Yesterday's piece was very supportively received and I thank you all for your sympathies. Now let me let you in on why I wrote it.

I was listening some time ago, maybe a week maybe a month to a radio programme where Louis Wolpert was talking about his depression. It was Radio4, courtesy of the internet broadcast of their "It's all in the mind" (or was it "A Good Read") programme, and the thing that caught my ear and started me to puzzle was Wolpert complaining that despite the fact that many authors have suffered from depression, and especially Virginia Woolf, and yet not a one of them has written about depression. He also brushed very briefly around the impact that living with a depressive can have on partners and family of the sufferer.

It can't have been months - I know that because I had just buggered my back - it must have been weeks. The forced inaction of the back injury allowed me focussed time to think. And when the pain was at its worst I tried to write about it. And couldn't. And wondered why. And spoke to G about how I was when I was in deepest pain. And I filed it all away.

Yesterday I found that I could write about it at last. Sitting achingly drinking coffee in Xania both before and after my painful session with our osteopath the thing began to form itself lucidly at last. It formed but it was immediately clear to me that what I could write was a washed out version of the reality. A word picture wherein the gamma correction of distance had faded it all out - focussed but undersaturated. And there I think is the key to the glaring omission that Wolpert bemoans: you cannot write at all when you are in the thing, the mood, the moment. You cannot write until you have a certain subjective distance from the thing, the mood, the moment. And then, what you can write is a pitiful shadow of the thing itself. Almost an insult to the subjective reality. Perhaps it is some kind of protection mechanism that the mind has. Perhaps it is the thing, be it pain physical or pain existential or pain psychological, is so foregrounded in the actual experience that there is not enough of you left to write it.

So yesterday's piece was actually about the unwritability of certain realities. A concrete demonstration if you will. That and a paean to the forebearance of G and the triumph of the will.

Lewis Wolpert is Professor of Biology as Applied to Medicine in the Department of Anatomy and Developmental Biology of University College, London. His research interests are in the mechanisms involved in the development of the embryo. He was originally trained as a civil engineer in South Africa but changed to research in cell biology at King's College, London in 1955. He was made a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1980 and awarded the CBE in 1990. He was made a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 1999. He has presented science on both radio and TV and for five years, as Chairman of the Committee for the Public Understanding of Science.

His book Malignant Sadness: The Anatomy of Depression was published by Faber in 1999.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Back pain back

What can I tell you? How do I explain? It isn't possible for me to share it: not with you, nor with anyone. Internal states cannot properly be communicated. I can tell you no more about my pain than I can tell you how I see green. These things cannot be shared.

She sat opposite him and felt for him. His suffering was making her sad. She wanted an in on it. And he was not being very forthcoming. She sipped her coffee and spied on him: he was aware of her sly gaze. She knew he was. He leant forward and she caught a glimpse of a wince. It had been going on for more than a week now - more like a fortnight. It was tiring her. She wondered briefly to herself whether watching somebody that you love in almost constant pain could itself be worse than dealing with it oneself. She would take his pain if she could. She mentally slapped herself and berated her selfishness - how could it be worse for her? And yet he did understand - he had said so and she believed him. He squirmed a little to the left and the wrinkles in the corners of his eyes tightened. His smile straightened out. He reached forward and took another cigarette. Lighting it, perhaps his 30th of the day, he plastered a smile on as he leant back and closed his eyes involuntarily. At last, he relaxed. He'd never been a complainer: many things he was but a complainer was not one of them. Try, she said. Please, she said.

It's just that I'm tired: tired of dealing with this all of the time. Tired of every day repeating itself in the same way. It's not the pain as such - its' more the relentlessness of the thing - the constancy. The consistency. From the moment I get out of bed, or try to get out of bed until after I'm back in bed. It's always there one way or another. It tires me, dealing with it, coping just saps all of my energy. Handling the actual pain and the anticipation of it. Sometimes the anticipation is more difficult. I even make it hurt me sometimes just so I don't have to anticipate it anymore - just twist where I know it will tweak me - take that jab, that pain in the leg, the numbness even. You know - on Sunday I was in tears just pulling my socks on? Saturday too. I'll make you laugh though: I was trying to explain it to Phi the other day - imagine being wrapped in a cast iron corset studded on the inside with sharp spikes, I said. In other circumstances, he came back immediately, you'd have to pay good money for that. Laugh? I nearly wet myself - literally. I coughed - a sharp pain shot up my spine. I sneezed - another ran down the front of my right thigh like a hot needle. The belt of muscles just below my waist cinched tight and squeezed hard against my bladder. Like I said - I nearly wet myself. Nothing is without pain for me right now. There is no peace while I'm awake - no rest.

It was the first time that she properly understood that it really wasn't the pain itself. A man who has had nerves removed from his teeth without anaesthetic has a high pain threshold. A man who lives with a broken finger for days and on one occasion a broken toe for a week without seeking attention is not too bothered by pain itself. And when he had nearly sliced his finger tip off with the angle grinder? It was a strange and unexpected insight but it explained the way he looked these days - older, more tired, a little grey around the gills - but it didn't stop her feeling his pain. The way that it interfered with their day to day life was a nuisance but they could cope. The fact that it stopped him doing so many other things was annoying - no more. The fact that she hated to see him in pain - even if he was coping - hurt her deeply. She pushed his cigarettes toward him and he winked at her. One more and then I'll pay and we can go. He lifted his left leg with his left hand and crossed it over his right leg. His back straightened in a reflex and that ugly wince wound itself across his face again. He smiled wanly and lit up.

At least now we know what it is. She'll sort it out. It's better already - not great - but better. Third and fourth vertebra misaligned - that explains the pain in the front of the thigh. Twisted sacro-illiac that's the underlying problem. Another week or so and I'll be back to normal. Christina will fix it. And we'll save money on the brufen. Maybe I'll even cut down on the fags. I'll be OK. Don't beat yourself up. It's OK - there's light at the end of the tunnel.

He drew deeply on the butt, collapsing the thing, and ground it out in the ashtray. Leaning on the arms of the chair, rocking slightly forward and grimacing deeply he raised himself to vertical and leant back to adjust his spine.

OK - lets go. Shit I'm glad I'm not driving.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006


"The unexamined life is not worth living." said Socrates (Apology 38a) and I have always agreed with him on this. But what did he mean by an "unexamined life" ? One has only to have a cursory knowledge of Socrates' life to know that his dedication to questioning and logical nit-picking on matters moral and truthful led to his own death, and to realise that it is this quest for truth and morality to which his use of the word "unexamined" refers. Not truth or morality in and of themselves but the quest for them - the active quest.

And your point is?

Well, it has seemed to me lately that governments worldwide, and their electorates, and sundry lobby groups, and religious bigots, and, or sometimes it seems, just about everyone who has a voice these days seeks to put more and more issues of vital importance to society beyond Socratic examination. It seems as though they, the people who should be promoting and or directing examination, are instead constructing a set of strictures that ensures that we shall all live, at least in public, an unexaminable life.


Religion? Can we seriously "examine" any religion logically to determine its truth value? Not if the UK government has its way. Race? Can we "examine" racial difference without being locked up if we expose dilemmas between truth and policy in so doing? The holocaust?

Warfare - its declaration and the ways of waging it? The invasion of sovereign territories? Forced regime change? Can we "examine" these things? If the British parliament is not allowed to, then how can the electorate consider it?

And so?

And so - what is the point of it all? If Socrates was right then Blair and Brown and the archbishops of the Anglican church and the militant feminists and militant animal rights brigadiers who all want to shut us up and ban discussion beyond their own boundaries are living lives not worth living. And if that is true why should we all follow them? If it offends their sensibilities or sensitivities the that is a shame. If the "examination" is designed simply to offend then that is morally indefensible. But ...

But what?

But it is the price that we pay for "examination": the price for the quest that make our lives worth living. No subject should be taboo - no subject or action beyond examination - and anyone who suggests otherwise is attacking our right to a life worth living. We need to grow slightly thicker skins in order that we are not so easily offended and that we might grow as humans. And bigger logical faculties that we might "examine" things more closely more rationally.

In 2006 the words and actions of a man who lived in a polytheistic society 25 centuries ago makes more sense than the monotheistic god bothering people who run the world today. Perhaps we should pay more attention to Socrates.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Automatic rifle by Kalashnikov - fly swat by Philippe Starck

The river is rilling gently. A light breeze rustles what remains of the bamboo imitating some half arsed wind chime made by the tone deaf. Somewhere in the valley a valiant hunter in search of small mammals and birds lets loose a burst of automatic gunfire sending Molly skeetering around her run: Bridey stands firm - and barks. From inside the house comes a regular, metronomic splatting.

At this time of year, in this season, under these conditions, we are beset by flies: swarms of them. Plagues of flies bother and bite everyone. Flies on light fittings. Flies on computer screens. Flies warming themselves in sunlight as it broaches window sills. Flies laying like raisins on the tiled floors - quick and dead alike. The biblical proportions of this plague, every year, and without fail bring out the beast in Gill. Gill the most gentle of people.

Gill is on the hunt with fly swatter in right hand (an Alessi Dr. Skud fly swat designed by Philippe Starck and wrought in a pale green) and a wadded sheet of kitchen towel in the left. She is counting under her breath, keeping toll of the casualties she has inflicted on the enemy. At 42 she stops and scrubs dead fly blood from the head of the swat with Zoflora hyacinth disinfectant. She glances up and sees another hundred clustered on the standard lamp stem. Slowly, methodically. she dries the head of the swat, drops the kitchen towel that swaddles the sanguine husks of the 42 and resumes her quest by stalking across the kitchen tiles now cleared of corpses to take the unsuspecting flies by surprise.

Only when her toll reaches triple figures will she stop. Only then will she have made a discernible impact.

Flies - what are they for?

Friday, November 10, 2006


Originally this blog referenced a FAQ written in mid-2005 - recently we have had a new influx of readers who have not read every single episode and who are too lazy so to do and who are too tight to buy the paperback and get up to speed that way. Some of them deserve a FAQ. some don't. Here is the updated FAQ anyway.

BLOGFAQ Updated 10th November 2006

Q. Is there really a lavender farm behind all this rubbish? A real one?
A. Part lavender farm, part circus: all fun and mayhem. A poundemonium if you will. What do you want? A map? No chance!

Q. Do I have to read all of the entries to make any sense of this thing?
A. No you don't, and if you did read all of the entries, which is, of course, highly recommended you would not necessarily understand any more than you do now. If you are a recent subscriber you may find particular difficulties as the different contributors pop in and out - such is life. As to whether anyone could make any sense of this well that is a moot question - we hope, in perpetuity.

Q. Is the background to all this confusion explained anywhere?
A. Explicitly, no. Background has been supplied in an obscure and ad hoc fashion without any obvious rationale - a drip feed if you will. If you continue to read and especially if you read back issues you will learn more. The whole picture however shall never be known.

Q. Is this blog a journal, or a novel, or a soapbox, or something else?
A. Yes. Seriously though, it is all of those things and also the emergent form that comes from combining those elements.

Q. When Farmboy refers to The Boss, and Shem refers to the guv'nor or l'auteur are they talking about the same character?
A. We think so.

Q. Is that character Papalaz?
A. No, Papalaz hosts our blog but does not himself contribute - thank heavens. Nor does Mamalaz. They are mostly active in the fora around the WWW where other strange people can be located. .

Q. Is the blog fact or fiction?
A. You think we could make this much rubbish up as we go along? It's fictional but it is true.

Q. Should the entries be read in the order they were written?
A. Unless you have inside information it would not be possible for you to read them in the order they were written. In any case, the order is optional - as is any order.

Q. Have you ever thought of classifying and indexing all of the entries so that for example we could search for all entries by Farmboy, or short stories by Shaun, or entries that mention the farm and the lavender?
A. Yes we've considered it but it sounds like a job for the winter months and our will power and application couldn't support it at present. One day perhaps - we shall see.

Q. Why don't you use more hyperlinks?
A. Nobody here has worked out how to put HTML into the blog entries yet. OK, that isn't actually true but it's not a bad excuse is it?

Q. Does Farmboy really sleep in the carage?
A. Not as far as we know although where he and Eddie actually sleep is an abiding mystery - like so much else here.

Q. Who takes all the brilliant nature photographs?
A. Gill is the resident photographer. Shem crops and compresses them ready for upload.

Q. What sort of camera does she use? What's her favourite lens/exposure combo?
A She uses a Fuji Finepix 6900 Zoom. As for the rest of your question - stop being a geek.

Q. Is Eddie coming to stay?
A. Wait and see, like everyone else. Wow - that's an old question - Eddie has become a permanent and much valued member of the commune. So long has he been such that when I first saw this question just now it shocked me to realise that he hadn't always been here.

Q. Finn McEskimo, your northern correspondent - where does he come from?
A. Read it dummy.

Q. Is the Old Git family or friend?
A. Old Git is both friend and family. He is also a co-conspirator against all known world religions and a professional curmudgeon.

Q. How do you arrive at the odd titles that your entries sport?
A. Shaun has ultimate veto on titles. Everyone who writes invents their own title (that's the name the file is saved as on this machine) but when they get posted Shaun gets the option to change them. Shem has a penchant for doubly allusive titles. What he tells us he tries to do is to have a reference into the content of a piece and out to a literary, or cinematic, or musical piece or somesuch.

Q. Why is the blog posted in 3 separate places and are they all the same?
A. Different layouts are used for the different constituencies. Mostly the contents are identical but only mostly. The only way to know for sure is to read all 3. All the time.

Q. You published the early years that you spent blogging as a paperback book with LuLu. Are you planning another volume? "The Broadband Years" for example?
A. We have no plans so to do but we are willing to listen to entreaties from the audience. This winter we will be working on a paper based version of the post modern, shock horror,mystery Blogella published in the blogs earlier this year. Don't hold your breath though - it is much more difficult than we had imagined. Professional typesetters have been seen pulling out their hair and running swiftly away from the farm in recent months.

Q. Could we please have a dramatis personae? At least the regulars?
A. The regulars are: the author or boss; Shem and Shaun (actual twins but with different birthdays); the farm twins, who aren't actually twins - Eddie and Farmboy or Frambot or Ceddie (take your pick) - sometimes known only by their signature red overalls. G never writes although she is a constant inspiration to all of us. That's the lot - for now.

Q. Are all of the apparent visitors that you receive at the farm real people?
A. Is anyone real people? Are you? Does it matter?

Monday, November 06, 2006

Making oil - no not olives - yet!

Its bin cold here the last fewdayz. Theres snow on the whitemountains and also on the ones behind u (south). Me an CEddieve been soritng out the stove and logpile and chimmeny nd stuff. and enjoying the results - luxsuriating in the warmth of n evening with a DVD. Full moon last nght and a clear sky saw the temp dropping to baout 3Âșc - it was amazing but the winterweight duvet went on today. We were also out of mains water for the weekend which was interesting to say the least. Since it was so overcats until last night we werent missing out on any hot water but today when we got sunshine and water back almost similtaneously we took our window and got washing and ablootions up to date (last shave today for all of us blokes). G's bin working down the lav patches picking and clearing out runoffs and stuff, planting koukia and trimming the hall veras.

High point of the weekend was going to Modi to see Babbis and distill lavender oil from G's 50,000 flower heads. Low point was hanging around trying to get Betty's electrics fixed - again! This is getting boring. ANd if the Boss hadn't had the windowscreen wipers changed we wouldntve even nown that they hadnt fixed them propply the day before - only hydraulics leak to fix now and then well see if shes fixed for winter. Ceddy put some silicone along the roofgutter the other day to tryan stop it raining inside the car but dont know yet ifn itll work we shall see (ha ha ha). The distillation party was amazing - six hours of boiling up steam and parsing thru the lavender flowerheads and then on thru a fridge unit (least I think thats what happens). Wile we were waiting Babbis - he used to be a cook chef - russled up a great meal of pasta and meat with a ggood red wine and some local cheeses. Just us and him - Maria cooldnt make it. Me and Ceddy got to have a good look round his sheds and storrooms befor it got dark - fascinating stuuf hes got stuffed away. Want me some of that! Wood metal everything! When it got round to six hours in we all trooped out to the stills (600 liter capacity each) and stood under the tin roof where it was cold and blowing and sleeting and watched while he drew of the ditillate - absolute magic - first the light oil and then the heavy, sliding down the side of the retort thingy - clear at first but changing to light green and then a blue overtone - beautiful and clear - I cant describe it I dont have words it was incredible. Never do that again - not for the first time like that. 760 millilitres. Result. Now its got to sleep for a while. Cant wait for to sniff it - wonderful.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Democracy, knowledge, and wisdom

So Tim Berners Lee is worried about the future of the web - original BBC article . Welcome to the fold Tim. His major concerns as raised in this particular news item seem to be summarised thusly: "it could be used to spread misinformation and "undemocratic forces". Tim, I've got news for you - the web has been used to spread misinformation almost since the day it ceased to be the domain of physicists. And it isn't getting any better. But, and it's a very big but, the two halves of your concern are not the same thing at all: in fact one half is the way in which the other half gets spread.

Early commentaries on the nature and potential of the WWW praised its ability "to democratise" the world. What exactly it was that was going to get democratised somehow got passed over in the initial enthusiasm for the very notion of democratisation: as if it were in itself admirable. And, as more and more people piled onto the WWW as contributors rather than consumers this dreamed of democratisation duly took place.

It is the democratisation of data that has given rise to the spread of misinformation that so alarms Sir Tim because somewhere along the path, at some time in this short process, information and misinformation became, to the WWW at least, one and the same thing. Well, that's the downside of democratisation. Opinion gets passed off as information. Without peer review as practiced among the scientific community - and bear in mind that a scientific peer is not the same thing as a common or garden, day to day, democratic, peer - all information and all opinion posted by whomsoever on a particular topic on the WWW is equal. The opinion of a dolt is not, on the WWW, obviously different to the well-researched and argued opinion of an expert in the field.

Moreover, as the WWW attracts more public attention and praise as a source of information (and very little attention or publicity for the sheer volume of simple opinion passing itself off as information) the less discriminating the younger generation of web users seems to become. My own generation knew, or at least were taught, that text books could, by and large, be trusted as fairly authoritative, if potentially flawed, source of genuine contemporary knowledge. Does the average browser or surfer of the WWW know a "text book" type source when his or her search engine turns it up and presents its content? Do some of them even understand the very notion of an authoritative source? Or is that, in itself, an undemocratic and therefore invalid idea in this day and age?

And what is Sir Tim's response to these fears? Thankfully, it is not a technological fix: that most popular response these days. Technology cannot solve this problem - these problems. It is however, another social science, Web Science. "The Web Science Research Initiative will chart out a research agenda aimed at understanding the scientific, technical and social challenges underlying the growth of the web."

Well I would like to offer 3 items for the research agenda:

the rise and spread of "Creationism" being willfully passed off as a scientific explanation by religious bigots

the recrudescence of holocaust denial in spite of legal prohibitions

and most recently

the appearance of a broad based effort to a) deny human involvement in climate change, and simultaneously, b) promulgate a belief that only a concerted and completely worldwide effort is worth considering even were a) not to be true.

There are, I am personally convinced, common mechanisms at work. Whether all of these efforts have been concerted and organised would be a subject of worthwhile scientific study. As would the manner in which the flawed argumentation methods that they all share and the way in which contributing articles get linked together into a resilient web of deceit. Such research might provide a crib sheet for WWW users as to the characteristics of such intellectual scams and so might be more than academically valuable and that could potentially be enshrined into software that could warn against contributing sites in the same way as current software "sniffs out" possible pornography .

Imagine a day when along with the anti-virus software that you run as a matter of course and the net-nanny software that you switch on when your children are using the computer link to the WWW you also switch on the anti-anti-intellectual software that not only warns you when you are about to enter a site that contains scientifically or intellectually bankrupt or worthless opinion passing itself of as valid. Imagine the graded warnings: from "This site may contain erroneous logic" to "This site contains lies (as defined by current scientific knowledge and or concensus). Now that would be something that would be worth doing.

PLEASE BE AWARE - this particular page is an opinion piece. It contains novel and untested hypotheses. It has not been peer reviewed. It has not been refereed by a learned journal.