Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Minoan Tours & Other Stories

"Where have you been?" everyone will have been wondering in my absence. Of course, I gave fair warning letting folks know there'd be no blogging while I was busy on another ghost writing assignment. And it's only now I realise how long ago that was: heck, I never meant to be quiet for quite that long. Count your blessings, I suppose, is the message there - assuming you have a machine of sufficient computational power. But now I'm back, ready for more meaningless rambling. And I guess the most appropriate way to break back into the blogging habit is with an update as to what I've been up to in the intermission.
It wasn't all down to the blood, sweat, tears and toil of the ghost writing. (For some reason, that always makes me think of Scooby Doo, but the truth of it is nowhere near as glamorous as riding around in the Mystery Machine with a bunch of kids and an old dog.) No, right after I'd polished off the first draft, my wife and I were off on a holiday to Crete.Chose just the right time too, I think: well past the height of the season so not nearly as clogged with tourists as it could have been and (apparently) just before the weather turned. Even then, our excursions to Knossos and the island of Santorini ran into several dozen coach loads and boat loads of tourists respectively. Knossos, as ruins go, was fabulous, nestling in beautiful tree-lined hills, only rendered slightly less fabulous by the efforts of archaeologist, Sir Arthur Evans, who as well as failing to make proper notes as the dig progressed, managed to erect these heavy concrete reconstructions on top of the original delicate alabaster. Way to go, Sir Arthur: next time I see Indiana Jones tearing through an archaeological wonder like a bull in an ancient world china shop, I'll be thinking of you. Santorini (above) was a pretty sort of place, all picturesque houses atop mind-bogglingly high cliffs, but its narrow streets were a little too crowded, especially on a scorching hot day, and sadly spoiled by all the tacky souvenir shops designed to cater for said crowds. Still, I was very glad to have visited, and quietly nesting in amongst all the other shops was the bakery to end all bakeries. I can still see their window display now: a collection of decorative cakes and confections arranged for maximum temptation and torment. Torment, I say, because it's exactly the wrong thing to encounter in a place where you know you're only going to be once. And it's not like they can do mail order. Trust me, these cakes would not travel well. Some time was spent agonising over the choice of what to have, but I was glad in the end of the sugar, especially as, having sensibly made the ascent in the cable car, we'd chosen to walk down the 600-plus steps to the harbour. It was all downhill, how hard could it be? In the suffocating heat, the way paved with the droppings of the 300 donkeys that were one of the alternative modes of transportation on offer, surprisingly exhausting is the answer.
Much of the rest of the holiday was characterised by swimming, great food, good wine and a smattering of Greek dancing. A great week's R&R, in short. The funniest thing we saw (apart from some of the Greek TV I sampled in a spot of channel hopping late one ouzo-fuelled night) - especially for any of you who have seen Roman Holiday - had to be the coin-operated Mouth of Truth (La Bocca della Verità). What it was doing in Crete, I haven't the foggiest. What it was doing in existence, I couldn't even hazard a guess. The saddest thing we saw, though, had to be all the stray/feral cats that populate the streets and dumpsters and scrubland and, well, everywhere really. Actually we saw family pets that were cruelly neglected, so the local attitudes to the homeless cats and dogs certainly came as no surprise, but even if we didn't have two (precious) cats of our own, I'm fairly sure I'd have been angry/upset/horrifed/offended all the same. So, the Cretans were a friendly, hospitable lot but they don't win any points on animal welfare. Never mind your marbles, Greek authorities, something needs to be done for the animals! Of course, being us, we befriended a few of the natives, including a little fellow we called Swipes (pictured below). The hotel manageress did ask us if we'd care to take some of the cats with us, but luggage space was, sadly, limited.Oh and as a parting side note, Heraklion wins the prize for worst airport I've ever had to pass through. A delayed flight and lots of hanging around in the small hours didn't help, it must be said, but it was dreadfully smoky and crowded, and, in marked contrast to Gatwick which, on our outward journey, was patrolled by assault-rifle-toting police officers (our very own far from sublime extreme), security was rubbish (to the ridiculous). So, anyone wishing to infiltrate the UK could do worse than make Crete their starting point. If you don't mind the long waits in a nicotine-fogged atmosphere, you'll be laughing.
Still, despite the ardours of the actual travel (proving once again that, no, it's definitely the destination, not the journey), we returned refreshed and relaxed. Of course it took all of two days (less, I think) for stress levels to jump back up to normal levels, with work stuff and an impending visit from the in-laws. Er, that will read completely the wrong way. My in-laws are in fact lovely. Where the stress arose was trying to juggle spending some quality time with them during their stay, showing them the Cornish sights and what not, with pressing deadlines. Within three days, yours truly needed another holiday. So it goes :)
Since then, the ghost-writing project has been completed, and it's been a case of getting stuck back into some (quite honestly) more fun projects entirely of my own devising. Sparsely peppered with patches of spare time - yes, there's been some, and although the blog did occasionally beckon, there always seemed to be more tempting alternatives.
For one, I foolishly treated myself to an XBox 360 back in September, and although it's a very very poor remedy for my ongoing insomnia, it did at least serve to occupy some of that time that, in an ideal world, I should have spent sleeping. For two, my wife and I finally finished our Babylon 5 marathon (an 'achievement' which will warrant its own blog, no doubt) and resumed our watching of Alias.
We've paid for the latter, as it happens. By which I mean over and above the rather good price for which we picked up the first four seasons on e-bay. I'm all for a series with a lot of WTF? moments, but really it comes down to the tone in which you're prompted to say, WTF? It all started well enough, then some doubts started to creep in early during the second season (composites that would have looked more at home alongside some of B5's worst, plot twists that had gone from al dente to really tough to swallow etc) until gradually it looked like it might be preparing to redeem itself... then, well, WTF?!!! For the first couple of episodes into the third season, I was waiting for everything to be revealed as a virtual reality or perhaps some alternate reality triggered by the assembly of this ancient device the bad guys had worked so hard to piece together over the past two years. Because, as crap as that would have been, it would have been so much better than what we're being presented now. I'm not generally a quitter, but I think we're safe to give up on that one now. As I said when seeking advice from a friend, it's turned into a big pile of Bad Robot guano.
Never mind, there was BSG: Razor to make up for it. Straddling prequel and nostalgia territory, it wasn't amazing, but it actually managed its straddling pretty well, presented a reasonable 'branch' storyline and fed us a little scrap of Starbuck-related foreshadowing. What was more important, was I realised how much I'd missed Battlestar Galactica in general. And since rumour has it the fourth and final season won't be hitting US screens until April of next year, this was an important and very welcome dose of the show to keep us going in the meantime. Also it gave us more of the brilliant Michelle Forbes as Helena Cain, commander of the Pegasus, and threw in a nice human spur for her 'slightly right of Commander Adama' hard-line approach. Unnecessary, perhaps, in the scheme of things, but welcome.
Somewhere in the midst of all that, I've been catching up on Deadwood (Season 2 going on 3, superb) and a few movies, some long-overdue proofreading for a couple of writer friends. And pausing to consider Admiral Cain's hard-line approach myself when a couple of drunken yobs smashed in our car windscreen for no good reason. I say no good reason, but maybe they had one. According to the local paper, they found some worth in smashing ten car windscreens throughout the town on the same night, so we needn't have felt singled out in any way. As crimes go, it wasn't the most traumatic thing that could have happened, for sure, but it does leave you with an unhealthy amount of anger with nowhere to go.
Still, that, I guess is what the XBox is for. The ogres, trolls and goblins on Oblivion are generally better behaved than most of the drunken youths that roam the streets of most towns on a Saturday night and the Covenant and Flood of Halo 3 were more civil, but they make for a fairly satisfying and entirely safe means of venting any destructive urges. Only a shame the 'youths' don't seem to have discovered that alternative...
Never mind, what's done is done, as they say. Which is as good a point as any to say, I'm done too - and conclude this particular ramble. Apart from the Babylon 5 thoughts, that's pretty much everything, up to date. All that's left to say, for now, is that, if anyone happens to be going to Santorini any time in the next few months, could you please, please - pretty please - bring me back a nice cake.