Monday, June 30, 2008

Disaster! Near disaster anyway. Yesterday evening, working on the new novel, it suddenly disappeared from my screen never to be found again, all 5501 words, all but one (’) alone on the screen. God alone and this bloody machine know what happened. Computers are not compatible with chubby fingers that sometimes miss keys when travelling at the rate of knots endeavouring to keep up with the brain and the flow of ideas because that basically was the problem. The train having finally left the station and picking up a fair rate of speed hit an oncoming goods head on and was derailed. Fortunately Douglas had saved 3500 words elsewhere so it wasn’t the complete disaster it might have been. I will now have to go back and read from the beginning to fill in all those later addition within those 3500 words and then continue. And I do declare it was such good writing. Will I be able to do it again? We’ll see.

There cannot be a Spaniard or Spanish speaking person in the world this morning who does not know the name of Fernando Torres even if they weren’t particularly interested in football or the European Championship.

The Germans are very bad losers. Okay, so you didn’t win but at least you made it to number two and, heavy though the disappointment was, a smile or two both from your team and your fans and your president wouldn’t exactly have come amiss. Looking like a mass array of zombies doesn’t help in the popularity stakes. Better luck next time. Just think of the English. They didn’t even make the competition and last time winners, Greece, were out first round.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

In the mail this morning a hefty roll of Sunday Times Culture from the Maffins. I look forward to reading all the reviews which is why they send them. It’s not that you can’t get The Sunday Times out here. It’s just that it isn’t what it used to be, not by a long chalk and, because they did the dirty on their loyal readers, I have for some years now boycotted that paper. It has saved me about a thousand euro and lost the paper the same amount. I don’t even have to pay the postage on the hefty tolls that arrive as the Maffins won’t hear of it. I only hope (faint hope?) that others followed my example after what happened and what happened was this: gradually over the years, the paper was reduced by no longer including various extras. We never did get the Magazine but eventually it was decided to withdraw Culture. Appointments was kept. Now who in their right mind thought of this? It was obviously purely to save money but people didn’t come out to Greece to look for appointments in the UK whereas they did want to continue reading all about what was happening in the UK. Complaints got us nowhere. There was a shallow pretence that our wishes were being heard and considered but pretence is all it was. Some boardroom idiot’s decision was already a fait accompli.. The price of the rag continued to be 5 euro of course. In England for the same price readers got the full works. Here we were reduced to the bare bones and that is why, after over forty years of loyal readership, with Culture gone I decided no more Sunday Times.

I now read the film, theatre, and literary revues in the Daily Mail on Fridays at 3 euro. As for the internet, well, yes, but it’s not quite the same thing as an old-fashioned newspaper in your hands, is it?

Thursday, June 26, 2008

It is hot. It is so hot, a large tin of ham in the pantry exploded and, of course the meat was off. Such a waste. What cans of meat were still in the pantry have been transferred to the fridge just in case. That, by the way, “Just In Case” is the title of the Thornton King book, sequel to “Dead On Time” which hopefully will be published this year, “Just In Case” that is. “Dead On Time” came out last year. Strange thing about titles, the fact that they are not copyright but which are, according to all the experts, so important, I had no sooner decided “Just In Case” was to be my title when I read a review in the DAILY MAIL on a Friday that some lady had just had her first novel published and what was its title? You’ve guessed it, but I was buggered if I was going to change a title that so obviously suited the story just written. As for “Dead On Time”, there are at least five books with that title. If titles are SO important and give off so much information, often being the difference between success and failure, what does “Glengarry Glenross” tell you? I still haven’t a clue on that one.
Back to the heat. Could it really be global warming? I’m not in the least surprised. It’s not just factories and fossil fuels causing too much carbon emission, it’s another problem caused by this little old world fast becoming so overcrowded. Just over ten years ago, when we decided to move to this beautiful island, estate agents hardly existed. There was Jannis in Rethymno and a company called Contract in Xania, hidden away in a little office on the fourth floor of a building on a little side street. Advertising for property was there none. Suddenly in the small seaside town of Kalyves there were no fewer than fourteen; land was being flogged off everywhere on the Apokoronas, the roads saw a constant stream of builders lorries and concrete mixer trucks, builders and builders merchants have been having a field day with houses and shops going up as though there were no tomorrow. I wonder how many olive trees have been uprooted to make way for this excess of building, and these are not just holiday homes, many are for permanent residencies. The Cretans, who had never seen so much money in their lives, were selling off their heritage at the rate of knots. When asked why, the answer went something like, “My children will no longer have to pick olives and farm for a living but can go to university and become doctors and lawyers.” The first few thousand immediately went on a top of the range BMW or Mercedes.
Much of the problem was created by the fact that the price of British property had become totally ridiculous and gone through the stratosphere so that people could sell expensive there, buy here cheap, and have money left over to last them the rest of their lives. “Your dream home in the sun” was the slogan, fostered by cheapo television programmes but in some instances they, the estate agents, and the builders were selling false dreams. People bought without doing their homework, without thinking. They came out in the summer when the weather was hot and dry and they could laze away their days on the beach. They didn’t think that Crete also has a winter which, although short, can be wet cold and windy. They were in cheap houses with no heating (that’s extra), no insulation, damp, cold, and miserable. There was nothing to do but get pissed in the local taverna and regret their move. Bored and miserable because they had never thought out what to do with time on their hands, now it was time to sell up and go back home but, alas, for one reason or another, nobody wants to buy their dream home in the sun and they are well and truly struck. They don’t want to learn a foreign language. They expect the locals to all speak English and they don’t want to participate in any of the local customs. There interests lie in booze, karaoke and curry nights. One woman I knew actually said, “I can’t stand church bells, I hate sheep, I don’t like the Greeks.” In which case the question is, why on earth did you come out there and why on earth are you staying?
This scenario does not apply to everyone of course. There are those who have just been unfortunate and suffered because of developments and the passing of time. For example, some friends bought the most charming old house in the small and very quiet village of Drapanos. They are both ex-school teachers, intelligent, funny, and generous, and obviously adored both their new home and living in Crete. They no longer live in Drapanos but have rented an apartment in a different village because their beautiful house, which appears to be unsaleable despite enormous reductions in price, is now surrounded by actual housing estates. There is no doubt that with everyone trying to jump on the bandwagon, the whole thing has come off its wheels and one cannot help but ask, when is the bubble going to burst? Is it going to burst before more of the countryside is spoiled? There is no doubt the Crete we came to just over ten years ago is not the same and not for the better. The horrid increase in crime is an indication. Our dear old friend Anna just a couple of doors down the road who died some years back aged 93 used to say, “Why is all of Europe coming to Crete? Soon there will be no more trees, only houses, only houses.” Dear Anna, she should have lived to see this. It’s true the Greeks have a love affair with money and concrete.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

In front of me is an ad in The Daily Mail for a charity called Smiletrain. It includes six photographs of children with deformed mouths. According to the charity each of these children could receive life-enhancing surgery at a cost of £150. Then I think of the Wayne Rooney wedding at a cost of what £3000000? £5000000? I’ve seen both figures mentioned, this razzamatazz becomes in my opinion nothing short of obscene. Next time Colleen thinks of stumping up £10000 or so for a handbag, maybe she could do with one for £1000 and give the other £9000 to charity. Isn’t it amazing that one can become a celebrity merely by starting off as the girl friend, now the wife, of a footballer? Fame! Celebrity! Greed! Get it the easy way if poss. And don’t these celebs ever pay any tax? Enough of that.

When I first applied in Vamos more than ten years ago for a resident’s permit, the first question asked was father’s name. ‘Llewellyn Idris,’ I said. ‘How do you spell it?’ ‘El – el –‘ ‘Two els?’ ‘Yes, two els.’ ‘Why two els?’ ‘That’s just the way it’s spelt.’ ‘Okay, write it down.’ Second question, ‘Mother’s name?’ ‘Rosa Angela.’ There was a long pause as the policeman looked up at me, pen suspended in mid-air and then he softly breathed, ‘Rosa Angela … Rosa Angela … ROSA Angela … Rosa ANGELA …’ The name obviously got right to his heart and he issued a permit for five years instead of the normal one first time round.

We were sitting in the courtyard having drinks with our friends, the Greek actor Stelios Mainas and his wife Katia and I was telling them all about the Italian connection, obviously with such fervour, Douglas suddenly said, ‘You really want to go don’t you?’ ‘Of course I do.’ ‘All right, then, let’s go.’ ‘Just like that?’ If you don’t do it now you never will.’ He said, went ahead to arrange everything and within a week we were on our way to Italy.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Yes, well, to continue the saga of the Paino family (pronounced Pi-eeno except for Australia, to where most of the Port Elizabeth Painos emigrated, where it’s pronounced Pay-no), our very good friends Ian Dean and Maggie Semple are terrific Italophiles and do the holiday thing there quite frequently. On one of these jaunts Ian very kindly e-mailed me an extract with all the Painos in the Reggio telephone directory and, lo and behold, after all these years there was one still living in the Via Torreone! Must be a relative surely so I duly wrote a letter explaining who I was and including a photograph and the letter was returned by the Italian postal authorities who evidently like most postal workers these days can’t be bothered to do some simple research and correct a simple mistake. I had put the wrong postcode – one figure – though it was the postcode in the Italian directory! So I re-addressed the envelope and sent it again. Never heard a word. I hadn’t realised (because I am such a klutz) that my computer could have translated my letter into Italian for me but there you go, if I wasn’t to hear from G.Paino in Reggio, that’s the way it was. Months went by and then one day our postman told me there was a package for me at the post office so up the village I went to collect. It was from Italy! It was from a Giuseppe Paino. I sat down in the plateia outside Mikey’s café, ordered my coffee and settled down to inspect my package. There was a letter from Giuseppe, with printed photograph, in answer to mine and apologies that he had originally addressed the envelope to a G.Johns instead of Jones. Well this has happened to me all my life but I would have thought in a little town like Vamos where the postman and the post office know me so well, they would have put two and two together, instead of which they outdid the Italians and sat on it for goodness knows how long before sending it back. Still all’s well that end well as Mr W.S said. There were a number of family photographs including one of my parents’ wedding and that one of me at 6½ months. I saw pictures of my grandmother for the first time. She didn’t look in the least English. In fact she looked Italian, Mulatto even. Fortunately I could understand Giuseppe’s letter as Italian for the most part is easier to translate than the other way round. After all it’s just like English really with loads of accent and bravissimos, no? There was also a family tree going back to my great grandfather Francesco. In the photograph we have Giuseppe’s grandfather Antonino, his father (Francesco) and mother and four siblings. The boy in the picture went on a long voyage to South America, disappeared and was never heard of again. The little girl in front is Grazia, still hale and hearty (except maybe for a little back trouble) at 87. Giuseppe is not in the picture. He was still to be born and is now 81.

The earliest photograph is one of Antonino as a younger man with his wife and two of his three sons. The third son was my grandfather, Bartolo, who had already emigrated to South Africa. This photograph is from 1887.

A visit to Reggio Calabria and the Casa Mutilati, as the house was once called, was inevitable.

Monday, June 23, 2008

For nearly 75 years a photograph of me aged 6½ months was kept in a house in Italy. Just think, all through the Mussolini years, the Second World War, and all the years since, there it was and I never knew. My mother evidently sent it with a message on the back which read “To dearest great uncle.” From this it must be gathered my maternal grandfather was Italian who emigrated to South Africa, settling and bringing up a family in Port Elizabeth. My mother, Rosa Angela, was the second youngest of six children and one, James, obviously named after my grandmother’s father, died in infancy. I always thought my grandmother, who I never met, was Italian as well until I saw her death certificate a few years back which states her maiden name was Brockman, daughter of James Brockman of Deal, Kent. She died on the eve of my first holiday visit to Port Elizabeth. I didn’t understand what was going on. She was evidently laid out in the front room, blinds down, into which my weeping mother together with all the other weeping members of the family was ushered whilst I was hustled into the kitchen and kept out of the way. I can remember those few minutes but nothing more. The reason for the Port Elizabeth holidays was because my mother, even before her marriage, had moved from the Cape to Natal. This was because an Anglican clergyman from there, by the name of Ebden Padday a friend of the family, took a great shine to her - She was as a girl very beautiful, in the photograph she is the one standing with my aunt Marie (Marianna) on the left and auntie Grace Grazia) on the right – and told my grandparents that if they allowed him to sort of adopt her he would make sure she received a good education. The condition was that she would become an Anglican. I guess as good Catholics they believed they had brought enough new souls into the church and they agreed which was why my sister and I were born and brought up in Durban as Anglicans and why I never learnt to speak Italian.

Our father’s parents were Welsh through and through, both Joneses, originally from Denby. This grandfather was a builder and built most of the houses in Prestatyn, late Victorian/early Edwardian I suppose, maybe even up to the First World War.

But how did I come to find out about my photograph, kept in Italy all these years? Well, during holidays in Port Elizabeth I was very close to aunt Marie who I thought the most handsome and imposing woman who ever existed and she always talked of Italy having spent some of her youth there and she used to say, one day you will visit the family home and recited the address in the via Torreone, Reggio Calabria, and I never forgot it. Some thirty years ago returning from a holiday in Sicily, the train was disembarked from the ferry at Reggio and I seriously thought of leaving it, looking for that address I knew so well and meeting family but, I didn’t speak the language, I didn’t believe they would know who I was, and I chickened out.

Had I been aware of that photo’s existence I think I would have made it. Alas, by the time I did, all but two had died.

To be continued….

Friday, June 20, 2008

If anyone should be curious enough to ask ‘why “No Official Umbrella”? The answer is it is the title of my unpublished autobiography. That still doesn’t completely answer the question though, does it? So here we are … It is taken from a quotation in a book called KAI LUNG’S GOLDEN HOURS by Ernest Bramah and reads … “It is scarcely to be expected that one who has spent his life beneath an official umbrella, should have at his command the finer analogies between light and shade.” I read the book when I was still a teenager and decided that, as one day I was going to be famous (ha ha!) that would be the title of my biography. I could have used “Between Light And Shade”. That sounds good. Maybe I could use it for something else. But I chose the first extract because I knew even then I would never spend my life in some secure stay where you are occupation and that’s how it has turned out. Another quote in my life has been the motto of my high school, NIHIL HUMANI ALIENUM. The full quote is Ego est homo, nihil humani alienum est. I have a feeling that is not very good Latin because I have seen Terence’s motto written far more elegantly but, whichever way it is written, all it means is “I am a man, nothing that is of interest to man is alien to me.” A pretty good motto I think and one I have probably lived up to more than most of my schoolboy compatriots. Anyway, the biography has not been published. One publisher who returned it described me as “a most charming memoirist” but obviously charm gets you nowhere. I have been reading a book called THE ILLUSION OF IMMORTALITY that has been on the shelf for goodness knows how many years and, in it, I read that some years ago a New York publisher received a manuscript purporting to be the autobiography of Jesus Christ sent down to the earthly amanuensis from the other world. He turned it down. Well, if God can’t get His book published and your biography isn’t one of abuse and misery, then forget it. I was never abused as a child and growing up a white boy in South Africa led a fairly privileged existence. Still if 120000 books are published every year in England those are pretty frightening odds in getting yourself noticed even if you haven’t lived beneath an official umbrella and even if you have been interested in everything concerning mankind.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Nice post today. I always look forward to the post here in Crete, whereas in England I used to dread its arrival as it usually consisted of enormous bills and demands usually without the wherewithal to settle them. That’s not to say utility bills etcetera don’t land on the mat here but they’re not as enormous as the British ones and one is usually in a position to pay although, as with everywhere else, the cost of living rises by the day. When there was one of the inevitable bank strikes that went on longer than expected leaving us with about six euro to last and we had to take one of the animals to the vet, “What are you worried about?” he asked. “What do you need money for?” (Well to pay him for a start though that obviously would have to wait and again to put things in perceptive or rather make comparisons even if odious, a visit to the vet in the UK is likely to set one back about £40 or more. Here the cost is 12 euro, roughly £9.50) “You live in a village,” he said, “you grow your own tomatoes, you grow potatoes, what do you need money for?” The Cretans are a wonderful people. When we ran out of heating oil with more’n a month of winter to go and had no money to pay for a refill, “Then berazi” says our friendly Haralambos at the garage, “No matter. Pay me when you’ve got it.” We told him it would more’n likely be a couple’ of months, possibly even more but it didn’t seem to matter. The next day the oil was delivered and indeed it did take a couple of months to pay him. The same thing happened with the local chemist when I was taken badly and desperately needed medicines we had no money for. “Take them.” Was the response. “It’s an emergency. Pay when you can.” Could you imagine for one moment that happening in England? Somehow I really doubt it. But back to the post. Order from Amazon arrived: two copies of DEAD ON TIME that a lady here asked us to get for her and two Kurasawa films, RAN and THRONE OF BLOOD, also contract from the BBC to turn DOCTOR WHO THE SPACE MUSEUM into an audiobook. Great!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

“To blog or not to blog.” Is that as good an opening as “It was a dark and stormy night”? Probably not. More than likely a thousand others have had the same idea. Anyway, as this is my first attempt at creating a blog I had to start somewhere and, as everyone knows, when it comes to writing, starting is the hardest part, even for an ancient veteran like me. For instance I’ve just started work on a new novel. It shouldn’t be too difficult because it is based on a play I wrote oh years and years ago so the plotline and the characters are all there but in two weeks I’ve managed the magnificent total of 3000 words! If that’s not pathetic I’d like to know what is. I’m writing in my head all the time of course, just not getting around to putting it down on paper, I mean typing it into the computer. Anyway 3000 words from 250000 means there’s a long long way to go. Why 250000? Well I did think it would go to 150000 but my friend, critic, editor and literary agent, one Douglas, who I have to say is good at everything he chooses to do, decided it ought to be a blockbuster so I am going for broke with the longest work I’ve ever written. After all if Miss Mitchell could do it why can’t I? She only wrote one of course whereas by now I think I have written more words than Charles Dickens, at least that is Douglas’s opinion.

Anyway, when he suggested I write a blog, being a complete Luddite as far as modern technology, IT, and the rest of it is concerned I had to admit complete ignorance as to just what a blog might consist of. “It’s just like keeping a diary,” he said. Well I am not a latter day Sam Pepys and I have never kept a diary longer than a day. A short while ago I received an e-mail from California asking me for some information possibly. To put in a biography of Sal Mineo because in 1971 Sal was in London and contracted me to write a treatment for a film based on Robin Maugham’s book The Wrong people. The film never got made (like so many projects that fall by the wayside – cliché cliché) so I went through my day-to-day diaries of the time only to find they were sadly lacking in any worthwhile information. I was obviously never meant to keep a diary because entries consisted of things like “Perf” or “Rehearsal. 10.00” Great! What was I rehearsing? Where was I rehearsing? Obviously I knew at the time which is why I didn’t bother to elucidate, never thinking for a moment that at some future date I might like to know.