Tuesday, September 30, 2008

It really is quite amazing (have I mentioned this before?) how often one can read text and still miss typos. Have just reread my penultimate blog and noticed in my quote from Under World that sprung has been typed as spring. In Under World at one point Pedley is spelt Padley and how many editors and proof readers went through the manuscript before it finally went to press and how many thousands of readers have spotted it or passed it by? A gentle rap on the knuckles from Andy Norman who tells me his English master admonished him to make himself familiar with every word he didn’t know plus the preceding and following ones. Okay, Andy, just as well I know what an odalisque is, hey? For anyone reading my blog and not knowing what an odalisque is, look it up, though I’m sure everyone does know.

I meant last time to remark on the passing of Paul Newman at 83. We certainly do live longer (here they die in the nineties) but I wonder how many of my generation; old school fellows, friends and acquaintances are no longer with us and, as the song has it, I’m still here. It’s difficult for the younger members of the household to understand that at an age fast approaching 78, thoughts of death naturally creep into one’s consciousness., not in any morbid way, but he sits on your shoulder smiling cannily and every now and again he tickles your ear and you know he’s saying I’m waiting for you, especially when the medicine chest starts sprouting all sorts of weird and wonderful man-made concoctions in a vain attempt to ward him off. Having no belief in an afterlife, death is not a frightening prospect although I think the Catholics came up with the perfect prayer in “grant me a peaceful death.” But nuff of that, except lots of condolences from friends outside the country and from Greeks and Cretans themselves who say they cannot understand the medieval minds of the poisoners and, as our friend and neighbour Xanthippi says, don’t believe that animals can give love. Perhaps the younger generation will change things for the better.

Footnote: Ian Dean has put me right as far as pudder is concerned – “Johnson 1755 a pother, tumult, confused noise, turmoil, bustle.” So there you have it. Thanks Ian.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

More grown-up words in Under World but I haven’t bothered reaching for the dictionary. I have to admit I am not enjoying this one as much as all the others. Can’t understand for a start why Ellie Pascoe is behaving like a Rottweiler towards her husband. Maybe all will become clear later. Our own ancient hound, not a Rottweiler but a gentle old girl of mixed parentage, is under my desk fast asleep and farting like a trooper. I’m seriously beginning to wish she’d go and sleep elsewhere before I am asphyxiated. For the most part they are silent but occasionally there is a little squeak and I know gas is heading my way.

Watched the pilot and first episode of Ugly Betty on DVD yesterday evening and can’t say I am as enamoured of it as Chris obviously is. However will give it another go. Maybe it will grow on me. Was also somewhat disappointed in Cold Mountain. Can’t put a finger on it and, for the first time I actually liked Nicole Kidman, except for once or twice when the little girlie act made me wince, and I actually heard every word she said. This time I had trouble with Jude Law. Has he apprenticed himself to the school of mumble mumble acting I wonder? Or was it the accent? Or the character? Or the wounded throat? Anyway, whatever it was I missed quite a lot of his dialogue. Guess as I get older I just can’t win.

Also watched All About Eve again after an absence of goodness knows how many years and what a great movie it is. No trouble hearing all those actors speak their lines either.

I read in The Daily Mail – always get it on a Friday for the film, theatre and book reviews – that Daniel of Harry Potter and Equus fame is looking for a new play to do in two years time and that at least three are being commissioned to give him a choice. What a lucky Tom Thumb to have pulled out such a plum. Do I have anything suitable? I wonder. Could I come up with anything suitable? I doubt it very much. My shelf life ended with the twentieth century. The last play I wrote was in 1989. I don’t understand today’s kids. I don’t understand today’s ethos so have nothing to say about it, not knowledgably anyway. I’ll carry on with my period novel.

The dog has moved at last. I can breathe again!

Friday, September 26, 2008

Finished reading Death’s Jest-Book while in Athens. Just couldn’t keep my nose out of it and have now started Under World, reading it in tandem with finishing Ustinov’s Dear me which I am still thoroughly enjoying and am near to finishing. Haven’t got too far into Under World but find it very interesting in contrast to the two later novels, published 2002 and 2003. Under World is by a younger writer possibly a little less sure of himself, though I see it comes tenth in the list of works published, and from the punning title on is just a wee bit too clever clever, particularly in the use of little known, or not often used, words – diurnal, epochal (I knew epoch but not the adjective epochal), carapace – yes, I know what he’s getting at here but I’m not sure a tortoiseshell is the correct image, it brought me up short and interrupted the flow. Pudder! I can’t even find this in my Oxford dictionary. Is it a Yorkshire expression or a misprint? Paraclete? Had to look this one up and I remembered how annoyed I got with the novel Saturday having to constantly stop to look up words in the dictionary, and my vocabulary ain’t that small. I guess not being of a religious persuasion, Paraclete never entered my sphere of knowledge. It has now of course. Haruspical! What? What! This is really pushing the boat out and again this is not in my dictionary although haruspicies is though, having seen it, I have already forgotten what it means, something to do with forecasting from innards I seem to remember but could the future be foretold from Dalziel’s haruspical haemorrhoids? Do me a favour. Naughty Mr Hill who I admire so much. I see the publication date is 1988 so maybe that’s why it’s pudder for the course. I wonder how many more I will come across as I progress. I also find some of the writing just a teensy-weensy bit cringe making. For example: “She watched him walk away down Clay Street marvelling as always that from Billy Farr’s seed and her womb a creature of such grace and beauty could have spring.” Without wishing to be derogatory, just a little bit Women’s Own?

Yet another sudden strike which has meant no petrol and caused problems. Evidently it was customs officers this time. Over now fortunately, short and sweet, but strikes and demonstrations are definitely pudder for the course in Greece.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The cats are absolutely desperate to get out but we dare not let them until we feel it might be safe. Talk about stir crazy! They’ve gone to every door, every window, even climbed up high on shelves trying to find a way out. Have put a little harness on Kepple and walk him in the garden on a lead. He took to it like a duck to water, well like a very intelligent cat to a lead! But it really isn’t enough. The other two haven’t left the house and it is so unfair, but how do you explain it is for their safety? A cat growing up in a flat that has never experienced total freedom might accept its situation but these animals are used to roaming and are now imprisoned. For how long I really can’t tell.
I’ve riffled through some back issues of the Athens News trying to find the name of the guy who heads the ministry of food and rural development but without success. I know it was mentioned in relation to the June 24th circular put out by the ministry in which Greeks were informed that pets are to be restricted to two per household. There are questions to be asked here. Firstly where on earth is this man’s mind? It can’t be situated between his ears and behind his eyes that’s for sure. Secondly are we heading again towards a junta type fascist state? You are allowed two pets only. You can have two dogs or two cats or a dog and a cat or, if preferred, a cat and a dog. Any more than this and you will be taken handcuffed to ministry headquarters where you will be severely beaten and fined a sum not exceeding one million euro most of which will go into the pockets of myself and my cronies. At the same time your extra illegal animals will be impounded and we cannot guarantee what will happen to them next. Any attempt to smuggle an animal out of Greece to a better life in Denmark or Germany will result, if convicted of this offence, in the death penalty so foreign animal lovers be warned. This is an edict and Greece is not to be trifled with.
With this kind of nonsense, apart from taxes and scandals involving land deals and greedy conniving Cypriot priests, it is no wonder Pasok has surged ahead of new Democracy in the polls and George for the first time in ages has a smile from ear to ear. Don’t blame him. He has taken a lot of stick as leader. I like George. He has a lovely face. I also liked Simitis (have I spelled that right?) who always seemed to have a smile from ear to ear. Old chubby Karamanlis also smiles but there is something strangely disorientating about his smile. Maybe he has more than two pets and is hiding the fact.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

A truly horrendous and tearful start to the day when Chris phoned with the news that he found Wilson in the courtyard this morning dead from poisoning and I am sill finding it almost impossible to believe that I shan’t ever again see or make a fuss of that beautiful, intelligent and affectionate animal needlessly cut off in his prime. That is the third death in just a few weeks. Puccini was expected because of her cancer, Hortense because of old age but Wilson has come as an awful shock.

Someone has been putting down poison for the animals, the excuse being to get rid of dogs that maul sheep but what dogs? Judith complained a month or so ago at the town hall only to be told that that is how it is done in Crete (in the whole of Greece for that matter) and if she didn’t like it she could always leave, neglecting the fact that the poisoning of animals is against Greek law.

It’s amazing how unobservant one can be. There were a number of cats at the bottom of our lane but I haven’t seen one in a while. Until this moment it never occurred to me as to why they have all disappeared.

The question now is what do we do with the three we have left? I suppose the answer is to keep them in the house but that seems so very unfair. Cats roam; It is unnatural to stop them.

Evidently it is known who this vile creature is who is doing the poisoning but it is a case of Cretan omerta. No one will talk.

It will be a long time before I no longer see in my mind’s eye Wilson’s face, especially those eyes, before I forget his loud greeting me in the mornings as soon as I appeared at my bedroom door, or how he would rub himself against me purring for all he was worth. A much loved cat will be sorely missed.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Athens is Athens - Hot hot hot. Rain that would cool things down and which has been promised for three days sill hasn’t put in an appearance. All we’ve had are a few dimity clouds so the heat is oppressively humid. And, though the breeze this evening is cool it is still sweatsville
Ceri and Dennis left yesterday for the UK. Douglas took them to the airport but I saw them off at Victoria Square. Decided I didn’t have the breath to go all the way and would only hold them up. Time goes ever faster and faster. It’s like only yesterday that they arrived on the Cretan doorstep.
This area seems even more ethnically mixed than before and got a cheery wide-smile greeting on the balcony yesterday from our new neighbour next door who I assume (perhaps wrongly but I assume) to be Pakistani.
Am still engrossed in Reginald Hill’s book and, if I keep reading at this rate, will have to go to my favourite Athens bookstore for something new, depending upon how long I stay here that is.
CNN has been all doom and gloom with the world going to hell in a financial hand basket, that among other things of course but mainly that, banks and stockmarkets going down the tubes.
Had intended to go and look at the new Akropoli museum today but the heat put me off and, if I am going down to Ommonia tomorrow to get the papers I might as well continue on and kill two birds as it were. Perhaps it will be cooler.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

The last blog from Crete for a few days. Catching the ferry this evening and heading for Athens. Do I really need a break? Well, a change is as good as a rest I suppose and it will do me good to get away from the novel for a while.

Didn’t get around to finishing The Book Thief. Far from me to denigrate anybody’s artistic work, especially if it is one of love, but I really just could not get on with this book and, arriving at Part 9 decided I really had had enough and no longer cared how it ended, what happened to Hans Hubermann or Liesel or Rudy or Max. I was getting through it at no more than two pages at a time anyway and even that with difficulty. Penny Maffin raved about it, as did Douglas, and I am sure many many more, so my sense of appreciation must be well out of kilter.

On the other hand I whipped through Reginald Hill’s Dialogues of the Dead thoroughly enjoying every word and am now into the follow-up, Death’s Jest-Book which will accompany me to Athens. Reginald hill has a new fan.

Douglas is sending When The Devil Rides and Dead On Time to Barnaby Thompson at Ealing Studios and the autobiography has been printed ready to go on its journey into the great wide world. It’s amazing how the hundred and odd euro keep slipping unexpectedly through our fingers, the latest being the printer which, half way through the biography, gave up the ghost and necessitated the purchase of a new one. Like a deal of modern equipment it would seem to be programmed to last just a moment after the warranty expires but, hopefully, something good will come out of all this activity, at least we hope so.

Is it amazing or is it par for the course that people are so rude these days in ignoring requests to answer enquiries? I think particularly of publishers. I think particularly of Penguin Ireland. Mind you, some have a reason for not answering, like 20th Century Fox or Warner Chappell or copywrite thieves of that ilk. Why have I never received royalties for my four songs in The Double Deckers, the music of which has just been re-released by Cherry Records? Somebody has been and is making money out of my (and others’) work but it most certainly isn’t me and no one will admit to any responsibility. The world is full of crooks.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

I really do hate it when people who can’t afford it lose money. My sister Ceri has mislaid the receipts for medicine and doctor’s visit that could be claimed off insurance when back in South Africa, a loss of well over 100 euro. That is quite a loss, as aggravating as the time I was pick-pocketed in Athens to the tune of 70 euro and I know how I felt about that. Evidently the pickpockets are out in force at the moment because both Dennis and Chris were almost done whilst there last week. They are extremely adept at what they do and when I was done on the escalator at Ommonia, I knew nothing about it until I went to pay for my lunch in Neon only to discover a totally empty pocket. Even my daily transport ticket had gone which meant a walk back to Victoria and, as I was catching the ferry back to Crete that night it meant a three hour sit in the bank to replace the lost money. All very angry making though I couldn’t help but admire the expertise with which it was done. The ridiculous thing is I watched the two youngsters who perpetrated this crime against my person, walking away merrily chatting to each other, to go down another escalator. I thought in my naivety that perhaps they had got off at the wrong station. Little did I know I had been robbed and they were more than likely going down to repeat the process. I wonder how many more there were that day. It will never happen again. Once bitten as the old saying has it and I warned my sister and brother-in-law before they left England to be really aware that these wolves were about.

Mention of Neon makes me wonder just what is happening there. My favourite lunch/ teatime hangout in Athens has been closed for over two years now for renovations. We are informed that it is actually a government owned building which probably means it won’t open again for another two years if then. I only hope they haven’t stripped it of its wonderful period architectural features. It’s so sad how, with the passing of time, things change. Most people would call it progress but there are some losses that can never be replaced. Just along the road from the Athens flat was a traditional old taverna, one of perhaps only two or three left in the city but, unfortunately the older generation who patronised it are all dying off and the owner felt he was unable to keep going. We called it the tin shed, the food was brilliant, and cheap, the atmosphere terrific, the hospitality fulsome and we will sorely miss it, just as I miss popping into Neon. Such is progress.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Every so often our friend Ray Peters sends us newspaper cuttings form England; articles in which he feels we would be interested. The first one I picked out of the envelope today was one on television criticism by John Preston. And his opening remarks? “Roughly eighty percent of the letters I receive are about the same thing, background music. Or rather (should that really be the beginning of a new sentence Mr Preston?), obtrusive background music, which, of course, is not background music at all. If the scale of my correspondence is to be believed, there are huge numbers of people out there who stuff their fingers ion their ears and emit bellows of fury whenever a tiny glockenspiel (tiny?) starts beating frenetically away on the soundtrack. Not only is there far too much of it, they argue, but it’s becoming ever more obtrusive.” So I am far from being the only one. See my Blog Arsenic Ad Old Lace. I am sure though that none of the complaints will have the slightest effect on trendies and especially on trendy young lions.

One of the programmes criticised was The Genius Of Charles Darwin during which, evidently a boy said he believed in God because he had read the Bible. What! From Genesis to the end? A boy? Not an old man who has had the time, let alone the inclination, but a boy? Actually he would get just as much sense out of it if he read The Bible According To Spike Milligan. He would also have a good laugh at the same time.

I have just finished reading Prisoner of Tehran which confirms my solid belief that the world would be a much better place if it could be rid of al the religious maniacs, fanatics and brain-washed bigots. How can you possibly accept a man who in the same breath invokes the intercession of Allah the all merciful and condemns sixteen year old girls to torture, rape, (a raped girl evidently doesn’t go to paradise so her torturers and executioners won’t get to meet her there) and death. It simply makes no sense and, if this is what a belief in God does for you, whether it be the Christian one, Jehovah or Allah or any other, then I am very very glad I have no religious convictions. The Greeks were so wise to make their gods no more than super-humans.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Half an hour ago or so I suddenly experienced a truly awful pain down the outside of my left shin and thought I was in for some horrible medical condition that would require hospitalisation at least. Then, on getting to my feet, a wasp fell to the floor and I gave it a thorough trampling so now being unrecognisable I can only presume it was a wasp before being trampled on. Obviously it had somehow got caught in my sock. Ceri and I looked on the internet to find out how to treat wasp stings, this is after Douglas had splattered me, my sock, and the kitchen floor with balsamic vinegar. I asked for vinegar but I don’t think the balsamic kind did any good. Anyway, this is what it said on Google: first wash with soap and water, secondly cool I with ice, thirdly apply an antibiotic cream, fourthly take an anti-histamine. So okay okay, I’ve done all that and the bugger’s still hurting like crazy. Hopefully it will ease off. If not I’ll just have to try a different cream.

Douglas is slaving away preparing for tonight’s party. David, Penny, Chris and Dennis have gone off for the day, I was supposed to be Douglas’s assistant but he seems to be keeping me well out of the way, and Ceri is upstairs reading Just In Case (sequel to Dead On Time ). She didn’t go out with the others because she washed her hair and said it wasn’t ready to be seen in public!

David has also been conned into reading Just In Case, in his case hoping that (apart form enjoying it of course) he might spot any errors we have missed. It’s quite amazing how many time one can go through a manuscript, even slowly and deliberately, and still miss the odd mistake, like he discovered I had spelt bath as both – how do you take a hot both? Or even a cold one for that matter. I’m a bit more tolerant now of mistakes I find in published books though really, by the time they go to press, they should be free of error. Charmaine has gone off on holiday reading the second half of No Official Umbrella and Hillary is reading Angel. What an editorial team, Angel has just had its first rejection (of how many I wonder before someone realises they’ve got a Booker Prize novel here?) though I am told I am a compelling writer and this bloody sting is not only till stinging, it’s throbbing to boot.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Chris, Ceri, and Dennis arrived by ferry at sparrow this morning and Douglas went into Souda to pick them up. Seems the trip was uneventful and I suppose holiday makers might appreciate the early arrival, giving them a long day ahead, but it always flattens me for the rest of the day, especially as the noise over the tannoy starts very early indeed after which it is impossible to sleep. Anyway they seemed pretty chirpy so obviously the early rising didn’t have too deleterious an effect. Apart from the early arrival we love the boat trip to Piraeus or back because it’s like part of the break. I couldn’t care if I never fly again. I really loathe it. Should I ever be so fortunate as to go to Sofia (Bulgaria) to see one of my plays in performance it will be by ferry to Piraeus, metro to Athens, train to Thessalonica and change there for a train to Sofia. I even think if ever I have to go back to the UK I would prefer to do it by train. The agent e-mailed me Early One Morning, one of the four plays she requested, translated into Bulgarian which is all well and good but naturally not a word of it could I read, I mean because of the alphabet, not the words. It might as well have been in Chinese or Japanese. Still if one is produced there two of us get to see something of another country all expenses paid on top of royalties which can’t be bad.

E-mail from Solon yesterday informing us that my website has expired and we were wondering how on earth we were going to pay for its renewal having these last two months paid out nearly 2000 euro by necessity when the mailman delivered a nice little check from my agents in London, Film Rights, which just nicely covers it. Hopefully Solon will wait a short while though before we can pay him as the Greek banking system is truly weird in that cheques have to sit for 30 days before you can get your tiny hands on your money! Mind you, if you present a cheque in Greece that bounces the penalties are extremely heavy so I suppose caution is the name of the game.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Awake at six this morning to go to IKA for X-ray (eight o’clock) and blood/urine tests (eight-thirty) When Douglas enquired as to why so many people who arrived after us were going in for their blood test before us he was informed that twelve people had an appointment for eight-thirty. It’s like an assembly line. Not my choice to go through all this, just finally giving in to everyone else’s request. Much to our surprise were on our way home by nine so stopped off at the Biological Lab in Kalyves for the remaining two tests that IKA doesn’t do. What happens is that you pay for them and IKA refunds the costs (121 euro). Seems a funny way of going about things but they must know what they’re doing. So blood was taken from my left arm and then blood was taken from my right arm. I felt like Tony Hancock – “Where’s me tea and biscuit then?”

Tried again to get into Umberto Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum but to no avail and don’t believe I will try again. The man is just too too clever by half and to what purpose? I don’t mind having to look up the occasional word. I had after all to do it with Mr McEwen and got rather bored with it but I most strongly object to finding arcane references and a dozen words or more on every page none of which mean anything to me. Douglas said it is really a very simple story so I told him to explain. Half way through his explanation I said enough was enough, it really isn’t that simple. Three men get killed in the end? Should have happened two hundred pages earlier. Brecht’s theory of alienation applies to the stage (and is a load of codswallop anyway) but certainly should never apply to literature. Naturally the critics, according to the blurb, all thought it was marvellous. I bet half of them only said it because, if they didn’t, they might have been accused of not understanding it, which was more’n likely the case. Nuff said.

Anyway I have enough reading matter to keep me going a goodly while. Still only a third of the way through The Book Thief – I’m hanging in there, and enjoying Ustinov’s autobiography. Now I have been supplied with three more Reginald Hills so look forward to happy reading with those.

Now I’m off for a kip. Must be the loss of blood!

Monday, September 1, 2008

I hear via the grapevine, how shall I put this in discreet fashion, that the Baxter girls were, how shall we say, a trifle disappointed in that their names were mentioned ONLY ONCE! in a previous Blog so here I am endeavouring to make amends. I don’t know whether James and Ursula were disappointed that their names were mentioned only once but again, hello there James and Ursula. That, folks, I don’t need to remind you are James and Ursula Baxter, and their three lovely daughters are Inez, Nina and Lucy. Inez of course is the eldest, Nina is the middle one and Lucy is the youngest. James and Ursula how lucky you are to have three daughters like Inez, Nina and Lucy, kouklas all. (that is Greek for “dolls”). Inez, Nina, and Lucy Baxter were little dolls when we first knew them but each year sees them that little bit taller and, as the song from Gigi has it, thank heavens for little girls which particularly applies in the case of Inez, Nina and Lucy Baxter. It is always an enjoyable occasion whenever we see Inez, Nina, and Lucy Baxter whether it is at their house, our house or eating out in a restaurant. At our house the greetings for Inez, Nina and Lucy were ecstatic from the three dogs as well but that will never be again because one poor little dog has departed for that great kennel and biscuits in the sky and the old girl Sweeny (I’ll mention her name only once) now spends ninety-five percent of her time asleep, three percent eating and two percent finding a different place to sleep. Next time James, Ursula, Inez, Nina and Lucy Baxter visit I have a feeling the ecstatic greetings will come only from Merrill and, of course the three humming beans who are always delighted to see them. I think love is in the equation somewhere, don’t you? James, Ursula, Inez, Nina and Lucy?


James – 6

Ursula – 6

Inez - 9

Nina – 9

Lucy – 9

Sweeney – 1

Merrill – 1

Glyn – Nul Pwah as they used to pronounce it on Eurovision!

Chris – Nul Pwah

Douglas – Nul Pwah