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Monday, 5 March 2012


Our boy Richard and Flea
Richard came to supper on Sunday, along with Amy, Guy and Karen's daughter, Phoebe - long friends. How bizarre is this? My wife and children and son-in-law - smokers and friends of smokers - have taken to electric cigarettes - e-cigarettes -which they recharge via the USB port on their laptops; which they smoke in pubs and trains and don't need ashtrays. Is this going to become a new habit? I gather these devices are banned in Boston.
Phoebe and Amy came to supper
*** *** ***
I've learned of changes in our street; some pending, others while I was away - Mrs Kolcak died, Gwen's house opposite has been sold and we have new opposite neighbours not yet met, Mrs Piotrovski's sold her home and has gone to live with her daughter who used to babysit for us, the old gentleman who went blind has now moved out and into a home; so-and-so is becoming more and more absent-minded, suffering dementia. Oh and Mahmood Hussain, who got deselected and has been re-selected, will stand for the council in May in place of Don Brown who's retiring.
"Do you realise that Leslie's nearly 50"
"Blimey. I remember when his dad got him his first camera. He was 16 wasn't he?"
"Now we'll have Syrian refugees in Handsworth"
"Wars! They've fled to Lebanon, Jordan. Desperate. Then the governments start allocating them to places across the world. Our inner suburbs, any inner suburb, is where new people get lodged when they arrive. It makes us rich"
"It makes us crowded" says Lin, vexed, who at Igoumenitsa last year, took food to young Kurds being chivvied from the ferry terminal by Greek police.
*** ***
Lin's given me fruit saplings - plum, apple, pear and peach.
"They're a present"
"But it's not my birthday yet"
"They were going cheap at Lidl"
I piled the trees in the front pannier of my bicycle, sat Oscar on top and cycled towards the Victoria Jubilee Allotments, for my first visit since mid-January. The route goes down Victoriana Way on the Parklands estate where by happy chance (given he was leaving Chris Perry's home to get in his car as I went by) I bumped into Simon Winters of Kaleidoscope who's been helping me with the search for my stepfather's old films, tapes of Out of Town made in the 1970s and 80s. I knew he and Chris and been at one of the regular  Kal get-together in Stourbridge to review and celebrate the latest films they've recovered.
"Hi Simon!"
"Simon! How did the Kal event go yesterday?"
"Fine. I saw Dave. He's cooled down. Cathy's actually pleased with him. You know he was anxious about his relations with Endemol re the rights in those 34 Out of Town films. She's going to have them re-issued."
"Oh right. Blimey! That's a change of tone since Christmas"
"And you know the 27 films Endemol..."
"The ones Delta are re-issuing under licence from Endemol?"
"Yes. Well Dave's given her another beta-tape that was actually part of that set, so there'll be 28"
"How did Dave...?" I start to ask but leave it, wondering how come Dave has got hold of yet another Out of Town tape about whose existence I'd known nothing.
I cycled on to the allotment pondering the mercurial cat-and-mouse process of the last 18 months, as I and others have chased after missing copies of Jack's films; have traced them to one archive only to find them missing from there and possibly moved to another where they survive in such-and-such format; found another set whose existence must be kept temporarily secret lest the finder be entangled in the coils of copyright claims from Endemol.
The allotments were deserted, damp and chill, with a grand wind tumbling the trees of the park setting up a roar amid their leafless branches, magpies and pigeons diving and soaring in the gusts. Plot 14 looks quite good at first sight with my shed and edged path and black polythene sheet bubbling in the wind under its holding stones, doing something that looks like it might be useful. But there's nothing seriously growing especially compared to the early vegetables and green manure I've seen on other plots.
I plonk the saplings under the veranda along with the seeds I was given in Ano Korakiana and four kilos of seed potatoes stored in the garage, chitting promisingly. Where to plant the trees? We have had an idea of an orchard of sorts at the bottom end of the two adjoining plots. Rachel and John next door though have had no time for more than a square yards of desultory spade work, which at least gives me some sense of advancement. The trees despite a rule about only three per plot will have to go on 14, on the east side of the shed where the ground is as yet least dug over. I get out the azada and brace myself to work, Oscar gazing on the park, planning to dig under the fence when I'm distracted.
"I know what you're thinking Os. I really do"
"So?" He continues searching the landscape beyond the fence with eyes and nose...

One to break the surface with big hoe, fork or spade, turning up divots; another to break up the weeded divots and begin to level the surface with rake and smaller hoe. It's not as if our plot presents that much of a problem compared to some soils. The other reason I find this hard is, not my age or fitness, but the fact I've neglected ground that a better gardener would work over far more regularly. In fact the soil's a lot easier to work than last year, benefiting from the hard work I invested digging it over then. In the intervening time roots have grown again and begun to gain a hold.
Some progress
I try to keep an eye on Oscar as I work but now and then I see he's tiptoed off and dug a hole beneath the fence. Out of the corner of my eye I catch him sniffing happily at another dog in the park while the owner looks on. If a fight's on the books he's back inside the fence growling fiercely at his opponent through the bars. Recalling him I get to chat with someone through the fence - a welcome break from digging. In two hours, with further breaks to shelter under the veranda from showers of rain and even hail, I've made progress enough to have ground in which to plant the trees after their roots have been soaked. As for the potatoes I propose peeling back the black plastic, planting as I go. I may start the seeds in trays inside the sites new communal polytunnel.
Monday afternoon I went back to the plot passing Vanley sowing onions, in perfect smooth soil.
"How do you get the ground like that?"
"I'll come over to you in a moment" I went on with my digging. Vanley arrived and watched me.
"This is a mess" he said, nicely, of the ground I'd been working. He took my spade and began a tutorial on how to prepare ground; how to hold the fork and get it into the ground, raise the earth
"Bend your knees, not your back..."
I should create a trench with the earth I dug into which I can put compost covered by the next line of soil dug out.
"...this way you get the reward of seeing your progress...make sure you're removing the couch, setting it aside for burning or disposal. the other green stuff and uprooted vegetation you just dig in with the compost"
He completed five lines of digging in almost as many minutes, work that had been taking me longer, exhausting me more.
Vanley Burke teaching me work the ground on my plot
"Level it off with the rake"
Then he showed me a good way to plant my early potatoes. He'd taught me a few months back the principle of only preparing the soil in which you are about to plant or he dug just one ditch between weeded ground, the earth heaped on one side. "Put in your potatoes. Leave just one chit on each. A foot to 18 inches apart. Rake the heaped earth back over them, pulling out any couch"
He left me to it. I dug a second trench, planted and covered my seed potatoes, marking the line with a bamboo on which I stuck their name.
Tue 6 March: That half hour lesson on digging was no small gift. This morning the back ache I expected after several hours' digging didn't occur. Vanley told me that before he started photography (at which he is so good and justly well known), his father, in Jamaica, taught him and his brothers about working the land and caring for animals. I couldn't absorb from books, the learning he imparted in 20 minutes, much as I've tried. V showed me how to raise the spade or shovel - depending on how penetrable the soil - and plunge it down, one hand on top of the handle; the other close by on the stem.
"Don't spear your foot, Simon!"
Then with the blade in the ground, push it down further, then lever
"With your knees, not back - and heap the soil opposite you while creating a trench."
All obvious, but watching him and trying it myself while I was watched by Vanley made it possible.
"If you come up with a shovelful of roots or a divot of turf, strike the larger pieces to break them up, turn the turf upside down. Drop it in the trench, shake the weed ball of earth and do the same or in the case of couch pull it out by hand and make sure to dispose of it."
V was picking out and throwing these distinctive white yellow roots onto the black plastic cover on part of my plot
"They'll dry out there and die. Don't put them in the compost. Get this done and it'll get easier next year."  So I proceeded
"Keep it neat. Keep a line and an edge and make it so you can see how you are progressing. That's good for your morale."
I can hardly express my exhilaration at feeling that I'm on my way to mastering a skill not exercised in my family for generations - or not on my side of it. Jack, my stepfather, could dig. He was one, at most two generations from the land, and didn't he make his later career out of documenting his return to it.
Samuel Lees
portrait in Oldham Art Gallery founded in 1883 by Charles Lees *
I calculate my family have been townspeople since my ancestor Samuel Lees in Oldham became an ironmaster, then cotton mill owner, in the early years of the Industrial Revolution.
"I'd love to write a book, Vanley. 'Teaching the Bourgeois how to return to the Land'"
I didn't add - not yet - that the Lees fortune came in part from processing raw cotton grown by slaves.
Two rows of Marfona planted 5 March
*It was the setting up of an engineering business by Samuel Lees at Holt in 1816, that engineering really took off, as he began to manufacture rollers, rather than simply repairing them. His firm rapidly developed so that by the early 1830s his company was the largest cotton roller manufacturing firm in Lancashire....
*** ***
For the morning and early afternoon I networked at the People Conference 2012 in Handsworth College, comfortable with familiar faces and local friends thinking about the area, planning a future with less and less money to support public services. There's that feeling that we have the companionship and talent to try to address the problems of our area and the needs of its communities. I feel relaxed with Camille, Aftab, Councillor Waseem, Sister Helen, Hector the Protector, Khalid our MP, Derek, Ifor, Harold, Ken, Rajinder, Verona, Saeed who once let people call him Sid...and they with me; involved with and sharing the same concerns.
Later I cycled over to see Amy on the edge of the city Oscar dashing beside me along the towpath of the Fazeley Canal; noise from the motorway receding as I get closer to the countryside by Minworth bridge over the now green edged canal, a hundred yards from Summer Lane. Oscar's delighted to see Amy's dog Cookie.
They romp in the garden, he trying hopelessly to mount her - she's in season - though twice his height. Now and then she reverses the process and jumps on him. Watching a while over tea and shortcake, we reckon it's OK to leave them together. Amy takes me upstairs to see her baby room, with preparatory kit and baby clothes. She makes an appointment with Guy, working late six days in a row at the Ford Showroom in Sutton (It's “change over” time in the motor trade), to meet up at the pub beyond the fields below the garden and we set out for a walk, the dogs now more interested in the scent of hare and pheasant hiding in a broad field of young kale.
Cookie works the ground differently from Oscar who just wants to chase things - when they turn up. Cookie stops a hundred yards from us; and only her back above a clump of taller kale, points and begins to stalk leading with her nose until a foot ahead of her a young tailless hen pheasant bursts from the cover and turns to fly, in its inexperience, within 20 yards of us. We tie the dogs up outside the pub - a soft apple drink for Amy; half a pint of local bitter for me; clustered at the bar blokes of a certain tribe - to me, from the city's centre, they seem strange - all white, unsightly less in feature than in facial gesture, making steady use of the f-word; skidding in a series of 'fffs', a gap for the 'u' pronounced with a lot of 'a' in it, hitting the consonant buffer of the 'ck' with a manly clunk; they swing the curse as a generic club, yet, being on the edge of Sutton Coldfield, they eschew the c-word, weakening their scansion.The place is called The Cock, and "it's full of them" mutters Amy. The rain comes in, the sky darkens, Guy arrives and we head home, my bicycle in his boot with the dogs
"You know" says Amy "I think Cookie and Amy may have tied"
"Shit. How did they manage that?"
"Well it must have been when we went up to the baby room. I saw they'd stopped chasing one another. I think she laid down. I don't want her to have a litter of Jack Daniels, Dad. You'll have to pay the vet."
*** ***
Monday night's meeting of Handsworth Helping Hands saw us reviewing progress to date, assessing the challenges of raising enough cash from grants to do free work for the vulnerable. On the negative side is the sheer lack of local funding; on the positive is that when various local initiatives, such as our area's Community Development Trust and Heathfield Neighbourhood Forum, have been longer in place we'll be well positioned for the grants available. After reading through, editing and getting approval for a draft constitution  for HHH, Lin and I had worked on last year, the meeting left it with Leslie Pinder to report back on arrangements for making ourselves into a social enterprise. Tomorrow I will contact Jo Burrill at Midland Heart to arrange a pilot tidy up at one suitable site so that at least we start to get our hands dirty in a good way.
*** ***
A report from the Institute of International Finance (IIF) on the economic cost of a Greek default - Implications of a Disorderly Greek Default and Euro Exit...
There are some very important and damaging ramifications that would result from a disorderly default on Greek government debt. Most directly, it would impose significant further damage on an already beleaguered Greek economy, raising serious social costs. The most obvious immediate spillover it that it would put a major question mark against the quality of a sizeable amount of Greek private sector liabilities. For the official sector in the rest of the Euro Area, however, the contingent liabilities that could result would seem to be:
Direct losses on Greek debt holdings (€73 billion) that would probably result from a generalized default on Greek debt (owed to both private and public sector creditors)
Sizeable potential losses by the European Central Bank (ECB): we estimate that ECB exposure to Greece (€177 billion) is over 200% of the ECB’s capital base
The likely need to provide substantial additional support to both Portugal and Ireland (government and well as banks) to convince market participants that these countries were indeed fully insulated from Greece (possibly a combined €380 billion over a 5 year horizon)
The likely need to provide substantial support to Spain and Italy to stem contagion there (possibly another €350 billion of combined support from the European Financial Stability Fund (EFSF)/European Stability Mechanism (ESM) and IMF)
The ECB would be directly damaged by a Greek default, but would come under pressure to significantly expand its Securities Markets Program (SMP) (currently €219 billion) to support sovereign debt markets
There would be sizeable bank recapitalization costs, which could easily be €160 billion. Private investors would be very leery to provide additional equity, thus leaving governments with the choice of either funding the equity themselves, or seeing banks achieve improved ratios through even sharper deleveraging
There would be lost tax revenues from weaker Euro Area growth and higher interest payments from higher debt levels implied in providing additional lending
There would be lower tax revenues resulting from lower global growth. The global growth implications of a disorderly default are, ex ante, hard to quantify. Lehman Brothers was far smaller than Greece and its demise was supposedly well anticipated. It is very hard to be confident about how producers and consumers in the Euro Area and beyond will respond when such an extreme event as a disorderly sovereign default occurs.
It is difficult to add all these contingent liabilities up with any degree of precision, although it is hard to see how they would not exceed €1 trillion. There is a more profound issue, however. The increased involvement of the ECB in supporting the Euro Area financial system has been such that a disorderly Greek default would lead to significant losses and strains on the ECB itself. When combined with the strong likelihood that a disorderly Greek default would lead to the hurried exit of Greece from the Euro Area, this financial shock to the ECB could raise significant stability issues about the monetary union.
*** ***
A little more of Vanley Burke - my tutor on the plot

...and I had a visitor on Tuesday evening, Sihlangu Tshuma, Online Journalism Postgraduate student at Birmingham City University, who runs a blog - MyHandsworth. He showed me filming he'd done at Uplands Allotments.


  1. That's exciting news about the "Out of Town" material. With regards to the mysterious "28th" tape of the commercial releases, this would be "Brickworks" and Stonehenge". Stan Bréhaut reviewed it on the old "Jack's Back" website so I suspect it was included in the original VHS release but was dropped when the DVD's came out (as they only need 27 episodes).

  2. Hi Ian. Yes and my understanding is that Delta would very much like to include the Brickworks/Stonehenge episode in the re-issue of the 9 DVD set. Let's hope that can happen. Best wishes S


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Simon Baddeley