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Tuesday, 21 September 2010

A good perch

Someone told me opening Democracy Street made their computer crash. Then someone else told me. With such a percentage of readers inconvenienced, I pondered this. I was displaying ten entries at once, stills and videos, sound tracks, links, and an over-extended index (so Nick Booth, who helped me start Democracy Street, reminded me ages ago) too much information for some to down-load? Other’s seem to do the same without this problem but they know things about the medium. I set about amateur tidying; reduced displays of entries to two at a time (keeping the option to ‘search’), removed links to Facebook and Twitter (why let them harvest?), but kept films and pictures. I asked ‘does my blog still freeze?’ – a phrase that sounds like ‘does my bum look big in this?” Graham replied:
Simon. Thanks for yours.  Been away a bit,  largely with the fairies.  Yes,  your blog works beautifully now.  You've clearly applied your plumbing skills, consulted the wiring diagram,  given it a shake,  and then reassembled all those frozen words in the right order.  Wonderful pix,  especially the sunburst.  Have you ever thought of something similar at book length? Because ‘Democracy Street’ would make the perfect title.  More meditation than ex-pat.  Or maybe a mix of both.  Democracy Street (the place) might offer a very good perch for a book-length contemplation of our fevered times. Entirely agree with your thoughts about airports.  (My) Lin and I have pretty much abandoned them.  We're off shortly on a leisurely train/bus/donkey trip into the Balkans:  London - Trieste - Istria - Dalmatia - Montenegro - Serbia - Munchen - Bechesgarten - Salzburg,  then home again.  A smallish rucksack each,  one full of books.  This time of year, clothing-wise, that becomes a challenge but we managed something very similar to Damascus and Sinai in December a couple of years back and it worked fine.  All you need are two pairs of woolly socks and a sense of humour. Good news on the movie front.  The French are starting shooting 90 minute adaptations of two Faraday books in January.  The new Pompey?  Le Havre... Enjoy the newly warm-water. As ever, Graham.
He flatters me – this potential Leigh-Fermor, Manning, Andrews, who’s been, in other words, around, author of superlative police procedurals that made (my) Lin remark “Is Portsmouth really that bad?” He’s  right. Democracy Street is too good a title to waste. It’s a mental perch that includes another place - our other street called Beaudesert Road.
Here high summer heat brings as many outside, as in Ano Korakiana it drives inside.  Of course, in Ano Korakiana I see the street a little more, walking up and down it and now, looking out from on our new balcony. As Natasha said when we discussed having it rebuilt last year, we’ve now a place from which to say “Good morning”. Yet in Handsworth – as depraved as Pompey - should I, in order to mow the lawn, prune a tree or shrub, or sweep our flaky driveway, spend time in our front garden (one we’ve not fecklessly removed to make more space for cars), I’ll certainly be saying ‘good morning’, harvesting gossip and even putting the world to rights with neighbours and passing strangers, an involvement in public space that took its greatest leap when I took to cycling in the city instead of driving.
And now I’ve another place to chat – Plot 14 – hardly three minutes cycle ride from home.  Our allotment’s next to the main path through Handsworth Park. People strolling there wander up to the fence to gaze through at the new Victoria Jubilee Allotments, forcing me, with secret relief, to cease digging and answer questions about what’s growing, the weather and even the state of the world.
In Ano Korakiana as well as people we’ve discovered eagles, drifting over the crags above the village, mewing to one another, circling in the rising air,  though never in our experience hovering or stooping. On and over the roofs of Beaudesert Road I enjoy my favourite birds – Jackdaws. How they chat. Of the crows these are the ones that most rejoice in aerial cavorting. Though it’s close to the centre of a city as large as Thessalonica, Handsworth where I’ve lived since 1979, is a village – and indeed  when it was, up to the 50s. a smart suburb before becoming ‘inner city’ – our high street, Villa Road, was called ‘the village’.
Exploring Corfu history in the National Archives at Kew
LCD screens abhor the sun. Can you read a netbook by the pool or on the beach? It’s a small itch of mine that books will soon go, but for people who collect them for their own sake or their value on the market. Even older library books will have been scanned for researchers to study them on screen – convenient and safer for the original. I’m seeing these devices around – capable of storing a home library in a slice of bread, searching, annotatable, download War and Peace in three languages via WiFi wherever. Someone who is no Luddite and loves reading books wrote a piece in the NYRB on the demise of the book, partly because publishers can’t afford the floorspace to store their current publications, let alone back-lists.  I can see the use of these things - Amazon's Kindle, Sony's ebook. Could I have one and make it look dog eared with attention, risk slitting the spine, keep my place turning down corners, spill things on it, press flowers and notes to discover years later? There’s a £20 note slipped in to my 1911 Britannica at home in case one of our children needed it while we were away. With over a thousand wafer thin pages in each of twenty nine volumes that’d be a devil to find without the name of the entry. I’m not sure I can remember it either.  But how much easier it will be to keep and circulate books in those places where books are burned, their readers arrested, if texts can be kept on a postage stamp, a canon in a flashdrive, a library on an ipod. All the same a paperbook book is a most ergonomically satisfying technology for reading, even as new dexterities help new readers to flick through and make notes and links on web books. No doubt there’ll be specialist second hand bookstores – though at the moment lack of customers and rising rents has them falling like nine pins, Hay-on-Wye notwithstanding. I believe the new way to get a book on paper with a spine and cover will involve pressing a virtual option button for a hard copy – simple or deluxe with choice of bindings - when ordering on the web, or over a counter at a privatized library or coffee shop with books – beside the Gaggia an impressive web linked combine printer binder – short, tall, grande, venti? At present a hard copy is the default purchase and the option a web copy to download to your gadget. This will be reversed. (see Espresso Book Machine)
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We’re racing through small jobs. I’ve connected up a light for the new porch, having removed it from where it’s sat unused and disconnected since we bought the house, once above the old French windows now replaced. (I did turn off the mains when removing it). Three wire – positive (brown), negative (blue) and earth (green/yellow) -  to two terminals. It doesn’t matter which is used for positive and negative and the earth is sealed off with insulating tape. I’m that electrically illiterate, I had to check with Leftheri I was doing it right. We need no light over the new french windows as a light sensitive municipal street light hangs above our balcony.
We’ve realigned a down pipe from the rain gutter to go round the end of the balcony – four 90° angles, a widerner joint, three more brackets (Don’t drill during siesta). We’ve smoothed the plaster round the new French windows (why are they called French and why windows when they’re doors. Was there once a door tax in France like our old window tax?) and refixed marble skirtings at the foot of the doors with silicone and a slight gap tp stop cracking if the wooden floor flexes. Only a few years ago I’d never have believed myself using an angle grinder with stone cutting disk to make even simple cuts in marble.
Lin’s made a curtain for the doors, fixing twenty wood rings to the header tape, to hang on a piece of one inch dowling with a spring fixed in a drilled end to hold it in place in the holes I’ve cut in the doors’ side walls.
I tied up a loose hanging wire under the eaves and directed our young vine upwards where it can get more sun. The leaking tap in our veranda is replaced. I was struggling with my wrench when Petros who’s working with Fortis on the house below us came by and asked what I was doing. I showed him adding more in paltry Greek. "Ena lepta" ("Just a minute") and he fetched a much larger wrench and had the old fitting off in seconds, asking first if I’d turned off the water. “For sure” ("vevaios"). I had a replacement tap and after repairing the water heater plumber’s string too. “Thanks so much, Petros” “Efharisto poli, Petro” “Ti pota” ("It’s nothing"). Lin’s put plants on our new stairs and the edge of the porch. I’ve mended with sturdy screws and glue the rickety wooden chair we’d recovered from a flytip last time we were here; good for leaving outside and standing on for cutting the bourgainvillea and wisteria. We’ve cleared weeds from the garden, and put them in the composter, swept and swept and swept and made wasp traps out of two plastic bottles baited with honey and cherry brandy, fed the cats including a lone kitten which seems orphaned but is now living on us and even more generous left-overs from the neighbours (this morning a plate of sardine heads).
Tomorrow afternoon we're expecting to meet John Martin and Annie Guthrie off the Anek Lines ferry from Venice, come to stay for a few days.

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