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.



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…

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.

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.  

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.

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…     

Glorious Gorging

This Wednesday’s walk was Pervolakia Gorge (my map has it as Perivolakia, but everyone pronounces it the first way). This was a shorter walk and we were setting out later at 9.00 AM so it was going to be easier, right? It was much shorter than last week’s walk so should have been a doddle, right? This was my thinking as we arrived at Kapsa monastery.


It was hot right from the start as Chris (The Rock Bar), Mark, Kostas and I set out (this picture is a later ‘selfie’ from Kostas).


Consider walking up 3.5 miles of staircases, with some occasional easier bits where you aren’t watching your own sweat drip on the rocks. About halfway up my T-shirt was dripping and this time I really did need the water I’d brought along. And most of this route was in the shade.

Kostas is a Greek guy who, later on during this walk, acquired the title ‘Mad Dog’ because, of course, only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun. This name is appropriate in so many ways. It describes someone who climbs up mountain paths, which most people would find difficult simply walking, so he can rake them clear for his mountain bike. There were odd instances when Kostas got out of breath during this walk – I could tell because he occasionally stopped talking!


For those of you who might feel inclined to indulge in some of the ideas we discussed, like para-cycling or throwing yourself in a flight suit off of a Pervolakia cliff and leaving you mark there, probably as a splatter on another cliff, Kostas can be found here, the apartments he runs below.  

Yet again the scenery was superb. I can ramble on about it but these pictures tell that story, and as always they don’t quite capture the scale. Kostas immediately adopted my use of the word ‘glorious’ here.


Mark, meanwhile, true to his name, dryly informed us of our present elevation or how many kilometres we had to go, usually when we were sweating up some steep slope.


At the top of the gorge we stopped off in the village of Pervolaki for the obligatory beers and mezes. The guy on the left is Tim from Armeni, whom Kostas didn’t allow any of the first bottle of water since he didn’t deserve it, having driven there.


Next came a schlep up another mountain followed by a walk down a winding goat track back to Kapsa Monestary. Here there was no shade at all but luckily a breeze had sprung up.


In all the distance covered was about 8 miles, but I’m guessing because my pedometer packed up on the way back down. I think I’ve worn the thing out.


After this I returned to Makrigialos and swam maybe three-quarters of a mile. This was okay. It was only on my second swim that cramp hit first my right calf muscle then my left. In each case it was like I’d been whacked there with a hammer. Later I ordered a gyros and found I simply could not put too much salt on it – my body was crying out for the stuff.

I suspect, unfortunately, that it’s beginning to get too hot for this kind of trekking.

Between The Rock and the Hard Place

My apologies for the title of this blog, but I couldn’t resist it.

So I met a guy down the pub the other day … let me rephrase that. I was down in Makrigialos and, since I sometimes find it painful to be in there, I avoided Revans and walked into a bar called The Rock.  
 On his way out of the bar was Tim, who lives in a village called Armeni up behind me (he’s the guy whose coffee bill has gone up because I keep stopping in at his house during my walks). He turned round and walked back in and we sat there enjoying a beer along with the owners of the bar: Chris and Claire. At one point Tim said, ‘You should go with Chris and his group – they go for a walk every Wednesday.’ Since I was in arrogant upswing mood I replied, ‘Nah, they’d never keep up with me.’ Later I listened a bit more closely. These walks are along various gorges. Later still, I meekly asked if I could go with them and, despite my gob, was invited.


This Wednesday I met Chris, Brian and Margaret in Makrigialos. Margaret drove us up the Pefki road and then up a fork from that, up and up until it terminated at a point where you just turn round and drive back. On the way up Chris pointed to a church and said, ‘We’re going a thousand feet above that (first picture below).


As we set out along what was effectively a goat track I realised this was going to be no pushover. Oh-oh, I thought, I’m about to be taught a lesson.


First stop was Vreiko Cave.


Thereafter the country got wilder and incredibly beautiful.


Here’s that church viewed from above on the other side – the white speck on top of that distant peak:

Here are Brian (with the hat) and Chris.

We negotiated a couple of gorges. Here’s just a few views – got loads and every one is a postcard.


While we were walking I was ever on the lookout for a plant called dictamus. This is the Cretan tea that is supposed to be a universal panacea. I’ve just been told by a guy called Martin, who is painting my house, that young Cretan men used to prove their manhood by climbing to remote spots to collect the stuff. I’ve also heard that people have been killed while collecting it. Anyway, I think the silvery stuff you see here in this ruined village is the real deal, but I’ve been wrong before so don’t take my word for it.


While we were walking, I kept checking my pedometer. Chris had told me that the walk would be about 15 kilometres, so about 9 miles. This is about what I’ve been walking up behind my house, but not on this kind of terrain.

I forgot to check the distance but, after a number of hours, we arrived at the village of Pefki where refreshments were in order.


After Pefki we walked down Pefki Gorge to Makrigialos with the temperature steadily rising all the way down. Up in the mountains it was cool. Prior to this walk I was worried that I might get overheated walking ‘down there’. What a prat. This walk was mostly ‘up there’ compared to where I walk behind Papagianades.


Finally arriving back in Makrigialos I went for a much needed swim. My pedometer read 10.3 miles. The things aren’t that accurate so it could have been less could have been more, but it was certainly one hell of a walk. Two days later now and I can still feel lead shot in my calf muscles.
Thanks Chris, Brian and Margaret.  

Silly O'Clock

Here I am awake at silly o’clock again so I might as well do a rambling blog post interspersed with the occasional and probably irrelevant picture. So what am I doing? Well, right now I’m wondering how I’ll get on walking 15 kilometres of gorges after sleeping for about 4 hours, and not 4 hours altogether, but each hour separate and distinct. This walk is one organised by a guy called Chris who along with his wife Claire runs The Rock – a bar in Makrigialos – and, having volunteered to go along, I can’t chicken out now. But then again I shouldn’t worry. Lack of sleep doesn’t seem to be affecting me as much as it should and, despite my best sleep over the last week being about 5 hours of raki-induced coma, I’ve walked 37 miles and swum 2.

All this insomnia, walking and swimming, combined with a lack of interest in food beyond it being fuel, has certainly had its effects. I actually have a belly that’s narrower than my chest now. When I lie down there’s a hollow there rather than a jelly mountain. My weight is beginning to dip below 12 stone, 2 stone lower than I was around Christmas and my lowest weight in perhaps 20 years. Of course, as is always the way with this sort of thing, while I am happy with this, others are not. I’ve been told to stop losing weight and that I’m starting to look a bit ragged, concerned females appear with plates of food and I’ve had shouted at me, ‘Neal! Where is your arse?’

So what else? Oh yeah, I am doing some editing on the second book of Transformations, provisionally titled Factory Station Room 101. But I have to say I’m finding it difficult to raise much interest in it. Then again, even at the best of times, once editing has moved beyond a certain stage, I find my interest plummeting. Perhaps I’ll just finish going through this next book, which won’t have to be delivered for a while yet, and try writing something new. I do have another section I removed from these Penny Royal books that I intend to turn into a short story, just like a previous section I turned into The Other Gun (published in Asimov’s).

Now, bouncing onto something else, what a crappy summer we’re having here on Crete. Usually by this time of year there is not a cloud in the sky, but this year the buggers are persistent. It has even rained in June, which I can’t remember happening before (though my memory is not to be relied on). Perhaps this is due to that global warming stuff – the prime mover of every weather event on the planet including snow in the Sahara, non-barbecue summers in England and probably rains of natterjack toads on Cairo. Oddly, this weather has screwed up my veg patch. Usually, it’s the heat that terminates my radish growing here – sending them rapidly to seed. This year they went straight there anyway and out of four rows of the things I’ve had about 3, and they were woody. Also my other salad veg had gone straight to seed. My only success has been spring onions, but I cannot live on them if I want a social life.

Finally onto the Greek. I’ve been finding things clicking into place in my skull lately. A major success was when Anna, my teacher, moved on from giving me verbs for ‘I do(whatever)’ to learn just in present, past and future, but all the other cases/versions. In English I fly, you fly, he flies, she flies, it flies, we fly, they fly, so it is all pretty easy. In Greek there is another version of ‘you fly’ that is a polite or refers to more than one ‘you’. And all of these are singular distinct words i.e. ‘I fly’ is one word, as is each of the rest, and as are the past tenses and the future tenses (though usually these last start with a separate ‘THa’ which is will or shall). Learning these lists of 18 verbs (he, she & it are all the same) I suddenly started to understand the rules. Now, if I learn just the ‘I do (whatever)’ verb, which I have to add is the only version you’ll find in Greek-English dictionaries, I can work out the other 17.

This is all great stuff, but sorting through list of verbs in my skull, or trying to work out the correct version to use, doesn’t much help with my conversational skills. By the time I’m ready with my reply the Greek in question has wandered off and trimmed a couple of olive trees. Now, therefore, the format of my lessons has changed: more talk and less writing.

Okay, that’s all for now. Time to get ready for my walk.