Sunday, June 30, 2013

Rats and Flies

Monday 24th June

I’m feeling a bit like a murderer now. After rats chewed down my sweet corn I popped into a hardware shop in Sitia and bought four rat traps at €1 each. I baited these with chunks of tomato and put them in and around the composter in the back garden. On the first night I got one small rat then on the second night I got two big ugly ones. Looking at the corpses before tossing them into the olive grove behind (where they’ll probably be snapped up either by village cats or sand martins), I couldn’t help but note how similar they were to our chinchilla. But traps are the best way to deal with the problem. One local suggested I buy ‘pastilles’. These are a form of poison. I don’t like poison. The rat will crawl off and die somewhere in pain and then, if it gets eaten by something else, the poison can kill that creature too. It’s a coward’s way because you often don’t see what you’re killing. Better a swift snap resulting in a broken neck or crushed skull. Let’s just hope I don’t wonder round there one day and find myself having to duck crossbow bolts...

Tuesday 25th June
Yesterday I wrote that final additional section at the end of Penny Royal III, or Spear & Spine, and felt I could then safely say I had finished the first draft of that book. I enjoyed writing that section because it had in it one of those moments rather like the one in The Skinner, near the end, where Ambel, in a companionable manner, slaps Janer on the shoulder. The book stands now at over 168,000 words. Definitely no more word-counting from now on. I have a basic list I’ll use as I work back through the books: more about Mr Pace, machines feeding power into U-space, Amistad’s miscalculation of scale and the vague ‘more emotion from the characters’. This list will grow as I edit and as some neater or more-workable ideas occur. Right, to work, starting with the second on the list above.

Wednesday 26th June
That was all I needed when I walked in last night and turned on the TV: Obama on climate change. Apparently Americans are already paying the price with recent disasters. Okay, nothing to do with the fact that there are now hundreds of thousands of people, homes, businesses and infrastructure where there used to be a buffalo herd and the intrepid hunter Two-Dogs-Shagging. Oh, and did the Indians keep climate records? As far as I recollect America hasn’t been around very long. He then delivered the canard that those who doubted catastrophic global warming (let’s call it what it is before the goalposts were shifted) have now conceded that it is true. This is of course the complete opposite of the truth. After 16 years of global warming flat-lining while CO2 has been increasing – precisely what many in the upper echelons of ‘climate experts’ said couldn’t happen, according to their computer models – many believers have been going, ‘Ahem, maybe we over-egged that pudding’. The only people who ‘believe’ we are going to fry without action right now are government ministers who burnt their boats, those making money out of green energy, green anti-capitalists and others on the left who want to use it as a stick with which to beat their enemies, and those strange cloistered creatures at the BBC. Next we had Roger Harrabin, still desperate not to be made redundant from his job as Environmental Correspondent, confirming that everything that Obama said was true and, incidentally, that the man has complete control over the sun because it seems to be shining from his rectum.

Regarding Obama’s aptly timed visit to Africa ... I wonder why the words ‘sleezy political opportunism’ keep leaping to the forefront of my mind.

Sunday 30th June
The temperature here on Crete has hit the sizzle zone. Even up here in the mountains it’s been reaching 30C most days. I’m also finding that not a day goes by without me being bitten by something at least three or four times. There are the mosquitoes that hammer you if you stay late in Makrigialos – you only know they’ve had a go when you wake up in the night scratching a new series of bites. They are always here, however I suspect, along with the Sahara dust, we had a lot of unwelcome visitors blown over too. There are the flies that look like normal house flies until they land on you and start chewing, and then there are others whose bite stings just as much, but which are almost invisible – drifting away from you like a fleck of dust. These last are a bastard because mosquito screens don’t stop them. I’ve been up time and time again in the night spraying round the bed because something decided to snack on my protruding leg. Thinking about all these it occurs to me that I missed an opportunity for some added nastiness to the fauna of Spatterjay. Then again I might save it for another world, where people have to wear armoured suits to prevent themselves being drained dry by mosquitoes the size of bananas.

Poison Study & Magic Study

A week ago I picked up the first of a fantasy series by Maria V Snyder: Poison Study. I started reading it, immediately engaged with the characters and found it was a book I didn’t want to put down. Many other books I read I have little difficulty abandoning when there might be something else to do, like farting about on Twitter and Facebook, playing a game of Candy Crush or going for a swim. This one kept hold of me, and even kept me down on an uncomfortable sun bed when a carafe of wine was calling. I also didn’t feel any need for a break to read something else when I finished it and immediately picked up Magic Study. This was just as good and I polished it off over a couple of days. I’ve now stuck Fire Study in my backpack and am looking forward to starting that.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Trophies and Flowers

Sunday 16th June

Here then is the front cover and full jacket of Jupiter War. What you’re seeing here on the front cover is an upright robot and a spidergun, while the full jacket shows a battle scene later in the same book. As always there are things I could say don’t fit – while the spidergun should be there that upright robot shouldn’t – but as always it’s an excellent picture that captures the spirit of the thing. It is real art, which always adds something.

 Monday 17th June
On Friday evening we went to our favourite restaurant for a meal and unfortunately have to admit that we’re finding it less favourable each time we go there. In our first years there we enjoyed the food, enjoyed watching Stelios and Nico do their dance and Nico occasionally doing something crazy like walking on his hands between the tables. Last year because of costs and the Greek thing of family first, Nico was given the boot and replaced by a family member who didn’t last. Things were a bit less good there but still we enjoyed the food wine and atmosphere. But the atmosphere has been degrading a little because of financial worries and the three brothers running the place have been smiling less, and now we have the cherry on the top. The Gabbiano gets most of its trade from the hotel opposite which is generally occupied by Scandinavians. I don’t know why, but now there are more Scandinavian families there. Too often we’ll go for a meal to find ourselves eating out in the nursery with screaming food-chucking ‘little darlings’ everywhere, while the waiters just look harried and smile not at all. Oh isn’t it wonderful how he expresses himself as he yells and runs around! Also, being smokers who have been subject to the ‘denormalization process’ for many years we’re finding it difficult to relax and spark up a rollie, aware of the glares with their subtext of, ‘How dare those people smoke around my precious offspring, and don’t they know about the instant death caused by second-hand smoke?’ We’ll be going elsewhere now.

On Sunday evening we went with neighbours Chris and Terry out for an evening at a restaurant near Sitia (love how the grapes grow there). This evening’s sole purpose is to gather up money for a local dog charity. They are looking after a lot of dogs though, I have to add, there are ten less now since a Greek local thought it might be an idea to break in and poison the dogs.

Anyway, on this evening there is usually a raffle and a quiz, but this evening it was something different. There were 5 teams of four people. First off was a dart match during which each member threw 3 darts and the scores were totted up. We won that by dint of Chris and I scoring over 80 with our throws, which no-one else did. And here is our prize, of which we have shared custody. I’ve no doubt that if my brother Paul sees this he’ll laugh while thinking of his boxes of trophies in his loft – including one for winning the Essex Super-league.

Next it was Pictionary. This dragged on a bit since we were last up and when we had our go we came second. I got the highest number of correct guesses from my pictures but then that wasn’t surprising when my list was: fork, bacon and eggs, smell and T-shirt while my only failure was Groucho Marx.

Tuesday 18th June
So, the BBC story this time was about China running a trial ‘carbon exchange’. The presenter claimed this exchange was needed as she then conflated it with the ‘debilitating’ pollution in Beijing. Now, a carbon exchange concerns the buying and selling of the right to emit CO2: a colourless, odourless trace gas and plant food. This stuff does not debilitate humans until orders of magnitude higher than the present few hundred parts per million in the atmosphere. If you burned all the fossil fuels on the planet you still probably would get nowhere near ‘debilitating’ levels of CO2. So, are the reporters, managers and everyone involved in producing this program item pushing left-wing propaganda, lies and half truths? It seems likely that they are, what with cooling-chimneys as a backdrop to the report – these look ominous but produce neither pollution nor CO2 because what’s coming out is steam. Or are they all as thick as a box of turnips? I have to add that of course the former does not exclude the latter.

Thursday 20th June
When we came here I discovered that a rat had been living in my apotheche (shed). It took me having to empty the shed of everything to drive the thing out, but then that was necessary so as to clear all the shit and piss off the floor, and then chicken wire over the unglazed window kept the damned thing out. Of course these aren’t your usual sewer rats but healthy Mediterranean rats that eat fruit, vegetables and, I was surprised to discover, snails, whose shells were strewn all over the floor too. Either this rat or one of its relatives then took up residence in my composter. This is against the back garden wall and it was using a drainage pipe in the wall to get through. I blocked this pipe and then, in a revenge attack, the rat chewed three-quarters of my sweet corn plants off at the ground. I now open the composter lid while clutching a large lump of fire wood. Last night I woke to the sound of something scrabbling and chewing just outside our bedroom window. I must have been quite a sight charging out naked with a fire poker clutched in my hand. What shot away, hitting the underside of our gate as it went, was a cat. I moment of investigation revealed why: I’d used a polystyrene tray that had contained chicken to go underneath a couple of plant pots. The cat had grabbed this and proceeded to try and eat it, incidentally tipping over two of my plants. Advice to cat: please, go eat the fucking rat.

Friday 21st June
Doncha just love all these high-level discussions by government ministers about how to go after tax evaders? Let me give you a translation: ‘We’ve pissed all your money up the wall and racked up vast debts on unaffordable welfare, social spending, bank bailouts, proliferating bureaucracies, our own unearned salaries and perks, wars that have nothing to do with us and on subsidies for crap like windmills, and now we’re looking for more cash and someone else to blame.’

Wow, there’s a program on BBC world about Georgia. And there was me thinking, what with ‘Report on Africa’, that nothing of importance happens outside that continent. When it first came on I thought interesting, here was a long-running in-depth program about the goings on in Africa, though of course it would be necessary to turn on the ‘white man’s guilt’ mental filter, and I was so looking forward to long-running Reports on India, on China, on America, but it seems those places are not sufficiently of interest to the BBC.

Sunday 23rd June
Plenty of flowers in the garden this year. We have lilies that seem to be turning into triffids and this year we haven’t had the long hot wind destroying the flowers on the brugmansia.

I have just written the ending of Penny Royal III, well, the bit I’ll put THE END after. I still have another section to write prior to that and a recent idea I had concerning one plot thread means I’ll be going through all three books altering and adding. So at what point do I say I have rough drafts of all three books? When I do that prior section – the other stuff can be about turning rough drafts into the final polished version.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Jupiter War Cover

And while I' on here. Go take a look at this excellent article from Jon Sullivan.

Thursday 13th June

Oh well, a quick and unexpected chance to post something more....

It was with much amusement that I watched the BBC report on Greece closing down its state broadcaster. The government there claimed it was a prime example of the profligacy and waste in the Greek system, while the unions claimed it was all the government’s fault because a series of political appointees put in charge. It would be nice to think this had made some at the BBC very uncomfortable, what with its profligacy, waste, political appointees and institutionalized left-wing bias. But they’re just too arrogant there. So how much did this massive new broadcasting centre cost in these ‘times of austerity’ eh?

I see Google is under fire for its tax affairs. This international company is arranging to pay its taxes in countries where taxes are low and though adhering to the law it is, apparently, not adhering to the spirit of the law. Law shouldn’t require the latter form of adherence; something is either right or wrong. If the British government doesn’t like what Google is doing it should change the law. Or, here’s a thought, rein in that socialist greed for other people’s money and drop taxes to the point where international companies are rushing to pay taxes in Britain. We have been in, for some time, that era when bankrupt governments must go cap in hand to wealthy international corporations – something science fiction has been predicting for about 50 years.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Tyres & Doctors

Tuesday 28th May

Last year the tread on the tyres of my car here was getting a bit low and I’d decided that this year I’d change them. But with one thing and another getting in the way I didn’t even get round to checking the tyre pressures until last week. I checked them and they were fine, however, one of the tyres, which had received a knock at some time in the past taking a small chunk out of the side wall, was developing a split. It made me a bit sick seeing that so I immediately went to a local garage to get a new set. This being Crete the guy didn’t have the tyres in – they had to come from Ierapetra – but stuck a second-hand tyre on for me so we were at least safe. The date for my new tyres arriving came and passed. Apparently the tomato truck that delivered them wasn’t running that week. I got them fitted yesterday and now my car has new boots, five days after I went to buy them.

Thursday 30th May
Looking at these pictures you’d probably think to yourself, ooh look, a lovely misty morning in the mountains, and you’d be wrong. I wish I’d taken a picture yesterday when it arrived with a blasting wind, was twice as bad as this and had a yellow tint. There was no mist involved here and not a scrap of moisture in the air, especially with a temperature of 25C at 9.00AM. I could taste dust in my mouth and smell gunpowder in the air. This is of course a dust cloud blown over from Africa, and these pictures are showing the tail end of it.

When someone was telling me about this recently, claiming there was a lot coming over and talking about how badly it affected his breathing, I dismissed it as another aspect of born-again non-smokerism, mainly because the day concerned had been forecast cloudy and there was definite high cirrus in the sky. I’ve been changing my mind ever since what with the crap being deposited on my car in recent weeks and now this.

Shock horror probe! Apparently the EU is suing Spain because hospitals there are forcing people, who present their European health card, to get private treatment and/or hand over their insurance details. What a lovely fluffy place BBC land must be. Only in the UK do we have a health system free at the point of use to every foreigner.

Monday 3rd June
Well, how odd that my last post concerned health systems. So, without going into personal detail, what do you think of the likelihood of this happening on the NHS: getting to see a doctor, without appointment, in quarter of an hour; less than an hour later getting blood and urine taken for testing at a microbiology lab; then an ultrasound scan shortly after that, but only when your bladder is full enough – being sent away by the technician to drink beer and water; then being sent by the technician to a specialist doctor for further check-ups and another scan (though having to wait for half an hour because the doctor was busy); and the next day – at midday – getting an MRI scan; and, in every case, being greeted by the professional concerned with, “Yes, I know who you are.” Actually, I wonder if this would even be possible in England if you went private. Quite a lot of this is to do with numbers of people.

One problem with the NHS is how far removed from the people who are paying are the nurses, doctors and bureaucrats. Their paymaster is the government, but these people lose sight of the fact that the government doesn’t have any money of its own – everything comes from the taxpayer. Only rarely do these people get fired if they’re lazy, inattentive, cruel or simply don’t do their jobs right, and rarer still is any likelihood of them losing out financially. It is this remove that allows them to think they can lecture people about their lifestyles rather than getting on with what they’re paid for and, of course, it is the stifling top-heavy NHS bureaucracy that turns people into numbers rather than patients. And in the words of Forrest Gump, ‘That’s all I’ve got to say about that.’

Tuesday 4th June
Over the last year or more I’ve been designating the books I’m writing as Penny Royal I, II & III, but mooting some tentative ideas about what they will actually be called. I’m settling on Isobel for book I because the subplot of this book in the overall story arc concerns one Isobel Satomi, who has some transformational problems. Book II may well be called Room 101 which is a title with a double meaning. Factory Station Room 101 was where many of the bad AIs came from, and is one the Polity would have us believe was destroyed during the prador-human war. Here’s a relevant entry from the Polity Encyclopaedia about the dreadnought the Trafalgar which ... was built halfway through the Prador/human war at Factory Station Room 101 before that station was destroyed by a first-child ‘Baka’ – basically a flying gigatonne CTD with a reluctant first-child at the controls, though slaved to its father’s pheromones and unable to do anything but carry out its suicide mission. The last book might be called Spear and Spine because there are resolutions here for Thorvald Spear who died during the war and lives again, and because he carries the spine of Penny Royal that contains the recorded dead...

Wednesday 5th June
I fill in one page of a journal every day, which can sometimes be boring and repetitive but is part of my daily discipline. At the bottom of the page I record whether I have done 20 press-ups and 20 sit-ups, my weight, the temperature at 9.00AM (only in Crete that one), my fiction word count and my blog one. I also record my main exercise, which at present will be ‘1 dance’ or ‘1 swim’. Sometimes, depending on what resolution I’m trying to stick to at the time, I’ll record alcohol units drunk, cigarettes smoked, food eaten. If I have done all on my present list (and my fiction word count is above 2,000 words) it’s been a good day. Yesterday was a good day because at last, after doing everything else, I found the sea calm enough for me to do my harbour swim. And as always, though I’m often reluctant to exercise, I felt a damned sight better after it.

That’s all – may be a while before my next blog entry.

So bye for now from both of us in sunny Crete!