Ants and Stoves

Friday 20th April

Penny Royal stands at 82750 words so I’m steadily climbing back to the point I’d reached before excising all that stuff about Tuppence. Again I’d hit a wall and that point where Raymond Chandler would walk in someone carrying a gun. And, as always happens, the answer when it came to me seemed blatantly obvious, almost preordained. In this case the man with a gun has been supplanted by a vengeful prador Father-Captain in a wartime dreadnought because, in the end, Penny Royal did not just have dealings with human beings.

I just watched a delightful BBC news report about acid attacks in Pakistan on women. Of course the ‘I’ and ‘M’ words weren’t mentioned. Obviously, a fundamentalism that consigns women to second-class status and considers rape a viable response to them not walking about draped like Daleks under dust sheets, and considers stoning them to death a viable response to them being raped, has no effect on the attitude behind these attacks.

Sunday 22nd April
A guy called Dimitrios delivered our wood yesterday. He spoke pretty good English and along with my broken Greek we had a chat as we unloaded the wood from the back of his truck. He’s a prime example to dispel the myth of Greeks who don’t work hard enough. It’s a given that he’s chopping up wood and selling it to make a buck, but other things arose during the conversation. At one point he must have thought I was tiring and suggested I take a rest. Affronted I said in Greek, ‘I’m not old!’ This led in to some talk about his 50 year-old mother. Apparently they have something like a thousand olive trees and just he and her harvested their olives this autumn and winter. Now, I’ve done this job with a few other people on maybe twenty or thirty trees and, believe me, it took a week and was thoroughly knackering. Enquiring then about more wood I learned that he has a limited time to cut some, first because the fire season is starting so he cannot burn off the scrub and branches that are the inevitable result of pruning or cutting down trees, and secondly because he’s returning to his summer job at the Mikropoli hotel. There he will be working 15 hours a day because he’ll be doing the jobs of two people, for less money, and with the hotel owing him €3000 from last year. That, then, is the reality for a lot of Greeks now.

And another myth to dismiss: if you read any tourist publications about Crete you will learn that, apparently ‘cats are cool’ or that ‘Cretans love cats’. This is total bollocks. Most Greeks don’t like animals unless they can be used to hunt things or be eaten. If you see the cute cats down in the coastal bars you must be aware that they are only there for you, because the Greeks know that a lot of Europeans are soppy about animals. Next year there will be different cats because the ones you saw the year before were abandoned during the winter to starve or be poisoned or shot. Here in the village a local guy doesn’t like them shitting in his garden so he’s out on his balcony in the evening with an air rifle. Almost certainly he is the reason why it is a rarity for us to see any of the cats we saw last year. Now some local kids join him there to take part in the fun. Caroline saw one of those kids snap off a shot at one of the cats she was feeding, and now thinks it is probably dead.
(Update: he missed)

But really, one has to be realistic about this stuff. The cats are wild and they are fertile so is it a great idea to feed an animal that can produce two or more litters of kittens a year? You only have to do the math: a healthy male and female here can result in eight more cats by the end of the year. If half of those were female, then by the end of the following year the total would be 52 cats. If everyone was a kind-hearted cat-feeder here, this village would be overrun with thousands of them, every garden a cat litter, and many of them would be quite hungry enough to take on the local chickens. And really, the cats only love you because you provide dinner, and sometimes it is difficult to accept foreign definitions of vermin.

Monday 23rd April
We brought the Wii here with us from England have continued dancing for half an hour every day. This, on top of being a lot more physically active than I am there, has taken my weight down to 13 stone (on average – it was 12st 10lb this morning). I’ve also had to punch some more holes in my belt and 32 inch waist jeans would drop to a teenager-fashionable level without a belt.

Curious about how this related to my BMI I did a few calculations. If I wanted to have a BMI right in the middle of that 18.5 to 24.9 my weight would have to drop to 10st 11lb. This seems crazy to me – at that weight people would be offering to buy me something to eat. I would probably need 28 inch jeans and generally a whole new wardrobe. I then calculated for the top of the index at 24.9 and got 12st 0.7lb. This seems wrong too – through weight training and the like I carry a bit of muscle so surely that normal BMI is wrong for me. Then again, am I kidding myself? Have I been too much influenced by the opinions of those around me, most of whom who are overweight and in a bit of denial about it?

Whatever, I’ll continue aiming for my own particular index – call it the clothing index. If I am conscious of a gut and love-handles while I have my t-shirt tucked in then I’m still overweight. If I still feel the need to get out of jeans in the evening and into loose tracksuit bottoms or, as we call them round here, comfy trousers, I need to be a bit active and a bit less piggy. I’m close to being in that index now, so maybe 12st 7lb…

Tuesday 24th April
Wonderful day the day before yesterday. First we had flying ants coming out of the living room ceiling so I had to spray insecticide about and of course plenty of clearing up ensued. Later I stripped off the outer leaves of some lengths of bamboo I acquired, bagged them up and shoved them in the stove to get the fire going in the evening, since it still gets fairly cold here when the sun goes down. I lit up the stove but it just struggled – smouldering and igniting intermittently and blowing smoke out inside the house. We had to abandon house a few times and I spent time waving about large plastic blanket container to try and drive the smoke out. In the end, after one of the door glasses cracked, either because of a falling log or because of a vacuum created in the stove, I gave up.

Surely the stove pipes couldn’t be blocked since I’d run a brush through them recently (one I bought in England and had fun bending the rods to fit it in my suitcase since I haven’t been able to find one here). Was it because the evening was so still, because the bamboo was damper than it appeared, does bamboo simply not burn too well? The next day I ran the brush down the chimney and through the pipe running across the ceiling, loaded the stove with dry wood and paper and tried again. Not so much smoke this time. The stove simply kept going out and even firelighters wouldn’t burn. I was baffled. Maybe the pipe rising up from the stove, the one that never gets blocked, was blocked this time? I banged this a few times and listened to crap dropping out of it. I lit the fire about five times, banging the pipe every time. On the last occasion, and when I was about to give up, the fire flared into life and burned beautifully. Lesson learned then: never make assumptions about that last damned pipe!

Going back to that living room ceiling… It is original on the inside and very old: beams supporting bamboo, a layer of reeds then mud on top of that, which is just how roofs were here before concrete arrived. However, on top of that now is reinforced concrete and then tiles. I would guess that it is about two feet thick and I am certain that the ants must be living in that layer of mud. I’ve now decided I must finish a job I started five years ago. I began filling between the lengths of bamboo because I was informed that scorpions might be living up there and occasionally dropping on our heads. No sign of them, but the thing always sheds dust and if ants are now living in there I want to seal it off.

A few shots here of Sitia market here. There are about thirty stall like this loaded with local fruit and veg. In the second picture here the red net bags at the front contain snails.

Wednesday 25th April
After removing 18,000 words from the Penny Royal book a couple of weeks ago and reducing it to 70,000 words I’ve now managed to bring it back up to 88,000 words again. The prador Father-Captain slots in much more logically and story threads are sprouting from him like growths from a crystal dropped into a chemical garden (I’m trying to remember the chemicals used … the solution was egg-preserver as I recollect?). I will have to keep control of those threads, though of course the sheer nastiness of prador society and politics has its attractions and there’s still plenty of world-building to do concerning them.

It looks like it’s going to be a hot one today. The temperature was up to 19.2C at 9.00AM and the overall temperature for Crete is predicted to be 28C. The timing of this is pretty good since the Cabbiano (or Gabbiano depending on whether you take the spelling from their sign of their napkins) is opening today and we’re heading down there for a meal. I’ll be having paithachia meh skortho (garlic lamb chops) which became a particular favourite of mine last year.

Thursday 26th April
We popped over to a village called Agia Triada yesterday – beautiful displays of flowers:

Last year, the son of Yorgos – one of the brothers who run the Cabbiano – crashed his bike and broke his back. He had various operations here but, from the break downwards (it was in his upper back) he was paralysed. Last night we asked how things were with him and discovered that while work had been done on his back here it hadn’t been straightened up properly. As far as I could gather, two vertebrae, or two parts of a broken vertebrae weren’t lined up and where pinching the spinal cord. As far as I could work out further, the doctors concerned here were not doing their job properly. Stelios, another of the brothers, has a Bulgarian wife who organized for the boy to go to a private hospital in Bulgaria. There he was operated on in a private hospital, said operation involving a bone-graft. Within two weeks of that feeling was returning to the boy’s lower body and upper legs and there has been a steady improvement since. If he had not had the operation when he did he would have remained paralysed. The operation and aftercare in Bulgaria cost a total of €10,000. A similar private operation here would have cost €80,000. Greece has its version of the NHS. Considering the state Greece is in at the moment I leave you to draw your own conclusions.

Fuck, flying ants coming out of another part of the ceiling right now.

Note to idiot BBC presenter: Chernobyl didn’t ‘explode’, it caught fire. Tosser.

I tried to take night shots with the camera last night because the entire valley in front of our house had filled with cloud. Most of them were unsuccessful, but these two are sort of okay.

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