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Monday, 24 September 2007

Bad building on Corfu

Sunday 23 Sept. This morning while Lin, who doesn’t do morning food, slept I made myself toast and very lightly scrambled fresh eggs, a mug of tea and orange juice and enjoyed breakfast under the veranda, having placed a pot of basil beside me to keep flies away. Later we went into town to bargain for flowers to put beside Kiria Leftheris’ who’s promised to water them with hers, thus hiding the stump of the external steps amputated by the previous builder. Bad things are being done to houses here – bad rebuild, bad new build. Roof joists of grossly impractical form with unnecessarily heavy purloins and ill judged joints; hollow higgledy-piggledy brick work; walls without insulation likely to leak in winter; incompetent work hidden by render, plaster, filler and paint; ungraceful imitations of Venetian arches – things that would never pass building regulations or planning rules in UK, blighting the island’s architectural traditions – most of it driven by the migratory fantasies of plump northern geese. Long ago Jack* said to me ‘if you move, go somewhere already ruined’. This advice has suited us fine in past years. This house, as we knew when we bought it, comprised two properties joined together with surpassing incompetence by a local British builder who took its vendors for what they had, which is probably why we were able to buy it. We are removing the shoddy and enabling what remains of the good to emerge. As we do this it grows on us that incompetence can, unintentionally, reveal ingenuity. There is a wood stove in what was once a single storey house. The builder ran a flue through the wooden beams of his upper floor which almost broke through his new roof tiles. He thus created, simultaneously, a fire hazard and a leak. He nailed sub-standard floor boards without tongue and groove to the new floors. They lean and creak under foot. None of his doors close. His unfixed skirting board bowed from the scuffed walls and will be good for kindling. His roofs had no insulation nor waterproof membrane. His breeze block bunkers encroaching on the side lane were his inept means of disposing of rubble from an unnecessarily demolished external staircase and balcony. These filled with rain from his ill fixed gutters forcing damp into the walls, while the removal of side stairs left the side door unsheltered. Rain drove under and round it. In the upper floor of the older two storey house he cemented up a window that looks towards the sunrise. Sometimes we imagine the misery of the previous owners as these faults came to light during the Corfu winter. It was perhaps for warmth they put lino on the fine tile floors, but why did they cut down the vine and the lemon and orange trees to put up a dish aerial? Possibly seeing England via BBC and ITV helped keep their minds off the disappointing mismatch between their hopes for Greece and the cold, wet winter, the dark strange foreign village, the wasps and flies of summer, but I don’t really know and I’m not sure they did either. If Greece wounded George Seferis, how must it have hurt our predecessors.

In the Manner of G.S. (1936) No matter where I travel, Greece wounds me still. On Mt. Pelion amid the chestnut trees the shirt of the Centaur slid among leaves to wind about my body as I mounted the slope and the sea followed me mounting also like mercury in a thermometer until we came on mountain waters. In Santorini as I touched the sinking islands and heard a flute play somewhere on the pumice stone an arrow suddenly flung from the confines of a vanished youth nailed my hand to the gunwale. At Mycenae I lifted the huge stones and the treasures of the Atridae and slept beside them at the inn of The Beautiful Helen of Menelaus they vanished only at dawn when Cassandra crowed with a-cock hanging down her black throat.
[Back to the future: June Samaras of Kalamos Books circulated a story in the Miami Herald, 24/12/07 with the comment 'Use the URL to see the awful photograph (12/07/08 this image has now been removed) this guy is using to state his case ... If he thinks THAT is a true scale model of the Parthenon, it is no wonder the British Museum does not choose to take things seriously... A plea for 'Marbles' in Parthenon (see 'missing commentary' above in this blog]
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We are beginning to grow accustomed to the sounds and smells and shapes of this home – the warmth stored in its walls in the evening and its cool in the day, the bougainvillea, the green rushes and the lemon and orange trees and the immense panorama of Albania and Greece at sunrise and the violet evenings and the wind ruffled sea in the afternoon, Vido island and the olive covered mountains as far as the eye can see and the crags behind us. I could move around it with eyes closed. It is so quiet in the mornings even with cocks crowing, charter flights rumbling, dogs barking, scooters buzzing along the side roads, the conversational chorus between our neighbours at the start of school, the chat outside in the evening and occasional yells of fury at children and the miaoing of Bubble hoping for affection and milk.
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 Saturday 22 September. Most flies and wasps that get in the house want to get out and their freedom can be arranged. But certain small flies sunbathe on my keyboard, hover over my tea and do not accept the offer of an opened window or door, so must be stalked and swatted. My impulse is to protect insects, especially the innocuous spiders that commute discretely along ledges and other interior surfaces. Lin found several 12cm centipedes upstairs and drowned them claiming ‘they bite and were really nasty’. Is this so? We argued. ‘I don’t want them breeding in my house’. She wouldn’t mind them outside. I think there’s a treatise to be written on what living things are accepted by different peoples in their homes, in their gardens and in the world and how acceptance and even welcome varies between people, between individuals, between Lin and me. The cat Bubble has rediscovered us. She’s in a poor state with a cough and will not now cross our threshold. Since we left in April she’s learned – no doubt at the end of several brooms – that she’s a village cat not a household one. * * * I doubt we’ll get that cruise this stay. There’s too much unfinished here that’s not been done since we arrived. ‘Welcome to Corfu’ said V at CJs with sympathetic resignation. L and I have done much and the house is liveable and we eat and sleep here happily enough and receive guests, but winter will come and other jobs we need to do that we can’t, until the electrics are fixed and after which there’s plastering to do and joinery. Last night over several chilled lagers D said ‘don’t worry. I’m a stickler for things. You relax. While you are away me, and B and Mgl will see the whole lot done. You won’t be disappointed.’ D has looked after Summer Song and been something of a guardian to us over the year from the moment he raised our spirits from the depression we were in on first arriving in Ipsos and seeing the musty condition of the boat we’d bought. ‘There’s a list we’ll make and get her up to scratch.’ This happened then and could now.
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The half moon last night shone among strange cloud formations like the striations of agate – not visibly moving. Through the night at this time of year comes the regular drone of the northern geese arriving and departing.
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Last night I lost my SIM card for phoning home. What sense would that have made ten years ago. Why are we searching the house for a 25mm x15mm plastic strip on which has a 12mm x13mm golden chip next to a 19 digit numbers on one side and a corporate logo on the other next to the words ‘if found call 0800317720’. It could be smaller but for the need for human fingers to pick it up and insert it inside their phone. It has this vital function. It ties me to the company who provide the service that enables me, for a payment made automatically by my bank, to phone England. We also have a similar card from a different company that we can use in Greece but which is made useable, after it has been inserted in the same phone, by being ‘topped up’. This done by buying a card locally which if scratched reveals a unique number which when keyed into my phone tops up its credit by about €20. If I used this to make international calls it would swiftly run out of credit, but it is useful for receiving such calls. Were I to use the other card for receiving such calls they would be ‘roaming’ calls for which I, and not the caller, must pay. Furthermore if I call locally using this card the person I call also ends up paying for my call as though it were from abroad – even though the person I call is a kilometre away. These circumstances mean we are frequently shifting chips in the phone. Wiser people might keep two phones for local and long distance, setting up a bar on roaming calls to the international chip. It must have been during one of these substitutions that I mislaid a chip. This morning I came downstairs and found that before she’d come to bed, after I’d fallen asleep, Lin had found it – in a corner of the kitchen floor. I describe this because accounts of daily events leave out matters so mundane, yet I find a detail of how you might reserve a seat on a stage coach and how pay for a ticket on one intriguing. No Victorian fiction I’ve read mentions how such a transaction occurred. We are simply told ‘they took a coach to Dover’. Yet the matter of currency, credit and the flow of information on paper or electronically and its loss and recovery are vital to us. Without credit one becomes a stranger – hence the term ‘credit’ from the latin term ‘credo’ - a statement of principles or beliefs, especially one that is professed formally, faith, dogma, doctrine. We are even when dreaming of autonomy, self-sufficiency and independence, only made rendered free by secure location in a matrix of trust validated by international credit-reference agencies and state bureaucracies. A lost digit on a short circuited computer can see freedom evaporate - we become unbelievable. Another human can see us with their eyes, but the classification system that guarantees what that other human being must know to allow us freedom to pass or purchase cannot. We have disappeared. Our connection with Corfu is a matter of the heart, but it is also about our tax number, and the electricity and water accounts on 208 Democracy Street - meters on the wall and at the bottom of our property. We learned, last night, that my Mum, bound for a long anticipated holiday in France, has to return from her point of international departure, Birmingham, to Inverness, because somewhere between those two airports she mislaid her passport – a thin burgundy docket 125mm x 88mm constituting her permission to travel outside the UK – her ID, her permit, her authorization - her credit. Until I lost the chip yesterday, I was reproaching her for her absent mindedness. Thank goodness Amy and Richard were able to drive over to the airport hotel where she was ensconced in limbo to succour her as loving grandchildren. *Jack Hargreaves who brought me up - my stepfather

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