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Saturday, 26 July 2008

My neighbours in Handsworth

I was having a chat with the neighbours on Thursday evening. It had been a wakeful night with amplified sound from a celebration in St.Peter's Road, nearly half-a-mile away, of Haile Selassie's birthday which went on from midday on Wednesday - the actual birthday - and into the early hours of Thursday morning. Lots of people, including me, grumbled about this Rastafarian do, and R's boss, who's Afro-Caribbean, said he'd seen me wandering round at midnight to discover the miscreant source of the music:

Simon. Thank you for the contact you made via the Lozells Team for the problem on St Peters Road. I hear from my colleagues that it was a busy night down there. I am aware of this problem for a few years now. It seems that this year things were taken a little too far. My colleagues on night duty visited throughout the night requesting the party close. I understand this went on to the early hours. I am determined that this type of thing should not go on and I am currently gathering as much information as I can to pursue a course of action. I have spoken with the Birmingham Social Behaviour Unit (303 3191) and Pete Sandilands from Midland Heart (I have left messages for). Pete is the housing manager. I am hoping that we can identify the flat owner who organised the event and I am looking at this in preparation for next year. Regards Shelly PC 0733 Darragh, Birchfield Neighbourhood Team Dear Shelley. Your swift reply and the police response to initial complaints about this problem are appreciated, though one is not necessarily feeling that way when being kept awake in the middle of the night prior to rising early the next morning! I speak on behalf of many residents who hesitant to phone 999 or the WMP call number who were angry about this anti-social behaviour. We all have cherished events - whether family ones like weddings or special birthdays, or ones that involve families as well as the wider community like Divali, Christmas, Vaisaki, Eid. These mesh well in our neighbourhood, indeed enriching it and often bringing pleasure across boundaries. It should therefore be entirely possible for one section of our diverse community to celebrate the anniversary of the birthday of Emperor Haile Selassie with the same respect for neighbours as in the case of these other events. Instead the event was divisive, contributing to resentment. Although letting off fireworks late at night around November remains a continued nuisance, that behaviour is widely recognised as anti-social. Even if it is impossible to prohibit all episodes of over-amplified sound in the area, 'busy nights' like that over Wednesday/Thursday must be recognised as equally unacceptable, with no excuses because of the sacred significance, for some, of a particular anniversary. I have placed the relevant date in my diary for 2009. In the meantime I very much appreciate your endeavours to pursue those responsible for this event and the measures you are putting in place to prevent a re-occurrence. My understanding is that this event would have gone on until dawn but for the intervention of your colleagues, who put an end to the noise around 0200. Thanks at least for that from my family and other residents of this road. Yours sincerely, Simon Baddeley, Chair, Beaudesert Road Residents' Association
We shared a grumble on the street and Sunita's Mum was being a conscientious street champion tidying the verge opposite her home. We gossiped. I'm so fortunate to live in Handsworth in the company of so many good neighbours. I get to meet many as friends. Some come to Lin and me to see if we can sort out the occasional problem. * * * It's been a busy week with lots of travel by train and cycle. Brighton was lovely. I always enjoy working my way over to Wood Green, Haringey. Omens and portents fill the newstands; survivalists having the last laugh... Private Eye, for decades now, the establishment magazine, replacing the Spectator and New Stateman, once the entertainment and education of my youth - is always good for a public school chuckle. * * * On Wednesday I worked on my in-tray aware of the growing boom-rumble across the house tops, and then on Thursday and Friday I was in Telford thoroughly suffused by the tearing roar of motorway traffic until in a classroom to teach the mysteries of political-management to young officers from a selection of Midlands councils. I really do think that just as I'm starting to go a bit deaf I'm better than ever I was at listening to and learning from those I teach. At a crossroads on the M54 - a reply to Danica R who shared the idea of being 'tourists in our own land':
Somewhere beneath the motorway below me runs a Celtic then a Roman route called Iter lll - part of the Watling Street which we learned about at school before I was ten. For those who walked and marched this route it connected places and ran between them. They marked their distances on foot and hoof or with the turning of wagon wheels, making arrivals and departures into the events that create a sense of place. In 1976, the Tourism Society of England defined tourism as 'the temporary, short-term movement of people to destination outside the places where they normally live and work and their activities during the stay at each destination. It includes movements for all purposes.' You encourage me to reflect more on why I said this, Dana. It is because I don't separate work and leisure but also because of the inadequacy of this definition with its implication of a place where I 'normally' live. I am a 'place orphan' in a world destructive of place - substituting routes between locations. I have a birthplace in England - certified - that was fleetingly where I lived but was only briefly my home (Mill End Dairy Farm, Clavering, Essex).
Mill End
I've had many addresses in 66 years. I've made a home in several houses - but I don't come from the places where they're located. I have just been asked, after knowing them for two years, to give a friend a postal address so they can 'snail-mail' me something. Before that all our exchanges were by skype, in hotels and conference centres, on campus, and via e-mail. He's never needed my 'place' address nor I his - even tho' I've enjoyed his hospitality. The reason I embrace cycling and walking is not to make a hair-shirted sacrifice on behalf of the planet (much as we in the rich world need to set an example of greater ascetisism if our species is to stay around here much longer) but because it helps recover an intimacy with the ground I miss when travelling faster. On a bicycle or walking, I get a sense of place rather than location - the sounds, smells and touch of the ground, or if at sea, by sailing and using the traditional methods of navigation, rather than my modern location gadget - useful though that is! By travelling slower I gain time to gaze at my surroundings, gape at them even, stroll around taking lots of photos and collecting souvenirs - just like a tourist (:)) and yet who'd put a bridge over a freeway in a brochure for this part of Shropshire? Exceptional people can make a place of a prison cell. I'm lucky enough to be free to study how they do that. 'Placelessness' (not the dispersion of those forced to flee into a diaspora) is the blight of our time - what we 'lost in translation'; the disadvantage we bought into with the conveniences and pleasures of speeds that - until the train, the car and later the plane -had never, in our existence as a species, been greater than that of galloping horses.
* * * We'll be off to the Highlands for a week soon, while also planning a second visit to Australia in the spring and trying, from my ant-like position, to make sense of what's happening with local government. Our leaders ride the storms we stir. There's nothing so coherent as a conspiracy but there are trends as significant as tides and weather. I strive to understand them. Why did so many Irish citizens, who've benefited so much from the EU, vote against the Lisbon Treaty? I've studied the post-referendum poll results. They were nothing if not confused. Although 50% plus voted against, more than 40% voted for. We like Europe but at the moment we don't. Hm? People wish the EU was less bureaucratic but they vote against measures to ratify a treaty that might reduce the number of Commissioners, increase the opportunity to influence policy, create greater transparency and ease decision-making. Had Darius and Xerxes had referenda before invading Greece we might never have had Marathon, Thermopylae or Salamis. Letter to my Greek half-brother:
Dear G. Recall our confusion, at the supper above Athens, about Marathon, Thermopylae and Salamis. All are quite close in time and place, part of campaigns against Persian invasions. Marathon - on the north coast of Attica some 50 miles from Athens - was a land battle in 490BC led for the Greeks by Miltiades - the first time the Greeks had bested the Persians (under Darius). It was Pheidippides who ran from Athens to Sparta to ask for assistance before the battle and after the victory, he who ran from Marathon to Athens with news of Greek victory "Nenikēkamen!" (We were victorious!) then died. Thermopylae was fought 10 years later at the pass of Thermopylae near the northern head of the gulf that lies between Evia and the mainland. Outnumbered many times by Xerxes' forces, an alliance led by Leonidas of Sparta held back the Persians for three days. A local shepherd named Ephialtes led the Persians through a mountain path behind the Greek lines. Seeing his men encircled Leonidas ordered his allies home and stayed behind with 300 Spartans. They fought to the death. The plaque in the battle site today displays the words of the poet Simonides 'Go tell the Spartans, oh stranger passing by, that here, obedient to their laws we lie.' [Ὦ ξεῖν’, ἀγγέλλειν Λακεδαιμονίοις ὅτι τῇδε/κείμεθα, τοῖς κείνων ῥήμασι πειθόμενοι] The sea battle of Salamis was fought a few months later in September 480 BC in the strait between Piraeus and Salamis Island in the Saronic Gulf west of Athens. Athens under Themistocles defeated a much larger Persian fleet forcing Xerxes to retreat - a turning point of the campaign. Love S (ref: Book 7 of Herodotus 201-234) S. Now it all fits together in a logical sequence. I knew about Salamis reasonably clearly but I think I merged the other two battles into one! So the Thermopylae battle was presumably near modern day Volos or at least on that peninsular? The main point is that we sent those Persians packing in the end....and talking of packing, I am just off to France/Trambly for the next week with family in tow. So cheerio. G
* * * I did a cycle circuit of the Birmingham Canals today with dog Oscar, riding to the towpath in a box on my handlebars. Standing by the edge of the water below a railway bridge on the Grand Union, I got two shadows and a reflection of myself. Riding by an almost continuous frieze of graffiti - pointing nowhere, I encountered a lone angler with a roach pole tickling a patch of water beneath an overhang on the opposite bank, the hammer thud of trucks passing overhead in the shade of Spagetti Junction, a drowned rat drifting slowly north, a Muslim man in a high neck gown strolling towards me called ahead for me to pick up Oscar as the dog "frightened" him (I did. He passed and thanked me), a small group of cyclists, a few people standing alone gazing at the limpid water of the canal, walkers, a family enjoying a picnic by their parasol while one fished, mother ducks and ducklings, Canada geese, pigeons, but no butterflies, despite an abundance of violet buddleia rhizomes. Meanwhile in beloved Greece - fire:

Fire causes mass evacuations from Greek resorts by Anthee Carassava, ATHENS (CNN) Greek police on Friday evacuated more than 2,000 European vacationers from a strip of holiday resorts on Rhodes as fierce forest fires swept through the Greek island and thick plumes of smoke choked its most popular hotels. Authorities said the evacuation was a precaution as fires raged for a fourth day, scorching at least 7,400 acres (2990 hectares) of lush pine forest on one of the country's most idyllic islands. Police said the evacuation affected hotels in the Asklipios area, near the southeast coastline of Rhodes, a popular holiday destination for British tourists. "Three hotels were evacuated as a precaution, mainly because smoke from the fire had created an unpleasant atmosphere," said Charlambos Kokkinos, regional governor for the southern Aegean. The officials declared southern Rhodes in a state of emergency earlier this week when the fires broke out and quickly swept through the island because of gale force winds. Dozens of homes were destroyed in Laerma, the worst hit region, state media reported. No injuries or fatalities were reported. France and Italy have sent five water-bombers to assist hundreds of Greek firefighters and volunteers trying to extinguish the blazes. Earlier in the day, a brush fire in southern Greece forced authorities to evacuate two camping sites near the town of Aegion and close a main highway linking Athens to the port city of Patras. Rail services in the area were also suspended, resuming three hours later when firefighters got the blaze under control. Closer to the capital of Athens, five water-dropping planes quickly tackled another fire in Mandra, west of Athens. More than 100 fires have burned in Greece since the start of the summer, and the latest infernos sparked as an ombudsman's report criticized the government for not doing enough to prevent such outbreaks."The main measures for fire protection are not being properly implemented," the report said. More than 65 people were killed in devastating fires last year and 444,790 acres (180,000 hectares) of the Greek countryside was charred. "The lesson of last year's tragic experience does not seem to have been fully learned," the ombudsman report said.[Greek Ombudsman website - Giorgos Kaminis, the Ombudsman.
* * * Susan E Rice - a Democrat Rice - on leave from Brookings - with Obama - describes a
conflict fueled and complicated by many competing interests fighting for control of the desert nation. "We need to recognize that the fundamental aspect has been missing from our debate and our dialogue. I think we're, frankly, missing the forest for the trees. And I'd like to suggest that we step back and consider what's at stake here. Not only is the surge not working, as Phil said, to achieve its intended and stated objective of giving the Iraqi political factions the space that is necessary to resolve their political differences, we have a fundamental disconnect between our military strategy on the one hand and the realities on the ground in Iraq on the other. There is more than one war happening simultaneously in Iraq." (see and hear her speak). This Tuesday my friend Dhiaa speaks to my students. I shall be intrigued to hear him discuss 'Shiism, politics and development: the impact of Sadrists in post Saddam Iraq, the southern region as an example'.

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Simon Baddeley