Monday, July 16, 2018

An Open letter to MIE Readers +

Annamaria on Monday

If you subscribe to our blog, we are sure you noticed that functioning here on MIE went kaflooey for a while.  We are almost back to normal, but we want you to know what happened, and what you may need to do to manage your subscription.

I am not the resident techie here.  Stan is.  But at this moment, he is either on a plane, preparing to board a plane, or helping people my height get their baggage out of the overhead compartment  as they prepare to "deplane" (as flight attendants used to say).  So I am going to try to explain MIE's recent turmoil.

A few months ago, your faithful MIE bloggers noticed that we were having trouble commenting on the posts at all, but especially in responding to comments posted by one of you.  Sometimes, comments disappeared while we were typing them.  Sometimes, Blogger wouldn't let us write a comment at all.

Shortly thereafter, suddenly, subscribers (including us) no longer received notifications of new posts or comments.  Our lovely user-friendly atmosphere became frustrating in the extreme.

Not surprisingly, we noticed a drop in our readership.  And a severe drop in the number of comments from you.  We talked it over behind the scenes and started to investigate what had happened.

My theory is that Google's Blogger engineers were reprogramming the software to comply with the EU's new privacy regulations.  (Cranky aside:  there is no such thing as privacy on the Internet.  Attempts made supposedly to provide privacy are a smokescreen meant to quell the general public's outrage/fear/mild curiosity about the loss of privacy--something that faded with invention of credit cards, greatly diminished when CC records went on computers, and evaporated completely with the development of the Internet.)

A number of us MIE bloggers went on line to try to find out what was going on.

Google's Blogger site offered explanations, which unfortunately were written in a rare Tibetan dialect of Gobbledygook.  Using terms that looked strangely like English: G+ widget integrations, localization, Blogspot ccTLDS, and Third Party Gadgets.

I cleared my cookies (all but the chocolate chip ones) but that didn't help much at all.

Finally, Caro's significant other--Alan--came to our rescue.  No thanks to Google, he worked out that he had to re-enter the list of email addresses from our subscriber list.  Then--you may have noticed--we all bloggers and readers received confirmation emails allowing us to confirm our subscriptions.  We hope you said yes to that.  We did.

So now, we are almost back where we were in the good old days of 2017.

If you want notifications of new blog posts and are not getting them, up at the top here, to the right of the title there is box where you can put in your email address.  If you want to see the comments as they come along, in the column to the right, under "Followers" is a Blue "Follow" button.  Click on that and you can sign up for notifications of the commentary.

Here are some images to thank you for sticking with us through this rather bumpy transition.  We didn't do it to you on purpose, and we are grateful (ESPECIALLY to Alan) that it is over and you are still here.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

“We still don’t know how it worked!” the Amazing Thai Cave Rescue

Zoë Sharp

Members of the Wild Boars soccer team
The story started on June 23 2018, when a group of 12 boys finished football (soccer) practice and went, with their assistant coach, into Tham Luang Nang Non, (which translates to ‘Great Cave of the Sleeping Lady’) a cave system in the Chiang Rai Province of northern Thailand, almost on the border with Myanmar.

The reason the boys, aged 11 to 17, from the Wild Boars junior association football team, decided to go into the cave isn’t clear—maybe for them it was the equivalent of a trip to Alton Towers. And it does look to be a natural wonder. A huge karstic cave system beneath the Doi Nang Nom mountain range.

The Doi Nang Nom mountain range, Thailand
Unfortunately for the boys, the monsoon rains arrived earlier than they expected. As the water levels inside the cave rose, the boys and their 25-year-old coach found themselves marooned on a small plateau almost two miles underground.

There they remained, undiscovered, for nine days.

What those nine days must have been like for the boys, I can only imagine. But they must, surely, have thought nobody was ever going to come, or even find out what had happened to them.

The fact they survived in such apparent good spirits despite oxygen levels running low and lack of food, has been credited in part to the presence of the young coach Ekaphol Chantawong, a former monk who encouraged them to rest and meditate to alleviate the boredom and stress. Sadly, I have a suspicion that once the euphoria of subsequent events has subsided and the media begins to look for a continuation of the story—ie, who to blame—this young man’s life may take a more unpleasant turn. Everybody loves a heroic figure, but the media seems to love nothing more than bringing such a hero figure to their knees.

Eventually, on July 02, the boys were discovered by a British cave diver, John Volanthen. By that time, cave rescue experts had been drafted in from all over the world to supplement the Thai Navy SEALs and local volunteers.

I regret that, in the early stages, the details of the story passed me by. I was getting ready for my trip to southern France, and the imminent launch of my new standalone, DANCING ON THE GRAVE. And, I confess, I was trying to tune out anything connected to the World Cup. The fact that the boys were collectively described as a football team in the news did not serve to make them register strongly in my mind. (I seem to remember that when I initially heard an entire football team had gone missing, I even thought they might one of the those entered in the World Cup who had disappeared while in Moscow.)

It wasn’t long before I was as hooked as everyone else and reading the regular updates on the excellent The Guardian website. And as more complications and difficulties emerged, the more hooked I became. It was a rollercoaster of highs and lows that gripped you by the throat and wouldn’t let go.

They found the boys alive—great. They were trapped two miles underground—oh no. The Thai authorities brought in heavy duty pumps and had shifted, by the end of things, more than one million cubic metres of water out of the cave system—amazing. More monsoon rains were forecast and some were predicting it might be months before the boys could be safely extracted—what?!

By July 05, after attempts failed to locate a point directly above the boys’ position in order to drill through 600 metres of rock to reach them, the only logical option was to bring them out underground. This would involve using scuba gear and air tanks for much of the first mile, which was extensively flooded despite the pumping crews’ best efforts.

None of the boys had ever scuba dived before, and there were doubts if a mask small enough could be found to fit the youngest boy and seal reliably throughout the journey. Plus, when they were found the boys had been surviving only on small amounts of water. They were in a weakened condition.

Elon Musk's solution was a mini submersible, but it's doubtful
that the craft would have made it through some of the
incredibly narrow passages inside the cave.
But, by now they’d been trapped for thirteen days. The oxygen levels inside the small pocket that contained them had fallen to 15 percent. Medical experts warned that at 12 percent, the boys would start to fall into coma. Still, it was a choice fraught with danger, as was tragically illustrated by the death of Saman Kunan, a former Thai Navy SEAL diver.

former Thai Navy SEAL diver, Saman Kunan, who died during the rescue operation
But they were fast running out of options. The monsoons were forecast to let rip at any moment. When heavy rains failed to materialise on July 07, as predicted, the authorities realised they had to make best use of what might be their only reprieve.

The resilience of the boys at this point was quite remarkable. It is reported that they were excited by the prospect of going diving as much as being rescued. The original plan was to bring the strongest out first, but Australian doctor Richard Harris who went in to assess their condition, found they were all equally fit. Eventually, the boys decided among themselves, with the coach making the final pick.

The first two boys were given a sedative as a precaution against panic, then and brought out tethered to two divers for much of the first part of the journey. At a dry area known as Pattaya Beach, they were loaded onto wraparound stretchers and taken the rest of the way, aided by a daisy chain of other supporters along the route until they finally reached the largely dry third chamber, which was the Forward Operating Base for the rescue attempt. From there, they were hooked up to a pulley system and guided through the cramped, muddy terrain by more than a hundred further rescue workers.

If this had been a staged event instead of an emergency response, it would have been years in the planning. The authorities had a couple of days to co-ordinate teams from all over the world. Fortunately, the hand-signal language of diving is much the same everywhere.

The divers involved admitted that it was only as the first boys were being ferried to hospital that they allowed themselves to believe they might be able to pull the whole thing off. Even so, the slightest problem would have seen the plan collapse and might, perhaps, leave some of the boys compelled to stay underground and wait out the monsoon season.

the boys are ferried to hospital as they are brought to the surface
Having managed their amazing feat of co-ordination and co-operation—not to mention skill and bravery—to bring out four of the boys on July 08, the divers then went back and did it all over again the following day. And again the day after that, successfully bringing out the entire team. The coach left himself until last.

Even after the last of the Wild Boars was safely out of the cave, it seemed that the Sleeping Lady had one last drama to throw at them. A water pipe burst and the main pump stopped working, causing the last of the rescue workers to run to escape the rapidly rising water. It will be months, they reckon, before they can return to retrieve their equipment.

the rescued Wild Boars recovering in hospital isolation
Hollywood, as you might expect, has already announced not one but two movies in the works about the event. It is hard to see how they can possibly make this remarkable example of human ingenuity and teamwork any more dramatic than it was in real life.

This week’s Word of the Week is karstic, meaning the topography in a region where the rock is soluble (such as limestone or dolomite) and over time forms sinkholes, caverns and underground streams and passages. Karst is thought to derive from a pre-Indo-European word, karra, meaning stone, or from the Latin carsus, stony ground.

an example of karstic topography in Madagascar

I am currently in the midst of a Blog Tour for my latest standalone crime thriller, DANCING ON THE GRAVE, which came out on July 01. The tour started out at ShotsMag Confidential on July 09, and will finish up at Sean's Book Reviews on July 22. It's a mix of guest articles and reviews, so I hope you'll join me somewhere along the way. Full details on my website here.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

An Open Letter to Mykonians


I’ve decided not to write about the young, extraordinarily blessed soul who passed away this week at the age of twenty-four.  The wound is far too fresh and deep.  Nor could any words from me succeed in capturing the deep anguish consuming all who knew this loving, unique man. 

On Mykonos, the island of his birth, all are in mourning, but so too, are off-islanders from around the world who’d been blessed enough to have been embraced within his kind and generous soul.  He lit up my heart when he called me pappou (grandfather in Greek, though I was not). His unabashed joy for life will be sorely missed.

No, I won’t write about any of that.  I shall write about the island, and what’s been on my mind since last Saturday.

Mykonos today is an island of 24/7 glitz, with a physical past rapidly disappearing amid a relentless onslaught of construction vehicles, and a cultural past all but abandoned to an agenda of greater pleasures yielding greater profits.  It is a place without order. And every Mykonian knows that.

But there is hope. Or so I hope.

Mykonians know how to come together in crisis to support one another through the toughest imaginable times. I’ve witnessed that spirit and commitment first hand.  Custom is the bedrock of this community.  It’s at the core of what drives the Mykonian spirit.

Every core, though, needs a compass to remain on a clear course, and recent decades have rocked Mykonos off center. The island, today, is steered by external forces taking the community in directions most islanders neither fully appreciate nor understand.  Mykonians welcome the benefits, and dread the drawbacks, yet so many feel virtually helpless at changing the process in any meaningful way for their futures.

Mykonians, you deserve better. You have the power and determination to move forward in whatever direction you think best for your island.  All you need do is seize control of the tiller, and insist on staying the course you think best for you and your families.  You certainly possess the strength and resolve. You just need the purpose.

To my much loved Mykonian friends I say, in strength of community there is hope.  Otherwise, mourn not just for our dearly lost friend, mourn for yourselves.


Friday, July 13, 2018

William Wallace

Well, the world has gone bit bonks. We are getting ready to protest against the visit of a certain world leader here. The police have appealed for calm and non-violent protest, with the proviso, no matter how you feel, he’s not worth getting arrested over.

There is talking a banning THE balloon. The Belgians have beat us to the rude balloon competition.

 If you can't control your own hair, then there is no hope..

And the young multi cultural English football team did well in the World Cup. Any Scot ( and there are many) who has gloated at their departure from the tournament after a hard fought battle with the older and more experienced team from Croatia, has appeared churlish and bitter. As a lot of us are. The English boys played well and were beaten by a better team on the night, but I feel that the elegantly dressed Mr Southgate and his boys will be back.

Meanwhile,  everybody in the government is resigning, trying to force  another general election. In Brexit nobody has a clue what is going on. It seems nothing that Theresa May does it right but nobody seems to be coming up with any better ideas. The independence  army  is on the march again, claiming that the only two exports that ‘England’  has to bargain with in Brexit negiations are Scotch and oil ( which they see as Scottish).

I will just leave that there. Except to add that it’s not Scottish money that got the oil out and that most most whisky companies are now owned by the Italians ( Brexit again) or the Japanese ( the global economy).

It’s all a very sad state of affairs.

So I went for a walk down to the bottom of my garden and across the road to visit one of the oldest trees In Scotland and the actual birthplace of Mel Gibson… sorry  William Wallace. It appears on this old map, and you can the location of my house. Strange to see how it all was in those days.

So sir  William Wallace of Elderslie  is the one of Braveheart- not historically accurate film as I, sure you are aware.  

WilliamWallace  was born around 1270,  as was known as the Knight of Ellerslie or Elderslie. According to Mr David Ross, both these names mean the same thing; the place of the Elder trees, and my village is called  Elderslie, I think that’s a wrap!

There are no real physical borders in  GB,  and any that did exist have always moved about a bit so there is no surprise that people wandered around taking their culture and their language with them. Anything claiming to be Scottish rarely is exclusively so. It’s a whole amalgam of influence that just ended up in the best bit, at the top of the country.


The nationalist icon of Mel Gibson with a Scottish flag of St Andrew painted on his face is a Hollywood construct. As well as St Andrew being patron of Scotland, Barbados, Georgia, Ukraine, Russia, Sicily, Greece, Cyprus, Romania, Burgundy, San Andrés (Tenerife), Diocese of Parañaque, Amalfi, Luqa (Malta) and Prussia; fishermen, fishmongers and rope-makers, textile workers, singers, miners, pregnant women, butchers, farm workers with protection offered  against sore throats, convulsions, fever and whooping cough.


The  Wallaces were in the employ of the  High Stewards of Scotland.
Renfrewshire ( the part where Elderslie and Paisley are ) is always known as the cradle of the royal Stewarts, it says this on the sign as you drive into the village. All the High Stewarts are buried in Paisley Abbey.  And Alan is a Stewart as well, but a rather lowly one. His DNA  goes all the way back to the Royal Stewarts. As does  75% of the Scottish population.

But William Wallace’s family seemingly came north from Shropshire at the time of David I of Scotland when the Welsh has a wee meander to the land of the constant rain. And the original form of Wallace means  ‘speaking Welsh!’


According to  The William Wallace Society, a Richard Wallace, in 1174 witnessed the signing of a charter at Paisley Abbey. He is well recognised as being an ancestor of William Wallace and, as was common in those days, they were rewarded with land,  in this case, Elderslie, sometime before 1250.


 Here are some pics of the ruins that lie there now. These only date back to the 1500’s but there is  another ruin which adjoined it; the Moat/Mottes/Houses which  means an old fortified dwelling. It  it could easily be that William  Wallace was born in one of these dwellings.

 Here in Elderslie. There is  historical record of two famous  trees; the Wallace oak and the Wallace Yew.  Only the yew remains now. The parish records as far back as 1700 refer to it as ‘the ancient tree’ the but nobody really knows how old it actually is.

Scotland has the oldest tree in Europe- a yew in Fortingall in Perthshire which is over  3,000 years of age and I think that deserves a  blog all on its own).

The Wallace Oak. Like many other trees In Scotland is supposed to have sheltered  William ( or any other leader of the scots ) and his/their  followers from an English patrol ( of any type). The tree finally was destroyed in a storm in the 1800’s.  I found an article that said the Oak had been measured a few years before it fell and parish records  state it covered early 500 square yards.

And  seemingly, by a lovely turn of fate, Bonnie Prince Charlie's used the words "Wallace’s Oak" as a camp password during their fateful march of 1745. Although 500 years from one event to the other , must have made the phrase pretty well known, given that  most language would be spoken. No real call for those a Bletchley to be sharpening their pencils. Just listening while hiding in a clump of heather would have done it.

The Wallace society do admit there are no documents that  confirm where Wallace was born but  they refer to Elderslie  being "evidently" the birthplace of William Wallace.

So until you hear otherwise, that will be the case.

Caro Ramsay  13 07 2018

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Mandela 100

Michael - Thursday

Nelson Mandela returns to Robben Island after being elected
president of South Africa
So much has been written about Nelson Mandela that it seems redundant to add anything more. Pat and I went to the FotoZA exhibition of photographs for the hundredth anniversary of his birth with some reservations. But how could one not allow oneself to be reminded of this life of commitment to a cause and to justice that had to take precedence over everything else, including his own needs and desires and those of his family? There would be no compromise – until it allowed him to move to his ultimate goal.

The exhibition gives few new perspectives, yet pulls us once again into the life of this extraordinary man who spent nearly thirty years in prison yet held to his principles, and then – harder still – spent five years as president of South Africa and still never compromised them.

Two feature of the exhibition struck us - unexpected amongst the flood of bitter pictures. The most moving was a display of the calendars that he was allowed in his prison cell. Year after year with notes, appointments and comments. Just before he was transferred to Victor Verster prison in Paarl and then released, he noted scarily high blood pressures. But most of the annotations referred to precious visits and meetings that the authorities dealt out like scraps to a dog. As the years passed, they became more frequent, yet every one was a cherished connection to the outside world.

The second was a display of posters from around the world calling for his release, the release of all South Africa's political prisoners, and for the abolition of apartheid. Most are from European countries sympathetic at the time to the ANC, and many are lithographs - crude by modern standards - yet their message is strong across the years.

It was a very moving experience. Anyone who is able to see it should jump at the opportunity.

Hard labour in prison.
A less serious poster - the makeover
Artist's impression of Mandela before he was released.
There had been no photographs of him for many years.
Mandela's letters from prison. A new comprehensive collection offers many insights.
From: The Prison Letters of Nelson Mandela


Out in the UK next week!
Already available as an ebook since Tuesday.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Guest Blogger: Amy Plum--My Paris


I was introduced to Amy Plum by our mutual Cataphile friend, Gilles at a ceremony for the man who saved the underground quarries of Paris. Needless to say Amy and I both had much in common - Gilles had helped us both with underground Paris research in our separate stories. I thought since Amy writes YA, is a writer and Mom in Paris it would be great to hear her take on living in Paris, writing and raising kids there. Enjoy!

When I first moved to Paris in the ‘90s I had no kids, a job I didn’t take seriously, and lots of partying to catch up on after an ultra-conservative upbringing in Alabama. I came. I stayed four years. I conquered. Then I ran off to London for grad school and New York to work in the art world, all the while dreaming of the day I might move back to Paris.

It was ten years before I moved back. And this time around, everything is different. I pass the bars I used to go to, holding my eleven year old’s hand and not mentioning the time I was so tipsy that I hailed a taxi to take me home…a block away.

No…this time I’m doing Paris as an adult. (As much as one can in Playful Paris.) It’s a different city when your decision of which neighborhood to live in is based on schools and after-school activities. I never noticed parks in my twenties, besides finding some green space to lay a blanket on and eat al fresco with a bottle or three of wine. Now you can drop me into any Parisian neighborhood, and I can tell you where the closest park is with a jungle gym and the location of the nearest bathrooms.

The other difference for me this time around is my work situation. In my twenties I worked in an office on the opposite side of Paris. I commuted by Metro during rush hour with stressed-out suited business people, then picked my way through the dog-poop riddled streets of the 16th arrondissement to get to work.

Now, as an author, I work where and when I want. I plan almost all of my and my kids’ activities (doctors, sports, music lessons) within walking distance. And the only time I come across crabby business people is, well…never. Of course, I have traded a stable paycheck for the insecurity of an artist’s life, but I am experiencing Paris in a fuller way than I ever have. I write in cafés, I write in a quiet corner of the Louvre, I write in magnificent libraries, and I meditate and find my stories walking the streets of the ancient city.

With half-French children in public school, I feel like I’m part of the city’s indigenous population, when as a single American in Paris I felt like an expat. With the book events I take part in (workshops in the bilingual schools, events at the American Library in Paris, judging English writing competitions, and hosting a monthly teen book club at Shakespeare & Company) I have found my place in the international social circles.

This time around, I feel part French (I have a passport to prove it!), part American, and—as usual—one hundred percent bibliophile. Paris is home…for good…and I can’t think of a place I’d rather live.

—Amy in for Cara