Saturday, 16 April 2016

Green kryptonite

What a difference a day makes. Over 24 little hours I stayed up late. Early Tuesday Lin drove me to Digbeth Coach station from where the 777 service got me from Birmingham to Luton Airport by 4.30. After being searched with everyone else, I wandered the familiar concourse, had a coffee and read David Thomas’ Ostland. In rain at dawn I board a plane that flies an almost straight course south-east for 1800 kilometres. In the last minutes of an unturbulent flight I slid from the aisle over two empty seats to peer down on the dark Albanian mountains above Saranda...

...merging into Butrint and the gentler heights of mainland Greece, familiar contours, the blue below scratched by an island boat for Igoumenitsa.

Then a steep curve back on ourselves, for the run in to Kapodistria up the east coast of Corfu, a glimpse of the beautiful Manessi mansion and church, San Stephano...
... hidden by an outcrop of rock from sight of the multi-storied skeleton next door - an hotel offered to a friend years ago for a knock-down price. Meeting the hopeful vendor in different circumstances, my friend reminded him he’d offered to sell 'the unfinished' project at 'a bargain'.
“Not a bargain, my friend, I was trying to sell you a problem!”
In minutes I’m landed, luggage collected, in a hire car driving familiar roads north to the village. The humming seems continuous – coach, airport, plane, car. I stopped at Kaziani to shop for milk and butter and food for the next few days. Then the car’s parked on Democracy Street; my bags unloaded and carried down the 13 steps and into the house. The humming becomes the buzzing of innumerable bees; though I’m reassured the water’s turned on, as, too, the electricity. The fridge hums. Relaxing with the french windows open I read my book sipping a cup of tea. A pair of chattering swallows enter the room, perch for a minute on the chandelier above my head, noisily debating the definition of inside and outside before leaving for outside where two garden trees are weighted with lemons, our orange rich with blossom, and the landscape, olive groves over many gentle slopes, stippled with full blossoming Kokykias trees της κοκυκιάς, with a strip of the bluest sea between me and the hazy shores of mother Greece.

As ever I’m greeted in the street. I explain why I’m here on my own but the news of my father-in-law’s death on 5th April and why Lin has stayed in England is already known; or I hear it being explained to others.
“You must go. I’m looking forward to having the house to myself” said Lin “You’ve got to pay our property tax and submit our no-earnings return to the tax office.”
Next day I meet Eleni P. Parking by the old port I cycle through town to the office of our accountant, off Alexandros Street. Eleni does the paperwork on-line. I must come back to the office early on Thursday to sign at the Corfu Tax Office declaring she represents me.
I find a leather worker in the city centre who mends the metal catch on my Leatherman holster in 30 seconds for €1.50. I buy a needed button, needle, needle-threader and thread from a small shop off San Rocco Square.
In the meantime I’m getting news. Everyone’s getting older. Someone must have an operation; another is most unexpectedly in depression; another has dementia; the toddlers as it seemed when we first came to Ano Korakiana are growing into colts and fillies, quieter with all that’s going on inside, more serious. It's so good to have the Greek double kiss, with a pause between for a warm and unembarrassed hug.
Having ticked a good few ‘to do’ boxes by evening, I took my olive stick with the deer-foot handle, an early gift from Mark, and headed uphill through Venetia and on up the hairpin bends to St Isadoras, the small church on one bend of the zig-zag ascent to Sokraki, over the crags above Ano Korakiana.

I have the place to myself and am regretting I forgot to bring a candle for Dorothy, my mum-in-law, in the same Sandwell hospital where Arthur passed away and Lin and I arrived minutes after and saw his body and went to pass the news to Dot, a ward away, helped by a doctor called Jeremy.
It wasn’t until, instead of saying “Do you want to see him?' which we all did, I said, instead, ‘Would you like to see Arthur’s body?”
Then she wept. Arthur was 98. He and Dot have been married 70 years. St Isadoras is tiny. I can stand in there, in its dim cool interior but hardly turn in any of its three spaces. A wick burns in oil by a small window. The silence is palpable. It is a serene place, freighted with every kind of sweetness a building can hold; memories too of previous visits alone and with Lin and with the family. I went onto the broad terrace perched on the same rock as the church and gazed over the island’s centre towards the central mountains and the sea and the forts of the city and – a dot – the outline of Pontikonisi beyond Kanoni and the airport where I’d arrived six hours before. I thought I heard womens’ voices coming up the hill; Anna and Angeliki Metallinos – daughter-in-law and grand-daughter of the laic sculptor. I was so delighted to greet them and they me – and in this sacred place, still Tuesday.
I told my news and why I was here alone. Mother and daughter prayed a while and Anna, renewed the floating wick on the oil. So I didn’t need a candle. We walked back down to Ano Korakiana together, Anna collecting from the verges a plant with a light blue flower to make a tea that’s good for the stomach. Above Venetia their car was parked.
“Can we give you a lift?” asked `Angeliki who’d been translating our chat to her mum. She’d been asking me about Arthur and what I would say at his funeral on 5th May.
** **** **** **
On my second night in the house I awoke with a stomach ache and nausea. Going downstairs I was sick several times. I returned to bed and tried to sleep but after an hour I had to go downstairs again to be sick again. I have always been so healthy, it always surprises me to be weakened by a sudden illness. I suspect I ate too much of my own cooking the night before while watching Bridge of Spies. I’d promised to go into town to the tax office in the morning. Getting myself up, I thought of what happens to Superman when he comes into contact with that toxic mineral from his home planet. My folding bicycle suddenly weighed so much. Every step was draining. I was thirsty without wanting much to drink, just a sip to wet my lips and mouth. Dehydrated. Having parked and cycled into Alexandros I made the excuse to Eleni that I’d had too much to drink the night before. Her colleague Georgia walked me to the tax office, stopping now and then to make sure I was keeping up, as I would do, slightly frustrated with Arthur, in his last months. She found me a seat for the hour long wait in the grey beige corridor of Corfu bureaucracy, as like a vigorous West End comedy, people exited and entered left, right and centre, in and out and back and forth between different doors, some employees, some clients, with no sense of a queue or sequence, but all polite. Georgia chatted cheerfully to people she knew. I tried to snooze and over and over licked my lips; a fool, I’d not bought a small bottle of water to sip. At last the business was done, and I had a signed and stamped piece of paper. I coasted downhill on Theotoki stopping to enjoy a strawberry sorbet and sip more water.
In town - errands on my trusty Brompton

Back at Democracy Street where, like a lizard, instead of shifting clothes, I shuffled carefully between places to relax that were neither too cool nor too hot; the balcony under an umbrella, the sitting room near a window, our bedroom, getting into to bed at dusk, waking up and shifting to night clothes around midnight, and, no longer thirsty, sleeping through to five in the morning when I felt up to a mug of tea and two slices of buttered toast, sensing strength recovering. By morning proper I was having a shower, doing a load of washing that would dry swiftly in a warm breeze from the east, starting to tidy the garden, clipping back the bougainvillea and other spreading greenery, hanging a tarp beneath the balcony to protect the veranda from rain; phoning Dave to get Summersong craned from her berth so she can be scrubbed and anti-fouled and put back in the water for when the family come in a week – but without Lin I fear.  She’s caring for Dorothy, her bereaved mum.
Arthur Reynolds, miner, - Dorothy Bentley, munitions worker: their wedding at St James' Church, Norton Canes, 8th Sept 1945

Monday, 22 February 2016

Bringing people back to Black Patch Park

'In August 2003 a campaigning group called The Friends of Black Patch Park (FoBPP) was formed to challenge proposals outlined in Sandwell Council's Unitary Development Plan to zone two thirds of the park for industrial use. Our aim has been to protect, celebrate and enhance the park's 20 acres (81,000 m2) - as originally created by public subscription in 1907 - as a place of historic importance and indispensable green space for future generations.'.
..That's a para' from 'my' Wikipedia article on the Black Patch, 1.8 miles from our home in Handsworth, about 12 minutes by bicycle...
Black Patch Park in Smethwick, West Midlands. De-commissioned Kitchener Street runs NE-SW between greenery just above the railway across the right hand lower quadrant

We've been working up a case. I've fixed a date in March to meet the Leader of Sandwell Council - a 30 minute afternoon slot in three weeks time.  (Back to the future 28/3/16: On 16th March our Chair, Ron Collins, Phil Crumpton and I had a 40 minute meeting with Cllr Cooper. It went very well and we felt that the Council Leader was more than ready to see the areas around the Black Patch rezoned for housing, notwithstanding the difficulties. We left optimistic and ready to submit a more detailed report to him at his request. On Saturday evening 26th March Cllr Cooper, aged 52, died unexpectedly and suddenly at his home) First draft....
Friends of Black Patch at the Soho Foundry Tavern - Andrew, Stacey, Phil, Ron (Chair) and Harjinder ~ 2 Feb 2016

Report requested by Ron Collins, Chair, Friends of Black Patch Park ~ 10/2/16
The way to solve the recent problems of Black Patch Park* is to rezone the area surrounding it for housing**  – that, or get rid of it. No industrial use can guarantee the future of the Black Patch. Even a generous S106A mix of capital and revenue will not solve problems resulting from 30 years of depopulation. People need parks; parks need people. Black Patch needs a community of users who can see the park from their bedroom windows, and walk into it from their front doors; who treat the park as their place.
Residents celebrating Coronation Day in Black Patch Park 1953
Black Patch Park has almost no-one living next to it. Residents in Birmingham’s inner suburbs of Winson Green and Soho  to the east, north and south of the park, report memories of their park, but in 1966 these communities were effectively separated in terms of political influence from the Black Patch when it was transferred from Birmingham to the short-lived borough of Warley which, with further local government boundary changes in 1974, placed Black Patch Park in an east corner of the new borough of Sandwell, in Soho & Victoria Ward, whose local ward councillors include, since 2004, the present Leader of Sandwell, Cllr Darren Cooper.
Black Patch Park inside Sandwell MBC
The Black Patch has only survived in these circumstances because it is loved, respected and valued by a remarkable community of interest made up of people and organisations who come to it from different parts of Sandwell and Birmingham to enjoy sport and exercise; who believe it might be the birthplace of the great Charlie Chaplin; who are aware of its close association – geographic and historic – with the standing remains of Boulton’s and Watt’s Soho Foundry;...
...people whose childhood was spent there; who know the local history of the park’s association with the Romany Gypsies whose descendants visit the park annually to celebrate the memory of their encampments on the Black Patch during Smethwick’s industrial era. And thanks to that especially contemporary community of interest – the internet – the Black Patch is known over the world; has its own Wikipedia entry; ballad by the late Bryn Phillips on YouTubeFacebook page and location in the local history websites of Smethwick, Handsworth and Winson Green.
Hector Pinkney MBE and young park users rap for the Black Patch

That strong, but separated, community of interest includes members and officers of Sandwell MBC and the Friends of Black Patch Park – the latter immersed  in the saving of the ‘Patch’ for the last 15 years. For over 14 years, The Friends have studied the park’s history.  They are familiar with members and officers of the local authority, and despite occasional differences, have maintained, with Sandwell Council, a relationship of mutual respect and trust, Both parties are well aware of the intractability of the challenges that attach to saving and restoring this special urban green space; both are aware of the inconsistent succession of policies that have impacted on the Black Patch; both share dismay and frustration over the current state of Black Patch; both are unsure what to do about a place whose future they are equally committed to securing.
During the 1970s and 80s, Sandwell MBC strove to maintain the Black Patch as a community of place; refurbishing the terrace houses neighbouring the park, creating new flats and maisonettes; even constructing an ill-fated tower block. The failure of these housing initiatives prompted a pragmatic shift of policy. The area, including the Black Patch, was re-zoned, via a new Local Plan, designating it suitable for light industry. Logically - given the abandonment of attempts to maintain a community of place – the Black Patch was included in that new policy. A park for cars perhaps.
It was at this point that the park’s community of interest gave voice to concerns that the Black Patch was about to be built over. That voice was given sympathetic hearing by members and officers of Sandwell MBC and by local media. It helped
that the local historian, Ted Rudge, had published an entertaining and scholarly book about Gypsies in the area that included the story of their connection to the Black Patch. No-one, no agency, wanted rid of the Black Patch, but no-one and no-body knew what could be done to stop the park’s decline into urban wasteland.
For the last eight years, since Sandwell’s Cabinet agreed to side-step the provisions of their Local Plan for the area, recognising the park’s community of interest, the Black Patch has survived in limbo. Used less and less and without being secured against them - notwithstanding expensive preventive efforts – the whole park, inside and out, has become the preferred destination of fly-tippers, disfigured by regularly dumped detritus as once it was disfigured by the industrial slag that gave the place its 19th century name.
No-one who  cares about the Black Patch and who, like many local councillors and officers, include themselves in the park’s community of interest, seems able to do anything but wring their hands at the state of this blighted space.  The last blow in the blighting of the Black Patch has been the loss of the community centre which included meeting rooms, toilets and changing and catering facilities.  It speaks for the value of the Black Patch that even with their changing rooms no longer available, footballers continued to use the park, often changing in their cars.   
Michael Chaplin, visiting the park, with his son-in-law on 26th August 2015, to affirm his belief that it was indeed his father’s birthplace, dodged piles of rubbish as he strolled to the junction of Hockley and Boundary brooks in the centre of what had been a cherished public space.
A 2005 Christmas card from the Friends of Black Patch Park (photo: Karen Fry)

Desultory discussions about raising S106A funding by selling off part of the park, at a peppercorn rate, to allow an autoclaving plant may indeed provide some jobs, though not necessarily local ones.****  It cannot promise the revenue stream or regular presence of users that would ensure the success of a working park. For that to be feasible the ‘Patch’ must be surrounded by people. It must again become a community of place, rezoned for housing. No other solution, however tempting as a last resort, however strong or strident its community of interest, can promise a future for the Black Patch.
At least half the area surrounding Black Patch Park used to have houses. Today a semi-circular brownfield site begins at the T-junction where Kitchener Street – now closed – joins Perrott Street.
Oscar, Phil, Avtar Dillon (ASD Associates) and Oliver looking down Kitchener Street next to Black Patch ~ 5th Feb 2016

There were terrace houses along both sides of Kitchener Street, up to its junction with Foundry Lane, where there was a primary school.  Opposite this T-junction was further housing along the south west edge of Foundry Lane as it turns, almost parallel with Boulton Lane. These derelict spaces have connection to utilities - water, sewage, electricity and gas and telecommunications.  Oasis Academy Foundry, James Watt Primary, Oasis Academy Boulton, Summerfield Primary, Victoria Park Primary Academy, St Philips Catholic Primary, St Matthews C of E Primary School, Benson Community Primary School and Holyhead School (11-19 Academy) would all be within easy travelling distance of homes along Kitchener Street. Galton Valley Children’s Centre, Surestart Summerfield Children’s Centre and Victoria House Neighbourhood Nursery are just over a mile away would be inside a mile’s walking distance of homes along Kitchener Street.  As well as health centres on Summerfield, Soho and Victoria Roads, Midland Metropolitan Hospital due to be completed in under 3 years is less than a mile away, about 19 minutes walk from the Black Patch, a centre of health care contributing  to regeneration across the area.  There are Care homes - Beeton Grange, Albion Court Care Centre and Birmingham and Solihull Mental Health Trust, half a mile from the park. The neighbourhood of the Black Patch is served by West Midlands 72, 74 101, 11a and 11c bus services. There are Metro stops at Soho Benson Green and Winson Green Outer Circle, the latter more accessible with a way laid out between the allotments that front Perrott Street opposite the park. There are  main routes for cars to shopping centres in Sandwell, Birmingham and Wolverhampton. The SUSTRANS cycle path passes by the park at the end of Murdock and Avery Roads, running along the towpath of the Birmingham Mainline Canal to Wolverhampton.  Canal & River Trust, with partners, promoting the ‘Birmingham Cycling Revolution’ are upgrading this route, also used for walking and jogging, from Gas Street Basin to to Heath Street half a mile from Black Patch. Three police sub-divisions for Birmingham and Sandwell converge on the area. There are fire stations in Smethwick and Handsworth.
Friends of Black Patch Park ~ Feb 2016
New homes could be built (yellow shading on the map) along Kitchener Street next to Black Patch Park B66 2QA
 *Wikipedia on ‘Black Patch Park’ includes images and a description of the park and quotes Agenda item 5 of a Report to the Cabinet Member for Regeneration and Transport, Cllr Bob Badham, Sandwell MBC, dated 21 February 2007
 'Within the adopted Unitary Development Plan, sites around Black Patch Park, near to the Soho Foundry were allocated for industrial uses in order to attract investment for a Technology Park. However, this has not come to fruition. A recent Employment Land Survey has revealed that there is no immediate need for further industrial land in this location. As there are no deliverable proposals identified, and to accommodate the wishes of Friends of Black Patch Park to retain the Park area, these allocations have been removed. The land will therefore form a green focal point for any development which takes place on the adjoining sites. The Preferred Option for land adjacent to Soho Foundry has been allocated for Mixed Used which can incorporate industrial and offices, and possibly leisure, community and educational facilities associated to the Foundry once a suitable re-use has been identified. Smethwick Area Action Plan - Preferred Option Document (Cabinet Forward Plan Ref. No. RT089)'.

** In October 2015 Cllr Darren Cooper, Leader of Sandwell MBC, announced that barely half the number of homes needed in the Black Country and Staffordshire had been built over the past four years, with Sandwell standing out as the ‘worst performing’ with a shortfall of 62%. Express & Star, 1 October, 2015
- The Office for National Statistics is predicting that there will 38,600 more people of all ages in Sandwell by 2033 - a 13% increase. David Couttie Associates (2010) FINAL REPORTSandwell Housing Needs &Market Study Update, p.8
***See ‘Black Patch Park - striving to renew a place’ 28 Dec 2013, describing a tour of the Black Patch  
****The Friends' meeting with Tony Deep, also known as Kurdip Singh Wouhra MBE of East End Foods to discuss plans by Smart Waste - a sister company - to build a recycling autoclaving plant on part of the park is mentioned in a blog entry for 16th June 2015 - one which includes correspondence between us and Sandwell MBC officer, Hayley Insley.

Ten years or so ago we made a lobbying clip on YouTube against building on Black Patch Park....
...and the folk-singer Bryn Phillips sang a song about Gypsies on the Patch, ironically evicted to create the present park, and Queen Henty's curse on anyone who 'develops on Black Patch Park'...

Stacey Dooley, member of the FoBPP, worked up a plan of a restored Black Patch, also showing new homes overlooking the park...

Discussing the Black Patch with Stacey and Phil over coffee and chocolate in Wednesbury the other evening

*** *** *** ***
My grandson is in an animistic phase that delights me - since my ancient education in anthropology taught me to understand what a sensible way it could be of understanding the world in the long journey towards the disenchantment - and re-enchantment - of science. In the tropical house of Birmingham Botanical Gardens are mighty Koi all of whom we named after family, friends and the dogs in our lives - Nanny, Amy, Guy, Hannah, Oscar and Cookie for a start...

They seemed to come when called by their given names...and then at the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery I'm left with a number of existential questions from Ollie as a result of this exercise in delayering a model mummy in the children's annexe to the Edwardian Tea Room on the first floor...
Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed...
The best Oliver and I have managed so far, as a result of unpacking the mummy in the museum, is that we all have skeletons...
...This doesn't quite connect with with "what if we have only a skeleton?"
The best I've managed is "We will go back to where we came from."
Pondering this Oliver jumped a few rungs of the debate, surmising that "When Mummy is a skeleton she will be a mosquito."
Later he suggested that he, Hannah and Henry - Liz's son - "will be leaves." (Of course he said 'leafs').  "Like those floating among the Koi?"
Reflecting on this conversation - as interesting for me as it seemed to be for Oliver - I wondered that we could have a discussion about death without anyone dying, untangled by grief's urgent knell, These matters where no-one knows, where the grown-up knows no more than the child, are sublime. We discuss mysteries as compeers.
Helga Edstrom Oliver is very precise and careful, and obviously thoughtful, I like his reasoning about reincarnation but a mosquito is an interesting start!
Simon Baddeley Yes. I wonder if some insight about this, about his infant logic, will of a sudden strike me. His brain is 70 years younger than mine and who knows, with evolution's tiny steps, what connections it's already making that escape me.
LikeReply120 February at 21:18Edited
Helga Edstrom He is exposed to so many different experiences his brain will be busy whirring and clicking. My daughter who is an infant teacher says it's very easy to spot the Oliver's as opposed to a child who just has TV as a way of seeing the world. She still accuses me of "over stimulating" her and her brother and them never having time to be bored, which on reflection, is often when the best thinking is done. But having two lively curious children to entertain we often ended up with the mummies in the Art Gallery.....
As commuters we returned to Soho Benson Road on the tram which now extends its line into Bull Street. It was rush hour, but Oliver found us seats for the two station journey...

....I glimpsed a bizarre sight - a passenger reading a book amid others enjoying connectivity.
*** *** ***
And in Ano Korakiana....they're getting ready for Carnival
Ετοιμασίες Καρναβαλιού
Μία ακόμη καρναβαλική σύναξη πραγματοποιήθηκε την Παρασκευή το βράδυ στο Δημοτικό Σχολείο, προκειμένου να οριστικοποιηθούν διάφορα εκκρεμή θέματα. Τελικά οριστικοποιήθηκε το πρόγραμμα των βασικών εκδηλώσεων που περιλαμβάνει την καθιερωμένη πλέον «Τσικνοπέμπτη» στην Αρκούδενα* και την κεντρική καρναβαλική εκδήλωση την τελευταία Κυριακή του Τριωδείου**, με κατάληξη τον αποκριάτικο χορό στο «Luna d’ Argento». Περισσότερα, προσεχώς...
Carnival planning meeting. Fokion Mandoulas - Φωκίων Μάνδυλας - Mayor of the village on the right

Another carnival gathering held on Friday night at the primary school, to finalize various outstanding issues - the schedule of key events including the established 'Pancake Day' in Arkoudena* and the main Carnival event on the last Sunday of Triodion**, ending the carnival dance at 'Luna D'Argento'. More shortly...(*Arkoudena is one of the five districts of Ano Korakiana, the one in which our home lies. It is also called 'The Bear' as tradition records that someone brought a bear to the village and entertained there with the animal. Other names now faded away include 'Mediterranean' 'Piazza' and 'Balance'. **Greek Pancake Day is 3rd March and Easter begins 1st of May, so 40 days before that is the last day of Carnival - 22nd March 2016)

Tuesday, 9 February 2016


Winnie with Oscar on the winter plot

Daffodils and crocuses. There's still no snow, hardly even frost; instead warm gales from the Atlantic blowing things over, and more and more rain...
Another green house shattered by wind on the Victoria Jubilee
...until today. Yesterday I continued splitting logs with a spalthammer, using a chain saw to reduce the  size of larger pieces of wood, knots holding the wood together, resisting, while others give way with a satisfying thud, each piece thrown sideways; picked up and split again. The stack grows.

It seems wrong rather than a promise of spring that there's already blossom on the cherry in our front garden...

...It seems to be hurrying me. reminding me of having done too little work on my allotment...
The greenhouse bought in December still sits at the head of the plot

...on my other projects - Out of Town 'Restored to Life'....for which I have cash to spare, for work with Francis and Frazer, after an out of court payment from Kaleidoscope TV, who, last year, so signally failed to fulfil their side of the contract I made with them in early 2015. Extract from my 'letter before action':
My claim is based on a failure by Kaleidoscope TV Ltd to repay me in kind for goods and services they have received from me – this includes the loan of films to broadcast, the broadcasting of my films more than once, contrary to contract, and numerous failures to broadcast, contrary to contract, commercials for published episodes of my films. I own rights in broadcast quality episodes of TV films by my late stepfather, Jack Hargreaves’ – ‘Out of Town’ (OOT) programmes. In February 2015 I loaned DVDs and Digibeta cassettes of these programmes to the local TV company, Kaleidoscope (a.k.a Big Centre TV) to broadcast. At the same time, and in return for allowing the broadcast of these programmes, Kaleidoscope TV Ltd agreed that they would undertake the restoration, to broadcast quality, of at least 30 episodes of OOT in the form of 16mm film and sound-tape – ‘Jack Hargreaves OOT Archive’ – that are stored at my home, as well as airing commercials advertising published DVDs of ‘Out of Town’. The broadcast quality OOT material that I had loaned to Kaleidoscope were broadcast during 2015, but over the last year Kaleidoscope TV have done no work on the film and tape they had agreed to process. The defendant has had DVDs and Digibeta tapes from me to broadcast twice a week on Big Centre TV over 6 months for free, but have not fulfilled their agreement to process my raw material in return...
'Restored to Life' - Francis Niemczyk's home in Hornsey 

'Restored to life' ~ Frazer Ash with my stepfather's work on a Steenbeck at the British Universities Film & Video Council 
...and Handsworth Handsworth Helping Hands '4 Avenues Project', learning more almost by the day on a tiny part of Handsworth...
Oscar and Oliver in the HHH van on another visit to Putney Avenue
...and Black Patch Park where the fly-tipping grows; where we need a bold idea to recreate a place in what's become a border space, urban limbo.
Oliver, Oscar, Phil Crumtpon and Avtar Dhillon on Kitchener Street next to Black Patch Park last Friday morning
This park we've been concerned about for over 14 years - can it be so long? - is a community of interest, those interested in it (Charlie Chaplin, Gypsies, Soho Foundry, football) dispersed. It needs for its future to be also a community of place: for that it needs - close to it - people whose windows and doors open onto the Black Patch. Sandwell MBC's structure plan for the area has the area zoned to prefer light industry. What would it take it to  have the area re-zoned for housing?
The other project, shared with Linda, Richard and Angeliki is the idea of a website for the work of Aristeidis Metallinos, the laic sculptor of Ano Korakiana. We've done as much as can be done on this until we have the agreement of the sculptor's daughter, Maria, to continue...
Woman in new and traditional wear ~ work in stone by Aristeidis Metallinos 1985 (photo: Richard Baddeley)
These last 9 days Arthur, my father-in-law, has been staying with us, going every day with Linda to Stafford Hospital - 26 miles north - to visit Dorothy, my mother-in-law, who fell in her home, broke her wrist, and now struggles to move about. We await a place in a rehabilitation unit close to Handsworth. It's difficult for Lin, so occupied now with the care of her parents. I'm almost peripheral.
I fear the news at times. Not from newspapers. I stopped reading them except as comics years ago, but from the news I select from broad choices on the internet from Australia to the US, Canada to Greece, S.America, China and the rest of Europe - sifting the over opinionated, seeking wise writing. Right now I'm thinking about the New Hampshire Primaries. I wrote to my friend, Tony, in New England. With Helen he visited us in Greece five years ago. I'd not seen him since I was a young man in Philadelphia, working briefly in the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania in 1966..
Dear Tony and Helen. I imagine your woods lovely, dark and deep amid the snow we seldom see here. I think of you both regularly and wonder how you are. And how the world looks from New England.  We don’t go back to Corfu until the second week of April. Greece seems too far away, but I am now and then assailed, almost assaulted, by news from the rest of the world. One friend’s Christmas greeting included the impression that we live in times that imitate the start of the first world war.
We are enjoying writing on the tabula rasa’s of two grandchildren - Oliver (coming up 4) and Hannah (2). They’ve already been three times to stay with us in Corfu, Here in Birmingham I’m entrusted with explaining to Ollie the world of growing vegetables,...

..walking beside canals, riding on trams and trains and ascending top front of double-decker buses drawing pictures in the condensation on the big windows, ...
...visiting art galleries where, for a child, everything from a floor pattern, banister or a reception counter is as true a work of art as paintings in frames and sculptures on pedestals... 
Oliver beside an unknown Tiki in Birmingham Art Museum
...not to mention the  ‘installations’ you aren’t supposed to touch. All part of of 'every common sight…apparell'd in celestial light…the glory and the freshness of a dream. Meantime we’re also busy with care of Lin’s parents - 91 and 97.
Arthur in the kitchen

They looked after us once. Lin sends her love. We both hope you and your family are well. X
T replied with a happy group photo of his descendants amid American snow...
Dear Simon, Here is a photo  of our family minus O who's currently working for the International Medical Corp (IMC is like Médecins Sans Frontières) H and I are nervous about that but she loves it... we are going over to visit her in late May (not in ... but in Jordan!) As you can see, we are blessed amid all the misfortunes of others.  Snow?  Alas until (literally) as I began to reply to your email we had NONE.  Now it is snowing—we have about 4” on the ground.  We only expect about another 3” but still it is lovely that our climate still knows how to make snow.  We thought it had forgotten how!!!  Now the woods are dark and silent. Lovely. The world from New England?  We are biting our nails to see what the New Hampshire Primary election will bring tomorrow.  Trump is a buffoon and bully but I think he may have over-reached.  I think he would be easier to defeat in November than Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio.  It would be awful if we got any of them as President! Cruz with his fanatical religiosity really scares me. As Europe learned in the 30 years’ war, church and state don’t mix. ....
The hanging, one of 18 prints by Jacque Callot' - The Miseries and Misfortunes of War 1633

However, no one is very enthusiastic about Hillary so she might just be defeatable by a Cruz or Rubio.  Analytical arguments by HC just won’t appeal to peoples’ heart strings.  Myself, I am a Bernie Sanders supporter but think it will be very hard for him to beat Hillary in the primaries with all her “experience”.  Bernie has a very agile mind. I used to see him in Vermont when I lived there.  That agility will make up for his alleged lack of experience.
WWI:  Your friend’s thought about the prelude to WWI has passed my mind too.
There are just so many accidental mistakes or misunderstandings that could easily happen and trip off a worldwide conflagration.  Ironic isn’t it in the context of your friend’s thought that the current instability in the Middle East is an outgrowth of the fall of the Ottoman empire in WWI followed by the imposition of the Sykes-Picot agreement by the British and French carving up the region between themselves.
Greece?  I was going to email you and ask how Corfu is doing.  I gather it is  relatively unscathed but the migrant flood but poor Greece.  There it is with an enormous economic recession resulting from Germany’s hard money policies and the rest of the EU doesn’t seem to be lifting a finger to help Greece cope with the flood of refugees on to Lesbos.  The EU could at least write off Greece’s debt. Of course the US is pathetic having only taken in 2,800 refugees in the last year.
Congratulations on your two grandchildren and the clear sense of renewed wonder they are conveying to you and Lin.  Our’s, as you can see, are a bit older but as wondrous and real companions now they are adults. We jaded old folks need to open our minds as you both are evidently doing. I am embarked (barely) on a short book in the form of a letter to my grandchildren about what an incredible experience it has been to be alive at our particular time in history.  Think of it: from cosmology....
2012 Hubble XDF image showing galaxies from 13.2 billion years ago genetic engineering, to plate tectonics , the internet, etc, etc.  It is truly unlike any other time in human history save (maybe) during development of agriculture  beginning 12,000 years ago. The expansion of human consciousness in our lives is unprecedented.  And most of it is due the recognition since the 1700s that human knowledge is intrinsically fallible.  But of course, even with all the opportunities it is a very dangerous time. (see above and WWI) because so many people are frightened of the enormous changes and frightened of the human responsibility for knowledge and its application. So they are recoiling and striking back like the jihadists or the Christian right in the US.
It is so hard seeing one’s parents reach the end.  I hope Lin’s parents are having some fun and laughs out of these remaining moments. It is also hard on Lin and you as I discovered when my mother reached this stage. It can be quite startling. Suddenly you can no longer ask them (your parents) for verification of “what happened when—“  No you can’t—do what has been your resource for your entire life. Now you are the latitude and longitude by which your children and grandchildren position themselves. They come to you.  Best wishes, Lin, for many poignant moments to share with your parents.
I must go now to watch BBC America.  It was wonderful to get your email and glad to hear you both are doing well as are we. Helen is still working part-time at the hospital primarily encouraging mothers with breastfeeding help. I just turned 76!  Life’s a bit more uncertain now - to recollect Andrew Marvell’s thought “Had we but time enough, this coyness madam would be no crime.  But at my back I seem to hear time’s winged chariot hurrying near.” Otherwise AOK with time enough to enjoy this marvelous landscape and house.  Rather like the Temple at Bassae.

Much love and best wishes for this year to you both. T & H
The Temple of Bassae in Oichalia, Messenia, by Edward Lear 1854

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The earth is so damp I'm reluctant to plant anything, for all the advice on radio and internet about what should be in the earth during January and February. Where I plan to site the greenhouse on my allotment is the bed in which for two years I've grown Jerusalem Artichokes. I've started digging them up.

I delight in the journey of these mucky clay-sticky Jerusalem artichoke tubers forked from the sodden soil of my allotment, washed in a chilly waterbutt, taken home, peeled, chopped, parboiled, drained and sautéed in butter with a dash of minced garlic, bay leaves, white wine vinegar.

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