Saturday, April 28, 2007

Hania Elkington 2007

Hania arrived for the weekend just before lunchtime, drawing me away from my computers. She took us through her photographs of her time in Istanbul this past week, and left me wanting to take up painting.

Hania Elkington 2007

Friday, April 27, 2007
Spent much of this week finishing off SustainAbility's new report on the future of globalization - and the implications for the future of corporate responsibility and sustainable development. One of the more convoluted studies we have undertaken, long overdue, but I think coming together very powerfully now.

Then home by taxi, because I had to transport back the three huge photograph albums I compiled over the years of the first ten years or so of SustainAbility's history, which Sam and Kim have been using to scan in photographs for the twentieth anniversary section of the website ( A sample can be found at

As the taxi unloaded me in Barnes, Julia (Hailes) was just arriving for dinner and to stay the night, ahead of doing a speech on green funerals tomorrow. She brought a copy of her new book, The New Green Consumer Guide ( After supper, we all sit through till late going through the albums, recalling old adventures and filling in some of the missing names against age-old photographs. Had somehow missed the mention of her in the Financial Times, despite reading the paper semi-religiously every day, on 30 March ( The item was on her recent work for McDonald's (, a company we had a major run-in with after the publication of the orginal Green Consumer Guide.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007
Rory Stear of Freeplay Energy noted - as we all waited to go on stage there today - that he had always wanted to play the Albert Hall. Other panellists for the debate on what it takes to be a 'Good Director' were Penny Newman of cafedirect and Philippa Foster Back of the Institute of Business Ethics. The transcript can be found at

I continue to contribute a column to Director magazine, the latest of which can be found at

The IoD also launched a new climate change microsite on its website today:;sid=xQsRsteuGQgLbZGdp3AbJH9uV3tiFITovqY=?ChannelID=2&MenuID=20&TemplateName=policy%2fcontent%2ftransport%2fpol_transport_climate_change%2eisml.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007
Across to Pall Mall for a small dinner hosted by Nigel Doughty, co-founder of Doughty & Hanson Co., the private equity firm. Tube proved to be having some sort of conniption, so I walked there from Holborn, remarkably quickly. Spotlight of the evening was on David Grayson, recently appointed as the Director of the newly established Doughty Centre for Corporate Responsibility. This has been possible by a £3 million commitment by Nigel to fully fund the Centre for the next five years and to set up a Trust Fund to provide funding for subsequent years.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Thera today (source: Landsat)

Weird, given that Elaine dreamed of a tsunami on our first night in Aghios Nikolaos last week, during a rainstorm, that this evening we stumble across the BBC Timewatch programme 'The Wave That Destroyed Atlantis,' exploring possible links between the Thera/Santorini eruption and the extinction of the Minoan civilization ( Although we were told in Crete that the ultimate collapse of the civilization came some time after the eruption, the evidence of widespread tsunamis triggered by the collapse of the Theran caldera and vast inrushing of seawater atop the incandescently hot magma seemed fairly persuasive, with the coast-based Minoans likely to have been overwhelmed. And the archaeological evidence of the cannibalization of young people during the post-tsunami period added a new wrinkle to the Minotaur myth.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

As Georgios drives us back down the serpentine road towards the coast, Elaine asks me to catch a shot of a sign to Hania (a coincidence in naming, since Hania's name came from the world of the Hopi Indians) as we roar around yet another a hairpin bend. I ask Roland if we can stop off for a moment to see the memorial to Cretan resistance in the mountain village of Lakki. It works out - and the sculpture is impressive. A reminder of just how hard-won the island's independence has been. Later we stop for wonderful Cretan yoghurt and honey by a river, before having a final wander around Iraklion/Heraklion, where we encounter evidence that at least some aspects of the bull cult still flourish.

Despite early concerns about the difficulty of achieving a hat-trick with Syria, Cyprus and now Crete, ACE have pulled it off once again. As a result, if the Fates allow, we hope to head back to this extraordinary island under our own steam. But a parallel challenge will be to work out what the fourth ACE in our hand might be, though if we allow the current tempo to continue that wouldn't be until 2009.

Lakki memorial

The general direction of Hania

The cult of the bull continues

Monday, April 16, 2007
As we prospect for wildflowers on the Omalos Plateau, old tyres are everwhere, often strewn in circles like mushroom rings. When I go across to one circle, their use becomes obvious from a solitary colony: they are stands for mobile beehives. Sadly, the Samaria Groge is closed until next month, so six of us content ourselves by climbing up to its westernmost end, with fairly hard going at some points - though our oldest member, she's over 80, is pretty much like a mountain goat. As we go higher, a cuckoo - or cuckoos - call back and forth far below.

After we get onto the top of the mountain, and within sight of the Gorge's end, Elaine and I unhook and scramble up to sit in the bowl of a giant, gnarled cypress tree, where the droppings suggest that various forms of wildlife seem to watch life go by when humans aren't about. We watch vultures circle overhead and engage in roiling mobbings with ravens and choughs. A perfect ending to an extraordinary visit - though the true end comes tomorrow, with the trip back to Iraklion/Heraklion.


One reason why the bees are here

Tools, ancient and modern: shepherd's crook, branch for a new one, and Toyota truck

Goats create a weird topiary

The climb begins

Clearly, goats aren't the only natural forces these trees must contend with

An easy patch

Sunday, April 15, 2007
On our way west, we stop off at the Selinari Gorge, to watch griffon vultures and other birds soaring in the building thermals. Didn't much like the monastery, or what we saw of it, which felt jerry-built, but maybe it'll settle in by 2100? Then on to Rethymno/Rethymnon, where Elaine and I hoofed it over the the Venetian fortress that dominates the harbour. Circumnavigated at speed, but well worth the effort. Then on to watch birds at Agia Lake, where the orange trees were in glorious blosson, the fragrance heady - and the orange juice served in the nearby cafe my idea of the sort of libation I would expect in the Elysian Fields. Still kicking myself, though, because I failed to get to the bottom of the frog-croaking sound from within a rubbish bag by the lake.

As we drove west, my mind was on the plight of the Allied troops faced with the German paratroop invasion in 1941. Another woeful tale, at least in part, of British incompetence in the early stages of the war. Had meant to bring Anthony Beevor's excellent book Crete: The Battle and the Resistance (Penguin, 1992), but couldn't find it at home before we left. Will read it when I get back. But as we begin the long drive up the winding route to the Omalos Plateau, where our visit will end, many of us are acutely aware of the grim plight of the Allied troops who struggled over the same route after the German invasion, of the heroism of the Cretans who both helped them and fought fiercely to prevent the para-landings, and of the terrible reprisals exacted in the aftermath of the battle and later.

Not at Selinari, but had to get it in

Kevin with an eye on higher things, vultures mainly

Snaking hose

Rethimno/Rethimnion harbour

Vista from fortress

All along the watchtower

Given the Cretan love of cement, this could be a modern shrine with votive instruments

Spent this morning at Knossos, starting with a moment of reflection in the shadow of that great man, a colossus of archaeology, Sir Arthur Evans. Though much criticised by future generations of archaeologists, his was an extraordinary genius. Scooting ahead of the group, I had much of the site to myself for periods and its scale was palpable. During the so-called Second Palace Period (1700-1350 BC), the palace covered 22,000 square metres and had over 1500 rooms. It's not hard to see where the Greek notion of the labyrinth came from, nor - when you hear of the tribute levied on the expansive Minoan colonies - where the myth of an all-consuming Minotaur might have come from.

I was greatly struck by the abstract beauty of the bull horn sculptures, by the relief frescoes and by the melting alabaster blocks that one encounters all over the site. People may not like the Evans affection for concrete reconstructions, but they presumably have served to protect some of the site from the elements.

As we have travelled, I have been reading the latest episode in the Dune series, Hunters of Dune, by Frank Herbert's son Brian and Kevin Anderson (Hodder & Stoughton, 2006). Herbert was also a genius, of a different sort to Evans, but one whose mind was also able to roam over centures and millennia in a quite extraordinary way. After years of trying to track him down, I finally met him and his wife Beverly either in 1981 or 1983, ironically just as he was heading back to Seattle from London and I was just returning to London from Seattle. My original essay based on the session can be found at Although qualitatively different, Hunters turns out to be an excellent read - and worthy successor. Indeed, I can't wait to read the concluding volume in the series.

Knossos Colossus

Welcoming blooms

North entrance

And again


My reflection, leaning on a wall

If only stones could speak

Even monumental alabaster melts over time

The Royal Road

Saturday, April 14, 2007
Across to visit the gorge mouth that we can see from our hotel on the other side of the Gulf or Mirabelle. As promised, a colony of choughs to aerobatics for us along the way. Then I drag Elaine off down the gorge and up along a levada, or irrigation canal, leading to a set of ruined watermills on the other side. Fascinating design, with the wheel turned by the water below the wheels that ground the grain. When I tried to find a way back across the gorge lower down, it proved fruitless and we had to double back - though, mercifully, a small group of stragglers were still poring over flowers part-way back, so our tracks were covered.

Mouth of Monastiraki Gorge

Chapel 1

Chapel 2


Part of one of the watermills

Pleasure heaped on pleasure. Any concerns we may have had about scoring a hat-trick with ACE study tours have long-since been banished. This morning we visited Gournia, the best-preserved of all Minoan towns. It enjoyed a massive strategic advantage, controlling the narrow isthmus which enabled traders and others to send goods overland to the south rather than relying on the much more dangerous sail around the eastern cape. The site was discovered by an American, Harriet Boyd-Hawes, who started digging in 1901. A wonderful site, and fascinating to see how the coastline has shifted since, a process you can see continuing as you watch. Here I found myself chewing on juniper berries - various others followed my lead, but I'm not sure they were quite as impressed, with at least one saying she preferred to get her juniper infusions via gin.

After a walk along the coast, plant-spotting, we had a glorious lunch in Pakia Ammos, with Elaine, Kevin, Roland and I eating in the open, under a bright blue sky. Several of the party went swimming before lunch, though the wind was quite cold and the waves seemed full of plastic sacks and other assorted detritus. Retsina, small pastry packages of spinach and cheese, calamare, octopus, sardines, and other seafood delights. Heaven.

Wild gladiolus at site entrance

Gournia wildflowers

The journey commences

Kevin instructs

Roland is a man of the book

Nests of the processionary caterpillar

Nest in my juniper snackery

Yesterday's rain is adding to the sedimentary fan

Vista in blue

Prostrate plants speak to wind's power

Spiny centaury again?

Pakia Ammos

Spent the morning at the excavated Palace of Malia, first discovered by Joseph Hatzidakis in the early twentieth century - and a site showing evidence of extensive earthquake damage at various points in its history. Two extraordinary finds we only saw in the form of photographs were the famous gold pendant showing two bees and the extraordinary leopard's-head axe, both of which are in the Museum of Iraklion/Heraklion - currently under refurbishment, and therefore inaccessible.

After the visit, I found myself snacking on the shoots of an Aleppo pine near the museum, which were delicious. Then we walked along the coast, in my case alongside the crashing waves. One of the plants I was most struck by here was spiny centaury, whose structure of thorns reminded me of Tim Smit's biomes at The Eden Project. But when I looked up the name via Google, the images that appeared looked nothing like the plant we had seen. Any suggestions?

As we were leaving, a beautiful purple heron came winging by from the nearby marshes - a wonderful sight. But my overall reaction to the coast here was one of profound sadness: the amount of rubbish and litter dumped everywhere defies the imagination. And, sadly too, I very much doubt much of what we saw as we walked the coastline will ever be of much interest or use to future archaeologists. But some entrepreneurial rival to ACE might think of doing a spotting tour of mineral water bottles, beer cans, condoms and the like. When we got back to the hotel in the early afternoon, I crashed - sleeping for three hours solid.

Even with tyres scattered around the landscape, this was something different - but what?

The colour of clay

Malia plants 1

Malia plants 2

Malia coastline

Spiny centaury?

Windswept Elaine

Friday, April 13, 2007
Friday 13th. Inland to the Lassithi Plateau, past some of the surviving traditional windmills on the lip of the plateau. Then a walk through farmland, past rubbish tips and with a distant view of what may be an abattoir with a ram's head affixed to its central window. We are looking for birds - and find them a-plenty. Some people also see frogs in the river, though my eyes are on the snow-covered peaks in the distance. Then off to the Dhiktean Cave in which Zeus is reputed to have been born. Climbing up towards the cave affords wonderful panoramas of the landscape. A wren sings at the mouth to the cave and three Griffon vultures do a glorious fly-past.

Windmills 1

Windmills 2

On one side of the path ...

... and on the other ...

Another sometime scourge

Mouth of the Dhiktean Cave

Cave 2

Cave 3

Cave 3 - and isn't that Zeus in the middle?

Coins at the bottom of the Cave

Wednesday, April 11, 2007
By boat later this afternoon to the long-impregnable Venetian island fortress of Spinalonga, which was only handed over to the Turks some 50 years after they had taken over the rest of Crete. More recently, for the first 50 years of the twentieth century, the island was a leper colony, Europe's last. Lepers were sent there even when drugs had become available that would have made such suffering and incarceration needless. But it was hard to recall those dark days when walking around in the sun, admiring everything from Roman nettles to the colour of the waters surrounding the fortress's walls. Reminded us of the Venetian castles we prowled around in Greece in 1970, with their extraordinary cisterns. Later, we headed back by boat to Plaka for an excellent fish supper, ending with raki.

Spinalonga looks innocent today

Feeling tyred, presumably after a second life buffering boats

In range

Door 1

Door 2




Carved graffito on a prickly pear leaf

Kevin and Roland

And there's the lion various people had been looking for

Elaine 1

Elaine 2

Nets in Plaka

Corner of Plaka fish restaurant where we sat above the harbour

After lunch, we went up onto the mountains above Elounda, looking back over Spinalonga. Spying a vulture circling over a distant windfarm, I took off among the olive groves and made for the 'Temple of Vestas' - a Danish windpower company I have long admired.

There had been a degree of disagreement in the group when we had first espied the machines, with a fair amount of distaste expressed by some, whereas I find well-designed aerogenerators things of great beauty. Indeed, spent a fair amount of time during the early 1980s trekking around windfarms worldwide while writing Sun Traps for Penguin. Elaine finally tracked me down among the white giants and we walked back along the ridge to rejoin the group, who were poring over every wildflower encountered along the way - or springing back to loft their binoculars and watch some bird passing overhead.

Spinalonga from above 1

Spinalonga from above 2

Goatsbeard - like a huge dandelion head

An even larger dandelion head

Courtesy of Vestas

Windfarm 1

Windfarm 2

End of a cable drum

Grove 1

Grove 2

A morning spent in and around Elounda, particularly the former Venetian saltpans - which apparently attract waders, though there are few about today. On our way to Elounda, we stop off on a high point and take in our surroundings, for me the high point here being a huge carpenter bee. Once down by the saltpans, we pass by a number of disused windmills and the waters under which lie the ruins of the sunken city of Olous, on our way out to the Spinalonga peninsula. I amuse myself by eating a fair amount of salty samphire, which is genuinely delicious.

Everything here is under construction

She doesn't look as though she's going willingly ...

View across the saltpans


Elaine shows the way

Underneath the lampost

Windmill 2

Windmill 3


Arrived yesterday afternoon in Heraklion, en route to Aghios Nikolaos and the Hotel Miramare - the beginning of a week-long study tour on 'Crete: Birds, Flowers and Minoans.' Organised by ACE Study Tours (, with whom we have previously travelled to Syria and Northern Cyprus. Those trips were so spectacular that I confess we are somewhat uneasy that Lady Luck is unlikely to strike three times in a row. But early conversations with the tour leaders - Kevin Hand and Roland Randall - suggest that our chances are way better than even.

It had rained last night and the steps of the hotel this morning were squiriming with long black millipedes, so the wildlife element of the trip has already begun ... and, as usual, I'm finding it hard to shake off the BlackBerry habit, though try to indulge surreptitiously.

Vista from our balcony


Nearby cemetery

Sunday, April 08, 2007
Gaia, Haia and John (Jencks) just passed through to collect the car and head west, to Little Rissington. As we drove through the Chilterns last weekend, to the same end, the sky was busy with red kites, a glorious sight. And they seem to be spreading west from their site of reintroduction.

Then, last night, I picked up a copy of the 1986-1995 Indypendium, a celebration of 20 years of journalism in The Independent, and stumbled across Richard Mabey's 'The Kite Flies Again,' the last piece in the collection. He notes that the red kite was once a common bird across the whole of Britain, but was exterminated by the English landed gentry and their gamekeepers. In the early 15th century the bird made such a contribution to public health in London by virtue of its scavenging that it was a capital offence to kill one.

Later still, I stumbled on a TV programme on Douglas Bader's downing in 1941, his 'kite' at the time being a Spitfire. Programme dragged at times, as the archaeological team dug up one aircraft wreck after another, but the final conclusion was that Bader had been the victim of 'friendly fire,' rather than colliding with an Me 109, which put a different spin on things ( Watching the excavations was significantly more interesting in the light of the stream of items that the archaeological team that dug up my father's Huricane sent us over the years. Extraordinary, too, to see how many planes came down in such a small area of France.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007
Back late this afternoon from Little Rissington, after a couple of wonderful days with my parents at Hill House. On current trends, the ambulances will soon be finding their way there with their eyes closed. In the past three months, several ambulances have come to collect or return family casualties. First, my youngest sister had some sort of stroke when Elaine and I were in Davos, which brought an ambulance to her London home; then my painterly sister collided with her easel and damaged her leg very severely indeed, necessitating another ambulance, this time to Hill House; and now, a few days back, my mother effectively died in the kitchen - and had to be brought back to life by my youngest sister, now fully recovered and, mercifully, originally a hospital sister. Another ambulance.

The three of them joke that they are competing for attention - and even tries to tie my collision with last year's Mongolian woman (see 23 August, 2006 entry) into the general pattern of mayhem, but I'm beginning to think that cycling in London is safe by comparison with living the rural idyll. On ambulances, I have no complaints, but the Little Rissington casualties, while full of praise for the crews, say Gloucestershire ambulances have a ride akin to Sherman tanks.

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