Saturday, 31 October 2015

He who shewed mercy

I find the words of Job's helpers timeless in decrying my own thoughts and - so help me - perhaps actions, when trying to think of something to say to someone who's suffered a great loss. Easier to keep a distance but wrong. The same applies to the motives, unmentioned, of the priest and the Levite who both saw the man lying injured beside the 17 mile route and passed by on the other side. 'Priest' and 'Levite' - both people of a status and upbringing suggesting they ought to have known better. How pregnant is the silence of their excuses! I can fill in some of the spaces. "It might be a ruse. I wasn't born yesterday", "The man's drunk", "He has an infectious disease. My family!", "I'll go to the the authorities the moment I get to Jericho". These refugees. Innumerable. It is impossible to have a clear conscience except when in the midst of an act of kindness. Pause to allow reasoning. I'm in trouble.
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With my family for a Christmas day out

In Effie's Garden for Dimitra's 17th birthday

My two families - English and Greek
I saw them by Sydney Harbour

‘The basic premise of Greekness, the fundamental identity of the individual and the family is the motive power of art.” p.190
I look up from where I’m reading Richard’s book, still in my nightdress, sat on the balcony, enjoying the sun as it dries the dew settled on tables and chairs overnight. Staring up, shielding my eyes, a perfect double vapour trail pours from a tiny translucent brooch travelling in the azure over the island at 45° toward the rain gutter just above my head. The lines intersect. The plane vanishes, its muted rumble, just perceptible, continues until having enveloped the landscape, it jumps the mountain behind the village. The trail dissolves almost at once. Richard Pine writes of ‘unease’ in this land (p.190-191) about ‘authenticity and continuity’, ‘especially when “authentic” classical art is so different from 'authentic” classical culture’. In the previous chapter he speaks of having lost the will to live after Greece’s light was yet again hailed as ‘luminous’ during an 11 minute travelogue Gods, Myths, Heroes, designed in 2015 to promote tourism. ‘Crassly clichéd and juvenile I shrank in disbelief as I watched it’.
Richard may have been steeped, at the same school as I long ago, in the wondrous normality of classical Greece. That connection, that sublime marble head we were given in childhood and youth, is an irrevocable gift – a discipline and guide for life and death, anywhere - despite its steady excision from the syllabus of contemporary British education. But Richard’s alert to the truism that when we – who’s we? -  touch down on the concrete of Athens, Corfu, Lesbos (carefully screened from Middle Eastern refugees) or a hundred other tourist destinations we’ll be unlikely to find ourselves, as the travelogue promises, walking ‘through the forest with Artemis by our side’ noticing that the ‘olive trees that dot the landscape are the gift of Athena.’ (p.184). Richard says the tourist could be pointed towards Greece today, a place and state of mind that, given the economic and social depression of the times, could benefit from wise marketing. Instead there’s that ‘marble head’ still held – of which George Seferis said, complained, 80 years ago, “it exhausts my elbow and I don’t know where to put it down”.
Extract from Aristeidis Metallinos' The Vendor in the Village  - cat. 222

Extract from Aristeidis Metallinos' The Vendor in the Village 

Extract from Aristeidis Metallinos' The Vendor in the Village 

Extract from Aristeidis Metallinos' The Vendor in the Village 
Richard’s explorations interest me greatly for the reason that he returns several times to the various ways Greek artists, in recent times, have found places to rest that marble head, looking back to other springs than those rising from the ‘Glory that was Greece’, looking to more recent pasts, influenced by individuals and events that had as much as and more to do with the character of Modern Greece. He refers to the Cretan epic poem Erotókritos; to the Ionian poet Dionysios Solomos who wrote the words of the National Anthem; ...
to tavern ballads, fuelling ‘the desire by writers to regard the demotic, the life of the peasant and the village (or, today, the small urban community), as the thesaurus of their imagination and their confrontation with reality.’(p.191)
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Since I learned Delta Leisure, retailer of my stepfather’s DVDs, has gone into liquidation, I’ve been sending emails and making phone calls, to find out what’s happening with the company’s unsold stock of Out of Town DVDs as well as the whereabouts of master copies, art work, as well exploring the possibility of recovering unpaid royalties owed me on DVDs the company sold the first half of 2015. The process is slow - in part because Delta seem to have been selling off stock, including - without permission - films I’d licenced to them, in an effort to maintain cash flow before their bank pulled the plug. I’m not the only creditor in the dark.
Charles Webster emailed me the news before it became official and suggested I hurry to rescind my licence on the basis of insolvency and breach of contract and retrieve as much of my property as possible via the liquidator Meghan Andrews of Wilkins Kennedy LLP. It took two phone calls to get a response from her, after emails with hard copies of letters and legal attachments to follow, went unacknowledged. Her letter on 20th Oct:
Simon, I refer to your email below and our telephone conversation this morning. Firstly, please accept my apologies for the delay in responding to your correspondence. As discussed, on 21 September 2015 the Joint Administrators sold the Company’s stock and intellectual property to Vivat Direct Limited and Simply Media TV Limited respectively. Please note that the sales of these assets were only subject to such right, title and interest as the Company held in the same and as such cannot over-ride any contractual terms between yourself and the Company.  Please contact (she gives a name and contact details) regarding your masters and any stock that was subject to your contract with the Company. With regards to the monies owed to you in relation to the royalties that accrued in the period January to July 2015, this will constitute your unsecured claim in the Administration and I have attached a proof of debt form in this regard for your completion. Please be advised that I do not know if the Company’s records are sufficient for me to be able to advise you on the sales in the period to Administration and I am currently making enquiries in this respect for other licensors and so will advise you once I have established the position. Kind Regards
Contacting Gary Hopkins of SimplyMedia to confirm termination of licence, to caution against illegal sales of ‘Out of Town’ material as a breach of my rights and ask where I can find and collect OOT stock...I was sent a spreadsheet showing the whereabouts of separate batches of Delta stock...
Dear Gary. Thanks for that reply and spreadsheet. I will examine it carefully and come back to you if I have further questions. Delta seem to have been very ‘busy' with my material from July onward, making its recovery more complicated than I anticipated. I will start the process of collecting OOT material when I get back to UK, allowing for the delays you mention in your last letter. I attach the letter to Meghan Andrews of 20th Oct. It supplemented the other two letters I copied to you, seeking a written confirmation of what I had been told by Meghan over the phone. She and her organisation have not been especially efficient at answering my communications I’m afraid. Kind regards, Simon
Hi Simon. Obviously I am not privy to what Delta were doing in their final months, but I suspect you are better off without them. I have just had a look at the Delta sales spreadsheet and one customer  is shown as purchasing 3,728 units of OOT titles in August, having never purchased before. We did happen to see an invoice to this company which included 1,600 units of OOT stock - there was a bit of a story to it….
I don't know if that helps at all  in terms of Delta having been very "busy"? regards, G
Clearly there’s lots of work to do, including looking out for pirate sales of that last minute purchase of liquidated Delta stock to which Gary refers, as well as arranging to pick up a small amount of material from Cinram Logistics in Aylesbury, 255 units of OOT stock from MAM Logistics Group in Winsford, Cheshire and what appears to be much unsorted unspecified stock – in deep storage - from a warehouse provider in Milton Keynes – this latter not until the New Year, rescued it seems from destruction by Delta’s warehouse provider.
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I got news - 28th Oct - from Nicci Collins, that Handsworth Helping Hands’ (HHH) applications for the ‘Four Avenues Project’ for which John Rose and I submitted an application in July, has been approved.
Dear Simon. Re: - Application for Funding - Birmingham West & Central Local Community Safety Partnership; Small Grants Fund. Following your recent application, I am pleased to confirm that you have been awarded funding of £2140 for your Handsworth Helping Hands project. To finalise this, please…
…Nicci lists requests for a copy of our latest bank statement, our constitution, our policy statement on protection of children and vulnerable people, our latest DBS certificates, and an invoice that includes the number with which HHH is registered with Birmingham City Council’s Voyager system All these are digitised so that’s all straightforward. When this project is completed, HHH must also be ready to complete an account of how we have spent the grant and how far our proposed project has achieved its aims - a reasonable request.
“Now” as Lin points out “we have to do the work”
She's already reminding me of how swiftly £2140 can be used up. I've got to see if the researcher we lined up 4 months ago is still available, otherwise we must quickly find another. I've no illusions as to how easy it is to say you will do ‘some research’. Actually doing it is another matter. I think of how tricky it may be to draw out useful generalisations as to opinions among our inchoate, polyglot, transient and hyper-diverse population. We should still try.
This project focuses on two of Birmingham Community Safety Partnership’s priorities – mobilising communities and helping vulnerable people. HHH’s plan is to carry out a variety of activities that draw on HHH’s existing skills and experience in managing ‘Clean-up Green-up’ projects with local people in four specific places – Brackley Avenue B20 3RG, Putney Avenue B20 3QU, Poplar Avenue B20 3QQ and Crompton Avenue B20 3QR, supported by research that offers the prospect of discovering how best to ensure that improvements made in these areas will last.
Recovery: With or without research these projects can start, as with other work we do in Handsworth, with one-off removal of mattresses and other bulky waste from residents unable to afford the services, accompanied by general waste accumulation clearance and street and alley tidying, no longer reliably carried out by the Council. In this stage our chief expenditure will be the provision of skips and their collection and removal, in partnership with BCC Fleet and Waste Management where skips risk over-filling.
Improvement: By ‘green-up’ we add to our ‘clean-up’ activities by drawing on the results of our research ‘reconnaissance’, to make environmental improvements such as make-overs of domestic frontages, including the provision, at the start of the 2016 growing season, of hanging baskets and pots as well as small repairs such as fence mending and gate hinge replacement. We also plan, with the involvement of local residents, to recover - with flowering evergreen shrubs - and weeding, currently overgrown street planters and other neglected public amenities for which no-one currently owns responsibility.
Continuity: To give continuity to our current local improvement work in Handsworth and add value to what we do, HHH plans to begin this project by investing £400 from the Small Grants Fund to employ a researcher. This will represent an agreed 50 hours research door-knocking and analysis exercise to find out what factors, including HHH activity, most encourage local people to assist us when we start working, to stay with us as well as continuing the improvements HHH volunteers have, with residents, been able to achieve in the four avenues. Additional measures contributing to continuity are those which improve upon the ‘recovery’ activities, involving equipment and materials such as plants, hanging baskets, compost, weed suppressant, pegs, and, where appropriate, kneelers, gloves, and small gardening tools to be used by us (three of us having extensive gardening and landscaping experience) and where requested, left with residents, sometimes in return for a donation. 
On the separate matter of a further grant to HHH from The Handsworth Charity, overseen by St Mary’s Parish Committee, to provide upkeep of our van during 2016-17, prospects seem good. That looks so simple compared to the ‘Four Avenues’ endeavour. It hardly matters whether our grant is small, like the one we’ve just won, or large. I see so many far larger sums of money seemingly disappearing into the black hole of apathy, inefficiency, incompetence and dubious and even outright corruption, that I’d rather work with a relatively small sum on a forlorn hope. If we don’t succeed the money will still be accounted for and little wasted. If we do succeed, we will have learned how to use a larger sum better.
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The Loveridges - descendants of the Gypsies evicted from the Black Patch in the 1900s, now supporters of the FoBPP
My friend Phil Crumpton from Smethwick keeps me in touch with any goings on about Black Patch Park. He send me a press story about the initiative the Friends of BPP told me to pursue – suggesting the Black Patch be brought into Birmingham’s Soho Ward. It’s a long shot but the Local Government Boundary Commission are redrawing wards in Birmingham. They might just give attention to the possibility of changing the profile of a peripheral Birmingham ward to take in the few extra acres of the Black Patch. There’d be no more cash from Birmingham than there’s been from Sandwell MBC but we might get a little more political traction on the future of a Birmingham Park than a Sandwell, who might be glad to be free of the cash they spend trying to stop the park and its surrounding streets being a long term fly-tipping magnet.
Black Patch Park and the Merry Hill Allotments in Soho & Victoria Ward, Sandwell MBC - on the border of Birmingham

August 3, 2015 10:19 pm...The main problem with this lovely little park is that no-one opens their window or front door on it. People who once lived around the Black Patch and would bring pressure to keep it clean and welcoming have moved or been moved away. The area is designated for industry, despite having all the infrastructure (metro, buses, roads, local schools and the cycle path along the nearby Birmingham Mainline canal) needed for badly needed housing all around it. The place is rich with mature trees and wildlife. A green oasis in a rough area. I love the Black Patch and find it magical - even with the fly-tipping inside and out (not just travellers'). The connection to history - Charlie Chaplin's likely birthplace, the Soho Foundry, the long association with the Romany, evicted from it in 1907 to create a 'recreation ground' - are a bonus but what the park needs is users. It doesn't help that the park is in Sandwell's Soho and Victoria Ward, when most of its users are in Birmingham's Soho Ward. It was once a Birmingham Park. it could be again. I wonder if Sandwell MBC really want the Black Patch. It's a headache. They've no money to spend on this historic space in an odd corner of their Borough

Express and Star 11th Oct 2015 - Campaigners: Let city run historic Smethwick park

Residents say Black Patch Park in Smethwick – believed to be the birthplace of Charlie Chaplin – has been neglected, with rubbish scattered around it on a regular basis. Although Sandwell Council has removed waste that has been dumped on several occasions, protestors and local residents believe the park has been in a state of decline for some time.
As the park is close the Birmingham border, many in the area believe it would be beneficial for it to be swallowed up by the second city.
Contact has already been made with Birmingham councillor Sharon Thompson to discuss the idea. The boundaries in Birmingham are set to change in 2018, with people being asked what they would like to see changed as part of a public consultation.
Charlie Chaplin’s son Michael made a prestigious trip to the park in August to unveil a new monument but was forced to trudge through rubbish as he made his way through the park, to the embarrassment of visitors.
Some people living in the area believe the park is not as well-maintained as others in Sandwell.
Simon Baddeley, a founder member of the Friends of Black Patch Park group, said: “There is a certain logic to it. It was a Birmingham park until the 1950s and many of the people who use it are from Birmingham. There are no votes in that park for Sandwell, it is right in a little corner of the borough and they have other parks to look after. I would think Sandwell would be glad to be rid of the headache.”
Councillor Thompson, who represents the Soho ward on Birmingham City Council, just over the border from Smethwick, suggested a move might not be out of the question.
She said: “It’s not that simple, it would be down the Boundary Commission. There is a consultation around boundaries in general and the public have been invited to take part in that consultation. If people have concerns about Black Patch Park and have justifiable reasons why it should be in the Soho ward they should contribute towards that consultation.
Cllr Sharon Thompson, Soho Ward, in Birmingham City Centre
“If Black Patch Park came into my ward I would obviously work with local residents to try and help them with anything they wanted to do.”
Sandwell Council said it was not aware of any plans to change who has responsibility for Black Patch Park and said the fact it has cleared up five tonnes of rubbish this week had demonstrated its commitment to it.
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Beside the wheelie bins on the carpark in Ano Korakiana someone had dumped a high quality children's mattress - metal sprung between sturdy layers of coconut matting. Naturally it came home with us. With some difficulty I removed the zipped cover and washed it, removing two rain rust stains and minor dirt. Then came the twenty minute task of getting the cover back on....

...I struggled.
"Give it here!"
Lin took over, turned the cover inside out and starting at one end we tugged the cover back on and zipped it up.
"That'll be just right for Hannah next time she's here"
How utterly outside the market are our DIY endeavours. Amy found some abandoned wooden shutters in a rubbish pile at the back of the beach we enjoyed at Sidari a few weeks ago.
Our favourite Sidari beach - out of season
Lin said “They could do for our bathroom window. The rain drives in there under the metal window frame, Mosquitoes get in, despite the lace curtain, if we leave the window open to get rid of condensation. The place is the dampest room in the house.”
Two weeks later two of the shutters, a hinged pair meant for one side of a larger window, have been cut to size, with much offering up, heavy sanding to give a gradient on the closing edges and some chipping of the render round the window.

Small patches of rot at the bottom edge of each shutter were cut out with the multicutter - what a tool that is -
 ...and hard wood plugs made up to insert and glue in place after the holes had been thoroughly painted with preservative; the surface smoothed with a sander. Lin repaired all other small cracks with silicone filler, after which I did further sanding, including each surface of 44 louvre slats. I inserted a latch; inset, again with the multicutter, to avoid colliding with the mosquito net that must go between window and shutters. Lin applied undercoat to both shutters. After this had dried, came two coats, all over, of rich Corfu green gloss.
My first attempt to attach an upright inside the window on which the shutters would swing failed; my drilling for holes for rawlplugs breaking away chunks of render and the roughened edges of loosely mortared air bricks. Moving the upright in an inch, I found holding, made firmer with strong glue in the drilled holes and around rawlplugs. The upright was treated with anti-termite and woodworm liquid followed by preservative, then undercoat, then two coats of Corfu gloss. My multi-tool made easy work of cutting the insets for two recovered male hinges, but of course now the upright was lodged inside the window aperture. The only way to get the shutters in and out to offer them up entailed unscrewing and rescrewing the hinges. I’m glad of an electric screwdriver.
To work on the shutters I climb carefully out of the kitchen window and stand in the narrow space between our house and the neighbour’s wall. Lin can also pass tools out to through the bathroom window. We got the hire-car back on Thursday, so I drove down to a window shop on the road to the airport. Showing the craftsman a diagram with measurements he made me a mosquito net on a spring runner as I watched. At last some cash involved! €40 but he had no change. I drove a mile or so around a complicated one-way system until I found a sweet shop where I got €10 of pralines and change for my €50 note. I’d previously tried for change from a Fistaria ordering two souvlakia but before I could present my note a priest entered and ordered a box of roast chicken that was already piping from the grill. He handed over a large note, using up all the change in the till. I ended up paying for my order – delicious, but only €2.50, with the last of my small change.
Back home with the mosquito net I set about the work of fitting the side pieces and the net holder inside the window aperture in the small gap between the shutters and the window; a near perfect fit, but the space lacked a single true right-angle as I knew. I lined up four rawlplugged holes on each side with small wood slivers steadying the framework. It was finally in place but the spring had somehow gone right out of the wind up roller. The mosquito frame and net will have to go back to the shop on Monday, except that’s the day I’ve also arranged for the professional I’ve found - contrary to Lin’s wishes, she thinking we can do it ourselves – to destroy the wasps in the roof above our heads which needs to be recovered beneath its tiles, a job for which I’m also hoping to get a quote on Monday morning.
Lin sent this picture for our wedding anniversary - 31st Oct 1978 or was it '79? Whatever

Friday, 23 October 2015


Linda and Angeliki working on a catalogue - May 2015

I would like to thank my dear friends SIMON and LINDA BADDELEY for the valuable and disinterested* assistance they have given me in bringing to public notice the works of the self-taught Corfiot sculptor, my grandfather, Aristeidis Metallinos. At the same time I would like to emphasise that the project to make my grandfather better known is conducted with no wish on my part for personal or financial gain.
 Angeliki Metallinou
Αγγελική Μεταλληνού
*Disinterested doesn't mean 'uninterested'. The literal translation of 'αφιλοκερδή' is 'non-profit' but that looked a little awkward.

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The Calf Bearer 570BC - Acropolis Museum, Athens 
My review of Richard Pine's Greece through Irish eyes (Liffey:Dublin 2015)
Comparing Greece and Ireland, Richard Pine sees two countries “each proud of its own independence from the age old dominant neighbour; proud of its historic contribution to European culture…(but)…deeply ambivalent about their role in Europe and about the loss of sovereignty to supervening powers…’
His chief conclusion is also a proposition - that ‘there are many faults in the Greek system, but not, I believe in the Greek character” (xiii) - ditto Ireland. The next 380 pages are devoted to exploring this conclusion – not through a British or American gaze but out of forty years living and working in Ireland ‘on the rim – (like Greece) - of a fragile Europe’. The author claims three purposes – to give Irish readers a glimpse of Greek character and Greek history; to suggest parallels in the circumstances of Greece and Ireland; and for the author to explain why he loves Greece, the land he’s chosen for his ‘final exile’ - where he’d wish to be buried.
The book is, he writes, ‘an argument’ not ‘a travel brochure’. It meanders with reassuring confidence towards its findings about ‘Greekness’ ελλενικότιτα – about the land of the Hellenes as an accretion of geographical and philosophical ideas, a singularity of place and mind. Reading and re-reading it, as I do, with enjoyment and respect, is like starting at sea – the way I would prefer to make landfall on Greece - and seeking a source river from one of many delta streams.
This book is far better than a collated reworking of Pine’s journalism, though it has most of its readability. The book’s conclusions, as I’ve said, are in the sections with which it begins. There’s a ‘preface’ from the deputy editor of The Irish Times explaining how ‘Greece through Irish Eyes’ derives from the newspaper’s regular publication - since the current Greek crisis started making news in 2010 - of Richard Pine’s ‘Letters from Greece’; his letters ‘home’, where he married and where his daughters live. There’s a 6 page pre-publication ‘update’ slipped in by the author - ‘Three tense weeks in July’ - to include an account of ‘lessons learned and unlearned’ between the author completing this latest book in March and Liffey’s printing deadline in July 2015. There are ‘Acknowledgments’; 4 pages alone – Irish and Greek names predominant, journalists, academics, artists, cooks, friends, eating places, books, newspapers, journals. Add to these sections, but at the back of the book, an efficient 10 page index, 21 pages of suggestions for ‘Further Reading’, a 5 page ‘Appendix’ listing ‘What the Greeks Did for Us’, and 28 pages of ‘Endnotes’, sourcing and enlarging, with reference and anecdote, the thought, research and imaginative observation that infuse this book’s 10 chapters, spiced with well chosen black and white images including 3 maps, one showing the expanding territories, and sudden fatal contraction, in 1922, of Modern Greece, since her Independence in 1832. A browser on Google Books, Amazon or in an actual bookshop, minded to read further may do so with the confidence they’ve bought themselves a gift of the weightiest light reading - in English - on Greece in recent times, an offering of insight into ‘perennials’ that show the EU, the IMF, the ECB, the Finance Ministers of Europe, as no more than blips ‘on the radar of Mediterranean history’ (p.xii); a vade mecum for anyone seeking contrary facts, complicating interpretations and rebuttals to spice daily servings from the world media, dinner conversations and pub talk of ‘Greek crisis’ clichés.
Pine aspires to draw his understanding of, and feelings about, Greece from Chekov’s maxim – that you learn about life by concentrating on what you observe of it through your window’s view of your street – in Pine’s case the one that runs through the Corfiot village of Perithia in a house called ‘Home-as-if’ – friendlier in Greek as ‘Villa Ipothesi’. ‘Mon Repos’ it is not.
Behind Pine’s desk I suspect shelves of probably the most extensive library of books about Greece – and Ireland – now held by any foreigner to those lands. Pine reads and writes classical Greek, lectures at the local Ionian University and was a founder, and for 12 years, Director of the Durrell School in Corfu town.
Still English, he shares with his two adopted countries the revels of polemic. His regular informed criticism of Greek governance, disparagements he shares with vast numbers of ordinary Greeks, not a few quoted in the book, drew informal protest from the Greek ambassador to Ireland. His understanding of modern Greek culture is evidenced by his own perceptions leavened by constant quotes from and reference to Greek writers, poets, film-makers, musicians, dramatists, cooks, journalists and scholars, far too few of whose works are, as he says, accessible outside Greece, let alone translated into English or other languages. Pine’s overview – ‘Brief History Lessons’ (Chap 2)  - of the short-lived, conflictful and deficit-ridden story of Modern Greece, is as illuminating and disciplined a précis of the last 181 years as any I’ve read. Read it first?
The book is timely for me. I now find the Greece I know and love more familiar than my home of over 30 years in the inner suburbs of Birmingham – which I also love. In Corfu I see so many foreigners rather like myself. Notices, menus especially, are in English or ‘Greeklish’ (Greek written phonetically in the Latin alphabet). I can sometimes order fish and chips with mushy peas (very nice); vinegar beside HP sauce on the table. Above a bar, serving the same lagers I avoid in the UK, a flat screen circulates news of the world delivered in loud voices from familiar faces between bouts of pop and football. For the holiday-maker ‘Greekness’, in many resorts, comes on Friday evening as a ‘Greek night’ with ‘dancing and plate-smashing’. A thousand miles north west, amid the imploded Empire that is urban Britain, I see men and boys in djellabas leaving their mosques, women in black wearing veils over all but part of their faces, Sikhs in turbans going to the Gurdwara, woolly hats in the national colours of Jamaica, dreadlocks, weave, Somalians, Eritreans, Kurds, Iraqis, Syrians escaping war and poverty in Africa and the Middle East, and, since EU enlargement, Poles, Roma from Rumania, Lithuanians, Bulgarians, Ukrainians, Turks, even Moldovans, plus Christians from Vietnam – the Handsworth’s bouillabaisse, myriad languages and dialects, beginner’s English, becoming Brummie accented.
Richard Pine’s book strips from my present Greece the surface of modernism and over-familiarity, part demanded by tourists. Reminding me of the nation’s foreignness, he evokes the ‘otherness’ of the ‘wondrous land’, conjuring, with his writing and reference, the sense of place and people I encountered and found so strange and exciting in my youth, in the 1950s, before tourism turned Greece into a product, put prices on its mysteries, and before, much more recently, the EU with, until now, fulsome Greek compliance, strove to curb its dissimilarities, harmonise its discordances and drive its young into the Greek diaspora for hope and opportunity.
Pine’s book turns things that have become the fodder of signage back into Delphic hints, ambiguities and confusions, arguing, with many examples, the differences at the core of ‘Greekness’ - the extent to which these dissimilarities are not understood, acknowledged or even perceived by other Europeans, especially Finance Ministers and the northern European populations on whose votes they depend and who have, happily or grudgingly, embraced the common-sense of geo-finance.
Richard Pine has said, in other books, that a writer, whatever their theme, is invariably writing about themselves. Pine is writing to explain to himself why he loves Greece; why he is a Philhellene. Although he answers, in entertaining detail, many shared questions about Greece’s history, economy and culture, a reader drawn into the book - seduced into exploring the many-streamed delta - may be frustrated or delighted to find more questions raised than answered. Pine is not alone in knowing the difficulty of trying to explain love, even to yourself. In the meantime do you want fish and chips, an ‘all-day’ English breakfast, baked beans on toast, cheese burger and pizza or stiffado, pastitsia, spanakopita, feta, kokoretsi and horta?
The book finishes with a generalisation – the kind of observation a host may make to signal to their guests it’s time to be heading home: ‘My Western eyes show me that what I saw in Ireland in term of physical beauty is matched and, perhaps, excelled by that of Greece…that the problems of Greek society in this global world are present also in Ireland: the emptiness of politics, the corruption high and low. But is this not true of almost all modern states? And many of those can offer nothing like the charms of either Greece or Ireland’ (p.321). 
Landfall on Greece 1962
James Chatto, 30 years living in Loutses, Corfu, saw this review after reading the book:
Dear Richard. I’m sitting in a hotel room in Regina, Saskatchewan, having just reached the end of your book – and having just read the excellent review and interview you shared. I must heartily congratulate you on your achievement! Greece Through Irish Eyes is remarkable – learned, eminently readable and, most importantly, true. It really should be required reading for anyone who spends time in Greece or claims some experience of the place. I very much enjoyed the way you traced the triumphs and crises of the country back to its formation so convincingly and you have given me a picture of Greece’s relationship with the troika that I did not have before. Like you, I love the place even though it often exasperates and dismays me, and I mourn the village life... 
The family in the village by Aristeidis Metallinos of Ano Korakiana 1986 cat. M r 40 x 64 (photo: Anastasios Nikolouzos)
...that seemed so much more robust and complete when I first encountered it at the end of the 1970s. I think you have found a perfect position from which to provide perspectives into the past and also to observe Greece’s contemporary place in Europe. You have filled in many shameful gaps in my knowledge of modern Greek culture and formed a fascinating net of connections that really do build up into a structure of understanding. You have also left me wishing I knew more of Irish politics, hinting at parallels that I must now try to follow up, to understand the allusions properly.
I do hope someone is going to translate this into Greek so that our friends there can read what you have to say about them. Perhaps they will be surprised that a xenos can have such a sensitive and multi-dimensional view of their Greekness and the current predicaments they face in Europe and in themselves.
I agree with your reviewer about the status of this book – it is the one to read first, pulling no punches and refusing to oversimplify. Did I mention it was also a pleasure to read – seasoned with just the right amount of wry wit and profiting no end from your own inclusion as a character in the narrative.
Thank you for writing it! It deserves a much broader success than the obvious constituencies of Irish and Greek readers will give it. All the best...

Sunday, 18 October 2015


Birmingham to Corfu - 1100 miles
Evening – less than two weeks ago - Lin and I drank red wine outside Piatsa, Lightning and thunder roamed back and forth behind Trompetta, now and then a forked flash lit the 100 yards of Democracy Street leading up to and past the bar. Lin wondered why planes didn’t get harmed by lightning and hoped the storm would have passed before the family arrived.
Stamati said “I am doing something new, Simon. Tomorrow I will have Wifi
“Oh no” said Lin “You’ll never get him out of here!”
When the rain came we went inside, to watch the last episodes of Boardwalk Empire. Earlier I’d glimpsed the lights of a plane descending below the high ground between us and the city.
After a light supper I phoned Amy.
“We’re just passing the Old Fort. We had to circle until the lighting moved on”
Around 11.30, an exciting bit on the film.
“I heard a car” said Lin. She went to the street-side balcony.
“Turn on the porch and veranda lights! Hurry up” she said stepping carefully but swiftly down our shadowed steps among wet leaves and up to the car stopped, doors open, on Democracy Street.
By the time I’d lit the house they were upon us – Oliver ahead, Amy holding Hannah and a suitcase, Lin with another suitcase. Guy off to park the car they’d picked up at the airport.
“Hullo Oliver. A kiss?” 
He kissed me. I hugged Amy. Kissed Hannah. Bags into the downstairs bedroom. Then chatting in the hallway and then all into the bedroom, Hannah in the cot we’d readied, bouncing with the suspended mobile turning slowly to her pleasure; suspended like me.
“There’s a cold beer waiting, Guy”
Lin made cheese and bacon toasties. We sat around the table in the dining room. 
“Let them cool down” she said to Oliver and to me before passing small sliced pieces to Hannah.
And Richard comes tomorrow.
“We’ll go down to their airport in the morning and pick him up” said Guy “We need to change the large car for two smaller”
**** ****
“Autumn has infiltrated summer!” I said to Vanley on the allotments on an afternoon in early September. Vine leaves were turning to red and yellow even as the black grapes sweetened. Dew was no longer dried off by mid-morning. South-west winds were sweeping a little more strongly across the Victoria Jubilee rousing the trees in Handsworth Park, especially the beech and lime overhanging an unworked corner of my neighbour’s plot. Leaves were starting to drop - to be collected for mould and, burned, for ash. In England September mirrors April with promises of the season to come; cruelties in April are solace in September, unless like us, flown 1100 miles south, we returned to summer in Greece to bring in sun-dried washing, wearing not even a sheet over us at night, nor even nightwear, swimming in sea only starting to cool after the blazing heat of June, July, and August.
With what attentiveness we both prepared the house for our guests, for Valerie come from late winter in New Zealand, then, in early October, the family, Amy, Guy, Oliver over three and Hannah just over one year. I check the diary for times and flight numbers, and, when we’re on Wifi, I review the weather forecasts for their time with us. Litter fallen and blown down the common path beside our house is bagged, weeds in cracks removed; greenery beside the track below the house is cut back; wisteria and the bougainvillea pruned with the extending loppers – then chopped up more to fill six big black plastic sacks with leafy thorned branches taken to the municipal wheelie bins on Democracy Street; our small plaka-ed garden is trimmed of brittled vine branches and heat-shrivelled grapes. I pull out overhanging Canna Lilies, cut back spiked lemon branches; sweeping dark withered lemon shells, leaves and twigs to blacken and rot on the compost. The plaka below the veranda, where, on arrival from England, we suspend a bright blue canvas to divert rain falling through the decking above, is washed and swept - several times; shutters are eased open, wiped – old webs vacuumed away; window ledges brushed and cleaned of dust; windows strenuously polished to remove a film of dried sandy rain. 
We are as assiduous indoors – every corner in all dimensions checked for ‘spider-dust’ (Oliver’s word), sucked away with apologies to spiders and harvesters; surfaces pursued with dusters and polished; carpets hung out and beaten from the balcony; tile and marble floors mopped – the bathroom cleaned on hands and knees, lavatory bowl scrubbed as far as a hand can reach (minimal use of bleach to spare the soakaway); sheets, pillow cases, quilt covers, and even a pillow, are washed and hung out to dry in warm wind and sun. Beds are moved so that occasional objects can be recovered and disposed of or restored to their places – screwed up tissues, parts of toys, a dusty bra slipped far under the bed. Stains on the floor missed a few months ago are wiped away. Toys, baby blankets and sheets brought out; a high chair and two cots unfolded, safety-gate secured between wall and newel post at the top of the stairs; an old cot side tied with reef knots to the banisters where, without it, a child could fall through; car seat brought out of storage; Oliver’s room made neat; loungers laid out on the large balcony, with tables and umbrella holders. A spare mattress is tugged from under a bed for Richard to sleep in part of the sitting room. Nooks and crannies under and behind large objects like the fridge freezer and stove are searched and cleared. Linda wonders about ways of disposing of a wasp nest entered via the eaves and sitting under the roof tiles above our bedroom. We hear their fanning at night – like heavy breathing, behind the tongue and groove over our heads.
“I can hear them eating the wood” she says.
From the balcony via a piece of fluepipe extended above us toward the nest’s entry we try spraying wasps with insecticide. Indoors the colony hums over an hour with rage and fear.
“We’ve just pissed them off”
“Leave them alone. They’ve not bothered us so far” I say
Having already done the same in our room after, several years ago, I was twice woken in the dark after being stung on the face, Lin satisfies herself that every crack and knothole in Oliver’s room, next to ours, is filled with silicone and flakes of polystyrene. The house is readied.
*** *** ***

Now winter’s coming here. Sokraki is in low cloud above Ano Korakiana. Sun beams angled through grey cloud decorate the sea with pools of silver. There's mist above and below us at sunrise.

They're gone - first Richard, who flew in for a week, a day after the others arrived; I dropped him at the airport on Thursday. We had two more days of children, until they too went on a Saturday morning. We left our two cars with the hire company by departures at Kapodistria. The family hugged and kissed me and strolled with their luggage into the busy concourse. I unfolded my bike and cycled into the city to catch a Green Bus home. Despite the timetable’s claim, none ran this Saturday to Ano Korakiana, so I took one to Paleokastritsa, getting down at Doctor’s Bridge. Twice the chain slipped off. My hands were oily easing it on again. I cycled most of the last two miles to the village, cheered up by several neighbours waving from their cars. I walked up the steep path to our quiet house.  
We were soon clearing beds, piling up washing for when the showers stopped; putting away toys.
“Did we waste any of that time with them?”
“We stayed up very late every morning” said Lin
“Yes but that was Guy and Amy’s holiday. Getting our help with the children too. And Richard did loads of good things during his week!...I miss all that noise…Well, I do and I don’t”
She nods.
“We had some good walks – down to Ipsos by back roads with Richard. After that meal at Strapunto, Amy and I walked back to the village in the dark. We’ve been out plenty and had good meals here. Been to Kanoni, to the city, had ice creams there and at Emeral, been to empty closed Sidari for swimming on ‘our’ beach. Did you see? Oliver’s no longer scared of seaweed. It’s pigeon panic now.”
“Except two days ago on Theotoki he started chasing pigeons”
“They all got bitten by mosquitos playing in the sand…paddling into the evening at Kontokali beach. Remember how hard the wind blew when we had giros and souvlaki by the shore by the Venetian Arsenal? We went up to Kaiser’s Throne...
Richard, Amy and Simon on the terrace of the Levant, Pelekas

...and had a very late lunch at Vasilik’s Akropolis at joined tables on a concrete roof above Pelekas. That time I was so grumpy about not going to have a picnic at Palia Sinies we ended up exploring the Byzantine fortress at Kassiopi...

We walked around the old walls of the castle

...which we’ve never seen…I didn’t realise just how large it was…a narrow path up from the harbour, with broken steps and rubble, up which we clambered, Guy carrying Hannah's push-chair, she held by Lin and I as we ascended. No signage, no tedious health and safety notices. I recounted, or rather invented for Oliver - several times on his constant demand 'Again!' -  stories about soldiers in the castle keeping barbaric mainland pirates away by giving them ‘ouchies’. Evenings at Piatsa. And…and…I love it that Oliver's learned the endless use of the word 'Why' ?" It reminded me of my Greek brother-in-law saying long ago  that sometimes, to that question, you must answer firmly 'Because I say so"; the more amusing because with a doctorate in philosophy that's the last question he would allow himself or credit from any other authority - his father excepted.
Hannah is a soldier in Ouchy Castle - Ollie's version of the great fortress

I had been feeling, all day and the evening before, a familiar ache in my stomach; one that comes with departures, heartache for what is no more than a temporary loss, but with the texture of mourning. Lin, who’s never believed in the chatting cure, is in a self-contained reverie, reading, snoozing and reading again, returning non-committal answers to my silence-filling “If you like” “Don’t mind”
“What’s that noise?” I say
“The fridge”
“Will you cut my hair?”
“It’s cold. Maybe in a moment”
“Would you like half a vegemite and cheese toastie?”
“No ta”
I loaded a batch of washing; hung it on the line. There was a listless breeze but enough sunny intervals for half of it to dry. The rest I put aside for hanging out tomorrow. Flies which assume the right to land on your face and body have replaced the bees of the summer. Rain has brought out mosquitoes in far greater numbers. My shirts are long sleeved. I’m wearing socks.

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