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Tuesday 21 June 2011

A ladybird on my specs

Martin and Annie Howard run a guest house - Tikli Bottom a Lutyens-style four bedroom Indian haveli - and a farm just south of Delhi down a lane just beyond the village of Tikli. We stayed there a few years ago when visiting Rajasthan. Over the last few years Martin and Annie have started a primary school on village common land. They come to England to stay with relatives and raise funds for the school.
Martin: ... those who wish to help the developing world to slow their growth rates, and those who wish to leave their grand-children a less over-populated and less fractious world, must focus on educating the poor.  This will enable us to enjoy the benefits of their affluence. BET (Bass Educational Trust) is doing this in its locality.  We have set out to give every child in the three villages where we live, an education similar to that which the politicians and bureaucrats insist upon for their children....
I had morning tea with John and Annie and talked ten to the dozen while they dutifully listened. I told them about Minoti Chakravarti-Kaul and her long involvement in making the case for the commons and her meeting with my mum and the role of Henry Maine in charting the sophisticated complexity of self-governing communities in east and west. Wouldn't it be good if living so close to Delhi they and Minoti might meet. They agreed and I said I would pass this thought on. Annie fed me chocolate cakes between cups of Earl Grey and I collected two jerkins they'd bought me from fabindia - with which they keep me annually supplied. I could try getting these over the internet but their site don't show the type I like. Collecting them is a pretext for seeing Martin and Annie when they're in London.
** **
The three pound hoe head I ordered - after seeing several people using such tools on the allotment - has arrived. Trouble has been finding a handle. It was "sorry sir you can't get them anymore" all over, until Lin found a gem of a site called Get-Digging based in Norfolk and in no time had identified what I'd bought as a type that comes in many forms in use across the world, often called an azada. I phoned them, spoke to Simon there, and using my debit card ensured a handle was on its way. I should have gone there in the first place. I'm an old man returned to school.
A farmer at work with an azada
I met three men on a plot near the site gate on Sunday - Joe, Mugabe, and Mahen - experienced gardeners working on behalf of a voluntary body - Family Care Direct - preparing a plot for people with learning disabilities. Mugabe gave me a banana. We talked about different kinds of garden tools and how to use them. Mugabe had a hoe like the one I've bought but he keeps its handle quite short - hardly 42". "It's easier to swiftly flick away weeds in the African sun" he said. The others are from Mauritius "Farming is in our blood" said Mahen. "My family left the land at the time of our Industrial Revolution. We've been city people for two hundred years" I thought of my grandmother tho' and her bottle deciding just before WW2 to start the small dairy farm at Mill End in Clavering where I was born in 1942.
Joe, Mugabe and Mahen on the VJA

My relationship with the countryside has been an urban one. I was born on a farm which I visited many times during my grandmother's life; spent many happy months at my great grandmother's home - a cottage near the river in Itchen Abbas; grew up moving between homes in London and a home in Bagnor near Newbury between water meadows and lynchets in Berkshire; went to prep school in Sussex near Handcross with a panorama to the South Downs and in the last forty years my mother has been our family's host in Strathnairn in the Highlands. But for pocket money earned helping with the harvest in my teens, all my living has come from the city. As well as living in London - Chelsea, Hamstead, Regents Park and visiting relatives in their London homes (my grandmother as well as her farm had a small place in Walton Street where I delighted in hearing the underground trains between Sloane Square and South Kensington) I went to my second school under Big Ben, Westminster Abbey my parish church for 5 years. I was proud to be a Londoner. Later after a sojourn in America I came back to work at university in Birmingham, a place whose name would once have curled my lip, but which is where I've made my life - a citizen of Handsworth, Soho and Lozells.
I have never made a living off the land. My uncalloused easily blistered hands are vulnerable to stinging nettles; the hands of an office worker; hands that in the days of Pol Pot would, on being inspected, have sent me to the killing fields.
** ** **
From Annie and Martin's home I cycled back to Victoria for a late lunch at Seafresh with Charles Webster of Delta to review progress on what we'd learned about Jack's films since we'd met just after Christmas. I've learned a great deal, in part through my own research and in part through the research and advice of the informal JH Committee.
** ** **
I left Victoria as the clouds lowered and the predicted rain began to spot making my way towards Euston to have supper with Ziggi at Pasta Plus on seedy Eversholt Street.  We caught up, not having seen each other since last July, soon swapping accounts of our allotments - hers in Haringey, and Lin's and mine in Handsworth. She being an experienced gardener might have made me envious describing an overflowing cornucopia of carefully timed harvests, but being a dear friend she could only fill me with joyful enthusiasm about what I might achieve. We waving our arms so much as we talked our waitress wondered whether we were Italian. I caught a late train north, half asleep, half awake, arriving in almost empty New Street just before midnight, cycling wearily home through light rain.
*** ***
Last Saturday around noon I went down to Black Patch Park for a meeting with our group and found many camper vans parked in line. It was the centenary of the founding of the park - a space laid out as a municipal leisure ground after Gypsies who'd regularly settled there were forcibly removed by police and bailiffs at the behest of the local authority.
Black Patch Park: Saturday 18 June 2011
Before going on to the sandwich lunch we'd arranged at the Soho Foundry Pub to give time to planning the celebration of the centenary that we'd had to postpone through lack of funds, I wheeled my bicycle over to one of the vans, children playing around, and introduced myself to Michelle and Bridget.
"I'm Simon, one of the Friends of the Black Patch....did you know this was Black Patch Park?"
"No we didn't" Irish brogue "We'd three places in mind. We came here last night"
"Did you know it was the hundredth anniversary of the Black Patch?"
"So you didn't know about the connection between this place and the Gypsies? Is it OK if I say Gypsies?"
"Sure. No. Who were they?"
"The Gypsies were forcible removed from here a hundred years ago to make it into a park"
"Oh right. Could we have some of it back do you think?"
"Not mine to  give. It's an idea"
"We'd look after the place"
"Do you know about Queen Henty and King Esau?"
"No. Who were they?"
"Their names are on the plaque over by the bridge and I added...
...Queen Henty's ghost is still haunting this park they say"
"My my my! That was what Robbie was on about. He seen a lady last night"
"Robbie, Robbie" The call was taken up between the vans - in a line below the trees beside the sunken brook that divides the park in two "Robbie! Robbie!" She looked around "He was going on about this lady he saw and I thought he was being daft."
After five minutes a trio of youngsters answered the call, one taller than the others, about thirteen years old with an elfin face. "
Robbie. Tell the gentleman what you saw last night"
"A lady" Pause.
"What was she like?" I asked, intrigued, a non-believer in ghosts, but thinking he sounded innocently truthful
"She had a big hat. She was wearing a cover on her face like the Muslim ladies wear"
"She was looking up. She had white eyes. She was wearing green. Looking up."
"Where did you see her?"
He pointed towards the bridge over the river
"She moved" he said "She went from there" pointing to a place under the trees this side of the brook "to over the other side. She went through to there"
"Over the bridge? Were you scared?"
"How long did you see her?"
"Five minutes"
"Anyone else?"
"The other two with me"
Gypsies on the Black Patch ~ circa 1890 ~ before it was a park
I said I'd come back in the evening when I could get permission from Robbie's dad to make a film. I told the Friends at the pub who stopped complaining I was late for their meeting when I told them what I'd heard. They'd kept me some salad and sandwiches. Discussing the situation, we divided between Sue, our secretary, who took strong exception to the way she'd observed the Gypsies breaking into the park the previous evening, and Ron Collins, our Chair who, intrigued by my story of Robbie's "lady", was entertaining conciliatory moves, especially given the history. After lunch Ron and Phil Crumpton and I strolled over to chat with Bridget and Michelle. Sue said "Not me!" I understood both points of view.
Ron and Phil chatting to Michelle and Bridget, friends and children
I cycled over to the Black Patch again at 7.00pm and asked around for Michelle. I was invited into another camper. Michelle was nowhere around. Margaret and Barbara asked me to come in and have a cup of tea. By then I'd bought back Ted Rudge's book Brum Roamin' with lots of black and white photos of Gypsies on the Black Patch in the early 20th century, and newspaper stories reporting the Gypsies' eviction. I thought to myself if there was ever a chance of getting an undistorted account of what Robbie saw on Friday evening it was now diluted. We continued chatting as they looked through the book. I was offered a tasty plate of baked potatoes, broccoli and fried chicken with gravy. Later I tried phoning again but I couldn't arrange another visit to talk to Robbie. I don't believe in ghosts but I do believe people see things that can't be explained. It struck me that it was quite a coincidence these people should have arrived in the park on its 100th anniversary and one should tell me he'd seen "a lady". Much later I saw there'd been an exceptional number of hits on my photos on flickr of Black Patch Park
Queen Henty
From Bryn Phillips' Ballad of Black Patch Park:
You better think before you touch her park
You really don't want to break her heart
You'd better stop before you start
To develop Black Patch Park
The name of the Gypsy is Queen Henty
A well respected Romany
She still cherishes her memories
As her ghost walks Black Patch Park...
Dear Simon. Many, many thanks for the account of Saturday 18 June at Black Patch Park. I have made a copy and placed it among the collection of archive material we intend using when we get the go ahead from the Heritage Lottery Fund. What a shame the Friends of BP open day did not take place however our next one is on the 10 July may see you there. Kind Regards, Ted Rudge MA
**** ****
Tuesday evening I did two hours more digging on the plot - mattock work, bashing and levering and dragging; fighting the earth rather than working with it. Lifting stubborn clusters of yellow nettle roots clinging to the ground, chipping old bricks used by the previous gardeners on the Victoria Jubilee, clanging against hard fist-sized oval stones smoothed by the Paleogenic river that flowed across the Midlands millions of years ago, bits of plastic, glass, wire, pieces of cut wood, shapeless pieces of oxidising iron, chunks of mingled tar and gravel from a broken road, working up the good earth. sparing wild poppies at Lin's request.
Oscar watched and wandered around as I worked my way down almost to the shed foundation on one side of the plot. I can imagine being asked why I don't use the fork for this work. That's what my reading recommends when preparing ground. The trouble is that frequently I can't sink the fork into the ground. It gets blocked by stones or bricks. If I try to make the forking easier by using a small fork - again this is suggested in more than one of my books - it doesn't go deep enough to get under the weed root clusters. The grubbing mattock does, and even though it jars my wrist now and then, this ancient tool can cope with stones, has served us since Mesolithic times and will be around for long into our future.
Άλλο ένα σχετικό με το όργωμα εργαλείο ήταν η μάκελλα, η αξίνα δηλαδή για την κάλυψη των σπόρων, το άνοιγμα αρδευτικών αυλακιών, το σκάψιμο και το σκάλισμα των δέντρων. Η μάκελλα είχε τη μία λεπίδα πλατιά και την άλλη κάθετη με αιχμηρή απόληξη.
The trouble for me is that its blade weighs about six pounds, twice as much as the azada blade that I'm hoping to try out soon, and so tires me. After an hour with the mattock, μάκελλα, I need to rest after every seven or eight blows. Furthermore on this plot I hardly even need to use the axe end of the mattock, something that would be very useful if I were trying to grub out tree roots.
** ** ** **
Good news from the village: Having been anxious that work on restoring the old Band Room in Ano Korakiana, might, amid the crisis, be delayed indefinitely, it was good to read, on the village website, about a meeting in the present bandroom to discuss not only the renewal of work but details of the building's interior layout.
....Σήμερα το πρωί (Τετάρτη) επισκέφθηκε το χώρο του ανακατασκευαζόμενου παλαιού κτιρίου της Φιλαρμονικής μας, η Επιμελήτρια του παραρτήματος Κέρκυρας της Εθνικής Πινακοθήκης (Κάτω Κορακιάνα) Μαρίνα Παπασωτηρίου, δίδοντας χρήσιμες συμβουλές όσον αφορά στην οργάνωση των εσωτερικών χώρων του κτιρίου. Επίσης, το αμέσως προηγούμενο διάστημα ήταν γεμάτο από συναντήσεις και συζητήσεις για το ανακατασκευαζόμενο παλαιό κτίριο, οι εργασίες στο οποίο είχαν εδώ και 3 περίπου μήνες σταματήσει. Έτσι, σε επιτόπια σύσκεψη των αρμόδιων υπηρεσιακών παραγόντων και εκπροσώπων της Φιλαρμονικής την περασμένη Παρασκευή, έγινε μια ανακεφαλαίωση των εκκρεμοτήτων και έγινε γνωστό πως οι εργασίες ξεκινούν εκ νέου.

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Simon Baddeley