Monday, 10 May 2010

May in Corfu

A jocund day. May in Kerkyra. To escape the roar of wall-busting Lin has her morning coffee round the corner of the house. Cats are unfazed, but flies, wasps, swallows stay away as he applies a kango hammer to reopening the original space for the balcony doors. The house vibrates. Alan complains “Instead of just bricking up where the doors used to be he’s concreted. Put breeze blocks in between. Hope it’s not the same inside.” Visions of dust invasion.
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This could be a moment for The Queen; what she does or - equally important - avoids doing, with her one constitutional prerogative. The especial conundrum of a hung assembly is that it’s not that helpful to look at what happened ‘last time’ – a coalition of talents against a powerful enemy threatening invasion – or indeed the hapless and more recent Lib-Lab pact. There are so many different ways of being hung, each unique in implication, history’s unhelpful, as we’re well aware from extensive local government experience of that condition over at least the last thirty years. Much turns on personalities, who, tied by party loyalties, must balance the consequences of reneging, during negotiation with other parties, on promises that delivered them their vote with the value they, and their supporters and indeed the voters, place on their being part of government. What many see as confusion – “The King is dead, long live the …er…um” – I can see this situation as good if it gets us PR in line with the majority of democracies across the world. [memo to study AV+ - the type of PR now being considered] I can see it as good if the civil service can line up sufficiently effectively alongside the different parties to act as honest brokers – some call that an oxymoron – between them when it comes to formulating policies the elected can agree, and which do not bear the impression that clever men and women, without a mandate, have been insinuating their own agenda into negotiating messages borne between the separate parties. Reply to Graham:
Now we must start reading up on PR in all its complex variety. MoJ oversee electoral procedure including project managing the implementation of any new system so they must fielding lots of practical questions about the implications including costs of PR. Civil servants, bar the Cabinet Office, can't now speak to Labour Secretaries of State – bar ‘Good morning’ - even if a Lib-Lab agreement is being negotiated, nor to Con Shadow Ministers re a Lib-Con one. What they can do is provide costings to different party reps of the effects of their decisions - such as implementing AV+. All approaches to any one ministry by any party are being referred to the Cabinet office who can pass them on undistorted to the negotiating teams. People assume that, as in Scotland, and indeed many other democracies where NOC, minority admins and coalitions are normal, once an agreement is reached, a protocol will be formulated defining relations between civil service and political leadership - and its "back to the day job".
Side thought on PR. Nearly everyone understands majoritarian voting systems. Few including those who administer it, understand PR, but it was found in Scotland that although most people didn't understand it compared to ‘first past the post’, they still thought PR was fairer (even though there were 1000s of spoiled ballots first time round) and of course PR has a way of delivering NOC, (see an exploration of the implications of NOC in Hertfordshire in 1994) and the need for rainbow coalitions (until the voting public learn to use it other ways. The wisdom of crowds etc...). Best, Simon

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James Carroll to whom I was pointed by Corfucius has interesting things to say about the 'illusion of control' – the essence, indeed the ideology, of managerialism (other ways of thought, especially the political, the religious and the professional, accept in different ways the capriciousness of life, have rituals for the constancy of fate, live with luck, with ‘sod’s law’ and have argot for its inevitability. Managerialism has instruments for clambering around the unknowable - ventures to offer nostrums for managing time, managing chaos, managing fate, and will, to paraphrase Douglas Adams, ‘in the endeavour to fly, hurl themselves at the ground striving to miss.’ Thus Carroll, whose column appears regularly in The Boston Globe, on Powerpoint:
Anyone who has ever sat through a PowerPoint presentation has seen how the speaker surrenders initiative to the machine, and how the prepared breakdown of information inhibits actual thinking. Because the speaker is not thinking, neither is the audience. …The degradation of rhetoric throughout contemporary culture, epitomized by PowerPoint, means that essential capacities for thought and communication are being lost. The sound-bite reduces experience to episodes shorn of context, when understanding what matters requires a honed feel precisely for the connection between episodes.
Instead of focusing on ‘causality’ there’s a symbol in the tool bar whose regular use corrodes connection between events transforming sequences and consequences into discrete - and manageable - ‘bullet points’. 'The moral imagination', writes Carroll,
is defined by awareness of how choice leads to consequence, which leads to a new and graver choice, which in turn leads to a larger and more fateful consequence.
As an occasional user of PowerPoint who came to it late, I’ve found it quite useful to kick off discussion about a proposition or a sequence of images – “among these pairs I’ve filmed which is the politician, which the officer?” – or an explanatory diagram - the overlapping zones of politics, professionalism or management – or a choice quote, ‘The English seldom draw a line without blurring it - Churchill’ - infrequently using more than three slides at a time but being able to jump round and select from a much larger repertoire of slides as discussion proceeds on just those things Carroll accuses the method of blighting. It's true, the schools of sophistry would have embraced PowerPoint. How Socrates would have teased them on ‘bullet points’.
***
A man's coming over tomorrow to measure up for the new set of doors that will open onto the balcony at the top of the external stairway. I've just grasped the intention, conscious or otherwise, of the previous owners of this house and their builder. It was to switch its orientation - the one being reconstructed by the steps and balcony Alan's rebuilding - from a certain neighbourliness that came with the house's sideways connection, via steps, a door and balcony overlooking Democracy Street to a private space looking south; from a public frontage looking west, from which to hold conversation with others, to a private one from which to enjoy 'a view'. Now we'll have both - but there's no question that Alan's work restores our connection to the village street, as well as doing at least two other things - joining up the originally separate houses that make up our property, and bringing more light through the recovered doorway to the interior stairs. Our house has recovered its 'face'.
Neighbours over the way, tell us we can have a load of old wood they want cleared from their garden. They've also carted an old boiler, radiator and oven to the edge of the street for disposal. I drag the wood - roof timbers, broken furniture, branches - over their garden wall, pile it on the path, then we barrow and carry it round to our garden to stack ready for sawing into logs for winter heating.
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In the garden Lin has been working on laying plaka, using a mix of tile cement that we found abandoned by bins and mortar she mixes. The stones are uneven in thickness and have to be separately bedded in the wet mix over the wire grid she's laid over a bed of gravel dug out of the apothiki. The idea includes a ramp from the back gate, tidying the space between apothiki and plaka, so it's easy to get a barrow in and out. Soil beds line the edges of the plaka and the wild orange tree in the centre cut down by the previous owners to make space for a satellite dish, is now thriving. Leftheris suggests grafting a sweeter orange to it next year. Meantime the vine that was also cut back to the soil has recovered well and is working its way up to our veranda and from there up to the balcony above. Leftheris has been pinching out the shoots without grapes, pointing to those we'll have by September.
It is still slightly beyond my comprehension that I have a share in a space where an olive tree grows and thrives; where I can collect lemons by shaking the trunk of the tree that grows from a flower bed outside our back door; that blood oranges fall on the shed roof in December rolling down the path beside the house; that vines bearing grapes are working their way towards the upper floor; that lizards sun themselves on the stones of our garden; gekko's stick to the walls of the house; that eagles circle from the crags above 'our' village; that bugs the size of olives - rose chafers - share our spaces; that hornets, big mosquitoes and scorpions are here (I saw my first a few days ago scurrying from my shadow) that bees are working everywhere on sunny days; that fireflies twinkle in the dark. Strangely it's not so foreign. Much of the flora and fauna we see here survives and thrives in hardier form further north and when it comes to the population my neighbours in Birmingham are signally more diverse than our neighbours in Ano Korakiana
No mean city: Soho Road in Handsworth, Birmingham where we've lived for 30 years

1 comment:

  1. Hi Simon, your man Alan might need a bigger Kango if it is all concrete!

    Simon.

    ReplyDelete

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