Thursday, 3 November 2016

On Bell Hill

I had been looking forward to being at Rock Cottage. A solace for leaving beloved Greece. Amy had already sent us a photo via Facebook.
'We can finally see Ross after 4 hours of motorway hell 😆YAY!' Amy and family approaching the Forest of Dean

On FFriday evening of half-term week Lin and I joined the family in a cottage already warmed for two days.
"The heating's working a dream. Your shower is just brilliant" said Guy.
I begin to feel that Rock Cottage, so neglected for over five years, is becoming a home again. Our children knew it as babies and toddlers and now our grandchildren are sleeping here. Our dear friends Martin and Sandra and their son Adam and his fellow workers have transformed the place, which was not only suffering our neglect, but also the cod-work of our ill-chosen builder, Royston, with whom I parted company over two years ago over a series of new windows that he...why go on? The windows are fine now, frames sealed with improved opening. The kitchen and bathroom are in almost full working order, as ditto bedrooms and sitting room.
Amy's second photo - Oscar curled by the wood stove at Rock Cottage

In the morning I inspected Craig's strimming, lopping and uprooting in the garden - clearing a jungle of weed shrubbery, brambles and saplings back to the older contours of three dry-stone walled terraces. We're getting back to the half acre allotment that surrounds us on the steep sides of Bell Hill. I'm bathing in unashamed nostalgia, hoping that we will make this our 'place' again. As enjoyed and loved as Handsworth and Ano Korakiana, by the whole family. So - yes - I was pleased when my son Richard, just back from Vietnam, phoned and asked for the keys so he could come down with E on the evening the rest of us returned to Birmingham.
The grand-children are a challenge. Playing, arguing, noise and mess-making with unabatable energy. On Sunday morning I set out to walk with Oliver - 'wear him out' I thought - up Bell Hill, the tree covered slope that ascends the west side of Lydbrook.
"First we get sticks. You can't go for a good walk without sticks"
I cut and tidied two - smaller for Ollie - from a hazel cluster by our path, as we set out up through the tall slender beech trees on the margins of the forest, the houses of the village receding below.
Oliver, 4 years old now, on Bell Hill

The steeper slope levelled off as we passed the old ruined house. Recalling past stories told me I told Oliver of an old lady used to live there.
"Every day she went to the bottom of the hill and came back with a pail of water. Old Mrs Cook"
He asked questions about her which I dodged and invented. Rather he ask questions than be uninterested in things I point out, or he notes, on our walks. I frame my answers, to keep our conversation going; Chinese whispers over time, amplifying, distorting and confusing, but conveying seeds of history, a scent of madeleines, 'the echo of great spaces traversed'.
Next time we make this walk I'll suggest to Oliver that Mr. Cook was a 'bodger'.
"You see these tall trees. Beech trees. See their leaves all around. See the little nuts, Beech mast. They used to cut these trees before they grew so big to make chairs - wheel-backs, Windsor carvers"
We came to a level stretch, narrow beside a wire fence, broken in places, with, on the other side, the remains of dry stone walls, then, almost hidden behind the remaining greenery of Autumn, the tiers wrecked cars that Nigel Aston has long stored up here, sinking mossy and rusting into the landscape. Then we're onto a lane high above the village with a few houses...
"It's called Uphill Road"
"I'm not answering that, Ollie!"
...before taking the narrow path that leads on up the rest of the hill. Here the trees become forestry spruce, occasional chestnuts, mixed with birch - their small brown-yellow leaves falling like snow when, for my pleasure and Oliver's, I tap the sapling trunks with my stick. Along the path are the prickly husks of fallen chestnuts, marked by the rooting of wild boar. The forest population of wild boar has increases vigorously since the haphazard introduction of about 40 farmed boar to the Forest in 2004.
Two people with dogs on leads walk towards us.
"Get Oscar and Cookie on their leads!"
They pass us with smiles.
"Nice morning."
"Yes it is"
"I'm earlier than I expected. Forgot the clocks went back this morning"
At last we're at the top of the hill, looking over fields, one with sheep; in the far distance horses grazing and a tractor pulling a plough on the slope below English Bicknor. I take my grandson through the rules - the gate rules, the sheep rules.
"A dog that worries sheep can be shot. Always watch out for sheep and other farm animals in the fields"
We see a herd of Welsh cattle - black bullock, or perhaps heifers, silhouetted in a field on our left as we start to walk downhill towards Eastbach.
"Come up! Come up!" I shout and they raise their heads and consider investigating us.
"Can you smell them?"  I can sense their rank from here on a small shifting breeze.

Oliver runs down the sloping road to Eastbach.
"Oi! Watch out for cars!" I shout.
He pauses, sensible. And indeed a few cars edge by us on the narrow road until we come to the old milestone that says, in carving. 'London 122 miles. Gloste'r 17'

We wwalk by Eastbach Court, a house of enviable elegant beauty, about which Lin says "When we win the lottery..." I lift Oliver up to see the manicured lawn, a bronze hind, and swings hung from a tall fir branch.

A public footpath beside the house's northern boundary turns off the road, curving back up to the top of Bell Hill.
"We've come about half way"
There's a small air strip with hangars on the hill top. We can see a wind sock stirring in the distance. At the gate the dogs go on their leads. I half hope Oliver will see a small plane come bouncing in at 40mph. They often fly on Sundays. As it is I let him peer through a tiny gap in a hangar door.
"I can see an aeroplane!"
Another stile brings us to the last meadow before getting back to the cottage. I lift the dogs over; let them free again. They listen to my voice and note my whistle, and seem utterly at home, getting soaked nosing in the tall grass. It's still a time of year for ticks, so remember to check when we get home...
 ...Oliver, fooling around, falls over and cries.
"Get up and stop that noise" I say, giving him a momentary hug. So we come to a steep part of our walk as the fields re-join the hanger woods. In my old age I have to take this part carefully less I fall arse over tip. My stick helps.
"When your mum was about 12 years old she persuaded me to walk home from Monmouth - ten miles away. When we got to this field the light had gone. I couldn't see a thing. She held my hand for a hundred yards."

Oliver and the dogs descend heedless to the lychgate that leads into the path that takes us, in a few yards, to Rock Cottage, where the dogs get a good towelling before drying themselves in front of the fire.
*** *** ***
Richard Pine's latest Irish Times article from Greece:
'....It’s actually surprising that life continues at all, since the heartbeat seems to have gone out of the country. But it is the resilience of the Greek spirit, and its resistance to external pressure, that keeps that heart ticking over, even imperceptibly.
One can only conclude that this is not a brave new world but a global pandemic of fear-driven entropy. To paraphrase Seán O’Casey, observers can confidently say: “The whole world’s in a terrible state of stasis.” To paraphrase Seamus Heaney, politicians can safely adopt the maxim: “Whatever you do, do nothing.” '

Friday, 28 October 2016

Departure - Arrival

Last Monday afternoon, a bright autumn day, Linda and I were among many - it seemed like the whole village - attending the funeral service for Andreas Metallinos, son of the laic sculptor Aristeidis Metallinos, at St Athanasius Church in Ano Korakiana, Corfu. Of course I took no photo but the church for Christmas carols gives an idea of the beauty of the setting...

The close family waited as we came out of the church, including, Anna - wife, Aristia, and Angeliki - daughters, Maria - sister to Andreas and her son Anastasios - nephew. Andreas was taken in burial procession to the church of Paraskevi accompanied by the solemn and beautiful music of the Spyros Samaras Philharmonic of Korakiana. He will lie by the graves of his father, Aristeidis, and mother, Angeliki.
** **
I half expected Stamati with his joinery on the Ano-Kato road to turn his nose up at so small an order. I cycled down from the village with the old window frame.
He looked at it. Understood without words what I wanted
“Come back tomorrow to collect”
Lin and I walked up the next day. There was our window amid other projects, new transoms cut; inserted as on the original. We were very pleased. Stamati rested the old frame on a bench, noting how an old scarf was warping the frame; an obstacle to glazing. In seconds he’d clamped it against a hardwood splint, brushing glue into the opened seam.
Stamati in his workshop below the village

“This window may be 200 years old. Bring the clamps back tomorrow”
We carried the window home.
Taking the clamped window home
Next morning I cycled with it to Pyrgi, where in no time a bus arrived and carried us with bike and frame to a glazier on the outskirts of town.
“You don’t want to try bringing it back on the bus” said Lin “On Friday when we have a car we’ll collect it on the way home”
I went home via Sokraki, over an hour on the Green Bus, shedding school children on the way up to Spartillas, in Sgourades and Zygos, where the bus misses building by centimetres. I treated myself to a garlicky dried sausage and a chunk of fresh bread on the journey. As he took my bike from the hold, the bus-driver scolded me for my crumbs on his floor. He swept them up with a brush and dustpan. Lesson. His bus. I think I might have done this inconsiderately before. Descending from Sokraki I got a puncture. I inserted another inner tube, checking the inside of the tyre for thorns or glass. It went flat again in hardly 50 metres. Knowing it was shot, I drifted the rest of the way on the flat and once home fitted a new tyre and tube.
So we have nearly finished the cupboard and shelves - our latest bricolage; from discarded wood to something useful again...
Recovered from beside wheelie bins

Cupboard, shelves, drawer on Lin's side of the bed
There's some fine tuning when we come back to Greece, hinges and other edges. Fillings and getting the drawer to go in and out smoothly.
*** *** ***
October morning ' ease my regret' 

To ease my regret at returning to England soon I think of things I enjoy - treating myself to a pinch of lemon and red pepper with each of half a dozen oysters at Pearces... the Bull Ring food market, tasting the fresh sea water first;

or...having a baked potato salted with lots of butter from the stall at the entrance to the Rag Market; cycling along the canal towpath in and out of town; being on our allotment next to Handsworth Park tended by Winnie, perhaps getting some honey from the bees this year; seeing the grandchildren; going to Rock Cottage where there’s a lot of wood to cut and split for the stoves and walking in the forest of Dean in autumn; a pint with Dave and Pete in the Old Joint Stock; ...
The Old Joint Stock London by train and cycling there, to have supper with Ziggi and keep up with the digitisation and editing of my stepfather’s ‘Out of Town’ 16mm films and sound tapes; sleeping in our big Brittany bed with the softer mattress than ours here;

...having a flu jab at the GP’s; giving blood at the Donor Centre in New Street; taking part in the latest 1000 Elders study of protein intake - an influence on muscle mass and function, which lessen and weaken with age. Despite popular attention to ‘dieting’, science still knows relatively little about people’s protein intake. So mine – based on keeping a three day diary of what I eat - will be compared with that of younger groups. A second invite asks me to be the subject of a study into the effects of Nicotinamide Riboside, a vitamin supplement supposed to boost the mitochondrial functioning of old muscles - two tests over three weeks, with one using the vitamin and the other a placebo; double-blind where, until the testing is over, neither researcher nor subject knows whether a placebo or the NR is being used. As I age I’m supposed to become frailer, more susceptible to disease because the ‘power houses’ of my cells – mitochondria – that give energy to my body become weaker because molecule called Nicotinamide Adenine Dinucleotide (NAD) drops with age. The hypothesis – but perhaps hype - is that taking the NR vitamin supplement makes up for this. I wonder.
“Hm! I’d like some of that” said Lin
“Yes but suppose it works on me and I go in for the Tour de France couldn’t I be in trouble like Bradley Wiggins?”
“No he was taking a TUE. A drug. This NR is a vitamin supplement”
“It gets a lot of publicity on the internet. It’s what I like about the 1000 Elders project. You get to see if things do or don’t work by going through procedures in controlled conditions. There are so many ways we fool ourselves without intention.”
We see others getting old and know that barring accident the running down to being bed-ridden may await us, worse - senility, dementia and decrepitude – the seventh age. I can either pretend to ignore my fate or have at least some understanding of the process.
A second invite comes from the 1000 Elders project; to keep a diary over three days to study my protein intake - its influence on muscle mass and function, which lessen and weaken as I get old. Despite popular attention to ‘dieting’, science appears to know relatively little about people’s actual protein intake. Mine will be compared with that of younger groups.
A third invite come via my blood donating where I’ve just completed the ‘Intervals Study’ testing – in a sample of 50,000 people - the safety of giving blood more frequently. Will I take part in the CARRIAGE study? This is run by researchers at Cambridge to investigate why some people carry the bacterium Staphylococcus aureus (S. aureus) in their nose while other people never do. S. aureus is a common bacterium carried by one in three people, in their nose or elsewhere on the skin. For most people carrying S. aureus is harmless, but it causes life-threatening infections in hospitals in patients with serious underlying medical conditions and weakened immune systems. Understanding why some people are carriers while others are not will help design new treatments to prevent such infections. I’m asked to take three nasal swabs – a week apart - and complete a short online questionnaire at the start and end of the study. My pack of swabs, labels and envelopes arrived at home just now.
I have also been involved in the PROTECT study led by Kings College, London. This goes on for a decade, gathering data from 20,000 volunteers on the ageing brain and how and why some people get dementia. I will provide a DNA sample, and information about my habits – drinking for instance - also, my exercising and blood pressure (measured by my GP) as these could affect my risk of developing dementia. I also do online assessments to measure such abilities as memory and reasoning. These assessments are repeated annually so that the study can check how I change over 10 years. And I'm one of 500,000 people registered with the UK Biobank.
**** *** ****
 Amy, who’s looking after Oscar dog while we’re in Greece, says she thinks he’s getting senile – born 14th June 2002, he’s coming up over the average age for Jack Russells; spends time sitting in the middle of the room staring.
There’s the continuing campaigning in Sandwell to get housing back around Black Patch Park. Phil Crumpton’s been keeping me briefed, including his and Andrew Simon’s meeting with Cllr Steve Eling, Leader of the Council...a brief from Phil who I'll see next Friday...
PDF Friends of Black Patch Park meeting with Steve Eling and Richard Marshall on Tuesday October 4th. at Oldbury 
Andrew and I were delighted to be joined by ‘Matt,’ (surname not recalled as I type this/Borough Chief of Park maintenance and services - site manager). He was invited to take part as the support for making the hands-on case for the work being undertaken in Black Patch Park.
Our meeting with Steve was much longer than the one we had with Darren Cooper. In contrast to that starter meeting, in April, no-one was sitting in the take minutes. This was an enormous relief as it demonstrated that Steve wants it clear, he had got people submitting evidence and materials to help him carry on from where Darren started. It was the case that he had to acknowledge, too, he ‘..has been handed many tasks’. Another plus point. Richard did have many points to make about how he sees the current state of the park. Councillor Marshall (my councillor) wants it made clear to our group, how much he understands about the untness of the park - even though he confesses to not being a regular visitor. Give Richard the benet of our faith in him as he is clearly tired of seeing things just delegated and deferred over a number of years. We have made that case. We clearly have a coherent councillor, working in the interests of one of many, many Sandwell Parks and, in our case, a distinctive heritage site to boot. Richard also had a good grasp of one of the most inescapable circumstances that the ‘Patch’ still suffers from and as Steve mentioned on many, many occasions; “..Black Patch is isolated as a neighbourhood”. Few councillors have ever taken the time to put detail on this, in making the case for this inalienably-protected green space. All our work and lobbying since 2002 has seen to that remaining the same. But it was most interesting in how much SMBC’s policy message has moved on from the old, ‘institutionalised pre-2016 prognosis.’ Instead, now making the community of place ready for a Place of Community.
Matt made the effort to commit his SMBC department to pledge: ‘No More Disruption’ to the park’s badly needed upgrade to ‘Fit for Purpose’ status. Matt went on to state how this would be carried on, with the help of a break from so many illegal actions following on from the travellers’ regular abuses of the Park. He stressed how the newer obstacles to travellers - like the newer anti-lift or tamper-proof concrete bollards have made the difference to the opportunism that we have become so fed up with accommodating. Richard and Matt are to visit in the coming days to do a further check on the means by which they can demonstrate further action to check the cameras’ alignments plus inspect the old school gates site. This is because I showed them the photographic evidence of the newer fly-tipping hotspot, on the bend in Foundry Lane and where Richard is locating the heavy duty sunken bollards to block off the recess. Another outcome for the Friends’ campaigning..!
Councillor Eling did execute his right to say, on several occasions, “..Black Patch issues are not all about the Park”. He is right and I agree. He went on to use that word “isolated,” and he was still right; as much as the boundaries of three former counties met at the bridge over the brook(s); as much as the area has become a place where industrial expansion choked off access to the small residential area - it does not mean that it will stay that way. He did emphasise: “..we need to follow-up this meeting when we have your ‘Community Housing Project Proposal and Re-Zoning Plan’ as he is looking closer at the walkway along the brook-side - to the end of the allotment but he acknowledged the ‘whole allotment was as prime for redeveloping for housing as it is for closure’ ...! Another breakthrough..... See you all on November 1st. W
I must also draft the final report of Handsworth Helping Hands’ on our ‘Three Avenues Project’. Our next committee is at the start of November. We've more work yet with residents in Brackley, Putney and Crompton Avenues, focusing on their small green spaces and the continued challenge of services for ‘unadopted’ streets.
Then there’s Christmas in the city

Friday, 30 September 2016


Summer returned, chastened, and then went again ...

...and returned. September in Corfu.
Vasiliki has been collecting ripe figs from the tree in her garden next door, lessening the interest of wasps. I’ve pruned the remaining grapes – shrivelled and sour – from the vine strung along the wooden balcony rails. We’re better for the extra insect netting, protecting the bathroom and kitchen windows. We can leave them open to collect a breeze.
“This house stays quite cool though. I’m sure the old thigh tiles along with the polystyrene insulation on the roof and the thick walls, help protect us from this heat”
"But we still have that one leak through our bedroom roof" said Lin
We’ve been able to work on small jobs; like the metal brackets I’m using to strengthen the part desiccated surfaces of the balcony banisters, alternately baked and soaked.

I sweep the plaka, ignoring wasps. I feed the compost with used teabags, ash from the stove grate not used since last winter, bits of tissue, peelings from Lin’s cooking, damping all with a hose. I envy the speed, compared to my compost heaps in England, with which the leaves and twigs return to earth.
Indoors, I’ve at last fixed a working latch, bought on eBay, for the door between the kitchen and the dining room. I'll look out for brass handles.

We’ve recovered a wooden window frame from beside wheelie bins below the village. Two trips. Lin’s sketching a cupboard and shelves she’d like built her side of our bed.

I enjoy the way these constructions come together, new and old wood inter-scarfed, looking like part of the room, in the way of customer-commissioned joinery.

First draft cupboard, drawer and shelves...

The skirting board pressed to the uneven shape of one bedroom wall had detached itself. With a more powerful drill I fix it with stronger rawl-plugged screws. The mirror in our bedroom now sits above the chest of drawers shipped from Scotland, levelled on an uneven floor, pieces of wood added to its front feet.

In oour too clinical kitchen, I’ve unscrewed the supports of a white-faced chipboard shelf, lowered them to allow space for spice jars and fixed on the same supports, a plank of venerable wood we found by a verge, maturing, till needed, in the apothiki. It sanded handsomely, varnish showing the grain.

“I tthink it’s walnut” said Lin.
I’m chopping and sacking earlier pruning of sun dried wisteria; lugging twined tendrils out of the orange tree, training the serpentine climber to wind itself along wires parallel and outside the deep green iron railings of our side balcony, guiding it away from the vulnerable wood of the south facing balcony. I’ve cut chunks out of the bougainvillea. I’ve scraped away greenery encroaching on the gate from the garden into the path that runs below the house, grumbling to Lin about the shabby work of the unknown in the house below, who’s left untidy building waste along the footpath by the small extension he’s having built, as well as stacking, without a by-your-leave, palettes and sacks of new building material obstructing the steps from the street to our house. The vegetable space which in Spring he’d marked out with string and bamboo, has, as I’d half expected of one who can’t tell a slow worm from a snake, is in three months a cluttered, overgrown and unproductive muddle, like the allotment plots left by transient renters on the Victoria Jubilee who thought, for a few weeks of waning enthusiasm that it was romantic to get food from the soil instead of from shops.
Using the smooth edged blade of a multi-tool Lin’s scraping the raised edges of cracks in the sitting room ceiling; filling and laying on white paint where stove smoke has greyed her original work.
“It’s nearly ten years since this room was painted. There’s been lots of winter smoke since then.”
In the apothiki I found a little old window in its frame, we’d rescued years ago from beside the bins; painted brown; easily sanded off. The frame showed signs of long gone rots and woodworm at two corners, baked dr and clean through several summers.
“We’ll include it in the construction, but this window needs to open to the right. We must change the hinges” said Lin. At Profi I found two right hand hinges, almost matching the old ones.

With a little whittling of the existing indents they fitted and holding them down as I drilled new holes almost on top of the old, the window now opened in her preferred direction.
Walking the next day I spied a fly-tip of chipboard in a small brambly space behind St Athanassius, with a small door from which I unscrewed a round pine handle, just right.

The wood moulding that runs between separate panes in a window – in this case triangular, with insets on the base of the triangle to hold the edges of the glass. On the recovered window frame we’re using as part of the cupboard and shelves had been broken out. They weren’t by the wheelie bins with the other wood. We could see them often in the windows of older, often empty, houses but seeing no more abandoned old frames, I drove into town and, at the two timber yards I know, asked, using diagrams, for a meter length of the moulding.
“Yes” they knew what I wanted.
“No” they did not stock it. “Palia, old”.
Our friend Kasey, now in the village, introduced us to an English carpenter friend and neighbour who works in hard wood.
Wood transom holding a pane of glass

“They’re called tramsons” he said. “Give me your frame I’ll make some up for you. You know that to insert them you’ll need to take the frame apart?”
“I can do that”
The joinery at the carpenter’s house was superb – as a whole, and in tiny details that anyone who works with wood could see and appreciate. My efforts, compared, looked so puny for all my pride in how, with occasional butt joints, crude scarfs, screws, glue and sanding and filler I can hide a multitude of small incompetencies; even let them show, so long as the construction’s sound.
“I don’t like pine” he said.
Near all our joinery is pine, soft, easy to work and, when aged, displays its history, the work and use that came before; blemishes, scratches, on one wash-top the singeing of the morning shaver’s resting cigarettes, sealed splits, joiner's marks, bruises, black nails and rusted slot screws, layers of oil paint, lacquer and varnish, to us engaging, like elderly bodies of loved and useful people.
The history of a joint

** *** ***
At Piatsa, Mark, who's not eating well, said “There’s some shitty weather on the way”
Down at the stables by Luna D’Argento, the meadows collect water, ground turns muddy. The horses roll in it; extra work.
Early morning I woke to the familiar roar of torrential rain, thunder, lightning. In the hours that followed, enjoying the protection of our sturdy roof, pleasantly slumbering semi-awake, the downpours in almost regular succession, soothing, the sound all-enveloping, water released from suspension relieving the deep clouds of weight, running down the gutters, soaking everything. Such weather gives Corfu its distinctive greenery. Shutters and doors painted the Aegean blue of souvenir postcards look out of place. How vexing must be such weather for people on a few days' holiday. I know how my attitude towards it changes when the family are here – tho’ Amy has never been phased by rain, likes walking in all weathers, as we learnt together in her childhood, especially in the Highlands, where birch and heather drip below unfurling mist.
“Come to Greece in September. It’s a lovely time”
Not at the moment.
But then again, yes, now! Summer returns again. Lin and I take the 9.00 bus into town for a visit to our bank to pay our property tax, for which we again needed the help of our accountant, since the local tax office website Eleni'd taught us to access, using our usernames and passwords, had changed; enough to confuse us. Then lunch at Pergola with Richard Pine. Now there’s a quandary for Athens – Seven Turkish army officers escaped after the failed coup seeking asylum in Greece as Erdogan demands their extradition. ‘Athens caught in the middle again by European crises’ writes Richard in the Irish Times. If Greece does not do as the Turkish PM wants, which now includes a provocative demand for revocation of the Treaty of Lausanne that ceded once Italian islands off the coast of Turkey to Greece, then he only has to release yet more refugees across the Aegean.
We had fried squid, grilled squid and grilled sardines, having started with beans, horta and fried aubergines. I tried to tell Richard about my epic read of The Kindly Ones. Its author worked six years for an international charity in Bosnia, Chechnya, Congo, Sierra Leone, Caucasus, Afghanistan, Syria. This book is - winner of the Prix Goncourt - is fiction; exploring how Jonathan Littell might have been had he been born in Germany at the start of the 20th century.
‘The real danger for mankind is me, is you…if you’re not convinced of this, don’t bother to read any further. You’ll understand nothing and you’ll get angry, with little profit for you or for me.’ 
Littell's arguing that Christian morality with its ideals of redemption and forgiveness and salvation isn’t adequate when it comes to moral judgements, sorting out the truly evil from the followers, the involved and the innocent; into somehow absorbing these events into history, giving them some punctuation; better he argues to look to the morality of classical Greece. Oedipus didn’t know he’d murdered his father, nor that he’d slept with his mother, but when he found out, he regarded himself as guilty of patricide and incest and deserving of punishment, and those who judged are the Furies, the Eumenides, the Erinyes - Littell's last line in the mouth of Dr Max Aue ‘The Kindly Ones were on to me’
“I wish I had time to read” Richard remarked “I’m immersed in seeing every known film of Sherlock Holmes” – research for his latest book on the intimacy of popular and canonic story-telling. His thesis is that the Leavis view of a pantheon of high literature separate from the yarns of the masses is nonsense. He’s including the tales of King Arthur and Robin Hood. Of these two “there never was an original book. So over the centuries every bedtime story-teller, every yarner has been able to invent their adventures to listeners’ and readers’ choice”.
I told Richard how we’d heard of the Hellenic tax inspectors' work in a bar nearby; how a couple had sat down with other customers and ordered drinks; how after an interval they’d been joined by another woman. Then all three stood up and confronted the young man who owned the bar. They told him that by law his invoices should have been placed on the tables where drinks were served; not on the bar where he’d had them lined up in little cups. He was fined €5000.
Last Thursday I invited, as planned, two new friends, Ann and Steve Ford, to come with Dave and I on Summersong to visit Lazaretto. For my grandson, I’ve renamed Execution Island. Oliver and I call it Pirate Island.
With Ann Ford, motoring to Pirate Island on 'Summersong' (photo: Steve Ford)

After we’d docked at the makeshift concrete jetty, I let Ann and Steve walked ahead up the gentle track, to see the young men’s crosses in the clearing before the church and the Lazaretto hospital. As usual there are few signs of visitors, but some authority has placed bright red fire extinguishers around the area between the church and the still unfinished Visitor Centre. It looks too as if thieves have got away with the wiring from the generator beyond the main buildings. The doors of the buildings have been left open, no doubt to ventilate the incomplete restoration. We saw the clean polished pine floors and still new render, ready for plaster, and paint. At Pergola with Richard, who’s always predisposed to be as grouchy as I, I mentioned the article he’d written about Lazaretto a few months ago, ‘exposing’ the waste and the dereliction of what could have been a place for young and old to learn more about what happened to leave these memorials to the dead, and the execution wall surrounded by Acacia seedlings springing up like weeds.
Lazaretto is called Nisos Gouvίnon - due east of Gouvίa on the chart

“Couldn’t it be good to have been good to learn more about such things?”
“I asked” replied Richard “a teacher friend here. ‘Do they really teach by rote in the schools here?’ ‘They do. Everyone knows there was a Civil War between 1947 and 1949’ ‘Can they learn more? Ask questions? Discuss?’ ‘Oh no. Everyone learns the dates’”
“But Richard” I said “wouldn’t it be cathartic? Wouldn’t it also be honest to know and strive to understand what happened?”
Ironic, he replied “Why? You’d just feel worse. People can’t see the point of feeling even worse than they do already. I tell you that since that article, others have been asking me ‘how do we get to that island?’ I tell them there’s no proper landing place”
"Yes I know of several people here who - because of what happened there - say they would never go to Lazaretto!"
We can land there with ‘Summersong’ because she’s bilge keel, hardly 29 inches draft. We can sail in close and jump off onto the jetty on which there are no convenient bollards. Anchor off and take a line ashore.
“And you know what” he added “if you say look you’ve already spent €314,000 on restoring the church and the quarantine hospital and on building the Visitor Centre and now it’s all falling down incomplete, I’d be told by Greeks ‘so what?’”
“But what about truth and reconciliation”
“Ha!” I took this exclamation to mean that here these two states – truth, reconciliation - were irremediably opposed; that only consigning the whole mess to oblivion could avoid the anger and yearning for revenge and atonement that would follow any project to recover the ‘truth’. Instead the different versions of what happened remain cherished by fewer and fewer as time returns the memories that still remain to dust.
“Oh I forgot. Did you know they’ve changed that new Green Bus route again. It’s good news. So many complaints! They must have listened. Our bus now goes left towards the Old Port, along Xenofondos Stratigou, turning sharp right near the old bus station, up past the New Fort, through the open air market down to San Rocco Square. The new stop is just off the square on Dimoulitsa"
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Our son's come to stay with us for a few days....

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