Thursday, November 18, 2010
Thursday, September 23, 2010
Continuing my series of lists of favourite places to visit in the Peloponnese, I thought I’d tackle a few of the natural wonders of the area. The big omission from this list is beaches, not because they’re aren’t any – far from it – but because I thought they deserved treating separately. I also thought it was worth pointing out that these lists are by no means exhaustive; there is far more to the area than I can go into here. As always, if you want further information I can only humbly direct you towards my guidebook – see the link on the right of this page.
Mount Profitis Ilias
There are hundreds of mountains named after the prophet Elijah in Greece (he ascended into heaven from the top of one), but this must surely be the highest. At 2,404m it is also the biggest mountain in the Peloponnese and can be capped with snow from November to May. Given this it is actually not that hard to reach the summit, most easily from a mountain refuge above Sparta. On the 20 July, Elijah’s name day, this lonely height attracts quite a crowd.
The ‘many lakes’ that make up Polilimnio come as quite a surprise in a land where most rivers run dry during the summer. They are a series of pools formed by the river Kalorema (‘Beautiful Stream’) as it runs through a gorge. If you can find them, and are prepared to do a bit of walking, they provide an idyllic spot for a cooling dip and a picnic.
Stretching up above the village of Kardamyli on the Mani coast this spectacular gorge provides some tough, but rewarding, hiking. Those bold enough to attempt it will be surprised to find hidden monasteries in its depths, once well populated by monks.
The ‘Deep’ Mani is a barren, rocky, mountainous spit of land, that would normally offer little of attraction. For some reason, however, it exerts a sublime and magnetic force on the traveller. The fact that this was once the entrance to the kingdom of Hades, Lord of the Underworld, comes as little surprise.
Hidden up in the mountains this ‘lake’ rarely has water in it these days. Instead a sea of reeds covers the flat plain, catching the light as they sway in the breeze, and the surrounding peaks hover in the clouds above. A ruined Frankish abbey completes a Gothic picture that most would never associate with Greece. They should do more exploring . . .
Saturday, September 4, 2010
When I first lived in Greece, when I was in my early twenties, it took me a while to figure out how to shop for groceries. My first point of call, the local supermarkets, seemed to stock nothing but canned goods. Eventually exploration turned up the bi-weekly open-air market, as well as various grocers and butchers. My problems hadn’t ended, however, as rather than nice plastic bags of perfectly spherical tomatoes I was presented with piles of huge, knobbly, bruised, fly-infested, reddish-green balls. Imagine my surprise when they turned out to be delicious. Times have changed, and now supermarkets contain fresh, local products, but the ethos behind Greek food remains the same.
In fact this is the simple secret to good Greek food. The ingredients are local, and recently picked or slaughtered. Nothing is processed and nothing has travelled far to your plate. The measure of this is to compare a horiataki, the famous Greek salad, prepared in a tiny village taverna, to one made with M&S finest back in the UK.
There are as many versions of horiataki as there are villages in Greece, and endless arguments can take place over what should, or should not, go into one. I tend to think that they should be as simple as possible, letting the ingredients speak for themselves. Here’s my version, taken form my Peloponnese guidebook:
Halve a clove of garlic and wipe a bowl with the fresh flesh and discard. If you have a cucumber with thick skin (common in Greece) then slice much of it off, but don’t be fussy. Slice in half lengthways, and then into quarters. Holding these together cut into slices. Cut two or three large, Greek, tomatoes into bite-size chunks any old how. One large red onion diced up. I like to crumble my feta over, but will not complain if you like yours in large slabs. The feta should be chosen with care from the large selection at any Greek supermarket. Sprinkle on a couple of handfuls of Kalamata olives. And that’s it for major ingredients -- no peppers, and certainly no lettuce.
Now the important part: the dressing. This is very scientific. Take a bottle of this year’s local olive oil and put your thumb so it covers about a third to a half of the opening. Then pour over the salad moving the bottle in three circles; not too fast, but not too slow either. Take a bottle of red wine vinegar and close off the top a little more this time. Do just one circle. Finally sprinkle on half a handful of dry oregano from the nearest mountains. Do not toss the salad, the flavours will mix on your plate. Eat with Greek bread baked that day.
I hope you enjoy it, but you’ll obviously have to go to Greece for it to really work! If you disagree with my version, or have any improvements, do comment below.
Thursday, September 2, 2010
So let’s talk about homeopathy. Not because I particularly want to, but because it’s an instructive example of the kind of mass ignorance and self-delusion that I find distressing. (I had to think hard about the last word in that sentence; stuff like this is liable to make me angry, but that’s not a very useful emotion, so let’s settle for upset).
To begin with we need to clear up a widespread misconception that, while understandable, is hugely unhelpful if we are ever to come to an intelligent conclusion on this subject. Many people, when they hear the term ‘homeopathic’ used in relation to medicine, equate it with loose terms such as ‘alternative’, ‘natural’ or ‘herbal’. I call these ‘loose terms’ because they have no set, or generally agreed, definition. This is not true of homeopathy, which refers to a very specific set of ideas and beliefs, set out by a German doctor in the first half of the 19th century.
What are these beliefs? One central idea is that a substance that provokes a symptom similar to that of a particular disease, would also act as a cure for that disease. Another is that the process of succussion can vastly improve a medicine’s power (if you’re interested succussion basically means ‘shaking the bottle’). I’m going to ignore both these premises and concentrate on another central idea of the homeopathic system.
Homeopaths refer to this tenet as the Law of Infinitesimals. This declares that once you have an effective medicine, you can increase its power by diluting it. This deserves dwelling on. Homeopaths believe that the less you have of something the stronger it becomes. This means that as you add water to your squash it tastes progressively more orangey. Or that if you want to get really smashed you should have more tonic and less gin. Makes perfect sense to me.
This idea is then taken to its absolute extreme. Once homeopathy has identified a ‘medicine’ they take this substance and dilute it to a level where a bottle of it would not contain a single atom of that active ingredient.
If this sounds a bit ridiculous, that’s because it is. Yet in the UK we have NHS-funded homeopathy. That means our tax money is going towards something based on an idea that my four-year-old would see the holes in.
What do you call alternative medicine that works?
Saturday, August 28, 2010
Time for another list. Having tackled some of the lesser-known ruins that the Peloponnese has to offer, I feel I’ve neglected the more famous sites, of which the area has many. Whilst there is a sense of discovery and adventure in exploring some of the more obscure historical remains, there is also much to be said for the big ‘tourist’ destinations. They are famous for a reason, after all. So here are my highlights, along with some tips about how to make the most of them.
It took a while for me to see Olympia’s charms, which is a shame as they are plentiful. It is second only to the Acropolis itself in renown, and this brings its own problems. Let’s tackle these first. The village surrounding the site has grown into a tacky touristville, catering to the thousands of visitors with crappy restaurants and indifferent hotels. The ruins themselves are often overrun with herds of the most obnoxious type of tourists, and the remains can appear as a confusing jumble, with little of beauty or interest.
So why visit? Put simply there’s something magical about this place, which saw the games run uninterrupted for over a thousand years. Visit sometime between late autumn and early spring. Arrive early in the morning and pass quickly through the village and over the river towards the Hill of Kronos. Turn right into the ruins (they’re free on a Sunday) and stroll through the tree-shaded valley towards the stadium. Pass through the same arch under which famous athletes and cheating emperors (I’m talking about you, Mr Nero) once walked, and take off your shoes by the stone starting line. Place one bare foot on the line and close your eyes for a moment. Then run . . .
For those who equate Greek ruins with white marble columns the remains of the bronze age people who inspired Homer’s epics can come as a surprise. These massive stone walls set on an imposing, tooth-like, crag speak not of art and philosophy, but of blood and war.
Once again try and come off season and visit the site first thing. To really feel the atmosphere of these ancient rocks try and brave the steps down into the secret cistern, hidden at the back of the walls. You’ll need a torch, and the descent is officially discouraged. Few make it to the bottom.
This is the perfect Greek theatre, a stunning sweep of tiered seats each with faultless acoustics. For once the tour groups prove useful as they give you a chance to test this out. Take your seat and wait; before long someone is bound to try out a quick song or Shakespeare soliloquy. The rest of the site, once a healing sanctuary (a health spa in modern terms), rewards exploration as well, with the added advantage that most people don’t venture past the theatre. Look out for the Tholos, where patients would crawl through a snake-infested maze in the hope of a divine cure. In high season you can even catch a performance of Sophokles at the theatre, an experience that makes the summer crowds worthwhile.
The mainly Roman remains of this city allow you to walk the same streets as St Paul did when he first preached, and give a startlingly fresh insight into day-to-day life two thousand years ago.
Above the old city looms the castle-topped bulk of Acrocorinth. Most people don’t bother with the detour up to the top of this; you should, if only to admire the triple gateway through the walls that takes you back through history as you walk through it. The first gate is Turkish, the next Venetian, and the last has stones dating back to the 4th century BC. The views from the walls are stunning. Also keep an eye out for Pegasus, this is one of the winged horse’s favourite hang outs.
I’m going to write about this Byzantine city, nearby Sparta, at more length another time, suffice it to say it’s one of my favourite spots on the planet. Come in the spring, when wildflowers fill the site and the mountains above still glisten with snow, but Mystra is worth a visit anytime. A truly special place.
Friday, August 20, 2010
Having now written a fair bit about Greece I often find people asking my opinion about the present economic woes in the country. My first response is to make clear that none of it is my fault, closely followed by the observation that I am not an economist. I also like to point out that anyone who thinks that the current wave of rioting in the streets, and mass strikes, are in anyway unusual, has not spent much time in Greece. In the end, though, I usually tell them the following story; I think it explains a lot.
About 15 years ago I was chatting to a Greek acquaintance late at night, or possibly early in the morning, in a small village taverna. We’ll call him Panos – it might even have been his name. Much beer, wine and tsipouro had been consumed, and Panos had got down to the favourite Greek pastime of setting the world to rights. (I’ll leave out the swearing).
“I’ll tell you what the problem with this country is, Andy. It’s taxes! No-one pays them! Everybody complains: about the schools; about the roads; about the hospitals. Everybody complains that the government does nothing. But what can the government do? It has no money! If people gave the government what it was due, perhaps then they could start to sort out the problems, but instead everyone just looks out for themselves. It is the Greek way.”
I thought this was eminently sensible, and told Panos so. “It must make you angry,” I said, “being one of the few that contributes”.
“Good god,” said Panos, “I don’t pay my taxes either! Why should I, no-one else does . . .”
So there you go. I’d only like to add that, although it may take time, I have no doubt that the Greeks will weather this particular storm, helped, no doubt, by their sometimes insufferable self-belief and pride. I wish them well.
Wednesday, August 18, 2010
Over the last few years, and in no small part due to these times of austerity, camping has become fashionable. Helped on by the festival scene tents, sleeping bags and other paraphernalia have jumped out of the specialist shops and into supermarket aisles and even the shelves of trendy boutiques. For those of us who have been extolling the virtues of life under canvas, or at least nylon, for a while now this can be ever so slightly annoying, but the one big advantage is the influx of new guidebooks. Old camping guides were aimed firmly at the caravanner, whose needs and desires diverge greatly from those of us with tents. Now a new breed has arrived, with an emphasis on beautiful and isolated spots, rather than the size of the shower blocks and the availability of electric hook ups.
One such book is Tiny Campsites by Dixe Wills, in which the author lists 75 places to camp that are all under an acre in size. The idea appealed to me, so last week I packed up the family and decided to check out one of his (yes, his) recommendations.
A long haul round London and along the M4 into Wales brought us to Middle Ninfa Farm near Abergavenny, which Dixe lists as his third best site in Britain. It poured down the whole way, which was rather dispiriting. We even had to partake of that great British institution, the in-car picnic. Fortunately the sun came out as we crossed the Severn Bridge, but the still wet conditions meant that my overloaded Golf couldn’t make it up the driveway to the site – this is very definitely a Welsh hill farm. It also explains why, on a 23 acre farm, there is far less than an acre that is flat and available for camping.
No-one was around when we arrived, despite Radio 4 playing loudly from a nearby shed, but a kind note told us to make ourselves at home. The farm has a “main" campsite by the farmhouse, as well as three “remote” pitches. Having already lugged tent and bags up the driveway I opted for the main site, which in reality was a cosy little space in which we were the only occupants, and has stunning views back down the hill. The remote pitches, which we explored later, really live up to their name, and you wouldn’t want to have to carry too much stuff up to them.
The farm, now only home to a few ducks (avid Radio 4 listeners it seems) and two retired, and friendly, horses, is owned by Richard and Rohan. This well-travelled couple (mainly Africa) are enthusiastic and informal hosts, and can provide local information and maps, as well as home-grown veg. The facilities are basic, and rightly so. The one toilet is a long drop, and bottles of filtered water are available on the farm window sill. Apparently there is a cold shower somewhere, as well as, believe-it-or-not, a wood-fired sauna, but we didn’t bother with these.
In fact we didn’t bother with much of anything, apart from enjoying the views and some light exploring. Campfires, so unusual these days, are not only allowed but encouraged; so each night we settled in to watch the light fade and the stars come out. To top it all we were at the start of the Perseid meteor shower, so our evening drinks were accompanied by shooting stars.
Dixe reckons there are two better campsites than this. I can’t wait . . .
Monday, August 16, 2010
Sorry not to have posted for over a week. I was away camping, far from even the merest hint of Wi-Fi. I’ll write more about this shortly, but first I wanted to get down some random thoughts about nationality, and what it means to us. These have been prompted by my listening to the estimable Mr Billy Bragg on constant loop over the past few weeks, particularly his pro-devolution ditty Take Down the Union Jack.
I was born in Kenya, but only stayed there a few years. My father is English and my mother was Scottish. Because of this mix, when asked, I would normally identify myself as British, but what does this really mean? Frankly, without looking it up, I would be hard-pressed to state the difference between Great Britain and the United Kingdom. If we go to Norman Tebbit’s infamous “cricket test”, I find it much easier to cheer for England than Britain, Scotland or Kenya. As Billy puts it:
Britain isn’t cool you know, it's really not that great
It's not a proper country; it doesn’t even have a patron saint
It's just an economic union that’s passed its sell-by date
Interestingly this comfort with the notion of England may be a fairly modern phenomena. I recently watched clips of the 1990 World Cup semi-final, and was slightly surprised by the sea of Union Jacks in the crowd. It seems to have been only recently that we have reclaimed the St George’s Cross from the Far Right.
I’ve also been reading Andrew Marr’s two books about the history of Britain in the 20th Century. I was cautious of these, as they went along with a TV series (not usually a good sign), but they are excellent. Definitely a journalist’s view of history, with an emphasis on the big personalities and the telling anecdote, but none the worse for it. They also make it clear what a profoundly odd connection there is between the various countries that make up our nation.
So how to I define myself? I guess, when you combine background, the environment I grew up in, and football, then I’m English. And I’m proud of it. I would also have no problem with a full break up of the UK. On the other hand I’m also very much in favour of more extensive links with the rest of Europe. In fact, at the end of the day, I’m in favour of a world state. National identity is a fairly random thing, a mixture of birth and background that you have no say in. This doesn’t mean you can’t celebrate it, just don’t take it too seriously. Back to Billy:
Take down the Union Jack, it clashes with the sunset
And pile up all those history books, but don’t throw them away
‘Cos they just have a clue about what it really means
To be an Anglo-hyphen-Saxon in England-dot-co-dot-uk
Thursday, August 5, 2010
Apparently everyone on the internets loves a list. So here is the start of what I hope will be a regular feature in which ::drum roll:: I present you with a list. First up, and in no particular order, are five archaeological sites from the Peloponnese (the southern mainland of Greece) that, despite being stunning, hardly a soul ever visits. In any other country these would be major tourist destinations, but in Greece they await the solitary pleasure of the persistent few that seek them out.
The town of Megalopoli, with its two power stations belching steam, looks unpromising, but the surrounding peaks hide many delights. One is found on the slopes of a mountain once renowned for werewolves. Here the remains of a temple preside over a majestic view back down to the plain. Even the power stations look good from up here.
The ruins of this sanctuary dedicated to the Homeric couple of Menelaus and Helen (the ‘face that launched a thousand ships’) are pretty sparse, and to get here from nearby Sparta involves a walk or a 4x4. Once again the view makes it all worthwhile, stretching past Sparta to the medieval city of Mystra and the mighty Taygetos Mountains.
If the ruins of Menelaion are sparse, this site by the beautiful Lake Stymfalia is almost non-existent. It is worth seeking out, however, as the setting is mesmerising and evocative (Hercules completed one of his labours here). Reached by an easy walk from the road, you will feel a million miles from anywhere.
|Gates of Messene|
This one is on the cusp. In recent years a lot more work has been done on the site, unearthing new treasures, but also making it better known and more regimented. Last time I went there was even a ticket booth, but so far no one I know has ever seen anyone manning it. It deserves to be better known because unlike Olympia, a religious / sporting complex, and Epidavros, a healing centre and theatre, this is an entire classical Greek city, immaculately preserved. The walls alone are worth the trip, and you can even drive your car through the ancient gate as the modern road still goes through it; a weird and wonderful experience.
|View from Geraki|
To get away from the classical ruins, this is a medieval city, a sibling to the nearby Mystra. Unlike Mystra not many bother visiting, and getting in relies on you being spotted driving up by the Spurs-loving caretaker. You are compensated by yet more stunning views, and three well-preserved and intimate Byzantine churches, complete with frescos.
To find out more about these sites, and to explore this fascinating region more fully, I am forced to recommend my own book, the Bradt Guide to the Greek Peloponnese. It’s quite good, honestly.
Wednesday, August 4, 2010
I’ve just finished reading Andrew Eames’ Blue River, Black Sea. It’s a great, if not original, idea for a travel narrative (and not in the let’s carry a domestic appliance whilst hitchhiking kind of way). The author simply sets out to trace the course of the Danube as it winds through Europe towards the Black Sea.
This starts off in the supposedly familiar territory of Germany and Austria, but approaching both from the river gives one a new perspective on them. As Eames finds out, and I discovered when I fell into it in the late 80s, the Danube in Vienna is a rather smelly, if enormous, canal in the city’s industrial northeast.
Later on Eames tackles the lesser-known course of the river through Eastern Europe, proceeding on foot and by boat through Romania and Bulgaria. His last two-day journey through the Danube Delta to the sea in a particularly uncooperative rowboat deserves a particular hurrah.
He is not the first to dedicate a book to the river, as he himself makes clear. Claudio Magris’ Danube is a more erudite, and some would say pretentious, take on the great European river. It is hard going at times, but I loved it; a book to stretch the mind and often send you scurrying to your reference books (or Wikipedia), which is no bad thing.
The spirit that really lies behind Eames’ book, however, is Patrick Leigh Fermor. I will have plenty more to say about him if this blog continues (I ended up living near him in Greece), but here’s the bluffer’s guide.
Paddy, as he is known, was chucked out of school aged 17 in the late 1930s, and decided it would be a good idea to walk to Constantinople (not Istanbul). His rough and ready route was to follow the Rhine upriver and then the Danube down. This experience led to two of the all-time classics of travel writing; A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods and the Water. If you want to give yourself an enormous favour this year, then give them a read.
I retraced some of Paddy’s footsteps in my year off before university, and I’ve often thought about doing it more seriously, and writing a book about it. Eames, curse him, has beaten me to it for now, but you never know what the future might bring.
Monday, August 2, 2010
|It's a face?!|
The ability to recognise patterns is one that is vital to us humans. This starts with babies being able to distinguish first faces, and then the particular faces that are of import to them, but it was also a driving force in our harnessing of technology and the world around us. Agriculture started when the first person noticed that a plant grew in the same place that he, or she, had previously dropped a seed – two facts coming together to form a recognisable pattern. We still do it all the time today, and it forms the basis of much of our decision-making.
There is a massive problem with this. Pattern recognition might be an immensely powerful and useful tool, but it also has the ability to lead us massively astray. Correlation does not mean causation, as the mantra has it. In other words, just because two events happened at a similar time, or in close proximity, does not mean that they are related. They could be, of course, but they don’t have to be. So if you take a pill and a short while later your headache goes, did the pill cure it? Maybe, but maybe it was going anyway
The best way to show how easily we are deceived into seeing patterns is the phenomena of pareidolia, particularly that aspect of it that can be more usefully termed as ‘seeing faces’. Go back to that baby we all once were, whose first talent was the ability to recognize their mum and dad. This is so deeply ingrained in us that all that we need is three circles and a line and we can conjure a face. Given more information we begin to see them everywhere; from monumental sculptures on the Martian surface to Jesus appearing in the morning toast. Believe in little green men if you like, or that our Lord is manifesting himself at the breakfast table, but I think we are just kidding ourselves. These kind of stories might be amusing, but actually they’re proof of how incredibly easy it is for us to be completely and utterly fooled by our own senses and brains. More of this later.
Friday, July 30, 2010
|The Taygetos, above Mystra|
I like mountains – great big craggy ones that you can climb up if you have the energy, but can also just stare at in awe. Unlike most people it was the mountains in Greece that first attracted me to the country, specifically the Taygetos Mountains of the Peloponnese. These look as if they belong in Tolkien’s Middle Earth, and always stir something in me when I look at them.
I’m not alone in this. Nikos Kazanzakis, the author of Zorba the Greek, wrote that the Taygetos make you realise how utterly meaningless your own petty concerns are. You are humbled before them. I agree with this, and bobbing in the sea off the coast of the Mani and staring back into the mountains is as close as I get to a religious experience.
Which is why it’s puzzling that I seem to be living in possibly the flattest region of the UK. Even small hillocks can provide paroxysms of excitement in Suffolk, and village church spires stand out for miles around. Looking out of my window into the great metropolis of Ipswich I can see the county’s highest point, a new tower block that is the pride of the town’s waterfront development. Unfortunately it’s not much bigger than your average Croydon office block.
|Water Tower, Southwold|
I don’t want to be too down on Suffolk though, it's just that I miss my mountains. And I’m also learning to discover the county’s more subtle charms. Last weekend we went camping in Southwold, an attractive coastal town that is now getting known for hosting the Latitude Festival. We missed Latitude by a week (on purpose) and were there to have my daughter’s b’day party on the beach. The campsite is council run, and not particularly great, but what it lacks in character it more than makes up for in location (right on the beach) and views.
My favourite thing, however, was not the beach, or the gentle countryside, or even the pubs serving locally brewed Adnams beer. No, I liked the water tower. I becoming a bit of a connoisseur of these structures, and in the flatlands of Suffolk there’s a lot of them about, but the one in Southwold is surely the most impressive. Who knew that a water tank on legs could look so cool? My only guess is that the architect was a big fan of the BBC series The Tripods from the 80s. I’m still half expecting another one to come marching over the horizon to claim Ipswich for its alien masters.
Thursday, July 29, 2010
So, this is the tough first post. I'd like to say that I've thought long and hard about it, but I haven’t really. Initially I tussled over which of my two pillars of interest to begin with. Should it be a rant over the idiocy of homeopathy, or a celebration of hiking in the mountains of the Peloponnese? Both of these are sure to come, but instead I decide to begin with what it all comes back to – what blogging should be all about.
Huge amounts of people think that they can write, and many also harbor the belief that their writing deserves an audience. Back in the day it used to be diaries and long reams of snailmail correspondence. Now it’s blogs, tweets and emails. For the ambitious there is always the dream of a book – after all “everyone has a book in them”.
This is nonsense. As anyone with half a minute to spare can see the vast majority of the written word that enters the public domain is complete dross. As I’ve already intimated this is not particularly a modern phenomenon, but Web 2.0 does mean that bad writing is not so much in-your-face as jumping out of the monitor and scratching your eyeballs.
And let’s just examine the “everyone has a book in them” meme in more detail. No they don’t.
Ok, a bit more detail. I once worked for a literary agency. My main job was trawling through the slush pile. For those who don’t know this is the vast accumulation of unasked for manuscripts that even crappy agents get through their letterbox, and the place I worked for was rather good. On an average week we’d get about a hundred. If these followed our guidelines they’d include the first three chapters of the ‘book’, or about 10,000 words. In other words they represented a strong commitment by the authors to their writing.
And almost without exception they were complete rubbish – as in there was no need to read beyond the first couple of sentences before rejecting them kind of rubbish. This sounds immensely callous, and will surely anger many aspiring authors, but it’s the simple truth. If you can’t get the first sentence right, then don’t bother with the rest, because no one else will.
Here are the stats: of the 7,000 odd manuscripts I looked at 90% fell into the utter drivel category. About 10% ranged from just about readable to not too bad. About ten or so were pieces I enjoyed reading, or could see others enjoying, but didn’t quite fit the publishing market at the time. One, that’s one out of 7,000, got into print. This is it, if you’re interested. It’s a cruel world . . .
So, I realise I’ve now opened myself up to piles of criticism and invective. (Before you start I know I’ve started two sentences with an “and”, which is considered bad form, but I did it for a reason). However I wanted to make this commitment here and now: whatever else this blog may be, I will try my very best to make it at least readable. Hopefully it will also be entertaining and informative, but if the writing’s crap, then I’ve failed. Let me know . . .