Archive for June, 2005

‘It’s been so…

Sunday, June 12th, 2005

… HOT this weekend, that I’ve not had the energy for anything. I’ve been thinking nostalgically about Edinburgh winters. I know this to be a delusion. There is nothing so cold as standing in Princes’ Street at any time of year. Even in mid-August, it’s overcoat weather at the foot of the Scott Monument.

But I have been much obsessed with the memory of snow, and I am reminded of a winter night in Edinburgh when Lionel and I, and someone else, I forget who, left Studio 3 – a sort of hang-out for degenerates in the Grassmarket – at about midnight, and started to walk home through a heavy snowfall that had been going on all day. We started across The Meadows – a very open park separating the Royal Infirmary from the district where we lived. We started to throw snowballs, and then began to roll a big snowball – a snowball which became much larger much quicker than we could ever have expected. It was soon as large as the three of us could possibly roll. I see it in my mind’s eye as being at least eight feet in diameter. This cannot be true. But I distinctly remember that it was MUCH more than six feet, as it was higher than Lionel. It is worth recording that we were not in any way under the influence of anything more dangerous than coffee and peanut butter sandwiches. The scene was lit by these yellow sodium lights – you don’t see them much these days – which gave a strange unreal cast to the snow scene.

Our snowball was such a beautiful item that we decided we couldn’t just leave it parked in The Meadows. We would take it home. Well, the plan was changed when we contemplated that we had a fairly steep gradient to negotiate. We decided instead to place it on Electric Eddie’s doorstep in such a way that it would take him ages to get out of his house in the morning. Eddie was a kind of sometimes friend who fell in and out of favour with the rest of us depending on how bored we were with his constant elaborate conspiracy theories and attempts to get rich quick by means of electric devices. Don’t ask… I might be forced to tell you, and then I’d have to kill you. The idea of stuffing a quarter ton of snow in his front doorway filled us with great glee.

Unfortunately, as we pushed it off the pavement to cross the road to Eddie’s, it shattered into ten or so blocks each about the size and weight of a large television set. Worse, the road they were now blocking is and was a major bus route in Edinburgh. Had we left it at that, I guess little harm would have been done, but it wasn’t enough for us. Our disappointment was short-lived. We realised that with a few more big snowballs, we could inconvenience not just Eddie, but a quarter of the population of Edinburgh. I think we managed to add five more huge spheres, none of which broke, before the first Night Bus loomed from the Tollcross end of the road, whereupon we walked home with a spring in the step.

The next morning, as I walked to University, they had managed to clear enough room to let one vehicle at a time through the roadblock. You know, I never had a moment’s conscience about that incident. I reckon we enriched everyone’s life with the sight of these massive snowballs.


The Meadows under snow. Arthur’s Seat in the background.

‘Looking back…

Thursday, June 9th, 2005

… I think I would have become bored with my hideaway by now, had it not been threatened so often by one thing or another. I’m hoping that by the end of July the coast will be clear. Perhaps I’m kidding myself, but I think the trail will be so cold by then that only I will remember why I made a run for it.

At anchor - evening

True to my word…

Wednesday, June 8th, 2005

… I took a float and brick on a line round to the bay next door, and practiced casting off from it under sail and returning to it. It’s hard work, and you have to consider all the possible wind directions, but I certainly improved today.

You know…

Tuesday, June 7th, 2005

… that sort of scratchy feel you get from spending all day in sun and sea? The skin is tight, there’s a permanent taste of salt in the mouth, there are little hotspots on the shoulders and tips of ears that indicate they are going to redden and peel. The exhaustion. Yes. I’ve got all the symptoms.

Not all of it is from sailing, though. I adventurously took the boat round the headland for the first time, anchored in the bay round the corner, and swam. It was a millionaire’s holiday. No-one can get down to the beach in that bay, so I had the magnificent scenery and the sea all to myself. Bliss.
Millionaire's Bay

The boat still isn’t finished, of course. Alexis is ambitious for me to get some state-of-the-art navigation equipment, but I don’t feel I need it at present. I’ve got a compass, and I’m not venturing further than a couple of miles from the harbour. Mind you, a GPS unit isn’t that expensive these days, I think I will get one of those and a VHF radio for distress purposes, and Alexis has already ordered some charts of the area. Looking at the internet, it seems you can get a completely computer-based navigation system, with digital charts and superimposed radar and depth sonar. That’s not sailing, it’s cheating.

Of course, there’s quite a bit of fitting out to do in the form of a deck and a bunk inside the deckhouse, so we’ve made a start on that. It’s not going to be all that elaborate.

By the way, I don’t have the confidence to sail inside the harbour yet. I always putt-putt out to a clear bit before raising the sail, and drop the sail before entering and motor back to the mooring. I kind of understand the theory, of course, but I’m going to practice manouevring in open water before I hazard my dignity and paintwork in the harbour.

Alexis was pleased…

Monday, June 6th, 2005

… to see me on Saturday. I’d neglected him all the time Lionel and Desmëi were here. We spent the weekend practising with the boat.

The single sail is set up in what is called a “lateen” rig, quite common in the Mediterranean. Without my going into detail, it looks a bit like this.
Lateen Rig
It is quite unfamiliar to me, but I gather it has considerable advantages. Certainly, it can be handled by one person, there are very few ropes involved and it seems to draw well. When the sail is down, the long boom is a little unhandy, but you can bundle and tie the sail up on it and stow the whole thing fore and aft.

I began to realise that Alexis, despite his skill in boat construction, is no more a sailor than I am, so we blundered around in the bay while he demonstrated the mechanical components of the sail and I learned how to set it for best performance.

I played at sailing by myself all yesterday too, which is why there was no blog entry. I was totally bushed, but I was out with the dawn again today and I fancy I have mastered the basics of handling the lateen rig.


Friday, June 3rd, 2005

… oozed out of Desmëi at the table last night. With some difficulty, after a single drink at Nikos’, I persuaded Lionel and Desmëi to move to another taverna for food. Though we had met cordially enough, I didn’t want Nikos to perceive any dissent or trouble. Desmëi was clearly getting ready to say her piece and I was worried that her malevolence would become all too obvious.

Settled at the most attractive of the touristy beach-side tavernas, I could be sure that no dispute that was likely to break out among the three of us would be in the least remarkable compared to the antics of uncouth lager louts of both sexes, who regularly display excesses of all sorts, from dancing on the tables to indecent exposure and brawls.

As Desmëi proceeded to re-iterate at length her personal views on my “situation”, I had the leisure to study her appearance in great detail. The mild-mannered, scholarly spouse I thought I had met was completely invisible. Her spectacles, with their small lenses, alternately glittered with reflections of the fairy lights strung around the taverna and cleared to reveal fierce black eyes drilling into mine. Her soft plump body was animated, her pale arms and hands swept the air for emphasis. While her words were couched in terms of helpfulness and sanity, there was a spite radiating from her that even warned the battle-matured waiters not to press us for our order. Power over another human being seemed to be driving this. She didn’t bother to hide a triumphant knowledge that she had me on the ropes, and that she could apply pressure.

I don’t know how I kept it together and didn’t try to defend myself. I think I sensed that she’d like that. Therefore, I said little or nothing under the onslaught, but Lionel seemed to see the need to interject some qualification into the discussion, such as “Perhaps it won’t come to that” or “What Desmëi means is…”. Every time he spoke, though, she turned on him and said something vicious or sarcastic. In one of the embarrassed silences after Lionel had been disciplined, I managed to grab a waiter and order both drinks and food. Desmëi carried on with her views, apparently hardly noticing the interruption. But as I turned back to the table, I just caught sight of a particularly evil glare from Desmëi, directed, not at me, but at Lionel.

I instantly comprehended that this wasn’t really about me at all. The power she was really interested in was power over Lionel. She had found out that I mattered to Lionel and that she could threaten me from the moral high ground of Truth, Justice and the Canadian Way, and she was going to make the most of it. The more I suffered, the more Lionel suffered and that was what she really wanted.

After that, every time Lionel tried to wade in, I tapped his foot gently under the table. He got the hint after the third time, and stopped interrupting. Desmëi’s advice ground to a halt quite soon after that, and I promised her I would give the situation some careful thought and that she had made some compelling points. Surprisingly, that seemed to satisfy her and we were able to have a reasonably cordial conversation over the desperately tough souvlaki and limp salad. Lionel, though, looked rather weary. He’s very clever in many ways, but I guess he’s susceptible to this kind of power trip whenever Desmëi sees an opportunity.

We all met again this morning for coffee to say goodbye. I made an excuse about tonight so that I didn’t have to sit through another lecture. Lionel was looking much more himself. We exchanged email addresses and Desmëi even gave me a hug and kiss in parting. I think the immediate danger of exposure is over, not because I said I was giving her ideas serious consideration, though I did, but because she can only keep Lionel under the lash by threatening me, not by actually reporting me.

How could I…

Thursday, June 2nd, 2005

… have been so naïve as to imagine that Lionel’s wife Desmëi, or indeed any woman, would be able contentedly to allow her husband to spend time with an old friend on her holiday without causing all kinds of trouble?

I bet you saw it coming. I didn’t. Apparently, last night, she made a few derogatory remarks to Lionel about me. He leapt to my defence, and the net result was that she wormed virtually everything out of him. I’m afraid I’d been very open with Lionel, so when we met today, plump, bookish Desmëi resembled a functionary of the Spanish Inquisition, with chapter and verse on my misdeeds, together with a catalogue of actions I “must” take, and lightly-veiled threats about what she would do if I didn’t take her “advice”. It was truly shocking to see how her new knowledge transformed to power before my eyes. Lionel was no use, of course.

The “actions” she insists upon are manifold, but amount to:
o returning to the UK and surrendering myself to the police;
o appearing in court to ensure Justice is Done.

The “lightly-veiled threats” are:
o to report to the UK police where I am hiding;
o to report to the Greek police that I am a fugitive.

I was extremely angry. I wanted to scream at her to mind her own business, that she was putting my liberty, even my life, in danger, that she was ruining the idyll that I had created for myself, and that if she carried out her threats, I would make sure she regretted it. Instead, I think wisely, I pretended to consider her advice seriously.

Remember: Diplomacy: the art of saying “Good Dog, Good Dog” whilst looking around for a big stick.

They leave on Saturday. I must have a plan to change her mind by then, but what? I’m meeting them in Nikos’ tonight.

Without spoiling…

Wednesday, June 1st, 2005

… Desmëi’s holiday, Lionel and I have been spending much conversation time together. Desmëi seems content to sit near us in the bar or on the beach, reading, while we rabbit our way through umpteen years of unshared experiences.

He has been much concerned, I gather, with the Francophone part of the African Virtual University. Lionel has always been fully bi-lingual in English and French. This is much of the reason why he sought his career in Canada. Much talk of Frenchness. He has the fortune to see it from both sides of the fence, and is more sympathetic than I am to their pathetic aspirations. From my point of view, France’s weekend rejection of the EU constitution is good in my view if it delays administrative co-operation between Britain and Greece. Holland looks like administering the coup de grace.

Lionel has lent me – loaning a book is an act of faith in its future return, is it not? – his battered paperback copy of The Death of King Tsongor, recommending it most enthusiastically. Any book, even a book in French, is a jewel to me these days.