Saturday, 23 February 2013

Greyness

We are almost running out of things to do on a rainy day.
“It's raining in Athens” said Lefteris from the steps, which he negotiates more slowly these days, “It's raining in Italy. Raining everywhere”
“Every day? Κάθε μέρα;”
“Αύριο, και μεθαύριο και μεθαμεθαύριο...Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow”
In Athens it's really bad.
Yet even so the blessed sun reminds us of its efforts to scatter the overcast and allow us one washing day a week, its sudden beams piercing the grey to cast patines of silver around Vido, its distant warmth making enticing gaps like the glimpses of sky and bright unfurling nimbus above the heads of the cherubs in the ceiling of a rich man’s chapel. “Enough blue to make a little boy’s trousers”
I leave our cosy bed, don woolly slippers. Shave. Go to the loo. Enjoy a shower – now the new boiler’s in place. Get dressed. Put away last night’s washing up, cutlery, pans, plates. Bring up logs from the apothiki; we’re running short. Clear the ashes, make up a fire – paper, twigs, and a few logs for the evening chill. Brush teeth. Make a cup of tea. Lin sleeps. All is quiet.

Through an opening in the spinach green shutters, above our balcony rail and the rich green leaves amid our oranges and lemons and the almond blossom, an olive landscape veiled in swathes of driven rain rolls south to the backs of the high cliffs between Capes Iliodoros and Plaka. The mountains behind the airport from where Lear would often paint his exquisite landscapes of Corfu – gazing over the tarbooshed heads of two or three languid muleteers, over the twin headed outcrop of the Old Citadel, across the broad bay beyond the city, towards Trompetta and high Pantokrator - are grey outlines almost hidden by rain and mist. A ferry heads for Igoumenitsa where we'll be Wednesday evening.
*** *** ***
The old boiler is leaking
It’s not that it was a complicated job - for anyone who knew what they were doing. All the same, removing our broken hot water boiler and replacing it caused arguments that wouldn’t happen if we did it again. Self-help in the home means forever doing things for the first and often only time. Wouldn’t it be more sensible to call in a reliable plumber? They’ll provide the boiler, install it, guarantee their work and have a cup of tea as you pay their annotated bill for parts and labour. It’s not as if by now we don't know where to find workmen we trust, but this wish to do things ourselves is like our shared dislike of taking taxis, learned in childhood from my great grandmother who could well afford them but preferred to persuade bus drivers to take her where she wanted to go. You learn more that way. It’s the same with many things, especially housework, cooking and childcare.
I visited a plumbing shop near Sgombou and got prices for various boilers; phoned a plumber we know to ensure the prices were reasonable (owe him a drink) and also a friend in the village.
“Do you have baths?”
“No. Showers only”
“Then go for a 60 litre instead of your present 80 litre tank”
“What about this compression bubble beside our tank?”
“Not needed”
I still don’t understood what that item actually does, but it was the first thing I unbolted from the wall.
He added “Use the plumbing supplier on the main road by Gouvia”
“I know it”
“Spiro there is from the village”
So we collected a new tank. €120 with 5 year guarantee. Of course I couldn’t see how the old tank was fixed to the wall behind it, but guessed it was a bracket on two bolts, that the old tank, once drained and disconnected, would lift off.
So the power supply is switched off at the panel in the utility room and the three wires – live, neutral and earth - disconnected and the tank drained – something we’ve done before and know how to do. The first time, to clean the boiler and change the element, I, thinking all water had emptied out via the tap, unbolted the round hatch containing element and thermostat housing. I and the floor were abruptly drenched in rusty water and limescale. This time we are dry and ready to lift the boiler out of its bracket.
“It’s heavy” says Lin “If we let it slip it’ll smash the tile floor and hurt one of us”
We ponder. I scuttle down to the apothiki where I stored an old sculling oar we found on the beach ages ago. I shove it right up inside the old boiler and wedge the oar end in a plastic bucket of gravel beside the end of the bath/
“It’ll just sink into that” says Lin
“No it won’t”
“Yes it will”
“No it will not
I jerk the boiler upwards above my head. I’d already loosened one of the bolts with a few levering jerks of a jemmy.
“OK it’s free”
The boiler now sits on the oar, unbalanced but it's weight held.
“Gently, gently”
We gradually slope the oar, dodging the shower rail, until I can cradle the boiler in both arms.
“Now how do we get the oar out?”
“Down a bit more, bit more.”
“OK now bring it round and pull it towards you”
I back away towards the window of our small bathroom
“Now ease it out”
“As the actress said to the bishop”
I carry the old boiler away and we make a cup of tea.
“How are we going to get the new one up?”
“Wait until they come to supper on Tuesday night. I’ll ask Mark and Paul”
Next problem is that the bracket on the new boiler is lower than the old. Two more bolts are needed. I see the old ones were expansion bolts in a plastered wall made of insulating bricks. It’s dodgy getting a firm fixing with two lined up holes in that. I could see where the previous builder had made two other holes that had failed, filling them with mortar.
“We’ll use the other wall. We’ll need different length connecting pipes and a junction in the electric cable so it’ll reach”
I start drilling. The first hole is too easy. It’s old stone wall and I’ve hit a wider mortar seam between rough stone, but one of the recovered expansion bolts gets a sturdy grip in the gap. I insert a tough ring of hard epoxy glue around the wider hole near the surface. Lin then makes a careful measurement using one of the new brackets as a template and the next challenge is to get the second hole exactly level with the first. I begin drilling. Two inches in the lights start to flicker in the bathroom and the drill dies. The carbon brushes are shot and their dying sparking must have set off a sympathetic flicker in the light circuit.
“I’ve never seen that before. Have you?”
Of course my battery drill, good for wood drilling, is no way up to hammering into the rock I’ve encountered.
I phone a friend.
“Er! Any chance you could lend me a drill to finish one hole in our bathroom wall”
“Sure. Come round”
This was not do-it-yourself. Too many experts brought in to help. I was lent a very expensive craftsman’s battery powered drill. The sort of thing you don't see in shops for ordinary punters.
“Wow, thanks! You shouldn’t be lending something like this to an amateur”
“Simon. I’ve seen some of the things you’ve been doing in your house. You’re craftsmen!” I beamed inwardly and outwardly’
“Yeah yeah, But gosh thanks all the same”
Back in the house. This beautiful piece of kit drilled confidently into the rock, even so, taking me nearly 15 minutes. This time a big rawlplug went neatly into the hole followed by a coach bolt on which you could have hung a cathedral. Furthermore it was perfectly in line with the other. I returned the drill with profuse thanks.

For the next two days Lin began redecorating the bathroom and we washed in warm water from the kettle. We removed the fiddly wire shelf through which things fell into the bath and replaced it with a sturdy glass shelf.
“Amy bought this shelf on eBay, but she didn’t want it”
“Oh?”
“She’d bought babe clothes from the same address for a couple of quid and was told they had to be posted to her, just up the road, charge £6.00. Classic ebay seller trick to get profit on carriage”
“Then?”
“The same seller offered this shelf for 99p ‘buyer collect’. Amy didn’t want it but clicked ‘buy now’ and went to the address. Once there she said 'Oh and can I pick up those clothes I bought?'”
Ah, the cunning of thrift.
My battery drill served for the smaller holes needed.
Tuesday evening, friends for supper.
“Mark, Paul! Can you help?”
They went downstairs. Lifted the new boiler between them. Dropped it neatly on the bolts in three seconds, then back to the table.
Next day I bought two 50cm flexible pipes at Sgombou; removed the old pipes and after binding plumbers’ thread on the boiler and the hot and cold inlet-outlet pipes tightened everything up, turned on the water, filled the tank; then the electricity. On came the pilot light.
“We’ve got hot water again!”
Lin had a shower.
“Hm. Not sure 60 litres of hot water is enough for wash, rinse, conditioner and rinse.”
But later as she continued decorating, adding grout to a circling ribbon of small blue tiles, she said “Ohoh! There’s a leak”
I sighed and inspected. The no-return valve on the cold water inlet was dribbling steadily from the quite the wrong place.
“Shit”
I turned off the water, undid the connection. The bolt shot off under pressure from 60 litres of warm water, bruising my knuckle. It poured into bowls and buckets I emptied into the bath.
“Now what’s gone wrong?” I wondered “I’m taking this valve to the plumber at Kontokali”
Spiro checked it.
“You must not tighten the nut that connects to the valve so that it prevents it working. Just three or four turns will do” Now how could I have known that?
I bought another valve, a tap to go between tank and valve and a shorter length of flexible pipe. €11.50. Back home I wrapped plumbers waxy string carefully around each connection and gently tightened everything; turned on the water and watched.
“It’s OK!”
“Don’t say that where the boiler can hear you” said Lin
*** *** ***
On naftemporiki.gr - an intriguing interview with an academic who loves Greece, and knows the history of modern Greece in great depth, Professor Mark Mazower speaking in English with Greek sub-titles. Μαζάουερ: Ανάκτηση της αυτονομίας με σωστή οικονομία
I especially like his observations on the new generation of young Greek historians, but also his admission that so much of what is happening in and to Greece was not what he ever expected.
*** ***
Another good letter from my friend Jan D in England:
Hello Simon. I follow your escapades on your blog. Good to see that you are busy doing practical tasks. In the future (perhaps sooner than we think ) such skills will again be vital and in much demand, we may (re)discover that manual and technical skills are more important than the latest IT gizmo, after all we can’t eat the computer or mobile phone. Talking about food are you following events in Britain? These are depressing and worrying times. Quick on the heels of the Mid Staffordshire Hospital scandal we now have what is referred to as the ‘horsemeat’ scandal. This will not surprise you but it is yet another example, on top of all the others, of mismanagement. corruption and deceit in a key industry; this time the food chain and supermarket ready-made meals. The food chain has now become so long and uncontrollable we cannot be certain of what we are eating (despite the labels) or the safety of it. The Government is out of its depth  and everybody is blaming everybody else (what’s new!). Yet another example of what happens when you deregulate. The Food Standards Agency has lost of half of its inspectors (through so called efficiency no doubt), so it’s not surprising that yet again we have an industry operating outside any meaningful control or accountability. If it wasn’t so serious you’d laugh at some of the finger pointing. Monty Python could not have done better. We are being told that it is all down to Romanian horse thieves! Well if everything else fails blame ‘Johnny Foreigner’, especially if there’s a gypsy angle as well. The hypocrisy is staggering. Some of the most diehard anti-European MPs are now calling for EU actions and seeking the co-operation of our European partners. I actually don’t mind eating horse; done it many times in France as long as I know that is what it is and that it is safe to do so. However there may be some benefits emerging from this, especially around a revival of locally produced food and local food outlets. Traditional butchers are doing a roaring trade at the moment and hopefully this will extend to local markets, greengrocers, artisan bakers etc., which can only be good for local communities and ‘localism’. I don’t think this is the demise of supermarkets, but they may well operate somewhat differently in the future.
There is also a growing  acknowledgement and appreciation of the importance of a wide range of public functions. Whether this is just an immediate reaction or a longer term shift is yet to be seen. Regrettably I think the deregulators and unlimited free marketeers have the upper hand and wield enormous power and I still have a deep anxiety that we are moving toward a new type of feudalism. There was a very interesting article in the Guardian this week on the workings of so-called Think Tanks. They like to present themselves as independent and objective, but in reality they are well funded pressure groups working on behalf of some rather unpleasant, and in many cases American, corporate interests, (tobacco, climate deniers, chemicals, etc.). Frequently it’s impossible to know who funds these organisations, and to really rub salt into the wound many of them are registered charities and hence receive tax benefits. They also have considerable access to the political elite. I am not a natural conspiracy peddler but it is difficult to see how local democracy or any democracy can function properly in the economic and political environments now emerging. I would be interested to hear your views on this. I am convinced that some form of ‘bottom –up’ or ‘refocused’ consumerism is part of the answer, and in this context modern technology can be a powerful tool so I’m not a total Luddite.  
I have read some more on the developments in Russia since the fall of Communism which is good case of Be Careful of What You Wish For. We spent decades trying to bring down the Soviet Union in the (naïve) belief that a western style democracy would make it free, open, fair and governed by the rule of law. But it hasn’t quite worked out like that. Whilst the Soviet Union was good riddance, what has replaced it, according to a book by Edward Lucas, is organised crime, big business corruption, illegality and bribery on a phenomenal scale, e.g. as much as $6 billion is paid in bribes every year and half of the country’s $140 billion public expenditure is siphoned off illegally. He calls it a ‘pirate’ state (others call it a mafia state) ruled by a criminal elite heavy populated by ex-Soviet spooks and ex- secret agents and the ‘nouveau riche’. (see also Luke Harding's Mafia State) I think this demonstrates what can happen when a vacuum is created  during political upheavals and who might fill it. It makes you stop and think what could happen here as the state and public sector retreat on an unprecedented scale. The ‘intelligent’ criminal may well thrive and then local democracy or any democracy is going to struggle to survive in any meaningful way.
As more and more of society is removed from democratic accountability and transparency and power and wealth concentrated in a very small group we face a troublesome future and I can’t help feeling it has gone beyond the tipping point already. I struggle to envisage how an alternative may emerge  or what it would look like. The offerings of the left are as cliché ridden, unrealistic and unpleasant as the offerings of the right or any other existing group. A new mind set is certainly required as well as different expectations and these things don’t come easy if at all. I agree with you that a recalibration of the relationships between the citizen, the state and the public domain is crucial to the way forward. The very notions of progress, growth, well-being etc., need to find a new narrative which appeals to people and which they can actually experience as something positive and fulfilling in meeting their aspirations.
I am conscious that this sounds idealistic and naïve and it may well be that we need to hit the buffers hard in order to make a paradigm change or we may simply just drift into a very different society to the one we have had for the last 60-70 years and adjust accordingly; although in the longer run people will not put up with a new form of feudalism.
I am struggling to find ways local involvement and actions can assist us in going in a more positive direction but as I said I am convinced that a bottom up approach is necessary. Despite all the scandals and increasing loss of faith and mistrust in many public and private institutions, it is interesting to note that with one or two exceptions local authorities have conducted themselves properly (with very little recognition) and actually coped better than most (so far) with challenges facing them which are greater than most; they are almost too competent for their own good; all they get in return is abuse from Eric Pickles a particularly odious minister. Happy days. Look forward to our conversation in March. Best Jan  
*** *** ***
 I wondered if there was a name for a lunch that lasts into the early evening. Olimpia said there was 'at least, there is in Northern Italy (mostly Piedmont area): they use to call it "merenda sinoira"'*. We were at Jan M’s home overlooking the Kerkyra Sea below Garitsa, a village south of the city.
Having driven south on the Lefkimmi Road, past that doleful ruin – Kaiser’s bridge – we turned onto a thin winding ascent, negotiating a minor landslip, realized we’d missed a turn, and crossed it again. A man, perched like a statue beside the road, pointed our way up a snaking gravel drive to a Venetian country house of courteous aspect.
If a house could be polite this one was; so too its owner who greeted us almost with diffidence, as though our visit honoured her. Through a modest front door into a room of perfect proportions, large and graceful without grandeur or pretension. If only all Corfu could have learned to know and respect such architecture, instead of crusting its lovely shores with vain construction. Even from the balcony of San Stephano nested so delicately inside the landscape...

... its almost invisible, the tiers of a monster shack stuck themselves through the skyline; one of Greece’s Lopachkin’s, before running out of money, had again wounded the island with the skeleton shelves of yet another Leggotel. From its guest rooms the world offers fine prospects; from outside, the world is blighted by the plans of a new signor.

We talked and ate and drank. Jan M made being our host look easy. Local wine, local food. Over coffee we looked at a photo album – black and white portraits, of people who’d enjoyed and lived in and visited the house. Some seemed almost ready to talk - so animated their gaze into the long open shutter from long ago.
In the guest book Aleko came across the delicate signatures of his parents, guests before they were married. I glimpsed in the same book, looming in my memory, a curling scrawl of fading black ink taking up all of a page, as one who suddenly encountering a venomous snake sees it bigger than it is - the signature of Kaiser Wilhelm, last German emperor, that Abraham who slew his son. instead of the offered ram of pride, and with him half the seed of Europe one-by-one.
*Antica tradizione contadina, di origine piemontese, la "Merenda sinoira" è un pasto pomeridiano che, per l'abbondanza, tende a sostituire la cena (per questo "sinoira" o «cenoira»). D'estate, dovendo lavorare i campi anche dopo il tramonto, i contadini organizzavano delle chiassose e ricche merende, sul tardo pomeriggio.
*** ***
Upstairs at 208 Democracy Street the wood of a disassembled and de-nailed palette is being made into skirting board to hide the ragged gap between the chipboard floor and our bedroom walls; walls, which, being in places curved, require a mix of wood bending and later filling. The palette wood was first sanded and double-coat varnished. On top of the wood we attach strips of moulded trim bought from Αποθήκη Ζύλειας The Wood Shed, a timber yard on the Lefkimmi Road in Kanalia, about a kilometre beyond the airport and Simonetti’s Yard. Rather too wide at the base each strip had to be sanded down several millimetres before varnishing.
This combination was glued to the wall, held by bricks while it dried, and varnished with old nail holes yet to be filled. The improvement is remarkable.
I don't know why it took us so long to find and start using a chimney brush with rods to clean our stove pipe.
What has so far involved the exercise of taking down and taking apart the stove pipe inside the house, with attendant soot, followed by resealing the pipe joints with heat proof silver tape, now entails the simpler task of climbing a ladder on the outside wall, removing the top of the chimney and shoving the brush on two rods into the pipe so that soot ends up dropping into the stove where it can be cleared away like the ash.
“We’ll have to do this more often…”
“As the actress…”
“…instead of putting off a messy job until the stove starts spouting smoke”
*** *** ***
The Rev William Mather has sent me a copy of his address at mum's Memorial Service
Barbara Burnett- Stuart, 1917-2012

Some personal reflections; 
William Mather, 8th December 2012 
My own personal  memories of Barbara are linked with my parents, Bill and Eleanor  who were friends with Barbara and Angus in Cheshire and Manchester when Angus was working with Thomson Newspapers.
There were wonderful social events and whenever Barbara and Angus were around there was lots of laughter and fun. These always seemed to be linked with tweeds and dogs and glorious days outside, in all weathers, sharing their love of shooting and fishing both in Cheshire and up here.
Libby and I once bumped into Barbara quite by chance on one of our rare visits to London. Feeling a bit like tourists we were exploring the Burlington Arcade and on going into a very respectable  shoe-shop suddenly bumped into Barbara, trying on shoes!
When my late mother visited us here a couple of years ago we went to see Barbara at Brin Croft and I reminded her of the Burlington Arcade shoe-shop. She said with relish: “Ooh and were the shoes very expensive?!”
Barbara had a wonderful way of combining all aspects of life. Born in London she had a real feel for city life but she loved the country and all that went with it. Perhaps it was her early years escaping with her mother and sister Margot to Clavering, a totally unspoilt rural Essex village, that nurtured her love for the open air. There were bicycles and horses, paddling in the ford, developing a dairy farm and sharing in Girl Guide activities. They all loved it
During the war Clavering became a refuge from the nightly air-raids of the Blitz. During this period Barbara remembered her mother trying to  keep everybody calm with matter-of-fact comments like:  “We must remember to let the dogs out before the bombs come.”
When she married John Baddeley in 1940, Clavering became the obvious place for their home and it was there that Simon and Bay were born.
It is perhaps no surprise that following her privileged upbringing Barbara put her sharp mind and humour to good use by throwing herself into journalism, photography and publishing.
Sadly her first marriage ended shortly after the war and was followed by a long relationship with the Country Broadcaster Jack Hargreaves. Eventually in 1965 she married Angus, adding his two step-daughters, Fiona and Jennifer to the family.
Among the wonderful family films that Simon managed to do about Barbara – including memories of the Blitz,  and of life at Clavering, there is one of Barbara reflecting on coming to live in the Highlands. In it she says: “I just bless the day when Angus said:  ‘Would you settle if we went to Scotland?’ Because if he hadn’t said that, we never would.”

Settle she certainly did, settling in Strathnairn at  Mains of Faillie near Daviot. This became a home for more and more grand-children and eventually great grand-children. For most of them, in Simon’s words: ‘The Highlands became a refuge of constant pleasure and happy memories, of winter snow, wind and rain, chilly summer swims, climbs and long walks with many dogs.’
She also became involved in much community activity, including the Samaritans and becoming a ‘Friend’ of Eden Court Theatre.
This service has been specially designed with hymns, readings, tributes and photographs to try and remind ourselves of some of Barbara’s interests and loves. Thomas Hardy’s poem ‘Afterwards’ hints at some of the enjoyments and awareness  of life’s delights, eccentricities and quiet beauties – from hedgehogs ‘travelling furtively over the lawn’ to ‘watching the full-starred heavens.’ Barbara would have loved such imagery.
And her article ‘Peace of Mind’, with her personal reflections on looking at Leonardo da Vinci’s painting, ‘Madonna of the Rocks’ – written when she was women’s editor of Farmers’ Weekly – is particularly perceptive. She ponders on ‘peace of mind’ and how gazing at the painting and in particular the face of the Virgin, she writes:  ‘one begins to know the meaning of that Peace which Passeth all Understanding.’
Earlier in the same article she remembers child-hood visits to her local church at Christmas, where  in a Christmas crib-scene, she sees the figure of Jesus, ‘this tiny figure representing the Man who was to make men and women of us all.’
Barbara would not have called herself particularly religious but she was blessed with an open-heart towards life and people and with a spiritual awareness.
It is perhaps worth reminding ourselves that when she refers to the ‘Peace that passeth all understanding,’ she is quoting from the famous verse in Philippians 4-4-7. In the words of the Authorised Version of the Bible, which she loved, it is as follows:  
4. Rejoice in the Lord alway: and
Again I say, Rejoice
5. Let your moderation be known
Unto all men. The Lord is at hand.
6. Be careful for nothing; but in
Every thing by prayer and supplication
With thanksgiving let your requests
Be made known unto God.
7. And the peace of God, which
Passeth all understanding, shall keep
Your hearts and minds through
Christ Jesus.
Mum on Democracy Street in 2010
*** *** ***
Lin and I visited Richard in the Corfu Private Clinic a few days ago. He's now flown to Dublin for further treatment...sends his regular circular 'Greek voters ponder the unthinkable - cutting ties with the EU':
Please follow the link to see my column in The Irish Times of Tuesday 19 February. Apologies for .the delay in circulating this which was due to medical complications. I hope to resume a regular column very shortly. Regards Richard Pine
(extract)....A 'Grexit', as it is called, is still an option. If the Voulí is a 'council of elders', it has shown itself to be incapable of knowing its own mind or of recognising and interpreting the will of the people. What people actually want, and what they are not getting, is a way out of the economic impasse, a means of creating wealth which will counteract the recession, and lead to job creation. This is not without precedent. In the 1920s Hungary, in the throes of reconstruction, offered the state railways to foreign buyers, and even went so far as to apply to the then League of Nations for a bailout. Parallels with Greece are obvious, where state assets are on offer, not very successfully, to foreign investors and buyers. The imperatives for any struggling country, especially a small one, to look for help elsewhere are compelling. It’s even within recent memory that the UK secured IMF funding to dig it out of an appalling financial crisis. In 1977, the then president of Greece, Konstantine Tsatsos, argued for Greece’s inclusion in Europe (it was admitted in 1981) on cultural and political as well as economic grounds. He linked Greece to other southern states – Portugal, Spain, Italy – all of which, it could be argued, would have to either catch up quickly or be left behind. Their inherent assets would not be enough to sustain them in an age of technological change and wealth creation. How right he proved to be.
*** ***
Aftermath: I still haven't got the boiler right. After a couple of days the non-return valve below its cold water inlet starts to drip. I replace it with another - €3.50. It works for a while then the dripping starts again.
Paul, up the road, asks me “What’s your water pressure?”
“You mean on the gauge outside the house?”
“Yes”
“Somewhere between 7 and 8”

“It should be more like 3”
“But we’ve only opened the mains tap a quarter turn”
“That’s flow not pressure”
“Er?”
“It’s like amps and volts” says Lin helpfully
“You will find a screw for adjusting the pressure just next to the dial”
“And don’t you touch it” says Lin “until we know exactly how it works”
“Hold on you were saying the boiler was jinxed. Thinking of calling in the priest to exorcise it”
“That may still be necessary”
*** ***
Down at Ipsos work continues on Summer Song and also, as promised by the Deputy Mayor of Corfu at the meeting on 8 Feb, on the revived police station.
Says Cinty "That's good. I hope they don't make it so comfortable the new policemen just stay indoors lounging"
Restoring the police station by Ipsos Harbour

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