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

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

How does this shit work?

Memory and recall fascinate me. Those of you who have stuck with me through thick thin and bald will know that. I have written several times on the subject or subjects over the years.

When recall throws things from memory at me I still get taken by surprise now and then. This morning was a wonderful example.

We were sitting drinking coffee and listening half heartedly to Radio 4 whie drinking coffee and waking up when an item came on about the ark of the covenant. Some odd guy was chattering on about having found an object in some obscure african tribal home that was built from parts of the original ark of the covenant which apparently self destructed at some time in the distant past (don't ask - just research it if you need to know more). At that point I turned to Gill and said "shittah wood - that's what it was made of - well the original was anyway".

Gill looked at me as though I were an alien and yet I had, when I said it, assumed that everyone in the world knew that fact. Apparently not. Two questions come immediately to mind: when and how did I learn that the ark of the covenant was made of shittah wood?; and how and why did I recall that ridiculously esoteric fact just now?

Gill insisted on checking the thing out on Wikipedia and quickly established that shittah is a singular, that the plural is shittim, that shittah wood comes from the mimosa acacia family and that these woods are available in the deserts of the middle east. And yes - the ark of the covenant was supposed to have been constructed from shittah word. Seriously weird shit memory and recall.

The fascinating point here is that that little piece of information has now been filed into two sets of memory cells with a far richer set of recall paths than it had this morning. Weird shit indeed.

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Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The Cost of the War

Nobel prizewinning economist Joseph Stiglits has collaborated with Linda Blimes to produce book that looks closely at the true costs of the latest US expeditions into Afghanistan and Iraq. Are you sitting comfortably? Please sit down if you aren't already. The numbers they come up with are big - really, really big.

Three trillion dollars. That's right 3 triliion dollars. Not billion. Trillion. More than World War 1. More than Vietnam cost over 12 years. More than the Korean War - twice as much. 10 times what the first gulf war cost. As of writing the joint efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq are costing the US about $18 billion - per month.  Like I said really big numbers and under normal circumstances they would remain just very big numbers but Stiglitz was on Radio 4 yesterday and he made a couple of equivalences that put things in perspective.

At the current rate of spend 2 weeks would pay to eliminate illiteracy worldwide. 10 days would fund the US aid budget to the whole of Africa for a year. One sixth of the total $3 billion could put the US social security system on a sound financial basis for 75 years!

Now those are just the numbers - the arithmetic - the money if you will. Stiglitz and his collaborator do not stop there though. They investigate the impact that the financial and human costs have had or are having on family lives and the world economy respectively and those finding make equally awful reading.

It is a truly horrific picture they paint with words and numbers. And what is it all for?

Read the truth here.

Or listen to the Radio4 program here.

Read and listen - and weep.

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Monday, February 18, 2008

wake up and make the coffee

Despite the typographical similarities with Celine please allow the following to serve as an humble trubute to Alain Robbe-Grillet who died today

wake up ...  it's dark ... peer thru the mosquito net to see the clock ... listen to the hail slanting in ... 06:05 .... turn over ... turn the deaf ear upwards

wake again ... bladder pressing ... some light but grey ... and wind howling ... out of bed and across the wooden floor to pull on slippers and a thermal vest ... off into the toilet ... piss and listen to the rain ... check the clock again ... 09:03 ... decide to get up ... wash face ... cold water ... fucking cold ... brush teeth

pull on the rest of clothing ... jumper, socks, jeans ... taking off the slippers beforehand .... head downstairs telling G to come when she's ready

living room is warm ... check stove ... some embers still glowing red ... wind is howling around ... check outside and pull on the drizabone and the boots ... pick up the teapot and cigarettes ... unlock and step out into a freezing north wind that's carrying snow ...

check for cat presents on the door step, blank, quick check of the surroundings, snow everywhere  on the mountains ... down the  stairs checking Kastellos  ... a mist  hangs in the way ... the sky is grey-white ... the wind is bitter and biting ... say hi to the girls ... both wet

unlock the cellar door and check for water ingrees, none .... open the tp half of the stable door fully ... open the windows and shutters over the kitchen sink ... cold blast ... open the north facing windows and shutters ... icy blast ... go to fill the kettle ... still no water ... use some spring water from the cannisters ... switch it on ... shit, the washing up from last night sits on the drainer ... and the coffee dregs bucket is full ...

outside into the bite ... fill a bucket from the water butt ... white finger ... empty the coffee dregs around the mimosa ... flush it with more butt water ... sleet is refilling the butt already ... back indoors ... drizabone off ... jacket and wristlets on ... flush the toilet with butt water ... make the coffee making sure not to drop the cafettiere ... pick up some water from the fridge and a tissue ... rain and snow have stopped ... for now, time to do the girls but fill the sink from the bucket and wash up first ... cold water, very cold indeed

out to the run ... greet the girls and clean their eyes ... pick up two frozen turds in a plastic bag ... change their water and disinfect and sweep the run of olives and olive related detritus ... play with the girls and cuddle them, fuss all round each other ... look up south to the mountains ... grey ... look north to the sea and the incoming weather ... shit incoming ... check the plants on the way back ... check the water butt is switched off ...

back indoors ... pour some coffee and warm hands around it ... light a cigarette and perch on the chair in the draught ... filth coming in ... the wind gusts up to 30 or 40 mph bringing snow with it ... close the north facing shutters quickly ... check the girls, they've gone into their kennel ... slurp some coffee and then roll up all the rugs ...

G arrives ... kisses and a cuddle ... sit and drink coffee ... smoke cigarettes ...  brush down the sofa ...sweep the floors ... clean the bathroom ... dust everything ... re-connect to the internet, the router has jammed ... check the weather, snow in Souda, temperature -6ºc with wind chill ... get moving ... refill the kettle, the water is back hurrah - only 12 hours or so ... rugs back down and sweep them ... make more coffee ... get the girls in - the snow is settling now ... clean ther paws and dry them off, drowned rats ... electricity goes off ... but only for a few minutes ... restart the computer and the router and reconnect to Radio4 ... check the weather again - sleet, hail and mist, still -6ºc, wind gusts at 40 mph ... close the south facing windows but not the shutters got to get what light we can ... the sky is a dark grey and darkening .. .threatening

girls are on the sofa ... we are drinking coffee ... G does make-up and D goes up to do the stove ... open the balcony shutters and doors ... empty last night's ashtray into the bin on the balcony ... switch on the immersion heater - there'll be no solar heated water today ... wash up last nights tea mugs in freezing water and put them away ... wire brush the grate ... scrape the inspection panel in the stove door free of soot ... empty the ashcan into another bin on the balcony ... white finger ... lay in a new fire and sweep the floor ... we're short of logs and kindling ... bring in some more logs ... down to the carage where some chopped logs are prepared and bring them up in empty wine boxes ... check the cover on the log pile ... sweep the floor again ... bringing in logs always messes things up ... swab up the damp that came in on your boots ... switch off the immersion ... close up the shutters and doors ... check for water ingress ...  the snow is slanting in almost horizontal now ... pick up a couple of packs of cigarettes and exit locking the door behind

almost blown down the stairs ... the view from the sun terrace is obscured by snow and cloud, mist and wind ... into the cellar and close the door behind ... close up the top of the door ... we're well aired now ... and re-greet the girls who are all pleased to see you ... slurp some coffee and light another cigarette ... is that it? ... are we done? ... for now?

G's turn to start tomorrow

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All things pass

There are a lot of strange people with some very strange ideas running around in the public spotlight. It is truly difficult to get a fag paper between them these days. Take the following:

Tough call huh?

Sunday, February 17, 2008

The Year of the Death of James Graham Ballard

It is always with a sense of dread not dead that I write obituaries. To write one in advance of the actual death is nothing new for me but this one pains me deeply.

This piece could easily have been entitled Chronicle of a Death Foretold. But it isn't. I found a better hook to hang it on. It could as well have been entitled The Dead - great novel or great short story it makes no nevermind - JGB did them equally well but will no more I fear. Fear is the key. Instead I stole my title from Jose Saramago - one his less accessible but most beautiful novels. A novel about a real poet - the death year of a great poet - the
4 greatest Portugese poetsFernando Pessoa.

I have read all of my properly sentient life. I have listened to radio all of my sentient life too. This week my two loves have come together with readings on Radio 4 from JGB's latest book - Miracles of Life: Shanghai to Shepperton. Latest and last?  I seldom read biographies and eschewed literary biographies almost entirely some years back with but a few exceptions. My advice would usually be "
Never read the biographies of artists whose work you admire. You wouldn't want to meet them - let alone know them. Most of them are less than likable human beings and in many case their likability is in an inverse ratio to the product of their talent and how much you admire their art." But this is an autobiography and Ballard comes across as a really nice guy!

Having made the disastrous mistake of failing to give Gilbert Sorrentino the Nobel prize for literature - he died before they even thought of it - I fear they might miss Ballard too, and for the same reason, and that would be a mistake of the same order of magnitude. I love Doris and Harold P all that they have done - but really  - GS had and  JGB has, each, a genuine body of work unassailable by comparison.

JGB is, I truly believe, the greatest English writer since the second world war. Forged in that conflict his insight is unwavering and unsentimental. Amiss, Self, Rushdie, McEwan et al are pygmies by comparison. Ballard looks inside the human condition and never flinches no matter how unpleasant the image. Where Dostoevsky and Camus and even Derek Raymond looked inside the individual and found Conrad's Heart of Darkness Ballard's focus is upon society - the kinds of society that mankind is capable of creating - the ugly crippled children of the body societal. The works all shine a magnifying light on the potentialities of how we pull ourselves together into groups or how we might. Somehow the Cocaine Nights tetralogy seems more real and more frightening than Orwell's 1984 or Huxley's Brave New World - more prescient - and he does this not by looking into and projecting the future but simply by looking into the present and extrapolating.

Not since Joyce has one man mastered both the short story form and the novel with such a mixture of skill and inventiveness. Ballard's Atrocity Exhibition is a scarily experimental novel that challenged readers when it was published to handle the fractured and overlapping semi-narratives and snapshots, the vignettes and the tableaux that have become a commonplace - an everyday, moment by moment experience - since the advent of the web. Ballard pulls it off with an aplomb that in hindsight is nothing short of brilliant.

Reading Ballard can feel like accompanying Mapp and Lucia on a day-trip to Belsen says Sam Leith in his recent review of Ballard's final work and there is more than a grain of truth in that albeit contrived encomium but the regularity with which reviewers and fans alike trot out the word dystopic is in and of itself fairly depressing.  I would prefer to draw people's attention to the facination with art and architecture, design and decadence that suffuses his work and his vision. Ballard sometiimes writes of livable societies and sometimes of unbearable ones but to focus entirely on the darker side of his work is to miss his essential humanity and this last week I have come to appreciate just how human JGB  is and how this informs his entire oeuvre. He shows us exactly what mankind is capable of and it is not all misery.

If Miracles of Life is his last book it will be sad but it may be a fitting place to finish his life work. I want it not to be his last. I want to have the next Ballard to look forward to and that is something I can rarely say of a living author.

The wikipeadie entry on Ballard can be found here

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Tuesday, February 12, 2008

It snowed tomorrow

It started raining last Wednesday and it has rained every day since. It has also been getting colder every day since. We've had hail and freeing cold rain already. It has snowed in northern Greece already and with the meteorologists forecasting colder weather at the weekend with northerly gale force winds those of us who recall the big snows of 2004 are watching February the 13th roll around with fingers crossed that we do not get a repeat. What a week that was - the one that started on the 13th. See what happened then here.

I thought this piece of text gave a solid idea of how winters are felt here and thought I'd share it with you:

Winter is in full force here, which means it's really, really wet, and, here in the village, cold. Although we have had blessedly welcome spells of sun - with breathtaking views of the completely snow-covered Psiloritis and his rivals to the west - for the most part the weather has been wet. Paint-peeling, mold-inducing, goat-stinking wet. The humidity here is astounding; if we don't air out the place vigorously whenever it's not raining, evil-looking black mold grows on the ceilings, the walls drip, and in general it starts to feel like a medieval castle.

The full blog entry is well worth reading and can be found here:

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Silly me

I saw this headline "UK government plans to stop file-sharing" and thought to myself "how wonderful - the UK government is tightening up security so that it stops inadvertently sharing my data with Joe Soap and all his identity thieving mates and maybe it'll stop allowing the DVLA and its ilk from selling my data too." How wrong was I? What sort of silly Billy am I? Turns out what they really want to do is stop me sharing my files with other people so as to protect a bunch of parasitic record and movie companies.  Colour me mug.

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Wednesday, February 06, 2008

On the birth of our first grandchild

Welcome little Charlie
welcome to our world
your world
you didn't ask to be here
you owe nobody anything
the life you have is yours to live
nobody else's

Do as little harm as you can
damage as few people as you may
love yourself first and
everyone else thereafter
love yourself

There are people here
who will care for you
as best they can
but they cannot live your life for you

You must find your own way
and cut your own furrow
through the field of life
but keep your head and eyes up
there are many beauties to see
- see them all

There are no rehearsals
no playbacks
once it is done it sticks
There is no supernatural
no afterlife
no make it all right later on
get it right as you go
this life is all you have
live it wisely
live it happily

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Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Fall back and spring forward

Incongruous. A man in a white suit is standing in the top of a tall olive tree. The valley is verdant and lush. All around there are olive trees and citrus groves. The sky is bright and clear even though it is February. Wisp of smoke climb vertically from small bonfires all around. There is no movement in the air. In his hand he hold a japanese pull saw: another is stuck into his wide brown belt. From this  distance he looks like Fitzcarraldo  with a mane of white blonde hair and a manic smile. The sun catches his broad brimmed white hat as he hops goat-like from branch to branch sawing as he goes.

And suddenly he is gone. He falls backward, the ladder toppling left as he fall right. The wraparound sunglasses fly from his face as he hits the ground shoulders first and his head whips upward. They land 2 metres away. The saw is still grasped in his left hand: the other, smaller saw is still in his belt. HIs fall is broken by a palliasse of oxalis growing beneath the olive tree. Silence, Stillness.

He shakes his head. He moves his legs, glad that they are operational. He checks his legs. And then his arms. He catches his breath: the fall has clearly winded him. He rises to his feet and glances around to make certain that nobody saw him fall. He rubs the back of his head. And then he picks up the ladder and places it back on the tree, making sure this time that it is level, And he climbs back up into the tree with the saws both still in place. He continues.

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Friday, February 01, 2008

Gazing into the crystal ball

Today's announcement that Microsoft has made a "hostile" bid for Yahoo makes my crystal ball shimmer. Watching the rise of super cheap PCs and laptops from the likes of Asus means that we might be seeing Linux derivatives at last get some traction. Vista, which had a gestation hat would make an elephant wince has proved desperately unappealing to the corporates. Likewise the newest version of the bloated and ugly Office suite. The EU and the British educational system have begun to despise MS and its manipulation of so called "open standards" and have finally started to voice their doubts. Their is a tide running against the proprietary and toward the open.

Open is suddenly cool in a way that it always should have been. It has taken a long time and the open movements have finally achieved some kind of critical mass. Those of us who were preaching the open road 6 years ago at its inception can finally breathe out. Intel tried and failed to derail the OLPC project. Microsoft tried and succeeded in perverting web standards with its ugly and subversive browser. But the pendulum is swinging back - Firefox has taken over the fight that Netscape lost to the 800lb gorilla. And it is winning. Google's offerings for word processing, email and the like have begun to convince simple users that there is another way. And it is cheaper. It also has better future proofing because of its openness. Embracing standards rather than subverting them suddenly seems to make sense and the long history of fear uncertainty and doubt that Microsoft has used to deter "switchers" is possibly starting to backfire.

Vote with your wallet and your choicesw - let's bury the gorilla and the gorilla pupeteers. Forward with the open road.

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