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Friday, 8 July 2011

Jobs that need doing

The phone by the bed rang at nine. I'd been sleeping late - deep and dreamless.
"Hullo Mr Baddeley. Npower. Have you the meter readings for Rock Cottage you were going to have for me this morning"
"Just a mo"
I creaked downstairs, Oscar bouncing down beside me towing his rat - he'll be my age in dog years by the end of this year - and read out the numbers from the scrap of paper where I'd written them in the rain in Gloucestershire yesterday afternoon.
The path up Bell Hill to Rock Cottage
Lin and I had driven the 70 miles from Birmingham to Lydbrook to meet a builder we'd been told about by our friend and neighbour Steve Outram who lives in the Forest. R had already taken a look at the place and prepared an estimate.
Lydbrook, Forest of Dean
R was there exactly when agreed, had done his research on me and the cottage and could start work in a few weeks - first of all re-pointing the end gables which, in Forest of Dean style, as he knew, were without weatherboards, a last slope of slates overhanging the roof at either end by inches, overfilled decades ago with mortar, now bulging out beyond the slates, catching rain. The guttering overflowed with debris. That too would be cleared. Then we could discuss further work.
Lin  and Richard at the cottage 1985
Richard and Lin at Rock Cottage in 1985
While I used my longest blade to scythe the meadow that was once our happy lawn, Lin walked R round indoors - showing him peeling wall paper, efflorescent walls and plaster flaked down to the lathes.
Outside there's clearing to be done, especially the branches from the ever-encroaching forest over-hanging the house, Old Man's Beard intertwined with a white sweet scented climbing rose which, with a Virginia Creeper, has besieged the frontage. A squirrel had been inside and running around in panic had broken a few china and glass ornaments, but we were not distressed at the state of the place. It will be so good to have it back into shape. The summer rain came sweeping down the Lydbrook valley in the English July way that makes sunny days so specially perfect. Amid thick wet grass my scythe was in its element, the lawn cleared in less than half an hour. I'm realising that the way to do this sort of thing is to have a set of tools beside the scythe to do what it's not suited for with any of the available blades. Of course there's the sharpener and later the peening jig.  I mean the rake, the sickle and for tougher undergrowth the panga - bought from a Birmingham ironmonger twenty years ago. There were corners in the garden where the mix of nettles, bramble tangles, dog turnip and thick stemmed horse carrot, rose bay and ash sprigs gave off a smell as rank as the ignored garden niches I'd explore as a child - the nearest in England you'd ever come to feral growth. Here the panga helps restore order and the sickle works in between allowing down cuts not suitable with a scythe.
We drove back to Birmingham content at having ticked one of our larger boxes. Things should happen now. Meantime there's still the flat in town to be redecorated so we can earn some rent - a seemingly endless list of small niggly jobs like smoothing off cat scratched cornices, cleaning the lavatory basin and the bath, dissolving a line of dirty silicone seal and replacing it round the bath edge, replacing scratched curtains and putting up new curtain rails, replacing a carpet and the bathroom lino, cleaning the u-bend below the kitchen sink, scrubbing and wiping surfaces, cleaning windows and window frames inside and out, replacing lampshades, cleaning scuffed upholstery, polishing out mug stains on wood surfaces, refixing mirrors and a number of loosened fitments and scraping off the remains of sticky fixatives used for hanging pictures on smooth surfaces, and painting painting painting.
Then there's the allotment....
Then there's Central Handsworth Practical Care Project. I woke late this morning because I was still drafting the minutes of last night's meeting of the project's Voluntary Advisory Group at 2.00am. We're in debt. We're not nearly transparent enough but at least we know the detail of our situation and are beginning to repay those debts and cover current wages and, most important, have formal support from the project's old committee to take the steps needed to get the project onto an even keel. Everything is going to get tougher when it comes to seeking grants and building partnerships. The level of detail required to be considered accountable for money's received is going to get far greater. So be it. It is about redistribution of other people's money to help the neediest in the area. Quite rightly people should know their money is being spent in the right places.
Meantime - the temperature raising frustration of getting through by phone to a credit card company who've charged me a late payment fee despite receiving payment - as I thought. Well not quite. My on-time payment had been returned a few days later because I entered too few numbers to identify the account when trying to pay on-line. I'd missed the refund when checking through my statement, but the company still repaid me their penalty charge. Then my bank, without telling me, charged me £30 for making a $C payment of £250 for a parcel of books sent from Vancouver. I tried phoning my branch bank manager but, as is normal these days, after many automated press-button choices, got through - eventually - to a polite voice in another part of the world who agreed to refund the charge because I'd not been warned of it. 45 minutes on the phone but £42 saved, so it is worth it.
** ** **
Friday evening we worked yet more on inflexions with Niko, Lin having stayed up the night before struggling with a detailed chart showing all the variations of 'at' and 'in'. Looking at 'Χούντα στην πλατεία Συντάγματος' - a YouTube clip of mayhem in Syntagma Square he tested us on inflected prepositions.
"Did you see this - την? (pointing at 0.03 on the screen) Why?"
Linda "Because πλατεία, plateia, is female"
"Bravo"
<Έζω από την πλατεία>
We continued working on the different versions of 'in' and 'at' and 'from' checking with our workbook exchanges; doing a little test. As well as our exchanges with Nikos we have been using Κλεάνθης Αρβανιτάκης και Φρόσω Αρβανιτάκη, Επικοινωνήστε Ελληνικά 1 -  Kleanthis Arvanitakis and Phroso Arvanitaki, Epikoinoniste Ellinika 1: Communicate in Greek 1, which comes with a CD I've downloaded to my computer for easy playback. Nikos stayed on after the lesson as Lin cooked supper. He introduced me to a blog by Toddler and pointed out how PASOK's logo had been altered to read 'μπατσόκ, ΜΠΑΤΣΟΚ' - in English - 'copper'.
"What do you think is going to happen?" he asked
"I don't know. Tolstoy's best on that question. It's a test of global capitalism? It's kids on the block with slogans? If it's a test - it'll be one that proves privatisation seeds desolation - as it has in South America and wherever the austerity formula has been applied. Not that that'll change the attitude of true believers in unlicensed markets.
If it's just sound and fury on the streets, people will get weary, disperse - try to make a sort of living. Nobody really knows what's going to happen.
What's later forged - in both senses of the word - into history was, while it went on, fraught with confusion, speculation, incomprehension, contested explanation. Flawed memory and self-justifying egotism will have many commentators claiming prescience. In retrospect. And history never stops being rewritten."
"It will all come out at the post mortem - η νεκροψία" said Niko as he left.

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