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Wednesday, 2 March 2011

First lines

They seemed at first like floaters inside my eye, or the blemishes on a digital image which can be brushed gently off a laptop screen, but their musical mewing showed four short-toed eagles soaring over the crags above the village. A group around the shop gazed up at them as I paused with another barrow of firewood from Steve's house to ours. Overnight Tuesday's weather changed back to wet and windy.

The sun has hung his hat up
Drip drip drip all day
The sun has hung his hat up
‘Cos he doesn’t want to play

Now we’re all unhappy
Drip drip drip all day
The sun has hung his hat up
‘Cos he doesn’t want to play

He ‘s not up this morning
‘Cos he’s blamed for global warming
Now he’s staying in all day
To give us all a warning.

I’m glad I sawed and stored most of the latest firewood yesterday. What’s left is sheltered under Alan’s new balcony. So...‘what to do on a rainy day’. Read, feed cats, make the bed, keep the stove working up a cosy space all day, ponder the news - I understand enough Greek to follow Katerina when she told us that she’ll be moving to a new school between Ipsos and Ag. Markos now that the village school is being ‘amalgamated’ along with many schools across Greece. I’d seen this on the village website, mentioning there are now only 12 children at the school in Ano Korakiana.
Το 2ο Δημοτικό Σχολείο Κορακιάνας σήμερα έχει 12 μαθητές. Προτείνεται η κατάργησή του και η συγχώνευση με το 6θέσιο Δημοτικό Σχολείο Αγίου Μάρκου, σε απόσταση 3,5 χιλιομέτρων. Δημιουργείται σχολείο με 103 μαθητές
Such eventualities have been occurring in villages across the modernising world, though not where rural populations are still large, as in Tikli in Rajasthan, where Martin and Annie Howard, who we know, have started a local private school in the country 15 miles south of the outskirts of Delhi. That would be so unlikely in Europe where young parents feel they can only make a living for themselves and a future for their children by moving to larger settlements. At least there’s a viable 103 pupils in the combined school three and a half kilometres away on the lower ground between Pyrgi and Ag.Markos.
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What to read?:
When the same nightmare awakens her, she sits bolt upright in the middle of the bed.  McBain Alice in Jeopardy 2005
Towards the middle of July, in the year 1838, one of those vehicles called milords, then appearing in the Paris Squares for the first time, was driving along the rue de l’Université, bearing a stout man of medium height in the uniform of a captain in the National Guard.  Balzac Cousin Bette 1847
First lines. Like the tips of icebergs, skirted by the less attentive, an indicator as to what may lie beneath. I’m equally attracted to both beginnings, written a century and a half apart. Go on to the whole first page and I may be reading what the author wrote last - distilling the essence of their story in those first 30 or so lines, after the rest was completed, or I may be reading the page the author needed to get right before they could progress. ‘Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by this son of York.’ I remember Olivier speaking these lines in the film of Richard III, still better than the versions I’ve seen on stage. Good first lines are like poems, or clever advertising copy – containing a weight and depth beyond the number of words in them, the meaning and intention of the writer. I love ‘once upon a time…’ because I remember having enchanting stories read to me. This will be timeless magic. ‘In the beginning darkness was upon the face of the waters’ or is it ‘the deep?** I can’t recall exactly, but nearly as good as 'The first ray of light which illumines the gloom, and converts into dazzling brilliancy that obscurity in which the earlier history of...' and so on, for a good paragraph, introducing the universe of Pickwick. 'It is a truth universally acknowledged...'  starts Jane Austen’s great novel Pride and Prejudice  - her first wasn’t it? ‘It was the best of the times. It was the worst of times.’ A Tale of Two Cities. ‘It was a crisp April morning and the clocks were striking thirteen’ I don’t know if it was crisp or April, but the 13 chimes I do recall. Knowing what was to come in Orwell’s 1984, imagining how I could be persuaded to embrace a lie even though reality is presented to my eye and ear. ‘I first met him in Piraeus.’ People who’ve only seen the film of Zorba the Greek will guess it. They seem so simple, yet these first words are steeped in the genius of their inventors. Kadare’s Three Elegies for Kosovo 1998 ‘Never before had rumours of impending war been followed by a confirmation of peace.” I looked that up to see how Kadare started that little book, but what about the ones I can nearly remember? For some reason I’m always thinking Dostoevsky and not Tolstoy wrote Anna Karenina which starts 'All happy marriages are the same; all unhappy marriages are different.'* Is that correct? It was far better than that but until I check it on the memory-stealing internet that's what I recall. How about the first great historian Herodotus’ History of the Greek and Persian War 430BC ‘According to the Persians, best informed in history, the Phœnicians began the quarrel.’ “I like that” said Lin. “It’s as good as the Ed McBain.”

*Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way -  Все счастливые семьи похожи друг на друга, каждая несчастливая семья несчастлива по-своему.
**And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep.
*** ***
We had our first class in Greek here. Superb. Our tutor Aleko Damaskinos, teacher of mathematics at Edinburgh University and Queen Mary, University of London, used the blackboard around the dartboard at Sally’s on the Ipsos esplanade to take us through a number of nouns and verbs that we’d been using to make some simple sentences, taking some of the hard work out of learning the frustrating inflexions of Greek (inflect = to change the form of a word, for example, to show a change in tense, mood, gender, or number). Eight of us – two Dutch - Anneka and Laura, - an American – Mickey – and the English - Roman, Jane, Carol, me and Lin, paying a small sum each for an hour’s very good tuition.
Words we will require for this lesson Aleko told us:
Η θέση (thesi) = place, έχω δίκιο (thikio) = I am right,
Δεν έχο δίκιο = I am wrong,
Δικός μου  (thikos mou) = mine/my (m)
Δική μου = mine/my (f), Δικό μου = mine/my (n),

Δεν πειράζει (pirazi) = it doesn’t matter.
Ίδιοσ-α-ο (ithios-a-o) = the same,
Γυρίζω (girizo) = I return/I turn,
Γύρισα (girisa) = I returned/I turned,
Γύρισε = return! (command),
Η δουλειά (thoolia) = work/job,
Ευχαριστημένος-η-ο (efharitstimenos) = happy.
We started sentences: I returned home = Γυρίζω στο σπίτι
He went back to his place = γύρισε στη θέση του,
What did he/she do? = τι έκανε;
What did you do, Andrea? = τι έκανες, Αντρέα;
What did you see? = τι είδες;

"'See' is very irregular. A bit of a stinker" said Aleko.

βλέπω-εις-ει = Ι see (you see, he/she/it sees)
είδα-ες-ε = I saw (you, he/she/it saw),
δεν είθα τίποτα = I saw nothing
On to some imperatives: βάζω (vazo) = I put, βάλε = put!
δίνω (thino) = I give, δώσε = give!
παίρνω (perno) = I take, πάρε = take!

And some prepositions, μέσα = inside, επάνω = on top

Then a little test: Take the book and give it to Dimitri = πάρε το βιβλίο και δώσε το Κύριο Δημήτρη.
Take the bag from the chair and put it on the table = πάρε τη τσάντα απο τη καρέκλα και βάλε την επάνω στο τραπέζι.
What are you doing, Andrea? = τι έκανες, Αντρέα;
I took the bag  from the chair and I put it on the table = πήρα τη τσάντα απο τη καρέκλα και την έβαλα έπανω στο τραπέζι.
Τhus we continued for a rewarding hour, practising our pronunciation, carefully assembling usable sentences, transposing them to other settings with slightly different nouns. Meanwhile I'm smarting because I seem to have told someone who asked, not, as I intended, "I am taking firewood (zeela = ξύλα) to my house", but "I am taking a bitch' (skeela = σκύλα) to my house." I wondered why the person to whom I mentioned this, slightly proud of my diction, looked puzzled, even a little alarmed.
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Ian Wegg who's been helping me research broadcasts involving my stepfather, Jack Hargreaves, has found me this 1949 news item from the British Pathé website:
Howard Marshall does commentary for the BBC, from Peckham swimming baths (long demolished), as Jack tries to reel in strong local swimmer called Harold Elven. I recall JH telling me he'd set this up hoping he could 'catch' Harold, but the rod broke. Even now I can remember being vexed for my stepfather. In my seven-year-old mind he never failed at anything. Ian writes: '... possibly the oldest existing film of JH? It shows he was recognised as an angler even then, 10 years before his first Southern broadcast."

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