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

Friday, April 17, 2009

Torrents, Pirates, Demons and assorted others

Given the frankly bizarre judgment handed down against the guys who run The Pirate Bay can we now expect the parasitic, bloodsucking, moneygrubbing dickwads who run the film and music "industries" to go after Google. Yahoo and their ilk? Given that not one of those guys actually hosts any copyright protected material on their own machines then as far as I can see they all do pretty much the same thing. 

Type "there will be blood" torrent into google or any reputable search engine and you will be able to download a copy of the film ideirectly from links they provide ( google wil give you 429,000 results). 

So come on guys (RIAA etc) take on these giants in court and lets see how you do.

Western Justice

So let's get this straight:
you host links to files that other people want to share and you go to prison for a year and cop a £3m fine
you torture innocent civilians in order to prove that they are neither innocent nor civilians and you walk away
you leak state secrets and you walk away
you beat peaceful protesters or innocent bystanders on the streets of London and you get suspended from work on full pay
anything else or will that do for now?

Hold on thought there are couple of others:
you host and train Al Qaeda and Taleban forces, you oppress the women in your state, you take the piss out of any idea of proper western democracy and you get given $5 bn dollars to stop it - well, to stop the terrorist training thing anyway
you invade all of your neighbouring states, seize their lands, drop white phosphorous on innocent civilians and refuse to allow them free movement, and you ignore all UN sanctions against you and you get, every year, in perpetuity the largest slice of US foreign aid

That's justice!

Eye don't believe it!

So we went to the oculist on Wednesday - no appointment just sit and wait - we waited maybe 40 minutes and both went in for our full eye tests - the works - field of vision the lot - twenty five minutes later we have 2 new prescriptions for the reading glasses and a bill for 50 euros which is 10 less than what it cost us 2 years back.

Take the scrips to the optician we used 2 years ago and he takes a note of the necessary - the lenses will be here tomorrow at 11 - bring your frames in and it'll take 35 minutes - whenever suits you - top notch lenses - 130 euros for the lot - yes we're open on Good Friday - and off we go.

Went back this morning at about 11:20 with our frames - oh I'm so sorry the technician doesn't come in until 12:00 - come back at one and they'll be ready - we go and do our things - have a coffee and wander back at around one - the shop is heaving - every Greek and her husband is trying on new season's sunglasses and Mr Optician is under great pressure - he leaves his customer and comes over to apologise - sorry they aren't done yet - we've been so busy - come back in 15 minutes - I promise! We fight our way out past bespectacled bubble cuts and drift off to the mosque - which is shut this being Good Friday and all. 20 minutes later we fight our way through an ever growing crowd of potential sunglass purchasers and still they aren't ready - Mr Optician is profuse in his apologies and rushes to the back of the shop where we assume the technician is working - we wait - Mr O apologises several times - each time more desperate than the time before - and so it goes on we wait - he checks back and apologises - until ... finally he brings the newly minted specs over with an eye chart at about 2 o'clock. Perfect vision. He apologises or rather doesn't - I cannot apologise, there are not the words! We get ready to pay and he waves our money away - no, no, not after all that waiting - I couldn't take your money! We try but he is adamant.

We have our new specs for free! Where else in the world?

Thursday, April 16, 2009


Gilbert Sorrentino has long been on my list of great American writers. He's been at the top of that list for quite a while now and so when a great friend of mine sent me a copy of Red The Fiend I was keen to read this later work (1995). This is the latest of his works that I have read and yet he produced 5 more books before he died in 2006 so I still have 5 treats in store.

Since Steinbeck effectively laid down his pen in 1962 few American novellists have addressed themselves to the issues of the American working classes even though it is arguable that the working class plight now is worse even that it was in Steinbeck's time.  Bellow, Roth and Updike all produced middle class novels for the American middle classes. Sorrentino and his great friend Hubert Selby wrote of the working classes though I doubt that the working classes read their work. Red The Fiend is a novel about a small, tight, american working class family.

Red The Fiend is a brilliant novel that examines, dissects, documents and observes the creation of a monster or fiend. In his trademark elegant sentences, with his unfailing ear for dialogue, and with the inventiveness that marks him as a genius Sorrentino invites us to watch, and smile, as a young boy is turned into Red The Fiend. Only Pynchon can handle the grotesque with humour anywhere near as well as Sorrentino. At times I felt as though I was watching a train crash happen as I read this book and felt almost ashamed that I was laughing openly.

Red's grandmother may well be the most unpleasant character in all of literature but despite this she is frighteningly convincing - no caricature this - this is the real thing and all the more terrifying for that realism. Red The Fiend is in fact peopled by a fair few very nasty pieces of work.  I cannot imagine that anybody who has read this book will ever forget it.

Despite the genius of the narration, the polished brilliance of the language, the darkness of the subject matter, and the unforgettable nature of the things that happen in this book the truly stunning thing about this novel is the fact that it is so easy for the reader to fail to notice just how exceptional it is as a novel. Sorrentino wrote some of the greatest 20th century novels but in Red The Fiend he wrote a genuine 21st century novel and yet you could be forgiven for not noticing - he does it so well.

Red The Fiend runs to only 213 pages but contains 49 chapters. 49 chapters that could probably be read in almost any order. It is direct. It is unforgettable. It engages immediately and lastingly. It achieves what B S Johnson once described as the only point of the novel - telling the truth by telling stories. And it does so in an almost entirely new way. Red The Fiend points the way ahead for the novel.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Book Review - The Busconductor Hines by James Kelman

James Kelman is the only Brit shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize 2009. His novel A Disaffection which I reviewed here previously was shortlisted for the Booker Prize and won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for Fiction in 1989. His novel How late it was, how late won the Booker Prize for Fiction in 1994. With the possible exception of J G Ballard he is probably the finest Brit writer of English active today.

There are no heroes in Kelman. There are no massive plot arcs, no tricksy twists, no gratuitous redemptions. Kelman specialises in real life - and brilliant clear prose. His ear is acute for ordinary Scottish Glasgow dialect and he records it in such a way that it rings from the page. His eye for the telling trivial vignette is piercing and he puts these snatches of dialogue and fragments of life together in such a skilled way that you slow down your reading pace to savour them. I am always sad to finish a Kelman work be it a short story or a a novel - The Bus Conductor Hines is no exception.

Rab Hines is a bus conductor. He is not a great bus conductor - his record is poor. He hates the job.Rab Hines is a husband and father. He is neither a great husband nor a wonderful father. Rab is just like you and me - pretty ordinary. Rab gets by. He does his best. He makes the most of what he has - even the no-bedroomed tenement flat under threat of imminent demolition that he and his family inhabit uncomfortably.

Quite simply put James Kelman does what few novelists these days can do - he describes the ordinary and makes it true. He chooses and uses his language to convince you of the humanity in all of us. Long may he continue so to do.

The zen of olive pruning

How does one prune olives? Do you prune your own? Would you prune mine for me - I'll pay you? In that case, would you show me how to prune mine? So ... clean the middles so the sun can get in, and remove and crossing branches, and cut out anything growing straight up. That's it? OK ... and bring the canopy down if we want to pick by hand? How far down? I need to take about 2 metres off? Are you sure? And take off any suckers. Like an umbrella? OK.

The only thing certain about olive tree pruning here in Crete is that there are as many opinions about it as there olive farmers or maybe as many as there are trees. I spent 3 years asking people about how to do it. I spent 5 years asking "experts" to do it for me. In the end I bit the bullet and decided to do my own. It could not be put off any longer - our ladders no longer reached the upper olives. I began with the oil trees - we have 12 eating olive trees and 80 oil trees.

I started with all of the wisdom incorporated in paragraph 1 above and a simple summary sentence from a Californian web site dealing with the knotty subject of olive tree pruning - "a badly pruned olive tree is better than an unpruned olive tree". I wish I could attribute that pearl but I've lost the link. I decided to eschew the use of a chain saw - too traumatic for the trees I felt: and I hoped that standing before a majestic and ancient tree with just a handsaw would make me think carefully before making that first fateful stroke.

My first tree truly daunted me as I stood before it for perhaps 40 minutes. I must have looked almost paralysed - maybe dumbstruck. I could not help thinking of those stories about painters, frightened and awed by a blank canvas, tentative, and considering all of the possible first brushstrokes knowing that there is only one correct first move. That everything flows from there.

In time I overcame the fear and inertia and entered the tree - literally stood in the middle of the tree feeling the rough bark of that timeless life force against my back and gazing skyward - and so I set to. Every tree was different - unique. Every tree was a new problem to be solved and with every tree I became more confident: I cut more boldly. When the last tree was done I went back to the beginning and redid the first half dozen with my new confidence.

And I was pleased with what I had wrought. But what did I know? Five weeks later a local olive farmer came to visit and remarked on how good the trees looked - " ... who pruned them? ... and would he perhaps do mine?" When I explained that I had in fact done them myself there was a palpable wave of admiration, a hearty slap on the back and a loud "Bravo". We drank some rakis on the strength of it.

In the following year this scene replayed itself time and again - locals loved my pruning and admired my "brutality". Men I admired heaped praise on my efforts and slapped my back. And then came the harvest. Despite my ministrations we had a decent crop and they were so easy to pick - everything within easy reach - no ladders required. But the cherry on top of the cake was when the organic certification people came for our first farm inspection and congratulated me on the trim of the trees - "... the best in the valley".

There is now something strangely satisfying, something oddly creative, almost spiritual for me about pruning olive trees. This year it has been the turn of the eating olives and they, I think, have been neglected for longer than had the oil trees. They are bigger and have a different configuration and even a different habit - they have posed a new challenge.

For the past two weeks I have been studying each tree as I have passed it. Cutting bamboo for the last week has allowed me to study every one in some detail. By the time I am ready I have a sketch of an approach in my head. I walk around the tree several times eyeing it from all angles. I check my mental sketch and adjust my start point if necessary. I absorb the treeness of this particular tree and take it on board. When I am at one with the tree I step inside it and clear any obstacles to my view and freedom of movement. From there on in it is a simple, matter of taking away all those parts that are not of the essence of the tree that I know is in there. I once heard a wood carver being interviewed on radio and the interviewer asked him about how he began carving for example an elephant from a hunk of tree. His reply stuck with me and I understood it artistically without taking it properly on board - "... the elephant," he explained, as if to a child, "is inside the wood. All I have to do is to take away the parts that are not elephant". Now I know exactly what he meant.