Friday, April 30, 2010

Cameron Macintosh is reputed to be worth £635 million which is just a wee bit short of what Andrew Lloyd Webber is worth. When Cameron was asked to look at ‘La Belle Otero’ he yelled “No money! There’s no money!’ and fled to his office, or so I am told.
Of the musicals (book and lyrics) I have written only one has been produced and that is my version of ‘Peter Pan’. That came about because of a commission; otherwise it too would probably never have been done. In fact I most probably wouldn’t have thought of writing it in the first place. It is now published thanks to DCG and sits in Amazon among two hundred other versions of ‘Peter Pan’.
The very first musical I ever attempted is an embarrassment. It was ‘Salad Days’ that inspired my having a go. ‘Salad Days’ was a huge hit in London at the time. Later I came to be involved with it twice and thought it a truly twee little bit of English nonsense. However it did lead to my ‘Opus One’. Yes embarrassing as it may seem, that was the title of my first, simply because I didn’t really have anything to write a musical about. ‘Opus One’ was followed by an adaptation of Ronald Firbank’s ‘Prancing Nigger’, a title that certainly couldn’t be used today although it was an affectionate use of the word at the time and suited the book admirably. But there you go, Agatha Christie had to change her ‘Ten Little Niggers’ into ‘Ten Little Indians’. ‘Prancing Nigger’ never found a composer and I couldn’t get the rights for it anyway. This was followed by ‘Cupid and Psyche’, music by Kenny Clayton, a show I would still dearly love to see on. Forty years ago and more the young Cameron came to the house in Hackney to listen to it and went away unimpressed. ‘Black Maria’ came next, again music by Kenny, and this late in the day there is a slight chance of it being done. It lay in the script drawer for forty years but when I took it out recently I realized it was much better than I originally thought, hence it being touted again. After ‘Black Maria’, a version of ‘Pickwick Papers’, nipped in the bud by Mister Harry Secombe getting there first but which again I feel is much better than I originally thought. Then came a two hander called ‘Fugue In Two Flats’, a difficult piece if only because it takes some doing writing numbers for just two people. The music this time was by Paul Knight and I really love it. This did have an audition in London that I didn’t attend as I was working in America at the time. Obviously though it didn’t go any further. There followed a television spectacular called “Alice In Winterland”. This was at the request of one, Charles Pinner, and Charles being Charles it never saw the light of day and all I received was a rubber cheque. My last attempt at a musical while still in England was the rewrite of one on Garibaldi, the original attempt having been by a London lawyer whose pet it had been for twenty odd years. I use the word attempt advisedly and the twenty odd years should have rung warning bells but didn’t. Unfortunately he couldn’t let it go so I only completed the first act before the collaboration fell through. Finally here in Crete I wrote ‘La Belle Otero’. As with the London lawyer and his pet, this had been on the cards for me for twenty odd years or more before it finally materialized which is probably why those bells didn’t ring. The composer this time was Chris Littlewood and Chris Beeching produced a demo disc in Athens of half a dozen numbers. But that was five years ago and that was the musical Cameron said there was no money for. It does indeed take an act of God with all his angels, archangels, cherubim and seraphim to get a new musical on the road. Unless I get lucky and if it’s not too late I will never see any of these in production. A big disappointment but as the Greeks say, ti na kanoume; what can we do?

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

It is a truism that youth is wasted on the young. Now, having just entered my eightieth year, I find myself looking back, not with regrets, I have had a very lucky life on the whole even with its many disappointments, and whose life doesn’t have disappointments? but with some nostalgia for my youthful days. I never realised how blessed they were in virtually every way; days indeed that were filled with sunshine unappreciated. Well, except in memory, those dear dead days are beyond recall as the old song has it, so there is no use in thinking of “if!” That is one of the smallest of words but one of the most evocative. True it is not used on its own – “what if?” “if only”. What if I had made this choice instead of that? If only things hadn’t turned out the way they did, etc., but if one broods on the might have beens, that is a sad state of affairs. Rather remember your youth knowing that you couldn’t have had it any different, that that was what fate had in store for you and has had in store ever since; and if, when young, you were aware of that, you would surely have nade much more of those years and enjoyed your youth to the full.
I find it strange when I hear, as one frequently does, the youth of today say “I’m bored. There’s nothing to do.” I can’t remember as a youngster ever feeling bored – there was always something to do. Admittedly I had the advantage of living in a seaside town but I didn’t spend all my life on the beach. I was never much good at games, only playing rugby when moving on to high school, but younger than that, going right back to early boarding school days say, there were Dinkie Toys, lead soldiers, toy farms, homemade bows and arrows; later carts made from old orange boxes, a length of timber for the chassis and a cross piece of wood at the front with string or rope tied to each end so that it could be pulled one way or the other to turn. There were bicycles, the scouts, camping, the St.John’s Ambulance Brigade, always places to explore, the occasional picnic on a Sunday (what excitement getting everything ready for it and looking forward to the day), a dive into the country when driving was still an exciting thing to do and on a Saturday afternoon perhaps a visit to the Bioscope, all dressed up, neat and tidy and hoping there would be a cartoon and, if there was, the whole cinema would erupt with the shout of “Cartoon!”
There was no television, no computers on which to play games. We had the radio and terrific serials (or so I thought at the time anyway) to listen to, and a pair of comedians who today would be considered racist, doing an Indian send-up called “Applesammy and Naidoo”. Bored? Not in a hundred years.
Would today’s young generation live as varied and interesting a life instead of being hunched over their computers hours on end.
Thinking back now, they were halcyon days despite at times the occasional tear but wasn’t that all part of growing up?

Monday, April 26, 2010

Say what shall my Blog be today? Back in London some, goodness knows how many, years ago I thought of working up an evening’s entertainment called “Say what Shall My Song Be Tonight?” which is an actual Victorian ballad and a very pretty one it is too. The lyrics of many Victorian numbers may not have been up to much, in particular some of the most popular Music Hall numbers, but tunes, my boy, tunes, that’s what it’s all about, and Victorian tunesmiths knew what they were doing. The idea of the entertainment was to have four singers, one of each: tenor, bass baritone, soprano, contralto and an accompanist, the music interspersed with light verse and anecdote. This was when a number of small companies were doing the pubs playing Music Hall and Chris was in great demand to do his Gilbert The Filbert, Oh That Gorgonzola cheese, She Pushed Me Into The Parlour, In The twi-twi-twilight, Paree, and more. He had quite a repertoire and always went down a storm so no one could understand why he was never invited to appear at the old Players in London. The reason was actually quite simple – it’s called a clique. We used to love going to the Players. We knew most of the artistes performing there, some quite close friends and, even if you saw the same faces over and over, the atmosphere in that dilapidated old tunnel of a place with the trains from Charing Cross Station sometimes rumbling overhead, it was always an evening of jollity. Unfortunately, when it came time to move to a brand new venue a little way up the road, all that wonderful old atmosphere simply disappeared. I think we paid maybe two visits to the new home and lost interest. In the old building we saw pantomimes and, of course that very successful musical “The Boy Friend” started its life in the old Players. Sandy Wilson wrote himself a lifetime’s income with that one piece and nothing that followed could compare. As pastiche it is just too perfect, a little gem. That’s not to say it can’t come unstuck. I saw a production in America that was simply awful but that was mainly due to some of the weirdest casting and misdirection. So often in theatre there is misjudgement of that kind – the right play in the wrong house, the wrong play in the right house, the wrong director, the wrong cast, so when one sees something that literally makes you shake with excitement it’s a wonderful experience. Such a one was a production I saw in Toronto of “March Of The Falsettos”, a small cast giving everything they’d got quite brilliantly to a tiny house in the Canadian equivalent of an off-off-Broadway house. Also at James Madison a student production of “Come To the Five And Nine Jimmy Dean” that had me on my feet and that doesn’t happen very often.
But back to my proposed Victorian evening that never happened. I seem to remember one of the anecdotes was of an English actress, I think it may have been Fanny Carby, who was feeding the squirrels in New York’s Central park, got bitten on the finger and a cop wanted to know if she could identify the squirrel wot done it before she was whipped off to hospital for an anti-tetanus shot. And so to the next number, a ballad titled “Somewhere A Voice is calling.” Of all the Victorian/Edwardian music I know I only mention that one because my father, if ever he was persuaded to sing, and he had a very good voice despite his shyness, would always sing “Somewhere A Voice Is Calling.”
Handel seemed to be a favourite with my mother: Lascia ch’io piango, Ombra mai fu, known as the Largo. Then there was O Don Fatale and Softly Awakes My Heart from Samson and Delilah, a song called Parted (mentioned in my autobiography), and she loved Just A Song At Twilight, and of course there was I’ll Walk Beside You she was always being asked to sing at weddings. All good old schmaltzy stuff. All tunes.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

The mosquitoes have put in their first unwelcome appearance as two bites on the arm and one on the ankle testify and they don’t half itch! I really don’t know where the mosquito fits into intelligent design or why they should be so attracted to me. If there are three or four people sitting around I am the one they invariably head for.
It would appear that the Soviet Socialist Republic of Hackney were we lived for some time, where excellence we were once informed is elitist and political correctness reigns supreme, is now one of the most dangerous spots on earth, where stabbings are a constant occurrence and with gangs of black feral youth shooting indiscriminately at each other and hitting innocents in the process; teenagers being chased into parks by gangs and dying of multiple stab wounds. Mind you, that still hasn’t stopped the exorbitant rise in property values. A one bedroom flat in a converted house a couple of doors down from where we used to live is on the market for the asking price of a quarter of a million! This means in relative terms that our old house is now valued at two million or more, depending upon how many one room flats you can convert it to. And when we sold it for sixty three thousand we thought that was asking too much. It gets more and more ridiculous.
In England we used to like using olive oil but because of the expense it was always used sparingly, a few drops at a time virtually and we could seldom afford the best virgin. Here there is no holding back, mainly because we are constantly being given it by friends and neighbours. Our friend Stewart came around the other day with a twenty litre container filled to the brim. The same goes for halva which I might have mentioned before (there has to come a time when I repeat myself). In England we used to buy it by the ounce, here we buy it by the half kilo. But the good days cannot last as prices rocket. Who knows, soon we might not be able to afford it here.
The oranges have finally come to an end – the last few being the juiciest sweetest oranges I have ever tasted. The loquat season has started to take its place. It’s a pity the season is so very short. The loquat is one of my favourite fruits together with mangoes and guavas. These are the fruits I grew up with. Oh, I should add lychees and granadillas – all tropical fruit you will notice. Lychees and granadillas have always been expensive even in South Africa way back then – prohibitive in England. I grew a granadilla vine here from seed and it yielded masses of fruit but, unfortunately, suddenly there was snow and that killed it.
I remember when I was a child my mother sometimes drove us down to the South Beach in Durban where she parked the car facing the sea and if there was a chilly wind blowing off the beach, as was sometimes the case, we would sit in the warmth of the car eating lychees bought off an Indian lady vending along the beachfront, a long bamboo pole over her shoulder with a basket at each end. They would also come around to the house selling vegetables. It must have been a very hard life for little return.
And talking of mothers, today Douglas’s mum celebrates her 70th birthday and he managed to get all his flights back to Newcastle for the big event so she is in for a lovely surprise.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

A.A.Gill – I hate him! Why do I hate him? Quite simply because I find his writing is so consistently bloody brilliant. A new bundle of Sunday Times culture sections landed on the doorstep a few days ago (thank you the Maffins of Huddersfield) and the very first one opened at Gill’s television reviews didn’t exactly have me gasping for breath but certainly continued my admiration for this man’s work. Without unnecessary elaboration his writing is witty and stylish, polished to a degree others can only aspire to. It is said that the hardest writing makes for the easiest reading but his prose gives no indication other than it simply flows without effort. This is possibly not true but that is how it reads. I wish I could write half as well and I simply hate him. I hope the Sunday Times pays him oodles and oodles of cash. He deserves it.
I don’t know why but from the bookshelf in my bedroom I took down Dotson Rader’s memoirs of Tennessee Williams ‘Cry Of The Heart’ to read again after a long long interval and have found it as fascinating as the first time round. I can’t say I enjoyed it but I was deeply moved by it. What a tormented soul Tennessee was but then so many writers seem to have teetered on the verge, if not of madness, at least a mental or emotional breakdown. I think back on what I have read of Tolstoy and Gordon Craig as two examples, both monsters each in his own way who I would like to say more about at a later date but then there are all those American writers who killed themselves with booze or drugs or both. Next to them I am a boring figure or normality, if there should be such a thing as normality. But a quote here from Rader’s book – ‘The critics always bellow that their reviews don’t affect, psychologically, a writer’s ability to create. That isn’t true. Critics have killed more writers than liquor. They certainly defeated Tennessee. One of the few times I saw him cry was when he read a review about his work by John Simon, entitled ‘The sweet Bird of Senility.’ How smugly smart and how cruel can you get? For those who might not be au fait with Williams’ work the play is “Sweet Bird of Youth”. There is a saying that those who can’t do, teach. Perhaps it should be those who can’t do, criticise. After the mauling “The 88” got from the London critics it was at least two years before I could even think of writing again.
But it’s not only the professional critics who can be unkind. Another incident Rader mentions is as follows, ‘… we walked over to Park Avenue to get a taxi. While we stood trying to wave down a cab, a woman came rushing up to us.
“Aren’t you Tennessee Williams?” she asked.
Tennessee grinned, delighted at being recognised by what he assumed was a fan.
“I saw your play last night,” the woman continued.
“Yes?” he was still smiling’
“Yes. Tell me how can I get a refund? I thought it was just awful.”
Tennessee angered and hurt ran into the street.’
His advice to Dotson Rader was never be a playwright and, if there are budding young playwrights somewhere out there who are not prepared to put up with the shit that will be thrown at them, no matter how great they are, like Williams, stop right now.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Double Deckers, The Double Deckers, The Double Deckers! Douglas has recently had to have three sites on the internet offering pirated DVD’s closed down and there is another yet to go. It is nearly forty years since this series was made during which time I have had one small royalty cheque from France, otherwise not a penny have I or anyone involved in the making of the programme seen all these years; but someone is and has been making money out of it including music, reissued on CD by Cherry records who maintain they don’t have to pay royalties for the songs. The above is not quite true. I have received small amounts through the Performing Rights Society for the four songs (lyrics) I have in the show which is how I know about the worldwide sales. But the fact remains, had I received according to contract what was due to me, I have to admit life without constant financial worries would have been a lot easier. There is no official DVD and evidently there has been a petition signed by three thousand people (possibly more by now) for one to be made. In the meantime the pirates have a field day and, apart from stopping their advertising, what can one do? Even if we could afford it, taking legal action would be far too costly for the possible returns.
I bought our first house in London because of great expectations, imagining the royalty cheques that would flow in to pay off the mortgage. It just never happened. 20th Century Fox who evidently still hold the copyright have always maintained the show never went into profit which is a load of balderdash considering it has been sold all over the world, has been shown umpteen times syndicated in the states, on the BBC and on ITV more than once and cost peanuts to make, £25000 per episode. It’s no consolation to know I am not the only one to be thoroughly shafted by the big companies or even by lesser mortals but it is infuriating. Big film stars on multi-million dollar salaries who feel they have been cheated can take their studios to task. I can’t.
What is even more galling is that if it hadn’t been for that meeting in Wardour Street with Harry Booth and Roy Simpson when I suggested to them that they make a modern version of “Our Gang” for the Children’s Film Foundation, The Double Deckers would never have come into being. Neither Harry or Roy had even heard about “Our Gang”. I knew of it because of the projector my father bought me when I was a kid and the little rolls of 8mm film that went with it. So for the CFF we made “The Magnificent 6½” and that led directly on to The Double Deckers. And would you believe it, in publicity handouts, the head of the CFF took it upon himself to coyly admit it was his idea in the first place that started the whole thing off? You simply can’t win.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Another scandal for the church, already battered by the paedophile problem. An English bishop this time, admittedly now no longer part of old Popy’s mob but with breakaway followers of his own, is on trial in Germany for denying the holocaust. He has refused to attend the trial but it is going ahead without him. He admits it and will be found guilty and fined in absentia. Like flat-earthers, fundamentalists, and the belief in intelligent design when all the evidence piles up to proves the opposite I find it difficult to understand just what the point is in denial of this kind. The Bishop only has to visit one of the concentration camps (we have been to Dachau) to know he is in the wrong. Human beings really are the strangest animals and I sometimes think the more intelligent they are the more stupid they can be at the same time if that is possible.
When I was in Kenya I worked on a farm growing flowers, gladioli and carnations to be exact, but I never knew what a huge industry flower growing is in Kenya. I thought our farm at Njoro was an exception. Evidently now disaster has struck because of the cloud of ash from the Icelandic volcano grounding all flights. Flowers can only be kept in cold storage a short while. There are about 300 growers in Kenya employing 100000 people and estimate they are losing one and a half to two million dollars a day and flowers make up twenty percent of Kenya’s exports. Let’s hope the flights resume quickly. Suddenly one realises just how much in bondage we are to the aviation industry. Millions of passengers all over Europe are stranded, the airlines like the flower growers of Kenya are losing millions of dollars a day and it must surely have a terrible knock-on effect. The holiday season has started and if people can’t reach their destination the domino effect comes into play when all the trades reliant on the season; hotels, taxis, restaurants, souvenir shops and more will suffer, and here on Crete they had a bad enough season last year. Douglas wants to fly to the UK this week for his mother’s seventieth birthday and we don’t know if he is going to be able to do so. As if that isn’t bad enough, at the end of this week Greek airports will grind to a halt by a two day strike – yet again!
On a lighter vein, talking of flowers, April is a yellow month which is something I’ve probably remarked on before: the lemon trees laden with fruit, the broom in full bloom, the wild sage and all along the roadside yellow flowers in abundance. Van Gogh would have loved it. He called yellow God’s own colour.

Friday, April 16, 2010

The much discredited and I thought obsolete “Portsmouth Defence” has reared its ugly head once more. For those not familiar with the Portsmouth Defence, it was used by someone accused of murder as a diminution of responsibility by claiming the person murdered came on to him sexually, even possibly attempting a rape and therefore, the accused totally lost it, didn’t mean to kill him but that unfortunately was the way it turned out. Very sorry, your honour, and a sympathetic judge might reduce the charge of murder to manslaughter and in consequence a reduction in sentence.
The reason why it was called the Portsmouth Defence was because Portsmouth was a naval town and consequently teeming with sailors, many of whom were haveable, seafood was what Tennessee Williams called them, and it was just too easy to bring homosexuality into the defence just as politicians who wish to discredit the opposition bring up the same tired old accusations. I don’t recollect it being used for a long time but it has been mooted once more – this time in South Africa where a lawyer for one of the killers of Eugene Terreblanche has brought it up on his client’s behalf, accusing Terreblanche of attempted sodomy.
Can anyone in their right mind even think such a thing possible? Well, maybe it is possible, anything is possible in this crazy world, but Terreblanche was a far right-wing vicious racist who would never, especially considering his Dutch Reformed Church background, think of committing sodomy, particularly with a black man. Now there are plenty of white men who like sex with black women, there are enough half castes in the world to attest to that, and there are white boys who like having sex with black boys but Eugene Terreblanche? Not in a thousand years. I simply do not believe it.
At the same time members of the Roman Catholic Church struggling to come to grips with the shame of its many predatory priests, the latest claims surfacing in Malta, are squirming like worms on the hook. Because the majority of abuses have been against young boys, Cardinal Bertone, second only to the Pope himself, has stated that paedophilia is not caused by celibacy but is itself an aspect of homosexuality. Like the Portsmouth Defence this is so outdated I wonder he can even bring himself to think it, let alone say it. As the Stonewall Group in the US says, ‘it is an offensive myth.’ The cardinal says he has psychiatric papers to prove it but so far he has failed to produce this evidence. The simple fact of the matter is that boys in Catholic institutions are easier to seduce than girls who do not, for example act as acolytes and who are probably guarded much more carefully by their families or are forever in their families’ company.
Sexual goings on in the Catholic Church are not new; have been going on I should think for centuries. Ronald Firbank wrote a novella titled “The Eccentricities of Cardinal Pirelli” in which the cardinal, in hot pursuit of a teasing choir boy, expires in front of the high altar. The boy Firbank describes as “having a mouth of cherry cream, never far away.”
No, like the necrophiliac sadist who is into bestiality, the Cardinal it would seem is flogging a dead horse.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

I don’t think I should write another Blog without talking about the murder of Eugene Terreblanche. It will be noticed that at his funeral a number of his mourning followers indulged in the old fascist salute as the hearse went by. Will they never learn?
A black politician sings a song, “kill the Boers” and the ANC support him so obviously they will never learn either.
But for those who may not know, Terreblanche was the extreme right wing leader of an organisation called The Afrikaner Resistance Movement. During World War 2 some Afrikaners, sympathising with Nazi Germany formed an organisation known as Die Broederbond – the band of brothers. They considered General Smuts a traitor for taking South Africa into the war on the side of Great Britain. And why indeed should the Boer have any love for or sympathise with the British who burnt down their homesteads and invented the concentration camp in which so many of their women and children died? And earlier The Great trek was the direct result of British politics in the Cape of Good Hope.
You could say, despite segregation in the states, that the Afrikaner invented apartheid and never wanted to see the end of it. They feared being swamped, as one of Terreblanche’s followers said, “They’ve got the country, what more do they want?” and, although there are those, with British connections for example, who can skedaddle if they feel so endangered, the Boers are African and have nowhere to go. Since the ending of apartheid it is estimated that 3000 farmers in the Transvaal, sorry what used to be the Transvaal – now partly Mpumalanga – have been murdered. The big question is, have these murders been racially motivated or the result of the way the Boer has always treated his servants and workers and believed in his divine right to be the baas and behave as he wished. The sjambok is a very dangerous form of whip and many a black skin has felt its lashes and one wonders how many blacks have been killed by their white masters, deliberately or accidentally. Terreblanche himself served three years for attempted murder and in the instance of his own death it is claimed it was because of an alleged dispute about wages which I can very well believe, though that does not excuse the violent result.
South Africa is considered by the rest of the world to be the most dangerous place in which to live and yes indeed there is the most horrific crime rate; a great deal of it black against black and Indian, but any worse than say Mexico? The White farmer does not take into account just how many blacks have been murdered since the end of apartheid and some of it no doubt racially motivated but most of it economic. If you’ve got what I haven’t got and I want it I will take it from you. Is it any worse than say Philadelphia where it is reputed you can be killed in the street for the trainers you are wearing?
England recently has begun to pride itself on being multi-cultural. South Africa unfortunately is a land of many tribes. There are about fourteen or so Black tribes, an Indian tribe, a Cape Coloured (that is half caste) tribe, an Afrikaans tribe and an English tribe.
People outside of South Africa obviously know about the Zulu tribe and, because of Mandela, probably the Xhosa, but consider the other languages of the country: Ndebele, Sepedi, Tschivenda, Siswali, Swahili, Kissonga, Sesotho, Swazi, Koi, Nama, San. Add to this about eleven other languages from Europe and Asia and you will see it is quite a mix and there is no doubt that tribal rivalries can still be a source of problems. But I will have to continue this another time.

Monday, April 12, 2010

“The most villainous looking set of hope-abandoned thieves I ever saw” - A description of the UK’s departing members of parliament? Most apt but no; Albert Smith’s description of a group of Chinese priests in the city of Canton. Is Canton still Canton or is it now named something else? Street names, town names, country names, they change so fast. Will the next lot of M.P’s the British vote in next month be any better than the last? and he who casts the first stone, glass houses and all that, let the Brits no longer sneer about Greek corruption or any other country’s corruption because they are all at it. Little piggy snouts in big piggy troughs, endless tax payers’ money to spend. What I find difficult to understand is how every country seems to be in the red. Even China is reporting a trade deficit. Are there any that have an enormous balance of payments surplus? And, if so, how do they manage it and aren’t they the lucky ones?
I have just finished burning two discs of “The Cinelli Vases”. After my previous near disaster losing the hard drive and a whole heap of information with it, despite Spiro’s brave attempts to rescue it all and only managing to rescue some, a fair part admittedly but still only some, in fact a goodly portion of “The Cinelli Vases” disappeared so now no chances are taken; every bit of writing is burnt onto those two CD’s as a matter of course. In fact I don’t wait until the end but do it as I go along. Better safe than sorry and all those other old clich├ęs. Come to think of it I wonder if Elf and Safety use that as their motto.
What I find completely mind-blowing is the whole process takes no more than a few seconds – a complete 90000 word novel is burnt in that short time. It’s little wonder we’re all going around the twist. The speed of change is so rapid the human brain can’t cope, mine can’t anyway. Only kidding – I think.
Looking back to the early days, the little Olympic portable typewriter I carried with me to locations; I took it to the south of France when I was working for Sydney Box and I remember I took it to Madrid when I was writing that silly Xavier Cugat TV special that in the end came to nought, and the big heavy old typewriters I used to use and then the electronic typewriters whose ribbons in cassettes could not be wound back and forth to be reused time and time again, were very expensive and with which one still made mistakes – now with the computer those mistakes are eradicated immediately and one can type away at the rate of knots knowing it doesn’t matter, there’s no longer any need for erasers or Typex.
My first computer on which one used floppy discs is now an antique, a museum piece, and it wouldn’t surprise me in the least to realise this one I am currently working on falls into the same category. That’s how quickly it all happens.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

I guess you can find just about everything on the Internet these days. I have been reading a most fascinating book – “The Baron of Piccadilly – The Travels and Entertainment of Albert Smith 1816-1860” a quite remarkable man, possibly out-barnumed Barnum but maybe a little more sophisticated. His novel “The Adventures of Mister Ledbury” (still unread) has been in our bookshelves for more years than I can remember. I wonder if I will ever get around to reading it. But in this biography I have just come across a fascinating piece of information. I am near the end of the book. Mister Smith an inveterate traveller is in Hong Kong, this in itself is fascinating. The Brits have no reason to be proud of what went on there in 1850, but what caught my eye even more was this,
‘The American pirate Eli Boggs, who had been tried in Hong Kong in July1857 for piracy and murder, The Times correspondent had reported, “His name would do for a villain of the Blackbeard class but in form and feature he was like the hero of a sentimental novel; as he stood in the dock, bravely battling for his life, it seemed impossible that the handsome boy could be the pirate whose name had been for three years connected with the boldest and bloodiest acts of piracy. It was a face of feminine beauty. Not a down upon the upper lip; large lustrous eyes, a mouth the smile of which might woo a coy maiden; affluent black hair, not carelessly parted; hands so small and so delicately white that they would create a sensation in Belgravia: such was the Hong Kong pirate, Eli Boggs.”
I can’t help but wonder why small white hands would create a sensation in Belgravia as opposed to anywhere else, but to move on…
“Boggs spoke well in his own defence but it was proved that he had boarded a junk and killed fifteen men, thrown the rest of the crew overboard and fired at one who grabbed a rope and held on astern.” Now here is the amazing bit, the jury were so impressed by his youth and courage (and no doubt his beauty) that they acquitted him of murder and found him guilty of piracy. He was sentenced to be transported for life but evidently was dispatched back to the states at the request of the American consul. He died within a short time.
Having never heard of this outrageous man, evidently at one time it is said he commanded over fifty junks and once cut up a Chinaman into tiny pieces and sent him ashore in buckets as a warning to others not to interfere with him, I learn on the Internet because I immediately looked him up for further information and I couldn’t help wondering if in fact Mister Boggs wasn’t a girl. It is possible. At this time there was a young lady by the name of Lulu who was a sensation in London as a trapeze artist, setting many a masculine heart aflame and inspiring a flurry of letters to The times demanding to know why this beautiful young gel should be forced to endanger life and limb in this fashion.
This beautiful young gel was in actual fact a boy, Nino Farini, who in later life emigrated to Canada and became a photographer. Could our pirate also have been a girl? A pretty (no pun intended) bloodthirsty one to say the least. Intriguing thought though.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Proof reading is truly an art. You can read a manuscript a hundred times and still miss something. Hardly a book I’ve read in the last year but I’ve not found some mistake or mistakes. Dipping into “Dead On Target” I come across on page 207 ‘No, you don’t want to her that’ instead of ‘hear that.’ Easily missed and of course the spell check wouldn’t pick up on it. Would there be any point in sending it back to the printers to rectify this one mistake? My answer to that would be no but Douglas, reading it more thoroughly, has come across a huge mistake in layout where a page for some reason has been centred instead of to the left and looks terrible. Now it definitely will have to go back. As far as the cover is concerned, well! They arrived back from Xania day before yesterday with the most enormous teddy bear and, as we have been watching “Brideshead Revisited” after many a long year, they have naturally called him after Sebastian’s bear and I won’t try and write the name because although I can say it I simply wouldn’t know how to spell it. (Aloysios?)
Here I think I will explain that the cover consists of a forest in which a bear is pinned by an arrow to the trunk of a tree. The objection to the original is that, although the concept was okay, the bear wasn’t the right bear, hence the new acquisition. While in England, Douglas went into a toy shop looking for a bear that could be pinned by an arrow to a tree and the good lady serving was evidently so horrified at the idea she freaked out and he was virtually thrown out of the shop.
We were going to have a pizza night before last but when we arrived in Litsarda we found the pizzeria closed so moved on to Kalyves to the old family restaurant Chris and I used when we first came to Crete to move into our house here. The restaurant is run by Stelios and his family and I was looking forward to the greeting Douglas was going to get from Stelios when he saw him there. Evidently in the morning when they dropped in on the vet, Michaeli to get anti-flea stuff for Merrill, when Michael saw Douglas he dropped everything, there were others waiting, but he rushed across the surgery for hugs and kisses. Chris says he was holding back the tears. ‘I don’t want to hear what you’ve been through,’ he said, ‘you’re here and that’s all that matters.’ I think Stelios would have reacted the same way as it seems everyone has on seeing him back.
I don’t think there is any chance of us ever moving from Crete to live elsewhere. We have been so warmly accepted, become so much a part of the community and have made so many friends. If only, if only, I could be fluent in the language but it is so late.
We have four lemon trees giving us an abundance of fruit – so much that we keep giving it away but yesterday we found a plastic bag on the doorstep with about four dozen lemons in it, obviously from Agalayia across the way. What on earth are we going to do with them? Also Eleftheria sent over some beetroot (yum yum) and enough spinach to feed an army (yuk yuk) but I am supposed to eat my dark green vegetables so might as well get on with it.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Sunday lunch turned out to be everything expected of it. Again there were about thirty people there eating and drinking under a great fir tree but with the warm sun on our backs. The sky was cloudless. The lamb was done on a spit but Jannis and Vana have an enormous outside wood oven for baking pies and I remarked to Douglas it is big enough to be cremated in and he agreed.
I never cease to be amazed at the amount of building that has gone on these last few years and, despite the recession, is still going on. Vamos, which is the capital of this region, was once a thriving community evidently but, when work became scarce many young people drifted away and houses were left to fall into rack and ruin. Since we came there has been a reversal in the town’s fortunes with a number of new houses being built all around the outskirts and, this last year in our little neck of the woods more in the village itself, at least seven or eight ruins, well no more than stone walls really, have been rebuilt completely changing the area. There are of course more tourists now to help fill the town’s coffers and some of these rebuilds are for accommodating them. Who knows though what this year’s season which is just beginning will be like? I believe a lot of businesses have been suffering. It’s a sort of chain reaction eventually affecting everybody.
As far as real estate is concerned though people are not buying. Thirty new houses built in Litsarda are still for the most part standing empty after a couple of years on the market, there are quite a few resales no one seems to want and now there is a shortage of rental property. It seems prospective immigrants want to rent rather than buy. Probably a very good idea; they can spend a few months taking stock and then decide whether or not to buy or go back to wherever they came from. I’m certainly glad we bought when we did. There is no way we would be able to afford this house now the way property prices have risen, especially a large house with a large garden right in the village and there’s no way we could afford to return to the UK even if we felt so inclined.
“Dead On Target” has been delivered from the printers and I for one was rather excited about it. I thought the cover exceptionally good and atmospheric but oh no, not Mr Perfectionist Foote and Mr Perfectionist Beeching. It’s not right. What’s not right about it? It’s just not right. They have spent hours on respective computers and are still not satisfied. That’s perfectionist for you.
Can’t end this Blog by not mentioning that to-day the 6th April, Chris and I will have known each other for fifty years. That is some going I reckon.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

There used to be a joke in England some years back about “The African Queen” always being shown on television at Christmas. It being Easter week in Greece, the television channels are as usual all dusting off and putting out their old religious films and series. This happens twice a year so we will get them all again at Christmas. In the meantime here, apart from Orthodox services, is this Easter’s list. I notice some of the old favourites like Quo Vadis and The Greatest Story Ever Told etc., are missing but we do have - The Mysteries of the Bible (series), The earth of Jesus (Greek documentary), Barabbas, The Passion (series), Esther and the King, Liturgy of the Epitaph, (two channels), Jesus of Nazareth (series), Jesus of Nazareth on another channel, King David, The Ten Commandments, (also on two channels), Ben Hur, Judas, Salome, In The Beginning, Holy Paths (Greek), The Bible/Joseph (US German Italian drama), Riddles of the Bible (As opposed to mysteries I suppose). This one’s from National Geographic), Biography of Judas, Inside Jerusalem’s Holiest Places (also National Geographic), The lost tomb of Jesus. More series than films this time around.
Once past midnight Saturday and Jesus has been resurrected, the religious bit can stop and we can all go back to more mundane stuff like Superman, Helen of Troy, Cleopatra etc.
Friday night Chris and Douglas went to a little village called Douliana for the epitafios, that is Jesus on his cross being taken down, placed on a bier and walked around the village in procession. They normally attend it in Vamos but we had visitors from Athens who wanted to do Douliana so that is where they went. The procession around Vamos is quite a long one so by the end of it many, like little old ladies, have fallen out, having done their bit. Those like me who don’t feel up to it don’t bother. The same applies to the anastesi (resurrection) last night when the holy flame is passed from candle to candle, a great deal of kissing goes on, the church bells ring out in triumph, the bonfire is lit to burn Judas and everyone greets each other with ‘Jesus is risen’ to which the answer is ‘He has truly risen.’ There is a positive barrage of fireworks and rockets lighting up the sky (I watched that from the terrace) and any number of guns being fired into the air. I haven’t been to this one either for a couple of years now but Chris and Douglas go; not for the religious bit but to bond with the community. Our Greek friends and neighbours do appreciate it and they know the old papoose as he approaches his seventy ninth birthday ain’t up to it no more.
Today, Sunday, we will be going across the road to our friends and neighbours, Janis and Vana for Easter lunch barbecue style. Goodness knows how many lambs will have been slaughtered. Last year there were thirty people or more there at three long tables under the trees and enough food and wine to feed an army. This we’re really am looking forward to.

Friday, April 2, 2010

After two more visits to the police station,last Friday under the watchful eye of Jesus and a couple of saints we finally got our residents’ permits. Strictly speaking under EU regulations they are not necessary but not to have them means carting bulky passports around wherever you go, just in case the police stop you for some reason or other. That hasn’t actually happened – yet. All Greeks carry identification cards known as taftotita and appear to be quite happy about it so our cards take the taftotita’s place and we like having them. Why are the Brits so up in arms about having an identity card? Admittedly the amount the government are thinking of charging for them is a bit steep but otherwise, what’s the problem?
The Greeks love their rubber stamps and on two carousels in the station I counted sixteen of them. Others were produced from drawers or satchels when necessary. The office is quite small, three desks taking up most of the floor space, and the walls are lined with bulky files. The other thing it would appear that Greeks enjoy is filling in a thousand forms. The British police complain about their paperwork. Come to Greece, mates and you will know what paperwork is. Anyway, these permits are for life so we won’t, as before with five year ones, have to go through it all again.
I had gone through in my mind beforehand a whole dramatic scenario should there still have been a problem. It sort of ended with “English writer jailed for sit down protest in Vamos police station.” Well, I was robbed of that opportunity. Our young policeman simply could not have been more charming so I won’t follow in the footsteps of Wilde, Genet, Orton or any other writer who has been in prison.
Saturday saw a further memorial service to Maria. These services really do cost a great deal of money, going first of all to the church and then the caterers. In this instance there were two going on at the same time. The Orthodox Church, like so many religious institutions, is fabulously wealthy and the hierarchy are kicking up one hell of a fuss at the moment because the new socialist government in one of its attempts to get Greece out of the financial mess is threatening it with a 20% tax on gross income. At the same time for the same reason it would seem virtually everyone else is holding a strike. The Greeks have always been pretty adept at avoiding tax and a clamp down is not, as far as they’re concerned, in their best interest. I am afraid Kennedy’s, ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country, goes right against the grain.
When Kristos deserted us more than a year ago to take over a restaurant in Kalyves he left behind a business in the dark which was sad but I am delighted to say someone else has taken it over, the lights are on again and we are back to three restaurants in Vamos, restaurants as opposed to eateries. We went for dinner Sunday evening about seven thirty and found that there about twenty people dining, all Brits! Come nine o’clock the first Greeks appeared. They really do love eating late, even into the early hours. Of all the Brits only one face did we recognize.