Monday, September 01, 2014

Lazy Weekend

Saturday 30/8/2014

I decided to take this weekend off, but not in the usual sense one would suppose. There have been very few days since February 8th, two days after Caroline’s cremation, when I haven’t gone on very long walks. Then, into the spring and summer, swum or kayaked long distances, or some combination of these three. Now I’m starting to feel a little weary. I also had a quandary to ponder, a need to take stock, a need to distance myself from that jaded feeling I’ve started to get down at the beach, and I also needed get some things done. One of these was finishing my edit of Factory Station Room 101. The other was to sort some paperwork for my tax return, because the Inland Revenue is not noted for its patience whether dealing with the bereaved or otherwise.

So, this morning I was up at 6.30 and at 7.30 headed out on a 6.5 mile walk through the mountains. Obviously, something about the idea of taking a rest from exercise had escaped me. Next, I went shopping in Sitia because when I found myself having boiled sweet corn for breakfast the day before I thought maybe it was time to restock the fridge. After packing this lot away, I ate a meal of salad and frankfurter wraps, then I fell asleep on the sofa for two hours.

*sigh*

It took me a further two hours to get motivated and finish those final bits of the second Transformation book. As you read this is should be sitting in Bella Pagan’s inbox. I then sorted through a drawer full of receipts to find the relevant ones for the tax man, and hopefully I’ll get all that stuff completed ready to file my tax return online, which is of course going to be a joy.

I am determined to take it easy tomorrow and not going schlepping up to those wind turbines again, or do any other form of heavy exercise. If anything, I’ll do a bit of light gardening. Let’s see how long this resolution lasts if it’s hot and still and I start comparing my need to sort out my taxes to kayaking along the Cretan coast or swimming in the Libyan Sea.

Sunday 31/8/2014

Minutes of the Committee for Autonomic Function
Hey look, we really like what you’ve been doing with the old organism. It’s looking the best it has in fifteen to twenty years and it’s doing stuff we never thought would be possible. I mean, constant exercise as a response to trauma ... well, we didn’t see that coming. The expectation here amongst us was that you’d just load the organism with cigarettes, alcohol and bacon sandwiches. Well, you quit feeding it alcohol, at least for a while, and those ecigs were a great move. As for the food intake ... well the cut in input of carbohydrates came as a shock to us but, as the fat dwindled, we saw that you’d made the right decision again. However, I’m sorry, enough is enough. Yes, you’re keeping up the exercise but there have been injuries. You yourself have admitted that the organism requires periods of rest so committee members can get on with some repairs. And, let’s be frank here, you’ve strayed back into trying to use alcohol as a mental analgesic and method of end-of-the-day shutdown, and it’s been a failure. Alcohol-induced insomnia is hindering the repair teams. And when we check for the required materials for repairs all we seem to be finding is empty alcohol calories. You, of course, know all this and this weekend promised to keep the organism at home so we could service it. Yet, what was the first thing you did on Saturday morning? You took it for a 6.5-mile walk. I’m sorry but this was plainly just aberrant and destructive behaviour. Therefore, we of the committee are enforcing inactivity and sleep interspersed with periods of high stomach and colon activity. And you, Brain, you we are shutting down.
...

It’s been an interesting day and another one of those ‘the body demands’ times. I was up at 6.00 whereupon I ate a breakfast of three boiled eggs and six slices of toast. After that I fell asleep for two or more hours, couldn’t get myself moving properly until 10.00 whereupon I ate a load of salad and frankfurter wraps. I then fell asleep for another hour or so, was sluggish for another hour after that, then ate some more wraps and fell asleep again. Next, I finally got myself motivated to do some cooking and put together a Swedish meatball stew and ate two bowls full of that. Thus far, at 6.30, there’s been no sign of Dr Narcolepsy creeping up behind me.

I only have myself to blame. I’ve been exercising excessively, not eating properly and drinking too much. Mr Insomnia has been with me most nights and, let’s be frank here, Messrs Beer, Wine and Raki opened the door for him. All this needs to change ... apart from the exercising excessively bit.

However, on the good news front: I sorted out all my receipts and then, upon checking my tax form discovered that now I file my return online I don’t have to do so until January. It was quite pleasing to chuck the whole lot back in a drawer. Fuck that shit.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Snakeskin

When the hot dry wind hits here is fries vegetation and heaps the detritus here and there around my garden. The leaves, flower petals and bougainvillea bracts haven’t had a chance to turn brown. It’s like someone has tipped out a few sack loads of potpourri. While clearing these up recently, ever wary of the odd concealed scorpion (though they’re not often about when it’s hot and dry) I found numerous crisp-dried sections of shed snakeskin. Judging by the size of these pieces the snake was three of four feet long. I wish I’d saved them for a photograph but they went in my composter with the potpourri. Only a few weeks after that wind did I pick up one small piece...


...and think ‘USB microscope’!

 
I don’t know whether this will be interesting – let’s find out.
Snakeskin x20

 
Snakeskin x80

 
Snakskin x350

 
Okay, I did find these interesting, but then I have a confession to make: I’m a nerd. Also, coincidentally, when going back to editing these are the first words I read: He gazed at the snake drone locked in its clamps, and at the spine driven in through its mouth and deep into its body.

Jaded


26/8/2014

So, this morning I worked through another 50 pages of Factory Station Room 101. I found this easy going because there were large sections that I had enjoyed writing and, consequently, felt no need to alter much. Of course it being the dictum that on the editorial front one must kill ones babies you’d think I should attack these sections more, or that later editorial input would see them getting chopped up. This is not the case, because that dictum is crap.

This afternoon I went down to Makrigialos beach and, feeling slightly knackered, decided to forgo my usual ‘big swim’. Instead, I kayaked for a few miles, much of it against strong wind. This left me feeling even more knackered (duh!). After a coffee and a fruit juice I had a beer, didn’t enjoy it much. I ate something, tried another beer, and ended up tipping half of that into the flowerbed. At this point I realised (partly due to being knackered) I was jaded with all this – had hit a point of ennui. I packed up my stuff, headed home, dozed on the sofa then woke feeling refreshed. Next, I did some tidying up in the garden, then in the house, and now the washing machine is on. All these chores I enjoyed more than my time down at the beach today.


Here then is a truth many expats discover, usually a little while after burning their boats by selling their house in England, buying or renting here, and simply not having the cash to go back. Holidays are fun, but turn your entire life into a holiday and it soon starts to get boring. Unless you’re and alcoholic, or become one, booze has its limitations. Very few people will find interesting a career move into lying in the sun. In my case, half an hour on a sun bed is about my limit before I want to do something else – the only time I’ll stay longer is if I read something or fall asleep. Really, doing nothing stinks.

 
Luckily for me, or rather by design, I go back to England for half the year. I can work wherever I can recharge a laptop. I have a garden here and a fascination for growing stuff. I walk, kayak and swim. In fact, it is only this year that I’ve ever found myself getting bored. I guess that’s because I now have large chunks of time to spare – those a wife once occupied. But I’m in kick myself up the arse mode at the moment, and this feeling of boredom stops right now.

This is why the next blog post will be about snake skin...

Monday, August 25, 2014

More Resolutions

So how much writing have I done lately? I’m ashamed to say not a lot at all. It’s not like I haven’t been active because, over the last few months, I’ve swum miles and kayaked miles and prior to that I walked for miles.

 
Now this seems to be a rather extreme version of that writerly cup of coffee – just another reason to get up from the desk and not do any writing. But as I’ve mentioned here before (I think) all this physical activity has been a way of shutting down my mind while writing, of course, tends make it a lot more active. So do I want to wake up now?
 

I think it’s time. As I write this it has been seven months since Caroline died. Certainly, that’s not been enough time for my mind to put itself back into order, but now I’m wondering if I should be proactive – force the issue, get back on the horse, slap myself into shape. The constant physical activity now seems a form of denial – a way of hiding from horrible reality. I have to impose some self-discipline.
 

Henceforth I am setting goals. A few weeks back I was again working through the second Penny Royal book – in a rather desultory way. I am now going work through 50 pages a day before I set out to knacker myself with kayaking and swimming. And I’m damned well going to write a blog for here at least every couple of days.

Yup, 50 pages done.     

Final Roof Repairs

Okay, this blog has been gathering cobwebs while its blogger has been AWOL. I’ve just had my niece Samantha and her boyfriend Dean staying here for three weeks, but I can’t blame them for the lack of posts here. Nuts as they are.

 
Anyway, what’s been happening? Well. A month or so back local builder Mikalis got round to sorting out the final leaking part of my roof.

 
The roof consists of three concrete slabs at different levels. The steps between these were over two-foot thick internal stone walls, but the slabs had not been overlapped or joined in any way. They expanded and contracted independently creating cracks and then interesting water features inside the house when it rained. Mikalis’s answer to this was to rip out the accumulation of crappy repairs, expose the steel in each roof, bind it together with an earthquake cage, put specialised sealants down the sides and re-concrete the whole thing.

 
Of course, once he started ripping things up he soon exposed other work that needed doing. This particular roof was slanted so it drained onto a neighbour’s roof which, besides not being very neighbourly, was probably illegal. The tiling was also crap – the tiles up high on blobs of tile cement so water could get underneath them through the slightest crack or hole, which it had done. I told him to rip up all the tiles and redo the lot.



 
Mikalis had to spread a layer of concrete across the roof to change the slant, and make a hole in the wall to take a drainpipe. After all the concrete had set he painted it with another sealant, then laid new tiles. The final result doesn’t look much different from how it was before, but hopefully next year I won’t come back to see where water has been running down or soaking into the wall underneath.

Friday, August 01, 2014

Flowers for Caroline


The summer before last I pulled out yet another dead climbing plant from the pot on our terrace. I can’t even remember what it was, so lacking in any redeeming qualities was it. Caroline and I then went to a garden centre in Ierapetra and talked to the Dutch lady running it. She came up with a plant right for the climate of Papagianades, that shed its leaves in the winter so wouldn’t require watering and produced beautiful flowers.
 

Last spring we watched it put out its first leaves of that year and spread up the trellis. But the thing flowered in August so we never got to see that, what with tumours and bowel cancer intervening. Now it is flowering.
 

So, here are the flowers Caroline never got to see. I’ll keep the plant, even though I feel sad and angry every time I look at it. But life moves inexorably on...

Ocean Frenzy

Um, I’m noticing how many of my posts now begin with something along the lines of ‘I was in a bar the other day...’ but what the hell? I was in The Rock bar the other day either after or before my usual ‘big swim’ (this is about three-quarters of a mile, topped off to a mile with a few additional smaller swims) and feeling a bit bored, peevish, whatever. I can’t keep swimming for hours on end and lying in the sun or drinking beer, though enjoyable, have limited entertainment value. Anyway, Chris – co-owner of The Rock and the guy who took me gorge walking – said, ‘Why don’t you take the kayak out?’

 
Pictures here are courtesy of Phil Toseland who, along with me, has the unfortunate honour of being a founder member of the Dead Wife’s Society. He too, a year before me, has been through the nightmare of watching his wife die.

 
Chris and I got the thing down and after an hour of getting the hang of it I realised I was having fun. I took it out a couple of times that day and certainly felt the effects. My neck and upper back were very stiff for a couple of days. Since then I’ve been taking it out two or three times a day, pushing further every time. I’ve rowed to the harbour, round the point to have a beer in the Stratos restaurant, to the point on the other side of Makrigialos bay, but haven’t yet ventured round that to Diaskari beach.

 
It can be said that I’ve travelled from Sitia to Ierapetra in the thing, just as I have with my swimming. When a Greek said to a tourist here that Chris swims between these two towns she was gob-smacked, until Chris’s wife Claire kindly pointed out that Makrigialos divided under the two authorities so what was being said was sort-of true.

 
I’ve also acted as a water taxi taking a friend called Pauline for a spin. I’ve learned how critical it is to keep the kayak pointed nose in when beaching it while the sea is rough. Getting flipped over and having the kayak bounce off my head didn’t hurt much, but I certainly lost a lot of poser points. I’ve also tried one Eskimo roll and I won’t be trying it again. This ocean kayak is far too stable both the right way up and upside down.    

 
Because of all this extra exercise I’m finding that my usual blasé attitude to food is fading. I need fuel and my body is not shy of informing me of this fact. Muscle development must have been rapid, especially since I’ve continued with the swimming too, and my weight is climbing. I guess this will come as a relief to those who were worried I was going to disappear at some point in a small implosion.

 In fact, I’ve been enjoying this so much I fully intend to buy one back in England and use it around the Essex coast and in the rivers there.  

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Year's Best Science Fiction 31.

 
In the new millennium, what secrets lay beyond the far reaches of the universe? What mysteries belie the truths we once held to be self evident? The world of science fiction has long been a porthole into the realities of tomorrow, blurring the line between life and art. Now, in The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Thirty-First Annual Collection the very best SF authors explore ideas of a new world in the year's best short stories. This venerable collection brings together award winning authors and masters of the field such as Robert Reed, Alastair Reynolds, Damien Broderick, Elizabeth Bear, Paul McAuley and John Barnes. And with an extensive recommended reading guide and a summation of the year in science fiction, this annual compilation has become the definitive must-read anthology for all science fiction fans and readers interested in breaking into the genre.
 
 
Some familiar names here in this just released collection. Check out the right hand side of the dust jacket. Then go and buy a copy!
 

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Aw Nuts

All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.

 
Insomnia again.
Where's my axe?
 

Saturday, July 05, 2014

A Blasted Heath


I was on the beach the other day when someone said, ‘Is there a fire up there?’ From the mountains, in a long swathe, the sky was stained umber. ‘Probably the power station,’ said someone else, and the matter dropped from my mind (The power station up the coast often spews out a filthy plume – probably when it’s ramping up output to compensate when the wind turbines have stopped ... because it’s too windy). 

 
On a following morning Tim phoned me from Armeni to check if everything was all right at Papagianades – if the fire had reached that far. He then described the Armageddon occurring in the mountains behind my house and to which I had been oblivious until then. Only after that phone call did I walk outside and notice the helicopters flying over to pick up tons of seawater to drop on this fire.

 
After hearing that the fire was out, I determined to go up and look, and take some pictures. I was especially concerned because the fire had burned across the areas I had been walking over during the previous months. The following morning turned out to be unseasonably cloudy, so good for a walk. I charged up my camera, found the bloody thing had decided to give up on me (the lens comes out then immediately goes back again – maybe a new battery required?) so picked up my Ipad and took that. The walk I took was a 6.5 mile circuit that sort of encompassed the fire. At no point, once I was outside of Papagianades, was the fire damage out of sight.  
 
 
On the way up to the top of the mountain about a mile behind my house. 

 
Higher still.

 
The view back towards Papagianades.

 
Up at the top. The wind turbines had been protected since they were surrounded by unburned growth. Chunks of melted fire hose scattered here and there were testament to the battle fought up here over a few days.

 
Some areas looking like those Var and Saul tramped through.

 
Burned out hill lying maybe two miles away from where I was standing.

 
View along the line of the turbines.

 
Towards Handras.


 
Must do a compare and contrast with this picture. Earlier in this blog you'll find exactly the same view, though in the Spring...


 
A couple along the line of the turbines again.

 
Burnt out slopes on the way down to Handras.

 
Slightly sick looking olive grove. Not sure how far beyond what you see here the fire went. It might have gone on for miles more.

 
Looking back towards the mountains from Handras.

 
Fire tenders in Handras.

 
One of the many sentinel tenders parked all around the fire. Apparently they stay in the area for days just in case the fire flares up again.