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 29, 2008

I told you I might

Today's efforts - and context (click on the photos for large versions)


This xmas I asked for and received (tip of the hat to Charlie and Frank) a set of 40 lower case magnetic letters. I had spotted these on Lindz's (one of my blood daughters) amazon wishlist (a great idea from amazon the wishlist) and immediately stole it (that's what good ideas are for - theft). My idea was to fiddle around on a daily basis with this limited set of letters to create idea generators but I find myself much busier than that with them - they have become almost addictive - they cry out to me from the fridge (and the cooker hood, but more of that later) and beg to be shuffled into more or less obscure phrases - even whole sentences. The psychology of this new, self induced, behaviour probem must surely be fascinating to someone other than me? No? No pathological scrabblers out there who don't play scrabble? No wordsmiths - or should that rather be lettersmiths? The humour and the mental exercise I get is fun though I'm unsure as to whether it will last (the obsession not the fun) and frankly who cares?

Hey guy, what about the cooker hood? You said you'd get to it and you haven't - don't leave us wondering.

OK - the cooker hood is right by the fridge door and since we don't have one of those enormous american fridges the letters and phrases first cast were looking cramped and overcrowded and the base of the cooker hood started to beckon - looking surprisingly like a musical stave and offering typographic nuances so nowadays as the letter shuffle discipline devlops the cooker stave is the first line thought/product and the fridge door is the remaindered letter section.

I think I'll post photos of the game in progress on an occasional basis - maybe I'll comment on them - maybe not ... (the preceeding sentence is purposely ambiguous - it's how I feel right now) ...


Saturday, November 29, 2008

Book Review: A Disaffection by James Kelman

There are a number of ways to write a book review but by and large I stick to the simple, selfish formula: I write reviews in a straightforward way that I would like to read. I like to read reviews that allow me to make up my own mind about whether what's reviewed is for me or not. Mostly that suits me: I have no axe to grind - I'm just telling the reader what I thought of a book.

This time though I have an axe - I really want you to read this book - I want to share it with you - this is a great book, not just a good book but a great book. This book demonstrates what the new novel can be - should be. Kelman is a true successor to Joyce and Beckett: he is the British Sorrentino but whereas it is difficult to find Sorrentino's influence flowing through American literature Kelman's legacy is set already with writers like Agnes Owens, Roddy Doyle and Irving Welsh.

I could bore you with a list of writers who influenced Kelman directly or indirectly but that would be pointless, simply accept that Kelman did not arrive at his style from nowhere, a broad wealth of British experimentation with the novel preceded his breakthrough.  

Kelman uses dialect (Glaswegian) and vernacular throughout his prose and not just in the dialogue which is possibly difficult for anybody who has never heard a Scots accent but for those who have it is a simple matter to read tricky bits out loud to understand. HIs eye and his ear are nearly 20/20 and pitch perfect and, although there is little in the way of plot there is such a wealth of insight and nuance that one sometimes has to consciously draw breath and take pause to digest.

He has one ploy that I particularly enjoy and that is to have his protagonist form and partly answer a question (usually about himself or his trajectory) and then leave the reader to complete the response for himself or herself - in this way Kelman draws the reader into the very soul of the protagonist and by the end of this wonderful novel you have a very good understanding of the very  nature of disaffection.

Kelman is very good and this is a fine example of the modern novel - I urge you to read it.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Lies, damned lies and, fundamental market conditions

Does anybody recall the fuss a few months back when oil prices were going up - up and up? Eventually the $100 per barrel barrier was breached and all this while the economic pundits were denying that the cause for this astronomic stupidity was occasioned by a glut of mad equity investors plunging into commodities. The news programmes were stuffed with economic experts happily telling us that the rises were inevitable given market fundamentals - that the whole thing was the fault of those middle easy potentates not producing enough of the stuff - or that is was the slanty eyed creeps in China using it all up in their rush toward affluence.

Well here we are some months later and oil dropped below $50 dollars a barrel today. So somehow either the supply and demand equation magically balanced itself out or those "experts" were telling us porkies. What do you think?

Monday, November 10, 2008

I'm sorry - I just don't understand this

We've been living here full time for 6 years now and for ten years on and off before that and we've come to terms with a great number of cultural differences but some things still shock me.

I'm constantly explaining the very different types of relationship that older generation Greeks have with their domestic animals to the north European model that we are familiar with. Ours is an overly anthropomorphic. sentimental one whereas the prevailing model here is a more distanced, pragmatic, utilitarian one. I understand both and can fins things to praise and condemn in both positions of the spectrum. 

Notwithstanding that analytical understanding and acceptance of difference I was stunned and dismayed to find the corpse of a fully grown (obviously well nurtured) adult Dobermann dog casually discarded next to the bins at the end of our road today.

This I do not understand. 

Sunday, November 09, 2008

The future is NOT in eggs

I have an allergic eczema outbreak and part of the treatment involves limiting my diet_ Pinned to the fridge is a list of when and how much medication is due but there is another list - a list of foods I must abstain from for the next 20 days:

eggs - not a problem - I hate eggs - they are disgusting and make me retch, even the smell of them - mayonnaise though that's a different matter

fish & seafood - ho hum - fish is expensive and not a great love of mine - no great loss

cheese - oh dear - I love cheese - this is really stressful - cheese sandwiches, parmesan and peccorino on pasta - this is a trial

nuts - it is currently chestnut and wet walnut season - this one is painful - and no cashews either - roll on the end of this restriction

carrots - this one is easy I ain't bugs bunny and in casseroles one can always substitute leeks which are much tastier though less colourful

chocolate - chocolate in summer here is so unappetising but now that winter is on it's way the odd Mars bar every day is good but I can wait - now if there were Topics in the fridge this would be a nightmare

banana - my least favourite fruit after oranges and oranges are not the only fruit

strawberries - I love these with champagne but as we have no champagne and strawberries are out of season this is a breeze

apples - no great loss - I prefer pears

pork and pork products - ouch - this one hurts - bacon? no bacon? no ham - no xirino me selino - like I said - ouch

no preservatives or colourings - luckily most of our food is fresh and not processed so apart from prolonging the lifespan of the OK sauce we got in London this is no big deal

I can do this

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Friday, November 07, 2008

Mute in the presence of beauty

The sky was split in two east west when the girls caught up with me having a smoke and so ominous was the east that Gill checked that she had an umbrella with her. We smoked and talked and began to anticipate the Rothko over at Tate Modern. Lindz was all excitement - she had never seen Rothko save in books though she was acutely aware of my love for his work - she has been sending me Rothko calendars for many a year. But when I tried, in my artistically illiterate way, to explain to her that one does not see Rothko works so much as experience Rothko's work she was nonplussed. It's to do with size and power and emotion and pure physicaity of colour ... I trailed off. I become mute in the presence .... anyway, you'll experience it yourself soon enough. OK, let's go - we'll take the river boat I think.

As we walked the embankment Gill and I recalled the amazing evocation of it that Eva Figes manages (The Tree of Knowledge is it or Nelly's Version - maybe a reader here will clear it up for me - maybe it's neither). It seems my memory of this place is more closely linked now to literature than to the multitude of actual, physical experiences of the place itself. Is that to do with the effect of time or the power of the word? A chill swept along the river with the tide and brought us back to London proper and to Lindz.

As we waited for the river boat a chill of apprehension came over me at the very idea of being with Rothko again. I had, for several years before leaving the UK, used the Rothko room (Tate Modern's permanent exhibition of some of the Seagram Murals) as a place to meditate and think up new ideas (it was only a 77 bus ride away) but had even after that regular exposure still never been able to enter the room without gasping. And to think - Rothko was always worried about his legacy!

I missed the Houses of Parliament but when the Eye and the whole South Bank complex came into view memories came flooding with the tide and in no time at all we were mooring in front of the old Bankside Power Station - a place we had spent Sundays in summer long before it became Tate Modern. And off we trooped a trois, picking our way through happy familes and bemused foreign sight seers.

We eschewed the first entrance, choosing instead to enter directly into the massive and massively impressive Turbine Hall and Lindz trooped off to pick up our tickets (Lindz was picking up all the tabs today - sweetie!). I was gathering myself. Up the escalator - and there it was. We took the leaflet proffered by a young man in sports clothing who was ushering us all through the entrance. I hung back, averting my eyes from the first room and checking the leaflet - 9 rooms - the black on blacks that I've never experienced, the brown and greys, ditto, and even the black on grays - wow!. And then it happened - my peripheral vision had picked up the first room and locked in on it - I was caught and was being reeled in. My heart slowed, a lump formed in my throat and without any notice I found myself crying - floods - and suddenly I found myself standing in awe and wonder in room 3 where the Seagram Murals - 15 of them? 14? it's impossible to count and who really cares - surrounded by this amazing hanging I am shattered - I am gasping and trying to control both my tears and my breathing. Gill is beside me - she anticipated this. This is joy. Pure and simple joy. Lindz is shocked, people are looking at me and frankly I just don't care - in the presence I am autistic - incapable of communication - mute and wordless - the work speaks to me - I have no need for speech - I have nothing sensible to say.

From there on it was dumb man walking. Hyper-attentive and over-stimulated I took it all in - every room a revelation and an immersion, seeing and hearing nobody - taking it all in - a pair of eyes and a mind.

Really - I have no words.

THE REAL THING - ish - better still go to the exhibition if you can - you may never get another chance

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Bacon - no sausages - no eggs

We hurried on down a side street and cut through the grounds of Lindz's old college - beautifully restored now and a haven of light and peace and eventually we came out at the new entrance to Tate Britain - an entrance we had never seen before. We had, apparently, an 11 o'clock slot and guessed that we might have time for a coffee before tackling the dark master of 20th century British art. Lindz ran off in her sweet pigeon toed way to pick up our tickets and Gill and I sought out the new cafeteria to pre-order.

And so we chattered on for half an hour - catching up and simply enjoying the company - until Lindz checked her watch and urged us forward to the entrance. We were a little late for our slot but the uniformed guardian handed us each a 10 page boklet and then swept us inward with minimal hand gesture and a nod. I heaved a sigh of relief - it was not too crowded. There were knots of people lingering close by some of the better known works in the first room but it was not, thankfully, heaving with humanity.

The exhibition was arranged through ten rooms (don't worry - I'll not take you by the hand room by room) and promised some early works that I had never seen before and some later works ditto and there, in the first room, were a couple of early works that I had never seen even in books. Five lavender haired old ladies were huddled in front of an early sketch of what has become known as the Screaming Pope. The ladies were of strictly limited stature and I peered over their heads taking in the purple and the gold, the blacks and the gaping hole where the mouth should be. I have always disputed the screaming part of that famous soubriquet and this sketch was remarkable in that it was absolute confirmation for me that this Pope was not only not screaming (he was shouting) but that he wasn't, ironically, a Pope (a cannily disguised Ian Paisley looked out of that dark background and howled vicious empty rhetoric at me). The likeness has faded by the time Bacon got to the much better know triptychs but the evidence here nailed the lie once and for all - what a cruel and humorous man Bacon was. And the power, the disapproval and the anger, come off that sketch more effectively more eloquently than in the later workings of the topic. This exhibition promised much from this first impression.

In that first room. packed closely with many of his earliest works I could feel the power of Bacon brewing - his style took years to develop but the power was there from those earliest days:

a figure on a park bench - a figure without a head but with a menace painted with pity and insight;

a magnificent painting of a dog chasing its own tail (Bacon is magical with dogs, capturing the immanent tension and movement with a few brushstrokes) and;

finally an eerily pale, almost fading depiction of that tragic, crouching figure with the swanlike neck and the head that is little more than an upturned open mouth full of teeth that would crop up again and again in later years, an image that haunts you forever once seen - or even glimpsed.

And so it went on with room following room of powerful images that speak powerfully - some of them shouting - some of them Beckettian in their bleakness. As the rooms flow on the years pass for Bacon and the technique becomes more studied and the foreground image is layered more and more heavily (in some paintings one wonders seriously whether Bacon could have got more paint to stick) as he constrains his figures in mystical cages. The power turns up steadily until the effect on the viewer is physical.

Tired, emotionally and physically, we entered the penultimate room in disarray having been treated to unexpected (and wonderful) paintings of a man with a bicycle, another stunning dogs- this time in a gutter with his owner invisible from the waist up, and a water spout beautifully forceful and dramatically captured, to be confronted with the magnificent triptychs of George Dyer in death and after. This room has Bacon at full emotional throttle - a master filled with pathos, and insight - a painter grappling with the reality of loss and pointlessness. Here, in this one room one is confronted with the awesome ability of one human being to communicate the unsayable. Confronted with such honesty strength we lingered as long as was decent until we wandered out exhausted into the final room.

Here was the late Bacon - Bacon turned old - Bacon unmanned - Bacon fading. The power had passed from him. To me it seemed sad. Here was Bacon producing copies of Bacon - and poor imitations at that. It was instructive - it reminded me of opera singers who continue long after their instrument has lost its tone and range - instructive and tragic.. I left the girls in that room and wished I hadn't seen it.

Tomorrow - a river boat ride and Rothko ...

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

It's Tuesday so it must be the Tates

A cold bright Tuesday roused me gently from a night of fitful sleep - a sneaking wakener pushing its penetrating sheet of light under and round the edges of the blinds. Almost Austrian this light, Alpine maybe, Tyrolean even, how apt - not the quality of light I associate with London.

I checked the watch beside me - it was seven fifteen - and settled back into the lush warmth of the swansdown pillows. A two stop day this one - or three if you count the exhibitions separately - and a long anticipated day. The day with Lindz and the evening with Anna and Alex. Culture in the day and decadence in the evening - a superbly well balanced day in prospect but first things first - a shit, a shave, and a shower were all needed - and an early exit. Scratching I headed to the shower room.

As we stepped out into the morning that had, until now, hidden behind the windows the cutting cold sliced into us. It was dry but it was bracing. Bracing or bloody cold depending on how well wrapped one was. For us it was bracing - uncommonly so to a couple accustomed to Cretan winters. We picked up the pace as we headed toward the tube and its promise of insulation. Cold, bright and dry it was but loury clouds had begun to gather in the east - they would lower until dusk had long fallen but their gathering would haunt the day.

We shrugged our way through throngs of men and women of all ages and races all waiting for buses - some of them clutching young children to them - half term - as we hurried up to the tube station and forced ourselves into its maw through the Oyster card gateways. Vertiginous escalators eased us into the artificial atmosphere down there by the platforms where trains rushed in and out beyond us - not waiting our arrival - pushing gusts of warm, moist, dirty, air past us and up into the booking hall.

Arm in arm, we were coming to the fag end of the big commute, we stumbled from the moving stairway - a lack of practice, I guess, could explain the stumble. Heads up despite the dust storms we searched out the familiar and world famous London Underground signage and turned right to the southbound platform - Waterloo and the meeting clock were where we would meet up with Lindz. Amber digital signs announced our train due in one minute and sure enough a gust of filthy fetid air preceded, preannounced its arrival and presaged black bogies yet to come.

We arrived at Waterloo and burrowed our way up to ground level - the tube always makes me think of purblind moles, grey, furry, and covered in dirt - via tunnels and escalators to emerge almost opposite the renowned clock - ten minutes before ten. There was no sign of Lindz though and so I left Gill and went outside for a smoke - her habit is less demanding than my own. Big signs forbad me from the direct pavement and forced me across a road busy with taxis to a knot of like minded deviants hard by a collection of skips and builders' rubbish to huddle against the cold. Some caught short late reveller has last night left his dinner and his urine in the lea of a red lead painted skip. What a way to treat people! Odd how rigorous puritanism produces such gross results. Sated temporarily I picked my careful way through a steady stream of taxi bound latecomers and passed, on the way, a grisly, mean little sign that offered me the bargain of a lifetime - only 20 pence to take a piss! No wonder now at the reveller's relief post.

Gill and Lindz had done their helloes by the time I joined them and after hugs and kisses we headed off a trois leaving the lost and expectant masses neath the clock to their personal rendezvous. Passing the 20 pence pissoirs I realised that were heading out toward Tate Modern and stopped us all. What's first up Lindz? The Bacon. But isn't that at Tate Britain? Is it? Surely not? Lindz punched up some numbers on her mobile and confirmed my guess so we all turned 180 degrees and burrowed back down into the underworld.We were now headed for Pimlico and the Francis Bacon retrospective.

We emerged into brilliant sunshine and an eastern sky more loury than ever. Above the strangely familiar skyline over the Thames a black bank of cloud hung heavy - a sky like this I had not seen since we stood, Gill and I, on the Charles Bridge in Prague squinting up at baroque gilded statues offset against a midnight blue sky.


Sunday, October 19, 2008

Vote Obama says the Greek Orthodox Church

I saw this in the newspaper here today. The Greek Orthodox church has no qualms about taking part in politics, in the US or anywhere else, since it is regularly a part of the executive state in Greece. Mind you in Greece almost everyone involves themselves in political debate so the fact that the state church does the same does not disturb the electorate.

However the message shown is pretty stark :  

Roughly speaking the sign says: Vote for the black - the other guy is a wanker. How true! How direct! How politically incorrect!
Refreshing isn't it?

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Book Review: The Lavender Way (the modem years) by Papalazarou

Attend! I'm about to drive readers away in droves. This is for the cognoscenti.

If you don't know I write book reviews then leave now.

If you don't know that I write experimental fiction then leave now.

Don't you just love those then and now juxtapositions? No? Then leave now.

OK, now we are all friends together, cozy and comfortable in our own small world, Huddle closer and I'll tell you something special.

Writing is a lonely pursuit. Reading is a sociable pursuit. You can always share what you have read - that is why I write reviews. Only people who have read your work can share it if you write. Only rarely do they share it with the writer.

Luckily for me, popularity and sales have never motivated me to write. Critical acclaim would be nice. Appreciation likewise. Despite having written loads of reviews I've never had a review of one of my works and certainly not of my only book form work - The Lavender Way (the modem years). Today that lack was rectified. Someone who is reading my book emailed me. I'll say no more than that this made my day.

"May I just say how much I'm enjoying your book. It has become a prize 'pick up and dip into' possession...useful for the bath and stolen minutes of solitude away from pressures of work/home/life.

I'm liking the sense of a thing developing it's own life - the introduction of different voices, the way it switches from a daily log, to discussions on literature, art, politics etc...from gossipy asides to full blown rants, to experimental exercises in self imposed constraints. It's varied enough to keep me continually interested. So well done.

The best thing about it though, is a continued sense of joy in simply being alive in a wonderful place, which I find ... inspiring I suppose. So thank you for that. Long may the log chopping (and occasional finger chopping) continue."

Love it.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Book Review : The Untouchable by John Banville.

I finished this book almost a week ago - so why has it taken me so long to write the review? A good question and one I have been asking myself in all that time. Maybe this following digression will help explain things.

Some few years ago I was having a heated discussion with a very good friend, Charles Unwin, who is a very clever guy and a great reader. We were talking about Martin Amiss, must have been about the time that Money came out, and I opined that while Martin was clearly very talented compared to his father Kingsley he had yet to produce a novel anywhere near as good as anything his father had produced. On this we kind of agreed and Charles suggested that the father's lack of natural. immanent talent had made of him a hard working writer who had thus produced some very good work by dint of hard work and application. The fact that Martin writes extremely well and obviously knows his history of the novel he has yet, in my opinion, to produce a very good let alone a great novel. I fear i fact that his publishing deal will stop him from ever so doing. And in some ways I think that this is my problem with Banville.

Banville is a great writer who has yet to write a great novel and yet ... And yet ... I still feel he might. HIs writing continues to improve but none of his subject matter matches his talent.  And so I keep reading him. And his novels are good ... not very good ... and a long way from great ... but his writing shines through. One day he may do it.

The Untouchable is a loosely disguised contemplation on the Blunt, Burgess, Maclean betrayal of the UK. Banville's  Maskell (Blunt) is well drawn and beautifully mannered but where I was expecting an essay on the nature of betrayal I received instead a classic lesson in UK class structures that came nowhere close to the insight that Genet brings to this fascinating subject. Banville lets the real notion encompassed in his topic escape him.  Maskell comes out as slight and simply egotistical (as do his co-conspirators) and this is a travesty entertaining though his take on the whole thing is.

The traitor and betrayal are wonderful topics and Banville sadly manages to betray them.  What, I wonder, will bring out his greatness? I shall continue to read him and would recommend yo to do the same.

One day. One day.


Friday, September 19, 2008

Another world record tumbles to the Brits

Forget Usain Bolt, forget Roger Federer's not unsurprising return to magisterial form, instead think Joe Calzhage dumping Bernard Hopkins, think Chris Hoy and Bradley Wiggins rule of the Olympic Velodrome. The Brits are back on top.

After a long and gruelling day and a tough evening at 0120 local time this morning The Lavender Way's 2008 spica harvest broke, no smashed, no demolished the long standing Modi single still yield world record.36 kilos of The Lavender Way's finest spica produced more than 1500 ml of essential lavender oil of the highest grade surpassing by a very large amount the previous single still record for any herb at any time of year.

To put this into perspective consider that no single still distillation in the 17 year history of this exceptional distillery has ever broken the 1 litre or 1000 ml mark. Modi features two 600 litre stills and few double still sessions produce more than the magical litre of essential oil so for a single still session to go through that barrier (think 9.6 seconds for the hundred metres, think 3 minutes for the 1500 metres) and just keep going had every witness to this amazing performance holding their breath as the seemingly impossible mark approached and shouting and cheering wildly as it slipped further and further into the past. At 1500 ml the cheers turned to gasps and even the master distiller, a man of immense experience who has seen more distillations than most, sat slumped in his chair, mouth agape and eyes wide - speechless like the rest of us. We knew that we had seen history made but until the official calibrations have been made and entered intothe record book we will not know the exact magnitude of this performance. All we know is that the world is a different place today. The Lavender Way spica harvest of 2008 has rewritten the record book. The bar has been raised.

And what of the woman who masterminded this amazing performance? Lavender Mistress extraordinary Gill S wiped a joyful tear from her eye and announced that she would be back next year and that "... it won't be easy, but I think we can surpass this". When I asked how much of a surprise this had been she lowered her eyes and calmly stated "I knew in July that the crop was in good shape ... the summer conditions were just about perfect and the plants did what they had been selected for ... at the end of August my drier said this record was up for us and from then on we just went for it." She and her drier slipped away from the victory celebrations at about 0200 -no doubt they had 2009 on their minds - and some lavender to look after.

Related items: The 2007 distilling - here The 2008 distiling - here

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Book Review: Suttree by Cormac McCarthy

When I took Suttree by Cormac McCarthy down from the shelves recently it was immediately apparent that I had had this book for some considerable time and yet it remained unread: the spine was pristine; the cover foxed and; the price - 5.99 from Picador. Why still unread I wondered? It is widely regarded as an American great and I had clearly been impressed, at some stage (probably during 1979), to acquire a copy.

Well, the first few pages explained all. Suttree is one of those works, and they are mercifully rare though Oblomov, The Precipice and The Petty Demon recall themselves, that manages to repel me in the opening pages to the point where I close the book and yet intrigues me enough to keep it on the shelves rather than dispose of it - what I call a "maybe later - maybe one day" book. As I ploughed through those early pages again (and I remembered the viscid prose vividly) remembered attempts at this tome came back to me.

The blurb on the now aged cover had promised me Faulkner and Twain but the text seemed to offer me very little save repeated detailed and frankly tedious descriptions of the river - especially its smells - and the odd glimpse of one Cornelius Suttree, our hero-to-be who had little to commend him. But, like the river itself that is the central figure of this novel (shades of Finnegans Wake anyone), I ploughed on. Riverun slowly, very slowly, sticky prose passage follows sticky prose passage as the river runs more and more languorously. Like the mighty em eye double ess eye double ess eye double pee eye the prose slows as the plot, such as it is, widens. There are promises of freshwater pearls among the mud and the one certainty is the inexxorable nature of the river itself.

McCarthy takes Suttree and his readers away from the middle of the river into the rock pools and eddies, the slack water and the weed banks of life beside the river where flotsam and jetsam of humanity have washed up. Damaged and grubby as they are they provide added interest to the tale and at points, like the river itself, the narrative and the plot come into unexpected flood and one finds oneself rushed along for pages at a time until the pace slackens again and once more we drift along.

We drift along through the narrative as readers and Suttree drifts along through pools of minor human adventure until we all are washed up onto the wide and muddy delta at the mouth of the river and ultimately, into not being.

And so I reached the sea shore and left Cornelius Suttree as he washed out to eternity. Finally I had finished Suttree. It is lavishly written this novel, too lavishly perhaps, and the episodes feel not contrived but not contiguous. It is an honest book and it is an achievement. In the end I think I enjoyed it. At all events I think it is probably an important book and I now feel I may come back to it one day.


Saturday, September 06, 2008

Write in choice for US president - Michael Albert - remember that name

It is possible, in US presidential elections, for voters to write in a candidate not previously declared and to vote for them. The currently declared republican and democratic candidates fail to impress and both take flight to the last refuge of a scoundrel by declaring their patriotism above all other qualifications. Today I read an address that one Michael Albert made to a conference on the Crisis of Capitalism this weekend and since no presidential candidate has the candour and integrity to say such things I should like to commend this man as a write-in candidate for the presidency. Here are his opening words from that address:

My country, the U.S. is the world's leader in violent crime per capita.

It leads in the gap between richest and poorest.

It leads in means of communication, but also in levels of ignorance and deceit.

It leads in the manufacture, dissemination, and use of weapons of mass destruction, and of weapons generally...

My country leads as well in interventions abroad, in violent
coercion, in arrogant export of commercial and often vapid culture, and
of course in virtually unlimited hypocrisy.

My country, its core institutions and the commitments they impose on
leaders and led alike, is an enemy of every person on this planet
seeking a better life.

And yet, my country, like all others, also has potential to change.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Obituary - So long Ken and thanks for all the laughs

One of the true greats of British theatre has gone. As an actor Ken Campbell gave me more pleasure than De Niro, Jack Nicholson and Pacino rolled into one. Ken was a master. He believed in theatre. He was an innovator and possibly a genius. A moment's silence please - we'll not see his like for a while.

Obituary here

Sunday, August 24, 2008

2 Book reviews - The Good Bones and What Was Lost

The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold and
What Was Lost by Kathy O'Flynn

A bumper summer "two for one" review today. These two books came to me at different times but I somehow ended up reading them back to back. Both received very good reviews when they first came out and both are debut novels by new female writers.

The Lovely Bones is narrated by a dead young girl, a murdered girl in fact, and is narrated from heaven. Sebold has chosen an interesting narrative viewpoint from which to investigate the effects of death on those left behind by a violent death and she makes the structure work to good effect but by announcing the murder, the murderee, and the murderer at the very outset she seems to eschew any element of mystery.

Kathy O'Flynn on the other hand begins by introducing us to a little girl who fancies herself a detective as she mooches around a shopping centre taking notes, following people and almost willing a crime to happen. In doing so, O'Flynn takes time to make us empathise with this youngster and to understand her and then we begin to imagine and to savour a broad potentiality. O'Flynn paints her protagonist's life, family, friends and motivation sympathetically whilst leaving us wondering about some of the slightly strange figures who people her odd everyday experience and it is this depth and this strangeness that encourages out imagination.

Sebold attempts manfully to imagine a heaven that our murdered girl inhabits and from which she watches over the trauma and disjoint that her death leaves in its wake - and intervenes in on occasion. It is her failure to convince in the matter of this imaginary heaven that is the downfall of the book. Suspending my atheism as best I could did still not allow me to find Sebold's heaven feasible and I fear that many readers will have the same problem.

Rather than an imaginary heaven O'Flynn moves the second part of her novel into the all too real shopping centre (mall) that our girl detective has haunted in the first part where a similar all seeing perspective is drawn from the myriad of CCTV cameras. Where Sebold's narrative conceit becomes more arbitrary, whimsical and sentimental O'Flynn's becomes more realistic, gritty, and believable and whereas Sebold exercises her own imagination O'Flynn gets us to exercise ours.

Thus we have two debut novels by young women about dead young girls both of which use interesting structures to unveil the same scenario - death and its aftermath. Whereas I shall give Sebold another chance should I come across her next novel I shall actively seek out more work by O'Flynn.


Monday, August 18, 2008

Our Northern correspondent checks in with the boss

I know I said the other day (ago) that I'd give you the next or previous installment of the online offline friendship league "tomorrow" and I have therefore to explain a fine point of linguistic usage. In normal English usage the word tomorrow denotes the day following this one and is the dictionary definition of the word but in practice in other languages (Spanish and Greek spring immediately to mind) the word for tomorrow is used in a connotive sense rather than a denotive one. More specifically in the aforementioned languages, at least in demotic usages, the word for tomorrow is frequently used to indicate some unspecified futurity or to indicate a logical not today. Clear? Good. Now - onward and backward.

As I was saying the kidz were confident that the Guerilla Distiller visit would work out because they had had previous experience or mixing their on and offline worlds with incredible and unimagined success. On that very first occasion it was Finn McEskimo, his good wife Alfapet and their youngest child Neero who had come to the farm outwith some previously only ethereal or ethernetreal existence.

Finn was originally recommended to Laz as Northern Correspondent for the PoMo circus by his estimable lady Alfapet who had been a reader of that august publication for some months back in the old Spazmac days (almost pre-Caxton in Circus terms). Alfapet, who you should know coined the word carage, is what Brits would think of as a very special needs teacher whilst Finn himslef is a strange mix of eternal student and long term lecturer in something best approximated by "comparative and experimental literature". Needless to say the 3 of them chewed a lot of academic, cultural and literary fat between Finn's occasional commissions and freelance articles for The Circus and a friendship grew among these unlikely companions. When Laz introduced Gill's photos into the mix (Gill is still steadfastly reticent about a direct online presence) things blossomed and Alfapet and she began to converse via email. Suddenly everyone was involved.

And then this summer Finn and Alfapet announced that they were coming to Crete with Neero and would love to visit the farm. Pulses quickened, consciences were searched, qualms were put to one side and an invitation to come and stay for a weekend was issued in short oreder. Two weeks went by in a mood of trepidation but when the Finn family turned up at Ekkentron in Kavros all misgivings evaporated in moments. The 4 of them got on better in the flesh than they had online - they all knew each other so well (nobody had lied or boasted) and Neero was a brick, putting up with these excited and garrulous adults.

The weekend passed in a blur of visiting sites, harvesting lavender and talking - endlessly talking. Talking into the small hourss. An empathy like that in very good families and friendships was quite simply there before they met up and grew in the harsh reality of the flesh. There will be more of these meetings - of that we are sure. All of us are sure.

It worked.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Taking chances by mixing the on and offline worlds

The kidz have been doing things this summer that Shem and I would not have endorsed - had we been asked. Not that we would necessarily have given counsel of despair but we would, I am sure, have urged considerable caution.

They've done it twice so far and, colour us both stunned, have been remarkably successful. Moving people from one status to another, or from one stratum to another - higher stratum or status is a fraught one. It's one thing to take imaginary characters into your real life - and mostly a harmless one - shit, adopting Eddie was one of the best things they ever did. There are a few obvious no nos here: turning an ex-lover into a lifelong friend; turning your best friend into a lover. Simply put, these sorts of change mostly do not work and are unlikely to. And to be honest we figured that he kidz were opening a similar one way gate with their decision to elevate some of their online contacts to flesh contacts.

Most recently - yesterday in fact - D invited a guy he had met online -well not met but had come across and whose exploits he had been following for about a year and a haf into their real life - to the farm for goodness sake. The guy in question runs under the nom-de-blog of the guerilla distiller but his real name is Robert Seidel. D came across him some time back when he was looking at the idea of having his own still (before cost constraints made it all look pretty unlikely). Robert - who looks surprisingly like an older Pablo Picasso - is a master distiller who runs a company that sells essential oils, cultivates genetically diverse lavender, and sells stills that he designs himself. Robert is an American. His partner, Dorene, who is a Kiwi, runs a U.S.based university for aromatherapists.

Robert and Dorene sailed into Crete at the weekend (in a 63 footer) and drove for 5 hours on chaotic roads choked to melting point by holidaying Greeks and maddening weather to meet up with the kidz on Tuesday after a single email inviting them over. And, contrary to our expectations, everything went swimmingly - R&D were generous, positive and, extremely knowledgeable. They - D&G and R&D - spent time in the lavender circles, time in the cellar and time breaking bread together - talking constantly. It was a great meet up and when R&D left they promised to return.

... and tomorrow I shall tell you why D&G were so confident that the meet would work ....

Monday, August 11, 2008

Kafka breaks me up

My review the other day of The Howling Miller raised a few eyebrows by referring to Kafka with respect to comic writing. I have always laughed long and hard at Kafka and have know a couple of other readers of like mind but it was nice to see this opinion reflected in a worthy piece about Kafka over at 3quarksdaily today. I quote below:

"Hawes spent ten years writing a Ph.D. on Kafka. Now he is on a mission
to deconstruct the “hagiographic myth” surrounding the Prague author in
order to expose the real Kafka. His works are “wonderful black comedies
written by a man soaked in the writings of his predecessors and of his
own day”. Indeed, Max Brod provides some evidence of this comedic
dimension to Kafka’s works. He recalled Kafka reading aloud from The Trial.
At times, he said, Kafka “laughed so much that there were moments when
he couldn't read any further”. This Kafka has been somewhat obscured,
but he’s certainly there, struggling to free himself from the
chitinous, beetle-like skin into which fate and literary fame has
sealed him."

Friday, August 08, 2008

The Howling Miller

The Howling Miller by Arto Paasilinna (Author), Will Hobson (Translator)

Modern literature has its fair share of novels about outsiders and this is another. Paasilinna is a Finn however and his take on the nature of otherness is, if not unique, unusual. Not for him (I assume Arto is a male name) the existential angst of the Russians and the French. Nor the grimy realism of kitchen-sink 60's Britain.

Paasilinna instead gives us a side-splittingly funny story of the other more in the tenor of Magnus Mills or Kafka (no, really Kafka is hugly funny, go back and read him again if you doubt me). His eponymous hero - a miller who howls - is a rational and intelligent man surrounded by a massive nuber of irrational and stupid people who happen to determine his fate by dint of their numbers.

The village that he moves to somewhat mysteriously needs a miller and he is without question a very good miller. He is also a gifted mimic who keeps the local children amused as he woks restoring the rotting mill but trouble looms when the locals find his howling a problem. Paasilinna sketches a developing scenario that plays out the analyses of Thomas Szasz and Michel Foucault regarding madness in modern times and, in an inexorably depressing couple of chapters we see the howling miller committed to an asylum and deprived of both his liberty and his posessions.

All is not lost though. for there are other outsiders - other others if you will - and in their faltering, poignant, heart lifting, efforts they transform our hero's life and future. Confounding expectations, this wonderful tale moves toward an almost magical realist finale that leaves one breathless. The other others are almost as well realised as the miller himself and their respective aberrancies add a light and shade to the "other" side of this story so clearly lacking in the mainstream.

This is a very good novel. It is well written - very well written - it is elegantly crafted, and the translation is so clean and precise as to be worth a mention all of its own. A minor classic I think.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Putting my money where my mouth is

A few months back my iMac G5 (of blessed memory) blew up, or fritzed, or fell over, or went to meet its maker, or any other euphemism you want to choose. OK - situation completely fucked - no main machine and not a pot to piss in! Replacement motherboard about 700 euros plus VAT plus fitting - no way! Can't be done. Can't be afforded. So. what to do?

For years I''ve been telling people that their machines or their aspirations computer-wise were way above what they really needed or used. Time to take some of my own medicine? I thought long and hard. I considered all the options and finally deccided not to swap to Linux (a serious option) - not to go with bargain basement new stuff (Asus eeepC was an option) but decided instead to drop bacck a full generation or two - well a generation from that then curent kit but 3 from the then state of play.

I copped off on eBay with an early generation mac mini G4 from the US and waited. It was a low spec machine and I had serious misgivings but heck it was cheap - really cheap until the Greek customs guys notched it up a bit - would I manage? It had the advantage of being able to use all my old peripherals - and I had an old CRT haning around that had cost me 10 euros so I thought 'we shall see'.

Well. the kit turned up last week - I paid the customs' surcharge unwillingly - and I brought it home on Frday. So far - very good. All my peripherals work. I've decided against upgrading to 10.5 and the set up is working well. A few things don't run quite as quickly as they used but what the hell it's hardly noticeable.

Result! My own advice was good.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Who died and put pox doctors in charge of our morals?

I'll be honest - I'm sick and bloody tired of doctors telling us what we should and shouldn't do - what's right and what's not. Today Radio4 carried a piece about "fertility experts" announcing that people who smoke or are overweight shouldn't be given IVF on the NHS. What the fuck? These hubristic gits have been pontificating on the evils of smoking for years and are now turning their bile on obesity. And on what basis have they elected themselves to speak on these matters? Pure hubris.

Doctors have always felt themselves to be inherently superior to the rest of us. In the old days the general public were stupid enough to believe them. Do not forget that the selfish, money grubbing GPs and consultants all but derailed the whole idea of the NHS at its very conception - threatening to take their ball and go home unless the government allowed them to continue with their private practices, no mater how badly it damaged the unborn NHS. "Trust me, I'm a doctor" said Harold Shipman - and hundreds did.

Only this week it transpires that these paragons of virtue and upholders of value within the NHS have failed to stop prescribing anti-biotics willy nilly (38m prescriptions for antibiotics were written by doctors in the UK in 2007, costing the NHS £175m) as they were instructed some years back. Prescribing for ailments that they know anti-biotics cannot affect.

The one thing that I'm sad that they didn't ask the so-called "fertility experts" surveyed was whether they refused IVF treatments in their private practice to smokers and the obese because I know that they don't. Hippocrates or hypocrites? They love to tell the freeloading NHS patients how to live their lives but nod to the mighty pound whenever enough of them are waved under their dirty little noses.

I have some news for doctors - NHS patients pay for their treatment - NHS patients pay the bulk of doctors wages - NHS patients paid for the training of doctors. So guys and girls - get over your superiority and get on with doing your job while keeping your mealy mouthed moral rectitude firmly to yourselves. We pay for your medical opinion and expertise not your self serving hypocrisy.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Cleaning olives

In a sea, no, an ocean of wild carrot
each plate sized face held aloft and
each demonic ox blood eye staring straight at the blinding sun
the valiant men in their signature red
toil gently at cleaning the olives

And the wind when it comes
reveals currents of chicory
blue as the sky but less punishing
like huge shoals of flying fish
and they lean to their work
these men dressed in red
and they work in silence profound

But the bees in the seas just behind them
the seas empurpled with flowers
keep a constant white noise
thrumming low and insistent
on the edge of their auditory landscape

And their knuckles are scraped
these noble proud men
by the age weathered barks
by the time honoured shells
of these noble, proud trees

There are faces in bark
there are patterns in branches
a beauty not seen from a distance
up close, as they are
the trees have a voice
they tell tales
of the past
of the present
and the future
while they bend to the work
in the hot midday sun

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Max's Vintage

I've just finished a new short story for a very good friend so I thought I'd share it with you all, it's about a man and his dog and it's called:

Max's Vintage

Liam is sitting and crouching. He is pulling on his shoes while his back complains. He is getting old now but the day is bright and this lightens his heart. Autumn is on them all - a gentle, Cornish autumn - and the hedgerows are full. A mellow fruitfulness. A richness.

Tying his laces carefully, he pulls the lace once more around his ankle and feels the cold, damp nose on his wrist. Max boy, yes we're off out this morning. It's a beautiful day. We'll be off soon. Give me a few minutes. Max is getting old now too. They have grown together over the last ten years, closer than most humans ever get.

Liam is eighty two years old and Max a mere ten, but Max is a dog, a black and tan Dobermann dog, of a physical elegance that Liam has not had for many a year. And so, they are probably each as close to their natural ends as twins might be, contemporaries at last. You have aged more gracefully than I old boy. We have converged at last. You knew we would. And so did I.

Liam's hand seeks out Max's muzzle and caresses it lovingly. Max presses his whole head firmly but slowly into Liam's hand and senses a frailty there, a slight weakness that he has become familiar with in the last year or so, a hint that he recognises in his own traitorous body. The hand moves slowly up over his head and pauses on his stop before continuing, as he knew it would, to the sweet spots behind his ears. They both luxuriate in this closeness for a while until Max shakes his head free and cocks it to the left. Liam listens too. Ah, Max boy, that's the blackbird. Isn't that a beautiful sound? Fair makes you glad to be alive, huh? Come on, lets be on our way. No beach today boy. We're off up the lane today. The other way. You'll get your swim later. Promise. But Max has gone skittering across the kitchen by now.

With his front paws on the closed lower half of the stable door he is looking out at the buddleia bush, where the blackbirds nest each year and where they have raised at least three broods to his knowledge. He draws a huge volume of air in through his powerful and sensitive nose: buddleia, blackbird, compost, rabbit, fox, grass, rose, bramble. He discerns each separate aroma distinctly but simultaneously. His mind is placing each of the ingredients of this cocktail to its location in the space before him, when he smells Liam coming up behind him. Now that's a smell all its own: warmth, love, respect - so well known now, a smell that goes all the way back to his smallest days - maybe the first smell he was aware of after his mother's. Liam clips the lead to his three row collar.

Out in the lane they are both assailed and overwhelmed by the sight and smells of the rhododendrons, blown now and looking dowdy, frazzled; frayed but fragrant: fragrant to Max at least, though Liam's nose is failing him now. You'll have to be careful Max, the flail will be along for those weeds soon. Next few days. One hand in his pocket he wrinkles the sack that sits there. Max picks up the scent and raises his noble head to turn those gentle brown eyes on him quizzically. Liam laughs. You know boy, don't you? Elderberries it is. You clever thing you. He checks the lane ahead, knowing that Max now knows where they are going, and, assured that they have it to themselves, he unclips his lead.

Max bounds stiffly off nosing the hedges either side as he goes and now and then turning back to check that Liam is OK. This is his only true freedom of movement these days - this, and his capers at the beach. He misses the free stretching, back bending bounding of yesteryear: the onset of arthritis has put paid to those carefree days and on the lead he is all decorum now. No mad headlong dashes. It would not be kind to remind Liam of just how much mobility he has lost himself. More even than he.

They wander along in silent communion, Max leading, until he spies the elder trees and notes that the fruit clusters have turned. He backtracks and comes behind and around to Liam's left. Liam bends only slightly, and from the waist - Max is a tall dog - and Liam reattaches his lead. Here we are boy. You know don't you? He lets them into the orchard. The winds of the last few days have blown apples down and the distinctive smell of proto-cider reeks: Max wrinkles his nose in distaste while Liam has a madeleine moment that transports him back to days of his youth and just-brewed Calvados in the Normandy countryside .

I dreamt last night of elder, Maxy boy, and, in this superstitious county, that is supposed to presage sickness. Not yours or mine, I hope. But then the addle-pated folk hereabouts seriously believe that elder branches can keep vampires at bay. Claim it goes back further than garlic. Fuckwits all. The very same sheep who bend their knee every sabbath, to a god who is so mean that he denies you a soul - or a place in their much vaunted afterlife. Flockwits more like. OK then Max. Let's get to it.

Free to roam again, Max is soon investigating every hedge and shrub (traces of rabbit here and there - a hare was through here last night) checking back on Liam assiduously. But Liam is fine, picking the low-hanging bunches of fruits and plopping them gently into the unrolled sack. The odd purplish, blackish stain seeps damply, darkly through the hessian. The sun is warming their bones and easing the aches in their joints. Is making them feel, momentarily, young again. Max has flushed a pair of wasps from one of the rotting apples and gaily chases them, as they dance just beyond his tender nose. Liam has settled himself beneath an old Pearmain tree and is tucking into a firm, white-fleshed apple, with a relish normally seen only in the flushes of scrumping youth. He is watching Max's game with a smile playing across his face; a smile of pure enchantment. The sack is full and leaking sweetly, stickily, beside him. Max leaps and neatly bites one of the wasps in half.

Come here boy. That's it. Sit beside me. No - the other side, lemon. That's it. Now Maxy, why did you kill that wasp? That wasn't very nice, was it? He wasn't doing you any harm - was he? Max turns a pair of sad eyes on him. They burn like lasers. Max is contrite, and lays his head in Liam's lap, sniffing the sack surreptitiously. Liam regrets the reprimand and leans slowly back against the tree trunk. He savours the moment. Are we having fun Max? I think so, don't you? Now I'm going to close my eyes for a while. You stay here - alright? Nudge me in a few minutes and we'll go back.

Back home they are sitting on the sun terrace. Ann has the kettle on for tea and Max has a big stainless steel bowl of cold, clean water just tucked in behind the herb border, where the sun has begun to cast a shadow. The sack is open before Liam who crouches Arab style - a habit he picked up in his youth and has never questioned. He is picking the stalks from the firm fruits and discarding the bruised and crushed fruits into a bowl: Ann will make jam from these. The rest are destined to become wine. A late bee buzzes past them breaking the silence and Max looks quizzically at Liam. The herb border fills Max's nose but still he can smell the sick bee. Liam laughs and chucks Max under the chin. It's OK boy. No problem. Let him be! Liam looks up and checks the length of the shadows. Half an hour more here and then I'll take you to the beach. Half an hour will see this lot off. I'll sort them out when we get back. There's time yet, boy.

Ann brings out the tea on a lovely red lacquer tray, that they picked up in an out of the way second hand shop last summer, and settles herself into a little plastic chair. Are you alright crouching like that? Don't fuss darling, you know I'm happiest this way. She strokes Max's head that rests still in Liam's lap. You two didn't overdo it did you? No, we're fine. Liam chuckles. We had a little nap in the shade, thanks. We're fine, and I promised Max his run on the beach. Half an hour's work left here - no more. Will you come?

Max has settled himself on the ground between them. He is looking up and clearly following the conversation. Like the pair of them he is wondering how life could be better and deciding that it cannot. Stretching his front paws out he settles his head between them and closes his eyes. His other senses though are on full alert. The sonorous tones of their voices and the smells of the garden in late afternoon soothe him. The sweet smell of crushed elderberries cloys above all the other scents. Ann and Liam have fallen silent. Time passes contentedly to the gentle rhythm of Liam removing the stalks from clusters of fruit.

You're awful quiet Liam. Are you woolgathering, or are you thinking? Thinking dear. About? Remember I dreamt last night of the elders? Well, as I dozed in the apple orchard I dreamt again of elders. I know I was among the elders, but still and all don't you think it odd? I asked Mrs Potts down at the post office about that, this morning, when I was picking up my pension. You did say the locals had all kinds of superstitions about elders. Well, she said that dreaming of elders presages an illness or bereavement. I'm sure she did - daft old bat! What did I tell you about this being the shallow end of the gene pool? How did such bloody retards end up in control of such a beautiful place? They'd have burnt her as a witch a few years back.

Max sits up at Liam's raised voice and watches their body language. He is used to heated discussions and the odd outburst of ranting but he always likes to check. Ann stretches her hand out and strokes him down his neck and chest. It's alright boy, the old boy is just cross at some stupidity. Max collects his feet together into a text book sit, and sympathises silently with Liam. He too, hates stupidity.

Liam unlocks his knees and slowly unfurls himself from his Arab squat, and while he hears only notional creaking, Max actually picks up the very real sound of bone grinding on too-thin cartilage, and sees a shadow of a grimace pass briefly. Hands firmly placed just above his buttocks, Liam is finally unfolded and arches his spine gently backwards before straightening completely. Liam's second sacroiliac joint cracks loudly - to Max - and he catches a whiff of stale sweat: a familiar smell and a particular favourite; a friendly smell and all Liam's. Ann does not wear perfume but her own scent is always masked by something else, whereas Liam always, and reassuringly, smells of Liam. Max licks his testicles and checks his own scent, but does not get up. He is enjoying his family.

Ann drinks the last of her tea and watches Liam, waiting for him to speak. But he stays stubbornly silent. She stretches her hand out to stroke Max behind the ears once more and he almost purrs: a deep and satisfied grunt escapes him. His hind paw comes up to rake behind his ear slowly. Sorry old boy. We shan't be going to the beach today. We're going back to the orchard. Those fruits are just right for winemaking and we're going to make hay while the sun shines - or at least collect berries while we have light left. And this one is going to be for you. Liam sidesteps to where Ann is sitting. I've made up my mind, love. I want to memorialise Max and we can't know whether we shall all do this again. He is getting on, you know. I'm going to have some labels made up to mark this vintage. I know it'll be a great one. And it's going to be Max's vintage, so that when he's gone (a tear breaks loose and dampens his cheek) ... and we both know it's got to happen some day ... then we can raise a glass of Max's vintage to the wonderful memories we shall have. And this is going to be one of them. Despite his aching thighs he squats and pats Max's head. Come on lad. I'll grab the sack. You get the lead, and then let's get cracking. Max is up and ready before him. Lead in mouth, he nudges Ann into action and heads to the gate, looking back and moving forward.

Ann waves them off at the gate and watches, until they reach the bend, through eyes that stream. She recalls a film she saw just after the war, before she even met Liam: A Boy and His Dog. Yes that's them. In this moment they both seem strangely young again. She turns and retraces her steps, drying her eyes on her apron as she goes.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Who interfered with whom?

I love this amazing hypocrisy. The al-Yamamah arms deal with Saudi Arabia has been all over the headlines this week and I've been laughing my arse off.

The factual accusations that the UK press and politicians are bandying around - in no particular order - are:

1) bribery and corruption were involved in winning the contract
2) the Blair government used the specious cloak of terrorism to stop the inquiry into the charges of corruption
3) the Saudi royal family threatened to withdraw espionage co-operation with UK espionage forces if the investigation ino one of their rich brat princes was not halted

The "moral" or "principled" objections appear to be:

1) bribery in order to secure commercial contracts is wrong
2) outside governments should not be able to affect the nature of justice administered within the UK
3) the British government should not use the threat of terrorism to rule by fiat

OK lets take them one at at a time:

"bribery and corruption were involved in winning the contract" - almost certainly - that's how many countries do business they just don't see that it is a moral wrong, that's our judgement;

"the Blair government used the specious cloak of terrorism to stop the inquiry into the charges of corruption" - of course it did;

"the Saudi royal family threatened to withdraw espionage co-operation with UK espionage forces if the investigation ino one of their rich brat princes was not halted" - of course they did, and they meant it

"bribery in order to secure commercial contracts is wrong" - according to whom? and how does any western business get a contract with any other country that engages systematically in processes that we in the west consider to be corrupt or wrong? Or do they just not bid. Or do they consistently bid and lose?

"outside governments should not be able to affect the nature of justice administered within the UK" - now in principle I agree but just consider for one moment why the original inquiry was started in the first place - because the US governement put pressure on the UK government having been pissed off because an American supplier didn't get the deal

"the British government should not use the threat of terrorism to rule by fiat" - no argument from me on that one but why is it only on this topic that that particular "principle" applies? Locking people up for 28 days at a time. Wiretapping at will. Surveillance of school applicants. Deporting people to known torturers. Unbalanced extradition treaties with places like the US. The list, if not endless is pretty damned long - and all in the name of "security against terrorism". Oh yeah and going to war, changing the regimes of soveriegn states and destroying infrastructure - add those to the list.

What moral high ground do we occupy? And how did we take it?  By main force?

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On being deaf

I cannot hear the toilet flush nor the incessant buzzing of the electric toothbrush. I cannot hear the water rushing into the sink nor its gurgle as it leaves. I cannot hear the kettle boil but I can hear the sound as the arms of my spectacles glide over my hair and settle behind my ears. I can hear what I suspect is the sound of my blood pumping.

I can hear through my bones but not my ears. The doors on the DS clunk dully closed behind me like those on a Bentley and when I come to start the engine it is as though I were switching on a silent electric motor: there is just enough feedback from  the indicator lights to reassure me that it is actually running. I have to watch the rev counter to know when to change gear and the lights on the dash to know when to cancel the indicators.

No birdsong. No dogs barking. Even the bee that almost collides with me makes not buzz. This is a very different place and I am not at all sure that I like it. The peace is fun but the disconnect is profound. We checked that I could just about make out the phone ringing before we parted but now I must stay close by for fear of missing that call. Already I have taken to watching Gill's mouth to see whether she is speaking to me and what she is saying. Mouth shapes and tongue placements, I realise,  are quite distinct one from another.

I am suddenly isolated. Locked in or locked out? Both: and both are  disorienting.  This now something that I want to finish. Imagine being able to hear the filter tip of your cigarette tap on your front tooth but never being able to imagine or tp hear the one you love most dearly tell you they love you.


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Saturday, April 05, 2008

The Olympic Flame in Crete

With all the current fuss about the progress of the olympic flame toward China I was reminded of 2004 when the flame came to Kavros, Apokaronos; less laden with political overtones and more joyful.

Thankfully the good old BBC carried a report today on the deeply political origins of the flame procession. Very little these days is free of politics and it would seem that it has been thus for some time. Symbols  are seldom univalent and the flame is no exception.


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Friday, April 04, 2008

Bacon in my Ears

I woke up this morning at about 6 o'clock - it was still dark and I could hear a very strange noise. At first I thought it was raining outside but corrected that idea immediately - it was much more like the sound of a fire crackling. But there was no smell of smoke and at that time of the morning it was unlikely, unlikely but not entirely impossible, that anyone had yet started a fire in the valley. I re-appraised the sound and realised, at last, that it sounded most like bacon frying and crackling: and that it wasn't outside at all - it was inside my ear! Weird shit! Maybe there is an earwig or earwicker livering inside there somewhere. Maybe he or she (do earwigs have separate sexes? ) is living off all the olive oil.

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Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Georgia - the next part

They stood slightly stunned for some few minutes as figures entered and exited the lobby space. Most of the players on this stage were dressed in a relatively casual manner - casual for London certainly - and only the odd one or two carried folders or files. They heard the rain restart behind them and a flash of reflected lightning lit the lobby. So far, not one of the transients had seemed to notice them let alone stopped for them - they moved like purposive ants, inexorably.  A man entered the lobby behind them coughing loudly and stamping his feet and they glanced around: dressed entirely in black and sporting a wide set of grey handlebar moustaches, he was without doubt a farmer and from the south.  Before he finished stamping his feet he was shouting at the passing players: demanding to be attended. A short, squat woman in a well tailored twin-set and with the oddly barbered wiry hair that women of a certain age in Crete favour she stopped a youngish man with a handful of ethernet cabling in his left hand and a clipboard in his right who had been scurrying by with his eyes down-turned and directed him to deal with the noisy, noisome, farmer. She exuded a clear and direct authority and so, as one, they moved toward her. She was to be their helper in this warren - whether she liked it or not she would help them.

She beamed as she watched them approach: standing her ground she beckoned them on, her face a picture of welcome. They wondered privately whether they would ever become accustomed to the amazing transformations that tough, big featured, scowling Greek faces underwent when a genuine smile came over them. "Hello, my name is Evanthia, the weather is foul, how can I help you? Are you lost? You are English, yes?" she announced in a confident English". There was barely a trace of accent in her beautiful soft voice and that came as something of a shock. Undeterred, the woman of the couple stepped forward and held out her hand, "I am Gill and no, we are not lost. We are English and I want to become a farmer. I hope you can help me kyria Evanthia."  Evanthia nodded at the formal address and regarded the two of them and turned toward the stairwell, "Please follow me to my office and we shall see what we can do". 

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Monday, March 24, 2008

Critics and democracy

I've been using a new website recently - one sponsored by the Arts Council of Great Britain - that is supposed to be resource for unsigned and budding writers. I was drawn to it by the chance to have a professional review of my work but that would only be possible if my work was highly rated by other users of the site. The idea is that you do a bunch of reviews of other people's work in order to be able to upload your own work and have it reviewed by some of those other users. If those users rank your work as one of the best of the month you get a professional review! Simple huh?

OK - the first impressions were not great - it's a plug ugly site to start with. Second up how do I find out what I can upload? Well that is far from clear and after a lot of trial and error it turns out you can upload short stories and opening chapters of novels. So what about novellas? Nope. Experimental forms? Seems not. Poetry? Nope. Right - not perfect but  I decide to try it anyway but then can't discover what formats you can upload - and until I've done 5 reviews I am not allowed to upload anything so I can't find out that way. I join the site and request my first piece to review. Surprise, surprise, the first thing I get is not matched to my reading profile - children's fiction - what do I know about children's fiction? Not a lot since it is a form of which I do not approve.

I plough through these chapters - an arduous process and get to the review process - wow. I get a set of categories to rank on a 1 to 5 scale - multiple choice - wow. Use of Language? Plot? Pace? and so it goes on. Once I've done that I get to write a review - not less than 100 words and try to keep it "balanced" - interesting idea. OK - so I do all that and then I get a real surprise - a reading test - 5 questions that the author sets to ensure that I've actually read the piece! Do they think I'd review something I hadn't read? Clearly they do.

The second reading assignment comes and this one is romantic fiction - WTF? Am I Barbra bloody Cartland? It's atrocious - balanced?  And so it goes on through 5 pieces - I bear it all and play my part, wondering all the while who he hell is going to review my stuff. Worse still I get to wondering what the hell I'm going to upload. I finally plump for a very straightforward short story about a donkey (you may have read it) that has a somewhat novel first person plural narrator - it's about as traditional as my stuff gets and until I know what formats the upload accepts I'll play it safe.

And so, eventually, I rack up the necessary 5 reading credits, being as positive and constructive as I can be. I even do a couple of voluntary reviews of highly ranked pieces to see what else is on offer - to be honest I could hardly credit the quality of the stuff I was being assigned. Much better but hardly bleeding edge.

Now I'm ready to upload my simple little short story. I've even worked out 5 really silly question for the reading quiz that mandatory reviewers have to complete. I go into the upload process and suddenly I find that I have to cut and paste the text of my story into a form on the site! Hyperlink lookasides?  Nope. Parallel textual threads? Nope. Good job I chose something really simple. None of the rest could I ever do justice to using this method. Up it goes and I sit back and wait for the reviews to come in.

Here's what I've had so far - I've done a couple of more mandatory reviews to qualify for a few extra reviews of my own work:

 Review By: Sapper

I love stories like this, Papalazarou, so easy to review. The descriptions of the old men, cafe and dusty Crete were superb - so hot I fancied a glass of Gazoza myself (I take it that Gazoza is alcholic - I wound'nt want to find I was ordering lemonade!) The writing was a joy to read and like only one other I've read on YWO in that it was more like painting a picture. For the technical criticism how could I not give straight fives. A couple of points which in no way detract from the tale '3 men' would be better written as 'three' after all it's not an inventory of the cafe's clients! Also "...away from the bones or thick,..." did'nt scan too well.
Very good tale.

Review By: adrian-dunsterville

Some very decent evocative prose, tinged with purple at the edges no doubt, but pleasantly poetic to read on the whole.

Telling this tale though, the author has taken a few liberties of POV and omniscience. For example, the POV change that allows us to witness in detail the donkey dismemberment. And the omniscience that allows us or the narrator to know everything beyond "This man is of the land" about our donkey devotee. This wouldn't be a problem perhaps but for it then undermines the sense of having the narrator narrate this. Clearly it's the author's choice but one could argue that in pure story terms, it's not the most direct or honest way of telling it.

I do appreciate the hazy heated atmosphere and a certain dusty timeliness, don't get me wrong.

A few more paragraph breaks and shorter sentences would I think make it easier for the reader.

I didn't at all times buy into the cafe proprietors superb grasp of English. But what do I know?

Review By: marlathome

This is a very unusual story well written. The characterisation and settings are evocative and authentic - I am very familiar with Greece: not the tourist Greece but the Greece beloved of Greeks and can attest to the accuracy of this portrayal. Familiarity, however, is unnecessary since you bring the landscape and its people to life with such astonishing attention to detail. In many ways, you paint a picture with your words. Well done for that.
The story itself is secondary to its characters - there is no real plot as such, in my opinion, but simply the gentle and sometimes dramatic passage of life. This may not be to everyone's taste on this site, I'm afraid, but I found your work to be thougthful, poignant and uplifting.
There are a number of punctuation problems that you might want to take a look at - no capitals after full stops etc. A niggling point but one which breaks of the flow of the narrative and also something that will be pointed out time and again in your reviews if you don't fix it (very tedious!).
I liked this story and look forward with interest to reading more of your work.

Review By: sls

Hello - I enjoyed the story. It's well written and the characters are engaging. The description sets the scene nicely.

I found the narrative memorable - I have been thinking about it since I read it. It has been thought provoking, which is a sign of good writing.

Being an animal lover I did find it hard to come to terms with the fact Pavlo dismembered his donkey - but there you go I'm squeamish about such things.

I did notice a few typos - Georgos appears once without an s on the end.

There were one or two uncapitalised h's at the beginning of sentences. And I noticed two disappears in one sentence.

I also thought one or two of the sentences were quite long. One appears in para 4 - A cheap blue bic ... I wondered if there should be a full stop after ashtray.

In parts of the narrative with dots I noticed five when there's usually no more than three.

I got a bit lost in the paragraph that describes the old lady's dress. I got the headscarf confused with the frock and wondered if She dressed in black. Her wispy white hair covered by a headscarf clearly of a newer vintage etc - might be clearer - just a thought.

I also noticed where the para begins "Exactly ... came back here ass fat as. (I think it's meant to read as fast as) He said that he owed Dimitri that - I felt the word that might work better after Dimitri, rather than in front of it.

I hope my observations don't sound too negative - they're not meant to be -

Review By: Paula


I enjoyed the sensitive way these characters were observed, and I particularly liked the way they were described in their setting. I felt as if I too had sat in that cafe and watched the old men and felt the heat of the sun. There are issues with pace here, I think. Personally I liked the slow burn, attention to detail, and the care taken over building atmosphere and authenticity. I felt the langorous pace of the story matched the pace of life in the village.
The contrast between the simple, nothing-ever-happens-here feel of the first half of the story and the tragedy and drama of the second half worked very well. I would have liked a little more at the end pointing out that life then would continue as it always had (except for the donkey, of course), and as if nothing so sad and violent had taken place. This would have given a nice balance to the piece, I think. I also felt that some of the language use could be tightened a little - you might want to double check for repetitions and weak descriptions here and there. On the whole the writing is clear and vivid, so it's a pity to let phrases and sentences slip through that might detract from this.
An interesting piece, a refreshing change from so much that is all hooks and grabbing and shocking at the start just to gain attention. Let's hear it for the slow but powerful build up!

Review By: dleighton

Needs work

I thought the writing was a curious mixture. There are some really descriptive passages, which evoke a Greek Island feel but on the other hand, the spelling, grammar and punctuation especially (almost a complete lack of commas in a lot of long sentences), totally distracted me from the story.

The premise of an old man, distraught at the death of his companion donkey and determined to protect its carcass from the vultures circling overhead is a worthy one for a short story. However, I was very unsure about the way in which the story is untold and found myself irritated by the narrative voice, referring to 'we' all the way through. I was more intrigued to find out who 'we' might be than I was interested in events at the top of the mountain.

I think this is a good idea but needs to be executed better.

Review By: ShorhamShambles

A long way to the mountain

Papalazarou can obviously write and there are some wonderful sentences dotted around this short story, but they just didn’t quite add up for me.

Almost all the descriptions are too wordy, and almost everything it seems must be described.

I didn’t get a feel for the characters – nothing made me believe they were real, or want to care for them in any way.

I like meandering stories but this one made me beg for something to happen. After the first page, to be honest, I didn’t really want to read on. The description must be absolutely first-rate for this kind of thing to work.

Thankfully the ending was interesting and well-written. Unfortunately I had the distinct feeling that everything was merely a pre-amble to the final two paragraphs, as though the real story was summarised here in 300 words and everything before was just padding. This final section was fluent and evocative but under normal circumstances I just wouldn’t have got this far.

I appreciate that this was perhaps intentional – reflecting the slow pace of life in a dusty Greek cafĂ© – but it didn’t quite work.

There are the seeds of something here. Papalazarou can write, but will need a stronger narrative around which to frame his skills.

Did I misjudge this site?

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Thursday, March 20, 2008

Chip and Pin and Chip and Path

Having accomplished the major prune of the olive trees that we had promised ourselves for several years - we cleaned out the centres and lowered the profiles of more than 50 trees - we were left with prunings so prodigious that for a while we did not know what to do with them all. The previous major pruning had been a reactive one after the massive snowfalls of February 2004 and the clean up thereafter had taken 6 weeks and involved daily bonfires for the best part of a week at the end. What to do this time round?

The bonfires of yesteryear though satisfying in and of themselves had, in retrospect, come to seem wasteful. We could. I now know, have garnered more useful wood for the stove than we did. We were naive. We followed what all the other olive farmers were doing. We did not think it through but this time it would be different. Well the thinking would be different even if the outcome should be the same.

When we finally took control and full ownership of the land last year we decided to farm the olives in our own style. Just as we have with the lavender from the very outset. We have long refused the local authority access to our olives to spray them with insecticides - they use some hideous organo-phosphates long banned in the UK and US and most of Europe: now we decided not to have the tractor turn over the land between the trees twice yearly and to cope with the weeds and brambles another way. For the olive fruit fly we have organic fly traps among the trees from the start of blossom until late October: for the weeds and brambles we have the brushcutter. But what about the prunings? What about the bamboo?

We have been leaning towards the Masanobu Fukuoka methods since being introduced to his One Straw Revolution by the Greek cameraman who shot the excellent footage for Gill's acclaimed TV appearance and round about October last year we had started looking at chippers to dispose of the big spring weed crop of fennel and mallow and thistle and bitumen pea. Might a chipper be an option for the olive prunings? We decided to ask the red-robed twins: after all, Eddie and Ceddie were well into the initial logging exercise - taking out all of the big wood and stacking it ready for seasoning and cutting into stove-sized pieces later on: who better to judge what would be left after this phase was complete? The new pile was already substantial when we bearded the boys, their Japanese ABS saws in hand,  about it and it has grown considerably since then. Their answer, as one, was unequivocal, "if it can take branches about an inch and quarter, and run for a couple of hours at a time then it'll probably do the trick - it'll mean more work but what the hell ...". Ceddie was almost immediately back to unloading the barrow but Eddie hesitated. "Will it be orange? Like the Husq?". "Who knows?" I replied, "We shall see ..."

It turned out not to be orange, rather, it was a bright green and white plastic Viking (the domestic arm of Stihl) electric machine. 2.5kilowatt motor, 35mm capacity, cloverleaf opening - a consumer model, the GE 150. but beggars can hardly be choosers and the petrol versions were ridiculously expensive. And here it is as shown on the Stihl website: Extra work? Do we care?   

We bought it at the newly relocated farmers supply shop in Episkopi and we bought it on impulse. We had thought originally just to see what they might have available - we'd researched chippers online and plumped for the Viking range so it was just a question of seeing whether the farming shop was still a Viking dealership and maybe seeing one in the flesh so to speak but ...  As I said impulse took over - spring price changes were in the offing and they might go up rather than down. And they did have one we could touch and test. And Gill just happened to have her egg card with her ... And thereby hangs another tale -

The farmers' shop in Episkopi, apart from being new and clean and amazingly well lit is also high tech - they take credit cards in a world where farmers usually  work exclusively in folding money - bags full of it if necessary - cash is invisible to the taxman - and to the rest of the family. And so, having decided to buy the bugger Gill handed over her newly minted egg card and the assistant, a young lady who speaks very good English, duly swiped it through the sparkling new credit card terminal and that is when our joint adventure began. Said terminal demanded the entry of a PIN and announced that no signature would be required! Shit - none of us had ever done this before but we had all been aware of it - chip and PIN technology was suddenly a practical reality rather than a theoretical possibility.

Gill scrambled to her handbag and rifled through all 3 of her notebooks desperately searching for the one where she had written her PIN down - just in case. The assistant was clearly mentally rehearsing what she had been told about chip and PIN or what she had heard or read. I stood to one side in a technological stun zone. The assistant signalled Gill to come around to her side of the counter and enter the newly retrieved PIN and, with fingers mentally crossed, she did. Eventually the terminal responded with a receipt or transaction record covered in numbers and the information that the transaction had completed successfully and again that no signature would be required. OK, we'd done it - we'd chipped and PiNned!

Or so we thought. Our assistant had her doubts - that was clear from the look on her face as she read the transaction receipt and for the next fifteen minutes she was on the phone to the bank reading strings of digits from the now somewhat dog-eared scrap of paper.  At last she had satisfied herself and been reassured sufficiently by the bank clerk to let us exit with purchase but not before we had all congratulated ourselves and filled out the warranty card.

Next day we were out in the field facing a mountain of olive prunings. The chipper was plugged in and Gill was at the helm as she has been ever since - it is her machine now Dave. And so began what has become to seem like a never ending chore of feeding the voracious maw of Vic the Chip. The piles of prunings shrink and disappear but the incarnadine twins are always mounding new ones. And there is an issue - quite literally. Prunings go into the top of Vic, Gil guides them in carefully following the instructions, Vic chews them, and then Vic spits out chips. Now while the volume of chips issuing from Vic is less than one tenth of the volume of what goes into Vic,  one tenth of a hell of a lot is still a lot. So what do we do with the chips?

They'd be good for barbecues? You could use them to smoke meat or fish?  Yes and yes but we have a lot of chips -  by the end of day 3 we have a small hill of chips! Eddie is standing there looking at the growing pile of chips, smoking a roll up and scratching his head. Ceddie is busy building another pile of prunings for Vic. Gill is feeding Vic. Vic is chewing and spitting. We are all thinking - hard.

And then Eddie has his halogen moment. "Guv? Did you ever see that place I used to live before I come here? No you ditnt but we did have a one of them venture playground thingies and that was covered in stuff just like what Vic spits out so was all the parths thru the woods and down to the lake where daft Bill did drown that time d'you think its the same? ". Brilliant Eddie - abso - bloody - lutely brilliant. I hug him and signal to Gill to switch Vic off. "Paths Gill! Paths. Paths to the lavender plots. Paths wherever you want. Thats it. Eddie is a genius." Gill's face lights up and her thumbs go up. We all hug Eddie and now we know what to do with the chips. And that is exactly what we have been doing ever since - path finding and making.  Here's a shot of the first path in progress - check back and we'll show you where all those chips end up.  


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Monday, March 10, 2008


Comfortable again, he thrust his hands deep into the pockets of his Drizabone and she linked her arm through his. It was the Drizabone, long, black and totally unknown here in Crete that had been turning heads. And continued so to do as they pushed their way out onto Kydonias and turned right past the souvlaki stall where the smell of grilled meat, sticking to the damp air, momentarily triggered his gag reflex. To him the Drizabone brought memories of the Keach brothers, the Carradine brothers (and he did in those days look a lot like Keith), and the Quaid brothers in Walter Hill's The Long Riders. To the locals he probably reminded them more of The Matrix. They pressed on, the crowds were thick here outside the Omalos hotel. The pavements were wet and treacherously slippery. His leather soled boots were not much use whereas her rubber soled ones allowed her to move quickly: she unhooked from him and pulled ahead. He lost her briefly in the melee.

She stopped outside the town hall where scads of people stood around in huge clumps clasping sheaves of documents. She had no problem spotting him - four inches taller than the average Greek and dressed in black from head to suede booted toe he stood out from any crowd that they were likely to encounter here. And there was a space around him, even in the throng, that was clearly discernible. She did not need to wave to attract his attention, her red hat marked her out.

He clasped her to him and whispered to her "These fucking boots will be the death of me ... is it much further?" "Not far, just follow me - it's up to the end and right". He nodded an OK and they moved off again. She made the right into Apokoronou and he followed. She turned almost immediately into Vouloudaki and he followed. Taking a right into Sfakion she turned and said to him "It should be along here somewhere on the right". "I thought you said not far? This is a bloody hike". The rain came on again.

They found the building easily, not 400 yards up the road and surprisingly well signed, an extremely unprepossessing brutalist office block of 5 storeys but with a frontage no more than 7 metres wide all dark grey granite and approached up a lethal looking flight of steep, wet, marble stairs. The buildings either side were no less ugly. They would, over time, become accustomed to such monstrosities but for now they could scarcely believe how ugly this thing was. The rain had stopped now but their coats glistened yet in the weak sunlight. They picked their way warily out of the light and up the stairs. The doors were wedged open with rusty fire extinguishers and so they reached a dark hallway. A door to their left, another flight of marble stairs ahead and a lift to the right. Which way now?