Total Pageviews

Friday, 9 March 2012


Digging is a craft, as much as using a scythe or an axe. I'm just starting to learn how to work earth full of sizeable stones, roots and couch grass, on my allotment on the VJA. The clip - self-made - allows me to have a record of early attempts, so I have some comparison as, when and if I improve. Until Jim Potts pointed it out just now, I'd not read Seamus Heaney's poem Digging, with such attention. There's a time for an artist - one of the problems with inserting things into a syllabus. That line 'By God, the old man could handle a spade'. I wish!
Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests; as snug as a gun. 
Under my window a clean rasping sound
When the spade sinks into gravelly ground:
My father, digging. I look down
Till his straining rump among the flowerbeds
Bends low, comes up twenty years away
Stooping in rhythm through potato drills
Where he was digging.
The coarse boot nestled on the lug, the shaft
Against the inside knee was levered firmly.
He rooted out tall tops, buried the bright edge deep
To scatter new potatoes that we picked
Loving their cool hardness in our hands.
By God, the old man could handle a spade,
Just like his old man.
My grandfather could cut more turf in a day
Than any other man on Toner's bog.
Once I carried him milk in a bottle
Corked sloppily with paper. He straightened up
To drink it, then fell to right away
Nicking and slicing neatly, heaving sods
Over his shoulder, digging down and down
For the good turf. Digging.
The cold smell of potato mold, the squelch and slap
Of soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edge
Through living roots awaken in my head.
But I've no spade to follow men like them. 
Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests.
I'll dig with it.
*** *** ***
Going by plane direct to Corfu you miss the interim landscapes of Italy, make no discernible passage between Apulia and Corfu and enjoy no landfall, as smudges on the horizon form under the sun rising over Albania - Diapontian Erikoussa, Orthoni, Mathraki and larger Corfu - things Lawrence Durrell describes on the first page of Prospero's Cell, a copy to hand to stir my imagination and remind me...
Somewhere between Calabria and Corfu the blue really begins. All the way across Italy you find yourself moving through a landscape severely domesticated – each valley laid out after the architect’s pattern, brilliantly lighted, human. But once you strike out from the flat and desolate Calabrian mainland towards the sea, you are aware of a change in the heart of things: aware of the horizon beginning to strain at the rim of the world: aware of islands coming out of the darkness to meet you...
The Acroceraunian Peninsular


***** *****
I wonder if I will ever meet someone who works for the Europe, Middle East and Africa Derivatives Committee of the International Swaps and Derivates Association. I very much doubt it. They are a body with their own notepaper and they've used some of it to issue this statement about the biggest debt restructuring in history; what I first heard Christine Lagarde refer to over a year ago as something she hoped would not happen - 'a credit event':
Answers to frequently asked questions regarding The Hellenic Republic Restructuring Credit Event can be accessed via ISDA's Greek Sovereign CDS page (CDS=Credit Default Swap).

Letter from Ano Korakiana:
Dear Simon. Thanks very much for your email. When you come back you will find that you have an adjustable flap inside your stove pipe and I hope this will make it work better. If I'm here when you get back, we can fit it together...You mentioned my synopsis on Greece and your hope that I'm right; it is my sincere hope as well.  Whatever happens to Greece, it will always need friends and it will need people who believe in it and its ability
to overcome problems.  I have always been an optimist in my life and Greece needs optimism not pessimism. A friend of mine recently wrote a letter to a member of the German government telling him that in his view the EU, ie, Germany needed to impose on Greece a version of the Marshal Plan not the Treaty of Versailles; Greece needs to be helped not punished.  It needs oversight but it needs friends. Yours from a slightly damp Ano Korakiana, Wesley & Stephi
Dear Wesley and Stephi. Well it seems that the Europe, Middle East and Africa Derivatives Committee of the International Swaps and Derivates Association has taken a decision to hold a bond auction on March 19 and we have a reasonably smoothly managed 'credit event' for Greece - described by the media as the biggest debt restructuring in history. Isn’t capitalism ingenious! I guess it’s all done with mirrors but it looks like magic. I suspect you’re right that Greece has more friends than enemies. I think your comparison between the Marshall Plan and Versailles is spot on - when you remember what the latter precipitated. I agree too that the ‘oversight' that Richard Pine described as so humiliating it should prompt exit from, not just the Euro, but the whole EU, need not undermine national pride or Greece’s sense of itself as nation and a culture. It is essential they ‘grow up’ fiscally - not Greeks but the Hellenic state. To return to reality, that’s good news about the adjustable flap in our stove pipe. It may in future save us a lot of fuel and I can’t thank you enough. We’ve been hearing about your wet weather. My friend Aleko told me that since the Greeks didn't  switch from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar until 1916 (England switched in 1752) many older villagers still think it's February and that the wet weather suits the month. This means, by the way, it should get better in March - which by their account starts on ‘our’ March 14. We look forward to seeing you in the first week of April unless our grandson is delayed in which case, later. Best wishes, Simon 
*** ***
I dropped into Richard's and Emma's flat high up Cambridge Tower while cycling home. They've taken out a wall-to-wall carpet and replaced it with wood floor. I stayed awhile and played with their Kinect video game gadget, a sensor that responds to gestures enabling you stand in front of a flat screen and play computer games without touching any machine. In one athletic game you run on the spot, leaping as a hurdle appears. I had a go at ten pin bowling but I was hoping there might be a chance to compete in a virtual double-digging contest, but this isn't as yet available.


  1. Simon,

    You must know Seamus Heaney's famous poem "Digging".
    In case your readers don't know it, it can be read here:
    Dig it!

  2. You are certainly right about the transition from UK to Greece. For the past fifteen years, my wife and I have driven to our island home on Sifnos in the Cyclades from our English home in West Yorkshire. There is no question that drinking coffee in Belgium and Luxembourg, eating lunch in France, dinner in Switzerland and breakfast in Italy really fortifies one for the rigours of Patras and Piraeus. Travelling to Greece rather than being parachuted in provides a depth of dimension which graduates the distance between the two points.
    Far be it from me to question a man who has an adjustable flap in his stove pipe but all informed, economic opinion in UK seems to agree that the successful outcome of the private sector involvement plan in the Greek bond swap is merely an exercise in 'kicking the can down the road' and cannot avoid an inevitable exit of Greece from the eurozone eventually.What do you think?

    1. A couple of years ago i read Mark Mazower's Dark Continent: a history of Europe's 20th century

      The endurance of the continent's democracies - hard won - is the stake. To that end the can will go on being kicked down the road, though electors in Germany and France, and indeed in Greece, may unseat those striving to keep it in play


Back numbers