Wednesday, 14 January 2015

<Δεν είμαι ο Τσάρλι!>

Lt. Franck Brinsolaro   Officer Clarissa Jean-Philippe   Officer Ahmed Merabet


To quote Aaron Sorokin's angry, even menacing, Colonel Nathan Jessup 'most men and women sleep "under the blanket of the very freedom that I provide"'. Writing Internal Polity 20 years ago I was first struck by Joseph Conrad's observation that...
Few men realize that their life, the very essence of their character, their capabilities and their audacities, are only the expression of their belief in the safety of their surroundings. The courage, the composure, the confidence; the emotions and principles; every great and every insignificant thought belongs not to the individual but to the crowd: to the crowd that believes blindly in the irresistible force of its institutions and of its morals, in the power of its police and of its opinion. (Conrad, An Outpost of Progress in Cosmopolis (London) Vol. 7, No.XVIII (Jun 1897), p.611)
"I'm sorry we drew him again" Renald 'Luz' Luzier - the man who missed the fatal editorial meeting on 7th July because he overslept 30 minutes - chooses a much more conditional relationship with the 'blanket'; does not draw his emotions, principles, composure, courage and confidence from faith in the force and morals of social institutions or the power of the police. Many, including me, do - more than most of the time I want to admit.


Article in Dragoumanos ~ 12 Jan 2015 (English translation below)
Σε όλο τον κόσμο, και σίγουρα σε ολόκληρο to Twitter, οι άνθρωποι δείχνουν την αλληλεγγύη με τους δολοφονηθέντες δημοσιογράφους του σατιρικού γαλλικού περιοδικού Charlie Hebdo, διακηρύσσοντας σε μαύρο και άσπρο ότι μοιράζονται πάρα πολύ τις τιμές που αποδόθηκαν στους γελοιογράφους που σκοτώθηκαν. Συναισθηματικά και ηθικά είμαι απόλυτα με την εν λόγω συλλογική ηθική – αλλά στην πραγματικότητα εγώ και σχεδόν όλοι όσοι δηλώνονουν την αλληλεγγύη τους δεν είναι «Τσάρλι», γιατί απλά δεν έχουν το θάρρος τους.
Εξωφρενικά και – υπό το φως του βάρβαρου τέλους τους – από αμέλεια γενναίος. Το είδος του απίστευτα θαρραλέου ανθρώπου που πραγματικά αλλάζει τον κόσμο. Όπως σημειώνει ο Τζορτζ Μπέρναρντ Σο, ο «λογικός άνθρωπος προσαρμόζει τον εαυτό του στον κόσμο, ενώ ο παράλογος άνθρωπος επιμένει να προσπαθεί να προσαρμόσει τον κόσμο στον εαυτό του“, και ως εκ τούτου, «όλη η πρόοδος εξαρτάται από τον παράλογο άνθρωπο“. Ο Charlie Hebdo ήταν ο παράλογος άνθρωπος. Έδωσε τη μάχη, που έχει σε μεγάλο βαθμό αφεθεί στην αστυνομία και στις υπηρεσίες ασφαλείας.
Είναι ένα εύκολο πράγμα να διακηρύξει κάποιος την αλληλεγγύη μετά τη δολοφονία τους και αυτό είναι συγκινητικό να βλέπει κανείς μια τέτοια συλλογική απάντηση. Αλλά στο τέλος – όπως και τόσα άλλα παραδείγματα hashtag ακτιβισμού, όπως το #bringbackourgirls η εκστρατεία εναντίον των απαχθέντων Νιγηριανών μαθητών- δεν θα κάνει τη διαφορά, εκτός από το να μας κάνει να νιώθουμε καλύτερα. Κάποιοι βγήκαν στους δρόμους, αλλά οι περισσότεροι από αυτούς που δηλώνουν ότι είναι Charlie το έκανε αυτό μέσα από την ασφάλεια ενός κοινωνικού απολογισμού των μέσων ενημέρωσης. Εγώ δεν τους επικρίνω για την επιθυμία να κάνουν αυτό. Απλά, δεν νομίζω ότι οι περισσότεροι από εμάς έχουν κερδίσει αυτό το δικαίωμα.
Πολλοί, αν όχι οι περισσότεροι, δημοσιογράφοι αυτο λογο κρίνονται. Θα στηρίξουν την δημοσίευση εικόνων που ξέρουν πως θα θέσει σε σοβαρό κίνδυνο τον εαυτό τους ή την οργάνωσή τους – και μετά τα γεγονότα αυτής της εβδομάδας μπορεί κανείς να τους κατηγορήσει δύσκολα; Οι εταιρείες έχουν καθήκον μέριμνας για το προσωπικό τους και οι άνθρωποι έχουν καθήκον να φροντίζουν τον εαυτό τους και τις οικογένειές τους.
Είναι επίσης λογικό να μην δίνει κανείς περιττές αφορμές. Αλλά θα ήταν ανέντιμο για τους περισσότερους συγγραφείς και σκιτσογράφους να ισχυρίζονται ότι θα χλευάσουν πρόθυμα τον προφήτη Μωάμεθ, όπως θα έκαναν και για τον Ιησού. Μπορώ να εκφράζω τη λύπη μου για το γεγονός ότι τα μέσα μαζικής ενημέρωσης φοβούνται να δημοσιεύσουν μια επιθετική γελοιογραφία του προφήτη, αλλά θα ήθελα πραγματικά μία σε κάθε άρθρο που έγραψα; Γιατί παρ όλα τα γενναία μας λόγια για το πώς θα κερδίσει η ελευθερία, για το πώς δεν μπορούν να φιμώσουν σάτιρα, η σάτιρα φιμώθηκε.
Για να είσαι ο Τσάρλι θα πρέπει να είσαι έτοιμος να αψηφήσεις τις πραγματικές απειλές θανάτου και επιθέσεις με βόμβες μολότοφ. Να επιμείνετε, όπως οι δημοσιογράφοι που δολοφονήθηκαν, εν όψει των δεδομένων κινδύνων για τη ζωή σας, ενώ εργάζεστε υπό αστυνομική προστασία (οι νεκροί περιλαμβάνουν δύο αξιωματικούς). Να συνεχίσεις να δημοσιεύεις γελοιογραφίες και ανέκδοτα που ξέρετε ότι θα πυροδοτήσουν εκείνα τα άτομα που χρειάζονται μόνο λίγο υποκίνηση για να σκοτώσουν. Απαιτείται να αγαπάτε τη ζωή σας και τους φόβους για την οικογένειά σας λιγότερο από την απόλυτη αρχή της ελευθερίας. Πρέπει να είστε τόσο αποφασισμένοι να πολεμήσετε το φασισμό των φονταμενταλιστών που σας κρατούν από το να δημοσιεύσετε , όταν η ορθολογική σκέψη σας λέει να σταματήσετε. Αυτοί οι άνθρωποι δεν ήταν μόνο σατιρικοί. Ήταν μαχητές της ελευθερίας που εσκεμμένα προκαλούσαν έναν εχθρό που ήξεραν να είναι θανατηφόρος.
Κάθε χρόνο δεκάδες δημοσιογράφοι σκοτώνονται και πολλοί άλλοι τραυματίζονται εκτιθέμενοι στα πιο επικίνδυνα μέρη του κόσμου, εκθέτοντας κτηνωδία, εγκλήματα πολέμου και την αδικίας. Πέρυσι, 66 εργαζόμενοι στα μέσα ενημέρωσης έχασαν τη ζωή τους, σύμφωνα με τους Δημοσιογράφους Χωρίς Σύνορα – το ένα τρίτο από αυτούς στη Συρία και την Ουκρανία. Αυτοί οι άνθρωποι και κάποιοι πιο τυχεροί συνάδελφοί τους θα μπορούσαν να διεκδικήσουν το θάρρος να είναι ο Τσάρλι – αν και ούτε ακόμη και αυτοί θα τολμούσαν να είναι τόσο ανοιχτά προκλητικοί και οι περισσότεροι, πολύ σωστά, καταβάλουν κάθε δυνατή προσπάθεια για να ελαχιστοποιηθεί ο κίνδυνος για τους εαυτούς τους.
Αλλά εμείς οι υπόλοιποι, σαν εμένα, που κάθονται με ασφάλεια σε ένα γραφείο στη Δυτική Ευρώπη – ή όλοι όσοι σε άλλα επαγγέλματα που ποτέ δεν θα προτίθενται να λάβουν το είδος των κινδύνων που αυτοί οι Γάλλοι δημοσιογράφοι πήραν καθημερινά – δεν είμαστε Τσάρλι. Είμαστε απλά χαρούμενοι ότι κάποιος άλλος είχε το θάρρος να είναι.
Je ne suis pas Charlie. Δεν είμαι ο Τσάρλι, δεν είμαι αρκετά γενναίος



Κείμενο μεταφρασμένο από την Google και SB -.text translated by Google and SB
Je ne suis pas Charlie. I'm not Charlie, I'm not brave enough. All over the world, and certainly around to Twitter, people show solidarity with the murdered journalists of French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, proclaiming in black and white that share too the values ​​attributed to cartoonists killed. Emotionally and morally I am totally with that collective morality - but in fact I disown their solidarity. I am not 'Charlie' because I just do not have the courage.
Wildly and - in light of the brutal end - recklessly brave. The kind of incredibly courageous people who really changed the world. As noted by George Bernard Shaw, the 'reasonable man adapts himself to the world, while the unreasonable man persists in trying to adapt the world to himself,' and therefore 'all progress depends on the unreasonable man.'  Charlie Hebdo was the unreasonable man. He engaged in a battle which has largely been left to the police* and security services.
It is an easy thing to proclaim a solidarity after the murder and it is heartwarming to see such a collective response. But in the end - like so many other examples of hashtag activism, like #BringBackOurGirls campaign against Nigeria's abducted students - will not make a difference, except to make us feel better. Some took to the streets, but most of those who say they are Charlie did this through the security of a social media account. I do not criticize them for wanting to do this. I just do not think that most of us have earned that right.


I was in Trafalgar Square last Thursday; parked my bicycle in the wet to gaze

Many, if not all, journalists will resist the publication of images they know will seriously endanger themselves or their organisation - and after the events of this week can one blame them? Companies have a duty of care for their staff and people have a duty to care for themselves and their families.
It also makes sense, on some occasions, not to give in. But it would be dishonest to claim that most writers and cartoonists will willingly mock the Prophet Muhammad, as they have Jesus. Should I regret the fact that the media are afraid to publish an offensive cartoon of prophet, Would I really like one in every article I wrote? Because for all our brave words about how to win freedom; about how satire cannot be silenced, it has been.
To be Charlie I should be ready to defy actual death threats and attacks with Molotov cocktails; should insist on continuing to work, as did the murdered journalists, despite the availability of public information about their lives; to continue under police protection (the dead include two officers); to continue to publish cartoons and jokes that you know will trigger those individuals who need just a small incitement to kill; to love your life and fears for your family less than the absolute principle of freedom. You must be utterly determined to fight fascism fundamentalists, keeping to your post when rational thought tells you to stop. These people were not only satirical; they were freedom fighters who deliberately confronted an enemy they knew could kill them.
Every year dozens of journalists are killed and many others injured as bystanders in the most dangerous parts of the world, while exposing brutality, war crimes and injustice. Last year, 66 media workers were killed, according to Reporters Without Borders - one third of them in Syria and Ukraine. These people and some more fortunate colleagues could claim the courage to be Charlie - although not even they dared to be so openly provocative, and most rightly make every effort to minimise risk to themselves while continuing to work.
But the rest of us, like me, sitting safely in an office in Western Europe - or all those in other professions - would never intend to take the kind of risks these French journalists took daily - we're not Charlie. We are just happy someone else had the courage to be.
...and see the experience of Roberto Saviano, the brave journalist and 'unreasonable' man, who who exposed the global iniquity of the crime families of Naples where Linda and I were in January 2013. Eloquent Roberto Saviano struggled to find the words to describe, ‘to construct…an image of the economy’... picturing what ‘it leaves behind…as it marches onward’.
‘The most concrete emblem of every economic cycle is the dump (Ch.10 in Gomorrah: Land of Fires pp.282)…the true aftermath of consumption. The south of Italy is the end of the line for the dregs of production, useless leftovers, and toxic waste.’
From his confined world surrounded by security everywhere he goes Saviano writes tellingly of the fate that awaits unreasonable men and which I can see already being done to the dead at Charlie Hebdo...'There’s another fear, worse than anything else. It’s the fear of being discredited. It’s happened to everyone who has ever been killed for what they believe in. It’s happened to everyone who has reported crimes or told uncomfortable truths. They did it to Don Peppe Diana, the priest who was shot dead in Casal di Principe in 1994 for preaching against the mafia and threatening to refuse to give the sacraments to Camorra members.' Well organised crime doesn't involve, most of the time having to go through the messy business of killing people. You pay off those you can bribe. The others - the brave and principled - you discredit; make it look, to shallow opinion, as if their target is actually involved in gang activity, that all he or she seeks is celebrity, that this is a child molester, drug-dealer, or whatever's currently the worst to be in public dis-esteem. It's easy enough isn't it? My god! I read a comment on the Saudi whipping of Raif Badawi - another 'unreasonable man' - for blogging about free speech and secularism; arrested in Jeddah and charged with 'insulting Islam through electronic channels' and 'going beyond the realm of obedience'. "He knew the rules in Saudi. What did he expect?"

Note BBC newsletter on whether it has been or is always unacceptable within Islam to depict the Prophet. There are different rulings between Shia and Sunni.
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While thousands demonstrate for tolerance and decency in a hyper-diverse Europe, other movements have been afoot gaining support...
When up to a dozen world leaders and roughly 1.5 million people gathered in Paris on Sunday to mourn the murder of 10 editors and cartoonists of the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo and seven other people by three French-born Islamic radicals, they wanted to demonstrate that Europe will always embrace liberal and tolerant values.
But the more telling event may turn out to be a counter-rally that took place at a 17th-century town hall in Beaucaire, France, that was led by Marine Le Pen, the leader of the far-right National Front. In Beaucaire, the crowd ended Le Pen’s rally by singing the French national anthem and chanting, “This is our home.”
Le Pen is at the forefront of a European-wide nationalist resurgence — one that wants to evict from their homelands people they view as Muslim subversives. She and other far-right nationalists are seizing on some legitimate worries about Islamic militancy — 10,000 soldiers are now deployed in France as a safety measure — in order to label all Muslims as hostile to traditional European cultural and religious values. Le Pen herself has likened their presence to the Nazi occupation of France....
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Meanwhile in Handsworth in Birmingham - a Monday of street cleaning with Handsworth Helping Hands volunteers with neighbours in Hutton Road
Waseem, Carol, Denise, Hendrina, Mahmood, Mike, John, Ruth, Jimoh, Linda, Simon & Oscar dog (photo: Waseem Zaffar)


Tuesday, 9 December 2014

On the plot

"Your shed roof's collapsing, Simon" said Winnie the other day.
"Not the roof, the veranda. I'll mend it next week"
I took cordless drill, screwdriver, saw, screws and brackets out to the plot and using discarded wood - available in plenty - I cut four lengths to serve as beams attached to the veranda's original supports...
Our shed backs on to Handsworth Park
...dug out another length for a prop; pushed it under a length of the roof, heaved upwards before kicking a brick under the foot of my prop; drilled and screwed brackets on the end of each small beam and fixed them below the sag.


I've still to plant more winter onions, and early peas. This afternoon I pruned the small fruit trees taking out inward pointing branches and buds and, where possible, encouraging a higher central growth. I've got a pear, a plum, a cherry and two apple trees. In the last three years only the apples have borne fruit.

My Brussels sprouts still waiting to be picked would have been fine had I netted them earlier. As it is the harvest is mostly pecked out by pigeons.

That aside. I've got potatoes still to unearth along with Jerusalem artichokes. I'm waiting on a crop of onions planted in early September. I planted winter broad beans a week ago.
I've miles to go before becoming productive but I'm pleased with the work that's been done over the last year on improving the soil and creating paths to access the plot without treading on planting space. I've paid Taj and then Winnie to do digging and weeding when I'm away. Much will depend on what I get into the ground; how well i plant it and cane for it during January, February and March next year. I've accepted that I'm not a working man growing food for my family, but I'm uncomfortable with the notion that I'm 'a middle class hobbyist', rationale for this recent letter from Edinburgh...
ALLOTMENT PRICE HIKE WOULD BE FAIR AND AFFORDABLE
Tuesday, 4 November 2014
Dear Editor. No one likes to be confronted with a 300% price hike, which I note as you turn your guns on CEC's proposal to increase the rental on allotments (Issue 235).
I have had the pleasure of being an allotment holder in Warriston for more than 15 years and I, like many others, have wondered at the largesse of the Council for the rock bottom price of the allotment, and the gradual increase of services from rubbish clearance to toilets on the site.
Having an allotment is a hobby. After the proposed price rise the full price of a half-plot would be £155, less than a pint of beer a week. No doubt there are one or two allotment holders for whom the price rise would be too much but, in my experience, the vast majority are in employment or sturdy pensioners, like myself, and quite able to afford the new prices.
Many allotments are still full-size and a holder could halve the expense by switching to a smaller plot, which would also give someone else on the long waiting list a chance.
It is not fair to ask the Council Tax payers of Edinburgh to continue to subsidise a few fortunate allotment holders when so many other amenities, like the park at Scotland Yard which is used by hundreds every day, are crying out for additional expenditure. Yours sincerely, Hugh Lockhart (London Street)


A winter gale's blowing up

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I have just been reading the unclassified version of the report, the Senate Intelligence Committee Study on CIA Detention and Interrogation Program...
United States Senator Dianne Feinstein - a few good men

The study’s 20 findings and conclusions can be grouped into four central themes, each of which is supported extensively in the Executive Summary:
- The CIA’s 'enhanced interrogation techniques' were not effective.
- The CIA provided extensive inaccurate information about the operation of the program and its effectiveness to policymakers and the public.
- The CIA’s management of the program was inadequate and deeply flawed.
- The CIA program was far more brutal than the CIA represented to policymakers and the American public.
Apart from my doubts as to whether torture works in extracting reliable information in a 'ticking bomb' scenario, I do not wish to avoid my own or my family's death or injury through the use of so-called 'enhanced interrogation techniques'. Of course I am fearful of dying or being injured in a terrorist attack and far more fearful that any of my family should be its victims. This statement, like an AND request , is made at a point where my detachment from the reality of my own mortality and moral frailty when frightened is sufficient for me to have no reservations about stating a most personal and vital principle about my country, about democracy, about citizenship and my understanding of civilisation. I honour and respect Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Dianne Feinstein for oversight that some will consider beyond the call of duty. She can handle the truth.
That last phrase can be too easily said. I approach it as I would a minefield were I trained as a sapper. My training includes an existential tool kit. In the 90s wrote about it as much as anything to equip that tool kit. Writing Internal Polity I was so struck by Joseph Conrad's observation that...
Few men realize that their life, the very essence of their character, their capabilities and their audacities, are only the expression of their belief in the safety of their surroundings. The courage, the composure, the confidence; the emotions and principles; every great and every insignificant thought belongs not to the individual but to the crowd: to the crowd that believes blindly in the irresistible force of its institutions and of its morals, in the power of its police and of its opinion. (Conrad (1897) An Outpost of Progress in Cosmopolis (London) Vol. 7, No.XVIII (Jun 1897), pp.608-908)
This lies behind Aaron Sorkin's superb scripting of the role of US marine Colonel Nathan R. Jessup in the film A Few Good Men - a fiction created 95 years after Conrad's tale, when Colonel Jessup is goaded by Lt Daniel Kaffee into this courtroom outburst on Conrad's 'crowd', on how most men and women sleep "under the blanket of the very freedom that I provide", in other words 'the power of its police'....
Jessup: You can't handle the truth! Son, we live in a world that has walls, and those walls have to be guarded by men with guns. Who's gonna do it? You? You, Lieutenant Weinberg? I have a greater responsibility than you can possibly fathom. You weep for Santiago and you curse the Marines. You have that luxury. You have the luxury of not knowing what I know, that Santiago's death, while tragic, probably saved lives. And my existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, saves lives! You don't want the truth, because deep down in places you don't talk about at parties, you want me on that wall. You need me on that wall. We use words like "honor", "code", "loyalty". We use these words as the backbone of a life spent defending something. You use them as a punchline. I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom that I provide, and then questions the manner in which I provide it! I would rather you just said "thank you", and went on your way. Otherwise, I suggest you pick up a weapon, and stand a post. Either way, I don't give a damn what you think you are entitled to!
Weren't we discussing this last night at supper? Anyone - any adult - who thinks we are not at war just because we're sitting fairly pretty round the kitchen table is almost culpably naïve. Says Lin's best friend who lives in Mrs Miniver-land, buys the Daily Mail and makes unembarrassed use of the political pronoun 'we'...
"It's hypocritical. We drop bombs on Iraq and use drones in Afghanistan which do horrendous things most of us don't see while we're going ape about the horrible things ISIS is doing to hostages...and now it's coming out what the CIA were doing..."
"But you have to respect the US for publishing that"
"Of course"
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The balcony of the house on Democracy Street as shown in the estate agent's particulars ~ Nov 2006





Nov 2014
Mark's written after a few rainy days about our 'new' balcony as he gets closer to our plan for recovering the increasingly unstable construction, by adding new tantalised beams, turning the old beams 180° after sanding and treating them with Resolcoat, removing all the previous decking - made up of thick heavy deal beams - and storing them for firewood, and replacing them with treated hardwood grooved decking.
Hi Simon and Lin. As you can see from the photo's the decking is nearly complete. I had to go back up to Sidari for more screws, if those boxes do truly hold 200 in each box, then I have used 2 full boxes and am half way through the 3rd with a few more lengths to go down and that is without putting screws down on every beam, its nice and firm. Sally has been by today for a look and thinks it looks really nice.
Decking in place, now the railings

I now need to do the railing posts before I finish the last few lengths of decking. I bought some 8mm galvanised studded bar for securing the posts as I couldn't find bolts long enough, also because of how bad the rot is on the posts I will be putting a pad on one side to act like a new piece of wood and then the other end of the bar will have the new or refurbished beam to go against. It's going to be a bit of a mission to get it pretty secure but we shall do our best...That's it for now really the weather is on and off rain just now so I work when I can between showers if needs be. Hope all is well. Mark
...and hardly a day later...
Hi Simon and Lin. I have attached a couple of photo's of the finished balcony...as you can see the railings are all up and together as best I can do as they are in a very poor state and may need to be replaced in a year or two. I have put on, but not attached to any of the wooden upright posts, some of the brackets to show you what I think should be done on the house side of the balcony but this would mean then I would have to screw a dome head coach bolt through the decking and on the other side of the railings. it would be the same as now there is one balcony's length of  decking there also...For aesthetic reasons all except the two front corner posts would be done and also they will give all of them a very strong feel. The one post certainly needs it. I think you know the one I mean on the outside front edge on the right. It had nothing below it, so could not be attached to any of the beams. I think you have enough brackets at the house to do this so I wouldn't have to buy any more just the dome head coach bolts...I think you have enough brackets at the house to do this so I wouldn't have to buy any more  just the dome head coach bolts...Sally came up with the idea and she actually likes them on there and says it finishes the job off, but I thought I would let you decide what you would prefer. Weather here just now is fab, cold clear. I wonder when the UK weather bomb will hit us. Never heard of that before.  Hope all is well with you both. Cheerio. Mark
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First 2014 Christmas card - 'wishing you every happiness' Simon and Lin from Martin, Sandra and Adam

Well indeed! There's a place in Dr Zhivago called Varykino not far from Yuriatin. Evocative names lodged in imagination. Our Varykino has been for twenty years Rock Cottage in Lydbrook which we've allowed to fall into damp disrepair. Trying to recover it we allowed a bad builder to make it even worse. I entertained the idea of just putting this place - 150yards up a steep path on the edge of the Forest of Dean - up for auction. Our friend Steve Outram, who lives in an old converted chapel across the narrow valley from Rock Cottage on the west side of the village, has captured - always indirectly - the feel of this place...somewhere near
Steven Outram Somewhere Near
A few weeks ago, just returned from Greece, Lin and I went to Lydbrook to have a look at the work that's been going on at Rock Cottage since, in an act of special friendship, 'Team Ward' - Martin, Sandra, Adam (and his workmate Jack) took over the restoration of our precious home in the forest. A few months earlier Evolution Trees had cleared an abundance of trees growing almost up to the house endangering our connecting electric cable. One weekend in spring Lin and I cleared a few smaller trees and enveloping shrubs. Adam and Jack started work in August clearing a load of rubbish left in the garden; filling a skip at the foot of Bell Hill...
Adam and Jack in Lydbrook at the foot of Bell Hill - skip half full
...thereafter, over weekends, 'Team Ward' went down to Lydbrook, ascended the hill, and began working on the interior of the house, sending us photos and reporting on the detail of the task as it emerged. First - a renewed kitchen and bathroom. Amy and Guy have been extending their house in Birmingham. Instead of throwing away their old kitchen they gave its furnishings to us for the cottage. The iron bath was sitting in the garden needing a good scrub, but this time there would be a shower and other improvements. Each time they went down the team as well as doing redecoration also tidied, scrubbed and polished; cleaning windows, clearing cobwebs, re-plastering, removing furniture damp and mildew had rendered beyond repair. Lin and I collected a car-load of bedding to wash and dry back in Birmingham. The problem of damp upstairs seemed intractable. The team replaced guttering, riddled out compacted rotting leaves from a roof drain leading to the soak-away, moved damp logs and other debris that had piled against an end wall and left the boiler - serviced along with drained and cleaned radiators - heating the house, supported at weekends with a roaring log fire. Gradually the place has dried out, damp driven slowly away and kept at bay.
"Lots of the problem is condensation" said Martin. "Your builder applied a plastic exterior paint that locks in damp. The new windows have no vents"
We'd had windows installed that wouldn't open properly. One pane in each unit sliding out sideways. Jack, who also works for a double glazing company in the week, found us sets of hinges costing £35 the lot, that, once installed, allowed all windows to open fully. Martin made use of a ventilation latch to leave a tiny gap reducing condensation dramatically.
Third week of November; Lin and I drove south on the M5 - the old journey we'd been so used to making..
Down the M5 to Gloucestershire

Ross-on-Wye 



...turning west onto the M50 to Ross, then four miles onto the turning into Goodrich, and three more miles beside the River Wye to Lydbrook - 71 miles in under an hour and a half.
Seeing the cottage since work started in August was a joy. Exciting. There's still lots to be done but the feel of spreading dereliction is gone, replaced by the smell of new materials, of paint and plaster and dry stone. The windows are clean top to bottom - a new one with a ventilator on the bathroom where all the plumbing has been replaced; cobwebs swept, mildew disappeared, dust removed.
Linda and Martin at Rock Cottage in November
The view through the window of Rock Cottage looking down the village towards Courtfield beyond the Wye
Sandra painting in the hall
Lin and I wandered about admiring everything, then we headed for the Inn on the Wye by Kerne Bridge and happily bought lunch.
Next steps?
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As one of the QE Medical School's 1000 Elders I'm a small cog in part of their Healthy Ageing work. I've now taken part in four sessions for Rehan Junejo, who's researching the role of oxygen in the muscle blood flow changes which occur with exercise. His original request:
Can anyone help Rehan, PhD student in Medical Sciences? He is looking for 18-25 and 60-70 year-old recreationally active, healthy male volunteers for a research study on the increase in forearm blood flow that occurs with handgrip exercise. The study is being carried out within the University's Medical School under the supervision of Professor Janice Marshall and Dr Clare Ray. If you would like to participate and find out how cardiovascular measurements are made for scientific research, please contact Rehan Junejo: rtj252@bham.ac.uk
With Rehan Junejo

What's been required...
• Performing a maintained handgrip contraction until exhaustion with your dominant hand at 100% of your maximum on 2 occasions on each experiment visit.
• Recording of Heart Rate and Blood Pressure via a small cuff on a finger of your non exercising hand (non invasive procedure).
• Recording of Oxygen uptake at muscular level in your exercising arm (non invasive procedure).
• Recording blood oxygen concentrations from the skin in some of the experiments (non invasive procedure).
• Blood flow recording in the exercising arm – this involves inflating two blood pressure cuffs at roughly the same time.  A smaller (child size) cuff will be inflated around your wrist and a regular (adult size) cuff will be inflated around your upper arm. Each inflation lasts for a few seconds.  The middle part of your forearm will have a light, thin tube wrapped around it to record blood flow to the arm (non invasive procedure).
All visits last approximately 1 hour.
An additional aspect of the experiment is that for each of the four sessions I get to drink, 10 minutes before doing the handgrip exercise,  a small bottle of orange flavoured juice that may be a placebo or may contain vitamin C and, during the exercise, to breath, through a face mask, either placebo air or oxygen. While all this is going on - over an hour - Rehan has a number of films I can choose to watch, switched off during the contraction exercise - a slightly uncomfortable test of my will-power. I chose the new film The Lone Ranger, a more or less plotless sequence of impossible special effects with a more or less correct White man-Native American relationship 
Despite the producers citing the presence of an adviser from the Comanche Nation, some debated the advisability of casting of Depp as a Native American and whether the film would present a positive and accurate representation of the Comanche. Depp has stated he believes he has Native American ancestry, possibly from a great-grandmother. He has said that he considered the role a personal attempt "to try to right the wrongs of the past", in reference to portrayals of Native American culture in the media. Todd McDaniels, a linguist at the Comanche Nation College, commented favorably on Depp's attempts to speak the Comanche language, which has 25 to 30 living native speakers. “The words were there, the pronunciation was shaky, but adequate.
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A few days back I had one of my regular meetings devoted to putting the world to rights. Dave Church sometimes comes to have a pint with me at the Old Joint Stock in St Phillips Square, Birmingham, or I go to Walsall to have pint with him at the old Court House, St Matthew's Hall. Many years ago - around 1975 - when he was a left wing councillor Dave and fellow councillors from Walsall listened to a lecture I gave on 'corporate management in local government'. It was a convivial occasion but after my talk was over and we were having a drink at the bar Dave and I were chatting
"Good lecture, Simon. Very interesting. But come the revolution it's up against the wall for you"
Dave and Simon at St Matthew's Hall, Walsall (photo: Dave Yates)


We were there with Cllr Pete Smith, current Mayor of Walsall and also with a veteran from Dave's days as a Labour councillor, Bryan Powell, both, with 15 others, expelled for their break-away radicalism from the ranks of Walsall's Labour party in the mid-90s. I value and enjoy Dave's table talk on current issues, the new West Midland combined authority, the forthcoming Kerslake Review of Birmingham City Council, the de-politicisation of everything and the intimate seduction of consumerism.  I talked about the view that allotments had become an increasingly middle class activity. Dave was interested in my overview of the events of the Greek Civil War...
A pamphlet from KKE
...I showed him a booklet and how I had got it. Some years ago I'd enquired over the internet about a leaflet published by the Communist Party of Greece. Back from their Central Committee's address in Athens, in just three days, came an envelope with postage stamps bearing the words ΕΛΛΗΝΙΚΗ ΔΗΜΟΚΡΑΤΙΑ beside rich colours like the ones Dad used in 1949, when he wrote from Greece to me at school, 'Notes on the Greek Civil War (1946-1949) 60th Anniversary of the formation of the Democratic Army of Greece', with the logo of a red hammer and sickle and a greeting card with a striking painting by Maria Pesmatzoglou 'Best wishes for the new year. 90 years since the foundation of KKE. Central Committee, Communist Party of Greece.'
My Christmas card from Chris and Dave Church

The theme of trying to understand the Greek Civil War runs through my blog.
'The mainland stretched north to south in a tableau of varying greys in the damp air this morning. The shores are distinct and darker but beyond are the lighter and more distant peaks of the Grammos in Epirus - site of campaigns that 58 years ago concluded a catastrophe so terrible that even now it starts a lump in my throat to think of such happenings in a land we English have found so kind to us and of whose civility we hold such confident illusions.'
Since I wrote that in early 2007 I have been doing much reading, for example:
Thanasis D. Sfikas' book 'The British Labour Government and the Greek Civil War: The Imperialism of 'Non-Intervention' Keele University Press. 1994. Thanasis D. Sfikas, who teaches European political history at the University of Central Lancashire decribes how Britain continued to play a key role in Greek developments even after the Truman Doctrine of March 1947 had brought the Americans on the scene.
I have also been reading the work of Professor Mark Mazower who quotes a primary source for a series of formative events that were, in his scholarly view, ‘more traumatic’ for Greece than the Occupation – the British Civil Police Liaison log book in WO 170/4049 and the subsequent account of events in Syntagma Square on Sunday 3 December 1944 by 23rd Armoured Brigade in WO 204/8312 – ta dekemvriana. On that day an icon of our fight against the Nazis, the Spitfire, was strafing parts of Athens and Englishmen in English khaki were sniping at Greeks from the Acropolis and, something few knew about, ‘the percentages agreement’, informed the fate of the wondrous land. After the occupation came five years of Civil War already metastasizing inside occupied Greece, with the carcinogens of human weakness and constant fear brought on by starvation, brutalisation, grief and fear to add to the intensity of human division. And Greeks had yet to endure 'the stone years' and the armoured democracy that lasted until 1974. This has been uncomfortable reading for me and I am not giving up now. I left Dave with these reflections, to discuss when we meet again in The Old Joint Stock.
5th (Scots) Parachute Battalion, 2nd Parachute Brigade, fighting ELAS in Athens, 18 December 1944 (photo: Powell-Davies (Lt), No 2 Army Film & Photographic Unit)


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