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

Monday, December 31, 2007

Come off it Benazir baby

A woman who was seeking election to extremely high office in Pakistan has died. There is argument about how she died although this doesn't seem to preclude pinning her death on any number of groups and alliances.  She was garnering huge support from Western democratic governments not because she was a democrat herself but because she would, they believed, have looked favourably on their way of carrying on had she been elected. She paid lip service to democracy but that was as far as it went. She had already held high office in Pakistan and had made no impact in securing democratic structures or embedding democracy as the fundamental principle of the state. In truth neither the western democracies backing her nor the lady herself had any genuine interest in Pakistan transforming  to a democracy.

She was a woman whose time in power served only to swell her foreign bank accounts and to further ingrain corruption and autocracy into the systems of power in Pakistan. Her unholy alliance with the military junta should have warned everyone what to expect. Yet still the western press is churning out hagiographies to this unpleasant woman who could have improved things and chose instead to fill her pockets. It is of course historically the case that her party the PPP has never had internal elections nor has it ever really considered so doing. Democracy? Don't make me laugh! But it is her failing as a human being that has now come to light and that damns her irredeemably.

What mother would knowingly condemn her son to the life that poor Bilawal will now have? How caring is that? Not content with condemning her party to a leader of her choice (where was her democratic urge?) she imposes, from beyond the grave, a life he has not chosen. A life as a target.

So let us not mealy up our mouths with circumlocutions about her physical bravery or her potential. Let us examine her works both in power and beyond death. And let us rather condemn her works and thank our lucky stars that she no longer has a part (beyond the damage she has already done) in the future of poor Pakistan and the even poorer Pakistanis.

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Sunday, December 30, 2007

Text for nothing

First up time to come clean - yesterday's ultimate story was stolen. It was not in any real sense mine. It was a rewrite of a passage from Beckett's The Unnameable - a wonderful book littered with gems. It was rewritten because I had been reading this review of Daniil Kharms. There are some things that are sublime. I could no more improve it than I could shorten it.

HEADS UP - the blogella Black and White that I started some time back here will be resumed very soon. It got away from me for a while. I wrangled it. It got its head once more. I rode it and it threw me. I got back on and it threw me again. From here on in we go where it wants to go. Ballard here we come.

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Saturday, December 29, 2007

Ultimate story?

A young man - unextraordinary meets a usual young woman. They love and they marry in order to love more conveniently. He goes off to a war but we do not know what the war is about. Soon she receives a letter telling of his death at the front. She is distraught but soon falls in love again and marries another man in order to love more conveniently. The first man writes to say he is coming back - he never died. She goes to the station to meet his train. He dies of a heart attack as the train pulls in to the dull rural station - the anticipation has overcome him. She is distraught and trudges to her dull home. She finds the door is locked and so she peers in through the window where she sees her mother-in-law taking him down from a meat hook in the kitchen- he has hanged himself thinking he would lose her. Why was the door locked she wonders?

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Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Xmas morning Crete

It's Xmas morning on the blessed isle
and what gifts and blessings do we have
let me manifest them
as Masefield did his quinquireme.

We'll start with the heart and spiral out and up
I love the spiral but
only when it goes that way
left handed  - from core to skin, through pith and flesh

At he kernel,
in the heart
there is love
for ourselves and each other.

Without love the rest
is empty, heartless, meaningless -
no mystery, no superstition
no baby jesus to die for our sins required.

Our health we have
save for the odd joint that refuses
the occasional ache that confuses -
no wealth have we

and peace of mind
and minds in tact
and creativity
and intellects

A gilded cloak of oxalis nods
throughout the grove of olives clad
in silver and green and hung
with fat ripe olives green and black - oozing

a trough of zinnias with 4 half opened
a rose bush close by with
a half of a dozen yellow pink roses in bloom
that will be white in spring as they were last spring

and along from these
the mimosa
pushing out some dozen
or more
feathery white yellow flowers

the papery bracts of the bougainvilla
hanging purple on into winter cool
beside the prickly pear that
never cedes an inch

and winter sunshine
lighting it all with
golden light just
as it glints the pine of the old table in the kitchen

on the table sit
two glasses
brimful of slow releasing champagne
and a bowl of olives

it is enough
this manifest
there is more but
this is enough

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Monday, December 24, 2007


Especially for those of you who have been following the scandals here at Zoniana - the ultimate xmas toy

Not familiar with Zoniana? - click here

Sunday, December 23, 2007


I don't do this very often and I want to keep the attributions in tact but simply pointing you to this piece would miss more of you than it would hit so i have copied the thing in it's entirety but sans ads here so that you can, if you have the mental toughness, read what our American allies are doing in our names. The article from Salon makes much of the fact that the victim was innocent but as far as I am concerned it would make no difference were he guilty - we simply should not be doing this and calling ourselves civilised. Put yourself in this man's place or that of his family and tell me you can condone this.

Inside the CIA's notorious "black sites"
A Yemeni man never charged by the U.S. details 19 months of brutality and psychological torture -- the first in-depth, first-person account from inside the secret U.S. prisons. A Salon exclusive.

By Mark Benjamin

Dec. 15, 2007 | The CIA held Mohamed Farag Ahmad Bashmilah in several different cells when he was incarcerated in its network of secret prisons known as "black sites." But the small cells were all pretty similar, maybe 7 feet wide and 10 feet long. He was sometimes naked, and sometimes handcuffed for weeks at a time. In one cell his ankle was chained to a bolt in the floor. There was a small toilet. In another cell there was just a bucket. Video cameras recorded his every move. The lights always stayed on -- there was no day or night. A speaker blasted him with continuous white noise, or rap music, 24 hours a day.

The guards wore black masks and black clothes. They would not utter a word as they extracted Bashmilah from his cell for interrogation -- one of his few interactions with other human beings during his entire 19 months of imprisonment. Nobody told him where he was, or if he would ever be freed.

It was enough to drive anyone crazy. Bashmilah finally tried to slash his wrists with a small piece of metal, smearing the words "I am innocent" in blood on the walls of his cell. But the CIA patched him up.

So Bashmilah stopped eating. But after his weight dropped to 90 pounds, he was dragged into an interrogation room, where they rammed a tube down his nose and into his stomach. Liquid was pumped in. The CIA would not let him die.

On several occasions, when Bashmilah's state of mind deteriorated dangerously, the CIA also did something else: They placed him in the care of mental health professionals. Bashmilah believes these were trained psychologists or psychiatrists. "What they were trying to do was to give me a sort of uplifting and to assure me," Bashmilah said in a telephone interview, through an interpreter, speaking from his home country of Yemen. "One of the things they told me to do was to allow myself to cry, and to breathe."

Last June, Salon reported on the CIA's use of psychologists to aid with the interrogation of terrorist suspects. But the role of mental health professionals working at CIA black sites is a previously unknown twist in the chilling, Kafkaesque story of the agency's secret overseas prisons.

Little about the conditions of Bashmilah's incarceration has been made public until now. His detailed descriptions in an interview with Salon, and in newly filed court documents, provide the first in-depth, first-person account of captivity inside a CIA black site. Human rights advocates and lawyers have painstakingly pieced together his case, using Bashmilah's descriptions of his cells and his captors, and documents from the governments of Jordan and Yemen and the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to verify his testimony. Flight records detailing the movement of CIA aircraft also confirm Bashmilah's account, tracing his path from the Middle East to Afghanistan and back again while in U.S. custody.

Bashmilah's story also appears to show in clear terms that he was an innocent man. After 19 months of imprisonment and torment at the hands of the CIA, the agency released him with no explanation, just as he had been imprisoned in the first place. He faced no terrorism charges. He was given no lawyer. He saw no judge. He was simply released, his life shattered.

"This really shows the human impact of this program and that lives are ruined by the CIA rendition program," said Margaret Satterthwaite, an attorney for Bashmilah and a professor at the New York University School of Law. "It is about psychological torture and the experience of being disappeared."

Bashmilah, who at age 39 is now physically a free man, still suffers the mental consequences of prolonged detention and abuse. He is undergoing treatment for the damage done to him at the hands of the U.S. government. On Friday, Bashmilah laid out his story in a declaration to a U.S. district court as part of a civil suit brought by the ACLU against Jeppesen Dataplan Inc., a subsidiary of Boeing accused of facilitating secret CIA rendition flights.

Bashmilah said in the phone interview that the psychological anguish inside a CIA black site is exacerbated by the unfathomable unknowns for the prisoners. While he figured out that he was being held by Americans, Bashmilah did not know for sure why, where he was, or whether he would ever see his family again. He said, "Every time I realize that there may be others who are still there where I suffered, I feel the same thing for those innocent people who just fell in a crack."

It may seem bizarre for the agency to provide counseling to a prisoner while simultaneously cracking him mentally -- as if revealing a humanitarian aspect to a program otherwise calibrated to exploit systematic psychological abuse. But it could also be that mental healthcare professionals were enlisted to help bring back from the edge prisoners who seemed precariously damaged, whose frayed minds were no longer as pliable for interrogation. "My understanding is that the purpose of having psychiatrists there is that if the prisoner feels better, then he would be able to talk more to the interrogators," said Bashmilah.

Realistically, psychiatrists in such a setting could do little about the prisoners' deeper suffering at the hands of the CIA. "They really had no authority to address these issues," Bashmilah said about his mental anguish. He said the doctors told him to "hope that one day you will prove your innocence or that you will one day return to your family." The psychiatrists also gave him some pills, likely tranquilizers. They analyzed his dreams. But there wasn't much else they could do. "They also gave me a Rubik's Cube so I could pass the time, and some jigsaw puzzles," Bashmilah recalled.

The nightmare started for him back in fall 2003. Bashmilah had traveled to Jordan from Indonesia, where he was living with his wife and working in the clothing business. He and his wife went to Jordan to meet Bashmilah's mother, who had also traveled there. The family hoped to arrange for heart surgery for Bashmilah's mother at a hospital in Amman. But before leaving Indonesia, Bashmilah had lost his passport and had received a replacement. Upon arrival in Jordan, Jordanian officials questioned his lack of stamps in the new one, and they grew suspicious when Bashmilah admitted he had visited Afghanistan in 2000. Bashmilah was taken into custody by Jordanian authorities on Oct. 21, 2003. He would not reappear again until he stepped out of a CIA plane in Yemen on May 5, 2005.

Bashmilah's apparent innocence was clearly lost on officials with Jordan's General Intelligence Department. After his arrest, the Jordanians brutally beat him, peppering him with questions about al-Qaida. He was forced to jog around in a yard until he collapsed. Officers hung him upside down with a leather strap and his hands tied. They beat the soles of his feet and his sides. They threatened to electrocute him with wires. They told him they would rape his wife and mother.

It was too much. Bashmilah signed a confession multiple pages long, but he was disoriented and afraid even to read it. "I felt sure it included things I did not say," he wrote in his declaration to the court delivered Friday. "I was willing to sign a hundred sheets so long as they would end the interrogation."

Bashmilah was turned over to the CIA in the early morning hours of Oct. 26, 2003. Jordanian officials delivered him to a "tall, heavy-set, balding white man wearing civilian clothes and dark sunglasses with small round lenses," he wrote in his declaration. He had no idea who his new captors were, or that he was about to begin 19 months of hell, in the custody of the U.S. government. And while he was seldom beaten physically while in U.S. custody, he describes a regime of imprisonment designed to inflict extreme psychological anguish.

I asked Bashmilah which was worse: the physical beatings at the hands of the Jordanians, or the psychological abuse he faced from the CIA. "I consider that psychological torture I endured was worse than the physical torture," he responded. He called his imprisonment by the CIA "almost like being inside a tomb."

"Whenever I saw a fly in my cell, I was filled with joy," he said. "Although I would wish for it to slip from under the door so it would not be imprisoned itself."

After a short car ride to a building at the airport, Bashmilah's clothes were cut off by black-clad, masked guards wearing surgical gloves. He was beaten. One guard stuck his finger in Bashmilah's anus. He was dressed in a diaper, blue shirt and pants. Blindfolded and wearing earmuffs, he was then chained and hooded and strapped to a gurney in an airplane.

Flight records show Bashmilah was flown to Kabul. (Records show the plane originally departed from Washington, before first stopping in Prague and Bucharest.) After landing, he was forced to lie down in a bumpy jeep for 15 minutes and led into a building. The blindfold was removed, and Bashmilah was examined by an American doctor.

He was then placed in a windowless, freezing-cold cell, roughly 6.5 feet by 10 feet. There was a foam mattress, one blanket, and a bucket for a toilet that was emptied once a day. A bare light bulb stayed on constantly. A camera was mounted above a solid metal door. For the first month, loud rap and Arabic music was piped into his cell, 24 hours a day, through a hole opposite the door. His leg shackles were chained to the wall. The guards would not let him sleep, forcing Bashmilah to raise his hand every half hour to prove he was still awake.

Cells were lined up next to each other with spaces in between. Higher above the low ceilings of the cells appeared to be another ceiling, as if the prison were inside an airplane hanger.

After three months the routine became unbearable. Bashmilah unsuccessfully tried to hang himself with his blanket and slashed his wrists. He slammed his head against the wall in an effort to lose consciousness. He was held in three separate but similar cells during his detention in Kabul. At one point, the cell across from him was being used for interrogations. "While I myself was not beaten in the torture and interrogation room, after a while I began to hear the screams of detainees being tortured there," he wrote.

While he was not beaten, Bashmilah was frequently interrogated. "During the entire period of my detention there, I was held in solitary confinement and saw no one other than my guards, interrogators and other prison personnel," he wrote in his declaration. One interrogator accused him of being involved in sending letters to a contact in England, though Bashmilah says he doesn't know anybody in that country. At other times he was shown pictures of people he also says he did not know.

"This is a form of torture," he told me. "Especially when the person subjected to this has not done anything."

In his declaration, Bashmilah made it clear that most of the prison officials spoke English with American accents. "The interrogators also frequently referred to reports coming from Washington," he wrote.

After six months he was transferred, with no warning or explanation. On or around April 24, 2004, Bashmilah was pulled from his cell and placed in an interrogation room, where he was stripped naked. An American doctor with a disfigured hand examined him, jotting down distinctive marks on a paper diagram of the human body. Black-masked guards again put him in a diaper, cotton pants and shirt. He was blindfolded, shackled, hooded, forced to wear headphones, and stacked, lying down, in a jeep with other detainees. Then he remembers being forced up steps into a waiting airplane for a flight that lasted several hours, followed by several hours on the floor of a helicopter.

Upon landing, he was forced into a vehicle for a short ride. Then, Bashmilah took several steps into another secret prison -- location unknown.

He was forced into a room and stripped naked again. Photos were taken of all sides of his body. He was surrounded by about 15 people. "All of them except for the person taking photographs were dressed in the kind of black masks that robbers wear to hide their faces," Bashmilah wrote in the declaration.

He was again examined by a doctor, who took notations on the diagram of the human body. (It was the same form from Afghanistan. Bashmilah saw his vaccination scar marked on the diagram.) The doctor looked in his eyes, ears, nose and throat.

He was then thrown into a cold cell, left naked.

It was another tiny cell, new or refurbished with a stainless steel sink and toilet. Until clothes arrived several days later, Bashmilah huddled in a blanket. In this cell there were two video cameras, one mounted above the door and the other in a wall. Also above the door was a speaker. White noise, like static, was pumped in constantly, day and night. He spent the first month in handcuffs. In this cell his ankle was attached to a 110-link chain attached to a bolt on the floor.

The door had a small opening in the bottom through which food would appear: boiled rice, sliced meat and bread, triangles of cheese, boiled potato, slices of tomato and olives, served on a plastic plate.

Guards wore black pants with pockets, long-sleeved black shirts, rubber gloves or black gloves, and masks that covered the head and neck. The masks had tinted yellow plastic over the eyes. "I never heard the guards speak to each other and they never spoke to me," Bashmilah wrote in his declaration.

He was interrogated more. Bashmilah recalls an interrogator showing him a lecture by an Islamic scholar playing on a laptop. The interrogator wanted to know if Bashmilah knew who the man was, but he did not. It was in this facility that Bashmilah slashed his wrists, then went on his hunger strike, only to be force-fed through a tube forced down his nose.

The CIA seems to have figured out that Bashmilah was not an al-Qaida operative sometime around September 2004, when he was moved to another, similar cell. But there was no more white noise. And while his ankles were shackled, he wasn't bolted to the floor with a chain. He was allowed to shower once a week. He was no longer interrogated and was mostly left alone.

Bashmilah was given a list of books he could read. About a month before he was released, he was given access to an exercise hall for 15 minutes a week. And he saw mental healthcare professionals. "The psychiatrists asked me to talk about why I was so despairing, interpreted my dreams, asked me how I was sleeping and whether I had an appetite, and offered medications such as tranquilizers."

On May 5, 2005, Bashmilah was cuffed, hooded and put on a plane to Yemen. Yemeni government documents say the flight lasted six or seven hours and confirm that he was transferred from the control of the U.S. government. He soon learned that his father had died in the fall of 2004, not knowing where his son had disappeared to, or even if he was alive.

At the end of my interview with Bashmilah, I asked him if there was anything in particular he wanted people to know. "I would like for the American people to know that Islam is not an enemy to other nations," he said. "The American people should have a voice for holding accountable people who have hurt innocent people," he added. "And when there is a transgression against the American people, it should not be addressed by another transgression."

-- By Mark Benjamin and published in Salon

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Total nutjob

So - he voted in favour of abortion - regularly. He asked God to give him the OK to invade Islamic Iraq.

And now he has publicly declared himself a delusional psychotic by converting to RC.

So tell us Tone, what happened? So what went down? You woke up one day and suddenly decided that transubstantiation was right and the symbolism of communion was ridiculous? That abortion was wrong - as was contraception? It became clear that the ordination of women was an aberration? And that active homophobia was a good idea? If it was that you thought the Pope's God had been right over Iraq and yours was wrong then I suggest you go back to your new faith's take on Hitler - wrong on that one oh infallible one. Or is it that notion of infallibility that hooked you? Still I suppose when you get tired of being middle east peace envoy (guffaw) you can become the 2nd British pope. That's my boy Tony - always an eye for the main opportunity and not prepared to let principles get in the way.

Boy are we well rid of him!

Buzzard moments

Well we didn't get the clear day that had been forecast but we did get a drier day and were, for our perseverance, finally rewarded with a big moon rising through a clearing sky. Who knows but that tomorrow might be that clear day we have been waiting for. I did manage another buzzard moment though. Another? What do you mean another? Well two days ago as I was coming down from setting that night's stove I arrived at the edge of the sun terrace (no sun just a dull drear sky hanging everywhere) just as two buzzards separated. They had been flying west wingtip to wingtip but as they saw me appear the southernmost bird peeled off to the south and the remaining bird the ever so slightly larger of the two passed not five feet in front of my popping eyes and about on a level. Close enough that I could make out the individual feathers glistening.

And today's encounter? Suffice to say that today's encounter was equally unexpected and just as spectacular. Gill was down in Lav1 weeding and pruning and I was in the carage  chopping kindling when the dogs began to bark an alarum.  Thinking that it was a cat from next door making its annoying way home via the stairs I let things but the barking continued. I ventured out to shoo the offending feline on its way and without checking the dogs I ran round to the stairs where I had assumed the mog was making moggy delay and thus infuriating our noble canines but, like Mother Hubbard, when I got there the staircase was bare and so the poor doggies had no fun watching me wave my arms and make strange shooing noises. But when I turned back I noticed, I should have checked before, the girls were barking still but they were barking down between the olives. Suddenly a buzzard came flying low out of the  shadow . So low that he was only marginally airborne. And as he came direct toward me I saw why he was not properly skybound - hanging from his impressive talons there dangled a medium sized rat. The rat was struggling and the buzzard was all aflap - it was a natural struggle and it was clear that the rat was fighting for his life. The buzzard achieved proper take-off not 12 feet away and passed above my head with his snack firmly secured and ominously still. The struggle was over.

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Friday, December 21, 2007

Design for the other 90% or 95%.

Given my recent musings on design it was interesting today to come across a quote from Paul Polak, who started International Development Enterprises  about 25 years ago to aid the rural poor -  "Most of the designers in the world spend all their time working to solve the problems of the richest 5 [percent] or 10 percent of the world's customers," he said. "Before I die I want to see this crazy ratio reversed." he added. Hear hear say I.

Wouldn't it be wonderful if, at this time of supposed good will to all men, some of the giants of design pledged one year or more of their career to such design?  As I've said before great designers work well within constraints and the constraints imposed in designing for the poor provide a real challenge. If Bill Gates can put his tiny hand into his huge pockets philanthropically why could the uber meister of the design led and highly profitable Apple not do the same thing but in a design led series of initiatives? Who better to marshal the world's top designers?  Come on Steve - step up to the ockey and do your best.

Full inspiration article here.

If, on the other hand, you want to see an example of really pointless design look at this or even this.

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Thursday, December 20, 2007

Esme saddles up one of Laz's hobby horses

A dear friend wrote recently in response to my post on the Blasphemy  Law and raised the point that perhaps the law in question, since it is hardly used these days, is not problematic. On a purely practical level the argument appears attractive but a deeper consideration contradicts that  simple idea. In this particular case there are two issues to contend with: firstly while the law is on the statute book I, and many like me, are de facto criminals; and secondly the fact that the government, the police forces and the crown prosecutors seldom use the law does not preclude the general public from using it.  The most recent uses of this ridiculous piece of archaic nonsense have tended to be privately brought cases (see the first section of this article) and so you see we are still subject to its use as a weapon by any religious zealot with the malice to wield it.

But back to my horse and thanks for saddling her up. Legislation and the houses of parliament. Plural remember, houses not house. Commons and Lords. A legislating chamber and an amending chamber. And, as far as it goes that's fine but let me make a case here for a third house or chamber. Anybody who knows anything about databases, and let's face it the statute book is only a database of laws, recognises 3 major activities against data - create, amend and delete, We have the create function - the commons, and doesn't this last clutch of members just love passing new laws?  Amend - go t that one  covered with the half reformed Lords (don't get me started on the composition of that place). You see where I'm going with this? Where, oh where, is the delete function? And that, at least in part. explains why so much rubbish law remains on the statute book.

So let's have a third chamber whose job it is to riffle through all extant legislation and delete or repeal all the bad laws and the laws that are never, or rarely. used. If a database is not cleaned and pruned and reorganised as a matter of regular and rigorous course then it eventually become both inefficient and or ineffective. Sounds a lot like the pass that the UK statute book is in to me. Such a house could begin with a couple of fairly simple heuristics and clean a whole swathe of accreted legal plaque from the legal system within a few short and productive years. Pick your own: The Dangerous Dogs Act? - a bad law badly drafted and enacted - DELETE; the Act of Succession? - a privileging law and against the spirit of freedom of religion - DELETE; The Blasphemy Law? - nuff said - DELETE.

I am not saying that it would be a simple matter to select the people we want to entrust such vital work to but I would suggest as a starter that ALL politicians should be automatically disbarred from standing  for such office.


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Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Xania harbour in winter

Xania harbour is one of those places that we tend to avoid like some sort of dire communicable disease in the summertime. It's a tourist trap and swarms with badly dressed. loud, 'travellers" smelling of sweat and suntan lotion. The cafe and taverna owners overcharge because they can. Music and overloud televisions blare day and night. The place is a beautiful looking foul bedlam.

Xania has a picturesque setting and the most beautiful venetian harbour with a lighthouse and a disused mosque. The worldwideweb is littered with photographs of this amazing spot - in all weathers and all seasons - just enter "Xania harbour" into Google's excellent image search engine and feast your eyes.

For us though Xania harbour in winter is a glorious location. With a wide horizon it is possible to see the weather fronts moving across a constantly changing sky.  The mass of the tourist have gone and the place is taken over again by he local who sit behind sophisticated plastic sheeting that covers in the fronts of the tavernas and cafes drinking coffee and chewing the fat. The food quality rises dramatically and the menus shrink - fresh food is back in fashion nowadays.

We sat outside a fish taverna at the eastern end of the harbour yesterday afternoon and ate. Imagine the spread: one plate of fava sprinkled with roughly chopped onion and a sprig of basil; one plate of stamnagathi (a strong wlld green) prepared in olive oil and served with fresh lemon; a mixed plated of braised rice celery with radish; a plate of small individual dakos (half a dozen rye rusks soaked with oil and topped with crushed tomato and mizithre cheese. Those were the starters and were followed by a plate of golden, crisp fried potatoes, individually cut from starchy white potatoes grown on the Lassithi plateau, a plate of freshly caught sardines, a plate of tiny battered fish looking for all the world like whitebait but not, tastier and fresher; and finally a plate of grilled octopus that was still in the sea yesterday, boiled till malakos (firm) and then grilled brown with the tiny tentacle ends curled and carbonised. No, not finally - a plate of lemons quartered and a basket of crusty bread completes the meal. Oh yes and a carafe of local white wine and a bottle of water.

There are three of us and we eat in the sunshine as we watch the rolling slide show of clouds moving over a constantly heaving sea beyond the harbour. A couple of hours slip by in pleasant conversation and the temperature cools slowly, the clouds begin to grey. The light drops a notch - evening cannot be far. By the time we are done with the meal and the scarps have been stowed safely in a plastic bag for the dogs' super later, when the owner has brought complimentary raki (tsikourdia)  and halva it is coming on to a fine drizzle - we move inside and linger over the end of he experience (so much more than just a meal). We sit in company now and watch the early evening clear again before paying up the bill (42 euros) and strolling around the harbour and its winter defences now in place one last time before heading home.

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Sunday, December 16, 2007

Arms and mankind

Turkey yesterday violated international law and the sovereign borders of its neighbour Iraq. Where is the international condemnation? I suspect that if Canada sent a couple of dozen bombers over the US indiscriminately bombing civilians and suspected "terrorists" there would be some outrage.

The US has exempted itself and its citizens from all international justice by refusing to sign up to the international criminal court. It impedes the progress of international law at every turn.  And this while passing itself off as the world's policeman.

It vetoes every attempt within the UN to bring international law to bear upon Israel which itself regularly violates its neighbours' borders.

Why should we be surprised that Turkey's latest illegal incursion into Iraq goes unremarked?

Some other facts

The United Nations and all its agencies and funds spend about $20 billion each year. That works out at about $3 for each of the world's inhabitants.

It is estimated that yearly, over 1 trillion dollars are spent on military expenditures and arms worldwide.

As of August 31, 2007,  the United States owed UN contributions of $785 million (68% of the regular budget arrears).

Though barred by Congress from selling offensive weapons to Cyprus itself, in 1997 alone the U.S. sold (or allowed American corporations to sell) more than $270 million worth of weapons to Greece and nearly $750 million worth to Turkey.

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Friday, December 07, 2007

Do dogs plan?

Because we cannot communicate with dogs by language we deny them, and reserve unto ourselves, as a species, certain specifically soi disant  "human" traits. Consider the following: in the course of a normal evening Bridey will sit on Gill's lap. When she does this Molly comes and lays beside Gill to have her belly rubbed. This evening Gill was at her computer, Molly was hogging the sofa, and Bridey was mooching around unsettled. Bridey looked at Molly and slowly wandered around to stand beside Gill. She intimated that she wanted to get up on G's lap and looked across to Molly. As soon as Gill moved her chair to make way for Bridey Molly left the sofa and made toward Gill in anticipation. After a delay of perhaps a second or two Bridey ran to the sofa and settled herself smack in the middle of it and looked back at Gill and Molly.

Planning? It looked a lot like it to me.

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Blasphemy, Blasphemy, they've all got it in for me

There is a petition here - The Downing Street petitions site that I have recently signed - I urge you to do the same. The petition calls on the government of the UK to repeal the Blasphemy Law that has come down in UK law from the canon law into common law. For those who want a fuller understanding of the operation and scope of the law itself this Wikipedia entry will enlighten.

Some people have asked me what it is that I find objectioable about this archauc piece of legislation ans why it should be removed from the statute book. Let me count the ways.

IT LIMITS freedom of speech - one of the fundamental human rights to which I subscribe. If I publicly scoff at the notion of trinitarianism (a very strange piece of theological sophistry that teaches that god the father, god the son and, god the holy spirit are separate and yet indissoluble), if I deny that the Xtian religion is true or, if I assert that the "Holy Scriptures" do not have divine authority then I am breaking a law (the Blasphemy law) which overrides not only my right to freedom of speech but has previously been adjudged to override my protection under the Act of Toleration (itself a privileging law). For this reason alone The Blasphemy Act must be repealed.

IT PRIVILEGES one set of beliefs over and above any other set. It is an odd law indeed that protects a creed or set of beliefs and is in that manner reminiscent of Sharia law. That it is the only UK law that protects a belief set rather than individuals or groups it privileges. Science has no such protection under law - and nor should it have. No self respecting belief should be so fragile in its adherence to its tenets that it cannot argue those beliefs in public nor should it seek parliamentary protection or privilege.

IT PRIVILEGES one set of religious beliefs over and above all others. In this it is not unique, in UK law there are several similar laws that afford unique privileges to this set of beliefs and the church to which they belong. It is widely and mistakenly believed among British "subjects" (another UK legal nicety that is far from nice) to have been enacted to protect the Xtian faith and that it continues so to do. In point of fact it protects the Church of England and its dogmas, its behaviours and its priesthood at the expense of every other religious faith. When Muslims wanted to use this bizarre piece of legislation against Salman Rushdie it immediately became crystal clear that Islam is not protected by its strange contingencies. Given that this law has been used in past times to prosecute Quakers and Freethinkers, Unitarians and atheists, it is clearly a piece of legislation that has no place in a modern, rational, post enlightenment society.

Enough of this nonsense. Let us have away with this ridiculous 17th century import from church law. It would be a good first step on the road to disestablishing the Church of England and bringing the separation of religion and state that most modern democrats see as fundamental a little closer,

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Design part 2

Having opined that the beauty of a good design mirrors that of a good mathematical solution I'd like now to turn my attention to the similarity between poetics and design. Inasmuch as poetry is the literary form that most bounds itself with constraints as a precondition schema I find that it is a good analogy for real world design. How often I have heard people studying design or even having recently graduated from design courses bemoaning the fact that design in the real world does not give full voice to their creativity when what they really mean is that the number and degree of constraints attaching to real world briefs deny them the flights of fancy that are gratuitously used to expecting? Time without accounting I am afraid. For me the constraints are what make any brief a genuine challenge rather than a fantasy. All design graduates should really understand this before they are allowed to complete their courses. A precondition.

To understand how central constraints are to the design process It is enlightening to identify where constraints might arise in any design brief and in order to do that I shall mix and match from several assignments to illustrate my point. Major constraints may be explicitly stated within the brief but seldom all constraints. Many of the minor constraints will be implict and easily enough winkled out. However, it is not unknown for some of the biggest constraints that the designer will need to address not only to be implicit in the brief but for the client not even to recognise them. This is particularly true of software design briefs (if a design is even undertaken) and is one of the main reasons that so many software projects overrun both timescales and budgets. And there dear reader you have 2 of the major constraints of any design job - time and money. Both of those key limitations are too often treated as unrealistically elastic by the arrogant designer.

There are usually 3 areas where constraints will be present: those that limit the design process itself - time, money, technology available etc; those that impinge on the the manufacture of the object - the aforementioned plus materials, tooling, cost per unit etc.;and; those that are determined by the lifetime operation of the object designed - typically all of the foregoing plus things like, throughput, speed, cost per use, ecological impact, durability, adaptability, aesthetics, fit to environment and any extreme conditions under which the object needs to operate. Without wishing to be exhaustive, and I am not convinced that I could be not matter how long I worked on this short article, I hope it is now clear that the constraints on a design will often outweigh the look and feel of the object designed by a very long stretch.

I may come back to this topic and discuss some of the joys of design as a discipline. We shall see.

Friday, November 30, 2007


So this is headed up DESIGN but what do we mean by design? I know what I mean but I also know that the idea of design and designers as a class of people have been derogated over recent decades so shall we start by dispelling the most common misconception and defining our own terms?

Designers do not just make things look good (or bad depending on your particular take on the designed object). Design is not focussed narrowly or exclusively on the look of the designed object -  fashion design is as close as you get to that obsession with look but remember that even fashion designers focus on fabrics too. Admittedly design in the eighties, or rather, the objects marketed as "designer items" during that era of empty gloss did rely heavily, and sometimes exclusively, upon the mere look and feel but for that we can blame the sales and marketing mafia that held sway. And some of the soi disant designers of the period.

Let me clarify or illustrate from personal experience. The first objects that I designed in my working life were pieces of software code. Most software code has no look or feel. Nobody save for the guy who gets to maintain it cares too much what it looks like when printed out and in use it has no look at all - it is merely an arrangement of bits in a segment of computer memory and the computer doesn't care at all but make no mistake good software code is designed.

In fact, until much later in my career I designed almost nothing that had a look. I designed code. I designed computer systems large and small. I designed database schemata. I re-designed other peoples' code.  I re-designed other peoples' database schemata. Until I began designing online conversations, and later human computer interfaces and web sites, did any of the things I designed have a viewable dimension and at first I did not design the visual elements of those. Perfume designers will know what I mean. The bottle may well have been designed by a different person to the perfume itself.

So, the way I tell the story, design is not primarily a visual discipline. So what is it? For me design is an intellectual discipline.

Design is a problem solving discipline. Design is primarily concerned with solving problems. A design, a good design, is a solution to a particular problem within a set of constraints. The ideal design is the best available solution to the particular problem within the constraints of the problem space. Hold on to th idea of constraints - we'll come back to them and the important  role they play in design.

When I used the phrase "best available design" it was in the full knowledge that it would evoke the question "what do you mean by best?". In design two of the most important criteria in judging the worth of a solution, assuming that the designed object fulfills fully the function mandated by the brief, are elegance and simplicity.  There is a famous quotation that is often attributed to Albert Einstein but that I came across as being from Gustave Eiffel (he of the Paris tower): "Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler."  Given that what has been designed is likely to be made then it should be obvious that simplicity is a great attribute for any design. As to the attribute of "elegance" you must understand that I use elegant as it is used in the scientific discipline where it signifies "pleasingly ingenious and simple". Not ingenious in isolation but ingenious AND simple.   

The reason I refer to scientific usage in my definition of elegance is because I believe that design is a discipline that shares much with mathematics. Were you to listen to mathematicians for any length of time you would doubtless be surprised, as I first was, by how often they refer to beauty. Mathematicians believe that mathematics, good mathematics is beautiful. Often when presented with a new proof a mathematician will make his or her first judgement as to whether it might be true on whether the proof itself is beautiful - if it isn't beautiful it probably isn't true. Push the mathematician to explain beauty and he or she will often use the words elegant and simple. Consider Occam's Razor. - a regularly observed scientific heuristic. 

Enough for now ... maybe more tomorrow ...

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Tuesday, November 27, 2007

dinnae fret hinny

Don't worry people out there I haven't dropped off the blogging map just busy elsewhere right now.

One of the major concerns, I hesitate to call it work, is picking over the bones of the blogella that I wrote last year in order to make it available to new readers. It is hard and it is odd to be reading my own stuff (I try to avoid that at all costs). It occurred to me today that when it is eventually re- purposed it will be a very different experience for the reader than was the original. It is a little like turning a story into a play inasmuch as it will come at the reader from a different direction and will be apprehended in a totally novel way. But it does help me to understand more clearly what it is that I do.
A minor diversion has been trying to frame some modern day aphorisms. I managed 3 today - see what you think:

for a man the organ of generation lies between the legs -
for mankind it lies between the ears

you don't have to be a shit to write well
but writing will usually make you a shit

for the solipsist, great literature is as close to an objective reality as it gets

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Saturday, November 17, 2007

life is for the living

Life. Mine? Yours? In general? The lived or the abstract? Stick "Life is" into google and you'll get 78,300,000  hits. Today that is. Tomorrow it could be more or it could be less.

Life you get given - unasked. It's your stake in a game you never asked to join. A life is something else. You get squeezed thru a vulva into it. Or you get hacked out into it like Caesar. It's always bloody, the beginning. But the end of the game is always the same. For everyone. No mind how you parlay your stake. Nor play your hand. It's death. Oblivion. Back to nothingness. An interlude alone, and yet the only. That is life. The potential something between the curtains of total oblivion. An abyss of another kind.

If you don't enjoy it then that is your fault. If you think it has a purpose, yours or anyone else's you're wasting it. If you think it means something, anything, you're deluded. It is much simpler than that. It is without meaning or purpose. It just is. And the one you have is yours. It is the only one you have or will get. Make something of it. Each moment of it comes only once. One after the other. Waste none of them. They are gone when they are done. Life moves on irreversibly. Enjoy them all if you can. And you can. If you choose to.

The nothingness behind you is certain. The nothingness in front of you is ineluctable. Waste no time nor effort. Live your life and love it. 

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Wednesday, November 14, 2007

What's red and turns green at the flick of a switch?

You must have heard the old kids' joke "What's green and turns red at the flick of a switch?  - A frog in a liqidiser!".  Well, today we have our own twist on that old chestnut - "What's red and turn green at the flick of a switch? Farmboy with a strimmer in his hand".

In the drizzling rain and bright sunlight he was out this morning in his signature red overalls and with a red thermal vest over the top - he'd lost the toss up with Eddie - standing by the dogs' run he was ready to clear oxalis before they took to eating it and poisoning themselves - he started the strimmer, lowered it to the offending vegetation and turned green almost instantaneously.

Chlorophyl happens!

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Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Pickleherring speaks

A fine and busy day today: Farmboy was weeding and servicing the brushcutter ( he intends to keep the oxalis down this winter); G was picking eating olives and prepping them for bottling - she was also cooking soup for us all (fakes); Eddie was shifting compost and organising all of us putting our backs in (and mine out) redeploying the delivery of gravel that he organised. Shem was writing a book review for the flue where he has been appointed 'fluebrarian (it's reproduced below); Shaun was busy with me on design work for the recycled bits of Daisy and updating our joint FaceBook presence as well as rippling the new website design thru the many pages required. Good job it was sunny and warm.

Robert Nye was brought to my attention by B S Johnson who included a list of writers who were, in his opinion, advancing the art of writing in his monograph Aren't You Rather Young To Be Writing Your Memoirs (well worth a read if you can find a copy). Since reading the BS Johnson I have always carried a copy of the list in my wallet and have now ticked off all the writers.
Nye's early work was promising and slightly experimental but for a few years he dropped off of my radar until I saw a copy of The Late Mr Shakespeare on the grubby shelves of a second hand shop in Xania.   It seems he has found a way forward all of his own and that he has written quite a bit since last I read him.
The Late Mr Shakespeare, let me make perfectly clear, is a wonderful read. It is the concept that is experimental/groundbreaking and not the prose nor the style. Nye relates a litany of stories about Shakespeare, his life and times from the viewpoint of an actor from his Globe troop.  Our narrator, PickleHerring is writing, after Shakespeare's death to fend off his own. Pickleherring is a gossip and an unreliable source - he treats fact and rumour with an even hand and while doing so he reveals more about himself than he does about his subject.
He is humorous, low and knowledgeable. He writes flowingly and elegantly.  He covers major facts of Shakespeares life with gusto and in doing so gives you a better grip on Shakespeare and his work and genius than is to be had from dry and dusty biographies. Is it Pickleherring or Nye we are listening to?
I care not a jot. This is worth anybody's time and requires no effort at all. Read it and enjoy it. Personally I shall be looking for a copy of Mrs Shakepseare! 

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Thursday, November 08, 2007

November 8th

November the 8th and we still have not felt the need for a fire. Okay the evenings are cooler - but not that cool. Okay the nighttime humidity is up and we have really heavy dews overnight when it doesn't rain but it's not that damp. All in all it's a pretty mild autumn so far. It gets dark by 6 - but that's no big deal.

The days are usually good enough weather-wise to get things done around the house and farm. We still spend most of the hours of daylight outdoors. The blog has still not bubbled to the top of my priority list. G is planting (40 or 50)  and taking cuttings (160 or so). D is DIYing like a mad thing - today we had internet connectivity, Radio 4 playing and the phones working during a 6 hour power cut  - all from the photovoltaic setup! He's also tinkering with the layout and content of the id-ds website - going pretty well thanks to some keen eyed input from Liam et al.

See you all soon and don't think that the last aborted blogella is dead quite yet ....

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Saturday, October 27, 2007

All fur coat and no knickers

As autumn draws on and the nights draw in the tourist traps close down one by one. Within a fortnight most of our area will be closed. For the past few days we have been finding out who is staying open during the winter.Every winter one or two cafes stay open and most years it is a different few. As if they take it in turns to be the social hub for us farmers and locals. We do not have an ex-pat community as such and so the financial benefits are few for those that do choose to remain open. Often the staff will outnumber the customers in winter - more often than not I suspect.

This winter the cafe options  will be limited to one old favourite - Classico - and two new establishments (plus the zakaroplasteio of course). Classico is  one of our original winter haunts and is wonderful on those days when the sun shines - we know it well but the other two are brand new this year and we haven't got around to visiting them since they opened at Easter so this last few days we've been checking them out.

There is clearly a lot of money washing about these days. Where it comes from I'm not sure. The amount of taste is another matter altogether. Some kind of inverse relationship going on here. Both of these places have clearly had a lot of money spent on them and it would appear that you are supposed to notice it. There is a clear attempt at some kind of Sunday supplement fashion - whatever that might be. Ikea chic. Or rather Almeco chic.

My father had this graphic expression - all fur coat and no knickers - that he used in a number of circumstances: to describe somebody who put all of their money into appearances rather than substance; to denigrate some nouveau riche or petit bourgeois; as a general put down for anyone pretentious. That's how so many of the newer businesses here come across nowadays. Maybe I know where it has come from.

The locals here have traditions and until recently while their taste was not ours it was most certainly theirs. What they have now, or what the entrepreneurs have, I suspect that they have picked up - some odd cultural contagion. A lot of the money has come from the influx of ex-pats immigrants. And I'm afraid that that is where the new ideas of taste in furnishing and aesthetics have come from too. It's a bit of a shame but there we are. The virus is loose and the results are all around us. Money and taste do not go hand in hand whereas money and vulgarity seem to attract.


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Friday, October 26, 2007

Summer is done

The rains began a few weeks back now. It's cool in the evenings. The fields have greened and the oxalis has everywhere started to sprout. We've taken delivery of our first batch of logs ready for winter. Here and there mud sticks to our boots. The birds are back on the soundtrack now that the cicadas have gone back to earth: the sparrows and the tits, the crows and the finches, sing and croak in the morning sunshine playing and swooping through the olive laden trees.

G is still harvesting regrowth every few days when the sun shines and once the dew has dispersed. She is all up to date with her rubbing and is thinking of the Xmas bazaar at Xania. Today she took cuttings to fill in where plants have died in the horrific summer and in anticipation of a new plot. She has lined the path to the girls' run with new french lavender to mix with the rosemary. 

The red suited boys have been clearing up and digging drains, cutting kindling and re-commissioning the stove. They have fixed some deflector boards above the kitchen windows and have, as far as is possible without buying any materials, been weatherproofing where they can. Eddie mad a ladder shel unit for the bathroom from cypress wood cadged from Babbis. He practiced his skills by making drawer dividers - one for the cutlery drawer and one for my top left drawer. The wood smells beautiful and more than compensates for his less than micron precise cutting.

We have waved goodbye to the last of our visitors. Perhaps this blog will appear more frequently now. We shall see - in due time.

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Monday, October 01, 2007

Lavender oil - made in Crete or made on Crete

OK OK I know - it's been a very long time and no amount of rancid, pathetic, self serving explanations will ever add up to anything other than a poor excuse so why not just accept my apologies (I've been so lazy about it that even I am ashamed).

And just to try and make things up to you all we've made a special mixed media entry for you. This weekend was the culmination of the farming year for us here at the Lavender Way. This weekend we made oil for the third consecutive year but this time G took a photographic record of the process and the day and I have added a few bits of tetx that I hope will help you share the experience.

Click here to go to the mixed media blog entry -

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Black 2.3

... a little further on and he is passing the Vella's house ... yes ... Maltesers .. the husband a pimp, or so his father told someone last week ... the mother a dark eyed beauty with amazing legs ... the sons two thugs who liked to throw their weight around but got beaten fairly regularly when things got really tough ... things got tough very often round here ... too often for most of the kids ... mostly fists, but sharpened tail combs were becoming more frequent and now and then a proper blade turned up these days ... one of the boy's friends brthers was doing time for a knife murder ... the eldest boy was doing national service...

the fog had thickened ... or was it more properly a smog ... the street lights seemed dimmer now and he spotted a bicycle tyre around the base of the one outside the Campses house ... an act of bravado that ... he bethought himself of the daughter of the house who had died last Xmas of a brain tumor ... not the Campses, they were methodists and the kids went to the same sunday school as he had ... until the Camp girl had died ... they had prayed for her at the mission ... week after week ... and Peter had been the leader of the Boys Brigade ... and still she had died in pain ...

the boy turned into the road on his left and headed up toward the methodist mission ... and the fruit and veg stalls ... and the fish stall ...

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

olive bases done

The red devil twins finally finished tidying the bases of all 85 olive trees today - or at least as many as make an impact on our daily eye-lines. And rain may be coming in the next week or so. Among the detritus organic, growing amid the sawn of trunks and rootballs they discovered, brambles (enough to construct perhaps 20 or 30  linear feet of 5 foot high boundary fence), bay tree, mulberry, fig tree, and some large amount of ivy and hideous clinging weeds. Job jobbed.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

White 2

This room is still white... the pure,powerful mediterranean light is still there ... I have still not opened my eyes ...the reality of the room will simply confirm what I already know ...when I do... white, white and more white... and is there anything to say yet ? ... and what have I been doing while you were away watching my younger self?... if anything?

Who did you think was propelling him along and putting his thoughts and memories in place? ... projecting him? ... I was making myself for the day too ... constructing my self to do battle with the hours ... and who to make ... deciding who to be ... how to be ... it is a thing we all do mostly without knowing it but mine is a conscious making ... each day ... and potentially anew each day ... though I do that less now than I did ... same man today as yesterday ... mostly the same at the least ...

Each waking requires, for me, a construction of a self ... I rummage around in my memory store ... in there no one thing has more weight than any other ... no facet nor no  character trait would tip a scale in either direction ... I have a headful of them from which to choose ... accumulated along a long life ... some days some shine brightly like gems ... perhaps yesterday I overlooked them entirely ... perhaps yesterday they were mere briquettes for a barbecue ... that much I still don't know ... what lights them that is ... whatever the case, I shuffle them around and pick them over like rags in a second hand clothes shop ... until I have enough for a day's living ... sufficient unto a life or a simulacrum thereof...

But enough of that for now... I have to open my eyes soon ... I have visitors arriving today ... meantimes let me put my young self upon the screen of the page for you again ... follow him into the fog ... away from this brightness... this glare ....

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Friday, August 31, 2007

A novel use of a novel

I loved it when Katherine Hamnett and Viv Westwood plastered slogan on t-shirts. I own that I preferred the ones with apposite quotations from well known works. I once owned a great one witha Kazantzakis quote on the front - which in translation would say “I hope for nothing. I fear nothing. I am free.” I own, even now, two huge t-shirts that feature full frontal reproductions of early Penguin titles (green covers) - Dangerous Curves by Peter Cheney and The Thin Man by Dashiel Hammet (nearly there Katie H). But of all of these my favourite is the t-shirt I wore today and that I made myself. Rather than a book cover or a memorable quotation it has an entire novel on the front. In 6 point DIN Mittelschrift the entire text of Samuel Beckett's wonderful late novel, Imagination Dead Imagine is reproduced. It is readable only if you get close and have your reading spectacles with you but it is readable. Now that is novel. "You've read the book, you've seen the film of the book, you've been to the musical of the film of the book, now get the t-shirt of the book - is that a cool marketing slogan?

The full text of Imagination Dead Imagine is available online here

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Black 2.2

at 101 the boy pauses and talks to David Walker who is leaning on the gate ... there is no stret light here ... David is tall for his age which is a whole year younger and a compulsive footballer ... on another night he would be kicking a ball relentlessly and tediously against his garden gate but not tonight .. not in the fog or smog ... your magazine came in this morning, should be with you tomorrow ... Mel Charles on the front cover ... the magazine in question is Charles Buchan's Football Monthly - the only one that the boy delivers on two paper rounds ... the boy hangs around a while hoping to see David's sister Doreen despite David being poor at conversation ... are you Catholic in your house Dave? ... oh yes, fish on Friday, mass on Sunday, we're Catholic, aren't you? ... see you ... he strolls off ... I'm off to the library.

this far down the road he knows very few people on this side and fewer or none on the other side ... the evens are a mystery apart from Gordon who lives next to the transformer station ... the houses on that side don't have bathrooms ... Gordon rides with the Wheelers ... he passes the banjo ... the Gardens ... Janice, the girl of his wet dreams lives there ... the first girl he ever kissed ... he stops and blows his nose again ... filthy ... past the Gardens he nods a yes at David Long's house, definitely Catholics, he's seen a Virgin Mary in there ... and across the road at Gordon's ... another yes ... amazing how many there were when you counted them ...

how come he's counting Catholics? ... Bertha had taken him completely off balance ... with her honesty ... Bernie is dying ... he has lung cancer ... I know you go to the ibarary, and that you have adult access ... would you get him books when you go next? ... I'm going now ... what does he want? ... go in the front room and ask him, we moved the bed in there, it's easier that way ... are you alright with that?

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Sunday, August 26, 2007

Black 2

Four books under his arm and three new library tickets in his back pocket he walks out into the dark. The air is thick with a November fog ... blinding him ... deafening him too ... a blanket on all his senses save his olfactory ... sulphur and coal dust ... but he knows where he's going ... he could find his way to the public library in the dark ... he's going to have to... half an hour ago he had finished up his homework ... (what he hadn't done on the bus) ... and here he was walking down the street of almost identical terraced houses marking in his mind those where Catholics lived ... going to get not 4 but 7 books.

He was just packing his rough book away ... and his trig book ... the ballpen with 7 different coloured refills that his form teacher hated ... ballpoint pens ruin your handwriting boy - don't you know that? ... and his log book ... when his mum had shouted up ... before you go out go and knock next door, Mrs Noakes wants to see you - wants you to do her a favour .... but mum, I'm just going to the library ... that's what she wants to talk to you about ... but mum ... the library will still be there in an hour - she'll not keep you long - don't argue just do it - she's a neighbour and she's got a lot on her plate right now so do it will you? Now!

127 - the Sullivans - Catholic? - No, at least I don't think so ...

126 - over the road - the Hawkes - yes ... and both sides - the Disses and the Bartletts ... but not the fishmonger ...

123 - Mrs Hill, no

121 old man Gladden - no just a miserable old bloke with a wooden leg - and he spits in the street - dirty old sod ...

119 the Coxeds, on the corner, yes ...

120 - over the road again - Mrs Hard and her sharpfaced hairdresser daughter Pat - could be but lets say no

118 - the Coxes, next to the iron bridge, definitely, despite his drinking and gambling and him taking bets too and if rumours were to be believed beating her too and having a fancy piece, that Maltese one ...

he pauses at the corner and blow his nose into a big white hanky ... a slight burning in his nose ... he pulls out his tobacco and rolls a fag, lights it with a Swan Vesta and saunters on ... no hurry ... he is beneath the lamp post with its thin white light ... a light so puny that it cannot penetrate the fog as far as the damp pavement ... he spots a droplet encrusted web in the immaculately clipped privet hedge ... privet is everywhere but only Ernie keeps his this tidy ... his old mum likes it that way and Ernie will do anything for his mum ... checks for traffic (looking and listening) and crosses over ...

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

White 1

This room is white... pure,powerful light radiates all around ... I know that it is white before I even open my eyes ... it is a large room ... it is 20 metres by 20 metres ... the ceiling is 3 metres above my head right now... above the mosquito net that is above me ... the room it is furnished with a few elegant sticks of white furniture ... it is decorated sparsely with white fabrics ... if and when I open my eyes the reality of the room will simply confirm what I already know ... white, white and more white.

There is nothing to say ... yet ... With eyes closed I shall simply luxuriate in the unseen light ... the hot August Mediterranean light ... I know it is flooding in from all around... but what if I opened my eyes and it were not so? ... if it were that small black room that I left myself in? If I were that small boy again? It could happen ... I could do that ... not now though.

Light ... white light ... and warmth ... and white light

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Black 1

Well Bernie ... here we are ... I told you back then that only one of us would get out alive ... it wasn't you was it ... what say Bernie ... nothing ... silence ... I did tell you ... you've got the rest of the night ... I can wait ...

It is black ... lightless ... there is a dead body and a live body ... they are in a small room ... I know this only because I put them there ... the boy is an approximation of me when I was much younger ... as close as I can get with this much distance between who I was and who I am now ... the corpse was easier to conjure up ... as far as I know now he doesn't have a speaking part ... maybe he will have but not for now ...

I know it's a little like a Pinter opening and that is probably not entirely accidental ... nothing after all is entirely accidental ... least of all human memory ... and that's what this is ... isn't it?

Nothing to say yet Bernie? Silence? Let's at least have some light ... a couple of candles perhaps ... that wouldn't be out of place would it? Four candles ungutter into a dim glow that refuses to light the room ... throwing now real light it traces planes on the boy's face ... I realise that I have stripped some of his pubescent podginess in my simulacrum of him ... good bones but not that good at that age ...plump him a little ... such an obvious mistake and it took me half of this morning to put him together ... fallible ... I told you it would be a learning exerience Bernie ... I've learned a lot ... and you?

An occasional glint lights furntiure in the room ... utility furniture ... they were bombed out during the doodlebug festival at the end of the war ... Pynchon would love it ... their lives went forward but their furniture stayed the same ... a sideboard ... evreyone had a sideboard back then ... four simple stick back chairs ... in light oak and stamped underneath with the utility mark ... they 're holding up a simple coffin ... also light pine but with brass? ... this is where Bernie is resting ... not resting as in sleeping ... resting in the gravitational sense ... resting in peace as it were ... in his own terminology ... dead in ours

Silence ... and darkness ... half of a conversation made for two ...

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Friday, August 10, 2007

A Lavender Cylindrical Makura and the Art of Powernapping

Since the first heatwave of the year back in June I have been taking a powernap in the afternoons. Not the full siesta that is so popular here in Crete but the 20 minute offically apporved powernap. I wash up and retire to the dark and cool of the middle floor, I wedge the shutters on the balcony slightly apart so as to catch any passing breeze, I lay my sunglasses and dorkeys on the table beside the sofa and stretch myself out, I do a small routine of exercise to loosen a tight tendon in my left leg and then I position my magic makura under the nape of my neck and drift away for 20 minutes.

I wake fully refreshed, revitalised, and ready to get on with whatever is next. No yawning. No eye rubbing drowsiness that lingers over from the slumber. No nagging wish that I had slept longer or for less time. No filthy mouth. No downside at all. A perect recharge.

The secret is, I truly believe, my magic makura. A traditional makura or Japanese pillow is filled with buckwheat husk: mine is filled with lavender flowers. 600 grammes of pure lavender flowers - no leaf, no stalk, no nosense.  Nowadays, makuras tend to be rectangular but mine is cylindrical in the old style. It becomes, within moments, a part of me the angle that the makura eases my head into opens my airways completely. The relaxing and soothing scent of lavender does the rest.

Gill made the magic cylindrical makura and I'm tring to talk her into marketing a few of them every year. They would be prohibitively expensive but I am sure that others would buy them if only they knew what joy is to be had from 20 minutes of total peace and relaxation in the day.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

98% - are you sure?

Sitting in the post office in Rethymnon the other day - Gill was at the counter sending off our UK IRS self assessment tax returns for the year - I noticed that the guy sitting in front of me waiting for his number to come up was reading a copy of Daniel Dennet's Breaking The Spell - what's more he was reading the english version - and he was clearly a Greek - not a Cretan - a Greek - I leaned forward and across and gestured to the book - "how are you enjoying it?" - he looked delighted - his face lit up and a huge smile crosed his entire face - "It's great ... - "I'm reading  The God Delusion myself" - "Ah yes Dawkins - it is very good, well argued and well written - it has given me plenty of ammunition ..." - " ... but why are you reading it in English?" - "... because when I have finished it I must pass it on to someone else - and it attracts less attention " - "So how does atheism go down here in Greece then? " - he laughed - "not well, it is difficult to speak of these things outside of university, my parents would not like it, nobody would like it" - "But there are many atheists here in Greece?" - "Among the young and educated yes, Dawkins and Pinker and Dennett have done a lot of good here" - "Have you read Christopher Hitchens?" - "No - please write the name down for me" - he handed me a pen and paper and I wrote Hitchens - God is not Good - he thanked me and put the paper away safely - "We have problems here with religion - did you know that the ministries of religion and education are the same here?" - "is that so?" - "yes and if you speak then your chances of getting a job are damaged - but these writers are helping us all ..." and at that point we had to separate, his number was called - he thanked me for the talk and we separated. I have thought of him several times since then and wonder will we meet again?   I hope so.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Whistle down the Wind

This is how they clean the insulators on the pylons here in Crete but they always seem to choose a very windy day on which to do it - every year. Perhaps it has to be windy for the blowers to work properly?

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The Leg

Betty is home in the bosom of the family. I know a lot of you won't understand how a car can be a family member but that's how it is with Betty. She's been our car for more than a decade now and in the same way as we are an Irish terrier family we are also a DS family. It's the way it is.

New battery and new exhaust today - the leg. But she's done inside our timetable and she's back home. We finished the episode in some style with the avuncular exhaust expert, Stephanos, picking us up from Rethymno in our newly fixed Goddess and sharing a raki or three with us before giving us his mobile phone number, talking about his family and inviting us back for another, social, raki next week.

Result! Well done us!

Monday, July 30, 2007

Up early

Up early this morning. Up before the cicadas so we could hear the birds for once. Up before the day began to heat up. A few moments of cool to water plants in. To clean the cellar and to sort out the dogs. And then a swift wander down to the strip to catch an early bus to Xania.

We were off to collect the car - after 10 weeks of inactivity her hydraulics are, we are told, fixed. A taxi ride out to a road that runs parallel to the main highway but that shows no evidence of how you get to it. Here is the garage - and Christopheros translates. It's only an arm and not an arm and a leg. But ... And it's a big but - when she was loaded onto the low loader they wrecked her exhaust. We pay and are assured that we can have any other work on her done there but after August. We drive off sounding like a London bus with a broken exhuast - we cannot hear each other speak. Oh and the battery is flat as a witch's tit.

They cannot find an exhaust specialist who has DS parts in Xania - but we know one in Rethymnon and that is where we are bound. Deafening. There are relative sweet spots - 2500 revs in 5th and 3000 revs in 4th where the noise is almost bearable. We try not to make too much noise but fail dismally. Eventually our exhaust man pronounces the system unfixable - we need replacement parts - and they have to come from Athens. A coule of days at least but "it's only a bit noisy and you do live in the country". He reminds me of my uncle Derek this man. And his manner is genuinely avuncular.

As we leave - to return in a few days - the electrical warning light glows orange and refuses to extinguish itself - the battery is not charging. We charge off up to the auto electrical specialist - damaging eardrums as we go. A young man implicates the alternator but his more senior colleague refutes this and sets to work looking like a Greek version of Paul Newman with a permanent fag in the left hand corner of his mouth. The regulator comes out and is opened. Cabling is stripped back - the wiring loom long since dined on by rats when she used to spend 9 months a year in storage. An hour later he surfaces from beneath the bonnet - come back tomorrow - leave the car here - tomorrow at 11.

And so we wait on.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Old gits - new layouts

If you like the new layout for this blog then tip your hat to the old git who provided a sound critical analysis of the last attempt. Now that's what I call a friend.

You roast and you learn

This summer has been a learning experience par excellence for us. The first heatwave struck in June (way early) and hit us up to 106ºF. We learned how to cope with those temperatures in the short term and Gill even began her harvest as that wave first started to wane. She finished first harvest as the current heatwave began to wax a few days back. Today the mercury hit 106ºF again and the humidity dropped down to 10% and so we learn some more.

We now make it a rule not to go outside when the air temperature is above the temperature of the blood in out veins. Simple but effective. When the temperature sticks at 104ºF we bring the dogs inside to cool their bellies on the tiled floors and soak their run and kennels with irrigation water. If a really hot day is in prospect we rise with the sun and do what has to be done as soon as possible. Tea is better than coffee in the heat. We drink plenty of water but don't overdo it.

Living through a heatwave is a little like putting yourself under house arrest. It's not comfortable but you learn to just dicker around at small bits and pieces - concentrating too hard makes you hot and above blood heat your judgement is impaired so we don't do anything too demanding.

Oh well - tomoorow is supposed to max out at about 98ºF. We'll get what we have to do done early ans see how it goes.

Sunday, July 22, 2007


G says 1 more day will see off the first harvest of 2007. Regrowth only after that. Oh yes, and the french in September. So far, so good, so hot.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007


"Covered in scratches and tears" says the boss, covered in scratches and tears indeed. Lacerated to buggery more like. Eddie and me look like we've been thru one of them there chippers ourselves - death of a thousand cuts is more bloody like it. And all we're wanting is a chance to get our own back: we may get torn up a bit more feeding the chipper but we'll have the satisfaction of mulching the buggering brambles. Victory is sweet but annihilation is best. Let's go forward to the final bramble solution.

This is what the boss had in mind -

This is what we have in mind -

War crimes

We have a mutiny on our hands here at the farm. The boys in red have downed tools - well they've downed the secaturs and the hand saws for the time being. Having hacked the wild carrot, fennel and tree mallow down from their towering heights we, well I really, had directed them on to clearing round the bases of the olive trees some of which are encompassed round with vines and grasses: some grow cheek by jowl with mulberry and fig shoots: but all of them share a common pest - the bramble - and it is the bramble that has brought out the militant side of the farm boys.

Those of you who are not familiar with Eddie and Ceddie might not be aware that they are brothers of an heroic bent - no pansies these. They lap up hard work in the way a tired dog will gratefully lap from fresh fallen puddles. They are physicall not exactly prepossessing but they are hard. Whipcord tough they are and so when they began complaining about the brambles I knew it was serious. Now it isn't that they don't want to cut them back and expose the wonderful old olive trees that this hideous rambling bramble has everywhere colonized it is rather that they want revenge. After manfully uncovering 4 magnificent tree architectural or sculptural in their majesty the boys have had more than enough. Covered in scratches and tears they are now demanding their own "ultimate solution". They want one of those garden chippers - one of those machines with internal knives that reduce prunings to chips. Their reasoning is that the brambles inflict so much damage as they are torn free that they, the boys, want the final satisfaction of reducing them to mere chips that can be refed to the garden as a mulch.

I'll not cavil, and when we have the funds they will have their chipper. Meantimes Shaun has instructed them on the making of fasces from discarded and dried lavender stalks (another by product of the harvest). Are they turning into fascists?

Friday, July 13, 2007

Thursday, July 12, 2007

small acts of kindness

There are small acts of kindness committed here every day.  By ordinary people. For no better reason than that they make people feel good.

You go into a cafe, you sit down and order a frappe each, you sit and talk, you acknowledge a few people you know, you finish your drinks and call the waiter over to pay your bill: he leans in and tells you that there is nothing to pay, "Vaso bought your drinks". Vaso left half an hour ago, she waved as she went. Today it was Vaso, last week it was uncle Nikos, two weeks ago it was the man with the big moustache. It happens. It happens a lot.

You go into a cafe (we use cafes a lot) it is hot, it is very hot, the waitress is sweating, you are sweating, everyone is sweating. You sink into the shade and watch the cool water rippling in he lake. The waitress brings your frappes without you having to order. Thirty minutes later she brings a small carafe of ice cold raki, to tiny glasses, and a plate of chilled fresh fruit, "From the house," she whispers, "it is very hot yes?".

You spend half an hour selecting birthday cards from the racks outside the shop in the sweltering heat of the old town. You pick up a funny and apposite postcard or two and wander inside to pay. The priestlike figure behind the till tots up the cost of the birthday cards only and you point out that he has forgotten to charge for the postcards, "from us" he says and waves them away.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Truly the Lavender Way

The magic is working. The way is growing into its repute. Voula dropped in this afternoon and the very first thing she said as she walked through the gate was that the entire place smells of lavender. And do it does although because we have been living in it for weeks now we had not properly noticed. The cellar, home to most of the bunching and processing positively reeks (the table now is buried beneath piles of the stuff); the sheds, where drying happens are suffused with it; the middle floor where dried type2 is stored and a sack full of type1 now lives too takes ones breath away and replaces it with lavender scent.

Saturday, July 07, 2007


This blog is suffering from neglect of late but that's simply because there is rather too much going on to invest time here. The lavender harvest came early this year and it came on hard. Despite help from Annie (a doff of the hat) it continues. Type2 is all in and has been dried successfully en masse - it's dry and stored now - and will become tea later. Drying is taking 3 days in the post heatwave weather but because there is so much of it the drying racks are almost permanently occupied. Today's estimate suggests that there are still another 47 plants to harvest in Lav2 and believ me that is not as small a task as it might seem: remember this is all hand harvested, no technology involved.

While G (most everyday) and A (on Fridays) bring in the harvest the boys continue to push back the overgrowth of everything not lavender which, like the harvest itself, is no small beer - plenty of beer is consumed at the close of the day. One thing is for sure though, everybody sleeps soundly and some of us retrie totally knackered. Tonight will be no exception and so we sign off.

Sunday, July 01, 2007


The temperatures are down and I woke this morning dry for the first time in a fortnight. G was gone - already up and watering the house garden and trimming back the trees by the front door.

We shared a pot of coffee, some cigarettes and she confided in me. Lav 2 has come of a sudden into almost full bloom and Lav 1 has recovered and is also blooming. We have a profusion of lavender, all of it is waiting to be harvested and there are only so many hours in a day. And the front garden needs trimming back if G is not to be lost in there.

Next up we treated the girls against ticks which we have to do every month during spring, summer, and autumn. We cleaned out the run and fussed with the girls for a while and then went back indoors for another coffe. A wind had got up by then and the cellar was cooling nicely. The silver sides of the olive leaves were showing. Butterflies abound now and this morning they were taking shortcuts through the cellar.

We decided that G will cut all type 2s this week and rather than bunching them to dry we will load them onto the huge drying rack in my garage that we usually reserve for drying the french in September. That will save some valuable time.

I decided that I would tackle the front garden at least to open up paths to the hoses and the areas that need watering: the bougainevillea, the climbing rose, and the beds and after breakfast as G settled down to the accounts I ventured out with Farmboy. With secaturs and hand shears, handsaw and mattock we worked toward each other from oppostie ends: invisible each to the other for the first hour. Fennel and red rye grasses 8 or 9 feet tall (2,5m.), tree mallow in magnificent pink flower filled the space between us until we broke through and met at last at the brdige by the palm. It was a Livingstone and Stanley moment with both of us wreathed in sweat, shirts sodden, hats dripping, covered in burrs and grass seed.


Saturday, June 30, 2007


Forty easy paces will take me from the new arch-topped door to the last full row of olive trees. How old are they? The green sides of the leaves are glossy now and some are full of fruit already. The heat of the past few days has yellowed patches of leaves on each and every tree. The bases have been stripped of suckers and brambles. A mat of vegetation carpets the grove, slowly rotting down to feed the trees.

Step (one) across the irrigation pipe and one more takes your breath away. Glance left and majestic Lav 1 stands mightily: the remnants of the 50 divers mother plants reaching up with spikes toward the bamboo. But stop, you will not glance left for there before you, taking your eye is Lav 2 - glorious. What takes which sense first? A purple glow wafts into your eyes, hits your retina and runs up to your brain. Does it register before the low busy hum registers from your ears? Bees are busy at their work flocking over a myriad of flowers, singing their songs of hums as they go. Or is it the heavenly scent that gently glows in your nose?

The physical presence of a lavender patch at late afternoon with the sun to your back and the lightest of breezes coming up from the river brings all of these sensations but ... But it is the essential harmony and rightness of the whole that gets you first. It is like standing in front of a Rothko painting, it hits you with its quiddity, its whatness before you perceive any of the components of it. It impresses itself upon you instantly. No thinking needed. It lavenders you.


Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Ad hoc air conditioning unit

It is odd what comes to mind in times of stress. Yesterday afternoon when the day was at its very hottest and we had just been rolled over by the rolling blackouts that DEH uses to control demand it occurred to Shaun than all of the people with air conditioners would now suffer and that there was some poetic justice since it was their immoderate use of those A/C units was what forced DEH to implement rollong blackouts in the first place. Not content with this he sketched a jerry rigged air conditioner that Farmboy promptly rigged up for our delectation.

A small fan that once did service in a now defunct fan heater was plugged into our photovoltaic source - the sun was cranking out plenty of electricity for us - and the airflow was directed across a tray of ice cubes. In minutes we had a deliciously cool breeze that we all luxuriated in. And the knowledge that right then we were probably the only people in the area with aircon. Sweet.

This idea might have legs.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007


There is a silence outside that is palpable: thick and deadening. A solitary cicada stopped rasping several minutes ago and the birds ceased long before that. Nothing is moving out there unless you count the blinding white light that is bouncing from every surface and the heat haze that ripples gently off the baked and bleached soil.

Indoor I can hear the blood pumping in my head and the fluids in my semi-circular canals lurching as I get up from the desk but nothig else. Power was cut, deliberately and possiby on a schedule unannounced, perhaps 40 minutes ago. A mist of sweat covers my forearms and upper lip. My hair is wet. A sweat rash itches at me.

A fly ventures in through the only open shutter. Closed against the heat, we routinely leave one shutter cracked to catch any passing breeze although today it has no work to do, no little air movement to catch and funnel. The tiny, heat exhausted, fly buzzes desultorily before collapsing onto the tiled floor in silence. The silence reigns again.

There is only hot air to breathe and cold water to drink. I sit before a dead computer, both of us completely still, while Gill stands at the table bunching lavender that she picked in the cooler section of the day (82º at 0600 hrs) and that is destined to dry, possibly in record time, on the rack in the bathroom.

And so life goes, on the heatwave days.