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Knossos was beckoning. This important site is considered to be the oldest city in Europe, and one of the best remaining examples of a Bronze Age settlement; we could hardly not go and see it. Just south of Heraklion, it was easy to find, not least because of all the traffic heading there. We had set off early, hoping to beat the rush. But the rush had set off early too. We queued to park in the car park, then once we had left the car, realised that we had to walk some way to the entrance. In heat approaching forty degrees, the sight of another long queue to get through the entrance booth was far from welcome. We paid our reasonable ticket price, and headed off into the large complex.

I would like to now tell you of the wonders of Minoan Civilization we saw there. Unfortunately, it all seemed more like a very crowded street market, populated with hordes of tourists from every corner of the planet. More coaches and tour parties arrived, until the place was crammed. Guides gave commentaries in a dozen different languages, all trying to make themselves heard over others doing something similar. What I managed to see was interesting enough, though mostly viewed across a sea of bobbing, hat-wearing heads. After an hour of this, we had both had enough, and agreed that it was not a good day for this trip. It may well be better organised now, but it also might be advisable to go outside of the main season for visitors.

I had looked on the map, and thought that there might be a more interesting route back from Knossos. Away from the main roads, I was sure that we would discover more about the island. I headed south, then east, towards Aghios Nikolaos. The roads soon deteriorated alarmingly, and also began to climb into some hills. Some consisted of little more than a series of sharp hairpin bends, and the tarmac had been replaced with a shingle covering. There was no room to pull of the road in an emergency, as on the left the drop became increasingly sheer. If anything larger than a small car had come the other way, we would have had no room to pass. We failed to discover any interesting sights, or pretty villages. The local people had wisely chosen not to inhabit this area, save for some remote farms, and the occasional religious building on some precarious outcrop. After an hour or more of this, things got quite bad. The road became so narrow, the bends so blind, that my wife actually got out, and walked ahead of the car. She was looking to make sure that the surface was wide enough to proceed; and it was, but only just.
Despite being seemingly lost, I was certain that we were at least heading in the right direction. I confess that I was very nervous, as at times I was driving inches away from the edge of a drop into the valley below. What seemed like an eternity was around ninety minutes, then the track stopped dead, at the junction with a tarmac road. I gave a huge sigh of relief and turned on to the small road, which seemed like a motorway after our recent experience. Ten minutes later, this connected with the main road, and I saw a sign that said right for Aghios Nikaloas, left for Heraklion. I was actually happy to be heading back to the small apartment.

The next morning, we wanted to go out again, but also to avoid the mountain-goat experience of our return journey from Knossos. I looked at the map, and a place that my friend had noted on there, Sitia Bay. This involved a drive through some hillside towns and villages, that we had seen in passing, when we had visited Vai Beach. Exploring these smaller places on the way was a delight. Not far from the main road, we found local villages and small towns (the names of which I cannot recall) where few tourists ventured. We stopped for an early lunch, parking close by a house that had tables and chairs outside, and a small advertising sign for beer. A friendly man emerged with menus. They were only in Greek, and he did not seem to understand any English. We ordered drinks easily enough, and he returned with a young woman, who spoke German. As my wife could speak German well, they managed to take an order for lunch, where we left it to the owner to give us what he recommended. There was a cool breeze up there in the hills, and it even managed to flutter the parasols over the table. What followed was the best meal we ate during our whole stay. A selection of starters was followed by a delicious lamb stew, accompanied by both salad and vegetables. After we had worked our way through this, he arrived with home-made sweet pastries and tiny cakes, accompanied by strong thick coffee. Our early lunch had run to over two hours, and when the bill came, I was sure that he had made a mistake. The young woman was summoned, so we could explain that it was too cheap. The patron laughed when he heard this, as he thought we were complaining that it was too much. The bill was for less than £6. Even back then, that was half of what it should have been, if not one third. We insisted on paying £12 in Drachmas, and they were so pleased, they walked us to our car, shaking hands on the way.

Sitia bay was a nice resort. I believe that it has been developed a great deal since, but we found it very pleasant, with a good beach that was a little stony and narrow, but went on a long way. There was a promenade area around the harbour in Sitia town itself, and we found a fairly isolated cove just outside of town. We spent the afternoon there relaxing, before driving back just as the sun was setting. We didn’t need another meal that night, so just adjourned to the taverna for drinks and a snack.

The next few days before our departure were spent doing little. I got an impressive tan from sitting around various beaches, and lying in the shallows. The mosquitoes continued to bite me, until I had more bites than I could be bothered to count; but the combination of salt water and ammonia pens made them just about bearable. We had to hand in the car the day before leaving for the airport. That left us stuck around the apartment, so we sat outside on the rocks for a while, got our stuff almost packed, and went off to the taverna in the early evening. A long meal followed, accompanied by drinking lots of Ouzo, followed by beers, and topped off with copious amounts of Metaxa brandy. As a result, I slept undisturbed for the first time since arriving.

I admit that I wasn’t sorry to bid farewell to Crete. The plumbing issues, constant insect bites, and relentless summer heat, had all combined to make this holiday a chore, rather than a pleasure. But we had seen a new place, enjoyed some unusual experiences, and eaten a lot of delicious food. I suppose that’s what a summer holiday is all about, when it comes down to it. Would I go back? No thanks.

Returning to our ‘hovel’, we were confident, as we had set up the small machine that burned insect-killing coils before leaving. As we entered, we were sure that the thing had set the apartment on fire, as a cloud of smoke greeted us. It was stinging our eyes, and making it hard to breathe. Of course, we had to fling open the door and all the windows, immediately making the whole thing pointless. No doubt many mosquitoes had been lined up outside waiting for this moment, as by the time we had cleared the noxious fog, the place was once again full of hungry biters. That machine went into the bin, and I tried to get some sleep, sure that I could hear the buzzing of the blighters all around me.

The next morning, it was an early start for a planned trip to the town of Rethymnon. This was almost two hours by car, so we wanted to get out in time to make a day of it. I slapped on my cream, took a tablet, and dabbed on my ammonia pen, with a series of ‘ouch that stings’ exclamations accompanying each application. Rethymnon was located to the north and west, back past Heraklion, but the main roads would take us to it, so we were sure that we would get there easily. And I had my map. Despite the high season influx of visitors, the roads were not that busy. There was an abundance of other tourists driving hired convertible Suzuki Jeeps; hoods down, and generally over-crowded inside. Some passengers perched precariously on the back rim, holding on to the roll bar; disasters waiting to happen. Other disasters had already happened. Many travellers hire cheap motor scooters on the island. The reliability and service history of these things are dubious at best. Add to this the inexperience, or sun-fuelled bravado of the riders, and we saw many come to grief. Dazed foreigners standing at the side of the road, legs scraped by tarmac, scooters wrecked in the background. There was no point stopping, as it happened so often, we would never have got anywhere. Sometimes we just saw the abandoned scooter, and could only speculate on the whereabouts of the rider and passenger. Most of the other traffic was made up of lumbering trucks. Once they built up a decent speed, they stuck to it, and woe betide anyone in their way.

There was probably a great deal to see en route, but we didn’t see it. We carried on into the old centre of the city, and found it to be delightful. It has influences from Venetian and Turkish culture, and a lovely old town area, as well as a large fortress dominating the harbour. To visit this was one of the main reasons we had travelled there, but it was already so hot we chose to park the car in the nearby public car park, and head straight for the beach nearby. There are better beaches further along the coast, but I wanted to get into the sea. Even though I can’t swim, I just wanted to lie down in it. I regret to say that I also saw little of the ancient old town, except for stopping off for a cool drink in an attractive cafe on the way to the sea. Most of the afternoon was spent between being up to my neck in the water, or retreating to one of the few bars near the beach for more refreshment. Culture was suffering from the heat, as much as I was. It was a very nice place though, and I was left wishing that we had chosen to stay there, rather than where we had ended up. We drove back to Aghios Nikolaos, stopping in the town once again to eat that evening. I couldn’t face the prospect of sitting eating a meal in the tiny apartment. It did occur to us that self-catering was pointless, after all.

We had abandoned all ideas of also visiting Knossos the previous day. Although it was ‘on the way’ as such, as it is south of Heraklion, it had been so hot in Rethymnon, the idea of walking around this large ancient monument in the afternoon was something we could not even think about. We decided that we would have to go during the second week though, as this important site was pretty much a must-see. So, the next morning, we headed in the opposite direction, east to Vai Beach. This sandy beach, fringed by one of the largest palm tree forests in Europe, had become a well-publicised destination in the few years before our trip. It had been made famous in England as the location for the filming of the ‘Bounty Bar’ advert on TV. This coconut-filled chocolate bar had used this advertising campaign for years, and the thought that we could go to this idyllic location was very exciting for us. It was about ninety minutes from our place, so we had a long breakfast, and felt no need to rush. Once again, traffic was very light. Once we got close to Vai, the roads were not so good, but we made it in the estimated time, and found it easy enough to park.

Even then, it was very popular with tourists. The soft sand, and swaying palms made you feel that you were somewhere very exotic. I don’t know what it is like there now, but when we went, we found only a couple of small cafes, and some stalls selling tatty goods for tourists. The beach was already quite crowded, but it was big enough to find a peaceful spot eventually. We noticed quite a few backpackers, and others actually camping on the beach. It also seemed popular with old-enough-to-know-better Hippy types, but everyone was quite relaxed, and we spent a pleasant day there. To make it even nicer, there was a breeze. It was the first we had enjoyed since arriving, and was very welcome. That night, we ate once again in our ‘home town’, chancing another meal at the original waterside restaurant, and using the parking spot offered. It proved to be a bad choice for me, as when I got back to the apartment, I had been bitten many times once again. I now had bites on bites, others between my toes, and some on my neck and shoulders. And that was with the creams applied beforehand. I was beginning to wish that we had gone somewhere else that year.

I have to mention something rather distasteful now. It is by way of a public service announcement, and also quite relevant to this account of our stay in Crete. One of the things on the information leaflet we had been given, had been an instruction on how to use the toilet. This sounds strange I know, but they do not have mains sewerage in Crete. Because of this, no paper can be out down the toilet, under any circumstances. Otherwise, you use the toilet as normal, and flush it in the time-honoured fashion. Any paper used has to be placed in a bin put next to the toilet for this purpose. This was very strange to people used to using normal facilities in countries like England. For one thing, it is very hard to stop yourself dropping the paper down in the first place, even when you are reminding yourself that you cannot. Even after you have got used to this distasteful chore, having a bin full of used toilet paper in the bathroom is not very nice, as I am sure you can imagine. A cleaning lady came in every day to tidy the studio, wash the floors and clean the kitchen and bathroom. She also had the task of bagging up this paper for collection by whoever did such things. It was suggested we left her a tip. She earned it.

The morning after the day in Vai, my wife used the toilet, and flushed it. Instead of the water going away, a horrible mess appeared inside the bowl, filling it to the brim. It was accompanied by such a bad smell, we had to immediately vacate the apartment. I am sure that you can guess what it was. I went upstairs to our neighbours, to see if they had the same problem. We had only seen this young couple once since arriving. They had been waiting at a bus stop, and we gave them a lift into town. They explained that they had little spending money, and told us that it was their first holiday together. They used the local shop and taverna mostly, and bought food to prepare in their flat. By coincidence, they lived not that far from us, in Kingston, Surrey. He answered the door dressed only in a towel around his waist. I had the feeling that I had interrupted something. I told him what had happened, and he went to look at his own toilet. He reported that he had no problem, then added that this was strange, as his girlfriend refused to use the bin provided, and had been flushing paper since they had arrived. It was obvious that this was the cause of the blockage lower down, that had found its level in our bathroom. It said on the information sheet that we had to pay the costs if we blocked the drains, so I advised him that this charge would be his responsibility. He told me that he would go to the taverna and ring the agent, and apologised for causing us any discomfort. We headed off in the car, to the beach near the town.

When we got back that evening, the problem had been solved. The guy upstairs had had to wait in all day for the plumber, and the cleaner had been in to our bathroom and cleaned up. He told me that he had to pay the equivalent of almost £40 for the call-out, which had left them with very little to last the rest of the holiday. I sympathised, but told him that it was his girlfriend’s fault, so I didn’t see why we should contribute.

As I was still plagued by the insect bites, we decided to have a couple of quiet days, and see out the first week around Aghios Nikolaos. More trips were planned for the second week, and we used the local taverna that we could walk to for a couple of nights, striking up a good relationship with the owner and the waiters there.

Books, and more books

After the recent post ‘Literary Inspirations’, I received some positive comments and e-mails, and a few requests to add a similar post soon. I did say that it was not going to be a series, and I still believe that it will not. However, I have a few more books to write about, so here is another post on the subject. These are not necessarily books that gave me inspiration, or tips on technique; rather ones that I just enjoyed, for the reasons explained. I hope that you discover some that you might want to investigate, and as for whether or not you agree with my conclusions, that’s fine. After all, we are all different, that’s what makes life interesting.

London:The Biography, by Peter Ackroyd. Ackroyd is a prolific writer of fiction and non-fiction, and has received numerous awards His historical writing is some of the best available, and this story of the city of my birth, and almost all of my life, is no exception. I bought this book in 2001, and soon discovered a lot about London that I didn’t know. It covers the history of the city in great detail, from the time of The Druids, to the end of the twentieth century. Despite its scope and size, it is always readable, containing sections on everything of interest and importance in the development of this great city. A must for Londoners, and one for the collection of anyone interested in historical writing, at a high level.

Rebel, by Bernard Cornwell. One of the most successful British authors of modern times, Cornwell specialises in the genre known as ‘Faction’. He takes fictional characters, and places them into real situations in history. The result is often surprisingly good, as the facts, and attention to detail, are always authentic. He can really make you imagine the squalor of the middle ages, or the terrors of nineteenth century warfare. This choice is part of a series about the American Civil War, something that obviously interests me. The main character is from the North, but has sympathies with the South, so travels to fight for the Confederacy. The books in this series follow a similar formula to Cornwell’s better-known Napoleonic War hero, Sharpe. There are dramatic sub-plots, a good guy, some evil characters, and some sort of love interest. But it is in the details where he succeeds, and the thrilling battle scenes, brought to life in his own way. They are not landmarks of Literature, just a very good read.

Cromwell, Our Chief Of Men, by Antonia Fraser. I tend not to read biographies very often. I have read some of course, and this was of special interest to me, as a lifelong fascination with Cromwell and The English Civil War still continues to this day. It is a door-stop of a book, more than 1,000 pages, so not intended to be a comfortable holiday read by any means. As the definitive history of this often maligned historical character, it has no equal. I say this, despite the fact that Lady Antonia Fraser, daughter of an Earl, is an aristocrat by birth, and her Royalist sympathies are allowed to surface frequently in this book. If you can overlook this, and I did, then you are still left with a fascinating and detailed account of the life of one of the great figures in English history.

Gulliver’s Travels, by Jonathan Swift. Originally written in 1726, I first read this book when I was about ten years old. I recall being captivated by the worlds of Lilliput and Brobdingnag, and the unreal adventures of the shipwrecked Lemuel. I imagined myself as the giant Gulliver, living in the world of the tiny Lilliputians, or being dwarfed by the huge inhabitants of Brobdingnag. My edition must have only contained these two parts of the five-part tale, as I have no memory of the other voyages in the series. Of course, I didn’t really understand as a child that it was intended as a satire on the politics of Swift’s time, or meant to lampoon the popular tales of travelling published during that part of the eighteenth century. I just thought that it was an unusual and exciting story. To a large extent, I still do.

Regeneration, by Pat Barker. Published in 1991, this is the first in a trilogy; followed by ‘The eye in the door’, then ‘The Ghost Road’, in two-year intervals. It is a powerful look at the effects of the First World War and its aftermath, from hospital treatments for shell-shock, through to attitudes to homosexuality at the time, ending with tragedy on the Western Front towards the end of the war. Although a work of fiction, it is populated with real characters, including the war poets Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon, and politicians such as Churchill. Barker justly won many prizes and accolades for these books, and they are without doubt some of the most important English novels of the twentieth century.

Borstal Boy, by Brendan Behan. A Borstal was the name of an institution for the imprisonment and punishment of young offenders. Behan was sentenced to one for three years, and wrote this novel based on his experiences. I read it as a teenager, and I was impressed by the way he told of his time in there, his use of dialect, accents, and colloquialisms. It also very much impressed on me that I did not ever want to be detained in such a place. Conditions were harsh, and when the staff weren’t after you, you had to watch out for the other prisoners. Behan’s Republican ideas were softened after meeting his fellow working-class English detainees, and the book draws many conclusions about the similarity of class, rather than background.

The Journeyer, by Gary Jennings. This book is a long read, at almost 900 pages. It never seems weighty though, and I found it hard to put down. It spins a fictional tale based on the journeys of Marco Polo, from Venice, to the far east. There are some interesting characters who Marco meets on the way, or accompany him on his travels. It is also an historical treat, filling in the gaps from a period that I was not too familiar with. Although it was published in 1984, I read it many years later, when given a copy by a friend. It is good enough to read again, and I may well do that one day.

Notes from a Small Island, by Bill Bryson. American Bill Bryson lived and worked in Britain for twenty years. Before going home to the USA, he travelled all over the UK using public transport, and detailed his experiences in this very amusing and warm-hearted book. It says so much about the differences between life in America and Britain, two countries that might use the same language, but couldn’t be more different. For anyone who has experienced life in a foreign country, it might make familiar reading. For an Englishman like me, it gave an insight into how our life, language, and customs can be so alien to someone from a place we all regard as so similar. It isn’t just quirky, it also has laugh out loud moments; and it is so well-written, you can almost hear it being spoken in your head.

The Dice Man, by Luke Rhinehart. This fascinating novel poses the question of how your life might turn out, if you left it all completely to chance. The main character is a psychiatrist named after the author, (a pen name) who one day decides to continue his life based on rolls of a die. He gives each number a potential outcome, and acts on the result. The effects of this decision are life-changing, and take him down a route from which there seems to be no escape. As well as the experiences of the Dice Man, we see cults spread around the idea, and as others begin to live their lives in the same way, society itself begins to change. A very unusual concept, and one that works very well.

Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck. I have a lot of time for the writing of John Steinbeck, and could have picked any of his better-known works for this post. I have chosen this one, as I had to study it at school. Although it is not a long book, it has stayed with me ever since, and I can recall scenes described in it over fifty years later. It has the feel of a script, so it is no wonder that it has been performed on stage many times, and films have been made of it too. Lennie and George are two drifters during the Great Depression in America in the 1930s. Set against the background of poverty, and migrant workers, we see that George is looking after Lennie, who seems to be mentally disabled. He talks constantly of rabbits, which he loves to stroke; but because of his size, and unaware of his strength, Lennie usually kills the unfortunate animals. He also strokes a small girl, which gets him into some serious trouble. They are on the move, encountering many other memorable characters, and always searching for the better life that they dream of. Lennie is almost a Frankenstein’s monster in some ways, and George is his Baron. Animals and dreams feature heavily, and the work has a haunting feel, that never leaves you.

There you have ten more books that I have read, and can recommend. Perhaps this is a series after all?

When I was still married to my first wife, her job in education tied us to taking holidays during the long summer break. This was far from ideal, because not only did it mean that we always had to pay a peak-season surcharge, we also had to go abroad when it was generally very hot. In an effort to save some money, we decided to book a self-catering holiday, renting an apartment where we would look after ourselves, and hire a car to use to see the sights. As we had previously been to mainland Greece, so had already seen Athens, we settled on Crete, the large Mediterranean island to the south-east of that country. Without the benefit of the Internet back then, we chose an apartment from a small photo in a brochure, and arranged car hire through the same travel agent in England. As August arrived, we set off to the airport, for the charter flight to Heraklion, the largest city in Crete.

The flight was uneventful, and we arrived in the city to find it in the middle of a heatwave. Although I like nice weather, it was far too hot for me as soon as I got off the aircraft, and the forecast was for it to get hotter still. A group of us found the courier for the rental company, and he led us off to a coach. Each group was to be dropped off at assorted destinations on the way to our apartment, close to the harbour town of Aghios Nikolaos, in the east of the island. We soon left the bustling city of Heraklion behind, and headed off on the main road. The journey should have taken around an hour, but we were constantly stopping to drop fellow passengers off at places along the route. By the time they found their luggage, and were given their keys and instructions, it took more like three hours.

The coach pulled up on a dusty coast road, about three miles from the town of Agios Nikolaos. It was too large to get up the stony drive to the building beyond, so the guide took us, together with another English couple, up the slope to the places we had rented. In the fading light of that evening, we arrived at a small house, which was divided into two very small apartments. We were given the ground floor, and the others went up the outside staircase to the one above. The company rep told us that our car would arrive the next morning, before 10am. He gave us our keys and a printed leaflet, then left. It would have been understandable to be disappointed that night. The so-called apartment was a tiny studio, with a double bed under the window, and a small table and two chairs in front of what could only loosely be described as a kitchen. Beyond that was a toilet and shower, in the open-plan style of a wet-room. If we had both laid on the floor, end-to-end, the chances are that we would have touched each wall. It was stifling inside, so we opened both windows, and the top half of the divided door. There were very few utensils inside the small cupboards, and what passed for a cooker was a two-ring electric hob. But there was a kettle, and some cups and plates, as well as a small fridge, and on the plus side, the place was very clean.

We had an immediate dilemma though. After travelling all day, and with it now almost dark outside, we had no supplies to make anything to eat, and nothing to drink except water. We were hungry, tired, and thirsty, stuck in this small studio that was as hot as the oven that it didn’t have. Walking outside, we could see the lights of the town in the distance. Apparently so close, but impossible to get to along dark and dangerous roads. There was no breeze at all. It was just as hot outdoors, as inside the apartment. To our right, we could see some lights around what looked like a taverna, about half a mile away, so we decided to walk there, and see what it could offer. Luckily, traffic was sparse, and we only had to get off the road a couple of times, to avoid occasional trucks. The taverna was pleasant, and we were delighted to see that there was also a small shop next to it. We were able to buy milk and coffee, as well as some bread, jam, and cheese. With breakfast sorted, we sat outside the restaurant, and enjoyed a good meal. Prices in Greece in those days were very low, and the meal was exceptionally cheap, considering the quality and freshness of the ingredients.

It wasn’t very easy to sleep that night. It seemed to just stay as hot as the daytime temperature, and I tossed and turned. I was almost glad to get up the next morning, and after breakfast and shower, I sat outside, to await the arrival of the hire car. The stony driveway was what served as the ‘private garden’ described in the brochure, but no furniture was supplied to sit on out there. I settled for perching on a rock, watching some huge black ants go about their business. The car arrived, followed by a second vehicle, to return the driver. The small hatchback was as ordered, and I had no complaints, as it was quite new. The young man from the car company was dressed in a suit and tie, and showed no effects of the heat, despite temperatures already in the mid 30s. He went over the basic operation of the car, and wrote down the details from my driving licence. He then asked for the equivalent of £50 in cash, as a non-returnable insurance payment. This started a debate, when I told him we had already paid in the UK. He would not be shaken on it, and eventually declared that he would just take the car away, and I could argue about it back in England. My wife and I had a chat, and decided that we could not afford to be stranded in this place without a car. So we reluctantly paid up, receiving a receipt in Greek, that could have been for anything. To this day, I am sure that he just pocketed the cash.

I had brought a map of the island with me. This translated the Greek names into English as well, and was very detailed. I had borrowed it from a friend at work, and he had marked off some places on it, for us to look at if we wanted to. We headed straight off to check out Aghios Nikolaos. The main road took us straight into town, and most of the traffic accompanying us seemed to be either motor scooters, or huge trucks. Despite the peak season, we managed to park easily in a side street, and had a wander around this pleasant town. At the time, the few clubs and noisier bars were at the other end of town, and we gave this area a miss, in favour of the main shopping centre, and the pleasant promenade around the harbour. There were a lot of fishing boats in already, off-loading their catches to be purchased by the many waterside restaurants. I also spotted a ferry further out, and a few pleasure cruisers and yachts. After a nice lunch of Greek salad, we decided to come back later that night, and eat in the same place. With the tables next to the water, it seemed like it might be a lovely spot. We had spotted a beach on the way in, and on the return journey we pulled off the road, and sat for a while, watching the sea. I was hoping that I would soon get used to the heat, which was beginning to make me feel quite uncomfortable.

Back in the apartment, we had a rest for a while, leaving it as long as possible to shower and change for the evening. Once the sun was beginning to set, we headed back to the town, and to the same restaurant. The owner was happy to see us again. Even with the town full of tourists, most of whom seemed to be German, there were so many restaurants to choose from, none of them were full. He told us about a private parking spot behind his restaurant, and said we could use it anytime we ate there. Like most people we met in Greece, he knew people in England, and mentioned them, as if we would have bumped into them at some time. I think he had little idea just how big London is. We took our time, and had a leisurely and excellent meal, watching the comings and goings around the harbour, which was beautifully illuminated by all the lights of the many shops, tavernas, and eating establishments. I rounded off the meal with some very good Greek brandy, Metaxa Seven Star, and we strolled through the town at night, before driving back to the rental property. As I undressed for bed, I noticed that I had many mosquito bites on my legs. I hadn’t felt them at the restaurant, and by then, they were swelling up, and glowing red. My wife counted a dozen on one leg, and almost as many on the other. I had been wearing shorts, but it was far too hot to even contemplate long trousers.

I got little sleep once the bites started to itch. I was up and down from the bed, scratching madly, and applying creams we had brought from London. Nothing touched them though, and the heat and itchiness raged until dawn. I finally slept from exhaustion, and felt quite ill when I woke at about 9am the next morning. We decided to go into town again, to see what the chemist could supply to counter these bites. It was day three already, and I was wondering how much we would see, if I kept on like this. The chemist sold me some ‘bite pens’. These were like a lipstick, and contained something soaked in ammonia. It hurt like hell when applied to the bite, but it did stop the worst effects for a while. They also supplied anti-histamine tablets, some cream to apply before going out, and a plug-in device to use in the room, to kill any insects that had got in when we were out. The chemist looked at my legs. He shook his head, and said, “looks bad”. It was. We wrote off the day, and headed back to the beach. The sea water made my legs feel better, and also cooled me down, as it got near to 40 degrees. That evening, we went to a different restaurant, away from the water.

Significant Songs (69)

I’m Going All The Way

If ever a group transcended the boundaries between Gospel music and Soul, this is the one. Sounds of Blackness was formed in Minnesota in 1969; the large ensemble was also backed by its own dedicated orchestra of the same name. They were essentially a Gospel choir, but they embraced many types of music as well, from Soul to R&B.

After the release of the album ‘Africa to America:The journey of The Drum’ in 1994, they came to my attention by releasing this track as a single. Not normally a lover of Gospel music for its own sake, I immediately recognised a different path here, and took to this sound immediately. There seemed to be a genuine joy in the performance, and I could only sit back and bask in that feeling.

I couldn’t honestly say that it is a purely Gospel recording. It feels like soul music, and has a great orchestra behind it too. I just knew that it made me feel good, and had a joyous message too. It is almost impossible to resist the sheer enthusiasm of the vocals, and I don’t want to. More than 20 years after its release, it is as compelling and uplifting as ever. Here is the original recording.

Shotgun Blogging

I have been perusing other blogs of late, and drawing some personal conclusions about the nature of many blogs, including my own. Some of my favourite blogs publish articles of great import, sparingly posted. They are usually sumptuously illustrated, or have accompanying photographs, generally of high quality. Although they do not appear that often, the response from their audience is always immediate, and in great numbers. These bloggers are at the high end of this pastime, the careful craftsmen in our blogging community. They have experimented, worked hard and meticulously, and achieved something enduring, with work to be proud of. I think of them as the Guild Bloggers, masters of the art.

Then there are the Niche Bloggers, predominantly photographers, poets, or writers of published works. They post only about their subject of interest. We might see something of their travels, or their personal developments in their chosen field, but we know little of their life, or background. They avoid the daily reports, the ‘I did this’, or the ‘I think this’. They blog in packs, embracing themes, projects, and tasks. Often, their work is wonderful. Unusual, or well-rendered photos grace their attractive blogs, and are pleasing to both the eye and mind. Interesting novels or heartfelt poems make us think, and admire the skill of those wordsmiths.

Next, we have the Re-Bloggers. They save us the effort of excessive trawling, by bringing the posts of many others to our attention that we would almost certainly not have discovered otherwise. Some re-blog in specific areas, or on one subject. Others find work similar to their own, and present it for comparison. A few have even been kind enough to re-blog some of my own articles, and I am always careful to thank them for this favour. These re-bloggers do us all a great service. They work hard to find interesting and relevant posts, and sometimes turn up real gems from the ‘sunken wrecks’ of the millions of blogs out there. More power to them, and well done all of you.

There are also lots of blogs that I would rather not happen across. Posing as one thing, they are most definitely another. Religious mania is rife; preaching to the unconverted, who will remain that way after seeing this stuff. Bigotry, uninformed and unintelligent opinion, it is all there, unfortunately. I never cease to be amazed at how hard someone will work to be objectionable, nasty, or downright offensive. Despite championing the freedom offered by the very concept of blogging, part of me wishes that these individuals could be made to exit this otherwise well-intentioned community. Luckily, they are generally easy to avoid, as long as you don’t get caught by the bloggers wearing a different face to the one you find in their articles. I would have to call these the Disturbing Bloggers.

The Happy Bloggers are those who just want to have fun on the blog, and tell us about what they feel at any given time. They post about days out, what they ate in a restaurant, and what they said to their friends. They might tell us about their last holiday, their favourite film or book, and whether or not they got held up by public transport on their way into work. These harmless diarists are doing nothing wrong. After all, we can choose not to read what they post, if it is not to our taste. However, I suggest that this category of blogger is the most important of all. They are the chroniclers of the age; and in centuries to come, the descriptions of the minutiae of every day life in the 21st century will be of enormous value to historians and social commentators. Please keep going with these. They will be the Pepys diaries of the next millennium.

On to the Sad Bloggers. So many people use the world of blogging to express their emotions, sometimes it all becomes too much to take in. Depression is a familiar subject, as are marriage break-ups, relationship failures, and feelings of loneliness. Some also document illnesses, both physical and mental, and can often be distressing to read. This is where blogging can really help someone. They can connect with others who feel the same, or are suffering in the same way. Their stories can give inspiration to many who thought they would never see a good day again, and just writing about it all can help the blogger in so many ways imaginable. Despite the apparent sadness associated with these blogs, I actually see them as incredibly positive, in that they give voice to the worries and innermost fears of the writers, and in so doing, start them on the road to recovery.

This leads me to my own blog. How would I sum up this personal journey into the outside world?
What of this blog, that has numerous categories; and covers subjects as diverse as dressing gowns, dog-walking, and World Cinema? Over 600 posts about everything and anything; from my personal history in great detail, failed marriages, songs that I have a connection with, and recollections of old holidays, through to adapting to a new life in a rural location, and not being able to enjoy driving without street-lights. As I sit here with my glass of Barbera, contemplating my three years of blogging, I think I have found a way to describe it. In a world of blogs where some are written with surgical precision, others presented with great care, and aplomb, I have used a simple approach.

It is like a shotgun. I load my blog with lots of posts, written frequently, and posted almost daily. I then metaphorically fire it out in a wide spread pattern, hoping to hit something somewhere.

Significant Songs (68)

Nothing Compares 2U

As a rule, I don’t care for cover versions of original songs that I already like. There are some exceptions though, and this is perhaps one of the best examples.

In 1985, Prince, always the innovator, and searching for new ways to express his talent and ideas, released an album entitled ‘The Family’. This was the result of one of his many diversions from his normal recording and performing, and something he hoped to run alongside his regular appearances and record releases. This track was included, but the album achieved only moderate success. The song was soon forgotten, and the project abandoned.

Five years later, Irish singer and outspoken advocate of womens’ rights, also known for her many controversial opinions on the Catholic religion, Sinead O’Connor, recorded a cover version. It was included on her best-selling second album, ‘I do Not Want What I haven’t Got’, in 1990. Crucially, the accompanying video was produced to cinema quality. Almost entirely a close-up of her face, and shot in a muted colour palette, she was able to portray emotions rarely seen in the pop video output of the day. With her stunning looks, cropped hair, and amazing vocals, this combination took the song to the top of the charts in countries all over the world.

Even though I was already a fan of Prince’s original version, I could not deny the superiority of this recording. It took the song to a new level; the power of the vocals, combined with the emotion in the video, was irresistible. It is quite amazing, and I invite you to enjoy it.

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