Saturday, 16 August 2014

Gradually essential work gets done

Eiderdowns hang from our Handsworth washing line. No Ionian wind to sun-dry and ventilate them. Instead I watch carefully to bring them in if the clouds grown darker and heavier.

They came from Rock Cottage; in sacks of soft things I'd was tempted to skip when Adam and Jack cleared the cottage garden of building waste two weeks ago, but which Lin insisted on bringing here to wash, dry, fold and store, cleansing them of the overwhelming smell of old damp.
"The eiderdowns are feather-filled. They won't go in the washer" said Lin "Air them"
I've smelled them. The airing seems to have worked. They're lovely. A crime to throw away. The washing line's supported with one of the two hazel poles with V-ends that I lopped - one for us one for Denise - and brought back to Birmingham from a hazel coppice in our garden at Rock Cottage.

My attempts to win sympathy on the basis of age-related absentmindedness has no traction with Lin.  She knows very well, that how many milk cartons are in circulation in the kitchen is low on my 'to do' list.
"What forms of annoyance do you reserve for genocide, people trafficking, child abuse...or Adolf Hitler?" I plead, uselessly.
These things matter to her, she is Kali of Small Things; in especial abundance while Guy and Amy, Oliver and our new born grand-daughter, live with us as their own home is extended - work, as might be guessed, is lasting longer than their builder projected.
To choose one of many tasks more or less at random, I'm tidying up the gates and doors at the front of our house, starting with the hefty alleyway door that, after old repairs to an original gate made 80 years ago, is falling apart.
"Just disassemble the tongue and groove and remake it" says Lin.
The door fittings are rusting into rot. Lin's part right. It could be recovered, but at what time and effort given all the other jobs to be done? If it were anything but a purely functional gate I'd give restoration consideration. I took the whole door - the flaking paint layered rusty T-hinges cut through with the angle-grinder, the remains levered off until I could get a heft on the old slot screws - to a local carpentry shop. I also removed handles and a couple of cabin hooks I'd added about twenty years ago, and with Guy's help, dragged the old gate to the HHH van and took it to Atlantic Joinery on Hamstead Road. I pay for this use of the project's vehicle with a fuel donation - all registered in the van log.
"Make me a gate like this but slightly lighter, Mr Bogal"
The old gate goes as a model to Atlantic Joinery

A week later, for £182 I have a new raw door made of treated wood, ready to be primed, undercoated, painted and re-hung wit a new pair of sturdy galvanised T-hinges from Doorfit in Hockley

Once that's in place I'll clean up the garage doors, sand, undercoat and repaint them.
"£182!" said Lin "They saw you coming"
I like the feel of the new gate. I like imagining how the whole will look when the work is done. But it'll be at least another week with all the other things we have in hand - not to mention the constant duties of grand-parenting.
Things are happening at Rock Cottage. The HHH committee agreed to let me borrow the van to collect the 'old' kitchen from Guy and Amy's house and take it down to Lydbrook where Adam and Jack borrowed the relevant parts up Bell Hill to install in the kitchen at the cottage

At the same time as the kitchen is recovered at Rock Cottage, Martin has been sizing up what needs to be done on the bathroom, left unusable by the previous builder.
I left this for Martin and Lin to discuss.

The old cast iron bath will go back, but the other way round, so we can have a shower installed....

...One wall will be dry lined - plaster board fixed to a frame over a sheet of polythene. That will be behind the bath - and tiled. The old WC can go back as also the basin but its plumbing will be replaced
"I don't know how your bath ever drained itself" said Martin.
He made other suggestions - a better placed heated towel rail and radiator for instance. Once the kitchen, the bathroom and one upstairs bedroom are made good, we can stay in the place and continue the work. Martin ran through a range of other jobs to be done. Meantime the old kitchen units and tops were taken down Bell Hill to go in the van and, with other rubbish collect from the streets  of Handsworth taken to Holford Drive recycling depot where they will disappear into land-fill or be incinerated - so primitive still are Birmingham's contract locked techniques for dealing with waste.
Denise and I down-load scavenged rubbish to the dry bay at Holford Drive Recycling Centre

iPhone from Adam this w/e:
Hi simon. Rock cottage progress today
1.we have finished off the work tops in the kitchen
2. We have sorted a lot more stuff out in the living room (some taken up stairs) created a lot more room :)
3. We have cleared the bathroom and brushed down all the walls ready for re-pointing and sealing
4. Also in the hall by the old front door has been emptied and all cleaned down ready for repair work etc
5. We have bagged up some plaster that was on the floor which the old builder knocked off and taken with us to discard of at the works skip
I think we are getting closer to starting some plastering works. Also the bathroom is ready to go so I will have a word with my dad and will get in contact soon :) Thanks, Adam 
He attached pictures.  This regular updating by email with images is so reassuring, allowing discussion at a distance, checking; easing the iron rule about never leaving even the most trusted of builders to work in your absence.
*** *** *** ***
I'm getting lessons on the intrusive range and depth of viral marketing as Oliver, while having nappies changed, eating morning toast, sitting on his pot, is allowed to watch one or another laptop or even smart phone, as a supplement to baby-sitting. He watches adults but also children selling global toys, his favourite Lightning McQueen, an animated car from films by Disney. These clips are mainly on Youtube. Some are professional animations. Some are well crafted amateur-looking chats about things, where, in front of a relaxing voice-over, and lift-music, toys are unwrapped from cellophane and various plays with the objects enacted. Often there are animated games advertising software for the actual game that last for minutes at a time, with frenetic voice-overs and sound effects - skidding tyres, gun-fire and crashes. These are in English - US and UK - in Japanese and Russian and I'm sure many more. The repertoire is immense and continuous, as one clip leads conveniently to the next, advertising interspersed with advertising, overlaid with muzak and disarming many-accented commentaries.
I don't like this one little bit but it's so bloody convenient.
Oliver is kept entertained while essential domestic tasks get done, but he's being seduced for future consumption. I'm pleased that when we're in Greece our lack of Wifi will have conveniently excised this umbilical. I'm ashamed of relying on it; impressed at its ingenious intrusiveness - the core dynamics of consumerism in the heart of the home, more present then ever via the social web; all things I knew would happen when I wrote about 'micro-marketing' and the 'internal polity' back in the early 90s. Thus capitalism, with its astonishing reach, reproduces its processes even more intimately than when my children were small, or when parents and schools of the 1940s worried about the effect on me of comics.

I realise that this exposure can also be a vaccination. Much depends on what else Oliver does in his daily life; on the negotiation between him and his family and the global market; about what we will allow to be commodified. Authoritarian regimes seeks non-negotiable ways into a child's mind. At least in a democracy we have choices, but as the truism goes 'the price of freedom is eternal vigilance'. At the moment Oliver's relations with the web is more or less one-way with him as spectator. The wonders, hazards and utility of the social web are yet to come.
On Plot 14 Hannah made her first visit yesterday.
Winnie, Dennis, Oliver, Amy and Hannah - her first visit to plot 14

I have recruited Winnie to help dig over the plot. She brought her son Dennis who often helps us collecting rubbish on the van with Handsworth Helping Hands.

Between us we are working over, yet again, ground that needs, weeding and enriching with compost as well as further de-stoning. I've decided to use carpet tiles - recovered in large numbers from where they were fly-tipped into a Handsworth back-garden - to trace out paths that divide the plot into manageable sections. I'd like to make patterns; perhaps a Union Jack. The tiles need not be permanent  if enough of our walking on these paths compresses the ground enough to make new weeds less welcome. I'm also installing gutters to collect rain from the two slopes of the shed roof.
I have now accepted unashamedly that my allotment is a bourgeois hobby...
The benefits of allotments are both tangible and intangible and include a space for recreation, exercise and, if desired, an opportunity to network. However, allotments also offer a space for contemplation and/or solitude and the chance to indulge in the hobby of growing one's own food in an idiosyncratic way and for personal reasons. Allotments and other urban agriculture projects also offer an opportunity for excluded groups or individuals to participate and become involved in a project. In this way, allotments can contribute to a sense of self as well as community and, accordingly, they can help to shape lives and encourage social integration. Acton, L 2011. Allotment Gardens: A Reflection of History, Heritage, Community and Self. Papers from the Institute of Archaeology 21:46-58, DOI:
So feel less guilty about the money I pay for help and the parts I buy, like the 65mm shed guttering from Wickes which is a devil to assemble at the joints.  I eventually gave up trying to 'click' in joiners and end pieces lined with a stiff rubber washer, stripped these out, and substituted silicone from a nozzle; but the whole set of bits and pieces - gutters, down pipes, gutter brackets and the rest - cost me £44. Crazy! The decent thing would be to look out for things that people have discarded and make shift. Scavenging with Handsworth Helping Hands gives as good an opportunity as any to avoid paying at the till from retail superstores.

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

On the allotment

The skies opened on us yesterday afternoon. Oscar and I sheltered under the shed veranda. Oliver decided to stand in the rain amid thunder and lightning and a shower of hail.
'Come here, Oliver!"

He refuses shelter. Thunder cracks; trees swirl.
I suppose he presents a smaller area to the weather. That's a rough speculation. This is about the pleasure of instant mud, puddles and dripping greenery. I must put up guttering on at least two edges of the shed to harvest rain like this. I had the wicked idea when sipping tea...

...a nicer version of that frightful father in Yorgos Lanthimos' brilliantly horrid film Dogtooth Κυνόδοντας imprinting his isolated children with toxic inaccuracies about the names of common objects.

Oliver and I will plant some random seeds on Plot 14. A few days later, after I've prepared the ground in his absence, we'll harvest small toys. Maybe not. I like that he sees and helps collect potatoes to eat emerging under my fork from the earth, and sees beans in their pods cut from their stalks to be on his plate in the evening.
*** *** ***
To our delight there arrived, a few days ago, a letter from Angeliki, with sweet greetings to the family from Ano Korakiana, including a card congratulating Amy on the birth of Hannah...
...and expressing happiness that her grandfather now has a Greek and English Wikipedia entry. "On the 30th June my sister also gave birth to a healthy boy, my first nephew, so I understand your feelings" Of the continued search for Aristeidis Metallinos she writes:
When you'll be back in Ano Korakiana you can continue your work as you have planned STEP BY STEP. The doors of the 'μουσείο' are and will be always open to you, Linda and whoever you want. My mother respects both of you. You know that!!! You are also free to write on your blog whatever you think it can help my grandfather's recognition.
Such joy to read these words; also that Angeliki and her family, after Andreas met them on Democracy Street, had been able to welcome Thannasis Spingos and Kostas Apergis - scribes and historians of Ano Korakiana - to the Museum.
...Πάντα στον νου σου νάχεις την Ιθάκη.
Το φθάσιμον εκεί είν’ ο προορισμός σου.
Aλλά μη βιάζεις το ταξείδι διόλου.
Καλλίτερα χρόνια πολλά να διαρκέσει·
και γέρος πια ν’ αράξεις στο νησί,
πλούσιος με όσα κέρδισες στον δρόμο,
μη προσδοκώντας πλούτη να σε δώσει η Ιθάκη...
In pursuit of those 'steps' I took the train on the three hour journey north to meet Dr Alexandra Moschovi. I'd contacted her back in May to ask if she could share thoughts on the laic sculptor. I'm digesting our discussion, working through Alexandra's many insights on Aristeidis.
Meeting Alexandra Moschovi in Newcastle to explore the world of Aristeidis Metallinos

8th August from Birmingham:
Dear Alexandra. What a fascinating visit for me, with lots of new ideas and encouragement on the subject of our - now I dare hope - shared interest in the laic sculptor of Ano Korakiana. I have this morning posted you two DVDs containing images from my visits to the Aristeidis Metallinos ‘Museum’ - some are my photos or Linda’s, but mainly they are by Angeliki Metallinos of the works of her grandfather, which she does not claim as adequate representations. ...As we agree the images are in no special order and so represent rather ‘raw’ data. Yes! A catalogue is vital.
 You have encouraged me in the important task of giving a context to AM’s work (I just noticed the coincidence of initials!) by checking the historical time-line that accompanies the sculptor's working, especially the significance of the year 1981.
I am also alerted to his likely exposure to a number of popular Greek films...more alert to the impact of some of AM’s themes within a village, especially if there are even more sensitive issues of his relationships with others in the village...Given that AM said he took up hammer and chisel 'to bear witness to human nature and its weaknesses' «να παρουσιάσω τον άνθρωπο και τα ελαττώματά του» I am unsure whether he himself is involved in these adventures ... or whether AM's work is observational - which could also bring animosity, even spite upon him....  As we discussed, many more things will emerge.
Archbishop Makarios carved in 1974 by Aristeidis Metallinos
I was told by Angeliki that her grandfather sketched his planned works on unfolded cigarette boxes. I hope to see his actual tools and more personal possessions. I hope I may be trusted to see and handle these - with kid gloves.
 Meanwhile I'm delighted you are curious and interested in the same subject. For me it is about the struggle to improve my Greek, but also about my relationship with Ano Korakiana.
I am pleased that you do not see AM's work as pornographic or sexist. I think there are others who may be repelled by some of it; who would wish to censor some of the more ‘grotesque’ or ‘horrifying’ pieces. But is AM a feminist? What novel view of women emerges from this Greek man in his seventies brought up more or less all his life in a pastoral economy.
What did he learn in Albania in the war? What mix of fascination, admiration and excitement, anxiety and even anger and contempt informs Metallinos' experience of the changes in the condition of women during his life - and especially in the 70s and 80s with the great tourist invasion of Greece?

There are aspects of AM’s depiction of sexuality and gendered work that my own maleness may disqualify me from understanding. This is why I am interested in Lin’s views. I know Angeliki is as close to her as she is to me - the English couple!
Your gaze and critical view as a woman is an addition to your academic perspective on Aristeidis Metallinos.

There is also the matter of how his relations with his children and family, and especially Eleni, influenced him. I have the believe that he was passionately and sensually in love with her. Or was he, like some artists, more and more egotistical and preoccupied with his marble. His work seems to be a burden on his son Andrea.
Perhaps I fix on some of these matters because I’m an old man.
There’s also the matter of many other sculptures and the lovely reliefs depicting a world that has all but been forgotten, and was passing away with immense rapidity in the last decades of the sculptor’s life.
 In a recent Greek film Lin and enjoyed - Attenberg - the young woman’s father, an architect, observes “We never had an industrial revolution. We built an industrial colony on sheep pens”. All over the world the Greek diaspora partakes and leads in projects of modernisation but in Ano Korakiana there are still remnants of pre-industrial enchantment (about which I am not sentimental any more than I am about ‘democracy').
Thanks again for your interest, your advice and your company in Newcastle. I’m glad the rain held off. 'Σὰ βγεῖς στὸν πηγαιμὸ γιὰ τὴν 'Ιθάκη, νὰ εὔχεσαι νἆναι μακρὺς ὀ δρόμος, γεμάτος περιπέτειες, γεμάτος γνώσεις….'
Kindest regards and my best wishes to your dear family Simon
Αριστείδης Μεταλληνός (1908-1987) ~ his gaze? Are these stone women 'passive'?
In July I asked Jim Potts for his reflections. Jim has seen only photos of AM's but I've greatly valued his and Maria Pott's opinion of the sculptor's work...Jim also said he might try to seek his daughter's reaction. Ditto I, the women in my family:
13th July from Zagori (an extract): Re Metallinos, I feel I need to see his work in situ to really understand his take or stance on women. From the images I have seen, there are works that seem to explore quite different aspects of human relations, and the nature of men and women. I don't feel able to judge which is the dominant strand of his thinking, but he was certainly pushing back the boundaries, and that makes his work unusual and interesting.
At the moment I am struggling with a chapter on Tourism for an American book. Corfu is one of my case studies. I have been gathering information, statistics and anecdotes dealing with the development of tourism since the early 1950s. Like everything else, there are a lot of ambiguities and contradictions, making generalisations very difficult. I have found a theoretical sociological book The Tourist Gaze 3.0 by John Urry and Jonas Larsen very helpful, athough it doesn't deal with Corfu.
What was the nature of the Metallinos "Gaze"?
Did AM's work change and evolve over a period of years, are there various "periods" when he depicts women in one way or another?
His 'gaze'? I need images of Metallinos looking. Not the 'women' but him.
'Αυτός είμαι εγώ ~ That's me' (1980)
*** *** ***
Earlier this month Lin and I went to a BBQ organised by Aftab Rahman - 'quintessential Englishman' - of Legacy WM, in the secret spaces behind terrace houses on the Hamstead Road.
Colin Simms tells how he came to be involved in the re-creation of these handsome terrace houses...

The evening was going to be a little expensive.
"I'd love too come, Aftab. It's a bit dear for us"
"Come anyway and give a talk about Handsworth Park"
So I came with Lin with a brief to sing for my supper.
Photo: David Ash

David Ash was taking pictures. We explored - in and out - a small group of attached gardens behind Colin's houses. The court where we ate was warm from the sun that had followed rain in the early afternoon while Lin and were still 75 miles south working at Rock Cottage. I'd showered, changed, cooled a bottle of wine; still aching from the climbs up Bell Hill, nursing an appetite. Around eight I spoke for about twenty five minutes about the Founding of Handsworth Park.
Photo: David Ash

"You were fine at first" said Lin after "but you read too much from your history"
"I know, it was when I was going over the script of the public meeting where the decision  was made to proceed with Handsworth Park"
I find the past in the present so fascinating. I get carried away. But it was just alright. I rehearsed my account of the political work required to create a park - one that was not a philanthropic gift; which had to be paid for with taxes. I earned us supper.
Photo: David Ash

*** *** ***
While they seem busy, often anything but carefree, with alway more to do than there are hours in the day, we shall recall these weeks, while Amy and Guy stay here with their children, our grandson and new born granddaughter, plus the two dogs, Oscar and Cookie (with her irritating bark), as the happiest of times.
Hannah with her great grand parents
Oliver and his new sister

*** *** ***
Greece's economy - worst since the worst depressions 'in recent memory'.
Greece’s GDP shrank by a mere 0.2% in the second quarter. While still a decline, it’s the smallest drop since the third quarter of 2008—which means that after 24 consecutive quarters of economic contraction, the Greek recession’s end might finally be at a hand. Don’t expect any wild celebrations in the streets of Athens anytime soon, though. The Greek economy has been through hell over the last few years. Unemployment is an atrocious 27%. And roughly 25% of the economy has been destroyed since the peak in late 2007. That collapse in economic output puts the Greek recession right up there with the worst depressions in recent memory.
In Ano Korakiana, in the courtyard of Saint Athanasios; Anastasia Metallinou and Sakis Karanikolas gave villagers a recital of beautiful melodies from the repertoire of Manos Hadjidakis.

Υπό το αδιάκοπο θρόισμα της παλιάς νεσπολιάς, στον αύλειο χώρο του Άη-Θανάση, η Αναστασία Μεταλληνού και ο Σάκης Καρανικόλας μας χάρισαν χθες το βράδυ υπέροχες μελωδίες από το ρεπερτόριο του Μάνου Χατζιδάκι.
Inside the church on another evening there poetry was read
«Η τέχνη είναι ένα μέσο να συγκινεί κανείς το μεγαλύτερο αριθμό ανθρώπων, με το να τους προσφέρει μια προνομιακή εικόνα των κοινών πόνων και ευχαριστίσεων» (Albert Camus – «Ο Λογοτέχνης και η εποχή του»).
Έτσι λοιπόν, απόψε, στην εκκλησία του Αγίου Αθανασίου, σε μιαν ατμοσφαιρική αύρα, οι εκλεκτοί προσκεκλημένοι Δημοσθένης Δαββέτας, Δημήτρης Κονιδάρης, Μαρία Πρεντουλή, Σωτήρης Τριβιζάς, Νάσος Μαρτίνος και ιερ. Βαλέριος, μας μίλησαν για «ποίηση», αποδίδοντας το διπλό της χαρακτήρα, του «εμπνευσμένου» και του «σοφού». Η αιώνια και δραστήρια φιλοσοφία της σκέψης, αντιθετικές σχέσεις με την υποκειμενική φύση, μια εξαιρετική δύναμη αφαίρεσης και ανάλυσης. Η βραδυά «έκλεισε» με την ανάγνωση ποιήματος του Δημοσθένη Δαββέτα και με την υπόσχεση της συνέχειας…
Poetry evening in St Athanasios, Ano Korakiana

(My hopeless translation)...So, an atmospheric night in the church of St. Athanasius, the distinguished guests Demosthenes Davvetas, Dimitris Konidaris, Maria Prentouli, Sotiris Trivizas, Nasos Martin and rep. Valerios, we talked about 'poetry', debating the dual character of the 'inspirational' and the 'wise'; the eternal and dynamic philosophy of thought, contrasting relationships with subjective nature, a fine celebration of strength and resolution.  The evening 'closed' with the reading of a poem by Demosthenes Davvetas and the promise of a return in the future...

On 11th August Ano Korakiana's orchestra marched in the annual procession celebrating Saint Spyridon  Ἅγιος Σπυρίδων - Corfu's patron saint.
11 Aυγούστου σήμερα και η πόλη της  Κέρκυρας θα φορέσει τα γιορτινά της για τη λιτάνευση του Ιερού σκηνώματος του Αγίου Σ πυρίδωνα, σε ανάμνηση της σωτηρίας του νησιού απο τους Τούρκους το 1716. Ο κόσμος, αρκετός, κερκυραίοι και μη, θα κατακλύσει απο νωρίς τους κεντρικούς δρόμους της πόλης απ'όπου θα περάσει η πομπή. Ξεχωριστό χρώμα όπως πάντα θα δώσουν οι φιλαρμονικές, 8 στο σύνολο, αναμεσα τους και η δική μας αποτελούμενηη απο 60 μουσικούς, οι οποίες θα συνοδεύσουν το σκήνωμα με αρχή και τέλος της διαδρομής, την εκκλησία του Αγίου...
*** *** ****

Francis Niemczyk has at last completed the second exercise in synchronising one of the hundreds of episodes of Out of Town from my archive. It arrived a few days ago - as a Digibeta tape, a DVD of sound, a DVD of film, and the one I could view and hear, a DVD of sound and image synchronised. Of course the film of Jack in the studio, as we know, is missing. The challenge is finding ways of having more than a dark space over his introduction. Ever helpful, Ian Wegg has suggested this, adding the theme tune and introductory titles. He moves from a fuzzy image of my stepfather in his shed at Raven Cottage in Dorset. This fades into black and white with greater clarity -  a picture of Jack with recovered film boxes on shelves, that dissolves into colour ribbon titles dissolving into Stan's location film...

Ian has edited out some of the talk that referred to an unidentified object. I like what he's done. Being able to sustain chat about this project among several hundred people on Facebook is encouraging and useful.
**** ****
Συγχωριανού μας Σάïμον Μπάντλεϊ  2012 (Αυτός είμαι εγώ με το μπαστούνι)

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Weekend on Bell Hill

Rock Cottage on Bell Hill

We return to Greece in just over a month, but Rock Cottage in Lydbrook weighs on us even there, the place we found in 1981 and bought in days.
Long ago, so it feels, Lin and I went to a wedding in south Wales and on the A40, the dual carriageway that extends the M50 into Wales, we glimpsed Ross-on-Wye on the side of a rise above the river, its distinctive church sat as a town almost without sprawl inside Gloucestershire hills.
"That's a nice place"
It could hardly have been a fortnight later, a weekend in June or July was it? An estate agent sent us descriptions of three places. We visited two. The second was up a narrow rough path far from the road. Lin stood in the waist high meadow grass of the small piece of ground,  attached to the house, on the side of the hill, looking over to a frieze off trees across the valley. There were butterflies and bees.
"What do you think?"
"I love it" she said
We bought it on Monday.
It was a mess, empty for a good two years, encroached upon by the forest, full of inept furnishing, cold in winter, mouldy in summer. We bought it in the year of the birth of our son Richard.
It became a place we went for days and weekends and whole weeks over twenty five years. Lin's dad rewired it. We put in central heating; but did most of the improvements ourselves, until we found a builder to add an extension that enlarged the sitting room,

Then the children grew up.  It was trickier for Lin's parents to climb the barrow's-width path curving 200 steep paces up Bell Hill, where the cottage had been built at the end of the 19th century on a ledge cut of the hillside. No house could be built there now. Regulations require some direct sunlight on a residence all year round. The tall beech trees on its crest and Bell Hill itself takes away direct sun from Rock Cottage six months of the year.
It's in a wonderful place. Walk out the back and into the Forest of Dean; climb, even clamber up, the deep shaded path up the hill and arrive at a view that on a clear winter's day shows the Brecon Beacons, sometimes snow capped.
From the windows of Rock Cottage you can gaze down the narrow Lydbrook Valley to Courtfield on a hill above a bend of the River Wye.
Sunrise in Lydbrook

We seem to be isolated amid every kind of greenery from the tall trees, oak, beech and ash especially, but proliferating ash and hazel and mounds of brambles, nettles and myriad wild flowers, and meadow grass. Yet just down the path we have a village shop, bus stop and the rest of the village of Lydbrook strung out on the road from the edge of the Wye to the Gloucester-Monmouth road a mile and half up onto the forest plateau - with short journeys into the forest to Cinderford and Coleford.
For years our family, Amy and Richard and my parents-in-law, Dorothy and Arthur, Lin and I were won't to pack the car in Handsworth and head 75 miles down the M5, passing the Malvern Hills to our south, then west then north as at Strensham Junction we turned west on the M50 and headed for Ross-on-Wye...

...then bypass the town and take the narrow turn into Goodrich, cross Kerne Bridge...
Kerne Bridge
...and wind three miles beside the river to the T-junction at lower Lydbrook. Except last weekend, as for the weekend a fortnight ago when we gone down to inspect...
...the weather was dire; Lin's car was overheating; and we were rowing. I'd even thought that perhaps we should just put the place up for auction. Get it off our backs. Lin wouldn't hear of it but both of us dreaded taking on the task of recovering the cottage from five years of expensive neglect. I pay full rates. It didn't help that the builder we thought we trusted had left the central heating on at the start of last year and cost me £700, and worse had done work for which we'd paid that turns out not to have solved the problem of 'water ingress' that keeps one of the bedroom ceilings and end walls crumbling. Our builder - seemingly a decent man - working on the cottage between others jobs in ways that seemed to suit him and us - finally placed the straw on the camel's back by installing new windows that were entirely against Lin's most detailed specification - ones that half opened when we wanted them fully opening and didn't fit anyway suggesting he'd off-loaded a job lot.
"Lost in translation" was his excuse.
We parted company after he had removed all the bathroom plumbing adding the final touch of complete uninhabitability to the beloved place.
This last year I did something about the encroaching trees, paying Dave Kenworthy of Evolution Trees, - after Lin and I had spent an August weekend doing some clearing with scythe, saw and loppers - to remove tall ash trees too risky for us to fell, threatening the power line to the house, and cut it up as firewood.  Dave is good; instant phone and email communication; transmitting photos of his work; easy to pay; transparent, professional and conscientious. He also found us another builder who checked over the cottage.
There are troubles continued; not through incompetence or dishonesty but cost. Shaun, Dave's builder, said the cottage roof needed entirely relining and parts replacing. The cost of going up and down Bell Hill, along with scaffolding, gave us a bill that, on top of what we'd already paid the previous builder, was depressing. I phoned Shaun. I apologised for his trouble. I said we were thinking of washing our hands of the place and going to auction. He returned our keys.
Last hope. It's always unfair and probably unwise to lean on friends for favours but we shared our worries about Rock Cottage with Martin, and family, Sandra and Adam...
Sandra and Adam at  relative's wedding in Henley on Thames
Simon, Adam and Martin on Summer Song the first time the family visited us in Greece

We've all known each other for the greater part of our grown-up lives, and seen each other's children grow up.
Sandra and Lin at 'the pub' in Ano Korakiana
Two weekends ago Sandra got to the pub bar before me, and paid for a lunch for us all at the Courtfield Arms in Lydbrook. We'd promised to take them for lunch as part of 'a conference on the cottage'. It was grey and wet. The cottage was wet and messy inside and out, smelling of neglect. Yet a sun came out on our apprehensions. Sandra and Martin know the things that Lin and I row about, and Rock Cottage can be a particular focus of strife between us.  Laying a figurative had on our shoulders, Martin was terse; decisive.
"Clear the ground floor so we can get the kitchen and bathroom back to work. Hire a skip and clear the pile of rubbish in the garden and anything you want rid of in the cottage"
The windows could be sealed but left for the moment, ditto the problems with the roof "but it must be sorted if possible before the winter. Adam will help with lads to load the skip"
We agreed that work start on Saturday 2nd August. Lin and I would go down beforehand to start the process of deciding what should be kept and what discarded. She and I were there by midday last Wednesday - arguing most of the time. I wanted to take stuff and skip it, a total cleansing; clean break; tabula rasa. Lin doesn't think that way. We worked carting, carrying, cleaning, folding, wrapping, bagging - barely on speaking terms, as yet another load of smelly bedding material was bagged for me to carry down Bell Hill to put in Lin's car to go home for washing.
"Yes we may end up taking some of it to the charity shop but lots of this is good bedding!"
"If you say so"
A middle sized skip was hired - £198 - for the weekend from Bell Waste, permission given by Phil at Central Stores to place it, on Friday, just where we wanted at the foot of the path up the hill.
We rose early on Saturday to be in Lydbrook by 9.00am as agreed. It was forecast to pour, in the Midlands and worse in Gloucestershire. It did.
But on getting to the car park in Lydbrook a patch of blue appeared. Then Martin and, in a works van, Adam and his friend and co-worker Jack. They set to filling the skip. Martin went up to get the WC working and check the kitchen plumbing so the lads could stay overnight. Lin and I, talking carefully to one another, went up the hill to continue the work we were arguing about on Wednesday.
Rock Cottage on Saturday
"What's got to go upstairs" Starting the sort
The rubble in the garden
Adam and Jack with our skip beginning to fill

On Sunday morning Ln and I drove down again. The lads made us bacon sarnies -  brown sauce to add, which we ate upstairs, before continuing the sorting and tidying the garden including lopping a couple of branches Dave had missed, one lot already reaching towards our power cable. I laid in with my scythe, eating juicy blackberries from the bramble mounds.

Sealing round the windows
Note from Lin after the w/e:
Hi Martin, Thought you might like to see how hard Adam and Jack worked at the cottage - see photo proof attached. Seriously though, they were fantastic and worked really hard. I was so depressed by the last cottage visit and was dreading going down on Saturday, but we actually had a good time and made a lot of progress, so I'm feeling much more positive now. We're going down again next Saturday. Thanks so much for getting Adam to do this. Please will you give the boys an extra £10 each for a drink in addition to the £x each. Love Lin x
By Sunday late afternoon we were all tired. The skip was full and Adam and Jack are coming down next weekend and Lin and I are on speaking terms.

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