Saturday, October 23, 2021

Payback's a Bitch





Through most of 2020 I wrote a monthly “Corona Chronicles” column for Greece’s Athens Insider Magazine.  It addressed living through pandemic times, as told from the perspective of an American mystery writer who’d called Greece home for 35 years.  I tried to end each column on a note more akin to Pollyanna’s unbridled optimism than Cassandra’s dire predictions of misfortune.


But by December 2020, I’d concluded Covid fatigue had set in, and writing about the pandemic was too much of a downer for reader and writer alike to continue. 


So, I stopped writing the column on what I thought an upbeat note. Like every upbeat note, its impact depends upon the composition from which it springs.


At that time, the world was caught up in a looping unrelenting dirge.  Eight months had passed since my first column and in that brief period total covid infections and deaths, in the US alone, had jumped from 1 million cases and 55,000 deaths to 13.4 million cases and 267,000 deaths.


Yet, millions of Americans chose not to wear masks, not to socially distance, not to avoid crowds, and not to wash their hands conscientiously; largely refusing to do so in service to disparate political, economic, and social agendas. Agendas with goals they believed more deserving of their trust and confidence than a simple request that they temporarily modify their lives so to protect their families, communities, and themselves from an invisible, silent, merciless slayer.


Me thinks there's a copyright infringement here

In hindsight, the corona virus’ deadliest advantage may prove to be that its effects were not obvious enough to turn skeptics into believers—bombs were not exploding around them, rivers were not flooding over them, ground was not giving way beneath them, and buildings were not crashing down upon them.


So, what optimistic upbeat note could I find amid all of that on which to end my column?  Here’s what I wrote. 


Thank God there are vaccines and therapeutics on the horizon, for I dare not think of how we’d fare were our survival contingent upon each of us doing the right thing for the common good.  With the finish line in this race for survival so close, all of us should band together to do whatever is necessary to assure that we all cross it safely.


As if that were not Pollyannaish enough, I went on to write:


I sense a hidden reward should we somehow find ways to feed the food insecure, save small businesses facing extinction, shelter the homeless, and provide renewed work opportunities for the unemployed. If we come even close to achieving those goals, it would seem but child’s play to mobilize the same world-wide cooperative scientific efforts that brought us Covid vaccines in record time, to join together in common cause toward eradicating other killer afflictions, such as cancer, tuberculosis, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, and AIDS.


So much for my daring to challenge the Cassandras among us.


Who could have anticipated that such medical miracles offered up to the world in record time would be vilified by faithless, merciless, charlatan opinion makers (I’m using the kindest words I can think of) to further personal political, social, and economic goals no matter the suffering their actions wreaked upon families, neighbors, and the world?


Today, the US has exceeded 46,180,000 total cases, and 754,000 total deaths.


Current world totals are reported to exceed 243,521,002 cases and 4,948,917 deaths.


There is a prayer often said in memory of souls who pass on in which the utterer beseeches the Lord, “May their memory be a blessing to their families for eternity.”


I wonder what sort of prayer of remembrance the many who’ve lost or will lose loved ones to the pandemic, or will suffer from long haul Covid complications, might offer upon the passing of those who, for merciless selfish ends, manipulated the trust reposed in them by so many unwary believing folk.


Payback’s a bitch.




Jeff’s Upcoming Events


Thursday, November 18, 2021 @ 16:00

ICELAND NOIR, Iðnó Theater

Reykjavic, Iceland

Panelist, Murderous Islands

with Katrin Juliusdottir, Michael Ridpath, and William Ryan (Moderator)

Thursday, October 21, 2021

The King of the Mountains

In 2014 there was a review on Trip Advisor about Ben Nevis.

It read something like-

 “very steep and too high, boring. After going up mount Snowdon by train in Wales I’d forgotten just how high some mountains can get. And they don’t come much higher than this one - that’s for sure. LOL! This was almost a FULL day’s climbing and my girlfriend was crying at one point.

When we did get to the top there was nothing there (Mount Snowdon has a pub, restaurant and toilets at its top). Luckily we had brought some sandwiches and drinks, so anyone else climbing this one - BE WARNED- there are NO facilities at the top. The climb basically went on for far too long and the last part was particularly steep and difficult. It was  also cloudy at the top so the view was non-existent. The long walk back down was boring and again took too long. It was a great relief to get back to our B&B in Fort William for a hot soapy bath and the joys of a flushing toilet with soft toilet rolls. This attraction is free but I honestly couldn’t imagine anyone - and I mean anyone - paying to climb this. The people of Wales have the right idea. If your highest mountain is a bit steep and a long walk up for a lot of people just build a railway to the top! Brilliant!”

What a load of …..!  Anyway that review has been viral now since it was written, and folk just keep adding to it. My own thoughts on the subject in question were penned as such.

‘Ben Nevis is hard to  find, they didn’t even put it near a road. It’s hard to see as it hides behind other mountains, you’d think they’d put it at the front. And worst of all, it’s not pointy at the top, the way a proper mountain should be.’

At least what I said is true. Ben Lomond is kind of lovely, and  easy to see, nice car park, good  coffee house at the bottom and  the top is clear by 12 noon most of the time.

Ben Nevis, past the top of Glen Coe and over a bit is the  highest peak in the UK standing at  1345 metres. The second highest peak in the UK is  very close by.

It’s a bit of a weird one, as in  Fort William the top of the Ben is right there, towering over the  village. It sits  on the right as you head north,  the water is to the left. Yet  driving past the village to turn right to drive up Glen Nevis, the mountain manages to jump behind another mountain and  now sits on the other side of the road. I still can’t quite reconcile it in my head.

We were staying at the flood plain known as the Glen Nevis camp site, near the Ben Nevis visitors centre and the Ben Nevis  restaurant.  The camp site is right at the start of the walk to climb the ben. But you still can't see the peak at all. We have been here for three days, and still not seen it but it will appear as large as life when we are sitting at the traffic lights in Fort William.

Some stats- it takes nine hours to climb, up and down. It’s good hill walking all the way, on a designated path, come off the path and you’ll be in trouble.  About 100,000 people a year climb it,  some needing rescued.

It’s not pretty.  As I've said,  it looks in profile like the head of a bull elephant,  set in a landscape of three other bull elephants.

 The ben was once a massive  volcano which blew up and then collapsed in on itself. The name in gaelic translates as the mountain with its head in the clouds. Some translate it as the venomous  mountain.

 From the tip, you can see Ireland on a clear day.

An old  Observatory sits on the summit, every stone carried up by pony or by human. It was opened in 1883 and functioned for twenty years before being blown away. The ruins of it can be used in an emergency... for hiding behind I mean.


 The record is one hour forty minutes.

 When my dad did his national service, one of the fitness tasks was to run up Ben Nevis, get some snow and run back down again before the snow melted.

 He did it of course,  being rather canny, he used a flask!

Caro Ramsay


A slow learner

 Stanley - Thursday

At 7:27 pm on December 30, 2011, I was sitting on the stoep of my home in Knysna, South Africa, gazing over the beautiful lagoon, when I received a most unexpected Facebook message: 

Hi Stan, are you the man who was on visit in Denmark many years ago together with a friend? I guess in 1971 as young students

Even though I didn't recognise the name (Mette Schnoor Nielsen), I knew immediately who the sender was, but for reasons I cannot remember, I did not reply right away. Perhaps it was because of upcoming New Year festivities; perhaps because I had friends staying with me.

View from my stoep in Knysna

Ten days later, on January 10, 2012 at 6:47 pm, I was on the same stoep enjoying a glass of wine with my friend Ron Staal from The Netherlands, when another message arrived.

Hi Stan, are you the man who visited Denmark in year 1971, my name at that time was Mette Willandsen.

 He urged me to reply. I did. And the rest is history.

Here is the backstory.

At the end of April, beginning of May, 1971, my friend Jeff Starfield and I were wandering around Europe using a three-month Eurailpass. One day we were on the train between Copnhagen and Helsingør (Elsinore) on a quest to find Ophelia, when a lovely young woman boarded the train at Hillerød and sat down opposite us. We chatted. Probably Jeff  and the young lady chatted. 

Anyway, by the time we reached Helsingør, Jeff and I had been invited to dinner. Records show that the three of us, plus another couple who had been invited to dinner, went out dancing until the wee hours of the morning. 

Kronborg Castle: Ophelia was somewhere inside.

Later that day, Jeff and I, bleary-eyed, searched Kronborg Castle but failed to find Ophelia, So we headed off north to Stockholm, then farther north to Narvik inside the Arctic circle. Many train, bus, and ferry rides later, down the west coast of Norway saw us in Oslo. Jeff and I visited the Fram museum, the Viking Ship museum, and the Vigeland Museum in Frogner Park.

Arctic explorer Fram

Viking Ship Museum

Sculpture at Vigeland Park

Then we had to decide where to go next.

'Helsingør' I said, remembering a lovely young lady who had invited us to dinner. So to Helsingør we returned. I was keen to impress.

And impress I didn't.

Jeff and I were both private pilots, so we took Mette flying. 

She was not impressed. We did this and that. Not impressed. 

The message was clear. Mette was not impressed.

I was depressed.

So we left.

A few months later, I arrived in Urbana-Champaign, Illinois, to study at the University of Illinois. And study I did, but the lass from Helsingør remained in my mind. Eighteen months later, I wrote to her, inviting her to come to the States to play tennis. No reply. But she kept the letter!

Still she lingered in my head.

A year or two later, I visited Denmark and tried to find her. She was no longer at her apartment. (And to this day, I still remember the address!). I located her mother and was told Mette was married.

The final nail in the coffin.

Until December 2011, three years after her husband had suddenly and sadly passed away, when a memory clawed itself back into her consciousness. She was new on Facebook and wanted to see how it worked. Who should she search for? A name from the past. Obviously. A name she remembered forty-one years later.

As an educator, I would classify her as a slow learner. But still a learner. Thankfully.

Now, nearly fifty-one years later, we've changed a bit.

Monday, October 18, 2021

Where Do You Get Your Ideas?

Welcome back, James Benn!

This week Jim raises a proverbial question, by way of introducing something completely new for him. I already have an answer to his question for us  do you?

Every author has heard that question. Often.

For my latest book—the stand-alone novel SHARD—the idea came in a roundabout way. A few years ago, I read Laura Hillenbrand’s outstanding book UNBROKEN: A World War II story of survival, resilience, and redemption. It chronicles the experiences of Louis Zamperini and his years of hellish treatment as a prisoner of war in Japan. Near the end of the book, Hillenbrand discusses how Zamperini and other veterans adapted to life back home after the war. 

It wasn’t easy.

One fascinating tidbit stood out for me. One of the former POWs admitted he could not stop stealing food. He’d used his sleight of hand to swipe anything he could eat from his captors, and when he arrived back in the States, he simply couldn’t give up the habit.

I thought this was a telling emotional tic for a character, and I decided to write the story of a returning POW and his problems adjusting to civilian life. An uncontrollable urge to shoplift candy bars, cans of tuna fish, apples, and whatever else could go in his pocket would create challenges for the character and opportunities for storytelling.

So, I had my idea. Then I decided to move the setting forward a few years and make it the story of a returning POW from the Korean War. No big deal, I thought. It’s just a matter of reading a bit of history, right?

I was stunned by what I found. 

Until Korea, capture by the Japanese was considered to have been the most horrendous POW experience for American forces. But that changed with the treatment of American and other United Nations troops at the hands of the North Koreans and then the Chinese.

Of the 7,190 American servicemen captured during the Korean War, approximately 3,000 died in captivity. This mortality rate of 43 percent far exceeded the highest recorded death rate of American soldiers—34 percent—held in Japanese prisoner of war camps during World War II. To be an Allied prisoner in North Korea was a terrible and brutal fate. 

The Korean War was the first conflict in which the opposing powers desired to convert the thinking of American POWs, not simply incarcerate them for the duration. Torture was combined with repeated exposure to Communist propaganda, or “thought reform” as the Chinese termed it. The Chinese called the prisoners “war criminals,” because they had fought against Communism. They said POWs were dupes of their own “reactionary” and “imperialist” governments, and that if they reached the necessary state of repentance, they would be forgiven for their “war crimes.” 

Our government had not anticipated the enemy’s dedication to coercing POWs into confessing false war crimes or denouncing the evils of capitalism while praising the Marxist system. Prisoners were left to their own devices to deal with the intense demands of their captors. Some went along, often to gain access to extra rations. Others resisted and were harshly punished, often murdered. 

“Thought reform” was effective enough to convince twenty-one American soldiers to stay behind and live voluntarily in China.


When the war was over, the American government suppressed the truth of what went on in the camps, embarrassed by how our men succumbed to the pressures of captivity. The myth of “brainwashing” (from the Chinese word xǐnăo meaning wash brain) was born to explain away what had happened and to cover up the government’s lack of preparedness.

That’s when my thinking shifted. This wasn’t going to be a tale about a returned prisoner of war adjusting to life in the States. The story had to be set in the camps. The POW experience wasn’t going to be the backstory, it would be the story.

We meet Private Ethan Shard in 1950, part of the US Army of Occupation in Japan. He’s knee-deep in the black market, getting rich stealing from the Army and selling to Japanese gangs. All that changes when the North Koreans invade South Korea and overwhelm the defending forces. Ethan Shard is sent to war, along with his partner-in-crime Elliot “Skitter” Skinner, in a desperate attempt to stop the North Korean advance. In their first skirmish, the two men are captured. The brutality of their captors, the harsh and unforgiving climate, and the constant threat of betrayal all conspire to test Shard’s ability to survive.

All that’s left of my original idea is Shard’s light-fingered ways. In the camps, he constantly takes risks to steal even the tiniest morsel of food from his captors. In this hellish landscape, criminal skills mean the difference between life and death.

The photograph below is emblematic of what these men endured.

Meet US Army PFC John Ploch. This picture was taken at Freedom Village, the location in South Korea where American POWs were processed immediately after release. He’s fresh from a Chinese POW camp. He’s been deloused, had a shower, been given a shave and haircut, and outfitted with a new uniform. He’s been fed. Now he’s seated at a table with books spread out in front of him and a cup of coffee at hand. 

He’s in shock. The look in his eyes? That’s the book I tried to write.

So, where do you get your ideas?

Sunday, October 17, 2021

Setting The Scene—Launch of THE LAST TIME SHE DIED

Zoë Sharp

The location where a book is set always has a big influence on the plot. And if it doesn’t, then it probably should.


After all, they reckon there are only seven basic plot themes— overcoming the monster, rags to riches, the quest, voyage and return, comedy, tragedy, and rebirth. Everything else, we are told, is just a variation on those themes.


Nevertheless, even if you took exactly the same story idea and gave it to, say, nine or ten different authors who were noted for writing books set in very different parts of the world, can you imagine how different those stories would turn out to be?


The contrast between the same basic plotline, when it’s set in 1920s’ Bombay, Buenos Aires in 1945, modern-day Paris, or one of the deceptively idyllic islands of the Aegean would be enormous. I am no expert on Africa, but I can imagine that setting a tale in Ghana is utterly different to setting one in Botswana, or any of the East African nations.

Sometimes location dictates plot

Sometimes, the location heavily dictates the plot in the first place. I usually say that one of my Charlie Fox novels, FIRST DROP, could only have been set in Daytona Beach, Florida, during Spring Break. But if it had to be set in another city—in another country—over another weekend festival where teenagers were predominantly involved, then I wonder how the final book might have been changed by that.


Likewise, when I chose Appleby-in-Westmorland in Cumbria as the location for my second Lakes crime thrillerBONES IN THE RIVER—not simply because I was looking for another Lake District setting, but because of the Gypsy and Traveller gathering that has taken place there practically every year since the Middle Ages. And because it’s well known among the locals that the influx of forty or fifty thousand strangers into a small town is a very good time to settle old scores.

When I set out to write the first in my new mystery thriller series, THE LAST TIME SHE DIED, I had the storyline I wanted but it wasn’t tied to a particular location. I wanted a rural area where everybody knows everybody else’s business—or thinks they do. I wanted a relatively sparse population, but with urban conurbations nearby. I needed woodland and seclusion, but somewhere that was in reasonably easy reach of a seat of power.


In some ways, Scotland would have been ideal, but other writers—not least of which is our own Caro Ramsay, of course—have a far better claim on the area north of the border than I do. (Caro’s Anderson and Costello series has Glasgow sewn up.)


Derbyshire good fit for story

I decided on Derbyshire because it’s somewhere I’ve come to know well over the past few years, and the more I worked on the story, the better it seemed to fit into the landscape. It was an hour and a half from London by train—the kind of distance a Member of Parliament might be comfortable travelling for weekends in the country, for instance. There were plenty of steep drops to catch out the unwary, careless motorist, too. And plenty of space for certain manor houses to be within reach of the nearest village, but at the same time completely out of sight of their neighbours.


In some ways, the more restrictions I have when I’m working out a plot—and the more creative I have to be to work around them—the more fun it is to write. I’ve always liked to play with preconceptions. You think you know where the story is going, but you don’t.


In the case of THE LAST TIME SHE DIED, I wanted to start with an idea that might sound vaguely familiar, and then take it off in a more unexpected direction.


The book begins with a funeral. Family patriarch Gideon Fitzroy has died and his second wife Virginia, his stepchildren, and brother-in-law have gathered for the occasion. They think they know exactly what will happen next, as far as the division of Fitzroy’s estate is concerned.


Then somebody claiming to be a missing heir turns up. Blake—the daughter who vanished ten years previously and has been assumed dead.


For certain people, there is no ‘assumed’ about it. They know she’s dead. Because they killed her and hid the body on the night she disappeared…


Didn’t they?


Who is this imposter?

So, who is this ‘imposter’, and what does she want? It can’t be as simple as the money, because Gideon Fitzroy made no provision in his will for the only child of his first marriage. (His second wife has read the document in question, and there’s absolutely no doubt about it.)


Is there?


But if the young woman now claiming to be Blake is indeed a fake, then how does she know so much about the vulnerable fifteen-year-old who went missing? Or the quirks of the family home? Not to mention the layout of the village where events take place. That village I mentioned, where there always seem to be secrets that are never quite as well buried as people hope.


Having spent the last six years or so living in a small village in the Derbyshire Peak District, I really wanted to set a book here—or somewhere very like it. I compromised by not actually naming the place, and I’ve played fast and loose with the geography for the location of the Fitzroys’ country estate, although not entirely. The lane exists, but the manor house called Claremont does not, which is a shame. I have a very clear picture of it in my head.


On a walk through local woodland I found a rutted track leading off the lane into an old plantation, with a stone gatepost at the latch end of the five-bar gate. The track continued on into the trees, leading to the edge of a gravel pit, long since fallen into disuse. It was eerie even in daylight.

But at night, in the dark, it would be perfect.


Good way to stir things up

Bringing an outsider into this situation to ask awkward questions, and to stick his nose in where it isn’t wanted, is always a good way to stir things up a bit. Enter Detective Superintendent John Byron of the Met. Right from the start, it’s obvious that his role is not that of a straightforward mourner at the funeral. One of the youngest detectives to achieve such a rank, he’s now on a long leave of absence for reasons initially unspecified.


His interest in the life—and death—of Gideon Fitzroy seems anything but casual, so is he there on official business or not? And his interest in the young woman claiming to be Blake is something neither of them can quite define.


Anyone who’s read any of my books will know that I favour female characters who are… self-sufficient, shall we say. I’m beginning to hate the term ‘strong’ because it’s become almost meaningless. Strong as oppose to what—weak? And does anyone feel the need to define their male protagonists in such terms?


Male characters are ‘tough’ and ‘uncompromising’ if they’re likely to answer a difficult question with a punch or a bullet. (Charlie Fox can be a bit like that, but she’s usually referred to as ‘kick-ass’ or—my pet hate—‘feisty’. Either way, she will always try to talk her way out of a fight when she can manage it, and only stand her ground when there is no other option.)


An asset and a flaw

So, if my female characters are strong then it’s because they refuse to rely on anyone else to dig them out of trouble, and occasionally this leads to a stubbornness that’s to their own detriment. In the case of the young woman who is claiming to be Blake, her inability to trust others is both an asset and a flaw.


One that might just get her killed.


The reason I’ve talked so much about THE LAST TIME SHE DIED is because it comes out on Wednesday, October 20. I hope you will forgive the BSP, but Wednesday is put up or shut up day, when I find out what people think of my take on this particular storyline, set in this particular area of the country, with this particular pairing.


I’m keeping my fingers, eyes, and legs crossed that readers like it. Because I’m already writing book two!


This week’s Word of the Week is querencia, a Spanish word that describes a place where we feel safe or at home, even if it isn’t where we actually live. It’s from where we draw our strength and inspiration.


THE LAST TIME SHE DIED is published by Bookouture in eBook, print, or audio format, on Wednesday, October 20. Or pre-order now.

Saturday, October 16, 2021

A Return to the Mani


Vathia, a Mani fortified settlement
Over the past two weeks, three friends separately asked me what I thought of the Mani region of Greece. Soon after that, I noticed several articles written about how desirable the area has become for tourists and those looking for a place to live the idyllic Greek life.  I mentioned that coincidence to my wife and she said, "I'd like to live there too."  Well, we're not moving any time soon, but with the apparent groundswell of attention the Mani is receiving, I decided it's time for me to repeat what I first wrote more than a decade ago about this magical region.  I'm sure the magic hasn't changed -- yet.
If Mystras (see this post) was the heart of Peloponnese history, Mani was its fist.  It is the mountain-spine middle peninsula on the trident tip of Greece’s most southern mainland part, on the same latitude as Sicily and pointing across the Mediterranean at Libya.  It is where ancient Spartans are said to have settled, and if you’re wise, do not quarrel with a Maniot who makes that claim.

Unlike much of the Peloponnese, Mani has no grand, established sites such as Mystras or Epidauros, but nor did ancient Sparta, whose inhabitants lived a warrior life disinterested in the great edifices so important to their northern neighbors and Athenians.  Besides, much of what Spartans built disappeared amid the region’s earthquakes and millennia of scavengers for building materials.

A Maniot fighter

What Mani does offer is a present day spiritual presence giving life to a history far grander than most legends.  Say “Mani” to a Greek and the usual response is “tough, proud, enduring people.”  Greece’s war of independence against the Turks began there in 1821, and though the history of the Peloponnese (and Greece as a whole) is largely one of occupation by foreign powers, the story goes that Mani was never occupied (essentially true), never paid taxes (at least not that much), was a refuge for the politically persecuted (willing to fight, I assume), and in some parts has not seen a piece of land sold to foreigners (tough to verify, though proudly claimed). 
Mesa Mani landscape

A few weeks ago [ed. note: make that eleven years] I was in the southwestern part of Mani, called Mesa (inner) Mani doing “inspirational” research for a new book.  Mesa Mani runs inland from the Ionian Sea, across arid, rugged land, onto the majestic, north-south Taygetos mountain range.   This is where ancient stone towers loom practically everywhere above the land, an ever-present reminder of a violent past. 

Mani tower
The generally four to five story tall towers (each a pyrgos in Greek), offered defensive positions to families against bandits, pirates, and foreign invaders.  But far more often they served to protect families from their neighbors, for Mani was a land where the concept of family vendetta was so deeply ingrained in its culture that rules existed on how, whom, and when not to reek vengeance against an offending family.  For example, those lucky enough to be a doctor or a priest were considered too valuable to the community to serve as a permissible target for vengeance by another family.

There are said to be 800 ancient towers still standing in Mani, some with roots back to the 13th Century.  That might explain why many find Maniots among the friendliest and most courteous people in Greece.  It’s probably a serendipitous, positive result of living in a society where to offend likely led to something far worse than a nasty letter to your boss.

Gerolimenas harbor with Hotel Kyrimai at point

Road to spiritual experience
I stayed in Gerolimenas, a picture-postcard harbor village of less than sixty inhabitants, at a world-class inn once a seafront warehouse for agricultural commerce between Peloponnese and the outside world.  The same family that built and ran the warehouse in the early 19th Century created and now runs the inn.  On the morning of my departure to Athens, the owner suggested I travel south a bit more, toward Cape Tenaro at the very tip of the peninsula, where the Ionian and Aegean seas meet.  “It is a spiritual experience that will take you back in time,” he said.  And so I did, toward I knew not what. 


The photograph at the top of this post is not a painting, nor is the one to the left.  They are of the hillside village of Vathia.  It exists exactly as you see it.  As I stood there, contemplating a Harry Potter scenic against the region’s Mad Max-like history, a funeral procession passed out of Vathia directly behind me.  Mani has mesmerizing landscapes, charming places, and friendly people, yet I could not help but wonder if that funeral bore some relation to its fierce history.  I’m just cursed with such thoughts: I think murder is everywhere.

Pause for groaning to subside.

A final resting place

I never made it to the southern tip, for on the way there I passed the funeral procession.  Cars were parked along the side of the road, at the top of a steep, rocky incline.  Men below were carrying the coffin toward a mountain church along the edge of a cliff overlooking the sea.  I saw no cemetery, just the church.  The only other visible sign of life was up ahead, an isolated, distant taverna on a tiny beach.  I stopped there, but didn’t get out, just sat for a while.  I turned around and drove back toward Athens. I had no need to go further, I’d found my inspiration.  Besides, I’d be back; there were too many mysteries here to ignore—past, present, and future.  

Distant Cape Tenaro where the Ionian meets the Aegean

If you’re interested in more about this fascinating part of the world, I came across Mani: A Guide and History, on a website created by John Chapman.  He seems to have spent a large part of his life immersed in Mani’s history and ways.  Though I cannot vouch for the accuracy of his observations, nor do I dare challenge them, for in describing how vendetta vengeance could be taken against any family member of the perpetrator, he writes, “The only exception to this 'collective' form of vengeance was in the case of slander where vengeance had to be meted out on the perpetrator.” 

I’d prefer not to test that sort of thinking.

Friday, October 15, 2021

The downside of cancellation culture


                                      “I’m not scared to be alone because I have books to read.”

It’s a good quote, probably a notion that is so ingrained in writers and readers that we might not think it needs said. Who do you think said it?  Has the person who said it ever made you laugh? Has the person who said it become a cultural icon because their thoughts and words are so widespread? 

Maybe Aye and Maybe Naw as we would say.

A tea cosy on the lose

Many years ago, the local and regional council decided to be very PC and refuse certain activities on premises under public ownership.  And overall, that makes perfect sense. One of the things banned was racist language.  The police here can arrest you for racist language, so it also makes sense that using racist terms in any public building gets you thrown out. The issue is that the person making the complaint does not need to be the one on the receiving end, or even involved in the situation. They can just be walking past, catch a snippet and before you know it you are in the pokey.

During the time the library was being refurbed (public building!) our writers’ group had to relocate to the Town Hall. One of our writers was a white Scottish/ South African, writing her life story of growing up on a large farm outside Joburg, the story of the wildfires, the dogs on the farm, the old truck they used to travel about on; she didn’t know about apartheid until she went to school. When she was wee, she and the kids of the farm, black children, white children, anybody passing by,  all played together, and nobody thought any more of it.  Her family got into a lot of trouble for being supporters of the anti apartheid movement, more so as times moved on and violence began to erupt all around them. Some of the stories brought tears to the eyes. It was difficult to believe that this softly spoken elderly lady, in her cardigan and pearls, had known such dreadful atrocities at close hand.

And of course, her stories used the language that was used at that time.   

Somebody in the building complained that we were using racist language and we were told we were not welcome back. I tried to explain that we were a writers group, I tried to find out who complained.  To no avail. We were out on our ear.  We suspect it was the janitor. If we could have explained to him what was being said, I’m sure he would have been fine, but rules were rules, and that was that.

All that was a few years ago, and it’s much worse now.

It all kind of misses the point.

I’ve heard today that British Airways are ceasing to use gender specific terminology on their flights.

Mr Bond, shaken not stirred.

The Broccoli family have announced that James Bond character will remain with an actor with a XY chromosome.

The Scottish government has announced that 4-year-olds have the right to determine their own gender. At that age I spent my life wanting to be Lassie ( the dog in the films), so growing to be a human being was a bit of an issue for me. But then, reflecting, Lassie was one of the first transgender stars, being a laddie by anatomy.

Seems to me that cancel, culture is a very sensible idea that took a wrong turn somewhere.

At the moment, our little village is about to be swamped by COP 26 because we are so near the airport. Scotland is a small place, delegates are driving the length and breadth of the place, in expensive cars, to attend a conference on climate issues. 3, 500 of them.  That's 5% of the population of the city.  We don’t have enough hotel rooms so there’s now a cruise boat on the Clyde to provide accommodation. Drains and sewers are already being poked, checked, and sealed for security.  

Would it not have been better to have the zoom call to end all zoom calls!

But back to the point. The quote above was from Billy Connolly, a man who admitted that he would have been cancelled the minute he opened his mouth if he was starting out now.

Come on, you would stick this on your head, wouldn't you?

And that would be a shame. So many little nuggets of observational comedy. The wee Glasgow dog that looks like it’s just realised it’s five minutes late and needs to get a shift on.  The fact that Glasgow would be improved by a nuclear incident.  The notion that we need a faster national anthem to be any good at the Olympics. And of course, the one that has really passed into culture, especially crime writer culture in Scotland, the notion that you should never trust a man who, when left in a room alone with a tea cosy, doesn’t try it on as a hat.