Sunday, 25 November 2012

Planning

Theodroa, my mother, aged 10 months in Dec 1917
We are holding a memorial to celebrate my mother's life on 8 December. With hardly a fortnight to I was at a loss as to who might lead the service. In the loo at home in Birmingham. I picked up a paperback Digger’s Diary: Tales from the Allotment by Victor Osborne. Mum sent it to me a while ago. Out of it dropped the letter she'd included.
I searched William Mather in Fortrose on the Black Isle. Found his phone. He'd seen the announcement of Mum's death in The Times. He agreed at once to help. A few days later we'd worked up a service order - welcome, prayers, hymns, readings, tributes and music; our Richard to do the design and arrange printing.
Having read the service draft he asked me over the phone "Any reason why it's so Christian?"
"A letter dropped out of a book. Serendipity. William's known mum for years. It will not be a stranger speaking about her"
What had been strange was that the celebrant recommended by William T Fraser had not got in touch, despite a second phone call and an assurance he'd ring me back. I'd originally explored a humanist emphasis; had several phone conversations with a most pleasant sounding celebrant, but I even before I began to check family consensus mum's letter dropped on the floor. It wasn't an instruction from mum. She was too bored by the business of funerals to have left instructions on that score. William turned up as a godsend.  After we'd met at Brin Croft for a cup of tea i sent him an email:
Dear William. This is the man who was our Dad - John Baddeley CMG - who later married Maria Roussen with Bay and me and our half Greek siblings. And this is the man Mum lived with for the formative years of our upbringing - Jack Hargreaves OBE - who later married Isobel. I wrote about my stepfather for Wikipedia.And here are some films I made of our mother in the last 18 months. They may give you a flavour beyond what you already know of her life and character - A memory of the Blitz in London; and Mum's memories of coming with Angus Burnett Stuart to live in and love the Highlands - especially Mains of Faillie in Strathnairn
Those films were short. This one is longer and I’ve already overloaded you with things, but they are Mum's recollections of Clavering the village where Bay and I were born, of her leaving a cloistered nannied urban world to accompany her mother’s project of starting up Mill End Dairy Farm in the early 1930s. Kindest regards, Simon 
Part of William's reply: ...I went through all the marvellous films you sent me. I like them very much. Some wonderful insights and reflections. It was lovely just hearing her talk about the Blitz, about coming to Scotland and her joy at remembering so many very happy times at Mill End. It has helped me understand her much better, for which many thanks. The films are a wonderful resource for your family. I think overall my job at the service will be one of ensuring everybody who wants to say something can do so and to enable it all to flow smoothly. I will obviously say something too but it will be in the light of all the other poems, tributes and readings - and of course with an awareness of available time! All the best. William
Meantime the dire routines of probate continue. The inevitable certification, disassembly and temporal assessment of a life. The other morning in my hotel room in Hounslow, despite a warning notice, one foot slid out from beneath me on a semi-circle of hard line outside the shower. I fell backwards half in and out of the cubicle one leg bent under me. I cursed in fright and lay sprawled there for a moment as the shock dispersed, checking if I'd hurt myself. When I've fallen with my bicycle - so rare I recall each time - I've rest a moment on the road to check if I’ve damaged anything. Mostly it’s no more than a graze, if that, and I’m up and away - waking with an ache or two next morning. Now I feel more or less alright one moment; then I think of something from the universe of things and a pang wrenches me and passes like a word I can't remember.
*** *** ***
An email to friends my mother made in India in 2005:
Dear Martin and Annie. I thought you would want to know that my mum Barbara who so much appreciated meeting and knowing you and Annie died on 1 November’12.
She was in that happy group whose bodies gave out long before their mind, lucid until three days before she left us, holding mine and my sister’s hand in her own bed in her own home, she wound down like a grand old clock. As she said, irritated, by her difficulties getting about in the last year “Being old isn’t for the young. It’s ruddy hard work”.
We are full of grief. It is almost impossible - but thank goodness not quite - to imagine life without her here. She had a wonderful happy adventurous life. Enviable really and for that long life we’ll remember her far more than for her death - which although she was as brave as anyone I can imagine, turned up as an extremely vexatious interruption of her many plans. Her diary for 2012 remains replete with intentions as did all her previous ones - most of them realised.
I hope you are all well. I will forever recall mum on your roof at Tikli with her mobile having to pretend to her ailing husband Angus that instead of being in the centre of India she was with us in Birmingham for a week. She could be quite naughty but with good intentions.
We saw mum off at a small private ceremony on 9 Nov and I’m organising a memorial service for her with lots of help on 8 December in Inverness. Love S 
Dear Simon and Linda. Sad but true. It had to happen. Even God is dying.
And so, as you point out so poignantly, it is the life and not the death that is the measure of a person, and few have reached greater heights of intellectual, moral and social achievement and wisdom and stamina than dear Barbara, giving such pleasure to all who came in touch with her. Her memory still echoes round her courtyard and it easy to imagine her sitting bolt upright in bed in the pink room, having her breakfast. And then we read of moving house, by herself, at an age when most have gone. Those two memories are quite indelible. That hole will probably not be filled for a long time. One can only marvel at having known such people and be thankful and use them as role models to lift our modest lives in the daily round...We sympathise enormously with you in this inevitable loss and envy you your amazing experience with her. with love. Martin and Annie
****** ******
Friday morning was bright. I cycled along the canal into town with Oscar; wandered through the crowds milling about the German Market looking for my daughter and grandson. Then I saw them...
sunlit. I knew she'd turn her head and held up my hand in a waiting wave. I treated myself to Glühwein - ridiculously expensive at £4 a mug. I had two. Oscar wandered through the crowds, he keeping an eye on me, I on him. Amy's baby club were sat around The River - what's generally called the Floozie in the Jacuzzi.
I tried to remember the names of as mum's and babies but as soon as I'd got four names in my head the fifth introduction drove the first one out.
Later we strolled down to the Chinese Quarter for a late lunch with Richard and Emma; Oliver being passed between us. Oscar lay in the pannier just in sight outside, covered with a scarf and towel.
These autumn evenings. Indoors warm. Outdoors damp chill and often wet; long johns, wicking vests, thick shirts, neck warmers, jumpers, gloves, waxed cap and protection against rain. With dusk the city sky goes like Chiba's dead channel; sulphurous loom reflecting off the overcast. Oscar runs beside me along the Mainline towpath skirting the long shallow puddles through which I cycle until I turn under the West Coast line rail bridge onto the Soho Loop by factory walls precisely mirrored in the limpid waterway.
*** *** ***
Saturday morning I went to the allotment. It had rained through the night. The sky was blue again, bright sunny but everything well-soaked. Robin's plot was still pooled with water; rain trapped by the concrete edges of his plot.
"I want to give up this plot." he said "Take the one next to yours from which Imram's disappeared, after a week's frantic work in May."
"Good idea. We can help each other. Chris has given up his plot on the other side of our - Plot 15. he's sharing mine. Makes sense."
I started tidying, pruned back Buddleia, cleared stalks, cut and bagged some ragged spinach, dug out a depressingly small number of tiny potatoes, and picked two cabbages that looked fat enough to serve with a couple of meals.
"Imagine if we had to live off this plot!" I said "My god I've got a way to go."
Cycling along our road between allotment and home I pass yet another front garden being dug away to create a frontage for cars. I seethe with unspoken indignation but also some original thought spurred by my two years' learning about trying to grow my own.

"You know" I say to myself "these houses are often bought by people on divergent trajectories. I'm metropolitan - urban to the core - for all my sentiments and experience of the countryside from childhood; my grandmother's farm where I was born; the long television career of my stepfather making Out of Town entertainingly preoccupied with the disconnect between men and the land that followed WW2 and the mechanisation of agriculture; my childhood enjoyment of riding, shooting and fishing over the most beautiful landscapes of Britain. It's only very recently I've begun to get a flavour - a mere soupçon - of the arduousness demanded of anyone who must grow food to eat; growing in a way of people who do it to feed their families and stay alive. It's been a horrid wet year. Everyone on the Victoria Jubilee admits to that; grumbling about the onion fly and the slugs and the enduring summer rain of June and July. No wonder those of my neighbours now making their lives in the city, but who are still rural at the core, who've descended from generations of men and women who've struggled to work the land, labouring with intractable soil, pests and weather, rents and landlords; no wonder they want to be free of everything that hints at the forces of nature  - trees, climbers, shrubs, grass! Nature sheds leaves, branches, twigs, clinging wetly to feet and walls, blowing into damp heaps that collect and rot in inaccessible corners, spreading dirt and the memory of rural oppression. There may be pride in forefathers, but there's not an ounce of sylvan sentiment. No wonder these descendants of farmers and peasants hire diggers, chain-saws, earth skips, weed killers and pesticides; defending their tidy homes from nature, taming her with pots and vases, ensuring what once sprung from the earth is dried, faked or portrayed only in decor; framed and engraved. Anything to do with soil and agriculture and farming carries displeasing memories; something to be forgotten and rejected with those sentiments of environmentalists who've never set a hand to a plough, raised an axe, hoed stony ground and watched the weather; rather the demonstrable achievement of a comfortable spotless reliable automobile; its scent of internal tidiness and security; a climate controlled interior of dogless carpets and hairless furniture; well-polished floors unsmirched by muddy shoes, and a walled garden of brick, concrete and decking with a patch of well mown lawn to keep the devil nature at a distance, better enjoyed on screens, admired in glossy magazines, and gazed upon from new and well-maintained roads. All the same I wish people would not get rid of their front gardens...
Royal Horticultural Society booklet on urban front gardens
Once home I continued tidying the garden, raking and bagging clammy leaves, cutting back more Buddleia and wayward foliage blocking the path to the composter. This is a scruffy time of year. Our garden's soggy with the teeming rain I heard as I read in our warm bed last night. Amy arrived with Oliver mid-afternoon. We had a good chat with Liz and the terriers in Scotland.
I'm getting used to having Ollie around, still opting out of my full contribution to constant care.  Some of the time he stood, other times sat and he even slept amid our incomprehensible comings and goings, in the large Koochi travelcot generously given by our neighbour Charles, that, when Guy had come round for supper and left with Oliver, easily folded into a dinky cuboid hardly more than 2' x 8", while Amy and Lin set to wrapping and boxing Christmas presents for distant relatives. The rain returned as I headed for bed, reading le Carré's Our Kind of Traitor.
News: Flooding across the UK ...torrential rain batters UK...at least 800 homes in England and Wales have been flooded in recent days...10,000 more at risk...Environment Agency has issued 490 flood warnings and alerts as rivers continue to rise and rain saturates the ground....

...and Lydbrook, our village in the Forest of Dean, is inundated, not just Lower Lydbrook from the Wye at its foot but from the Lyd overflowing its culverts as far up the hill as The Jovial Colliers in Upper Lydbrook. The irony, our neighbour up Bell Hill far above the deluge, has phoned to say they've lost their main water supply, and no-one from the water company can recall the run of the supply from the mains.
The Citizen ~ 26 Nov'12: An overnight deluge left a Forest of Dean village under 3ft of water as flooding wreaked havoc across the county. Relentless rain throughout Saturday night left businesses, homes and cars submerged in Upper Lydbrook. Gloucestershire Fire and Rescue were scrambled to the scene at 8am yesterday and 10 people had to be rescued by raft as the main road was transformed into a river. At the Jovial Colliers Inn water levels reached waist height. Jamie Woods, who lives there and whose parents run the pub, said: "We went to bed and there was about a foot of water, then I came down on Sunday morning and it was around my waist." Forest of Dean district councillor Bruce Hogan (L, Lydbrook and Ruardean) lives in the village.  He said: "The road was like a brook, it was grim. The water level just kept rising and rising by about an inch every 10 minutes. I've never seen anything like it before."
*** ***
Kathimerini 26 Nov'12: Eurogroup summit on Greek debt go to the wire...'The outlook for Greece receiving crucial rescue funding, and a solution for the sustainability of its huge debt mountain, remained unclear late on Monday after nearly 10 hours of talks between eurozone finance ministers in Brussels though officials indicated that an agreement was expected to be reached ultimately. At around 10 p.m., sources told Kathimerini that talks were expected to continue for at least another two hours but that a solution would likely be thrashed out “one way or another.”'
*** ***

On November 26, 1943, 118 Greek hostages... members of the local community in Sparta, were executed in German reprisals in Monodendri, Laconia. The victims were hostages already picked out by local hooded informants collaborating with the occupiers. Among those shot was the doctor and general surgeon of Sparta, Dr. Christos Karvounis. Orestes Varvitsiotes' wrote a poem to mark the event:



Οι 118
Παίζαμε στον κήπο με τ΄ άλλα τα παιδιά(*)
και την Ειρήνη που τα φύλαγε και τα φρόντιζε,
όταν ξαφνικά κοκκάλωσε η γης,
μαύρισε ο ουρανός, σταμάτησε ο χρόνος.
Τα τραγικά μαντάτα πέσανε σαν κεραυνός
και διαδόθηκαν σαν αστραπή,
περνώντας από στόμα σε στόμα,
από πόρτα σε πόρτα, από σπίτι σε σπίτι:
"Σκοτώσανε τους φυλακισμένους οι Γερμανοί!"
Κι ακούγονταν τα ονόματα αδελφιών, πατεράδων,
συγγενών, φίλων, γνωστών και αγνώστων...
Άκουσε ο Ήλιος τα φριχτά μαντάτα
και κρύφτηκε στα σύννεφα ντροπιασμένος.
Ο ταύγετος έσκυψε θλιμμένος το κεφάλι.
Ο Ευρώτας δάκρυσε σιωπηλός.
Ο Πάρνωνας ορκίστηκε εκδίκηση
(αυτός τους είδε από κοντά τους νεκρούς
σε μια πλαγιά του ξαπλωμένους).
Η Σπάρτη κουκουλώθηκε να μην ακούει
το κλάμα, τις φωνές, τον πόνο, τις κατάρες.
"Σκοτώσανε τους 118 οι Γερμανοί
στο Μονοδέντρι".

ΟΡΕΣΤΗΣ ΒΑΡΒΙΤΣΙΩΤΗΣ

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