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Thursday, 17 March 2011

Heading back to England

That'll be our ferry to Igoumenitsa
Wednesday: Spent the morning tidying the house. Our Greek advances. I explained to Vasiliki we were only away for fourteen days. I said when we'd be back, how we were travelling, where we were going on the way. But I wavered when trying to say when I would return.
"Πρέπει να γεράσω..." I started to say.
"No" said Natasha who has English, "Say 'γεράσω γυρίσω' not 'γεράσω'. Γεράσω means 'old man'" "αλλά είμαι γεράσω...και γυρίσω!" I said.
Lefteri and Katerina carried our cases to the car after we'd made our goodbyes to neighbours. We headed down to the Old Port to take a small ferry 15 miles to the mainland where we'd get a larger Anek Lines boat overnight to Italy.
We came into Igoumenitsa after dark, making the same tedious walk from where the Corfu boats dock to the big ferry terminal. "You walked?" "Why not go by car?" "Take a taxi" "There must be a courtesy bus. surely". "No we don't want to pay €5 to catch a taxi to go one kilometre," so it's a scruffy stroll with our luggage under yellow lights along the edge of a busy dual carriageway that beside the airport-scale concrete apron separating the buildings of Igoumenitsa from the sea. As we walked we saw scurrying groups of transients - illegal immigrants - being observed by the local police as they hung around the edge of the wide road. A mobile unit twinkled its blue lights; edged closer to the crowd, eventually turning on a siren to disperse the crowd into shadowed alleyways, shooing them out of sight for a while. In the sour interior of the main ferry terminal interminable soccer played on screens. Lin wandered to get duty free ciggies. Came back "There are two lads going through the bins outside. Shall I take them some food?" "Sure. Leave your bag with me." She fished out some cheese pies from our travel picnic. Coming back. "Yes they were looking for food. They seemed very surprised when I offered them the pies though." "Well yes. I'm afraid dear Greece is running out of her legendary hospitality. The world's too crowded."
Thursday: Here on the ferry ploughing steadily north in fine weather towards Ancona, the Japanese disaster is ever present in the news, in thoughts. Is it as obscene to think of this as helping focus attention on a sustainable future of renewable energy, as it is for a notorious TV commentator in the US to suggest God's sending messages to Japan? (Piece posted on Global Voices by Chiki Ogiue about filtering false rumours - some malicious - about events in Japan]
On the ferry to Ancona we slept on the floor in the airline seats lounge and thought about what things we have do back in Birmingham.
***
The ferry was an hour late getting into Ancona. We had 15 minutes from disembarkation to catch our train north. It's the 150th anniversary of Italian Reunification which may have explained why there were no buses, no taxis. I pleaded expressively with passing motorists. A small two door saloon carrying three  people stopped for us.
We squeezed in with many thanks to the young driver - Francesco - and made our train to Bologna, where we changed for another to Mestre; then another to Treviso, where we caught Bus 6 to the airport. You should buy tickets before boarding in Italy. Rushed, we bought tickets on the bus, reaching over the driver's booth with our remaining small change. I tried to frank our ticket in the yellow box with a slot in the bus but it was too limp. I pointed back at us and muttered to an Italian couple who'd given us helpful directions "stupid foreigners." But they had the same problem. "Stupid locals!" muttered the young man.  To catch our plane we had to jump a long queue of people waiting for later flights, making  it to check-in as final calls to East Midlands were called over the chattering concourse. A skeleton staff hurried us through security to our gate. I was hot and exhausted, delighted with the big orange from our garden which I peeled and took apart inside a plastic bag sucking flesh and juice into my parched throat. Through the flight I'd been reading Balzac's Cousin Bette.  Wonderful stuff; glued to it through our flight including the turbulence over Belgium. Jill met us at the airport. We were home by 11.00pm.
*****
One of my errands while back in England is to travel up to Darlington to meet someone who's told me that when he was a lot younger he recorded a number of Old Country episodes along with the commercials going out at the town. Mark D Taylor has them on a VHS tape and I'm going to borrow and digitise it. He emailed me:  Hello Simon. I have been looking at some of the clips of Jack Hargreaves on your site, great to see them. Jack Hargreaves was a hero of mine, as he was too many others. I can remember watching "Out of Town" aged 7 with my friend Glenn, eager to see what stories would unfold each week. It was partly due to these programmes I began fishing and later shooting. (Incidentally I am now 56). The reason I write is regarding some recordings I made of "Old Country". I still have them on tape and also have them transferred to DVD. The quality is not fantastic, but they are watchable. Would you like a copy? Regards Mark

I replied asking if I could borrow his video.
Dear Simon. Just an update for you on the programmes I have on my VHS tape. They are from the "Old Country" series broadcast by Channel 4. There are 25 in number, and are approx 15 mins long. I have listed the subjects covered below. You may already have some of them. My tape is probably had more, but I hurriedly recorded film called "The Other Side of The Hedge" over some of the original recordings I made, although an interesting film, I wish I had found a blank tape at the time! 1 Blagdon Horse, 2 Sea Bass Fishing, 3 Pigeon Shooting (Doug Matthews), 4 Reed Barn, 5 Water Mill, 6 Walking with "Ghost" - Meadler Tree, 7 Poaching Rod. (I love this story!), 8 Grayling Fishing, 9 Building a Gypsy Cart, 10 New Forest Ponies, 11 The Plough, 12 Lurchers, 13 Rabbiting Dog (Spider), 14 Working Pointers, Brittany Spaniel, 15 Brittany Spaniel - Training & Shooting, 16 Horse Harness - How it fits, 17 Dogs - Training, 18 Sheep Fair, 19 Birds - Kingfisher (David Boag), 20 Shepherds Sale, 21 Country Objects, 22 Fishing Tackle Development, 23 Fishing Gravel Pit & Dace, 24 The Tarrents (Dorset), 25 Circus. Regards Mark 
Now to see if Mark's VHS tape can produce better quality than I have at the moment. The five minute episode, also recorded at the time by a viewer,  in which Jack talks about goats is an example of the current quality I hold. Sound's good but the picture leaves quite a bit to be desired:

Ian Wegg has reminded me that the 16mm film at South West Film and Television Archive could produce far higher quality film if only we could dig out a complete episode of what JH broadcast live.

From Ian Wegg:
Hi Simon. The issue of Stan Bréhaut’s comment about the film (in the archive) being “unusable” was something I was going to bring up. That has always worried me little but my interpretation is slightly different. I understand the film itself is Agfa “reversal” film, i.e. there were no negatives. All the editing was done on the same physical material that came out of the camera. I therefore concluded that what Stan meant was they were restricted to using the films as originally “cut up” and no further editing was possible on them. I can see there are considerably more than the films used in the 28 commercial releases in the SWFTA collection. I assume, given the evidence of the “exploding bait box” example, that these are usable. It is worth mentioning that (I understand) well preserved good 16mm film stock is capable of producing picture resolutions to HD standards. A Blu-Ray release of Jack’s material would be a very exciting prospect! Regards, Ian.
I've set up an informal JH Committee:
Dear Ian. I’m taking the liberty of using your latest findings to circulate both your letter and my reply to the rest of the “JH Committee” - with the exception of John Peters whose email I’ve still to recover. I want to loop him in as he’s the one whose research for his friend Richard Hill led me to Jennie and the SWFTA and the recovery of the 'exploding' bait box episode. Mark D Taylor will know that he now holds an especially treasured possession in the form of a VHS of Old Country programmes he recorded from the TV when younger. I’m arranging to travel to Durham to meet him (hi Mark!) when I get back to UK...Your research, Ian, has helped confirm what good research often – if frustratingly – does, which is to establish what can’t be done, doesn’t exist or isn’t true! But it took me far too long to grasp the significance of Stan Bréhaut’s remark that most of the film held at SWFTA is that recovered by JH from a defunct Southern TV some of which he used to remake the 28 episodes listed by Paul Peacock to which you refer (I’m copying this to Paul P) - but which without JH’s shed commentary is ‘unusable’. I know there are others who will argue we can still make good use of what we have got, but I think we agree that what we seek are ‘originals’. An important  question is whether among the SWFTA tapes there are the masters of C4’s Old Country series (Jennie-Roger at SWFTA?), A good question is whether the tapes on Betamax are indeed these, as you conjecture ,or the masters of the 28 on Paul Peacock’s list? It would be just great if they were the former, and of course useful if the latter, but not of the same interest given our shared wish to discover original full episodes of programmes that went out live (which as we know the 28 on PP’s list never did).  I repeat myself because I need to go over these facts to get a grasp of why this has become such a complicated challenge. To anyone who says “but there are JH programmes on commercial DVD already” it is necessary to explain the particular thing these lack, that they never went out live and JH’s special forte and love as a broadcasting craftsman was live TV. It was dangerous. It allowed mistakes and it tested his talent for telling a tale as it emerged. In this sense he treated each episode like a theatrical performance, which helps explain his remark to an interviewer who asked why he always seemed so relaxed on air “I didn’t sleep on Thursday night for 21 years.” He embraced the risk. (my italics) That said, I was told by Phil Wade, son of the late Steve Wade, who directed and produced the 28 list with JH, that when they were running the OB films in the schoolhouse studio and JH, having spoken from the ‘shed’ they’d set up in the studio in the Meon Valley schoolroom, continued his commentary over the films, he never once faltered and they never had to stop to record a second take. “Your stepdad did each episode off-air as though he was broadcasting live” said Phil to me a few years ago. By the way Ian don’t ever apologise to me for “lack of communication”. I am incredibly lucky to have you and a small band of the most assiduous enthusiasts seeking out, always with the possibility that our search will come to naught (which might amuse JH – not in an unpleasant way, but as evidence of his love for ‘live’ TV before so much that was broadcast was routinely taped), copies of JH’s enormously productive activity that has now disappeared – except for short extracts often of poor quality – existing only in the purer form we seek in the memories of those who when younger enjoyed what Jack had to say and show. If we fail that is reward enough for me, but I do think another generation might enjoy some of this material, not to mention people now in the 50s and over who’d like to see it again and perhaps show it to their grandchildren.  As a researcher most of my life, I’m enjoying our pursuit, more and more intrigued by what could be viewed as its frustrations. Perhaps we shall between us meet with some success and we can all meet up in the flesh to celebrate over a jug or two of cider, some sea bass cooked over a faggot of fennel and whatever else takes our fancy. As ever I will be delighted to hear from you, as and when, and my best wishes to all to whom this is copied in our JH committee. Best wishes. Simon
*****
Waiting for me in the pile of post in Handsworth was a DVD sent me by Dee Edmonds of Crocodile Media. They're paying royalties for using some of Jack's archive film to assemble a feature about country themes on TV. I never associate JH with anywhere inside what he called 'the olive belt' ("it's south of my natural latitudes") yet here was an old B & W clip of him, with burnt-in time code (BITC), looking at country life in Cyprus. I think this must have been during winter some time in the mid-1970s.
Jack Hargreaves in Cyprus

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