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Friday, 6 April 2012

Couch grass

I have a rather poor opinion of couch grass, seeing it, with thousands of others, as an invasive weed on our allotment. It spreads fast and remains tenaciously in the soil, growing via the white rhizomes I've just pulled up and keep pulling up, over and over. The roots spread just below the surface. Since I've no intention of using poison on my allotment I have to get it out by hand which takes work. Yet Robin, my neighbouring gardener, reminded me that couch grass loves a rotavator which cuts up and spreads its rhizomes. I notice the dogs will often have a dig and a chew of it when they're with me on the plot. Another name for couch grass is dog grass. They know something I didn't. The latin name for couch is elymus or elytrigia repens, triticum firmum or triticum repens. It's got several alternative names - durfa grass, quack grass, quick grass, quitch grass, Scotch quelch, twitch grass, wheat grass, witch grass and more in other languages, including 'creeping panic grass'. Learn more and I feel better about it already; know more and I might even raise my estimation. Couch grass has medicinal uses - particularly the rhizome, the underground stem with many buds which if left in the ground sends up vertical shoots. These can be prepared to can treat urinary problems - difficulty with peeing and inflamed bladder. You make a tea from a couple of teaspoons of chopped rhizomes to one cup of water; boiling it and simmering for ten minutes, and drinking one cup three times a day. Hm. It's also nice to lie on; the green part of couch grass makes good grazing for mammals. Its seeds are eaten by buntings and finches. Caterpillars of moths and butterflies chew the green part - though I've yet to see that. Two of my fellow gardeners, far more experienced than I, told me I needed to remove couch grass roots (Vanley calls it cooch - another of its many names). They say I can worry less about dock roots. Cooch is the problem. If I just cut off its leaves on the surface, the dock's long vertical root pushes deep soil and hence nutrients to the surface. Cooch roots spread horizontally leeching those nutrients - which is perhaps why the dogs enjoy it.
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A most understandable yet still helpful reply from Gosta at the British Film Institute (BFI) whom I'd approached about possible support for organising the Jack Hargreaves collection at Plymouth:
Dear Simon. I can see that it is a difficult situation that you are in and I also fully understand the SWFTA's position. It would be wonderful if this material was made accessible but unfortunately the BFI would not be in a position do things any differently to SWFTA. The funding and resources to work on such a project are very scarce and would normally only be available to material in our possession, i.e. material that has been donated to us. Even if you wished to donate it to us we would not be in a position to make any promises about allocating the necessary funds and resources to make it accessible. Possibly the best option would be to try and work with the SWFTA in trying to apply for external funding from organisations such as the Heritage Lottery Fund, JISC and possibly HEFCE. I am sorry that I haven't got anything that can be of more help for you in the short term. Regards, Gosta
After he left Southern Television shortly before it lost its franchise in 1981 my stepfather recovered a large number of 16mm location film shot by his long term cameraman Stan Bréhaut along with sound recordings of  many episodes of Out of Town on 1/4" tape which included his studio introductions and commentary on Stan's film. The tapes and the film are separate. Only one match has been made - three years ago - to show how this might be done. Along with the films and tapes are further tapes - betatapes - from the series Old Country which was broadcast on Channel 4 - a successor to Out of Town. I am exercised by the challenge of how to preserve this collection - or as much of it as possible - in a sufficiently accessible form to make of it something that I can bequeath to my children, and which can be used by anyone interested in a rich and entertaining record of a world that is passed and passing.

In response to the letter from South West Film and Television Archive (SWFTA) last week I've organised myself to drive down to Plymouth with a transit van and bring the collection of films and tapes back to Birmingham. I'm paying for temporary storage in Digbeth.
To my relief and delight my neighbour John Rose has said he will share the 410 mile return journey with me, helping load the van in Plymouth, where we are also going to meet up with David Knowles the Director of Old Country and founder of the small company Lacewing who made their reputation producing that series. I met David for the first time last June at his home in Hythe. It was Jenny Knowles, I finally discovered, who'd crafted a clay sculpture of my stepfather with his pony Ghost ...

....a treasured object that I see every day on a shelf in our kitchen. Dave's agreed to look over any Old Country tapes in the collection and to help me in the continuing task of extracting ore from an unwieldy and downright cumbersome mix of media. Others too are giving support with ideas and information - members of the informal 'JH Committee' and also Nick Wright who originally received the collection from Jack, kept it in his house, then took it to SWFTA when he moved to a smaller place.
These are pictures sent me by Jennie Constable at Plymouth to help me gauge the amount of space I need in the transit van and for storage in Birmingham; and this is a link to a sample of the films I have been able to stream on Vimeo and Youtube and about which I am sending information via Facebook

and David continues:
As far as I can remember the Out of Town went into the studio on a Monday morning and everything had to be ready by 9:30 am. On our arrival at Southern we were given a running order for the film inserts for the programme and lets say the two films were fly fishing in the first half and donkey racing in the second these had to be made up onto spools and got down to telecine (which was at the other end of the building) by 9:30. If you ever look at one of the programmes that went out you will see little dots in the top right hand of the film 3 seconds before the end these we also had to add. The purpose for these were to let everyone know when the film was going to run out and the mix back to the studio was to happen.
After we had got the film down to telecine everything was now out of our hands and George Egan the studio director took over. For Out of Town they used the smallest studio which I think was studio 3. This studio was also used for Day by Day so Jack's set (his famous shed) had to be set up in the morning. Jack would bring in what props (maybe fishing rods, horse harness) he needed for that mornings recording. They would then do a run through of the complete programme which was unscripted. Jack would sit on his stool and have a little monitor in front of him (out of shot) to watch the film inserts and just talk for duration. He was never worried about making a small error in information as he always said to me that this created viewer participation.
After the run through which finished around 10:15 they then went for the recording which was the same as the rehearsal ad libbed by Jack and I can only remember once did he ask for a retake. The titles for the programme were fed in from tape and everything was like a live broadcast.
It may be of interest about the music used on Out of Town came about as one day on Southern's regional magazine Day by Day there was a classical guitarist on. Jack was walking past the studio and heard him playing. Jack immediately fell in love with the piece and later asked him if he could use it on Out of Town.
This is relevant to the films being collected from Plymouth:
The Out of Town programme at Southern were originally recorded onto 2" video tape. I think later it may have gone onto 1" but certainly when I first was involved 2" was the size used. Southern also had a policy of recording the sound of the whole programme on 1/4" audio tape and some of these are possibly what are in Plymouth. Please note though these 1/4" tapes were left to free run so they would not sync up with any programme. Also the only visual recording of the studio links were on the 2" tape and Southern found that a lot of the material on these tapes eventually disappeared during storage when they came to make compilations for their staff when they lost their franchise.
So to conclude on this section the films should have sound effects on them and the 1/4" will possibly be the complete audio recording of the final programme. The film will need to be handled very carefully due to its age and the joins which were made either by me or one of the assistants will probably dried out and when run through a machine could catch and rip the film.
These days there are only a very few if not only one place that handles transferring 16mm film to tape. We had some films from Abu Dhabi a few of years ago that needed putting onto tape and could only find one company (I post the company name & cost when we find the invoice) that would do this. It was also very costly but this is what should be done to preserve it. Firstly the films were ultrasound cleaned, checked then transferred.
The 1/4" tapes can be easily transferred but will not be in sync and will therefore need a lot of work to make Jacks voice fit the film sections. This can be done though as I have often had to do this (with my editors hat on) in the past. What is involved is either adding to the film (which would be on tape) or trimming the sound. You would be surprised though how quickly they will probably run out of sync.
The quality of the pictures will depend on how Jack stored them bearing in mind that he was not technical so he just kept them in a shed. They will however probably be OK and I will have a quick look when we pick them up from Plymouth.
If you have any questions please let me know either by posting here or emailing me at I did work very closely with Jack for many years and spent time with him not only in the cutting room but also socially.
I do hope that this has helped to clear up things about what is in Plymouth. I have not touched on Old Country which I produced but will let you all know what is there once I have had a chance to look at it.
Please forgive any waffle (and bad English) in all this it is all thoughts that have just been put down as they came to mind.
Now to to do a piece on my facebook site "Mr D's Friends of Thermal Cooking" (my other job when I am not film making) on how to make an Easter Cake ..............
Have a good Easter, Take care, Dave
PS We have now found the details of the film to video transfer: It was done by Bucks Labs in Slough (the only place in UK that could do the transfers) and cost £8.35 per minute. We supplied the video stock and this price did not include any delivery charges as I took the film up and collected it once transferred. To my surprise it was also 7 years ago we used them.

Pondering this next stage - episode? chapter? verse? - I'm confident there's a book to be written on recovering the JH collection. It has many twists, many turns involving technical, legal, personal complications plus different characters; newer media giving momentum to the recovery of older media; the context? Jack's powerfully and entertainingly presented theme - men's loss of connection to the the countryside and the land.
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In England Easter's now. In far away Ano Korakiana there's another week. People are getting ready:
Βαδίζοντας ολοταχώς για τη Μεγάλη Εβδομάδα και οι προετοιμασίες στις ενορίες έχουν ήδη ξεκινήσει… Το απόγευμα, στον Άη Θανάση, άνδρες, γυναίκες και παιδιά εκ των ενοριτών, επιμελούνταν του καθαρισμού τόσο του εσωτερικού της εκκλησίας όσο και του περιαύλιου χώρου. Κόψιμο χόρτων και κλαδιών, κάψιμο, κλάδεμα λουλουδιών από την πλευρά της ανδρικής «ομάδας κρούσης», σκούπισμα, ξεσκόνισμα των στασιδίων και των εικόνων, γυάλισμα των κηροπηγίων για τις γυναίκες. Όσον αφορά το τελευταίο, η εδώ ενορία χρησιμοποιεί τα τελευταία χρόνια τη μέθοδο της «πυρόλυσης»,σε αντίθεση με αυτήν του Άη Νικόλα που κάνει χρήση του ζεματιστού νερού. Αρκετά πιο παλιά, τα μπρούτζινα καθαρίζονταν και γυαλίζονταν με τη βοήθεια μιας λεμονόκουπας βουτηγμένης σε ψιλή άμμο…Και όλα αυτά μέσα στις ευωδίες της Άνοιξης και της ανθισμένης πασχαλιάς…
Marching ahead to Holy Week and parish preparations have already begun ... In the afternoon, at Prophet Thanasis, men, women and children of the parish are tidying and cleaning inside and outside the church; the men of the 'Task Force' cutting grass and shrubs, burning and pruning; the women sweeping, dusting the stalls and images, polishing candlesticks. Regarding the latter, the parish here in recent years using the method of 'cracking', unlike that of St. Nicholas for which hot water is used. Several more old, brass cleaned and polished using squeezed lemon dipped in sand ... And all in the scents of spring and the blossoming lilac.
Our beloved village may be in the country far from the city but all will have watched and heard the scenes in Athens, knowing the latest news - Thanassis on the web entry speaks of της ανθισμένης πασχαλιάς, blossoming lilac...

April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain..

Νam Sibyllam quidem Cumis ego ipse oculis meis vidi in ampulla pendere, et cum illi pueri dicerent:
<Σίβυλλα τί θέλεις;>
respondebat illa:
<ἀποθανεῖν θέλω.>

For I myself saw the Cumaean Sibyl with my own eyes, hanging in a jar, and when the young men asked her, "Sibyl, what do you want?", she answered, "I want to die." This was Eliot's epigraph to The Waste Land. The voice came from a jar, an amphora, because, blessed to live but cursed to age a thousand years, the Sibyl had withered to no more. As Maria Margaronis says "demons of the past are alive on the streets of Athens".
Nick Malkoutzis has written wisely and movingly about Dimitris Christoulas' death, respecting the man, striving to understand his despair but gainsaying the call for violent retributions in Christoulas' suicide note:
....His references to Kalashnikovs, governments of collaboration and young people hanging traitors in the same square that he shot himself was the language of a man who had snapped. But it is also similar to the language that has been adopted by some media commentators, politicians and anti-austerity protesters. In the confusion and exasperation of this debilitating crisis, these words of rage trip off the tongue. There are few Greeks who haven’t been at least momentarily overcome by a mood of destructive exasperation over the last couple of years. However, there is a difference between feeling this fury and making it a guiding principle. Blind rage, vigilantism, kicking out at everything and everyone won’t get Greece anywhere. Targeted anger, the kind that generates determination to change things for the better, might bring progress. Christoulas’s last words were reported to be: “Don’t leave debts to your children.” This is a much more fitting principle to be guided by as we seek to change our world. The idea of not passing on to the next generation the pathogenic sickness of the past few decades should be the goal of every Greek... If the value of this most ancient of democracies is to be restored, then voters must use the general elections due to take place next month to inject some purpose into the system. Rather this than nooses and firing squads...

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Simon Baddeley