Saturday, 6 March 2010

A hard wind blowing

Am I to be self-employed or remain with the university? The latter gives me colleagues, admin support, access via Shibboleth to the libraries of the world. I earn money we share. In October one of those periodic reviews recommended honorary lectureships end this July. Should I cut loose first? I emailed JR the other evening about various things. Before I went to bed he'd replied:
Dear Simon, Thank you very much for your email and for all the thoughtful comments therein. I will reread it carefully and think about the Japan connection and protocol issues you raise. As regards your relationship with INLOGOV, I too would be hugely disappointed (and surprised) if the arrangement were to end on 31st July. It would certainly be my intention to recommend your Hon Lectureship (probably better described from now on as a Part-Time Visiting Lectureship - PTVL) to be renewed for as long as possible. And although I might predict that the College Leadership will only accept extensions for one year at a time, I am sure we will be able to continue the arrangement year by year until such time as you wish to stop. So please do not think your relation with INLOGOV is over! As long as INLOGOV survives, I am sure there will be work and a place for you - and most certainly while I am Director! Very best wishes - and see you next week! John
The mention of Japan refers to the decision by the Japan local Government Centre in January to end their three month training programme in UK for young Japanese civil servants. Politics at home; economic pressures. For 20 years we've been responsible for two weeks on this programme concentrating on British local government. Next week the Director of the JLGC will meet us in Birmingham so we can say farewell to a long collaboration and ponder ways of staying in touch. Later in the month I'm chairing a meeting with academics from Meiji University to discuss 'trust, research methods and the Japanese group’s new research project'. Meantime I've had work with Staffordshire on scrutiny and with Croydon and with Hampshire on Managing with Political Awareness, and before we return to Corfu, a day with Dumfries and Galloway on scrutiny. Yesterday I had to turn down an invite to talk to a conference on the effect of cuts and the likely policies of whoever's governing after the General Election:
Dear X. So sorry I'm already committed on the day you had in mind. ... I was very flattered you thought of me, ...If I can assist in any way in the future please don’t hesitate to get in touch again. Your questions are...absolutely on track. I take it you saw Cameron’s speech today at the Tory Party Spring Conference...confusing and inconsistent but seductive and in line with views among some of our colleagues that what when trying to read the future, don’t look at what some of the key people (like Cameron) say. We are in the run up to elections. Rhetoric gets polarised; focused on the ... marginals ... we can assume very little, beyond the likelihood that the recession is not only far from over but that we’ve not yet even seen the worst of it. This is a crisis that goes far beyond the UK, ... marked by generations rather than the decade length waves of boom and bust; a shift that makes parents anxious for their children’s future ... after a long period of prosperity and social peace. There’s hard wind blowing. The optimistic dimension - relevant to regulatory services like yours - is that faith in privatisation and the superiority of the market has received a blow from which it won’t recover. This makes for interesting and polarised times as some with leadership roles in local government struggle to continue functioning with what – since the days of Mrs T – has become orthodoxy, while others flounder alarmingly between two stools (the politics of Obama’s America) and a few others – very few - start to play around with original ideas that will one day make sense in theory and practice. Watch out for these. They’ll be as unobvious as the early signs of ‘Thatcherism’ e.g. being experimented with, long before they clustered and acquired enough coherence to be given a name as a dominant trend). In these circumstances real leaders in local government – whether politicians or professionals – will be those who don’t allow themselves to get morose... don’t get led by magic bullets and promises about the ‘right’ direction, and ride the uncertainty and unpredictability calmly, intelligently and pragmatically and cut some slack to slightly loony seeming ideas. Tall order! Best S
* * *
On 4th March I was up to catch an early train south to visit Richard and Wendy Hill in Havant. Pleasant cycling from Euston through the traffic, across the Thames to Waterloo, with time to do emails over coffee before catching my train to Havant. Richard is going to mend the carved wooden roach I inherited from my step-father. Richard made it nearly forty years ago from the mahogany railing of an old paddlesteamer, presenting it to Jack after making an Out of Town episode angling for sea bass out of Littlehampton in Richard's boat. Jack had also been given another carved fish - a crucian carp. I brought it with me. Richard thinks the carp might have been carved a lot longer ago than the roach, possibly by a craftsman in another country; India or Africa. "It's a beautiful piece of work."
For lunch Wendy had made the most delicious pie, rich with pieces of fresh seafish caught by Richard, followed by apple crumble with custard. Delectable. She packed up a dish for me to take home for Lin. We chatted and chatted; hours that passed so swiftly I could hardly believe my watch but it was time to head home. Before I left I saw
other examples of Richard's remarkable craftsmanship. in particular a large scale model of a fishing boat and, in the back garden, a wonderfully crafted carvel built rowing boat - The Green Man - his head in relief carved on the inside of her transom. I can look forward to visiting again when the fish is restored.
"I shall first make a plaster cast of the side of the fish already carved. I can lay it in that to use my wood carving chisels on the other side."
** ** **
On our last Sunday in Ano Korakiana Katya Spingos phoned to ask us for tea. We walked up to their house beyond the village traffic light on Odos Zogothoo Pigees (I think that's its name). Over tea, cake and biscuits and hazelnut liqueur we downloaded films we'd made of carnival, discussed the songs sung and plans to make a DVD of the event. Carnival was cancelled in 2009 to respect the memory of a young woman lawyer from the village killed on a road in Sarrocco Square in the city. We said how much we'd enjoyed ourselves this year and got into a discussion with her and Thanassis about how the event was organised and all the work involved, especially clearing, cleaning and decorating the Farmers' Co-op building for the dance. We spoke of the village and its sustainability. Would I ponder this? I asked John M, whether he could apply his knowledge of sustainability to us:
I am about to fly to Syd then on to Narrabri, Wee Waa and Dalby for our Sustainable Farm Family research so I am taking your email as hard copy and will reply later. I am very interested in the sustainability question re Ano Korakiana. It fits so well not just with the sustainability question but also with the work I have been doing on second homes and how these owners impact local communities. Be in touch, John
* * * Energy 95.7 Corfu is a radio station on Corfu. Its managing director is George Artinopoulos. Energy transmits a mix of Greek and foreign music with occasional op-eds. The one I've embedded takes a swipe at the illegal condition of landfill sites at Lefkimmi and Temploni, but focuses on problems with the new hospital under construction at Kontokali -'Η αθλιότητα στο νοσοκομείο Κέρκυρασ'. We see an attempt by local people, protesting at the state of the landfill sites, to draw their condition to the attention of European Commissioner Danuta Hübner, on an official visit to the Ionian Islands in February 2009. This is sad, and so depressing. How tempting to try, amid the wonders of the island, to sweep these messes out of sight and avoid the imputation of seeking to bring Corfu and Greece into disrepute.
Contact: nrgcorfu@otenet.gr - info@energycorfu.gr ΤΗΛ & ΦΑΧ: 0030 26610 24604 – 26617 71704 ΚΙΝ: 0030 6932 839 601 - 0030 69 847 11 847
[See this local blog about the new hospital in November 2008 - v. roughly translated]
* * *
Our daughter dropped round this morning. Linda's helping her with a community safety session with children and parents at the Main Library this afternoon. Amy showed me a letter from WM Police HQ saying she has a provisional start date for intake training into the Force at last. If things go to plan she could be having her passing out to become a full-time police officer by the end of October.
We had a good bicker about how we're all going to get up to the Highlands for Amy and Guy's wedding in mid-May. Who's going by car; who by train; whose staying at the hotel and who's staying with Poppet at Brin Croft....and for how long and on what days exactly. Phew.
** ** **
On Thursday evening I took Lin to the Birmingham Rep Production of Brian Friel's famous Dancing at Lughnasa (Loonaza). I could not get outside the feeling I was watching actors at work - talented and full of energy - but whether it was me, us, the audience, the direction - or whatever - the evening did not draw me in. Have I been spoiled by film? The troupe seemed too young for the Mundy sisters; too prosperous; no sense of the poverty of 1930s Ireland. Despite scripted reference to the fragility and hazardousness of a dissolving community - its clear and present danger seemed unreachable by those entertaining us. The tickets cost £25 each. I kept seeing the players chatting in their dressing room, going on to a meal in town, making more of a drama of their actual lives. We drove to Witton; to a place we'd not been for five years but had once enjoyed - Khanum Balti. The owner, glimpsed on the phone through a hatch at the back of an empty restaurant, seemed to have given up, after installing a job-lot of ugly new chairs round black wood-grained formica tables. There was a small radiant heater near Lin's knees. She switched it from rotating to ease the chill. We kept our coats on; ate from our basins with parathas - figures in a Brummie Edward Hopper, neon lit from above. "It's not Donegal, but isn't this the ambience we needed at the Rep?" I tried in a desultory way to compare fictional Ballybeg and Ano Korakiana - proxy music, the seduction of foreign rituals, the 'vexed reality' of fragmenting social and economic pressures - local and international, the poignant failures of which Maria Strani writes. It didn't work. I sounded as if I was trying too hard. I'd so hoped we'd be swept off my feet as we were at the carnival dance in the village. What am I to say to Richard, to whom I've promised to bring our evening's programme, when we return to Corfu?

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