Creepy-crawlies, Moaning Brits, Books etc.

Wednesday 18th

To start us off , here’s a picture of Yorgos, the boss of the Revans Bar, hard at work. He was trying to catch forty winks on a sunbed but, being unable to get comfortable in the heat, decided to cool off. All perfectly understandable when last night he closed the bar at one and the night before at four.
Time for a little rant:
You’ve sold your house in England and gone through all the grief of buying yourself a house on the island of Crete, either in the seaside resort of Makrigialos or up in a mountain village nearby. One would have thought that you would be satisfied, that you’d achieved some sort of goal you’d fixed upon as retirement drew close, but no, here are just a few I’ve heard:
You don’t like the heat, you don’t like olives, you don’t like sunning yourself and you’ll only get into the sea when fishes get out to go to the toilet. There’s no Tescos or Asdas here and it’s difficult to buy your Homepride cook-in sauces. There’s no Chinese or Indian restaurants, and cod, chips and mushy peas are a forgotten dream. You can’t get British TV. You pine for green fields, and for snow at Christmas. You miss your relatives, though after just a few days you want to kill them when they visit. You want to go home where everthing is easy and familiar, wrap yourself in a duvette, eat oven chips and watch Eastenders every day.

Y’know, there are ex-pats here in extreme need of a slap. How well now I understand that Australian appellation for the British: whingeing poms. Many of them are living in a place tens millions of other British would kill to get to, yet all they seem to do is moan.

And when they’re not moaning about Crete they’re bitching about each other. They tend to form up into cliques and chunter on about ‘them in that other clique’. When we first came here we associated with a couple who, so they said, didn’t like the cliquishness of Makrigialos, then got huffy when we didn’t want to go off drinking with them in various mountain villages. We realised then that they were pissed off because we weren’t joining their particular clique. Others here have had rows and fights (hot sun and alcohol, go figure) with the result that so-and-so is no longer talking to so-and-so. Leaving this place for five months every year we tend to to see all this from a perspective that’s lacking in the full-time residents here. It is all rather pathetic to see adults behaving like they haven’t yet found their way out of the playground.

Oh damn, I was bitching and moaning.

Thursday 19th

Perhaps I’m starting to get blasé about these things because I’ve failed to mention until now that The Technician is sitting at the top of the ‘New & Future Releases (science fiction)’ list on Amazon, and has been doing so for three weeks. This happened last year with Orbus, and that book also got to number one in the ‘Bestseller (science fiction)’ list. However, I do wonder if that’ll happen to The Technician since I see that Banks fella has an SF book out, the bugger.

Yesterday we again met a couple who have just returned from Norway to spend a a few months in their house here. Tor and Tova are definitely not a couple of moaners like those I mentioned before – they too get some perspective by leaving this place for a little while. We had a drink with them by the beach, then proceeded to a meal at the Cabbiano where the Greek waiters felt inspired to do one of their dances. Here’s a picture of Niko in mid-leap and Stelios behind him. We bought our house from the latter of these but our problems with it doesn’t keep us from his restaurant, which is always pleasant.

Friday 20th

I’ve been quite remiss this morning, sitting and reading the last few hundred pages of the last book of a trilogy I was particularly enjoying, rather than knuckling down and getting on with some work. But before I tell you about that trilogy, I’ll rewind back through my reading list. After finishing the Karin Slaughter books Skin Privilege, Fractured and Genesis, and enjoying them quite a lot, I felt it was time for me to read something a bit less bloody and traumatic, so I picked up a book Caroline’s parents had brought with them when they came.

Unseen Academicals is the latest Terry Pratchett out in paperback. This was one presumably written with Mr Pratchett’s voice recognition software, now his Alzheimer’s has killed his ability to type, but it was still a thoroughly enjoyable romp. I felt it wasn’t quite as good as a lot of his other books, but it still stands a head and shoulders over the majority of what makes it onto the bookshop shelves and I’ll certainly reread it.

After Pratchett I obviously felt the need for some more murder and mayhem – a need quite adequately catered for my Bait – Nick Brownlee (just read the first paragraph of this book and you’ll see what I mean), and then Evil at Heart – Chelsea Cain. The latter book turns out to be the third in a series, the first two of which I haven’t read. I do wonder if my enjoyment of it might have been spoilt if I actually had read them. Reading references to what has happened in the previous two books I do wonder if this one is a bit of franchise extending.

After these I read The Disappeared by M R Hall. I did like the book prior to this, The Coroner, though the heroine was definitely one that started to irritate. Here we had a fascinating story to follow, which I enjoyed, and a heroine who had moved from the irritating category to thoroughly annoying.

It’s funny, but there’s a thread that connects the trilogy I’ve just read, right back through everything else I’ve read to the Karin Slaughter books: the damaged hero or heroine. It’s starting to get annoying. Do these people always have to be: in the midst of a divorce, recovering from abuse either recently or in childhood, have some sort of problem like alcoholism, drug abuse, depression or in one case dyslexia? Y’know something, a modern police procedural or thriller would be unique if the central protagonist had a happy and relatively uneventful childhood, a happy marriage, good health and complete lack of psychological problems.

Next I read the Steig Larsson trilogy: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl who Played with Fire & The Girl who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest. Caroline read the first of these before me, as had others I’ve talked to here. All said these were excellent and I would enjoy them. The first third of the first book I found a bit leaden and clunky but by the time I got beyond that I was hooked, mostly by the (damaged) character Salander. There’s not much point in me recommending these books (though there is a point in me saying you must persevere with the first of them) since people only need to take a glance at the bestseller lists over the last year or so. They’re very good. I do however have to comment on one thing that did begin to grate: every bad guy was always a guy, a bigot, always referred to women as ‘whores’ and usually had a penchant for kiddy porn, every woman (except for just one in the first book to whom just a few hundred words were devoted) was strong and on the side of right. Testament to the mind-distorting powers of political correctness.

Monday 23rd

Oh dear, windy and cool on Sunday – I even put on a T-shirt – and cool again this morning. I do hope this doesn’t mark the end of the hot spell and descent into Autumn…

Tuesday 24th

Whenever I casually chuck into conversation that we have scorpions around and sometimes in our house here, this usually raises a shudder only somewhat ameliorated by me telling the listener that they’re never bigger than an inch long. I then relate how, when we first came here and everything seemed to be going wrong, I heard a thud on my pillow in the night , and how it was almost with a feeling of inevitability that I turned the light on to find a scorpion there. I further add the story about the scorpion I found here, some distance from our house in a pile of olive stumps I was cutting up. This one was nearly three inches long and had a nice big fat sting. I’m a story-teller after all.

Talk then usually turns to creepy-crawlies of very stripe. Snakes get a mention, but we don’t see many here. Then there are the beetles that seem to wear hobnail boots and others that fly at you like seeker bullets, the crickets the size of cigars that land with a sound like someone dropping a bag of spoons, the praying mantises that watch you with odd intelligence, the ants that range in size from flecks of dust to an inch long, the black bees as big as strawberries and the hornets that look like they’re made of coloured plastic. ‘Spiders?’ the listeners will enquire. No, not many – they’re bigger in England. I say this with just an element of doubt because I once heard something drop as I opened window shutters and, by the sound, thought it must be a gecko till I noted, just as it scuttled out of sight, far too many striped legs. I recently commented to a couple about this lack of big spiders here and, bloody hell, I walked outside two days later to find this bugger (below) on our geraniums. It measures about two inches from leg tip to leg tip. I comfort myself with the observation that the shrouded corpses in its web seem to be wasps…

Chillies & Stuff.

Wednesday 11th

It’s been hot and humid for a couple of weeks now, not the usual dry heat, and lately the sea has been as warm as bathwater. Now I know that’s a description somewhat undermined by misuse since you don’t tend to walk into the bath wincing as the water level reaches your genitals, but in this case it’s true. The water is the temperature of bathwater that’s been left for a while, lukewarm, but near the shore, where the waves are meeting the hot sand, it often feels like someone has turned on the hot tap. If you swim any distance you can feel yourself starting to sweat. Just floating about in the waves or lying sprawled across a lilo seems the option most people are taking.

Another result of this heat, perhaps in combination with someone cutting a couple of trees down in the land directly in front of our house (pictures above – note the rubbish, which is something you never see in the tourist brochures), is that we’ve had some visitors. Having done my 2,000 words yesterday, then us having gone to wet ourselves first on the outside then on the inside, we returned here. Whilst then heading to water the garden I noticed something black and curly lying on the garden wall and wondered what it was, a twig, bird crap, maybe a crack I hadn’t noticed before? It turned out to be a little snake. To me this was good to see – just an enjoyable bit of wildlife to observe. Caroline’s reaction to these animals is slightly different, being of the mildly spooked ‘I ought to be scared of this’ kind. I tipped it off the wall into the weeds below. Then, this morning, I noted her opening the patio doors rather cautiously. I thought this was about snakes until I saw the scorpion folded up on the floor. It then unfolded, stretched out to about an inch long and made a dash for our sofa. I got the bugger with a teaspoon. Yeah, I like wildlife, but we tend to prefer to share our house with geckos only.

They have chilli plants here on Crete that are quite beautiful, especially near the end of the year when the chilli colours range from green, yellow, orange, red, white and purple. These are mostly used for decoration rather than gustation. It’s weird that here’s an island with a climate in which it is possible to grow every herb and spice under the sun, yet Greek food is bland. Having previously grown chillies from seeds brought from England I decided last year that I would next grow these colourful Cretan chillies. We first gathered some large chillies from a nearby village called Vori, then a Dutch woman called Honi gave us a branch of small chillies torn from a plant in the garden of the property she was renting. I removed seeds from the ripe chillies on all of these, dried them and stored them away. This year I planted them, and ended up with so many plants I supplied them to five other people and also left a box of them in the Gecko Bar for yet others to help themselves to. Anyway, here’s the result:

Above I mentioned the Dutch woman, Honi. She used to run the Status Bar in Makrigialos, but last year she left the keys and buggered off, also leaving, allegedly, numerous debts. The bar is now closed. I also mentioned the Gecko Bar. The proprietor has been trying to sell the lease and now it is closed. She closed it in July to take some time off for her ‘tennis elbow’ to heal a little. It is still closed and now her arm is in plaster – probably the result of trying to single-handedly manage a bar that could stay open for upwards of 12 hours i.e. closing time would be when the last drunk staggered out. Both these bars have struggled in the present financial climate simply because they are not owned but rented and, understand this, the rents are all year, tourists aren’t. There’s a big similarity here with the British pub, in that the breweries make their money more from rents than beer sales, steadily turning over publicans foolish to maybe remortgage a house to finance a refit and pay rents that profits are simply not covering. Turning optimists into cynics. Here it’s Greek owners rather than breweries.

Friday 13th

On Wednesday, after having polished off 3,000, I felt quite justified in visiting what has become our usual haunt this year, the Revens Bar, first for frappes, then for a swim and later for a miso kilo aspro krasi or a half kilo of white wine. As is usual with me I order stuff in Greek no matter what language the one serving me speaks. On this day Yorgos was leaving the running of the bar to Kostis, whose English isn’t great. As he delivered our usual of a miso kilo I then said to him, ‘Sto melon milou ta synithismena parakalo’ which I thought translated as ‘In the future I say to you the usual please’. He looked at me in puzzlement and in broken English said, ‘You want some melon?’ I said no and tried to explain what I thought I had said with, so Caroline tells me, my face turning increasingly red with embarrassment. He came back five minutes later with a plate of water melon and honeydew melon on ice. So much for being a smart arse. In retrospect I realise it’s something like leh-o or lego for ‘say’ and I probably should have stuck a tha in there for ‘will’ or ‘shall’. I’ll ask Yorgos about that, and ask him to explain to Kostis that I wasn’t demanding a perpetual supply of melon with our wine.

Monday 16th

Zero Point is coming along nicely though I have to admit to not achieving my 10,000 words last week. I’ve also learnt from Julie Crisp that the edited typescript of The Departure has been sent, but is still sitting in some DHL store room at this end since the petrol strike. Caroline is keeping her mobile phone on ready for a call from the delivery man, but nothing yet. What else? The temperature here is high. Right now as I write this at 10.30 in the morning it is 30 in the shade and still climbing. Oddly, it has again been hotter up here in the mountains than down in Makrigialos – the sea breeze, even though from the South, makes a big difference. However, down there the sea is still like a bath.

Tuesday 17th

The temperature yesterday down in Makrigialos was 37 in the shade with the sea being whipped up by a constant wind. When I went in I thought it was cold, but that was just the contrast I was feeling because when I did my swim across from Revans Bar to the harbour my body adjusted and it again felt like I was in a bath. This is one of the things I’ve discovered from living in such a hot place; very often it’s not the temperatue on the thermometer that’s important but contrast, whether there is a breeze and humidity. I’ve shivered and wished for a jumper in 26 degrees because we drove down into it from a mountain temperature of 30, I’ve poured sweat in a temperature of 28 yet felt quite fine in a temperature of 32 because it wasn’t so humid and I’ve sat outside to cool off in the breeze even though the thermometer read 27 inside and 28 outside. Then there’s acclimatizing to all this. You certainly know you’re acclimatized when you find yourself, as we did back in May, sitting at a table by the beach wearing jeans and a jumper whilst just a few yards away people are sprawled out in bikinis and swimming trunks. Anyway, the overall temperature for Crete today is predicted to be 40 in the shade, so I think the jeans can stay in a draw for a while yet.

2,000 words done yesterday and Zero Point has now passed the 50,000 mark. I’ll see if I can polish off another 2,000 today before we head down to use the Internet (Tuesdays are Internet day).

Further note: I did.

Hey, That White Stuff is Snow!

So, we get a few days of snow, in some places lying a foot deep but in most places sitting under the six inch range, but it’s noticable how TV reporters won’t let the truth get in the way of a good story. I saw one reporter the other night walking across a churchyard through six inches of snow and, since the stuff was barely up to her ankles, can only assume she’s one of those who has a problem with decimalization. That would be six centimetres dear.
One would think, by the news, that the home counties have become an extension of Hurricane Alley, during an earthquake, and probably with a Biblical plague or two on the way. All this freaky weather is causing ‘traffic chaos’ as cars fail to negotiate a bit of snow turned to slush by gritting lorries; schools have been closed and many people aren’t turning up for work; London buses weren’t operating and, apparently, it’s been snowing underground since the tube closed down.
It seems that our society is now completely geared to cater for the lowest common denominator: the prat in his car who has failed to comprehend that ice is slippery so crashes and snarls up the road, or little ADHD Jasmina who’s fall in the playground will result in her bloated scrounging mummy suing the school, and that this is then taken advantage of by those perpetually looking for an excuse for a day off work.
We are warned, should we need to brave these terrible conditions, that we should load up our cars with hot drinks, warm clothing and a selection of igloo-building tools. With the complicity of the hysterical media, it appears the people of this country have been nannied into a permanent state of infantilism. I’m guessing that we won’t be turning out any Shackletons in the near future.

It's Not Easy Being Green.

I caught part of a program last night filled with ageing hippies and the young open-faced naïve believers like you’ll find in new churches in Bible Belt America, but who in this case have been indoctrinated into the eco-church. It was called ‘It’s Not Easy Being Green’ and most of the program was about building houses with straw bales – the kind of thing you can do if you’ve plenty of time, money and space (since your wall will end up being a couple of feet thick), and is therefore probably only the province of the champagne eco-warrior who can afford to eat organic and probably drive a brand new Prius.

The hectoring eco-bullshit was bad enough but, having worked some of this stuff out myself, the financial figures were highly questionable. I have, for example, doubts that changing about five light-bulbs for the mercury version will save anyone £100 a year.

Having looked at buying a solar panel and then worked out the costs involved, I was interested to watch the bit about a woman who had a ‘green’ heating system installed in her house, including solar panels. In my case the panel would have cost £3,000+, and I worked out that the savings wouldn’t cover the interest at the time if I were to take that money and stick it in an ISA. I would just be making a loss on it, forever.

The entire cost of this woman’s ‘green’ system was £9,000, whereas a conventional system would have cost her £3,500. Apparently, since the system would save £500 a year, the difference of £5,500 would be paid off in 11 years. Now, I have to wonder just what kind of house is being run here that costs over £500 a year to heat – I’m guessing the kind of house owned only by the residents of TV-land. But that aside, haven’t these crusties heard of interest?

Take that £5,500 and stick it in an account and even today you’ll get over £100 back each year. A few years ago and that would have been £300+ and, supposing the British economy doesn’t crash and burn (or should I say continue to crash and burn), that’ll be the interest you’ll get in a few years time.

So, with cumulative interest, that 11 years can be extended to over 30 years, by which time you’ll doubtless be adding to it the cost of maintenance. And of course, if you had to borrow the money to pay for such a central heating system, the period would be even longer – probably the length of a working life time. These twats really need to try living in the real world.

A Rural Story.

Thanks to Shaun for this one:

A Lancashire Farmer is overseeing his animals in a remote part of the County when suddenly a brand-new BMW advances out of a dust cloud towards him. The driver, a young man in a designer suit, Gucci shoes, Ray Ban sunglasses and YSL tie, leans out the window and asks the farmer, ‘If I tell you exactly how many cows and calves you have in your herd, will you give me a calf?’

The Farmer looks at the man, obviously a yuppie, then looks at his peacefully grazing herd and calmly answers, ‘Reet, why not?’

The yuppie parks his car, whips out his Dell notebook computer, connects it to his Cingular RAZR V3 cell phone, and surfs to a NASA page on the Internet, where he calls up a GPS satellite navigation system to get an exact fix on his location which he then feeds to another NASA satellite that scans the area in an ultra-high-resolution photo. The young man then opens the digital photo in Adobe Photoshop and exports it to an image processing facility in Hamburg, Germany. Within seconds, he receives an email on his Palm Pilot that the image has been processed and the data stored. He then accesses a MS-SQL database through an ODBC connected Excel Spreadsheet with email on his Blackberry and, after a few minutes, receives a response. Finally, he prints out a full-color, 150-page report on his hi-tech, miniaturized HP LaserJet printer and finally turns to the farmer and says, ‘You have exactly 1,586 cows and calves.’

‘Wow That’s right. Well, I guess you can take one of my calves,’ says the Farmer. He watches the young man select one of the animals and looks on amused as the young man stuffs it into the boot of his car. Then the farmer says to the young man, ‘Ey Up!, if I can tell you exactly what your business is, will you give me back my calf?’

The young man thinks about it for a second and then says, ‘Okay, why not?’

‘You work for the British Government’, says the farmer.

‘Wow! That’s correct,’ says the yuppie, ‘but how did you guess that?’

‘No guessing required,’ answers the farmer. ‘You showed up here even though nobody called you; you want to get paid for an answer I already knew, to a question I never asked. You used all kinds of expensive equipment that clearly somebody else paid for, you tried to show me how much smarter than me you are; and you don’t know a thing about cows ……. this is a flock of sheep. Now give me back my dog.’

Flood Warning

Ach, despite my resolution not to rant so much in here, I’m going to have to have a rant right now. Okay, it’s raining very heavily here today, there are pools across the fields, dikes overflowing and pools spreading across the roads. Because I had a dental appointment this morning I braved these conditions to get there – gosh I’m such a hero.

At the end of Latching High Street there was a fire engine parked off-road pumping out water perhaps to prevent someone’s house turning into an indoor swimming pool, which is fair enough. I drove through about an inch of water and turned right heading towards Maldon whereupon I came upon police vehicles parked around a flood across the road and extending about fifty feet. That they were there I assumed was because there had been some sort of accident, but no, they were turning drivers around, not allowing them to drive through about six inches of water. I thought this ludicrous, but obeyed these officers of the law who were obviously lacking something better to do with their time.

Heading on another route into Maldon I drove through a similar flood, you know, low gear and high revs, just chug through – it’s not going to be a problem unless you’re an idiot. After the dental appointment I avoided the police road block and found myself in a slow moving queue into Latchingdon. What now? Well, it seemed the police or the fire service had blocked off one lane of the road to prevent people driving through about four inches of water.

I despair of this pathetic molly-coddling. Are the British public such wimps and inadequate they must be protected from puddles?

Eric Hoffer

Interesting insight in this article by Thomas Sowell, here’s a sample:

Hoffer said: “The less justified a man is in claiming excellence for his own self, the more ready he is to claim all excellence for his nation, his religion, his race or his holy cause.”

People who are fulfilled in their own lives and careers are not the ones attracted to mass movements: “A man is likely to mind his own business when it is worth minding,” Hoffer said. “When it is not, he takes his mind off his own meaningless affairs by minding other people’s business.”

What Hoffer was describing was the political busybody, the zealot for a cause — the “true believer,” who filled the ranks of ideological movements that created the totalitarian tyrannies of the 20th century.

Well, I wonder who those people who mind other people’s business might be? I declare the comment section open.

Here’s a further quote by Hoffer: “Those in possession of absolute power can not only prophesy and make their prophecies come true, but they can also lie and make their lies come true.”

Emma Thompson & Alistair McGowan

Emma Thompson and Alastair McGowan among those who have bought one-acre plot right at heart of proposed development. Land earmarked by Heathrow owner BAA to build a third runway has been bought by a group of celebrities, scientists, politicians and green campaigners in an attempt to severely delay the development. The new runway would make Heathrow Britain’s biggest single source of greenhouse gas emissions.
The stench of hypocrisy is enough to make one gag when ‘celebrities’ start spouting off about the environment. We must travel less, pump less carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, really, we must all stay at home and watch television (preferably not a plasma screen since that uses so much energy, anyway, the EU will be banning the sale of them shortly). But what should we all watch?
How about Alistair McGowan Goes Wild with Rhinos? Obviously he and a large film crew jetted off to Kenya to film the program but, since it’s about conservation, that’s okay. Or what about, at this time of year, the various award ceremonies in Hollywood, you know, like the Golden Globes or the Oscars, like the ones Emma Thompson flew to Hollywood to collect? Maybe they’ll put on Alistair McGowan’s Posh & Beck’s Special, which he flew to Madrid to film, or and episode of Who Do You Think You Are, which he flew to India to film. Or surely there’s something with Emma Thompson in which she of course did no location filming. I mean she’s a good girl who works for African charities and of course wouldn’t consider flying out there with a film crew – that’d cause far too much environmental damage. And I’m sure she’ll be hang gliding to Los Angeles while she’s losing weight with Madonna’s fitness trainer.
The reality of what these hypocritical pricks are saying, in the cloistered world of Champagne socialism, is that YOU shouldn’t fly, YOU should reduce your carbon footprint. They, being glitterati smooching with our rulers, are obviously our betters, and can fly first class around the world in pursuit of their careers or whilst delivering their sanctimonious homilies.

Consensus — Mark Twain

Interesting article at NHS Insider, here’s a sample:

…[I]n the drift of years I by and by found that a Consensus examines a new thing by its feelings rather oftener than with its mind. You know, yourself, that this is so.… Do you know of a case where a Consensus won a game? You can go back as far as you want to and you will find history furnishing you this (until now) unwritten maxim for your guidance and profit: Whatever new thing a Consensus coppers (colloquial for “bets against”), bet your money on that very card and do not be afraid. There was that primitive steam engine — ages back, in Greek times: a Consensus made fun of it. There was the Marquis of Worcester’s steam engine, 250 years ago: a Consensus made fun of it. There was Fulton’s steamboat of a century ago: a French Consensus, including the Great Napolean, made fun of it. There was Priestly, with his oxygen: a Consensus scoffed at him, mobbed him, burned him out, banished him. While a Consensus was proving, by statistics and things, that a steamship could not cross the Atlantic, a steamship did it. A Consensus consisting of all the medical experts in Great Britain made fun of Jenner and inoculation. A Consensus consisting of all the medical experts in France made fun of the stethoscope. A Consensus of all the medical experts in Germany made fun of that young doctor (his name? forgotten by all but doctors, now, revered by doctors alone) who discovered and abolished the cause of that awful disease, puerperal fever; made fun of him, reviled him, hunted him, persecuted him, broke his heart, killed him. Electric telegraph, Atlantic cable, telephone, all “toys,” of no practical value — verdict of the Consensuses. Geology, paleontology, evolution — all brushed into space by a Consensus of theological experts, comprising all the preachers in Christendom, assisted by the Duke of Argyle and (at first) the other scientists.