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Sunday, 7 March 2010

Flânerie in Birmingham

Amy drops in with stuff for her talk
Having transferred some filmed interviews with NHS CEOs - offshoot of work with Andrew Wall - to CDs, I needed to post them in a padded envelope to Ziggi for a talk. "I might be able to use them." The main post office in town is the only one I trust for slightly odd shaped packages, so I'd an excuse to cycle into town instead of doing something that would feel like work.
Meantime Amy dropped by to get ready for her meeting with children and parents at the library - about road safety, stranger dangers, and risk around railways and dark alleys. As well as a talk, they get a 'keeping safe' booklet, a hi-vis wristband, a road safety alphabet plus crayons to fill it in, with a UV marker pen for the parents and book on safety in the home and leaflets on various risks and community policing, and a child identity wristband when shopping. I've reservations about this sort of thing, making people fearful about 'outside'. The worst dangers to many children are 'inside', but Amy knows that. I'm proud of her taking the initiative to do things like this. I gathered from Lin who helped out that there was a good turnout - 16 children, 14 parents. "Everyone seemed to enjoy themselves. The librarian was really impressed!"
I rode my big bicycle into town. At the main post office at the top of steep Pinfold Street they have a system that involves getting a number from a machine and waiting for it to be announced. The numbers are displayed on a screen so customers can see how long they may have to wait. "Number 124 go to counter F...number 125 go to counter B" says a computer. It saves queue juggling. You can try to guess which counter you'll end up at and wander off to look about and do other errands. It's quite disappointing for people who enjoy a good queue. My package was swiftly processed and sent for £1.50 with 'proof of postage'. I headed for Boots and bought some Anbesol for a mouth ulcer. I like that stuff. Dabbing an ulcer with this astringent liquid from a small bottle - "ow ow ow" - punishes it for intruding in my mouth.
Then to New Street Station to collect 'tickets ordered beforehand' to London, Winchester and Dumfries, over the next few weeks. I've succumbed to yield-management after all, getting tickets, even when I'm on expenses, much cheaper than on day of travel. All I do is touch the screen after slipping in the card quoted on the net when buying tickets at home. A virtual QUERTY keyboard appears. I touch in the code for the purchase. The tickets, receipts and reservations drop into a collection hopper. I reach down, squeeze my hand through a swinging plastic cover and feel around to make sure I've collected everything delivered.
Then out through the main concourse to the rag market to enjoy a baked potato from Dinky Donuts; best in the city, slightly off-white, sloshy with butter - £1.50 - in a polystyrene box with a plastic fork. Take it outside, gaze at the passing crowds and wheel gently towards St.Martins, stopping to gather a savouring taste of hot potato before eating the scorched skin.
Outside the church I came upon a row of sturdy wooden folding chairs and a group of people offering to pray for healing. I watched for a while and then, on a centurion impulse, braced myself to pray with three strangers for the recovery of a dear friend. "Are you a believer?" I was asked after they'd quietly spoken prayers, kneeling and standing beside me. "Well...not really...but I'm perhaps a vessel for you and someone who is." "Right yes OK".
After this kind exchange, I cycled to the lift that rose from Edgbaston Street to Smallbrook Queensway, on up to the New Bullring, down New Street, across Corporation Street, up Needless Alley to St.Philip's Square where I saw lots of young people muddying up the green, chatting animatedly in small groups, running, hugging and kissing, watched over by a couple of amiable police by the cathedral walls. I saw three Goths with litter picking gadgets and black plastic bags working their way over the square. I reminded me of Barry Fantoni's Scenes you seldom see in Private Eye. Delightful result of prompts from Urban Alternatives.
Goths collecting litter in St Philip's Square, Birmingham city centre
There was a piece on Handsworth Park by Graham Young in the Birmingham Mail on Friday, about Mark Bent and family who run the Boat House Café at the head of the lake by the slipway for the summer boats.
Although the park always has regular, highly-visible ranger patrols, Mark says everyone agrees that the park is even safer when the café is open. “Sometimes we give away food that we’d have to throw away. But I say to any young lads who’ve been out all day, if you want to eat, pick up a brush and start sweeping. It’s always the toughest one who cracks first. The next day they’re back saying ‘Anything we can do for you?' Similarly, I say to the police: ‘Don’t come here as if you expect to find trouble, come as if you want a bacon butty’."
From the square I cycled west down Colmore Row to Chamberlain Square, through Paradise Circus, passing via Centenary Square towards the canal towpath I could follow to Soho. I nearly missed a familiar figure in uniform, looked back and saw my daughter again, chatting to a Chinese man who, she told me later, had been robbed. "Did you want anything Dad, 'cos I'm working?" I stayed a moment then went on my way.
Amy with an old man who has been robbed
** ** **
In a piece for Corfu Press quoted on the village website on 1 March, Ioannis Bravis commented on the application in Corfu of the Greek government's Kallicrates plan for local government reorganisation:
Η δημιουργία ενός μητροπολιτικού δήμου ο οποίος θα συμπεριλαμβάνει όλους τους δήμους της μέσης Κέρκυρας είναι επιτακτικός όχι μόνο για να επιτευχθεί η ορθή οργάνωση και λειτουργία του παραπάνω ενιαίου χώρου, όπως χωροταξία και αστικές συγκοινωνίες, αλλά και για να προσδοθεί η αρμόζουσα πληθυσμιακή βαρύτητα στην πόλη της Κέρκυρας. Δεν πρέπει να ξεχνιέται ότι κατά την κατανομή πόρων από την πολιτεία, όπως στο ΕΣΠΑ, ο σημαντικότερος παράγοντας που λαμβάνεται υπ'όψιν για επί πλέον ενισχύσεις των δήμων και χαρακτηρισμό τους σαν πόλους ανάπτυξης είναι ο πληθυσμός τους. Για να μπορέσει λοιπόν η Κέρκυρα να οργανωθεί και να λειτουργήσει αποτελεσματικά, αλλά και για να μπορέσει να παίξει τον ρόλο που της αρμόζει στον ευρύτερο χώρο του Ιονίου και της Αδριατικής πρέπει να συμπεριλάβει ολόκληρο τον χώρο της μέσης Κέρκυρας και να ενισχυθεί πληθυσμιακά…." Γιάννης Βραδής (corfupress) EXTRACT
The drift of this comment is that previous geographic criteria for deciding the boundaries and numbers of councils should be abandoned in favour of an arrangement that will increase Corfu's chances of getting a fairer share of central government funding - based on Athens' assessment of growth and composition of population in an area. The proposed reorganization needs to take all Corfu into account, looking at population patterns and trends that apply across the island. Rather than applying the Kallikrates plan on an assessment of the geographically defined needs of any particular part of the island - one area against the others - Corfiots would do better to lobby for a reorganisation that takes the whole island into account, creating a tier of local government able to focus on island-wide issues like transport, land-use, health and the ideal settlement of Corfu town.
Municipalities of Corfu right now: Corfu has its own county council. This county is subdivided into 13 municipalities, run by an elected body headed by a mayor. The map of Corfu (shown below - but click on the link), including the three Diapontian islands to the north and Paxos and Antipaxos to the south, is on the web. Each municipality reveals its names when mouse-clicked.
Recall that the main element of Papandreou's Kallikratis Plan for re-organising Greek local government is to do away with the 76 prefectures that currently span the country and replace them with 13 larger regions, while 1034 municipalities will be reduced to 370. If I've understood Ioannis Bravis, he argues that the municipalities of Kassiopeon, Faiakon, Parelion and Achilion - or parts of them - along with Kerkyreon contain the core activities and population of the island and should form a single council to make sense of the case he makes about influence and capacity to manage current challenges in a coherent way. This leaves two remaining new local authorities - one in the north-west that would contain the municipalities of Thinalion, Esperion, Ag.Georgiou and Paleokastriton, and and one in the south containing Meletieon, Korrisson, Lefkimeon and Paxon.
Η μέση Κέρκυρα είναι αναμφισβήτητο ότι αποτελεί μία ενότητα με τους δήμους Φαιάκων, Αχιλλείων, Παρελίων και Παλαιοκαστριτών να αποτελούν προάστια της πόλης της Κέρκυρας η οποία ουσιαστικά διαχέεται μέσα στον χώρο των παραπάνω δήμων...
** ** ** Then last night Kiz told me and Lin she'd had a wrong number text from someone asking after her "Hey my babby am you still alive?". She'd texted "??" and got this reply:
We pondered the best thing to do (see thoughts on the BNP and here)

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Simon Baddeley