The End of June

Wednesday 22nd June

I have to make some mention of the wildlife up here in the mountains (if I haven’t already done so and then forgotten). One evening whilst sitting outside with a couple of visitors (Hi Roddy & Ruth) we saw a pair pine martins running across nearby roofs, then another larger one nearby apparently eating our strawberries, whilst being watched closely by a local cat. The next morning we spotted a weasel on the ruin opposite our house and then, on our way out, watched a large green lizard, about twenty-five centimetres long, nip up into our geraniums. Our ‘ruin’ now has its resident gecko and other lizards of all different kinds can be seen here and down on the beach in Makrigialos – in fact Caroline was feeding one cheese crackers only a short while ago. Quite often, when sitting outside we’ll see a pair of eagles circling on thermals above the valley, whilst hawks of various kinds are also frequent visitors. Other birds include the usual, like sparrows and swallows, but occasionally we’ll get some brightly coloured visitors I couldn’t name. Hedgehogs we see occasionally, but then that’s not surprising considering the population of snails here, and I’m told there are badgers out there but I’ve yet to see one. Thus far I’ve had one snake in the garden but I have seen plenty on the roads. At night, near a neighbour’s house behind the village, frogs set up a chorus and we also hear little owls hooting and have seen the silent and ghostly shape of a snowy owl flying over our terrace then perching on wires opposite.

Then there are the insects. Thus far I’ve found about five scorpions in my little shed, and recently captured one for those neighbours with the frogs to show a visiting autistic kid who really wanted to see one last time he was at their house. Quite often I’ll see them scuttling from under plant pots too. Whilst digging in the bank next to our house I’ll often unearth centipedes about three inches long and I have been bitten by one. The garden abounds with shield bugs, long-legged leaf-cutting wasps, normal wasps and plenty of the kind Alien was based on, bees, ants ranging from the size of a pin head to three-quarters of an inch long and crickets the size of cafe crème cigars. This time of year, and earlier, bloody great beetles fly at your head or walk across the terrace in hobnail boots, and when flying they can easily be confused with the huge blue-black bees we get here. Soon the cicadas will be setting up their racket, and my tinnitus will fade into non-existence. Swatting flies can sometimes become a competition but, fortunately, we don’t get eaten alive by mosquitoes. However, there are flies here that look like normal house flies but which bite and a very small fly, which almost looks like a floating speck of dust and will lunch on you too.

Plenty of butterflies: tortoiseshells, cabbage whites, red admirals and a big yellow one with black markings I don’t know the name of. Yet, even with the cabbage whites settling on my veg I don’t get many caterpillars. I think this is due to the quantities of predatory insects out there eating them. The same applies to greenfly and black fly. Certainly, back in England, the stuff I grew would get hammered by all the above if I didn’t spray often. This is probably because that garden was amidst fields – monocultures – where the predatory insects are wiped out by the sprays getting rid of the pests.

Okay, I must take some pictures…

Thursday 23rd June
The chilli plants that survived from last year are, I’m happy to say, already producing chillies. The tomato plants I bought in Sitia have their first green tomatoes and the pepper plants from the same stall are also producing. Though there are lots of bunches of very small grapes on the vines they look a bit sickly, which is, I’m told, due to the rain we’ve had here. Other plants have succeeded or failed, but generally things are good and the gardens here are going to be stunning. Meanwhile, as I concern myself with the garden, with writing a book and with nipping off for an afternoon swim, the world seems to be going to pot all around me.

Sectarian violence has kicked off in Belfast again and when I see the rioters turning rabid and smashing the fuck out of police vehicles I wonder what point there is thinking about the future of the human race. When I then hear that Obama is spending two billion dollars a week on that pointless fucking war in Afghanistan the feeling is reinforced. With the amount of money being blown on these silly adventures we could be established both on the Moon and Mars by now and have orbital satellite industries and hotels visible from Earth. The world seems to be run by idiots and the waste of human life and wealth is sickening. I guess, when writing SF and imagining wonderful technologies ‘like magic’ one must never underestimate the massive power of human stupidity.

Meanwhile, here in Greece, the debt continues to grow whilst the politicians feast and dither. All sorts of new methods of taxation are introduced one day then dumped the next. The latest I’ve heard is that they now want to tax the already taxed money people like me bring into the country. Greece and Britain have a dual tax arrangement whereby if you’ve paid taxes in one country you shouldn’t have to pay them in the other, but apparently they’re trying to ignore that. Nothing must stand in the way of feeding the corrupt, nepotistic regime here and the bureaucrats and politicians must always be the last to take a pay cut or be put out of work because, obviously, they’re so important.

Friday 24th June
Interesting bit of info came our way yesterday from a couple with a home up in Stavrahori. Apparently they have thick glass windows in their roof. Now here one of the problems is the lack of windows and light inside. Often, when I come back in from outside, I have to wait a short while for my eyes to adjust, and often we have the lights on inside during the day. It’s also the case that because the house is set into a mountainside there are no windows at the back. And, both early and late in the year, the sun is mostly either behind or above the house so we get no direct sunlight through the front windows. This results in silly situations like us having the stove on inside whilst it’s also possible to sun bathe on the roof.

I looked into these ‘sun pipes’ often seen on ‘going green’ TV programs, but they are hideously expensive and really, with the flat concrete roof above we don’t need much in the way of the pipe part of them. I asked our builder about roof windows but all he suggested was aluminium windows set in built-up sections. I considered the idea of glass bricks in steel frames and setting them into the roof, but the kind of glass bricks I’ve seen are hollow and could be easily broken – I want thick glass up there that can stand being walked on.

So, today we’re going to go take a look at these roof windows and also obtain contact details for the builder who is making them. It would be great to not have to turn on the light every time we go to the toilet, and everywhere in the house it’ll be nice to get a bit of the powerful sunlight and heat beaming in.

Saturday 25th June
Yup, seen the roof windows and they are exactly what we want. Whilst we were there the guy whose house they are in called the Greek/American builder who did them and he’s coming up to see us at 10 this morning. The complications are that we’ll have to move the solar panel up onto the ‘ruin’, that once again we’ll be deep in dust and crap and, of course, ensuring the price is not a rip-off. If the guy is not in rip-off territory I may ask him to give me a price on putting air vents through our walls at the same time, at which point it might be an idea of me and Caroline to move up into the ruin for a while.

Monday 27th June
Wind wind wind! It started on Saturday night and is still going at 10 this morning. Thus far it has fried the sweet peas, picked up various plants in their pots and dumped them on the ground again, mauled a fuchsia, torn off unripe grapes and generally drained and sapped the plant life here. I don’t know if this wind is the one they call the ‘meltemi’, I just know it can get bloody windy and go on and on. There have been occasions when it’s blown like this for weeks on end and I’ve been overcome by the urge to run around screaming ‘Fuck off!’ at the sky. Of course it’s just this kind of anthropomorphizing of phenomena in the world that led to religion, so I really shouldn’t do it.

Tuesday 28th June
Feeling a bit stir-crazy yesterday we went down to Makrigialos expecting to have to sit inside a bar sheltering from the wind. This wasn’t the case. This wind is coming down from the North and tearing through the mountains, but overshooting Makrigialos to hit the ocean beyond. I was able to swim and we were able to sit at a table outside. However we returned to the wind here…

The wind is still blasting away at 8 this morning. We were told that we won’t have much of a grape crop, because of the rain and also because we haven’t sprayed them. Frankly I’m glad not to have wasted the spray since the vines have now been stripped of about half their leaves and most of the unripe grapes. Numerous other plants are looking sick – leaves and flowers wind-burnt – and there are drifts of ripped off leaves and flowers everywhere. It’s all somewhat heartbreaking and when it finally stops I’ll have a lot of clearing up to do.

Wednesday 29th June
So the Greek politicians are voting on ‘harsh austerity measures’ and, in response to this, they’ve had the worst riots in Athens for a year. Of course, this being the BBC we find a certain degree of terminological inexactitude. We are informed that things will be difficult for the government because the public are protesting. Sort of right but as ever misleading. Opposition parties are protesting but mainly it’s the state sector workers and unions that are protesting (along with the usual scattering of anarchist wankers) because they are the ones who will take the biggest hit. They are the overpaid non-producers with early retirement and large pensions. They are the ones whose organisations are going to be privatized and who will discover that the cushy little number, usually arrived at through nepotism, of sitting on their fat arses in offices shuffling paper, might end up being cut.

To a lesser degree it is the same people who are protesting in Britain and elsewhere across the world. Really, the lesson to be learned from Greece is that expanding the state sector and spending prolifically to buy votes is the road to bankruptcy and chaos. And the only way to make a country wealthy is to cut bureaucracy, cut taxes and let the wealth producers, i.e. everyone in the private sector, get on with doing what they do best. Of course this lesson will be ignored because those making the decisions are state sector parasites themselves. Turkeys don’t vote for Christmas.

The wind ended yesterday afternoon at last. I went out and started clearing up the snapped off branches, the piles of crispy flowers and leaves and dumping plants that had simply shrivelled and died. I then did a lot of watering because the wind had sucked the moisture from everything. So much for my earlier comments about how well the gardens here are doing…

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