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Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Our shed and all it contains

Yesterday Linda and I finally assembled the shed on our allotment - our Birmingham apothiki, την αποθήκη. Imram helped us lift the roof into place where it 'clicked' satisfyingly over the four walls. Then I loosened the hinges on the door and fitted that. It doesn't block our view of the park. It needs something transparent like perspex for windows, hooks and shelves inside, plus various small repairs where we cut it up to transport it after finding it in Walsall on freegle, but having a shed on plot 14 marks another stage in getting our allotment together, and of course we can share its use with Robin and Rachel. While on the plot today, Lin went on to rake and grade part of the ground I'd dug over last week making it look dark and fecund. Meantime potatoes are starting to flower and other plantings advance.
Our progress is slow compared to some plotholders but it's very satisfying to make comparisons with the state of our plot a year ago year, or the situation on 30 December 2008 when, as part of our continuing campaign to recover the Victoria Jubilee Allotments. I wrote to the Birmingham Post:
Dear Editor, In 2004, having fought for ten years to prevent losing more green space in Handsworth, campaigners were forced to accept the decision, by a small margin of the councillors on Birmingham’s Planning Committee, to negotiate a Section 106 Agreement to permit new homes to be built on the Victoria Jubilee Allotments (VJA) – a private site neglected by its owners. Can it be that having taken a profit from the houses they and their predecessors, Westbury Homes, have built and sold on the VJA, the current developer, Charles Church*, is seeking permission to renegotiate the agreement made with the Council and – implicitly – with a most active community (Jane Tyler, Birmingham Post, December 24, 2008)? We, with many others, anticipating trends now acknowledged by Government, (e.g. Baroness Andrews’ Introduction to ‘Growing in the Community’ 2nd ed.2008) argued convincingly that there was enough demand for allotments for the whole VJA site to be afforded the protection allotments are allowed by statute and Planning Guidance (PPG17). The city planner’s lower estimate of that demand was used to sway the Committee to approve the application to build houses on the allotments. In May 2007 we were assured by Alan Orr, Perry Barr Community Planning Officer, that new houses had been sold in sufficient numbers to trigger the next stage of the S106A – three playing fields, including a cricket pitch, and 80 allotments. How brash if now, having taken their profit, Charles Church claim themselves ‘burdened’ by the terms on which they made it. Yours, Simon Baddeley, Handsworth Allotments Information Group (HAIG)
*Since 2009 for Charles Church read Persimmon Homes
Thus have I moved in just over a year from the conclusion of a decade-long campaign for the idea of allotments to the real thing. Surprising myself.
Imram who helped us with our shed is also, following a successful bid to the Lottery Awards for All Fund, leading on creating a sensory garden on Plot 79 next to the gates into the VJA. A neighbouring plotholder, Jeevan Singh, sent me a picture of Imram and volunteers working on the early stages of a plot which will be open to all. The site will have other plots especially for particular groups and there is to be a council plot mainly for schoolchildren.
Volunteers preparing the sensory garden
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Oriana, my half sister, Professor at Chelsea, wrote with a letter attached:
Dear Simon. I thought you might be interested in this? Hope all is well. Xx oriana
The attached letter - on an academic matter - included this:
Dear Professor Baddeley....Upon initial arrival in London in September 1964, I found a magnificent one bedroom flat for let at 5 Bina Gardens, London SW 5. The interview for becoming a tenant took place somewhere in Mayfair with a very distinguished older woman by the name of Mrs. Maine. It became known to me, later on, while residing at 5 Bina Gardens, that she had grown children, one of whom had the last name of Baddeley. I remember chatting to her grandson, Simon, on several occasions. If memory serves me correctly, she had either a son or daughter who was well known in the British theatre. Seeing your name brings back those memories, and I am wondering if you have any relation to the Baddeley family? If this is not the case, please forgive my enquiring curiosity, but one never knows unless one asks...Musically yours from Chicago, Elisabeth Matesky (American Violinist/ Artist Teacher of Violin and Chamber Music/ Composer-Arranger for Solo Violin/ Musical Writer and Speaker) 
Me - back to my sister:
Dear Oriana. The longer we live the more likely it is that things will come round again. Thanks for this. I’d never actually forgotten Elisabeth. She’s a very special talent. ... About two years ago remembering one time long ago, I wrote a friend: 'We had a young American violinist upstairs - when I was a post-grad aimless in a big old place on the Earls Court-Kensington border a mile north of the Thames. I'd hear her practising through two floors and we'd nod in the hallway. One evening - just before she played a concert at QE Hall - I was giving a dinner party with tables pulled together for about twelve ex-uni friends (when food was cheap) she knocked on my door. "Come in come in, Elizabeth" (I knew her name. Lots of people did, and here was I looking as if she was an extra guest. Wow!) She said "Hi! I won't eat. I'll have a glass of wine. If that's OK?" So she joined our happy conversation. After about half-an-hour - can't remember - she said "Hold on" and dashed off. Well that's that, I thought. A minute later she's back - with that violin. Wood like fine porcelain, looking as if it was held together by polish. "Would you like me to play?" (No. Can't you see we're having a nice conversation?) "Yes yes yes" So she did. Standing just beside me. Except far off, from the stalls, I'd never seen a talent at work. When she hit the strings with her bow I swear bits and pieces flew off. She near looked to break the thing. I couldn't believe the volume she drew from it, fighting it, driving it like I've only seen in close-up shot on tele, but you know how with boxing even the close ups don't show the violence and the danger that excites some people. I saw. We saw and heard. So so beautiful. And she made it look easy. Heart stopping. I was weeping, shaking in a most un-English way - and do now - as I recount that 30 minutes of her generosity to me and my friends.'    ...  How are you all? We are as you know back and forth between Corfu and UK – two homes and two small worlds in each. It’d be lovely to see you and catch up on your perspectives. How are things for god-trodden St Catherine’s given current events in the Middle East? As for Murdoch...what schadenfreude, what quiet pleasure it is to see Ramasses becoming Ozymandias, meeting his due. XXXX Simon
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On Monday morning Lin, Denise and me had a meeting with Jo Burrill, Regeneration Project Officer for Midland Heart to brief her on how things are going with the Handsworth Practical Care Project. The project has a history of doing work for the housing association based in Birmingham with many properties in Handsworth.
And on Tuesday afternoon Lin and I met Sharon and Vicky at Birmingham Voluntary Service Council (BVSC) in Digbeth to learn about the assistance they give to projects like CHPC by way of handling wage packages, including tax and national insurance. They had a long association with the project that for been ended in June 2010.
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Clavering was the Essex village where I was born. For the last 6 months I've been exchanging emails and images with Jacqueline Cooper who emailed me in April (see also):
Dear Mr Baddeley. I have enjoyed looking at your various websites, which I found on a Clavering search. I was interested to see some photos of Barbara Maine when she lived in Clavering, and wondered if you would give permission for me to copy them for our archives? we are having a local history exhibition in September and I am particularly looking for WW2 material and photos. Many thanks, Jacqueline Cooper, Clavering Local History Recorder, Essex.
19 April '11: Dear Jacqueline. How nice to hear from you. My mother – Barbara – who if you have been looking at my website you may know lives in the Highlands. I’ve been capturing some of her recollections on video, a project we both enjoy. I’ll see her at the end of  May and perhaps we could do a short memoir (6-7 minutes) on video about Clavering, where of course she lived as a child and where she was married and where I was born, at Mill End Dairy Farm. Did you see the picture of me sat on the cart pony Gypsy with my aunt, and grandmother, Bar Maine. I’m pretty sure my mum took that snap. Of course you can use the pictures. I’m sure my mother will be pleased and not mind me giving you her permission. You’ll probably have come across the brief account of how Fl Lt Bobby Jeff (names on the Battle of Britain memorial  as one of ‘the few’), who was set to marry my aunt, Margot (holding the horse in the photo I’ve mentioned), was shot down and reported MIA only days before they were to be married. My grandmother recalls the postman cycling up the lane and thinking she ‘knew’ what news he brought. It was a telegram. All the wedding presents were laid out ready at Mill End. I also have memories of Caton’s Store on the ridge between the village and Mill End Farm. We see it on google now and then. I congratulate you on putting together a history exhibition, especially now when people are feeling gloomy about the economy, many with good reason. Best wishes, Simon 
In her reply Jacqueline mentioned 'Simon...I know Mill End Dairy Farm quite well, although of course it has long since ceased to be a farm. The family there now are Scottish as it happen s- the Inglis (or were when I was there). Some years ago, when my children were still at school, I used to do gardening for a few people including them, just one morning a week but it was a nice garden to work in, right beside Elm Street Lane. There is a huge tree, quite a rare one I thought might be a Black Poplar - maybe it was there in your childhood too. I think I recognise the painting of the outbuilding, which was still in use when I was there, I have the feeling it had been converted into something, but not sure. It would be good to see some more photos of when it was a farm. In a field near there now are some llamas or alpacas, not sure if they belong to the Inglis or someone else. Catons is not a store now, it has recently been bought by someone wealthy who has done a lot of rebuilding etc but at least the old windmill has been repaired.'
My birthplace
Jacqueline sent me a picture she took of Mill End in the last 20 years.  My mother sold the house after Bar, my grandmother, her mother, died in 1969. It seems hardly changed, though Jacqueline tells me there have been many changes since this picture was taken. I was born on Sunday 29 March 1942 in the room behind the far right window on the bottom floor.
A display Jacqueline's made for the Clavering history exhibition

Back to the future - 13 February 2014 
Matt McGinn sent me an email and a photo of one of the mills above Mill End beside Caton's Store - in the year before I was born. I am so grateful when people think of communicating with a stranger about something like this - especially for a placeless person like me it's wonderful to have these piquant dishes of local and personal history:
Dear Simon, I have just watched the wonderful clip of your Mother reminiscing about her time in Clavering. We purchased the Windmill where the shop used to be and it was fascinating to hear stories about the people and the places surrounding the Mill. Mill End is still an idyllic cottage and I'm sure your Mother would be pleased to have known that they still keep many Horses there. I am attaching a picture of the Mill as it was in 1941. Many thanks for your posting. Best regards Matt McGinn, Clavering Mill

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