A Little Stroll

Some may wonder if I’m staying on Crete to avoid the dreaded coronavirus, but I’m not. I thought about where I would prefer to spend the next interminable lockdown and, on Crete, I figured I had beautiful mountains to walk in, bars to go to where I can sit outside in the sunshine and the Libyan Sea to kayak on. It also being so long since I spent a winter here, I wanted to see what it was like and nail down any problems in the house (as per the previous post) . As it turns out, the lockdown here is worse than in the UK. All the bars and restaurants have been closed. I have to send a text every time I go out. And masks must be worn everywhere outside the house except when alone in your car or when doing exercise. Still, I have been managing to kayak (since that’s exercise) and was even out on the sea on the 10th of January. The walking has been good too. Here are some pictures along a route I generally take.

Setting out from my house. Left of the gate my lemon tree. Bare fig tree (lovely black figs) on the right, then after that an Agnus Castus. I grew it from a single peppercorn picked up in another village. It’s other name is Monk’s Pepper. The peppercorns it produces taste just like the real thing but, apparently they have a male softening effect hence, presumably, monks using them. Kazani (where they make the raki) on the right under that tin roof.

View across Papagiannades to my left. Same view really as from my front terrace.

Up past my car to hit the road.

They have other lockdown madness here that is puritanical and obviously rolled out by some tight arsed bureaucrat. I learned that maybe I was being a naughty boy taking exercise at a distance from my house, but I’ve spoken about that in a previous post. When I first went out kayaking, there were fishermen along the coast – just one or two. They disappeared and I learned that fishing is not allowed under lockdown i.e. a guy drives down to the coast, sits alone catching fish, and this is a COVID DANGER.

The view once I turned the corner at the top of the road onto the paths. Not very clear on this day. Often you can see Sitia, the sea and an island off the coast as clear as glass.

A recent diversion to the path. After this huge bugger came down they just started driving round it. Would take a bulldozer to move it.

Agois Yorgos (Saint George’s)

Another one is the stuff that is closed and that which is not. All over the peripteros are open and the main product they sell is cigarettes. Yet, in Sitia, the two vape shops are closed. Because isn’t it a great idea when locking down against a respiratory virus for everyone to obtain cigarettes but not the means to stop smoking?

Many of the olive trees have been stripped out now and the olive oil factories belching steam. I still see nets on the ground and hear the sound of the machines they use to bring down the olives – rather like long-handled strimmers but with the plastic thread protruding from a spinning bar.

Those yellow flowers everywhere (the invasive weed in my garden – oxalis) and this is early January. Wait until the Spring.

And another little nugget: because of coronavirus the buses have been stopped. This means that lots of old people (who the lockdowns are supposed to protect) in the villages cannot get to town for shopping, or the doctor, unless they get a taxi at 20 Euros each way. Of course they can’t share the cost of a taxi because, you guessed it, coronavirus – only one passenger at a time. Anyway, they might not be able to eat, get medication or pay their power bills for heating, but they’ll be safe from the virus. 

Excellent little valley. Earlier I saw bushes with white flowers on them down there and wonder if they were oregano. It would certainly be an interesting adventure trying to find out.

Interesting, isn’t it, but once you look past Greece as a sunny holiday destination, you start to realise it is more authoritarian than the UK, laced through with socialist bureaucratic idiocies. It’s also caught in a bit of a unionised time warp that shows up in the thinking e.g. only an electrician can do electrics and only a plumber can do pipe-work. Tad antediluvian.

These little churches are all over the place. Sometimes they are memorials to someone who died in an accident (quite often at the side of the road). Sometimes they mark village boundaries. Other times they are just because someone thought, I’m going to put a little church here.

Love the gnarly old olive trees.

On the road back from Armeni now. I do enjoy this stretch. I guess because it’s mostly downhill!

Anyway, that’s enough ranting about lockdown in this post. You can see by the pictures here that despite the silly rules it’s a lovely place to be. I think I’ve been lucky too as thus far it has been a very mild winter. I’m constantly amazed to be sitting out in January to drink a cup of coffee, or walking in just a T-shirt and jeans and wondering if I should have worn shorts.

The remains of one of their water pumping windmills here, which can be found all over. They used to have canvas in them to catch the wind.


Prickly Pear. I learned to my cost that you handle the fruit with gloves and a great deal of care. The spines are minescule and can leave your hands itching and painful for days.

These are popping up all over the place. A little research tells me they areoing a little research I think they are poppy anemone ‘coronaria’. They come bright red in the spring, lavender pink and white through the summer and, apparently, purple right now. There are masses of them up on top of the mountains I’ll be taking pictures of tomorrow, if it isn’t pissing down.

Etia – Venetian house, village and churches. Apparently you can buy a house there but it must be renovated in the original style. Whether that means without power and running water I have no idea.



And on home to the village. This is an 8km walk (5 miles) and takes me abuot an hour and a half. Perfect way to wake up in the mornings!

Crete House in Winter

I can’t remember the precise date, maybe 2007 – more than ten years ago now – when I first spent a winter on Crete. The house was cold and damp then and it took Caroline and I a while to get a stove installed. Memories of that time arise. The roof was in three parts with the edges terminating over two-foot thick walls but not overlapping. Some attempt had been made to fill the gaps but, with expansion and contraction it hadn’t worked. We had water pouring in when it rained and running along the beams and the sound of water dripping in buckets all night. On New Year’s Eve we drove down to Makrigialos in a monsoon that didn’t let up for ten hours. After that celebration the drive back was very slow, rubble all across the roads along with the occasional car-killer boulder. In the house we found the bedroom flooded with a little waterfall pouring over the step into the kitchen. Cosy times. Drunken slumber killed the cold but did not impart sufficient unconsciousness for me not to hear the thud of a scorpion dropping on my pillow. They like the damp, see.

By and by the faults in the house have been corrected. It seemed it was going to be that kind of year what with my laptop going wrong and then the cooker.


I had a couple of niggling leaks this year I’ve dealt with. Way back when we thought the solution to the roof problem was tiles. It wasn’t and, laid in places on uneven surfaces with blobs of tile cement, they have gaps underneath. The water got into them and then down the sides of roof windows I had installed. But now I’ve corrected that (just one of those I dealt with here).

 The stove pumps out heat burning olive wood (100+ Euros for a pickup truck full) and other wood I’ve collected.


But, it is noticeable that throughout the house the temperature can vary by as much as five degrees and, as the stove goes out during the night, the cold comes back. This is to be expected in a stone house with concrete ceilings and tile floors, and no insulation. It’s not too bad – maybe down to 16 or 17C sometimes – but being a Southern softy with instant gas central heating in the UK, I really notice it, just as I notice the lack of carpeted floors. So, this winter I decided to get central heating installed. There is no piped gas here and if I bought either gas or oil central heating I wonder how the hell it would be delivered (can’t get a vehicle near my house). Anyway, Stelios at the Gabbiano restaurant suggested heat-pump heating. This basically extracts heat from the air in the same way that a fridge works and transfers it into the house radiators. I liked that idea, since sometimes it is possible to sunbathe on the roof but be shivering inside. So I went for it.

Here’s the heat pump. Huge thing weighing 200kg.




Radiators throughout.


I asked his name when he set to work but didn’t take it in. When I asked him again later he told me, ‘Vlad, like Dracula’. Many jokes to be made about a vampire plumber doing the pipework in your house.


Problems here going through a stone wall 2ft thick.

Vlad and the boss – Manolis rousakis.

It has taken me a while to get used to this heating. It is not instant, like gas or oil, and running the stove seemed to put its nose out of joint so it won’t come on until prodded to do so. The parameters for it starting up are wide. It’s climate change technology so works in that respect by dint of hiding the bullshit in the error bars, just like wind turbines etc. However, it’s in now and, even though requiring the occasional prod, is keeping the house warm throughout. I am not, however, looking forward to my next power bill, since the municipality here collects tax through your heating bill. Not only does the amount you pay go up when you use more kilowatt hours, but that tax goes up too. I guess they’re working on the principle that if you can afford not to be cold you can afford to throw money their way too.

Other work has been all the shutters around my house. I knew some of them had woodworm but, when I started investigating, I found that most of them had some woodworm or rot. The pictures here are of just a couple of them. Out of eight shutters I had to do surgery on six. All of them I took off and repainted, also rubbing down and painting the metalwork. This kept me nicely occupied for a good few weeks!




 

Okay, that’s a start. More blogging to follow!

Lockdown Thoughts (November)

Here are a few bits I wrote down in November when I didn’t have the internet. As you can see, they are a bit pessimistic and annoyed in tone. I’ve got better. Honest.

6/11/20

My Polity books are essentially optimistic. Yes, shit happens – there would be no story to tell if it didn’t – but mostly on the borders of a huge utopian realm. The people of the Polity are healthy, can potentially live forever, can radically alter their bodies and can transfer their minds. They live as near as is possible to a post-scarcity society (post-scarcity is impossible because what would really happen is a transference of value). But I fear that the real future is going to be more like the dystopia of the ‘Owner’ universe books: rigidly controlled populations – totalitarianism – total suppressing of freedom up to and including that of thought, scarcity created by collectivist ideology and huge parasitic bureaucracies red-taping everything. The reason this will come about is that there are, now, too many sheep who want to be told what to do, and too many authoritarians who want to do the telling. The historically illiterate vastly outnumber those who would point out the lessons of history. Too many respond with panic and demands for ‘safety’ from things raised and exacerbated by the media (and which would hardly affect them at all). And in their demands for safety they throw away their freedom, just as Benjamin Franklin pointed out. I see things increasingly falling under the dead hand of precautionary-principle regulation, and resources so controlled, that unnecessary scarcity is created. So look forward to the time when you must text your local political officer to find out when you can put the kettle on, or take a shit. Look forward to the re-education camps . . . in fact, they are already here in the form of ‘diversity training’ for those in the public sector or large companies who have said something ‘offensive’. Look forward to your locked down future.

 

7/11/20

Have you noticed how the bansturbators are out in force during this lockdown? They delight in shutting stuff down – and people. This is a rosy time for authoritarians. Noticeable too is the thoroughly Puritan ethos about it all. Most of what is being stopped is a source of pleasure. Enjoyment is obviously non-essential in the strict running of the world. Quite a sad reflection on our society, that.

 

8/11/20

It’s been noted that it seems younger people are more scared of coronavirus than the older. But I wonder if that’s true or that in reality it’s just a function of ‘time’. If you are thirty-something you can afford weeks, months or even years of this lockdown bullshit. But if you are 70 or 80 (or whatever) you know your time is about done and you could drop dead at any time. You don’t want to spend the time you have remaining sitting in your house twiddling your thumbs. You want to see your kin – preferable without half their faces covered. You want to get out and about and do stuff! And, of course, at that age you have seen plenty of panic before: the ozone hole was going to give you cancer, an Ice Age was coming and then, if you didn’t put your sherry bottles in the correct recycling bag, the planet was going to burn, Y2K was going to crash all the computers in the world, acid rain was going to kill all the forests, DDT was going to kill all the birds etc ad nauseum.

 

12/11.20

Today I was told that 40 people died of coronavirus in Greece. Besides the fact that ‘of’ is negotiable and is usually ‘with’, and despite the fact that Covid-19 is going down on death certificates when it shouldn’t, I have to wonder about some other things this brings to light. It seems that people are unaware of how many people are dying anyway, all the time, in populations of 10s of millions. They are then, therefore, shocked by the media hysteria of ’40 people dead’ (40 people in Greece is 0.00036% of the population). I guess that part of the problem here is that ‘dying’ is a subject always avoided while the process is so often hidden from view. In that respect, other things occur: when part of my living wage came from cutting grass I worked at a few ‘total care homes’. These places were full of the senile and the very old and sick – people whose lives were hanging by a thread. And these, judging by the average age of death figures across the world, are who are dying. Of course the media will scream when someone young dies, and neglect to mention the other condition or conditions that person had. But I digress: there are thousands of such homes all across the UK, all with an exit door that leads to hospital or an undertaker’s van. In a similar respect I now remember (of course) Caroline’s cremation. The job was done in under an hour and the next cremation queued up. This was one crematorium of 3 or 4 in the same place – all with their chimneys chugging out smoke like a snapshot of Auschwitz. And of course, just as with the care homes, there are thousands of such places all across the UK, all rendering down death and grief into cardboard boxes to be collected at their High Street branch.

 

13/11/20

I completed a 34,000 word novella today and wonder if there’ll be a Lockdown Tales II (I hope not). I am also continuing with my kayaking – weather permitting – and walking, while wondering if some officious bureaucrat, looking pale and sickly out of his office and clad in a high viz jacket, will to tell me ‘it’s against the rules’. Yes, they have the Covid Stasi here too. I will of course have point out that my chances of catching or spreading coronavirus are rather remote 100 metres or more off shore or while schlepping through the mountains. But apparently one must ‘exercise’ locally or just a short commute away from home. Of course I can go 15Km to either Sitia or Makrigialos for shopping, amidst loads of people, and that is fine. I’m pondering on the idea, should this happen, of pointing out that in another age the high viz jacket would have been an armband, but expect it would fall on deaf ears. Meanwhile, walking in the mountains, I pass a monument to a Cretan school teacher who was part of the Cretan Resistance. He was captured by the Nazis, tortured and then buried alive. I wonder what he would have thought about all this. The Benjamin Franklin quote ‘He who would sell essential liberty to purchase a little safety deserves neither liberty nor safety’ is apposite in this time. Millions have fought and died to give us the freedoms we have, until lately, enjoyed. And now they are being thrown away in an extended fit of hysterical fear.

 

14/11/20

When mentioning that the wetsuit I had bought was too tight, someone pointed out that well, men of a certain age get thicker about the waist. The reality is that no, my waist size and weight are down and the reason it didn’t fit was because over a thousand kilometres of kayaking since July has had its effect on my upper body and biceps. But generally these ‘you are of a certain age’ comments boil my piss. No, you get thick around the waist because you don’t exercise enough and eat too many pies. Seriously, I haven’t seen a single Greek shepherd up in the mountains sporting a pot belly. Y’know, maybe walking some miles rather than sprawling in front of the telly has an effect too? Another annoyance is this ‘slow down’ or ‘be careful, Neal’. Those are precisely the things you can do if want to turn into a sedentary slug at ‘a certain age. Those are the things that lead to fat bastard metabolic syndrome. So fuck off. I do more both physically and mentally than most people half my age and I will continue to do so until something breaks. How many times does it have to be said that you’re a long time dead?

Brother Berserker – Fred Saberhagen

Excellent book. Implacable machines, time travel, Foucault’s Pendulum. . . The anachronisms were few in this or I simply did not notice them. And by that I mean the look of the ‘modern’ technology and the behaviour of the people. There were of course anachronisms all the way through what berserkers and ‘modern’ humans travelling into the past. Reading this I have to wonder if it’s a book James Cameron read in the past because, well, metal skeletons and the change in the last berserker.

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Hothouse – Brian Aldiss

I tried as hard with this but in the end abandoned it three-quarters of the way through. The hothouse world was interesting, weird and a bit of a fever dream, but the story weak. The aimless rambling of the characters made for an aimless, rambling book, and it is also difficult to care about characters when they range from stupid to plain ridiculous, like the ‘tummy-belly men’. There was also a bit too much of the non-invisible author obviously searching to fill up pages with the next sparkly thing, then abandoning it. It all felt contrived and ‘arty’, as if asking me to acknowledge the statements and observations being made as clever, or amusing, and they weren’t. I went from enjoyment at the start through to boredom then irritation reading this. Very little in the way of remembered reading pleasure here.

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London Centric

Militant A.I.s, virtual realities, augmented realities and alternative realities; a city where murderers stalk the streets, where drug lords rule the shadows, and where large sections of the population are locked in time stasis, but where tea is still sipped in cafés on the corner and the past still resonates with the future…
Neal Asher opens the anthology with a story set in his Polity Universe, Dave Hutchinson gives us a novelette from his Fractured Universe milieu, Jeremy Szal takes us to the world of his debut novel Stormblood, M.R. Carey, Aliette de Bodard, Geoff Ryman, Aliya Whiteley and a cast of equally talented writers transport us to Londons near and far…

Contents:
1. Introduction by Ian Whates
2. Skin – Neal Asher
3. The Good Shepherd – Stewart Hotston
4. Infinite Tea in the Demara Café – Ida Keogh
5. War Crimes – M.R. Carey
6. Fog and Pearls at the King’s Cross Junction – Aliya Whiteley
7. Nightingale Floors – Dave Hutchinson
8. Something Went Wrong in Heaven – Geoff Ryman
9. A Visit in Whitechapel – Eugen Bacon
10. Herd Instinct – Fiona Moore
11. Death Aid – Joseph Elliott-Coleman
12. A Dance of Dust and Life – Aliette de Bodard
13. Commute – Andrew Wallace
14. Scream in Blue – Jeremy Szal
15. About the Authors
Available as an A5 paperback and a numbered limited edition hardback signed by all the contributing authors.

Antique Futures

As I mentioned in a previous post, in seeking not to get wound up in the toxicity on social media lately, I’ve been looking elsewhere. There’s not been much new on the TV that interests me and for some years now I’ve been struggling to read books. Either I’m jaded or I write so much that my editing head is perpetually on. But I made an effort to get back into it and have found myself reading a lot of old SF just lately. Maybe a touch of nostalgia is an antidote to present craziness – an attempt to seek of an old escape route. Interestingly, since posting about those books (on the social media, hah! And here) I’ve seen that a lot of others are doing the same. For the same reason or were they already doing so, I wonder.

In the past I’ve found myself giving up on old SF because of the anachronisms, but this time that isn’t the case. Now I can shrug off when the scientist uses a slide-rule, and when the planetary map-maker puts film in his camera and is shuffling about photographs on a table, while pictures are difficult to take. The depiction of Venus as either a paradise or a sweaty jungle planet and Mars as a hot desert world with breathable air and canals just raises a smile. And the fact that ‘nuclear’ means abracadabra and technology like magic only makes me nod my head at how it has only been supplanted by ‘quantum’ and ‘nano’ nowadays.

Whatever impelled me to read such books again is debatable, but I have an idea as to why I have managed to continue with them. They are on the whole well written. Maybe a reason for that is the filter process they went through in their creation. They were probably written first with a pen with numerous corrections made and then, moving on to the typewriter, a great deal of thought and care must have been deployed since errors and corrections would have involved Typex and actual cutting and pasting. Not for these writers he easy word searches, replacements, deletions and shifting of chunks of text. And then, with the typescript in the hands of a publisher and no electronic file to easily shift about, the editing process must have been just as meticulous.

But still, after all that and for me, there will be the anachronisms, the utter failure to predict our digital age, in some cases complete misunderstanding of distances in space, the rush to find a telephone box to warn that the rubber-head aliens are attacking. Also too are the failures to predict social change, where the heroine is just there as love interest and to be saved, where the hero lights up a Marlborough before doing so. And even I find myself wincing at some of the stuff in them that would have your average SJW fitting on the floor with foam at the corners of the mouth.

I guess it the case that such ‘errors’ I find more glaring the more modern a book is, but these books have been, on the whole, well over fifty years old. As such, this puts them not only at a temporal distance from our present age when written, but they have also moved aside in another way. They are so distant and unrelated I find myself reading them like fantasy. It doesn’t matter that they are wrong because they are simply not set in our world with our rules. They are a bit like steampunk, alternative histories and that sort of thing, which generally I don’t like – perhaps I forgive that because of the reading pleasure they gave me decades ago.  They have shifted off the main timeline and down the probability slope into a parallel world, for they are ‘antique futures’.

But I have to be careful not to allow myself any feelings of superior, 20×20 hindsight. While answering a question about my latest book, Jack Four – about where it fits in the Polity timeline – it occurred to me that my early books are steadily drifting into the above territory now. As I described it: the early books are William Shatner Star Trek, while the later ones are like the series Picard. In retrospect the gap is not that wide, more like Star Trek Generations to Picard. But nevertheless, things have changed, our present science has advanced and, since I read a lot of that, what I can be extrapolate from it, is changing day by day. A perfect illustration of that is how, on a couple of occasions, I have had to alter a book while writing it because I read some science that already made what I wrote dated, or about to be dropped into the well of history. I have changed too.

People ask me when I’m going to write a book about the Quiet War or the Prador/Human War and I generally just shrug about that and reply, ‘Not at the minute, because I’m writing this’. One of the reasons not to do the former is the excellent title ‘The Quiet War’ has already been taken, but that’s beside the point. In the end it is because I’ll be going back, I’ll be winding the clock back and I will be, to bring confusing bookish time travel metaphor into his, going back to an antique future . . . or at least a second hand, one careful owner variety.

It is well to remember that Gridlinked recently had its 20th birthday. There are people reading it now, in fact people who read it quite some years ago, who weren’t even born when I wrote it. It still stands up, if my recollection is correct, and hopefully will do so for another decade at least. But nothing dates quite so fast as science fiction and, it is quite evident, we are on an exponential curve of technological advance, which means it’s going to date faster. I can but hope that in fifty or more years a reader will enjoy it with a wry smile, then put it aside before . . . doing whatever it is they will do then.

Mission of Gravity – Hal Clement

The usual caveats apply here for SF first published in 1954. Cameras with film in them, laying out prints to form maps of the surface of a world etc. The digital, computer, internet age sat firmly in a future not imagined by SF writers then. Nevertheless a wonderfully visualised alien world, characters one cared about, albeit the main ones being hydrogen-breathing caterpillars, with pincers, living on a world whose gravity varied from 3g to 700g, and a stonking good tale too. Very enjoyable.

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Slaves of the Klau – Jack Vance

Heh. Old SF that brings home that often what is imagined can be limited by what is. It’s not possible to write SF that will stand the test of time in this respect unless you’re very vague. You can extrapolate on anything but still get most of it wrong and completely miss other things. But this alone wasn’t much of a problem – one can enjoy the story telling and description and chuckle at the anachronisms. At the beginning, however, I nearly gave up because of the naive pig-headed behaviour of Barch, the hero. Later on the portrayal of the aliens – basically rubber head humans we’ve seen in so much SF TV – also irritated. But now I’m remembering that Vance often wrote annoying characters and as a youth it was all the other stuff that kept me uncritically engaged. Still, this rocked along at a good pace and I did extract enjoyment from it.

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