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.

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Mr Brick-in-Sock

I’ve had quite an odd day today. Mr Insomnia’s opposite Mr Brick-in-Sock visited me last night and cold-cocked me for eight hours. I then got up and had a large breakfast whereupon he crept up behind me and knocked me out again for a further two hours. I felt absolutely knackered. I guess this was payback for lack of sleep and miles of swimming over the last few weeks. However, by midday I was starting to come around and started working on the copy editor’s notes and queries for Dark Intelligence.

This, for some reason, I found quite difficult, so diverted myself by cleaning my house. It was about time. Though I’m quite neat when it comes to putting things away and washing up etc, I have been neglecting the dusting and mopping. Next, at about 3.00PM, I felt hungry again so made some sandwiches. Obviously, this was Mr Brick-in-Sock’s cue to pay a visit again because after eating I collapsed for a further hour.

Now I’ve finished off the replies to the copy editor, done some ironing, swept up outside and am now wondering what to do with myself. It’s time, I guess, to get back to working through the next Transformation book: Factory Station Room 101 (working title until my editor tells me its too long, or something). Somewhere, in one of the notepads on this desk, I wrote down the page number I’d reached...     

Friday, June 27, 2014

The Body Demands

Jolly good, Mr Insomnia has paid a visit again and tipped me out of bed after 3.5 hours sleep, and his visit, combined with a house temperature of 27.5C, means that’s my lot for tonight. I will, therefore, write a waffly blog post. But where to begin?

I mentioned a few posts back how after walking a silly distance with the sweat pouring out, my body later responded with painful leg cramps and a subsequent demand for very salty food. Today I had a similar experience with my body registering its objection to how I’ve been treating it.

I’ve been walking for miles and swimming for miles and I haven’t been eating much. Now I was saying that I put myself on a diet because I wanted to lose weight, and because after fighting a losing battle over most of a year, losing weight was a battle I could win. However, it is not as simple as that. Spending many months in close proximity with someone dying of bowel cancer can fundamentally change your relationship with food, believe me. I have to admit that I don’t like it very much now. It’s fuel; something I must ingest if I am to continue functioning.

So, where was I? The day before yesterday I walked a silly distance in a silly temperature then followed that up with a couple of long swims. I must have burned many calories, while my intake, including beer and the two gyros I forced myself to eat, was about 2000, maybe 2500. Apparently, according to an online calculator, my BMR (basal metabolic rate i.e. how much my body burns while at rest) is 1641 calories while to maintain my present activity I need to consume 1476 so in total 3117. As you can see there’s a deficit, and this was on a day I forced myself to eat extra. On other days I have been just as active and eaten much less.

Yesterday morning, in an attempt to stop myself turning into a complete raggety arse, I made myself breakfast. I had three boiled eggs and toast. I didn’t go for a long walk (with the temperature at its present level I think that’s over until Autumn) but I did swim a distance of about three-quarters of a mile (I must check this on Google Earth). Then in the evening, I decided to take a walk over to a restaurant called Stratos and have a meal there. 

I ate a pork shank with rice, vegetables and garlic bread and afterwards sat there feeling like I’d just had a light snack. I said I was still hungry and the chef, Van, suggested barbecued ribs. I agreed thinking this would just be a small plate of ribs. Another meal arrived of a rack of ribs in hot sauce with chips and vegetables. I ate that as well, polished off all but one piece of the garlic bread and ate all the complimentary watermelon too. At this point, at any time in the last twenty years, I would have been feeling tired and perhaps a bit sick, while in the last ten years my gut would have been bulging over my trousers and I would have been burping acid. As it was, I felt more alert, stronger, and was baffled about where the food had gone.

My body had obviously been crying out for the missing calories my fucked-up mind has been denying it. And, I guess, at some point during today, it’ll demand the sleep that’s been denied by the same malfunctioning organ.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Butterfly Gorge

This Wednesday’s walk was up Butterfly Gorge and we were aiming for the second church up near a place called Orino, after which we would either walk all the way back down again, or walk a further two kilometres  to the road and call for a lift back down. I’d already heard that it was going to be hot on this day and as Chris, Brian, Kostas and I set out through Koutsouras Park I was already broiling.

This wasn’t a great walk. Yes, there’s beautiful scenery and interesting stuff to see, but a number of factors killed the pleasure for me and the others.

There’s a lot of growth in the gorge which would have been fine if we were walking in the winter. As it was we were in shorts and after stomping through low thorny growths, occasionally going off-piste to end up in Livingstone territory, and pushing through bushes and bamboo to try to locate the trail, there was not one of us who wasn’t leaking the red stuff.

Add in a steadily climbing temperature, my hangover and general bad temper, and this wasn’t a great walk for me. I couldn’t even shed my shirt because of the protection it offered from surrounding growth or, for the same reason, my sunglasses when we were tramping through gloomy areas. Even Brian, ex Royal Navy and ex Glasgow riot cop, was flagging by the time we reached the first church. I think being speared in the back and nearly through his ear by the rough end of a bamboo didn’t do his demeanour any favours either.

From the first church we tramped onwards, but no one was having any fun, especially when we kept losing the trail. Also, the next stage of the walk was in the open and partially mountain climbing, while we were running out of water and it was very hot. We turned back ... except for Mad Dog Kostas who decided he was going to go all the way to the top and try to catch a lift down on the road.

On the way down, and after I nearly keeled over with a dizzy spell, I knew we’d made the right decision, though there was some guilt about allowing Kostas to continue by himself (this started as a walk in the park but certainly wasn’t one later, and such walks can be dangerous). Back down in a bar in Koutsouras Chris remained in contact with Kostas and, as he reached the top of gorge some twenty minutes after we reached the bottom, we set out to pick him up.

As we drove back to Makrigialos the temperature was such that if you put your arm out the window it was like putting in front of a fan heater.

After cooling down a bit in The Rock, with a beer, I looked at the flat calm sea and knew that despite being knackered I had to have a big swim. I did my usual route: to the harbour back along the buoys to the point where the jet skis go in then back to the beach (maybe three-quarters of a mile or a mile). Kostas was there, and is a good swimmer, so I suggested we have a bit of a race around the same circuit at some point. He was a bit blasé about the idea whereupon I made the mistake of making chicken sounds. He went off after his swim and I crashed on the beach. An hour or so later I heard a voice behind me, ‘Hey, poseur.’ Oops.While I had been expecting some race in a day or so he was all, ‘Let’s do it now.’ What the hell.

We raced around the circuit again, the winner the one who touched a Carlsberg sign on the beach first. I started off pulling ahead a little but then he accelerated. By the time we reached the harbour he was twenty feet ahead. Later, so he tells me, he saw someone swimming to shore and thought it was me giving up. As it was, I was on the other side of him. Still, he reached the shore about 30 feet ahead of me, sauntered up the beach with a big grin on his face and touched the sign. In my favour I have to point out that I was four beers ahead of him, and am 15 years older...

Next time.

Oh, and in the gorge I only saw one butterfly, so I don’t know what that’s all about.