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Wednesday, 25 May 2011

"I'm on the train"

Heading south to London and from Euston on via Kingsway, Aldwych, Strand, down Fleet Street over Farringdon up Cannon Street to St Paul's Cathedral.
From Monument I asked directions to Fenchurch Street Station, down a narrow street before Crutched Friars tucked below rhombic offices,  to take a train to Grays where I'm leading a session on navigating Political Space for senior managers at Thurrock Council, invitation - some months ago - of their CEO, Graham Farrant. I'll be teaching on Thurrock's Learning Campus, which sounds fine - indeed I'm really looking forward to it - but for the time spent, with knock-on effects - literally - obeying a technical manager's request that I have my presentation kit passed as safe, via a  Portable Appliance Test (PAT) as required by the legislation of specific relevance to electrical maintenance under the Health & Safety at Work Act 1974, the Management of Health & Safety at Work Regulations 1999, the Electricity at Work Regulations 1989, the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 and the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998, 'which places a duty of care upon both the employer and the employee to ensure the safety of all persons using the work premises.' This includes the self employed - which I guess approximates to me though I'm actually at Thurrock this morning as a part-time visiting lecturer from Birmingham University. I'd guess that getting my laptop, its power cable, external hard-drive and external speakers tested - for free on campus by Roy at the Estates office - entailed about eight e-mails and as many phone calls over as many weeks with the most vexing problem arising when I borrowed Lin's car to make a swift journey to campus - I usually cycle - to squeeze in an appointment with Roy between another errand and someone bruised the skirt of Lin's bumper while I was parked, requiring remedial T-cutting and a some skilled splicing of bodywork by Guy and a few choice threats from Lin about 'ever borrowing my car again'. Anyway I've got little green stickers with a test date on all my kit, so - touch wood - I, and my students and all with whom I come into contact at Thurrock are - actuarially speaking a few percentage points freer of risk - in this uncertain world. Fingers crossed.
From Grays near the Thames I take trains back to London and onto Birmingham International where I plan to meet up with Richard to fly to Inverness, both of us uncertain as to whether the airspace between us and Scotland will allow us to fly this afternoon.
Fenchurch Street - what a beautiful railway station

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The morning at Gray's was a real pleasure. I had a generous introduction. An interested and involved and astute collection of local government managers explored ways of learning to work with an unpredictable political arrangement.

I began with the more abstract principles; touching on the default tension between bureaucracy and democracy, the conflict between members' and officers' roles that was too easily attributed to intransigent personalities, the subtle process of finding agency and poise at the conjunction of politics, management and professionalism; the wisdom required to negotiate the political-management overlap. People enjoyed the film I used to prompt discussion, making shrewd observations about how generalisations applied to the special personalities and political dynamic of this council.

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At last I'm reading Ivo Andrić's The Damned Yard and other stories, a present sent from Belgrade last Christmas by our friend Danica. Andrić's The Bridge on the Drina still echoes, and I've been saving up this collection. Aljo Kazaz, silk merchant of Travnik in central Bosnia when during the 18th and 19th centuries that city was the military centre of the Ottomans in the Balkans, finds himself the lone delegate of a group of fellow merchants who the night before, emboldened by drink and companionship had sworn to bring a complaint to the Vizier. In front of the guards at the Vizier's gate he begins in humiliation and fear to ingratiate himself with them. 'Dželalija's soldiers, hardened professional murderers, watched him with a smirk on their dull faces.' It's a small reminder of how it might be to live under occupation, and when out of curiosity, using the normal techniques, of the internet, I jump forward  170 years to a web group called soc.culture.croatia and find an account from the Croatian Information Centre for Collecting Documentation and Processing Data on the Liberation WarOpaticka 10, Zagreb, Croatia.
In the village of Batinska Rijeka, near Ljuban Dzelalija's abandoned house, four unidentified persons dressed in camouflage uniforms and armed with automatic guns with silencers intercepted and imprisoned eight civilian residents on May 11th, 1994, around 10:00 pm...
and as young Lula gazed into the darkness of a dry well, I peer into a seething archive of narratives, recriminations, evidence and counter evidence of human depravity, discovering the Final Report  of the Commission of Experts introduced by the Secretary General of the United Nations, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, on 24 May 1994 following UN Resolution 780 reaffirming Resolution 713.
The final report of the Commission includes a survey of the Commission's work since its inception, its mandate, structure and methods of work, its views on selected legal issues of particular significance in the context of the former Yugoslavia, a general study on the military structure of the "warring factions" and the strategies and tactics employed by them, and substantive findings on alleged crimes of "ethnic cleansing", genocide and other massive violations of elementary dictates of humanity, rape and sexual assault and destruction of cultural property committed in various parts of Bosnia and Herzegovina.  On the basis of the information gathered, examined and analysed, the Commission has concluded that grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions and other violations of international humanitarian law have been committed in the territory of the former Yugoslavia on a large scale, and were particularly brutal and ferocious in their execution. The practice of so-called "ethnic cleansing" and rape and sexual assault, in particular, have been carried out by some of the parties so systematically that they strongly appear to be the product of a policy, which may also be inferred from the consistent failure to prevent the commission of such crimes and to prosecute and punish their perpetrators. The final report includes several annexes containing reports of investigations and studies, which as a whole constitute an integral part of the report. In his letter to me of 6 May 1994, the Chairman of the Commission requested that the annexes be published, although for cost purposes and given their volume (approximately 3,000 pages) it was suggested that they be published in English only and funded from the remaining surplus in the Trust Fund of the Commission of Experts.
Велика Србија, Velika Srbija - the intellectual and his agent
It's good news that Ratko Mladic - confederate of those political leaders who 'violated the obligation to prevent genocide', Radovan Karadžić and the late Slobodan Milošević, promoting the toxic vision of a Greater Serbia - has been captured and will be held accountable for his crimes as a General of the Bosnian Serb Army from May 1992.  I've memo'd myself to get The Tiger's Wife by Téa Obreht
 'When your fight has purpose – to free you from something, to interfere on the behalf of an innocent – it has a hope of finality. When the fight is about unravelling – when it is about your name, the places to which your blood is anchored, the attachment of your name to some landmark or event – there is nothing but hate, and the long, slow progression of people who feed on it...'
Watch found in a mass grave believed to contain Srebrenica victims
'Dželalija's soldiers, hardened professional murderers, watched him with a smirk on their dull faces.'

Back to the future - 2 June '11: Max Levenfeld writes to his friend in A Letter from 1920 explaining in the 1920s why he has to leave Bosnia for ever - a short story by the great Serbian writer Ivo Andrić:
...I know that the hate, just as rage, has its function in the development of the society, because the hate gives strength and rage sparks movement. There are ancient and deeply rooted injustices and misuses that only rivers of hate and rage can uproot and remove. And when those floods fall down, there is only a place for freedom, for creation of better life. The contemporaries see the rage and hate much better, because they suffer from it, but their children will see only the fruits of power and movement. I know that well. But what I’ve seen in Bosnia is something else. It is hate, but not as a moment in a flow of human development and necessary part of the historic process, but a hate that takes stage as an independent force, which finds within itself its own purpose. A hate that gets a man against man and then equally throws them into misery and misfortune or takes underground both opponents; hate as a cancer in organism spends and eats all around itself, so that itself would die in the end, because such hate, as flame, has no permanent face nor own life, it is but a weapon of a drive for destruction or self-destruction, exists only as such and only until it completes its task of complete destruction.
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The other day, prompted by Mark in the village I emailed a note:
Can someone at Shooting Times kindly ask Nick Fisher if he'd be interested in the story of Jack Hargreaves' 1970s Out of Town programme featuring an 'exploding' (spring loaded) ground bait box, which has led to me discovering a large archive of his country life 16mm films stored in South West Film and Television Archive? If Nick is not really interested - no problem of course, but one of his regular readers and a good friend who lives in Corfu and subscribes to ST and to whom the boxes' designer, Richard Hill gave the original box, suggested that  Nick might find the device interesting and possibly a subject for an article. I'm Jack Hargreaves' stepson. Best wishes Simon B
I just got this reply which I forwarded to Mark:
Dear Simon. thank you so much for sending me the link to the exploding bait dropper. What a fantastic bit of kit! I loved it and loved watching the old show. The boat, the fashions, the glasses, the hair cuts and the smoking - God, brought back a serious wave of nostalgia. I'd love to do a feature on the device. Oddly, I just wrote a piece about black bream fishing recently in which I mentioned a modern stainless steel equivalent, which is very clever but doesn't have the sheer class of Richard Hill's invention. There is a real tradition of angling engineers; guys who loved to fish but who also loved to invent tackle and devices. sadly a tradition that is dying out as Chinese made tackle is so cheap and so everywhere. i'm intrigued at the sound of the huge archive too. I'd forgotten just how natural a talker JH was. It's easy to remember TV shows fondly and then be disappointed when you see them again. There's so many old shows available on DVD now that we can so easily go back and see the things we once thought were fantastic - monty python, etc only to find them rather cronky and embarrassing - this clip really stood the test of time. thanks so much for bringing it to my attention. always love to hear more. best wishes Nick 
Mark's reply:
Hi Simon , Would be great if he does do an article on it especially for Richard Hill. We had another lamb on the spit last night down at the stables this time though for Richard ( dutch richard , house by the swings) as it was his 60th birthday and he had pre arranged with us for a party down there , it was huge success again with around 20 people their , alot of his friends coming over for a week . I feel slightly hungover today, not sure why. Enjoy Scotland with Richard and your Mum , please send her our regards. Keep up the good work. Best wishes Mark. 
Mine to Nick:
Dear Nick. ...Your reply went winging off to our good friend Mark in Ano Korakiana, who now has the baitbox in question, and at the risk of making a story out of a story I'm logging the exchange on my blog (say if you prefer not), which I've also been using to keep a record of the slow navigation and excavation of my stepfather's films about the British countryside - partly as a family project, and partly because there may be people of all ages who'd share your view that this material doesn't date as much as you'd expect, and because there are others over 60 who'd like to see some replays of films that gave pleasure and perhaps prompted them as youngsters to take up activities that now run through their lives. So what could I tell you more about Jack or the 'exploding' baitbox and Richard Hill and his wife Wendy who make a mean fish pie and who when I'm in England I enjoy visiting, so long as they continue to offer me their hospitality?  My research into JH's work has led me to put together an informal JH Committee to help with my enquiries after archives. Some of these are hunter-gatherers enjoying the rarer opportunities to do the same things Jack enjoyed; some are TV experts with an interest in helping sort out the evolving differences between methods of recording and storing film and tape, picture and sound. One is gradually building up an archive of every broadcast via correlations with old TV schedules in newspapers and magazines. Like all research, it's a process of using one finding as leverage for another, along with sparks of serendipity, as when someone phoned back after looking in their attic, and found original 16mm film of a broadcast going back to Jack's first Gone Fishing broadcasts for Southern TV when making tentative steps into a media still new to him, after a career on Fleet Street. So the search goes amid many other activities.  If you'd like to speak to Richard Hill I think he'd be delighted to hear from you. I now cherish one of Richard's beautiful carved fish; one he gave to Jack in the 1970s, which I inherited. It was attached to the top of his bed and was flat on one side. I took it to Richard many years later (when we met at his home to view the baitbox film from SWFTA)...as a gift to me he carved the other side. It's from the the recovered taffrail of an old Isle of Wight ferry on which Richard worked. Best wishes. Simon (in the Highlands for a week. No mobile signal) 
Roach and Crucian Carp at Richard and Wendy's home

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Thanassis reports in an entry under telos apographis on the Ano Korakiana website that despite some trespassing by census takers from other villages into areas that are actually within our boundaries, Ano Korakiana's head count - Απογραφής - has reached or exceeded the 1000 required to ensure the village's continued standing as a settlement able to maintain influence in the governance of Corfu. Phew!:
Η απογραφή πληθυσμού του 2011, ολοκληρώθηκε χθες … Παρά τα προβλήματα της προηγούμενης βδομάδας με τις αποχωρήσεις απογραφέων, το «σώμα» ανασυντάχθηκε και συμπληρώθηκε με καινούργιο αίμα και ρίχτηκε στην προσπάθεια προκειμένου οι απογραφέντες στην Δημοτική μας Κοινότητα να ξεπεράσουν τους 1.000, προκειμένου αυτή να διατηρηθεί.
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And we have the lovely news that Professor Minoti Chakravarti-Kaul who's been visiting her daughter at St Andrews University near Dundee and who visited my mum last year, will be coming up by train to Inverness to visit Theodora - as she calls her using the original name she likes - and will meet Richard and me as well. She's promised this time to cook us some Indian meals while staying at Brin Croft. I so like meeting people off trains.
Minoti and Theodora in 2010
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Prime Minister George Papandreou is floating the idea of a referendum to test his country's support for  continued austerity measures prior to a second IMF bail-out. Richard Pine's take in The Irish Times - 25 May '11 - on the current situation in Greece and Ireland. 'Greeks might pull plug rather than play hardball with Merkel'...
Greece’s problems are deepening rapidly, as the apparently inescapable choice must be made between an additional €60 billion bailout (making €170 billion in all) or a debt restructuring which would have colossal knock-on effects for the euro zone as a whole....
Aditya Chakrabortty in The Guardian asks if 'defaulting is really political suicide?' Of this argument  - bandied around by journalists he writes:
To us a technical term, it's balls. More precisely, it's the sort of everyone-says-it-so-it-must-be-true balls that's been a hallmark of European policy-making ever since the banking crisis broke out...
As Richard Pine says of the people in his village, the common mood is one of bewilderment. At least they know they don't know what's happening. Meantime, I'm proud to read this story in the local press about a briefcase containing €25000 and about £1980 plus a passport and mobile phone being found on the outskirts of Corfu Town after it had fallen unobserved off the back of a businessman's motorbike, which was handed in to the police by the woman who found it, a British tourist - Ανεύρεση και παράδοση μεγάλου χρηματικού ποσού Κέρκυρα...Μία Βρετανίδα προχθές το μεσημέρι βρήκε και παρέδωσε στο Αστυνομικό Τμήμα Παλαιοκαστριτών, έναν χαρτοφύλακα που περιείχε μεγάλο χρηματικό ποσό.
Goodness is more normal and frequent than might be believed. Studies of public honesty which have involved leaving wallets around with money in them and an address have shown that in many countries more than 50% and often more than 80% of such 'lost' valuables are returned to their owners as a result of being found by strangers.

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