Zoë Sharp
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Zoë Sharp Over the years, I have put my series main character, Charlie Fox, through the mill. She has been shot (more than once), stabbed (also more than once), pushed off her motorcycle and then shot (OK, that was just the once), shot down in a helicopter, mildly tortured, Tasered, experienced various broken bones, been punched more times than either of us can count, and buried by an earthquake. So, I suppose it’s only fair that for the past month or so I’ve been suffering from the process of actually writing about all this stuff. Despite not attempting to play tennis since I was about twelve, I am now the proud owner of tennis elbow, or lateral epicondylitis, if you want to be proper about it. Charlie Fox would, no doubt, be greatly amused at my expense. The problem is usually caused by ‘strenuous overuse of the muscles and tendons of the forearm, near the elbow joint’. In other words, too much chipping away at the word-face and using a computer mouse. I began to realise I’d got a problem on the run-up to Christmas. Pain in the outside of my forearm up near the outer knobble of my elbow, problems picking anything up that also entailed gripping with my hand, and discomfort regardless of my arm being bent or straight. Gripping and twisting motions, such as opening a jar, turning on a tap, or using a screwdriver produced the worst effect. If the muscles and tendons in the forearm are over-strained, tears and inflammation occurs near the bony lump (the lateral epicondyle) on the outside of the elbow. I’ve previously had similar problems with my left elbow, although on the inner side, which is golfer’s elbow. And no, I don’t play golf, either. I confess that, since the beginning of November, I’ve been working pretty much continuously on the sequel to DANCING ON THE GRAVE. (And yes, I know I originally said that was a standalone but events have somewhat overtaken me.) And now, as the end of January approaches, I’m almost done. In fact, I’ve just extended my self-imposed deadline by a week into February, just to give my elbow half a chance to recover. My problem was not just caused by too much keyboard time. I think I can also put it down to poor ergonomics. I was using an old table in lieu of a desk, so the height of seat-to-desktop was never quite right because of the frame. It was also not quite deep enough for me to get the keyboard far enough onto the surface, and the top was slightly warped, leading to a raised ridge under my forearms. So, for Christmas, my pressie to myself was a custom desktop, made from 15mm plywood on an Ikea height-adjustable frame. I’ve even covered the surface in dark green pleather, like a proper olde-fashioned desk. I also got a new upright mouse when my old one gave up the ghost, and a padded wrist rest. I have been using a curved ergonomic keyboard for years, plugged into a separate monitor. But, nevertheless, this is a case of fitting new padlocks to the stable door, long after the horse has naffed off into the distance. In lieu of being able to get a doctor’s appointment, I’ve been treating this in a number of ways. (As many as I can think of!) I’ve looked up the appropriate exercises, and while doing any kind of strenuous work I’ve been using an elbow brace that consists of a Velcro strap with a padded lump that goes on top of your forearm. In theory this takes some of the strain off the inflamed area. I’ve also been using an ice pack at regular intervals. I have one that contains gel and never freezes solid, so I’m not in danger of frostbite when I forget and leave it on for far too long. It’s in a cover that Velcros around my arm, which means it stays in place nicely. I borrowed a TENS machine to zap myself with. TENS stands for transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation, which uses low-voltage (or should that be low-amperage?) current through two or four pads placed strategically around the elbow. It’s like being constantly prickled but better than the alternative. The scientific jury is still out, apparently, on the effectiveness of a TENS machine but I used one when I damaged my back a few years ago and it was about the only thing that allowed me to function. It’s having much the same effect this time. Just as long as I don’t shuffle my feet across a synthetic carpet and then grab a metal door handle, I should be fine. Apart from that, I’ve just been on occasional doses of painkillers and anti-inflammatories. If anyone has any other suggestions, I’m all ears! Like I said, Charlie Fox would be laughing her arse off… This week’s Word of the Week is selenology, meaning the study of the moon. Also, selenography, the study of the features of the surface of the moon. From the Greek name for the moon, Selene. Upcoming Events: Newcastle Noir May 1-3, Newcastle City Library, Newcastle upon Tyne. CrimeFest June 4-7, Mercure Bristol Grand Hotel, Bristol.
Jeffrey Siger
Jeff—Saturday For those of you wondering what’s going on in Greece these days—as if anyone in the US media seems to care about what’s happening outside Washington, DC—here’s a quick primer. +          The Turks and Greeks are at each other’s throats, the Turks claiming rights to Greek islands and energy resources. ATHENS – Greece’s Foreign Ministry immediately rejected claims by Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu who said there are “gray zones” in the Aegean as Turkey is moving to claim waters off Greek islands and in the Continental Shelf. “The legal status of the Aegean and of (the Aegean) islands is clearly determined by international treaties and there is no room for dispute,” Greece’s Foreign Ministry said, adding that Turkey’s interpretation of the UN Law of the Sea is “unfounded” and “illegal.” “Greece has chosen the path of international legality,” the ministry said, urging Turkey to do the same, although Turkey doesn’t recognize the Law of the Sea unless invoking it in its favor against Greece and Cyprus, where Turkish ships are drilling for oil and gas. Speaking to CNN Turk, [Cavusoglu] said that, “There are islands whose sovereignty has not been established” either in the Treaty of Lausanne or in the 1947 Paris Peace Treaty. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan doesn’t recognize the Lausanne treaty that set borders between the countries and openly covets the return of some Greek islands. —The National Herald. +          The Turks have allied themselves with one-side in the battle for control of Libya, and the Greeks are siding with the other. ATHENS – Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and Libyan Gen. Khalifa Hifter, who leads a rival force in his country that’s battling a United Nations-recognized government, sided with each other in a meeting where both want to thwart Turkish ambitions. Their sit-down came just ahead of a European Union meeting in Berlin to talk about how to deal with Libya where the fighting in the oil-rich country has the international community worried it could come apart. Mitsotakis, upset that Greece was excluded from the meeting despite Turkey and Libya signing a deal dividing the seas between them, with Turkey claiming waters off Greek islands and planning to drill for energy off Crete, said he would veto any agreement in Berlin that doesn’t reject that seas pact.  —The National Herald. +          Turkey, a key transit point for Russian natural gas into Europe, is being faced down by a new alliance formed by Greece, Cyprus, and Israel to conduct gas drilling in the waters off Cyprus. Cyprus, Greece, Israel Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attended in Athens Thursday the signing ceremony for the accord to construct the Eastern Mediterranean natural gas pipeline… The accord comes just as tensions are increasing in the region after Turkey’s contentious agreement that delineates maritime borders with Libya and affirms claims to areas of the Mediterranean the pipeline may cross. The three signatory countries all oppose the deal. Israel’s cooperation with Cyprus & Greece “adds to security and prosperity in the region” and “we are not turning against any other country,” Netanyahu said.  —Houston Chronicle +          Refugees are once more streaming onto Greece’s Eastern Mediterranean islands through Turkey, and conditions in Greece’s refugee camps are going from horrible to only God knows where. AP/Petros Giannakouris In 2019 74,600 people arrived, 50 per cent more than last year. They are mostly families with children from Afghanistan and Syria. 59,700 arrived on the islands and 14,900 at the land border. Conditions in the islands’ reception centres are now dangerously overcrowded with 36,400 people sharing the space and services intended for 5,400. —Relief Web, quoting UNHCR Fact Sheet +          Will America back Turkey or Greece? is the question on the minds of most Greeks. ATHENS – Fear there could be conflict with Turkey over the Aegean and East Mediterranean and a rekindling of a refugee crisis is high on the minds of worried Greeks with a poll finding those issues vexing them. Some 62 percent of those surveyed by the Pulse firm for SKAI TV said they were worried about Turkish provocations that have included violation of air space and Turkey’s drilling for oil and gas off Cyprus and planning to do the same off Crete after signing a deal with Libya dividing the seas between them… But they didn’t like the way that Germany, the United States and the European Union are responding. The US has a military cooperation deal with Greece but President Donald Trump backs Erdogan and the EU has given Greece press statements of support only… A surge in some 50,000 more migrants and refugees coming to Greece after New Democracy was elected, most to already overwhelmed Greek islands, found Greeks divided over how it is being handled. The government said it would speed asylum application processing as well as deportations back to Turkey, which has allowed human traffickers to keep sending refugees and migrants to Greece after they had gone to Turkey first, fleeing war and strife in their homelands. —The National Herald +          Domestically, with the far left out of power, protesters are returning to in-your-face, confrontational political protest, and being met with Greece’s new center-right government’s “the rules are different now” approach.   Reuters/Costas Baltas ATHENS (Reuters) - Greek police fired teargas … at students protesting against the shutdown of a prominent Athens university that authorities raided at the weekend to confiscate materials they said were typically used in violent demonstrations. It was the first time police and protesters had clashed inside university premises since the Conservative government’s abolition of academic sanctuary earlier this year… Leftist parties say the concept of academic sanctuary, which prohibited security forces from entering universities, protected students’ freedom of expression. But the government, which came to power in July, said it had been a cover for lawlessness. —Reuters +          The fiscal crisis remains front and center in the minds of many Greeks. A near decade-long economic crisis that created an exodus of some of Greece’s top and youngest talents, unable to find work or fed up with a clientelist system holding them down and rewarding political friends stripped the country of skills the New Democracy government wants back… Under the ambitious scheme, dubbed Rebrain Greece, returning recruits will be guaranteed at least two years employment, the first of which will be financed by the state by 75%. Highly skilled professionals and scientists aged between 25-40 will be targeted first off… About 470,000 Greeks have left the country since 2008 when hiring freezes started popping up in anticipation of economic woes that really hit hard in 2010 when the then-ruling and now-defunct PASOK Socialist government sought the first bailout of 110 billion euros ($123.33 billion.) Signs of wariness remain, however, Greeks who’ve been burned by broken promises of volatile governments hedging their bets for now and about 40 percent who left it was goodbye for good even if there’s a recovery. —The National Herald +          Tourism is up once again, drawing all sorts from around the world to join in a feeding frenzy for tourist cash, especially on price-is-no-object destinations such as Mykonos and Santorini. Passenger traffic at Greek airports reached 65.4 million in 2019, breaking all previous annual records. According to the statistics of the Civil Aviation Authority, in the January-December period of 2019, there was an increase of 5% in the air traffic of the country, with the total number of passengers travelling in January-December 2019 reaching 65,385,004. In the same period of 2018, 62,292,191 passengers were transported, meaning the number was up by 3,092,813. A 3.7% increase was also recorded in the total number of flights to Greek airports, reaching 538,956 (of which 213,098 domestic and 325,858 foreign), compared to the corresponding period of 2018 where 519,548 flights were operated.  —Protothema [Mykonos] ranks first, along with Santorini, in terms of hotel visitor satisfaction for 2019 in the so-called Mediterranean “premium” destinations with competing destinations in Sardinia, St. Tropez and Ibiza. —Protothema +          The Greek Parliament has elected the nation’s first female President, a largely ceremonial role, but still a first. Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou —Jeff Jeff's 2020 Speaking Engagements and Signings (in formation): Thursday, March 12-Sunday, March 15, 2020  San Diego, CA LEFT COAST CRIME—San Diego Marriott Mission Valley Panels yet to be announced Monday, March 16, 2020, 11AM-2PM Saddlebrooke, Arizona 85739 FRIENDS OF SADDLEBROOKE LIBRARIES  30th Anniversary Authors Luncheon SaddleBrooke Clubhouse 40010 S. Ridgeview Blvd. Author Speaking and Signing Thursday, June 4--Sunday, June 7, 2020 BRISTOL, UK CRIMEFEST—Mercure Bristol Grand Hotel Panels yet to be announced 
Caro Ramsay
Things are getting tense north of the border. It was announced on 21st January that Scotland has tumbled in the ‘wellbeing index' for developed countries. Oh dear. We fell five places by being more hopeless than we were in areas of inclusivity, income, longevity, education.  We are now behind counties like Estonia and the Czech Republic. The promised improvements in health and education are just not coming through. Here’s a quote from the Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said: “Scotland is a great place to live but our government has failed to get to grips with fundamental challenges facing our economy and our society. “Rather than spend more years distracted by the prospect of an independence referendum, the Scottish Government should be focusing on tackling serial failings in health and education. Unless there is a change of approach we will continue to fall further behind our international compatriots."                               And Nicola has just announced she wants another final push towards independence. Although the last general election saw more SNP MPs being returned, their % vote is still very much in the minority so times are interesting. And there is the big question as to what effect the trial of the ex-leader Alex Salmond for sexual offences will have on Sturgeon’s leadership. There will be questions, I'm sure about how much she knew.                                                                          Stuffed Haggis rather than haggis stuffing                                                                       from the internet Meanwhile, this time of the year bring up another controversy that is growing in the media. Burns Night is two days away and  haggis is as traditional at Burns Night as turkey is at Christmas, (actually turkey is not traditional at Christmas, Goose in but we nicked the turkey idea from across the pond).                                       This year videos have been posted online of illegal haggis hunting, almost ’how to' instructional videos for something that is technically classed as an A1 felony.                                                                A still from the video, again from the internet To be clear, the lowland haggis, from the borders, is up for grabs. They are usually farmed, (most of them now free range as they don't do well in factory farming conditions– they don’t put on enough weight to make them marketable as ‘meat yield.’)    And living close together seems to breed infection.                                                                                   Not a haggis, not my own pic!  Being a veggie, I haven’t eaten  haggis for over 40 years but people who do eat it say that farmed haggis does not taste the same as wild or free range.  The taste is slightly tainted and diluted by the restricted diet and the anti biotics. And the lack of exercise, I suppose as steak is basically muscle. I've heard the same thing said about farmed salmon.                                                                                Wild haggis, in fact you can tell its furious!                                                        Again, not my picture  So while it is legal to hunt the wild low land haggis, not many people do... until that video was posted on YouTube. It was, under the guise that haggis do carry TB to domestic livestock which is  a total untruth according to most vets. I presume somebody saw this written about a badger and translated that to haggis. Some haggis do have a Mallen streak  but they are smaller than badgers and live in a totally different type of habitat.                                                                                     Not a haggis.... but as close as  can get. The highland haggis remains  protected by law. I think the queen can hunt them when there is an 'r' in the month but never does as she would find herself ‘unqueened’ very quickly.  They remain  good for tourism, good for  postcards, people are fascinated by them running around the hills- always round the contour lines, always the same way round the hill as they have shorter legs on one side than they  do on the other. It’s not obvious until they are captured and the leg length compared but the DNA analysis is proving interesting  as it's a familial genotype that dictates what 'herd' goes what way round the ben. And that suggests they might be more sociable than has been ever thought. they remain very shy though. they keep out the way of humans, they are very few sightings apart from by those under the influence of alcohol as it's thought the haggis can be drawn out by the smell of  a good malt. And this fact has been exploited to horrific effect in the 'how to catch them ' video.                                  The central belt acts as a barrier between the two species, and there has been no cross breeding them outside research laboratories.                                                                                  Young Haggling..... ( from the internet) The video in question is on line if you want to find it. It involves a bucket, a bottle of whisky and a shovel.    The larger haggis can escape the bucket with the whisky which means the trapped haggis tends to be weaker, less robust and therefore less profitable. A bit like the entire country. So a blog of two halves.  I'll let you decide which bit is fictional, politics being what they are. Caro Ramsay 24 January 2020