Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Dreich

At New Street Station awaiting a train to Winchester
The weather chills. I'm back to getting up early, cycling through wet rainy streets enclosed in neck warmers, long johns, and wicking undervests, taking trains, lecturing. Had a wonderful day at Woodside, Kenilworth with people working in the sports and culture sector - teaching with Martyn Allison, who I've known since he was a senior officer in Leicester at least seven years ago. He invited me before Christmas to do this session on Managing in a Political Environment. I refuse to be modest about a message I got from the event organiser:
I have had a quick look over the evaluation forms and thought I'd pass on some quotes - there were no brickbats! These all come in answer to the question 'What stood out for you either positively or negatively and explain why?' 'Simon Baddeley deserves a lifetime achievement award for his recording of politicians/leaders - an invaluable social historical resource.' 'Simon Baddeley - I was staggered at how an academic was so good at explaining the uncertainties of politics!' 'Simon Baddeley because he really knew what he was talking about.' 'Simon Baddeley is very knowledgeable and speaks in plain language.' 'Simon Baddelely was particularly engaging.' 'Simon Baddeley was great! Very insightful.' Feel like return gig next year....?
Today I've been down to Winchester to plan three one day events for the County, and a day on Friday with Croydon Council that may lead to more work. There's also a session on Scrutiny planned for Staffordshire - questioning skills - and for Dumfries and Galloway just before we head back to Greece. I'm not sure what they want yet. The Council's run as a Conservative, Lib-Dem, Independent plus SNP administration with the Leader and Convenor (and most important Committee Chairs) being Tories. Labour form the opposition. There's been an unsatisfactory report from the Scottish Accounts Commission. I think there's a hope that scrutiny members can help a diverse administration to develop a more robust sense of direction.
It's good to have this interlude in England especially as I'm getting even better at filtering out the attention seeking dross, echoes of which we get in Corfu from ex-pats served by UK media - undernourished truth, second-hand opinion, prejudice; newzak - as disruptive of understanding as muzak is of conversation, no longer of use for serving fish and chips. At least my Greek's not good enough for me to be bothered with the local versions of the same distortions. I used to devour newspapers, periodicals, TV news features and especially BBC R4. Now all these are suspect, struggling for customers and 'news' needs sieving from a steaming pile of infotainment and conspiracism. In Corfu I'd have picked up this paper from the gutter for lighting the stove. In earlier days it could be torn into squares; hung on a string in the dunny
Speeding through the Midlands
* * *
Had a delicious supper at Henry's with Tanya and Kim sharing our news and discussing the world. Early in the New Year, Kim and her husband decided to treat themselves to a week in Tobago enjoying sun, warm azure sea and palms swayed by the trade wind - in part a way to relieve agonising gout afflicting Bernard the last few months. At Gatwick their flight was repeatedly delayed then cancelled by which time all airport hotels were occupied by others with similar plans. Their car, booked into secure parking, was inextricably packed in with others who'd made similar minimum stay reservations. A taxi took them to accommodation 7 miles away. Returning by taxi the next morning they waited through further flight delays, then cancellation. With no prospect of weather improving they managed, after a further three hours, to extract their car and drive home. She thinks we've not yet seen the depth of the sinking economy. We discussed debt, closures, redundancies, cancellations of contracts and the slow and relentless attrition of the depression. It was a lovely evening. We'll look forward to getting together again in May or June when things will be worse. Kim's cancelled holiday costs were covered by insurance and by the end of January they'd started planning a holiday in Madeira.
* * *
There's another book just out about the Septinsular - Britain’s Greek Islands: Kythera and the Ionian Islands, 1809-1864 by Peter Prineas, Plateia, 2009. As well as writing about the British Protectorate, Prineas, an Australian based in Sydney, throws light on Kythera - once called Cerigo - the small island from where his family originated. It's so far south of the other Ionian Islands it's administratively part of Piraeus Prefecture. And via Corfucius and Jim Potts a new book on Anglo-Hellenic relations since 1945 and an interesting and provocative article, also by David Wills, about the experiences of British residents in Greece since WW2 from Johns Hopkins University Press:
A number of British writers have produced accounts of their experiences as residents of Greece. These writings are used here to explore the portrayal of the Greek character and way of life by those who, in many cases, claimed to be 'experts.' The ways in which residents represented the practicalities of living in Greece, and the changes they described as occurring to the country and its people in the decades since the Second World War, are also analyzed. It is argued that the initial - and to some extent continued -representation of the Greeks as pastoral and non-developed was similar to the 'exoticization' of southern Europe promoted by anthropologists working 'in the field.' This was part of a perceived power-differential between those from the 'developed West' and the Balkans. Negative aspects of the Greek character -laziness, corruption, sexual predation - could be blamed on Turkish influence. In this way, even those who claimed to be insiders in Greece had recourse to an 'Orientalist' discourse when encountering developments or attitudes that they found undesirable.
David Wills 'British Accounts of Residency in Greece, 1945-2004' Journal of Modern Greek Studies, Vol 23, No.1, May 2005
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Richard sends me his piece in the Irish Times touching on the overlapping problems of an endangered eurozone, an economy exposed to international speculation, lack of financial credibility and accountability, and structural weaknesses in administration: We have an ambivalent attitude to Greece:
...we are Philhellenes in cultural and sentimental terms, but hellenosceptics in the face of the crisis. The credibility problem is enormous: internationally, the joke is: “there are lies, damned lies, and Greek statistics"*. But Greeks are themselves ambivalent. Greece has a dual character: partly a go-ahead, cosmopolitan, sophisticated city-based society; partly a traditional, rural-based subsistence economy – not unlike Ireland in the 1960s. Neither seems to have understood what it means to be part of Europe, or what is expected of it by the Brussels mandarins. Resistance to both internal and external authority is the norm. ... As an Athenian said recently, “Greeks love their country, but they don’t trust it.” It just about sums up this dichotomy between essential Greekness – cultural and ethnic pride, and fierce independence – and the ability to translate that Greekness into positive action.
This reminds me of Seferis' famous last verse of Summer 1936: 'Wherever I travel Greece wounds me...'
Όπου και να ταξιδέψω η Ελλάδα με πληγώνει·
παραπετάσματα βουνών αρχιπέλαγα γυμνοί γρανίτες ...
Το καράβι που ταξιδεύει το λένε ΑΓ ΩΝΙΑ 937.
Α/π Αυλίς, περιμένοντας να ξεκινήσει.
*Richard, aware of special sensitivities about statistical accuracy, apologised via the June Samaras' Hellas/Greece forum about a percentage he'd quoted:
From: Richard Pine rpineco...@yahoo.com Wed, Feb 24. May I ask you to circulate a correction to my article in Monday's Irish Times? I intended to say that the cost to the Greek exchequer of public sector employees was 50% of total government expenditure. Due to an oversight, the article stated that 50% of the Greek workforce is employed in the public sector. The actual figure is believed to be 25% (although it is impossible to establish this figure definitively). The error is regretted.
And an interesting piece with comments from Mark Bolsom, Head of the UK Trading Desk at Travelex on a Reuters page - an alternative view of the crisis in Greece from someone dealing in money.
*** ***
Transit languor at Athens Venizelos
We left the village as the children were going to school. Mr and Mrs Leftheris had already gone away to visit his brother in Tripoli. We caught the morning Aegean Air flight to Athens where we passed three hours before our flight to Gatwick, reading, chatting, sipping coffee beside a clone-hotel opposite the concourse. In England we left the sunlit upper layers and sank through clouds to a drear English winter. During the flight an 'exotic' broken nosed fellow - undoubtedly Greek - was detected smoking in the loo. As we exited our plane we saw him and girl friend in conversation, working his charm on four amiable police officers at the foot of the boarding bridge. Somewhere in the undergirding of South Terminal, with the help of mobiles, we met up with Amy's Guy who drove us comfortably home, ready for me to get up early to catch a train for Leamington Spa first thing Tuesday.
The night before we had a goodbye supper with Mark and Sally and Paul and Cinta and Gil and enjoyed Mark's exquisite royal roast, cooked by Sally, made up of 23 birds of 10 different species, three days worth of preparation devoured with garlic seasoned roast potatoes, carrots and runner beans in less than 20 minutes, though our evening lasted a lot longer. Before the meal I got an e-mail from Nancy and Nick in England with Estelle, now joined by their dog Missy, and posted back photo greetings. We miss their company.
* * * * We had the strangest weather on Saturday. A smoke coloured mist hid most of the landscape. "If it rains" said Mark 'there'll be sand everywhere. They call it Gaddafi rain."
Indeed there was already sand on many surfaces as we tidyied the house ready to leave. I found one of the cats - Trouble - dead and already shrunken on the waste ground below the house, and then one of the black kittens, not yet named, also dead and stiff in the trunk on our veranda and then, pitifully miaowing, we found another marmalade kitten in the garden, its fur ungroomed, eyes blocked, mouth dribbling, barely able to move. "Put it out of its misery" said Lin. I clubbed it from behind; buried all three. later Sally explained this was the effect of 'cat AIDs' or Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV).
* * *
The other evening the Mayor of Demos Faiakon came to the meeting room in the health centre in Ano Korakiana to discuss and debate the implementation of the government's Kallikrates Plan for local government reorganisation.
Πραγματοποιήθηκε το περασμένο Σάββατο, λίγο μετά τις 6 το απόγευμα, η αναγγελθείσα συνεδρίαση του Τοπικού Συμβουλίου, προκειμένου ο Δήμαρχος Φαιάκων και Πρόεδρος της Τοπικής Ένωσης Δήμων και Κοινοτήτων Κέρκυρας, Μιχάλης Κάρρας, να ενημερώσει τα μέλη του οργάνου αυτού, αλλά και τους κατοίκους για τις προοπτικές που διαφαίνονται ενόψει του σχεδίου «ΚΑΛΛΙΚΡΑΤΗΣ», που αφορά εκτός των άλλων και στις συνενώσεις των σημερινών Δήμων.
Thirteen local councils for Corfu are to become just three. Can these changes really be completed for the local elections in November?

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