Tuesday, 31 January 2012

In town for the day

I was in a room on the south bank of the Thames at some meeting of people in the same business – I’m almost certain it was a conference on analysing and debunking conspiracy theory - when gazing over towards the Houses of Parliament I saw the top floor of Portcullis House, the office accommodation for MPs over the road from the Commons, explode, freezing all in the room but me. No need to conform in dreams, I threw myself to the floor for cover. I knew exactly where this came from. It was a flashback to London’s especially brilliant New Year fireworks display with widely published stills of flames shooting from the upper turrets of Big Ben. Except they confirm prescience I give dreams no credence as prophecy. It was to do with my state of mind, sitting on my own the evening before watching a film of Susan Hill’s The Woman in Black - one of the scariest ghost stories (next to The Turn of the Screw), in which at one point, after a preamble of gathering dread and the illusion of escape to a cosy bedroom; a child’s playful giggle wakes the haunted man, Arthur Kidd. He sits up in his bed in the Gifford Arms half awake in a sweat but curious, when with dreadful abruptness the face of the woman in black, stoops on him screeching through gritting teeth. “She…came for me”.
I’d seen this before but was still on the edge of dread as I went downstairs to the cold and dark to wash, do my teeth, before bed, knowing imagination’s inventiveness; no-one else in the house.  The was the dream sorting things out, plus Parmesan.
Morning ferry to Igoumenitsa

I think I’ll go to town today. I’ve errands. It’s going to be sunny. From the village I cycle down a winding back road to the main Sidari Road, then two kilometres to its T-junction with the Corfu Town-Paleokastritsa Road, then four to the Tzavros T-junction.
My route from Ano Korakiana to town
Here’s the post office. I pay my electricity bill – 20% for electricity the rest, property tax. Then on, cycling in the sun, to join the dual carriageway for eight kilometres to the edge of town – able along most of that large busy stretch to cycle on quieter parallel side roads. I’ve done this journey in winter, at night in pouring rain, in the bright heat of a summer day. I like the feeling of approaching and arriving in the city – especially one as classy as Corfu’s capital.
It’s been hinted that those who live all the time in the Corfu Town look askance at the rest of the island, as some in Chelsea might regard Romford. Boarding a bus to town at a stop in the country as you proffer your fare you say simply “Πόλη” “Poli”. I entered via the main road Ioulias Andreadi towards the old hospital soon hurrying through the traffic that jams up here to visit the good cycle shop just opposite the Ipoliti T-junction to get a decent lock, a slight adjustment to my handlebars and thicker handgrips, which the owner fitted for me in two minutes using a detergent spray to loosen the old ones
WD40’s no good for this” he said.
On down back streets to The Stove Shop in Solomou Street to ask about replacing cracked fireproof mica in the door and a new inside guard, showing pictures of what I needed on my camera. Stammatis described removing my stove door.
“We have the parts. Bring your old ones in in. It will be done while you wait.”
I went to buy my ferry ticket home, to be sure of the February schedule and headed for the Superfast ticket office by the new port gates. On the way I came to another travel agent and walked in to see Kostas and his son Anthony. Lin and I hired cars from him for two years until we got a better deal from Yiannis in Sidari. He’s always been welcoming, ready with coffee and cakes in his office so we felt embarrassed. Now on my bicycle I was invited in, sat down
“How are you?” We got talking.
I said I’d just paid my tax
“Ah” said Anthony who’s English is excellent “You paid your tax. You are a Greek now.”
We got onto the penalties Richard Pine had warned me of when we had lunch a few days ago.
“Get your floor area wrong for the tax and you can’t even sell your house and your surveyor – your μηχανικός – goes to jail for three years”
“Yes, yes” said Anthony “we have been trying to get our house measured during the amnesty. We had one man gave us 98 square metres, another 102 and one more 100”
“So they will all go to prison?” I suggested
“Yes. Everyone is going to prison”
“I will meet you there” I said. We were laughing. Kostas brought me a skirto and some of his wife’s cake and we chatted more, then Antony took me next door to get my ferry ticket with a 10% reduction for early booking.
So now I cycled back into town for writing paper – having rather taken to writing letters instead of just typing them into cyberspace. There’s no W.H.Smith here. Instead there’s Mastoras, Σπ.Αρβανιτακη 12, [Mastoras Bookshop, Sp. Arvanitaki 12, Corfu 49100] in the city’s central maze. A white haired gentleman of great courtesy realising I couldn’t manage asking for “writing paper and envelopes” “χαρτί αλληλογραφίας και φάκελος”, discreetly found me just what I wanted. Half of me had begun to think no-one would know about such things any more.
From there it was a short ride through marble streets to Zisimos, the most civilised of coffee shops, with no music nor young people in sight, in fact ‘nowt to be vexed at all’, and there I ordered a deep chocolate slice, a double Greek coffee without sugar and a Metaxa - “3 or 5 star?” “3…er…no…5” I replied thinking silently “I’m saving every day, not hiring a car”
 and started writing home until the sun shining down the Liston moved me into shade and I left for the city's main post office in Alexandras Street to be sure my letter to Lin would go at once. No post box gets collections in the winter.
With plenty of light I started home from San Rocco Square via my ‘secret’ route up Avrami Hill above the villas of Mandouki, a road along which, in a car, I can park close to the centre when the town’s busy. I met the main north road to Paleo and from there was home in an hour – going steadily but gently upwards, stopping at Sconto at Tzavros to get wine, pepper salami and prosciutto at the well-stocked concession butcher inside the store. The 1-1 gear on my 21 gear road bicycle elates me. I can pedal steadily all the way up the early slope of Democracy Street below Mougathes – the steepest section until, after Venetia at the top of the village, it becomes the zig-zag climb to high Sokraki.
*** ***
On the few nights I’ve been at home I’ve watched films. The other night, for perhaps the fourth time in 60 years, I watched The Third Man, filmed in 1949, shown to me first at my prep-school by a headmaster who clearly recognized its quality and, because I remember finding it incomprehensible, as I’m pretty sure did most of my 10 or 11 year old companions in the audience that particular ‘film-night’, I assume it was a shown as a spy is inserted into another country as a sleeper to be activated years later when the time is ripe, especially as the film was passed as suitable for Adult audiences, a category that allowed us to view it so long as we were in the company of a grown-up. Well indeed because the next spare evening I watched, for the first time, that equally black and white film of Ayn Rand’s (rather good name for a breed of potato – “Twenty pound of King Edward, hundred weight of Ayn Rand, please”) The Fountainhead. Sixty years later, the sleeper is alerted and inserted. Both films came out in 1949. In one the eventually triumphant hero, Gary Cooper, is the epitome of individualism versus the demoralizing collective, in the other there’s no hero, no obvious collective – rather a shaky alliance, “good fellows on the whole, did their best you know” -
 but the anti-hero, Harry Lime - Orson Welles, who might have approved Ayn Rand – especially given the ‘cuckoo clock’ story Welles added to the screenplay - is a black-marketeer with an engaging smile who profits from smuggling fatally diluted penicillin.
**** ****
On Saturday my neighbour, Effie, said “Simon, come tonight we’re having friends and fish – salt cod”. I turned up at half eight. In no time after lots of greetings of people I recognized from our party last year for Tony and Helen we were round a table enjoying village wine – especially good this year – and παστός μπακαλιάρος, with boiled potatoes and fresh crusty bread for the sauce. The conversation was Greek with English thrown in to help me keep up. I got the gist of about 40% and 100% of the good cheer. Then came sweet things and Effie turned on her tape recorder as we sat around talking ceaselessly.
"I'll sit this out"

I’m not good at ‘fun’. Before I dress up as a woman I make sure Lin’s out of the house with the doors locked, but this evening the men are soon in wigs, grotesque Royal Ascot hats, necklaces, hair bands, headbands, skirts, and after a while – when I wasn’t quite looking – my lips are red with lipstick and I’m not even thinking how to explain this when I skype to England next day.
Dancing of course with clicking, clapping and plates shattering on the floor. In the revels I lose my glasses and fear they’ll go the way of the plates but they’ve just got tangled in my tresses as I throw my head about in Effie’s and Adoni’s kitchen.
Σὰ βγεῖς στὸν πηγαιμὸ γιὰ τὴν 'Ιθάκη - τὴν Κέρκυρα!,
νὰ εὔχεσαι νἆναι μακρὺς ὀ δρόμος,
γεμάτος περιπέτειες, γεμάτος γνώσεις….
Next morning – 8.30 – I was down at Sally’s stables with Mark to help, as promised, with a small job clearing a trail of acacia, he going ahead with a small chainsaw, I - well gloved - clearing cut branches and putting them aside, accompanied by black dogs, Teal and young Drake.
“It’s horrid stuff” said Mark
“Isn’t it useful for something – like Hazel or Spindle or Rosewood?”
“Yes, making a crown of thorns” - Ο Ακάνθινος Στέφανος.
And I saw; removing my glove, touching one strand
“Imagine those woven together and pressed down on your head. You get a small scratch from those, it goes septic.”
Later he told me that he’d seen Acacia used as Shrike’s larders, something I’d read, with illustration, as a child but never seen.
“It’s not only small birds hung there, but mice, insects, pieces of fruit, bits of apple.”
How if you were walking with a child in the country and you came upon such a thing would you explain a 'larder'. Few modern houses have them, as they don’t have dusty attics for family history. How could you explain something which to an older generation would seem ingenious, including the hanging of meat, without lowering their opinion of the shrike?
“It’s because they don’t have fridges”.
*** ***
In early afternoon Mark and Sally picked me up outside my house to go for one of those long Sunday lunches with friends I so like – as last year, we drove up into the mountains, to Palia Taverna in Strinilas – with hugs and kisses on arrival at 2.00 and the same on leaving in the dark, getting back to Ano Korakiana by seven.
Strinilas in the mountains for Sunday lunch

I had hesitant fun explaining the party on Saturday evening at which I’d “only watched” (oh yes?) of course while “others” did a domestic enactment of Carnival (“so what’s that on your lips?”), but I was unconditionally proud to share the information that after attending a meeting of volunteers invited to help plan the village Carnival on Sunday 26 Feb. I didn’t understand much of what was being said in a group of 24, with others arriving as the meeting proceeded.

We sat in a circle, chilly, in the unheated meeting room of the Agricultural Co-op. There was nothing as commonplace as a chairman, secretary or an agenda with minutes and the like, but I knew people there and nodded with the rhythm of a lively debate. I didn’t notice just when I was recruited, but Foti told me at Effie’s party “For Karnivali, we are a team, Simon.”
Ένας καινούργιος καρναβαλιστής προστέθηκε στην Κορακιανίτικη καρναβαλική παρέα...Πρόκειται για το φίλο μας Simon Badelley, που με υπομονή παρακολούθησε όλη τη συζήτηση...who with patience watched the whole debate.
Team Carnival 2012
*** ***
Chatting to Adoni, Effie’s husband on Saturday, he was naming different parts of the country for me. In Corfu ‘we’ are the Ionian, over the sea directly is mainland Epirus, further east and north is Macedonia which contains the city of Thessaloniki, south of that Thessaly. “Then is it Attica?” I asked but he told me Attica is treated as just one part of ‘Central Greece’ which stretches from Euboia on the Aegean, east of great Athens to the west coast next to Ionian Levkas. “Then there’s the Peloponnese, then Aegea, which covers all the islands of the Aegean Sea. I wanted to check which of those many Greek islands he would name. And and then Crete - Kriti. East of Macedonia, is Thrace, we use a soft ‘c’ but Greeks call it Thraki – Θράκη. This assemblage is still young compared to the United Kingdom, made by the Act of Union at the start of the 18th century. We have one great challenged border, that between Eire and Northern Ireland – a cause and source of internal war since partition early last century.
 Map: Robert F. Holland, Diana Weston Markides (2006)
Greece, except for the front-line Ionian Islands defended by Venice for four centuries was a part of the Ottoman Empire until the founding of the original Greek Kingdom in 1843 – the Peloponnese, Aegean islands within about 100 miles of Athens and what is now Central Greece from south of Prevesa in the west to the tip of Euboea to the east. Twenty years later the British Protectorate – not colony – of the Ionian Islands became part of Greece. Thessaly was joined in 1881. In 1913, after another 30 years, as a result of the Balkan Wars, Macedonia, Crete and the islands of the north eastern Aegean became Greek – Samos, Chios, Lesvos, Mitylene, and Lemnos. In 1920 under the leadership of Eleutherios Venizelos the hold of the ‘big idea’, in his words, of a “greater Greece of two continents and five seas”, encompassing those parts of Turkey with strong Greek Orthodox populations, the International powers promoted but never ratified the Treaty of Sèvres, ceding to Greece parts of Asia Minor, Smyrna and its hinterlands with North Western Turkey up to Constantinople, giving Greece back its Byzantine capital, a part of the Black Sea coast and all the northern shores of the Sea of Marmora and of the Bosphorus. Turkey’s Grey Wolf, Kemal Atatürk, put a bloody end to that dream in 1922 as allied powers turned their back on Greece, treating Turkey as a preferred ally in the eastern Mediterranean while European leaders fearing the irredentist insurgency and violent repression associated with such bloodily settled borders promoted the Treaty of Lausanne and the great exchange of populations (2 millions forced to give up their ancient homes - Christians in Turkey to Greece, Muslims in Greece to Turkey). This heartbreaking sequence is denoted in the mural dated 1928 that I saw in the Taverna in Igoumentsa the other day – grief for all involved (who knows what further heartbreak it avoided). But via Lausanne in 1923 Greece was ceded Thrace, between Macedonia and a new Turkish border 100 miles west of Istanbul. Then 24 years later after the end of WW2 Italy in 1947 ceded Greece the islands of the south east Aegean – the Dodecanese – tiny Castelorizo, Rhodes, Kos and other island south of Samos, east of Crete. Cyprus, both Greek and Turkish, partakes in the history of contested borders, never became part of the Hellenic Kingdom or Republic but marks the last struggle over the latter’s present boundaries. This briefest of outlines explains the greater prevalence, compared to Britain, of frozen conflict around the edges of modern Greece, some as in the case of Kosovo, Cyprus, islands within throwing distance of Turkey, the former Yugoslav country now called the Republic of Macedonia, threatening to thaw, reviving ancient feuds, for the moment festering as chants in the stands at football matches and abuse exchanged in cyberspace.
**** ****
I was asking Richard P at Harry’s Taverna in Perithia, how one could honour accuracy in speaking in any public medium - a biography, even a novel or essays about past friends - in other than anodyne ways. He’d wondered when we last met how you wrote about the bastards in the place where you lived. I’m not long enough in this village to know them so have no need to censor myself, but - to continue this tremulous meander, do ponder how to speak or write of people who were more than friends. I know at least one person and possibly two who while having no fear of truth or anxiety about esteem would say “Be silent. There’s no problem unless you have one and why should that be?” J’y reste.
I still wonder though how I might…say something that could offend no-one including myself, because these were but also are relationships that are consigned to the past only in the sense that a funeral disposes of a body rather than my present recollection of its possessor. I recall someone in another context far from mine saying revenge against the depredations of an ancient monster – some abusing mentor or relative – was to forget them. Not easy to inter the past. But what of the constant company of worthy wonderful memories and their author? No need to resurrect what’s already eternal. Δεν δίνω συνέχεια. I thought of a souvenir of sorts, an image of self as an old (to be playful with time, spelled ‘olde’) hostelry that enhances it’s living by mentioning in guidebooks, on its website, the possibility that guests may glance in passing, a small brass plaque of uncertain age – it could have been the 1960s but carefully aged, what the dealers call ‘distressed’ - declaring that Good Bess Tudor or the Queen of Scots stayed here on the way to the rest of their lives, even a four poster bed, of insufficient quality to be genuine, stands in for the one in which they just might have slept.

Thursday, 26 January 2012

By the fire

...I shall be found by the fire, suppose,
O’er a great wise book as beseemeth age,
While the shutters flap as the cross-wind blows,
And I turn the page, and I turn the page,
Not verse now only prose!

Till the young ones whisper, finger on lip,
“There he is at it, deep in Greek:
Now, then, or never, out we slip
To cut from the hazels by the creek
A mainmast for our ship!”

I shall be at it indeed, my friends!
Greek puts already on either side
Such a branch-work forth as soon extends
To a vista opening far and wide,
And I pass out where it ends.

I have wondered why I hear so little about the social and economic crisis in the rest of Eastern Europe – why so little wider news spreads from Romania, Bulgaria, Kosovo, Macedonia - former Yugoslav republic of, Serbia, Hungary, Bosnia, Croatia, Albania, Slovakia, the Czech Republic. We get a programme mocking Greek misdeeds “Go Greek for a Week” – but why not the same for Romania or Slovenia? It lacks the ring, or perhaps these other European nations have found a way out - their governments accepting; their citizens resigned to deep austerity as the price of ECB or IMF support, or as likely they’ve discovered oil, copper, gold and diamonds outside Budapest, or Chişinău in Moldova, in the Carpathian mountains north west of Bucharest, in the plains between Black Sea Burgas and riverless Sofia, in the eastern Adriatic archipelago’s of old Yugoslavia under the Dinaric slopes, in the pebbles of the Drina’s many tributaries, beneath Lake Prespa or Lake Scutari near the coast of Montenegro. Unlike Greece these are small European countries that nobody quite knows, while Greece is a great public fantasy, in George Soros’ recent analysis in the NYRB, a ‘fantastic object’, at the core of another such object of desire – The European Union. “Except the blind forces of nature, nothing moves in this world that is not Greek in origin” said my great great grandfather. In this fantasy, this northern dream, Greece’s strength brought her into the Eurozone; yet now her threat to that larger fantasy would have her expelled. Europe, Ευρώπη, Europa’s eponym – Ευρώπα. Greece lied to join the Eurozone, but who else lent themselves to Pases’ florin; allowed  themselves to be deceived. “How can we exclude the land of Socrates?” said one of Brussel’s great-and-good. The 'small' nations of eastern Europe - as Nevillae Chamberlain once described Czechoslovakia - are outside the fantasy of Greece but not its present circumstances. Global voices, as ever, affords a view of the world not dominated by what editors judge makes the news. In hock they are as much as beloved Greece; a ‘tsunami’ of rioting is reported in Romania; in Skopje too; the government of Hungary is giving itself autocratic powers; my friend Danica in Belgrade says things are worse in Serbia than in Greece. These unfamed populations are suffering the effects of the same recession, riven with varying degrees of corruption and ill-balanced relations between public and private sectors, bearing unemployment, insolvency, bankruptcy, personal hopelessness, greater incidence of suicide, depression, domestic strife, personal desperation, xenophobia, extremism, rejecting the great European fantasy.
Realms of gold, rosy-fingered dawn - Keats', Chapman's, Butler's or Homer's?
*** *** ***
Last Sunday evening Ano Korakiana welcomed the New Year with the cutting of the New Year cake - Vassilopita, a crowd at Luna D'Argento below the village. There were dances from all the Ionian Islands - Kerkyra of course, but Cephalonia, Levkada and Zakinthos too - all with changes into local costumes, involving every age. The leading light in developing the event was Nike Kedarkou, introduced on the village website as the new teacher - της νέας δασκάλας.
Πραγματοποιήθηκε την Κυριακή 22 Ιανουαρίου 2012 η εκδήλωση της Φιλαρμονικής Κορακιάνας για την κοπή της πρωτοχρονιάτικης πίτας του Συλλόγου, στην αίθουσα του «Luna d’ Argento». Στο πλαίσιο της εκδήλωσης έλαβε χώρο μια ωραία παράσταση του χορευτικού συγκροτήματος του Συλλόγου υπό τη διεύθυνση της νέας δασκάλας Νίκης Κεντάρχου και με γενικό τίτλο «Του Γενάρη το φεγγάρι παρά ώρα μέρα μοιάζει». Η παράσταση περιείχε αναφορές στις εορτές του μήνα, συνοδευόμενες από τοπικούς και γενικότερα επτανησιακούς χορούς

*** ***
And yesterday I succumbed to firewood. Instead of collecting and cutting it all myself, I ordered a ton delivered to the top of the steps off Democracy Street - €120's worth. The truck blocked the street for less than ten minutes as two Albanian lads threw down my logs. I transferred these with help from little Katerina and her yia-yia, to a neat space below the now rain-proofed veranda. The smell of this heap of olive wood which burns so hot, cut from the biannual copsing, and split to fit our stove, makes me feel secure, though when I spoke to her yesterday afternoon by skype, I could see Linda grimace 'Why buy when we can collect?'

Saturday, 21 January 2012

"Please, sir, I want some more"

After the last meeting of Handsworth Helping Hands we’d agreed I'd contact Jo Burrill at Midland Heart, who's also now chairing our local housing forum. I phoned first. She was positive, so I wrote at once:
Dear Jo. Thanks for the phone chat. We're hoping that in early March 2012, as a pilot, we could use the kit held by the HHH project  to carry out a first job, gain experience and show we’re back at work. Can we clear out rubbish from the frontage and rear of 36 Westminster Road and from the entry beween 1 and 3 Turville at the junction of Turville Road and Westminster Road? Can Midland Heart, once we’ve agreed a price, replace the stolen metal gate between 1 and 3 and provide the means for us to dispose of the refuse we clear? It seems to us a shovel-and-barrow job rather than a litter-pick. To be able to empty a barrow we need a skip rather than one of the 660 litre wheelie bins that I was mentioning on the phone. How much does Midland Heart usually pay for a job like this including skip hire, and how would the contractor judge the quality of our work?
Jo replied almost at once:
Dear Simon. Thanks for you email…In principle, we can assist HHH with your first job and I have spoken to Val Browne who is the housing officer for general needs housing on Westminster Road and Turville Road...I have provided some more specific notes below related to your enquiry…It may be possible to clear out the rubbish and the frontage and rear of 36 Westminster Road. If there is significant rubbish there at the beginning of March, then we can arrange for this work to go ahead. The average cost for the Westminster Road job would be in the region of £xxx.  1 & 3 Turville Road is a shared ownership scheme and are therefore not managed by the housing officers, who would be your regular port of call for any future jobs. A team called Commercial Operations manage any shared ownership, leased or outright sale properties. I will approach them about the issues that you have brought up regarding the rubbish and the gate, but I would recommend that we choose another different site that is a general needs property. I will consult with Val or any other Lozells, Birchfield and Housing Officers to identify a suitable job.
When dealing with other contractors, the price quoted to the housing officers would include the job and disposal (see the quote for Westminster Rd rubbish clearance above), so would not include any addition amount to cover the cost of skip hire. In my experience skip hire is around £100 - £150 a day, but I suppose the cost of disposal at the tip would be factored into a contractor’s prices….From speaking to Val about how she usually works with environmental services contractor. She will send them details of the job, they will return with a quote within around 2 days, if she accepts the quote she will probably expect the job to be completed within the next 7 days. Once the job is completed, the contractor would update the housing officer who would then release payment. Cost and efficiency of service are a housing officer’s main factors in preferring a contractor. Hope this is helpful – if you have any further questions, thoughts or queries please get in touch…Many thanks Jo (Facebook page Jo B Midland Heart and local news and events in the area)
We learn more already, about types of property ownership, the quoting process, prices with and without disposal. So. Fingers crossed.
*** *** ***
If wanted to be on my own, which I don’t, I’d stay at the Travelodge off the M5 junction for West Bromwich, 10 minutes cycle from Handsworth Park. My first afternoon in Ano Korakiana, as I went about checking the house, a text invited me to supper. Another the next evening. Only last night did I stop off at the butcher in Pirgi-on-sea to get some mince – the same word works in Greek, though it should be κιμάς - to make a spaghetti sauce. One of the canaries in the shop – twittering away - has a hatch of three. The butcher drew up a chair below a bank of cages. She took down one, gently shoo-ing the she-bird off a tiny nest in which a featherless brood lay snuggled.
“Επίσης” I said proudly “Κόρη μου…my daughter” I made a sign of a belly bump
“…είναι έγκυος;”
“βεβαια. Ένα γιο…το πρώτο μου εγγονός.” "A boy...my first grandchild"
I’d rehearsed this conversation about our Amy’s expected child with our tutor Nikos, so left feeling quite pleased that I’d at least been understood.
On lowest gear the ascent to Agios Markos where the road to Ano Korakiana levels for a couple of miles was easy pedalling. There were hunters with 12 bores stood at intervals along the verges looking out for the evening flight of blackbirds and thrush.
Thursday morning I bought a fresh crispy loaf, baked in the village, from Stammatis in the shop, grated a potato for hash browns, fried two fresh eggs with three rashers of bacon and served myself on the balcony.
Round midday, Adoni and his sister-in-law, Maria, were seeing to the delivery of olive firewood, strewn on the street from a small truck. I helped carry logs down our shared steps into their garden. Effie came out and we embraced. I must have a meal. Pressed to sit – I needed no encouragement – she plied Adoni and I with village rosé and a shared platter of cheese, sausage and fresh crusty bread and a plate of large beans - φασολιάς - in tomato sauce. Wages for our work. Vasiliki arrived. Again hugs. Later I took one of our long delayed Christmas cards to her husband Leftheris
“Ο Σάïμον!”
“O ‘Λευθερί!” I kissed my friend's afternoon stubble…both cheeks.
*** ***
Last lines of a straggly email from Lin with her parents as she takes her dad for his medical treatment:
I had a job getting online here, and the signal, which wasn’t there at all last night, is very weak. No doubt you’re already having a wonderful time. Give everyone my love and give the cats a stroke for me – if they’ll let you. Lin x
The sun was warm enough to dry the washing I hung in the garden. On arriving I’d turned on the water heater forgetting I’d turned off the water supply when we left. No boiler pilot. No hot water. I got ready to change a blown immersion element, taking a snap to remind myself of the wiring, unable to rinse away the stale of my journey, planning to cycle the next day to get a new element from the plumbers at Tsavros.
Then I noticed a tiny trip switch in the plastic junction box that carries the shaft of the heating element. The tip of a small screwdriver re-set it. Turned on the power, on came the pilot. I was punching the air, for sorting it and for the anticipation of a hot shower. Last time this happened I didn’t understand how anything worked or what needed replacing. I disassembled the bottom of the boiler including the drain plate releasing gallons of rusty water mixed with a kilo of lime scale on my head.
Outside the house, on the east wall that’s tricky to get to, Paul and Lula’s people have completed - so far as I can see - a list of small jobs; just the sort of things for which you need friends since this kind of piddling but essential work, is a builder’s curse, involving lots of time for small reward compared to a laying a roof or a building a balcony or painting a whole house. An a/c unit we seldom use, fitted by the previous owners, was stopping a French windows opening fully. Now I can, on a sunny morning, swing open both doors to the panorama that’s one of Ano Korakiana’s gifts. There’s now an elbow joint in the external stove pipe to drain away water and wood oil so it won’t get blocked so regularly. A messy surface of cracks and crumbling plaster around the kitchen window has been made good, along with a plate screwed over an unnecessary space above that window....
...I can’t check the effectiveness of two other jobs - the straightening of the roof gutter so that trapped rain drains at once to the ground, or the filling in of holes in part of the eaves that let rain leak down the wall of a bedroom. Corfu’s having an untypical winter drought - plenty of cold weather; no rain.
“The wells are right down” Mark told me.
“Suits me” said Sally, not having winter mud pools at her stables below the village.
I’ve removed a pretentious faucet over the bathroom sink – one that splashed water over the floor when you washed.  These things are hardly consequential, but like a hangnail or a minute splinter, it’s pleasant to have them sorted. We’ve no blood oranges this year. Normally in January our tree would be fecund with them, but we saw no blossoms back in October. Last year’s hot summer produced a dearth of pollinators. There are many many lemons. Their trees blossom earlier in the year. The dry weather means I couldn’t test the success of our efforts to make the big balcony leak-proof giving us a dry space below and protecting the wood from decay. All seems as we left it but the normal winter downpours and the oven heat of high summer will be the test.
I’ve been pootling about with minor housework, bringing wood from the apothiki to below the house, some to fill the log box by the stove; finding a discarded stapled grocer's box, fiddled it with wire, and a little paint, into a passable rear carrier for my larger bicycle.
Towards Friday evening the sky clouded over. The air grew milder and it was raining. I strolled with umbrella up to Paul and Cinty’s house to deliver the third late Christmas card.
“You’re washing’s getting wet!”
“I know. Do you want a cup of tea?”
The big room upstairs - but at street level - which combines kitchen and sitting room was warmed by a wood fire so efficient it needs hardly a small log an hour. We caught up with the news; Paul just back from a yacht delivery to France; Cinty’s daughter gone with her grandma to Australia. Where could I buy some wood? Another person buying a house in the village phoning Cinty to arrange a meeting to get a picture of the place from her.
“Aren’t we lucky living in Ano Korakiana?”
“Yes indeed” I switched to white wine and two kinds of good cheese. We spoke of favourite authors. Her interest in Edward Lear’s tours around Greece and Albania; his wonderful landscapes before the age of concrete. I mentioned the novels of Ismail Kadare, also The Bridge over the Drina whose author's name slipped my memory.
“Got it - Ivo Andrić. But some places haven’t changed so much”
She spoke of the new year tour she and Paul had made with Mark and Sally in Zagori.
“It seems you had Greece almost to yourselves” I said, a little envious, having seen some of their landscape photos and the friendly cosy interiors of their wood fired lodgings.
“Now there’s an area in which I wouldn’t mind driving a car” I said “up and down long winding lonely roads, crossing rushing streams with ancient dry stone bridges, brown leafed oak, dark pines, towering mountains… the parts of this country most people don’t know.”
We spoke of Australia again which her daughter is loving on her first visit, planning a job there to pay for travel. I related the places John Martin had taken me to over the three successive visits I've made there to lecture with him across the continent. Cinty\s mum recalled being at art school with Barry Humphreys "He was wonderfully strange even then - made an exhibition of paintings with pasta" I thought what an antidote he's been to those Ozzie stereotypes held by some foreigners of inadequate males jeering anything they didn't understand as poofie. Of indigenous Australians whose art I'd seen in Melbourne and later with some of my Japanese students in Tokyo, deeply stirred by the paintings of Emily Kngwarreye. Cinty mentioned a Victorian ancestor - an horrendous story - of treating casual his labour with arsenic-laced flour to avoid paying them.
Once home, a two minute walk up narrow Democracy Street under street lights by cosy shuttered interiors…
…I put the remains of yesterday’s spaghetti and sauce on the cooker, lit the stove upstairs and ate a slow supper - postponing Attenberg and A Separation in favour of comfort viewing - I watched Roman Polanski’s  Oliver Twist, a tale which like Dicken’s Christmas Carol, I must first have been read, in abridged form before I was ten; re-reading and re-watching it this last 60 years. Its characters and plot have the resonance of a founding myth for my time on earth. I was as I expected enchanted, moved, amused, sad and happy at the tale’s consoling moral symmetry, its depiction of criminality censored by Dickens, his publishers and his readers, many who must have known of worse depravity than picking pockets, housebreaking or even a single murder.
Rachel Portman’s music was perfect for this return visit to old villains and heroes – Oliver, Mr Bumble, Fagin, Artful Dodger, Bill Sykes, Nancy, Mr Brownlow, Bulls eye Bill's dog, the flame-lit  Victorian dystopia; its green sunlit opposite. Polanski - or was it Ronald Harwood’s screenplay - didn’t play to the Victorian box-office that goodness in Oliver might - even must - have to do with genteel DNA. That turn of the plot was left out; unneeded. Of course as I realised later., as well as telling a good story, Dicken’s chief target was not his notorious villains, but the torpid consciences of his own class gorging themselves at freighted tables, embellishing with righteous censure their judgements on the fate of the poor who passed before them.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

In Ano Korakiana

These days on my own will become more like a dream - experiences unverified by the presence of another. I know this. It’s why ascetics go to the desert, not to commune with themselves but with someone not there. To whom does our grandson speak inside his mum? He'll never say but he'll recall in some part of his being the timeless swim before his clock begins - probably late in life, unless he's inclined to hermitry or becomes an artist and needs to go to places such people need to go - what Proust said of writing - to be conscious of dreaming without waking yourself up. I’ve known this condition only by mistake, when at sea alone for a few days. It happens in recollection; unexercised awareness; wakeful reflection as on a sunny day below a hedge somewhere. Mark described last night at supper under this sun we are having in Corfu, sat between working, half-asleep, nodding. Did I dream this particular stream of ordinary things; sleeping, eating, cleaning, tidying, going to and fro like a dog left in the house on its own, without the presence in easy reach of anyone with whom one is accustomed to share the greater part of daily life? That errandless ship - a tramp - floating anchored, calm as the blue brush-strokes on a Delft tile. My mother has a special liking for St Jerome, an etching - a very good copy of Dürer's picture - on her bedroom wall with family photos.
"Why does he have the lion lying there?" she asked me
"It's about taming the flesh isn't it, mum. You remember him in the wilderness too."
"So what about the dog?"
"I think that's just a nice animal to have around when you're working on your own"
"The skull? I know"
Mark and I were discussing last night the way we chat with our dogs... and they with us. I'd been telling him of my lovely long walks with Oscar and Lulu in the Highlands just the other day. I'm sure that's right. Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels...the animals could as well be angels, see...
Bartolomeo Cavarozzi's version of St Jerome's companions


*** ***
East Midlands Airport
Getting here Lin drove me to New Street station to catch a train to Derby just before 6.00am; a cold bus to the airport. I flew away on a crisp frosty morning; Ryanair - efficient cheap - to Venice Treviso, then bus to Venice...
Cannaregio

...from where, after 36 hours...
Venice from the railway station - a protest about night rail cutbacks is on
...I boarded a train - of a proper kind compared to the unclassy world of UK rail (getting better as our affair with the automobile and its so-called freeways turns into a loveless marriage of convenience) - sped me, with a change at Bologna, 820 kilometres down the Italian peninsular to Bari (pastrami picnic with fresh bread and chianti), where I took the superfast ferry to Igoumenitsa; was woken from a snooze in the noisy bar - newsak game show static - at 6.00am to take one of the small ferries to Corfu - Theodora....
The blue
...From the bus station a few hundred yards from the port I took a green line bus the 12 kilometres to Ano Korakiana, to arrive in the village like a character in a Michael Cacoyannis movie (such pleasing self dramatisation - the ascetic, the traveller, the lone stranger), calling to the driver to stop at the path below the house, trudging up past familiar barking dogs, through the long grass and weeds to 208 Democracy Street, letting myself into the quiet sunlit house, making a cup of tea (having bought milk on the way).
While waiting for the Corfu ferry I escaped the chill - as cold here as in Venice, even colder than a few days ago in the Highlands - in a taverna where, alone but for its owner, I sipped a coffee and read an engaging police procedural, The Return, by Håkan Nesser. On the wall was a picture of two dark figures hacking at a weeping tree, observed by a weeping chaffinch, a schooner, sea and islands.

*** ***
Global Voices reports the closing stages of the prolonged trial of those accused of the murder of Hrant Dink:
Five years and 25 hearings later, the trial to convict those responsible for the murder of Hrant Dink...
Good man down
...a Turkish-Armenian journalist, has come to a close. The gunman, 17-year-old Ogün Samast, as well as over a dozen others accused of involvement in the gunning down of Dink in Istanbul in January 2007, were caught almost immediately afterwards. However, according to Dink's family, friends and lawyers, the case is linked to Turkey's so-called deep state structures and the real perpetrators, meaning those who masterminded the crime, have not been brought to justice. While Samast was sentenced to 22 years in prison last year, yesterday's verdict, which ruled that three other defendants acted as individuals rather than as part of a criminal organization, was a disappointment many had seen coming. From the pre-hearing statement of the group 'Hrant's Friends' to the lawyer's statement after the verdict, and throughout a procession from the Beşiktaş Court House to Agos, the newspaper Dink edited, one sentiment stood out...Journalist Yavuz Baydar summed up that feeling. "Dink davasına doğru, yolda. Karar çıkacak herhalde, ama bu dava bitmeyecek...On my way to the court. Seems like a verdict will be issued today, but this trial will not end here."

Friday, 13 January 2012

An apple tree

I'm planning for most of the planting on our allotment in March after I get back from Greece, but on Wednesday Robin, on the plot across the way, and I, arranged a joint delivery from A & D Aquatic and Garden Centre in Oldbury. It included a five foot James Grieve Eating Apple.
Robin's got more fruit bushes; we share some compost; I've bought some seed potatoes which I'll store in dry semi-darkness for getting into the soil in March. Robin and I sat under the veranda of the shed warmed by the sun, reading a book on planting a fruit tree; also discussing his litigation - a civil action between him and the NHS.
"The Judge is quoting Department of Health advice that there is 'no evidence of harm from dental amalgams' a constituting a policy. That suggests they're immune from suit.  Yet it's logically impossible for a statement of science to be a policy."
Following instructions I'd already soaked the root in a bowl of water. Now, while Robin got on with planting his black currants, I dug a hole about two foot square, two foot deep, laid some manure I'd bagged up from the  community plot and spread at the bottom of the hole and topped it with compost, sprinkling about a pound of bone-meal which I covered with more topsoil mixed with compost. I drove a small stake into the middle of the hole then stood the tree against it and filled in around it with more compost and topsoil.
I poured two buckets of water into the hole; gently dug in more earth, heeling it in until all was level. Then I peeled back the black plastic, cutting it to surround the sapling.  Robin returned to see my work.
"Is that all you've done?"
"Heck Robin there's near £30 gone into that hole, not to mention my labour."
I repeated my aim to have all the vegetables on our table next Christmas from the plot."
"Unlikely" he muttered "certainly not apples"
"No. Spuds, sprouts, turnips, carrots."
"I doubt it."
*** *** ***
The policeman in charge says he has no proof there's a connection between the murder of his parents in Friary Road, less than a mile from us, and the fact that their son was part of a police investigation of gangs in the city:
Posted: 13 Jan 2012 07:01 AM PST
Following the senseless and violent murder of Mr and Mrs Kolar on Wednesday 11th January, West Midlands Police have released the following appeal for information: We would appreciate if you could share this message with family, friends and your local community. Independent charity Crimestoppers have offered a reward of up to £10,000 for information leading to an arrest and conviction in connection with the murders of Carole and Avtar Kolar.The couple, who had been married for 40 years, were found dead on Wednesday morning at their home in Friary Road. The police investigation continues at a very fast pace with a team of 60 detectives pursuing several lines of enquiry following numerous calls from the public. Detective Superintendent Richard Baker, who is leading the murder investigation, said: “This has had a truly devastated affect on the family; they now need to be given space and time to grieve. I am confident we will catch those responsible for this terrible crime which has devastated the family and community. “I would like to thank Crimestoppers for offering this reward and say again that local people hold the key to finding who is responsible for this terrible tragedy. If you believe that you have any piece of information that may help our enquiries, I would ask you to call us or Crimestoppers as soon as possible.” West Midlands Regional Manager for Crimestoppers, Pauline Hadley, said: “This is a vile crime where two people have been murdered and their family and community have been left in shock. “Those responsible for this must be brought to justice and I would urge anyone with information that might help to contact Crimestoppers anonymously. Ring 0800 555 111...The reward of up to £10,000 is available to anyone providing information to Crimestoppers, which leads to the arrest and conviction of the persons responsible for this crime. Rewards can only be claimed by calling Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111. Rewards cannot be claimed if giving information via the online form. Yours faithfully, West Midlands Police
***** ******
Lin and I had called a meeting of Handsworth Helping Hands. Lin reported on her visit to Barry Toon's Selly Oak Handyman project; on the selling of the tipper; the general solvency of 'our' project - the extra money we now have in the kitty. We agreed to sell the Timberwolf chipper
"We're not in the business of chipping. or are we?"
"No, no."
"OK?"
"So where do we go from here?"
Lin cooked as the meeting continued. As Amy, Guy, Matt and Liz trooped in for supper, we'd agreed I'd contact Jo Burrill at Midland Heart in the morning; ask her to pay us to clear out a skip-load of detritus strewn, since last spring, across an entry in Westminster Road and another at its junction with Turville. "We'll do that in early March. A try-out".
We cleared the table of papers and laid it for supper, the comfortable smell of roast beef and Yorkshire suffusing the kitchen. I found a couple of crackers from Christmas to go with the presents for us that Matt and Liz had brought down from Edinburgh.
"Where's Oscar?" said Amy
"We've been trying him out staying three houses down at John's" I said "I took him round this morning. John said the first five minutes is worst. He asked me to leave, to let his Dieter and Oscar sort things out between them."
Oscar and Dieter in John's garden
Dieter wore a muzzle at first. That's how I left them; heading for the allotment. When I got home Lin was working through a pile of paperwork.
"John rang. 'Peace reigns' he says"
I went round. Indeed they'd sorted things out. Now, through John's kindness and the social skills of the two dogs, we've an alternative home for Oscar when we're not able to look after him.
Amy went through the baby presents from her grandmother and Sharon in the Highlands, holding up items one by one, so we could 'ooh' and 'aah' together in happy anticipation.
*** *** ***
Friday late afternoon. I'm packing, running through scribbled checklists, imagining all I've got to get into my 5 kilo allowance on Ryanair tomorrow morning. I catch a train at 0545 to meet a bus at Derby to East Midlands Airport. It's impossible to imagine I'll be on my own in Venice by lunchtime Saturday. I took the family - Richard and Emma and Lin and Matt and Liz - to Cafe Soya in the Chinese Quarter. Lin as ever seeks to monitor my spending - even tho' we're just in time for a lunchtime special. We tease her and choose the special plus some extras.
*** ***
(Reuters NEW YORK | Fri Jan 13, 2012 7:27pm EST) - Standard & Poor's stripped France of its top AAA rating on Friday and carried out a mass downgrade of half the nations in the euro zone, a move that may complicate European efforts to solve a two-year old debt crisis. Germany, the bloc's largest economy, was spared. Nine of the 17 members of the euro area had their credit ratings cut, with Austria joining France in losing its AAA status. Those two, along with Malta, Slovakia and Slovenia had their ratings cut by one notch, while Italy, Portugal, Spain and Cyprus suffered two-notch downgrades. S&P said it feared that initiatives European policymakers have taken to tackle the debt crisis "may be insufficient to fully address ongoing systemic stresses in the euro zone."....

Athens News (same date) Talks between Greece and its creditor banks to slash the country's towering debt pile broke down on Friday, with the government warning of "catastrophic" results if a deal to swap bonds is not reached soon...

Daily Telegraph: S&P downgrade and debt crisis: as it happened January 13, 2012

Press Statement from the Co-Chairmen of the Steering Committee of the Private Creditor-Investor Committee for Greece
Athens, January 13, 2012 — Charles Dallara and Jean Lemierre, Co-Chairs of the Steering Committee of the Private Creditor-Investor Committee (PCIC) for Greece, continued discussions today in Athens with Prime Minister Lucas Papademos and Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos on a voluntary PSI for Greece, against the background of the October 26/27 Agreement with the Euro Area Leaders. Unfortunately, despite the efforts of Greece’s leadership, the proposal put forward by the Steering Committee of the PCIC—which involves an unprecedented 50% nominal reduction of Greece’s sovereign bonds in private investors’ hands and up to €100 billion of debt forgiveness— has not produced a constructive consolidated response by all parties, consistent with a voluntary exchange of Greek sovereign debt and the October 26/27 Agreement.
Under the circumstances, discussions with Greece and the official sector are paused for reflection on the benefits of a voluntary approach. We very much hope, however, that Greece, with the support of the Euro Area, will be in a position to re-engage constructively with the private sector with a view to finalizing a mutually acceptable agreement on a voluntary debt exchange consistent with the October 26/27 Agreement, in the best interest of both Greece and the Euro Area.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

I come and I go

Pulling out of Inverness
Sharon drove me and Oscar to Inverness station for a mid-morning train to Edinburgh. The weather is absurdly mild for January. Saying goodbye to Mum, giving her a quick kiss "Quickly now, darling.  You know I hate stringing things out" So it was long ago, with even less said, when I was off to boarding school - first at 6 years old. That's always my taste of parting. No better, no worse than something more effusive. I've got food for Oscar on the journey; for myself a miniature of Malt Whisky, two prosciutto sandwiches on rye, a length of bratwurst and my novel, reading the climactic chapters of Robert Edric's Cradle Song. It's a procedural - an un-thrilling thriller. That felt right for the chilling horror of its theme - the pursuit of a paedophile ring. I found tears welling in my eyes near the end. I know, as anyone who reads of it, who knows professionals who try to deal with it. of the scope and depth of depravity humans can plumb. Edric's minimalist prose connects the grim weather and scenery of his plot with something similar inside his criminals; which grows too inside those who pursue them.
Edinburgh Waverley, my train south
Later on my train from Edinburgh to New Street I watched a DVD of a film directed by Max Faerberboeck (The trailer makes it out a war film, which is a true, yet untrue, but viewed, along with the change of title to The Downfall of Berlinas necessary publicity) of the book I've just read, anonymously authored, titled A Woman in Berlin, translated, quite recently from German, though published - then withdrawn - not long after the events they describe. The film was exciting, by no means schmaltzy, at times electric, but - despite the rich setting of a devastated city, costumes, special effects, voices, fine acting, score by the great Zbigniew Preisner - without the impact and realism of the book, where those things defined by the choices of the film-maker, are defined by the reader's imagination in the hands of the writer; an anonymous author describing her's and her companion's experiences in the form of a diary.
Oscar slept most of the eight-hour journey in a pleasantly uncrowded train. Lin met us at New Street.
*** ***
Yesterday afternoon I had a shorter walk than usual - along the Farnack, now running quieter than for the last few days, back along the puddled lane to Brin Croft - the terriers, my satellites, never bored. In the evening my mother took Sharon and me out to the Snow Goose for supper - a pub in a most unpromising setting next to the Inverness Retail Park with a good chef making superlative and well-served pub food - a juicy red steak, calamari, fried liver and bacon, plus some draft Deuchars Caledonian - a local beer which my mother also likes. We were especially sat by a lively log fire and a table to which  mum could draw up her wheelchair. We finished with Irish Coffee which mum to her chagrin had trouble drinking until Sharon with her usual swift attentiveness found her a more convenient shaped glass.
*** ***
Mark has sent me an email from the village with photos of his and Sally's New Year trip to the mountains of Northern Greece:
Mark and Teal in Zagori
Hi Simon just a few teasing photos for you to ponder over before you get over here to eat wildboar suppers, hare stiffados, royal roasts with pate's made from the finest chickla. Just remind me when you are here so I can go out and gather all of these of course. Cheers Mark
Η Πίνδος είναι η μεγαλύτερη οροσειρά της Ελλάδας

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Still in the Highlands

The wind has risen, blowing mild from the south, buffeting the house, making it rattle. I persuaded mum to come out for a while. We went to the Black Isle, over the Kessock Bridge via Munlochie to Fort Rose. A rising westerly gale blew directly down the grey waters of the Moray Firth, the rougher for blowing against the flood.
"You walk the dogs. I'll stay in the car."
Mum would prefer to stay in her house but forces herself to go on expeditions when she's not feeling like it. She was glad to be home, to read and have tea.
"I do like the Black Isle. It always feels like it got passed by. It's not an island and certainly not since the Kessock Bridge but it feels like it's cut off from the mainland....He may have been a groper but I'm sure Strauss-Kahn was set up. Don't you think?"
She's finished a piece in the December NYRB by Edward Jay Epstein with schematics of the first and 28th floor of the New York Sofitel. I so like that magazine. It reminds me there are intelligent people out there thinking and writing about the world. I've enjoyed The Revolutionary Shias by Malise Ruthven in the same edition. reviewing Shi’ism: A Religion of Protest by Hamid Dabashi. I appreciate reading this the more for what I've learned from Dhiaa.
Shiism, as Hamid Dabashi explains in his challenging and brilliant new book, is a perfect foil for power but unimpressive as a modern state ideology..
I am avoiding all chores. Sharon feeds us - apart from snacks for lunch and tea, a succession of suppers - spagetti bolognese, kedgeree, shepherd's pie, steak and chips, macaroni cheese, biryani, rack of lamb, sausages and mash...All with extra treats, plus wine and cava and tea and coffee, along with puddings - crème brûlée, pot au chocolate, crème caramel, apple crumble, apple charlotte...Lin's tart on the phone, knowing all this, while she's fielding work at home, having succeeded in selling the Handsworth Helping Hands* tipper for a far better price than first quoted, giving us a healthy float to plan work using our transit van and all the tools, arranging meetings...
Hi All. I've arranged a meeting with Barry Toon (who runs the Selly Oak project) for Tuesday afternoon at 1.30p.m. Mike has already said he'd like to come. If Rachel from Trident Reach comes, that'll be three of us, which is enough really, but let me know if you particularly want to come as well. Questions we'll be asking Barry:
1. What free services do you offer and who to?
2. What 'paid for' services do you offer and who to?
3. How much do you charge for 'paid for' services?
4. What are your main grant sources?
We'll also be talking about charitable status, running costs, man-hours worked per week, employees, pay and employment rights, how clients are found, how 'membership' of the project works, how much admin time is necessary, work and finance recording systems.........if you think of anything to add to the list, please let me know before Tuesday. See you at the meeting on Thursday. Lin
She's also doing our tax returns including Amy's, and looking after her dad, taking him to Cheshire for his first preparatory appointment for radiotherapy.
Once back from our drive to the Black Isle, I left mum at home, content, and set out for a walk with the dogs, clambering up a steep slope through the pine plantation over ploughed ridges, fallen trunks, ditches, dodging low branches, the dogs dashing blithely about as I struggle to ascend the rough terrain of the wood.
In the woods above Inverarnie
I knew I'd meet a track before I was caught in the dark. I carry a torch. Once on the high forest road, I rested a moment, ate some chocolate, walked back to Westerlairgs which I've passed four times this last week. Then home to scones with butter, strawberry jam and tea. Mum asked me about my walk. She knows the ground so well; even though she's not been on her feet unaided for several years, she re-lives my walks, turn by turn. It's almost as if I'm competing with her in knowledge of local terrain, catching her with accounts of things that have changed. We got out things she and Sharon had bought for Amy, sorting and folding, for me to carry them home on Tuesday.
Sorting baby things
*formerly Central Handsworth Practical Care Project
** ** ** **
Latest reports within the IMF (via Jim Potts' blog). As the prospect of rescuing the Republic's economy weakens, people have been making choices....
Helena Smith for the Guardian, 13 May 2011 Greek crisis forces thousands of Athenians into rural migration. Comment on Democracy Street  and see 'the puzzling invisibility of the new'
Rachel Donadio for the New York Times 8 January 2012  With Work Scarce in Athens, Greeks Go Back to the Land
** ** **
Mark in Ano Korakiana has sent me a note:
Hi Simon...just letting you know that your xmas cards have arrived today... so many thanks for them will deliver around the village tomorrow...also just got my sister's xmas cards as well so - yes - the postal service is crap here. I am still waiting on a parcel that left the UK on the 13th of December and was last tracked in Andorra on the 23rd after that it has vanished. Cheers Mark
Blimey. Lin and I posted ours - to Mark and Sally, Paul and Cinta, Lefteris and Vasilik, Fortis and family and Effie and Adoni - about the same time as the parcel Mark says got lost in Andorra - over 1300 miles from Corfu. So did they lose it there or was it lost in Greece? No idea.

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