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.

Courtesy of Jean-Pierre

Wow, I actually slept for 9 hours last night which, even under normal circumstances is a lot, but lately is more than half again my usual. It took me a while to get functional so I didn’t head off for my walk until 9.30. This time I went up to the turbines on the mountain behind, turned left to walk along beside them, then continued where I normally turn off for Handras.

It was a short extra bit to the walk because the track only continued for the remaining two turbines then stopped, so I turned round and headed back along my usual route. Still, 7 miles walked.

While up on the mountain I noticed some thistles coming up that must be a close relative to the artichoke plant. I have to wonder about what led people to domesticate this plant. How hungry must you be to try eating a thistle?

Other plants are zooming up. I am presuming the first here is dill – the fennel which grows here everywhere does not flower until later. The second one is a thorny shrub with red berries and I have no idea what it is.

Also spotted on the way back was a series of stumps protruding from a bank. I think they were the stumps of pear trees and it looks like shoots have been grafted on. A strange method has been used. The shoots are held on with inner-tube rubber, the top of the stump covered in a thick layer of mud (I’m guessing the kind of mud they used to use for their roofs here) then a stone put on top. I have to assume it works very well. Tim and Helen, in Armeni have a tree that produces cherry plums, but the tree is forked and one branch produces the plums early in the season while the other does so later. Clever bit of grafting, that.

And finally, to answer the question burning in my reader’s minds: the title of this post is so because this is my first ever blog post from inside my house here on Crete. Jean-Pierre, my Belgian neighbour, decided to link his neighbours (Anna and I) to his internet connection. I now have a long network cable snaking through my house, while another extends overhead for about 30 metres to Anna’s house.

Cheers Jean-Pierre.  

Fun with a Scorpion

Yesterday when I took my walk to Handras I set out in shorts and t-shirt because the sun was shining and I expected the temperature to just climb, but cloud steadily thickened. As I approached that village I was pretty sure I was going to get rained on and it occurred to me that while I didn’t mind getting a bit wet since it was still warm, the Greek/English lexicon, sheet of paper with Anna’s latest lesson on it, wallet and notebook in my man-bag might not appreciate it. I started looking for a plastic bag, damning myself for not sticking to my idea of always carrying a spare because wherever you go here Greeks will give you gifts of fruit and veg. (I digress: on one of my first walks here a pickup stopped beside me and the old guy behind the wheel waved to the back and held up three fingers. I took three mandarins out of the back, thanked him, and enjoyed them on the way home.)

The first plastic bag I found had fur and other icky substance stuck inside so had probably contained a dead cat. I passed on that one. The next I picked up was clean so I put the vulnerable items in that then back in my man-bag. Rubbish in general, including plastic bags, is never in short supply here and is strangely lacking in the tourist photos. On many occasions I’ve had my Jaws moment while swimming only to see a carrier bag sliding by under water.

Rumbles of thunder ensued and I did get rained on but not enough to bother me much. Back home, with the weather clearing a little, I set about varnishing woodwork then tidying the garden and other areas surrounding the house. This done I read Greek for an hour before deciding that maybe it was time to fire up that USB microscope that has been sitting on my shelf for 2 or 3 years. I connected it to my laptop, opened camera app, then looked around for the slides. I couldn’t find them anywhere so had to pack the microscope away again and instead watched the Sopranos.

This morning I was determined to make a concerted search for those slides after a walk to Lithines. However, it was grey and pouring with rain and has only eased off now at 9.30. Foregoing my walk I began rummaging through drawers – always traumatic because every item has a memory attached. I threw stuff away and relocated it, then finally found the box of slides in a cobwebby mess behind my desk. Time to set up the microscope again…

Here’s Mr Scorpion in place:

And here are some shots of him, respectively the sting, part of the main body and one claw.

This is my first effort. I would have liked a lower magnification so as to get a detailed picture of the whole thing but at x20 this is the lowest of the main settings which then go up to x80 and x350. Here’s x80 on the sting, while x350 is just a difficult blurry mess I won’t bother with.

Maybe if I take a series of shots at different points along its body I can paste together a whole picture in one of the other programs I have available? That’s a project for another time. I also need to get hold of the kind of slides I remember from my childhood (when my parents bought me a very good microscope for maybe my 10th birthday). These slides have dished recesses in them so you can put in a droplet of filthy water and watch fascinating diatoms zipping about, and the app will allow me to take video clips of them.

There you go: it is now confirmed that I am a weirdo.

"It really is a wolf," said Peter.

Arctic summers ice-free ‘by 2013’
Scientists in the US have presented one of the most dramatic forecasts yet for the disappearance of Arctic sea ice. Their latest modelling studies indicate northern polar waters could be ice-free in summers within just 5-6 years.
And now it’s global COOLING! Record return of Arctic ice cap as it grows by 60% in a year
·         Almost a million more square miles of ocean covered with ice than in 2012
·         BBC reported in 2007 global warming would leave Arctic ice-free in summer by 2013
·         Publication of UN climate change report suggesting global warming caused by humans pushed back to later this month

Of course, lest we forget, our planet has two poles and Antarctic ice is increasing. But, putting things in real perspective:
You have to chuckle … or maybe scream a bit.
Something everyone really needs to realise when reading ‘science’ reports and studying graphs. How much of a tilt there is on any line on the graph – how severe it looks – is utterly dependent on the numbers used and their spacing up the sides or along the bottom or top.

Ban It!

Something I’d been thinking about, and considering writing a blog post about, was nicely summed up by Rich Daniels on Facebook:
Anti-smoking activists remind me more and more of the AGW crowd. They have a principled goal of saving lives/the planet. They posit a solution, don’t smoke/don’t emit so much CO2. Then some smart arse comes along and solves these problems in such a way as to give them their solutions without really altering our lives, and they fucking hate it. We are doing what they demanded without doing what they told us. The seething must be awful to behold.
So so true. Fracking has drastically reduced America’s CO2 levels:
The reduction is even more impressive when one considers that 57 million additional energy consumers were added to the U.S. population over the past two decades. Indeed, U.S. carbon emissions have dropped about 20 per cent per capita, and are now at their lowest level since Dwight D. Eisenhower left the White House in 1961.

Yet activists don’t want us to do that here. We have to build windmills and pay double or treble for the energy. We must ready ourselves for power cuts every time the wind stops blowing. WE MUST DO WITHOUT.
Next we come to the e-cigarette. Here is a device that in just a few years has taken 1.3 million people partially or completely off cigarettes in Britain. This is something that the ban on smoking in public places completely failed to do, as will the cutting of cigarette displays or the proposed introduction of plain packaging. Yet e-cigs must be legislated against and if possible banned. They must be stopped! No matter that they are saving lives. Ban them. No matter that they are no more harmful than a cup of coffee. Ban them!
Why is that? I submit that it is due to the puritan and punitive instincts of many ‘activists’ who are no better than proselytizing religious zealots. In a transition to a green renewable energy culture the hair shirts must be distributed, to be worn over bodies already self-flagellated by sustainable birch twigs. You must go without cars, beef steaks and must sit shivering in your house squinting at the latest Greenpeace pamphlet in the light of a low-energy bulb, if the power is on. If you’re a stinky smoker then how dare you find a way to avoid all the dangerous aspects of smoking and still enjoy its pleasures! You must suffer all the torments of withdrawal, or become a medicated patient of the NHS and suffer the humiliation of quit-smoking classes for your instruction, and only then, when suitably chastened, are you fit to join the company of your betters.

Get Fracking!

Boris Johnson is here speaking some sense about fracking.

The extraction process alone would generate tens of thousands of jobs in parts of the country that desperately need them. And above all, the burning of gas to generate electricity is much, much cleaner – and produces less CO2 – than burning coal. What, as they say, is not to like?
I do love his view of the eco-doomsters:
In their mad denunciations of fracking, the Greens and the eco-warriors betray the mindset of people who cannot bear a piece of unadulterated good news. Beware this new technology, they wail. Do not tamper with the corsets of Gaia! Don’t probe her loamy undergarments with so much as a finger — or else the goddess of the earth will erupt with seismic revenge. Dig out this shale gas, they warn, and our water will be poisoned and our children will be stunted and our cattle will be victims of terrible intestinal explosions.

It's the Population, Stupid.

There’s quite a bit on the news about a hose pipe ban in the East of England and I cannot help but note how the elephant in the room is being ignored (or, read The Departure).

Over just the last 20 years I’ve seen our local town of Maldon expand hugely, acquiring a suburban belt half a mile thick with its superstores, roads and other facilities. This is just one example of what has been happening across large swathes of this country yet, I don’t recollect hearing much about reservoirs being dug (though we do get nimby-ism resulting in this).  

We must also remember how people’s habits have changed since the middle of the last century when the weekly bath, shared by the family, was common. How many showers are pouring every day now, how many washing machines and dish washers churning, how many flush toilets operating? Consider how much water one person now uses each day, which can range from 50 to 150 litres, and multiply that by millions. And consider that the population of London alone is getting on for 8 million.
Another question to ask is where does the rain we do get go? With so much ground now covered with concrete and tarmac it runs off, into drains then into rivers and out to sea. This is also the cause of many of the floods the media have been getting hysterical about in recent years. You may see some old town or village getting submerged, but don’t just blame the weather, blame the housing estates and cities upstream preventing water soaking away and thus passing the buck downstream. Put a waterproof layer over the land and water runs off quickly and, surprise surprise, the land dries up.    
Yes, we have had a couple of dry winters, but they are not the main problem. The problem is infrastructure failing to keep up; infrastructure right at the limit where it fails under just a little extra strain. And of course, it’s the population, stupid.  

Sooty Moths

Funny, I was waffling on about natural selection and evolution to Caroline the other night (after watching a program about how plants altered Earth) and the example I chose was the peppered moth. Today I found myself reading an article on just that. It never occurred to me that the process went into reverse after the clean air act.
I have to add that this is one of the best current proofs of the theory of evolution/natural selection going.

Daily Parasite

Just a recap here for those who maybe don’t know: While I was climbing up the SF-writing ladder, in fact, if I recollect correctly, when I was working on The Parasite for Tanjen Books, I ended up chatting to the mother of a friend. Now, both the mother and father of said friend were smart cookies – both were vets. She gave me some advice on punctuation that has stayed with me ever since, but she also loaned me a veterinary book on helminthology, which is the study of parasitic worms.
I was at once fascinated. Firstly the book reminded me of books my mother had studied during teacher training and which I pored over as a child, what with their anatomical pictures or internal organs, musculature, skeletons etc.
(Oh, on a side note that was very much a formative period of my life: as her main subject in teacher training she studied mycology (fungi) which, for a kid, was great. Not only did we go to woodlands hunting for these weird and wonderful things but we could also eat them, which appealed to the hunter-gatherer in me. Now I can identify quite a lot of British fungi and of course this interest led to mycelia … which led to Jain tech)
Secondly, I found the intricate life cycles of these creatures fascinating, just as I was boggled by the way they could manipulate or physically change their hosts. Some of this went into The Parasite, an awful lot of it went into short stories: The Thrake, Cave Fish, Choudapt, Putrefactors, Spatterjay, Snairls and Shell Game to name but a few. Then, of course, when it came time for me to write a book after Gridlinked I picked up two of those short stories – Snairls and Spatterjay – and used them as the launch pad for The Skinner and the two ensuing books.

So what am I waffling on about? Well, the above is why I was so glad Vaude passed on the link to Parasite of the Day (thanks Vaude). This is just my kind of stuff. I am almost certainly going to read every article on that site. Also thanks to Dr Tommy Leung who has just changed the black background of that site to make it easier to read!
Oh, and some character in my books has definitely got to be hit by a weaponized version of the above. I can see him/her dying horribly while sprouting mushrooms.