Total Pageviews

Thursday, 26 August 2010

The Marble Emperor

On holiday in the Cambrian wilderness long ago
I'm being tutored by Niko, at Apple Store in the Bullring, in using blogging software, which will allow me to put together pages offline, save time and, no doubt, expose the clunky ways I've been going about putting together Democracy Street. We've looked at Blogo, ecto, MarsEdit, iBlog, while checking my blog to see if we can streamline and otherwise tweak it to avoid some of the 'freeze' and slow-down problems reported by some people reading it - not good when I'm trying to increase access to films, especially of members and officers in conversation. Some of the pleasure has been discussing the exuberant jasmine on the house opposite the health centre on Democracy Street and a black and white panorama of me in Wales on holiday taken by my mother with her Rollieflex. I've ended up going for the least expensive - ecto - almost instantly paid for downloaded and registered while still at the One-to-One desk.
*** ***
On the train departure and arrival board in the concourse of Thessaloniki Station* the place that most of the world calls Istanbul is called Κωνσταντινούπολις. There is an enormous gap in my historical knowledge. It covers eleven centuries - between AD 330 when the Emperor Constantine moved his capital from Rome to Constantinople and 29 May 1453 when Sultan Mehmet won the city for the Ottoman Turks and for Islam, the Emperor Constantine XI Palaiologos, revered as a martyr in the Orthodox community, falling in final Greek defence of the city. Έστειλα δυό πουλιά στη Κόκκινη μηλιά που λένε τα γραμμένα το 'να σκοτώθηκε τ' άλλο λαβώθηκε δεν γύρισε κανένα....
I sent two birds to the red apple tree, of which the legends speak. One was killed, the other was hurt, and they never came back to me. Of the marble emperor - το Μαρμαρωμένο Βασιλιά - there is no word, no talk. But grandmothers sing about him to the children like a fairy tale.I sent two birds, two house martins, to the red apple tree. But there they stayed and became a dream. (trad.)

'Pray that you never lose your capital'
We learned at school how the fall of Constantinople caused a westward migration of Greek scholars and artists seeding Western European Renaissance with the culture of Classical Greece and hence, a century later, the early light of the Age of Reason, that terrifying wonderful enlightenment still resisted, even fiercely opposed, by most of the world.
[Back to the future 22 Oct 2012 ~ intimate connection between the fall of Constantinople and the European Renaissance is challenged. Even the timings do not coincide, given the development of Italian wealth and culture for two centuries prior to 1453; the understanding that scholars escaping fallen Constantinople sparked, rather then perhaps fertilised that culture, no longer stands firm. Another thing I learned only now...the city wasn't renamed Istanbul in 1453 after its fall.  Ottoman records show that its name was transliterated as Kostantiniyye. The name of Istanbul derives from the Greek phrase 'to the city' = Eis tin polin, Εις την Πόλιν. This usage may have simply spread. The name 'Istanbul' only became an official name under a 1930 Turkish Postal Law accompanying the reforms of Kemal Atatürk]
I touched on the history of Byzantium at school, mainly as the decadent dominion left in the east after the coronation by Pope Leo of Charlemagne in AD 800 and the rise of the Carolingian Empire in the west, but, except for reading Robert Grave's Count Belisarius, I've learned little since. Istanbul, even for a keen archaeologist, is no Byzantine classroom. The great cathedral - the Great Church - of St Sophia became a mosque and in 1935 under Kemal Ataturk's policies of secularisation, it was transformed into a museum. It's been the historical references in many of Cavafy's poems that has aroused my interest. Cavafy's classical references may be familiar to me, his Byzantine one's -part inspired by the work of the 19th century historian Constantine Paparrigopoulos - not, yet his work, like the work of Paparrigopoulos, connects them. Writer, journalist and translator Maria Margaronis writes of Cavafy:
...that living outside the young Greek state among Egyptians, Greeks and Jews, he could remain committed to a fading, idealized Hellenism free from the crude taint of nationalism and borders. He told Forster that the Greeks and the English were almost exactly alike, except for one crucial difference: "We Greeks have lost our capital -- and the results are what you see. Pray, my dear Forster, oh pray, that you never lose your capital."
*Back to the future - Feb 2011:... due to the financial crisis international rail services from Greece have been suspended. The Greek railway system used to connect with the railways of neighbouring countries Bulgaria at Promahonas (Koulata) and at Ormenion, with Turkey at Pythio and with the railways of the Republic of Macedonia at Idomeni. The passenger services from Greece that run to neighbouring countries on December 2010 were: Thessaloniki – Istanbul (Dostluk/Filia Express), Thessaloniki – Sofia – Bucharest, Thessaloniki – Idomeni – Skopje – Belgrade, Athens – Sofia.
*** *** This is the sort of thing that happens when you're starting and don't read the instructions to lay out your seed potatoes to help then sprout - chitting. I took the box as it arrived by post and left it several days before taking it out to the allotment and planting the spuds - a mix of Carlingford and Marris Peer - 18 inches apart in rows 18 inches apart. As it is they're buried 3 inch deep in prepared and moist soil without the strongest of sprouts. Some have even gone mouldy. We'll see how they grow and learn. I'm starting to get the jargon of potatoes - first earlies, second earlies (those I've just planted), early maincrop and second maincrop. I've also planted a couple of small trees - a cherry and a balm-scented poplar, smell redolent of my childhood, where they grew in the lane to my grandmother's house in Clavering. The one I've planted is from a cutting from a sapling, now a tree, my mum had taken to Scotland. Continuity. I've also planted a buddleia and flowering ground cover along the edge of the plot. What have I learned? Lay out the seed potatoes before planting in a dry frost free place and let them grow sprouts about half an inch long and then plant with at least one sturdy sprout facing up.
All the same I guess we've started. My hope is to have a shed in place by the New Year, so's I can sit inside hearing the rain on the roof sipping a cup of tea, with the whole plot well dug over and ready for cultivation.
One third of our plot is ready
What some have done since June
** ** **
An ugly story from the southern end of Corfu (map of the whole island) preying on women around the package tourist resort Kavos-sur-merde - Corfucius' moniker for the island's contribution to what Hogarth, George Cruikshank [piece by contemporary cartoonist Steve Bell], Thomas Rowlandson and James Gillray recorded of Rude Britannia. An alleged rapist and robber has been arrested after police surrounded the woods in which he was hiding.

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Weather

Our garden in Handsworth
Wet and windy August. A visit to Winchester to see Mark at SEEMP to discuss joint work on scrutiny. We sat in a snug in a pleasant pub with decent bitter and roast beef with horseradish sauce in a baguette, and pondered the Coalition's plans for the future of local government, in particular the prospects for overview and scrutiny. It feels like making the best of it, with nothing decided and the economy likely to get worse as the year progresses, and public sector cuts go deeper meaning less money for businesses in the private sector, especially those used to relying on government contracts and the consuming habits - until recently - of public employees. The Prime Minister talks of localism and 'The Big Society', wet Tory visions that don't fit comfortably with dry Tory yearning to shrink the state. (I like my colleague Tony Bovaird's YouTube comments on this). There's an above normal amount of fog. No one Party has been able, to do the post-election usual and hit the ground running. The current cuts would also - with variations - have been imposed by Labour if they'd won in May. The Liberals who've not known so much power since the 1900s will surrender the bulk of their manifesto to stay part of a government in which their Leader admits they're a 'junior partner'.
Before catching my train I went to the Cathedral which I visited first with my great grandmother when I was very young. She, along with many other volunteers, had embroidered a kneeler for the cathedral. I remember her showing it to me - the crest of Winchester School with its motto "Manners makyth man". I sat near the doors at the back of the great nave. The choir was practising far away invisible but for few pinpoints of light enclosed by pillars and a great wood carved screen - singing and organ music between vexed coaxing from the choirmaster. No-one sought an entrance fee. Although there were quite a few visitors I slipped into a chapel nestled in the north transept, across the aisle from the choir and stayed there through evensong, returning to gaze down, with others, on Jane Austen's black stone slab grave in the north aisle.
My train left at 1831 and took me comfortably through to New Street, reading and snoozing.
The weather here - and there
Charles, our neighbour, who is usually first to ring me with any local bad news, told me that St.Mary's Church had just been vandalised. It doesn't seem as if anyone got inside the building. Once normal these raids on public space including the park and its surroundings, have become much rarer, but with the cuts including investment in security, especially night patrols in the area, the church may again become vulnerable.
** ** **
While pondering how to resolve the NPOV dispute on Sir Henry Maine's Wikipedia entry, I noticed that a new book had been added to the article's references. It came out this year and is by Karuna Mantena under the title Alibis of Empire: Henry Maine and the Ends of Liberal Imperialism, Princeton 2010:
Dear Dr Mantena. Excuse me writing to you out of the blue. I am the great great grandson of Sir Henry Maine, and my mother, his great granddaughter, is still alive - at 93 - and knew Lady Maine who died much later than her husband. A rewrite of the context of his work is long overdue and so I'm delighted to discover your book which I've ordered. On a small matter this means that I can move on from the Victorian language of his Wikipedia entry which has been lifted almost whole from the 1911 Britannica. I look forward to reading your book. Kindest regards, Simon Baddeley
Her swift reply:
Dear Simon Baddeley. Thank for very much for your kind and encouraging note. What a humbling and extraordinary thing to feel connected to Maine in this way! Please allow me to send you and/or your family a copy of the book. It has also appeared in a South Asia edition, which I can send since you may already have the UK/USA edition. If ever I can make a visit to Birmingham, I will be sure to be in touch. all my best, Karuna. Karuna Mantena, Assistant Professor of Political Science, Yale University
Dear Karuna, I've mentioned your book which has just arrived at my home on Facebook and when I've really got into it will have a go at revising the Maine article in Wiki in the light of your analysis of Imperial alibis - now and then. I think this is going to be a powerful lesson, but I wonder what Maine would have said. He seems to have been generous and sharp in debate at the same time. I attach a picture, that hangs in our house, of Lady Maine. It's family folklore that Maine refused a peerage because being an academic without great means he was already struggling to support Jane's preferred life style. I often pass by their houses in Kensington when cycling in London - now divided into apartments and with S.E.Asian landlords. How amazingly 'our' empire imploded bringing us immeasurable benefit in neighbours and friends, and a state I don't quite understand in which alibis seem to have almost dissolved. I know that can never be the case, we being human. I hope I haven't been tactless in these rather long emails. No need to reply though I might near mid-winter presume to ask you some questions about the book. (Oh and by the way should you visit Birmingham - or Greece - you would be most welcome, though the person that I would be most moved for you to meet would be my mother in the Highlands, from Scotland, as you know the country from which Maine came south.)
Reply:
Dear Simon. It would be my pleasure to send a signed book for your mother. I do hope we can meet one day soon. And certainly if I make it up to the Highlands, I would so delighted to meet your mother. Yes, the book tracks a change from a more liberal-utilitarian moment of imperial civilizers to one more interested in cultural protection and integrity. Maine was at the cusp of that change, and incredible intelligent and perceptive in the debate (others in his camp were more strategically oriented). Indeed, he has had a long reputation in Indian as a friend and defender of Indian village communities. Gandhi was a great admirer of Maine's on this account. And since then a whole host of Indian legal historians have found Maine's work on the impact of English law in India to be especially illuminating. It is wonderful to hear from you, so there is nothing to apologize for. all my best, Karuna
I emailed Sharon and asked here to print out this exchange for mum, who, when I phoned her this evening was intrigued; very keen to learn more about Dr.Mantegna's work, as am I, now my copy of her book has arrived.
** ** **
I'm intrigued by an entry that Paul Peacock has posted on the Internet Gardener about creating a potager rather than growing things in straight lines.

Saturday, 21 August 2010

Jobs

Niko, our Greek tutor, records Ithaca for us. Slowly
One more Greek lesson before we leave for Corfu. The other evening Nikos continued helping us with the structuring of Greek sentences as well as practising numbers, writing, reading, pronunciation, prepositions, and verbs. To help with learning Ithaca he's recorded the poem via Garageband so we could practise with a version read more slowly, and so this poem, instead of losing its strength by repetition, is becoming a route into the language I'd so like to be able to speak, through hearing and speaking and understanding what Cavafy actually wrote.
Τοὺς Λαιστρυγόνας καὶ τοὺς Κύκλωπας, τὸν ἂγριο Ποσειδῶνα δὲν θὰ συναντήσεις, ἄν δὲν τοὺς κουβανεῖς μὲς στὴν ψυχή σου, ἄν ὴ ψυχή σου δὲν τοὺς στήνει ἐμπρός σου.
The Laestrygonians and the Cyclopes, the fierce Poseidon you'll not encounter, unless you carry them along within your soul, unless your soul raises them before you.
Next lesson we'll go through the poem and other Greek passages word-by-word to help grasp how the grammar works. Greek syntax still teases our poor brains.
The predominant word order in Greek is SVO (Subject-Verb-Object), but word order is quite freely variable, with VSO and other orders as frequent alternatives. Within the noun phrase, adjectives precede the noun (for example, το μεγάλο σπίτι, [to meˈɣalo ˈspiti], 'the big house'), while possessors follow it (for example, το σπίτι μου, [to ˈspiti mu], 'my house').
Many people pick up a language without subjecting it to this analysis, relying on the company of Greeks. I wonder if we'll find we are any better at conversation in Greek by the time we get back from Corfu, or if the lessons we've had in England will enable us to be any more intelligible when in Greece. I so hope.
** ** **
Cycled to campus to see Andrew Coulson earlier in the week to plan more work on scrutiny and make arrangements to work with John Cade, recently retired as Head of Scrutiny at Birmingham City Council. On a fallen branch on the opposite side of the Soho Loop canal just after I'd passed under the Dudley Road bridge I saw a heron fishing unworried by my passing, concentrating.
I've continued preparing our plot. We'll plant potatoes before the end of the month. I've managed to make at least the southern half of our plot manageable. I've made up shed foundations and must now fill in the space created by the levelled wood. Lin and I, having discovered an offer on Freecycle, went to Perry Bar to dig up someone's patio, carting off slabs for our home garden and for at least part of the allotment. I've got to a point on this where I'd like to avoid cash payments for anything on the plot, relying instead on sharing and recycling. The other day, unasked, a neighbouring plot holder whose name I don't know, helped me carry the slabs so far collected from the top, where I'd unloaded them from Lin's car, to the bottom of the plot where they're needed. "I'd like to ask you to come and sit in my shed and have a cup of tea. Maybe by winter we'll have one," "You will, you will."
Alec Bristow's famous book How to Run an Allotment
I'm just finishing fixing the last yardage of book and file shelves in my new study here, struggling to make holes with cheap ceramic drills in very hard bricks. The idea being that if I want to use my laptop, compress and edit films, and do work that involves not wanting to be interrupted the habit spreads."Because you're sitting doing nothing useful to the household while you sit there at the kitchen table on your laptop, it takes all my motivation away from doing anything to do with the house and so I start fiddling about doing useless things on my laptop..." I've been keen on fudging work and play - 19th century industrial constructs that have outlived their function, but Lin finds the division useful and my claim to be 'working' or 'playing' all the time can be bloody irritating. I actually quite like being interrupted. I'm not sure how much I want to spend time alone with myself in my own 'study'.
** ** **
The first polls close at 6 p.m. (0800 GMT) in the big, populous states of New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria, which are expected to decide the election.
Saturday night in Australia - 9.00am here - we'll get an east coast exit poll that will convey some idea of the progress of the Australian general election; whether Australia will elect its first women Prime Minister, and whether there's popular support for her party - Labour - on serious investment in sustainability. Julia Gillard's opponent, Tony Abbott, gained the leadership of the opposition Liberal Party from Malcolm Turnbull, while I was in Melbourne last November, after Turnbull had agreed not to oppose Kevin Rudd's policies on carbon emissions. The climate research e-mail scandal occurred almost simultaneously boosting Abbott's strongly avowed scepticism that climate change has anything to do with burning fossil fuels. The 2010 Australian General Election is the first national election in the world where climate change, though in the puzzling way of politics this has been a 'watch my lips' issue in the campaign. Neither of the principals has led on the issue, swapping punch and counter-punch on capacity to govern, while Gillard's vexed many Labour supporters because of the way she ousted Kevin Rudd, her predecessor, only a few months ago. Australia's missed out on recession, its banks being less reckless; not needing to be rescued by government.
[22 August '10: My interest lie with how well the Greens will negotiate their aspirations into the policies of a hung parliament]
** **
I've been invited to lead a seminar on political-management leadership in Wellington, New Zealand, between working in Australia in November.
Political Management Leadership: Negotiating the Overlap
Good government occurs when the best of politics and management combine.
Simon Baddeley has made a 30 year study of the relationship between elected members and their officials.
This one-day programme for managers & senior staff from local government will focus on the skills, codes and values that strengthen trust between elected members and officers. Enhance your skills in a crucial area under the guidance of an internationally recognised specialist.
FACILITATOR
Simon Baddeley, Institute of Local Government Studies, University of Birmingham, UK.
OBJECTIVES OF THE WORKSHOP
To further enhance your appreciation of techniques, processes and procedures that can be used by those leading in a political environment; build a deeper understanding of how the roles of political and managerial leaders are changing and how this will apply in your council.
WORKSHOP STYLE
The day will be participative, using a mix of discussion, handouts, real case studies and video to stimulate analysis and reflection on best practice.
WHO SHOULD ATTEND THIS WORKSHOP?
Anyone working at the political management interface and those who have dealings with elected politicians
REGISTRATION DESK
The workshop registration desk will be open from 8.30am Friday 16 November in the pre-function area on level 16 at the James Cook Hotel Grand Chancellor.
KEY INFORMATION
Workshop Date & Time:
Tuesday 16 November 2010 Registration Workshop
9.00 - 9.30 am 9.30 - 4.30 pm
Venue: • James Cook Hotel Grand Chancellor, 147 The Terrace, Wellington Attendance fee: Attendance fee:
• •
SOLGM Members $400.00 (plus GST) Non-SOLGM Members $500.00 (plus GST)
My contact in NZ asks for help answering a local query about the event set for 16 November
I wonder if you can give me a bit more information about the Political Management Leadership: Negotiating the Overlap course in November please. In particular I wonder if you could advise whether the content of the course would be applicable to Local Government in New Zealand. I note that Simon Baddeley is UK based and has predominantly worked and trained in a UK context ...there are very stark differences between the political environment in the UK compared to New Zealand. We wondered here whether the course would be too focused on the politics of local government rather than the relationship building between officers and politicians that is perhaps more relevant to local government here.I would like to know if Simon has offered the course in New Zealand before. I note he has worked in Australia – has he adapted material from the Australian model of local government or from the UK?
My reply:
Dear C. The questions are understandable and, with your additional briefing, stimulating and helpful. Early August - and I’ve probably read over 10,000 words on the New Zealand context, been in communication with Dr Andrew Asquith at Massey who I plan to meet for further briefing before the seminar and I’ve also been briefed by Chris Game, a close colleague over many years and an expert in comparative local government including New Zealand’s. Knowing what’s going on in NZ, isn’t that new for us at Inlogov. We’ve been alert to and interested, especially since the great changes of the late 80s, in local government reform in NZ and picked up the sense of a return to governance following your Local Government Act 2002, and, as you say, ‘boning up’ on the impact of the 2009 review, especially the potential for shifts in political-management balance, and in some cases the strong probability of a higher profile for the importance of that relationship.
In the case of ‘Super-Auckland’ I concur with your observations. I’ve been attached, since it was published, to Mouritzen and Svara’s work on Leadership at the Apex, including their collaborative work on NZ local government. There can be delegates who will use the uniqueness of their own council to argue the irrelevance of examples from other places – and that’s just between authorities in UK! Sometimes they may be right. I’m not going to argue about this. This is the first time I’ve come to New Zealand. I come, honoured to be invited, to engage in informed discussion with practitioners, sharing, with stimulating illustrations, what Ive learned from thirty years experience studying many ‘political-management’ conversations. I believe that whether in England, Wales, Scotland, Australia or New Zealand, I can impart unique and useful insights, illustrated by film, about the role of the personal in the making of government. There are generic dynamics; principles that are, as you say, universal, but I take nothing for granted; always testing whether what I’m seeing is unique and what elements reflect cross-organisational and even cross-cultural principles. As the CEO who communicated with you notes, I’ve been working in Australia (two years running and a third tour coming up). I found I could ground myself, after briefing, in a widely varying range of councils there, and more than satisfy their staff and councillors about the relevance of my research to their varying situations. I know NZ to be different and I will be learning more as the weeks pass. I’m used to difference, especially as my focus gives places such emphasis on interpersonal dynamics. I’ve worked in Scotland, N.Ireland, Ireland, Sweden and Canada and took my second degree in organisational development at the University of Michigan, and while at Birmingham have worked over a long period with students from India, Pakistan, Japan and China, where an understanding of their local experience is important in helping them understand our approaches. I hope this is helpful. Your final suggestion* is especially helpful and presents me with a most practical challenge. Kind regards, Simon [note: further reading]
*This suggestion came at the end of my contact's email:
It seems inevitable the creation of 'Super-Auckland' will result in at least one local authority where formal ‘politics’ and party politics come to be far more part of the environment than has been the case to date...There will undoubtedly be a knock-on effect elsewhere in the country, even if there are no further super-amalgamations. It will probably be worth your while to give some thought to the implications of this change so that you can talk about, (a) its likely implications for super-Auckland and the authorities that will be on its periphery, and (b) how you might see the transition occurring from the essentially apolitical local government environment that NZ has hitherto enjoyed to this new state of affairs (not in terms of formal ‘process’ but in terms of attitudinal shifts)...this could be an interesting element of the day...exactly the sort of grey area that the audience will want to explore.
It's good to have this early chance to prepare. Given changes in NZ local government and local elections on 9 October 2010, my seminar is wisely timed. My thoughts on the second of these questions...How you might see the transition occurring from the essentially apolitical local government environment...to this new state of affairs?
The generic dynamics go...something like this, though personalities and events can confound prediction and I’m reducing a messy multi-staged process to four neatly discernible stages. You start, especially in smaller councils, with separation between political and managerial spheres – though not necessarily between actual officers and members all of who may know each other quite well...even socialising in the same community. I’m referring to the separation of political and managerial understanding of the world. Even between these spheres there’s seldom no interaction, but it’s usually on a limited number of specific issues between as few as two people – lead manager and lead politician - talking the budget. Arguments stay inside that relationship. Any potential for wider tension between elected and appointed is avoided by mutual ignorance of each other’s worlds. That often suits the small number of those engaged in an occluded political-management conversation, but, in a changing world, hardly makes for a council fit to address ‘wicked’ problems and exercise influence and advocacy in its area. The small conduit between politics and management in such councils precludes learning. The organisation’s staff and most elected members are left out of the loop. Because the tiny loop that does exist has no roots in a wider political-management accord, the system’s running blind...
Reform initiatives pressing for greater capacity in local government will lead, at least initially, to one of two ultimately unsatisfactory responses. In the first, a larger number of officers led by an enthusiastic CEO, become involved in leading the authority in a way that’s more attuned to the broader class of problems they’re being required to address, through influence rather than statutory authority – strategies for local regeneration, community well-being, place-shaping, connectivity via partnerships, not to mention more sophisticated budgetary procedures, performance management and project control. They refine language and techniques that leave councillors in the cold, unable to do what politicians are for, which is to be able to debate, campaign for, and seek consensus for policy, especially as these policies haven’t even been part of a conversation between members and officers inside the organisation, let alone in the community. There’s no connect.
The second of these unsatisfactory alternatives is for members, in frustration, to stage a take-over and attempt to run things themselves, but without the level of knowledge and skill they need to be managers – especially when it comes to handling finance or evolving and driving strategic imperatives. In a solely member-led council, even if members don’t initiate this themselves, there’s likely to be a haemorrhaging of managerial talent from what they feel has become a politicised organisation, and it become difficult to recruit managers with the experience needed to carry on council business, let alone sustain the creativity and dynamism that makes for good government.
Out of these messy situations you may hope there will emerge a far more effective understanding of the need to negotiate a mutually respectful overlap of political-managerial responsibilities. The style and attitude of particular individuals – lead politician and lead manager – is crucial in modelling and diffusing the joint managerial and political leadership crucial to governance.** (There's more detail and links to visual evidence in my 2008 book chapter on political-management leadership)
**Robin Hambleton's 2008 report in Civic Leadership for Auckland: Briefing Paper prepared for the Royal Commission on Auckland Governance describes a brief...
...to consider what governance and representation arrangements will best provide leadership for the Auckland region and its communities, while facilitating appropriate participation by citizens and other groups and stakeholders in decision-making processes.
** ** **
Richard and Amy in Steelhouse Lane
Amy turned up unexpectedly as I was working this morning, writing a simplified analysis of how local councils in which there was minimal communication between politicians and officers evolved under pressure to be fit for purpose to ones where the work of politicians and managers overlap. "I was going to take you out for lunch, Dad" "Let me just finish this" Richard joined us and Amy drove us into town and we ate at Must in Newhall Street, a place crowded in the week but one we had to ourselves, for a leisurely afternoon Dim Sum and soft drink cocktails. Then we strolled through the city centre and down to the Dogs Home and back to Steelhouse Lane where Amy'd left her car.
** ** ** The green energy company ENOVA Hellas has been studying three more locations for the construction of wind and solar parks in north-west Greece - one of these is Corfu, where there's opposition being expressed to windfarms being placed around and amid the Diapontian Islands - Othoni, Erikoussa, Mathraki and rocky islets off the northern east coast of Corfu - with a petition being collected under the local leadership of Spyros A. Salvanos against them (English translation) by an impressively detailed Greek website (see the plans), a Facebook page, and regular articles over recent months in Corfu Press, while there are forum discussions going back to January this year among ex-pats and holiday visitors with useful links on ww.agnitravel.com (where people are not wholly oppositional, aware of the urgent need for green energy, even enjoying the 'majestic' scale of wind turbines). GreenCorfu blog opposes. I've also seen reference to additional proposals for windfarms on Trompetta near Mount Pantokrator mentioned on the Ano Korakiana website on 19 August, with a report of proposals for electrical transmission lines on a north to south line between Skripero and Ano Korakiana.
I would like to hear a grown-up debate about this rather than knee-jerk opposition given that continuing to rely on fossil fuel energy, let along arguing the case for its long-term future, is marginally insane, edging on criminality. In a century people not yet born will say of us "You had the sun; you had geo-thermal heat; you had wind and waves and still you clung to coal and oil. continued to rip it from open-cast mines in the earth's remaining wildernesses and from the depths of fragile oceans, and then in panic left us and generations to come with the residues of atomic fusion, resisting over and over again attempts to adopt the technologies of sustainable energy, taking our future for your present."

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Leaving the Highlands

When I leave the Highlands old sores ache, from days when a train from Victoria took me away to boarding school sixty two years ago. It was normal in those days. People were called away from their families to go to war, sometimes never returning. An echo of that temporary bereavement tightens my chest as I head cheerily for the station with Oscar and my luggage, and a picnic for the eight hour journey to Birmingham. At Drumochter Pass after Dalwhinnie - Dail Chuinnidh - the train goes by the heads of Loch Ericht and then of Loch Garry, below the Boar of Badenoch and the Sow of Atholl, picking up speed down a long gradient to Blair Atholl and Pitlochry. I see the Truim flowing north, then, passing the watershed, the Garry flowing south. There's still miles to the border at Gretna Green but here's where I feel I've left and where, when going north, I feel about to arrive.
* * *
Staff at Gatwick have postponed strike plans for when we're due to fly having negotiated a better deal than the initial 3% they'd been offered. We'd been apprehensive in a selfish way that baggage handlers and check-in staff would walk out; Gary Pearce, GMB, "We've a new improved offer to put to our members as a result of talks at conciliation service ACAS ... all planned industrial action is suspended until we get the reaction of the members."
****
This landscape on which I surfeit would mean no more than postcards without my mother. That's always been the case, alone at sea, its beauty and wonder is no more than desolation without thought of who's waiting for me, to whom I'm travelling.
The older I grow and the longer I look at landscapes and seek to understand them, the more convinced I am that their beauty is not simply an aspect but their very essence and that that beauty derives from the human presence. J.B.Jackson
Amy's walked on. I last walked here in January with Richard
Without Brin Croft this beautiful place is an art gallery, full of paintings and photos agents call 'commercial'. Even now, if I walk on my own along the Farnack my enjoyment is the less if I'm not accompanied by the ranging dogs enjoying it with me, catching scores more scents. In their canine way they'd share in this celebration, preferring my procession to roaming alone. The same applies everywhere. What would Handsworth or Lydbrook be without Lin or Richard or Amy, dearly as we value our friends and neighbours? I suspect they feel the same about their treasures. Similarly Ano Korakiana, on Democracy Street - 208 Οδός Δημοκρατίας, Άνω Κορακιάνα, Κέρκυρα, Ελληνική Δημοκρατία - although there's where the sense of a village is greatest, perhaps greater than anywhere I've had a home. And there too despite it's lovely aspect, it's being there with Lin surrounded by friends and neighbours that makes the village - το χωριό - wherever it was. What good thing did I do to be where places so complement the people in them?
Winter was hard in Scotland., especially in the Highlands, so spring was late and only now, in mid-summer, is the heather starting to flower. Banks of violet that give a sheen of blue grey to the hills are still muted. Ripped branches and torn trunks of oak, alder and larch that could not take the weight of snow in January are developing scar tissue. Dried wood and brush lies against bridge pillars, heaped by snow-melt spates. I know places where I trudged through snow in January. At the same time I can't imagine them. Then the land slept beneath thick snow. Ice silenced the rivers and burns. Now they roar with the summer rain; dazzle in the afternoon sun. The land's in a quiet frenzy of propagation. Scotch Argus seeking mates flutter everywhere over the lush grass. More butterflies appear - small exquisite blues, Red Admirals, Wood Browns bouncing in woodland sunbeams and - everywhere - bees, bumble bees, wasps, midges and flies so ubiquitous I stop noticing them. Put my face close to the ground and I'm sneezing in seconds from inhaling pollen swirling invisibly across every inch of open ground. Where's not grass, there's a patchwork of sphagnum moss above the peat; bed for rushes. In the woods where sand is close to the surface, as at Culbin, the woodland floor is rimed with blueish lichen amid dead Scots Pine needles - colonising the ground beneath them for all but their own seed - from which, even so, sprouts a dissident foxglove or rose bay willow; laid in a bird's dropping? In the more open spaces wildflowers proliferate; delicate speedwell, blue vetch, creamy meadow sweet, hare bell, field orchid and Queen Anne's lace, enjoyed by wasps, through to coarser daisies, wild carroway, yellow ragwort (where the fields lack sheep), banks of rose bay willow and avenues of foxgloves and sturdy thistle; in the hedges wild raspberries - red and yellow, the former slightly sweeter, tiny delicacies, some so ripe they fall apart as they're picked. Briers are a long way from flowering, still growing soft tendrils. Hazel nuts are forming, soft and light green still. Across our walks Amy and I were seeing tiny toads working their way through the jungle above them. Reproduction's in the air.
Leave them together another week and Oscar and Lulu, her season forwarded by his attentions, would be tied.
"Keep an eye on those two" said my mother, "Sharon's got enough to do already without puppies".
Above the fields and around Brin Croft three buzzards make passes circling and moving on, mewing to each other. On walks we've starting young red deer, fleet and healthy leaping over fences and brush, sending the terriers into ecstatic hopeless pursuit, yapping with excitement. Hares easefully outdistance the dogs. Rabbits disappear into their burrows under gorse and broom. Young pheasants hurtle in different directions lying low until we're nearly upon them.
** ****
On Saturday morning Amy flew in. Liz and her fiance Matt drove up. We met at The Dores Inn for a fine supper. Back at Brin, Amy with her friends, despite being up since dawn, went for a night walk by Loch Duntelchaig, in part to gaze at the Perseid Showers trailing across the night sky reflected in the still water, missing the invasive loom of Inverness - worse each year as the city expands.
"I wish it wasn't there. That light pollution" said Amy later.
"Yes indeed, but Amy, street lights for over a century have meant safety, civilisation. Darkness was danger, fear of the outdoors, free-range crime. City lighting for most people is still about feeling safe. Not so many have learned the pleasure of darkness from early childhood like you."
Banquo's murderer in Macbeth: ...The west yet glimmers with some streaks of day; Now spurs the lated traveller apace to gain the timely inn; and near approaches the subject of our watch
***
During Sunday morning ebb Amy and I strolled along the shallows of the Moray Firth plashing through puddles of brine, popping bladderwrack amid lugworm castings, the air clear, smelling of iodine. Fort George and Ardersier on the horizon.
Mum hates departures "Bye darling. Lovely to have you" a peck and she's off, as I head with Matt to the station and the long journey home, hours to enjoy Kadari's first novel
** ** **
Mark your calendar for August 27th (Fri) and August 28th (Sat) for the Agiotfest 10, a festival of ROCK, JAZZ and FOLK to be held for two evenings in Agios Ioannis, (Triklino), Corfu. Gates open at 1800. Music until 0100
  • Car parking available. Coaches available. Food and refreshments.
  • Memorabilia. Nearly fifty musicians from four countries.
  • Tickets €20, or €35 for a two-evening package.
  • Children welcome.
  • 100 metres from the plateia. Clear signposts, easy to find location.
Please help us by coming to our event, and thereby put Agios Ioannis and Corfu well on the international festival map.
Telephone 2661058177 or 6974932408 or 6978206077 and visit www.agiotfest.co.uk....Best wishes, Agiotfest team.

Friday, 13 August 2010

In the Highlands

Ben Weavis from the Culduthel Road above Inverness
We drove along the Culduthel Road to give Sharon a break by having a meal in town. Forgetfulness led to revisiting the worst Chinese restaurant in Scotland. Richard phoned me while we were there. "Dad! I thought we agreed never to go there after that last visit." "Damn" I said under my breath as an uncrispy duck arrived at our table, a re-heated nest of shredded flesh - made worse by our anticipation of the real thing. Other dishes had also come via deep-freeze and microwave - slack spring rolls filled with overheated mush, soggy bamboo shoots...I should have been forewarned. We were the only people there. The waiter was a nice pale Scots lad, not Chinese. The other equally affable waiter was, at least originally, from the Indian sub-continent. "Was everything alright?" "Er...the duck was a bit disappointing and the tea wasn't jasmine tho' your menu said it was." "Och sorry" "Can we have the bill, please?"
"I just couldn't see the point of complaining" I said later in the car as we drove home across Daviot Moor. "Well what could we have said? 'It's totally disgusting.' Which it was. I suppose we should have called for the manager." "Probably not on the premises at that time of night." "Let's go to Cromarty tomorrow."
South Soutor at Cromarty
I've visited favourite places - with Kalvin and family, with my mother, on my own but for the terriers. Cromarty, Coignafearn via the Garbol Road, Dog Rose Pool, Alturlie Point, Ardersier, under the Kessock Bridge, the Culbin Woods by Nairn. I've strolled beside the Farnack in semi-spate, so much rain we've had.River Farnack at Farr ~ 13 Aug '10 from Simon Baddely on Vimeo.
My mother asked about the internet yesterday so I sat beside her on her bed and showed her my blog; the way I could jump from text to links, to images - still and moving - and back to text. "That's OK. I keep up with your doings, but I still prefer a letter." "From now on I'm going to go back to writing to you with pen on paper." I reverted to Google search. "Oh you don't have to tell me about that. It's so useful." I took her to Wikipedia; an article on her great grandfather Sir Henry Maine on which I'm trying to resolve an NPOV dispute, reading some of what I'd written:
I also take your point about Sir Mountstuart Grant Duff's ecomium written to draw attention to the theme of the current NPOV dispute, even though he points out that 'Maine warned his countrymen against the insularity that results from ignorance of all law and institutions save one's own; his example has shown the benefit of the contrary habit.' The language may be laudatory but it seems to reflect in Maine an approach that is hardly consistent with the criticism of him by Karl Marx, quoted by Harold Laski, and used to challenge the article's NPOV. Simon Baddeley (talk) 16:40, 13 August 2010 (UTC)
"Well that's a wonderful idea. I like that, but what about Facebook and Twitter?"
"Ask Amy when she comes on Saturday. It does let you pass around messages and pictures and chat to friends and strangers"
"But surely you can use email for that, or the phone?"
"Well yes but but with all these many tasked modern mobiles..." I sensed I was on weaker ground here, being uncertain myself about Twitter, "...it's about a constant flow of chat. Quick exchanges between lots of people all over the world. Gossip"
"Twittering like sparrows"
"Well yes" "Why do people want to do that?"
"Mu-um!"
"It's just a waste of time"
"Young people love wasting time ... Have a look at these."
I showed some films of me working on our allotment, and my film of Carnival in Ano Korakiana."
"Lovely. Those are fun"
"Would you like to try YouTube?"
"Go on then"
"Tell me a piece of music you like. No. You list eight pieces of music and we'll do your own Desert Island Discs. Here and now."
She thought for a moment.
"Can you play that love song from Tristan and Isolde?"
I called up Waltraud Meier. Record number 1.
"Beautiful. beautiful, but the sound's a bit off"
"Mu-um! It's just the speakers on my laptop. Let's get your earphones for your 'record number two'. What is it?"
"Well I don't like a lot of Puccini. I do like Tosca. Will it play me Angela Gheorghiu singing Vissi d'arte?"
"No problem." Record number 2.
"Record number 3?"
"Something by Renée Fleming?"
"Very good...even if it was Puccini"
"Number 4?"
"Can you get Jacqueline du Pré? Elgar's cello concerto with her husband conducting"
"Daniel Barenboim. OK?" I'd seen him the night before doing a masterclass for the BBC Proms. I searched for thirty seconds and found them both in black and white. Record number 4.
"It didn't work out between them. Sublime."
"Number 5?"
"Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 3?"
I found a clip of Olga Kern playing.
"They do dress so well, the Russians."
"Can I suggest Number 6 which I heard on Hannibal? Film about a serial killer who kills rude people. Anthony Hopkins. Vide Cor Meum? It pleases me when someone gets their comeuppance for being bad mannered, like that dolt who honked at the old lady (I showed this later, to mum's delight. Amy told me tho' this was 'set-up' 'a viral')
"Not sure he deserves to be...No. I don't know it. Go on."
"That was lovely"
"Record number 7?"
"Something from Peter Grimes?"
I found Jon Vickers as Grimes singing the mad scene.
"Number 8. Last one."
"Can't remember his name. Tip of my tongue. Strauss. Not the waltz one. Four Last Songs."
"She's so good. Marvellous."
"And if you had to choose just one of those records for your desert island, which would you take?"
"And apart from Shakespeare and the Bible, what book?"
"The Wind in the Willows. I love the Piper at the Gates of Dawn"
"And you're allowed one object?"
"Rembrandt sketch. An old woman teaching a child to walk." I searched with Google. "That's it!"
****** Yesterday we went for a two hour ride through the Culbin Woods. "You once pushed me. Now I push you." Occasionally we gave a lift to old Bibi, my mother's age in dog years. We talked and talked circuiting the well signed Hill 99 trail, stopping at the lookout tower to gaze over the Moray Firth at Cromarty Souters. Ever reverberating, almost leisurely, back and forth across the gentle landscape, Tornadoes exercised. "They could be in Kandahar tomorrow. Cover for the Afghan elections."
* * * * * I was emailed by an officer from one of the new Cheshire Unitaries - councils no longer Districts sharing functions within a two tier County-District arrnagment - to write an intro' to a report written for the council and other's interested on policy-making methods. My draft:
B*** M****’s language may sound managerial, but this report is very much about the machinery of political-management – emphasising the key conclusion of the 2005 SOLACE Commission on which I sat and which heard, over and over, the point made by the politicians and managers who spoke to us, that “good government is where the best of politics and management combine to be greater than the sum of the parts.”
Newly elected members, and even more experienced councillors faced for the first time with the ‘instruments’ of policy-making, as described here, can feel like passengers who, in safer times, could request a visit to the cockpit of the airplane in which they were flying. A complex array of dials, switches, levers, flashing lights impressed the visitors, who remained undaunted for knowing there wasn’t the slightest chance that they would ever - except in a movie thriller – have to take over the mystifying responsibilities of their genial pilots. But when it comes to understanding and steering the policy-making process they really will, and in many cases already have. This is no fantasy, though it may feel as exciting, daunting and even frightening.
The idea that members are mere customers who make policy by passing on their wishes to skilled but deferential officers has long been discredited in excellent councils. Equally discredited by these authorities is the idea that officers run the council. Both officers and members know this can never be as satisfactory as forging policy together, while at the same time knowing that members must stand back from the operational work of managers, and officers must resist being drawn into politics. Both know they must negotiate and sustain an intimate overlapping of responsibility for their local populations - who rather than being customers are citizens to be drawn into that shared activity we have come to call ‘governance’
A chief executive suggested the relationship between politicians and officers in government is like a tango: “Who’s leading and who’s led is only clear in the most formal sense; to get it right you have first of all to learn the dance”. More and more members and officers, with the help of people like B*** M****, are learning to do just that.
More and more elected members are learning the value - indeed the necessity in these difficult times - of policy-making skills, of drilling deep into the intricacies of finance to learn how money works to serve their policies, and more and more officers are matching the increasing skills of members with a keen understanding, appreciation of and sensitivity to the world of elected members, how it feels for them in their wards, on the street and in the ballot box.
Local democracy doesn’t just happen because there’s a locally elected authority. It has a chance of happening – despite the constraints placed on UK local government by the most centralising system of government in Europe – if a local council contains men and women, members and officers, deeply committed to inventing and reinventing, honing and rehoning, the machinery of government – machinery so ably and usefully described in this report.

Simon Baddeley, Inlogov, University of Birmingham, an academic who's made a career of learning from practitioners about the subtle dynamics involved in constructing trust at the point where politics encounters management in the making of government.
** ** ** Getting started on another Ismail Kadare - The General of the Dead Army.

Back numbers

Simon Baddeley