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Sunday, 14 March 2010

Thaw in the Highlands

Flew to Inverness on Friday in a small prop plane half full; comfortable with coffee, a police procedural whose author knows his organisational politics, and a good week's work behind me and several day's assignments on my return before we go back to the village. We took off in rain and thick overcast. As we flew north, it was almost odd to glimpse through dispersing clouds the snow still covering high ground above the border. Sharon was waiting for me at Dalcross and within 20 minutes we were coming into Strathnairn. I was greeting the barking terriers; seeing my mother at Brin Croft.
Ground that's been covered by snow for months is at last open to the sky; a sodden surface of bleached and flaccid grass appears amid disappearing archipelagos of shallow watery snow; meandering trails through the matted surface show where moles have tunneled in the darkness under the snow, unaware they worked on the surface. Cracked trees abound. Branches split by weight of snow are strewn along the muddy banks of the Farnack in spate. Snow melt burns add to the rushing sound of water, louder in the moonless night, sparkling under the sun.
Lulu started after a young roe deer foraging close to the houses. Being less fleet I thought she'd have no chance of catching a deer but her prey, panicking, balked at a fence and collapsed in the mire. In an instant the terrier was at the throat of an animal five times her size, both flailing half in water below the wire. In seconds I caught up and called her off. The mud matted calf struggled to its feet and fled. I held Lulu, squirming and panting, until the bouncing rump patches were out of sight, embarrassed the feral in me had excused pursuit of an animal unfit to jump a hip high fence. I'd sent confusing messages to the dog. Had I been starving we'd both have enjoyed a venison casserole. Far from restraining her hunting, dog and I would've eaten together.
* * *
Meanwhile, in beloved Greece, I was remembering we were having supper with Mark and Sally, Paul and Jacinta on Democracy Street this January. I asked, almost off the cuff, if Cinta knew the Ode to Freedom Ύμνος είς την Ελευθερίαν. She paused for a moment to gather her thoughts and see if I was serious, then sang it quietly, humming first then word perfect I'm sure, nodding the rhythm, almost as if to test her memory. I was impressed that she knew all the words but delighted I should first encounter Dionyssios Solomos' anthem sung quietly and gently in the company of friends rather than at some grand event.
** ** **
On 8 March a cartoon and an editorial in Kathimerini:
Wednesday, March 3, 2010, will go down in history as the day that a modern Greek government made a conscious effort to bring the country and its economy in line with reality. It is most appropriate that the unprecedented step was taken by a PASOK government, headed by George Papandreou, as it was under PASOK, in its first term in power under Papandreou’s father, Andreas, that Greece slipped the bonds of economic reality and began to live way beyond its means. But the New Democracy party, with which PASOK has alternated in power since the restoration of democracy in 1974, is no less guilty of bloating the public sector and buying 'social harmony' by giving workers whatever they wanted, leading to a relentless rise in wages and pensions irrespective of what the country produced. As deficits and the country’s debt burden grew, governments just kept on borrowing – borrowing to meet their obligations in terms of wages and pensions, borrowing to import more than Greece exported, borrowing to pay off previous debts. There was no effort to break the borrowing habit. In addition, membership of the eurozone brought monetary stability and historically low interest rates, prompting a massive boom in mortgages and consumer loans, which hid the economy’s underlying weaknesses.
...and in Kathimerini's Greek edition strong words from George Papandreou against favouritism, nepotism, bribery and their causes:
Πρώτο μας μέλημα είναι να σώσουμε την οικονομία μας. Είναι το πρώτο και απαραίτητο βήμα για να προχωρήσουμε στο μέλλον», τονίζει ο κ. Παπανδρέου, προσθέτοντας ότι δεν θα ανεχθεί «να βαφτίζονται δικαιοσύνη η σκανδαλώδης εύνοια, κεκτημένα τα προνόμια των λίγων και των συντεχνιών, δικαίωμα η περιφρόνηση του κοινωνικού συνόλου, πολιτισμός ο προκλητικός πλουτισμός, επιχειρηματικότητα το παρασιτικό κέρδος, μαγκιά η ασυλία και η φοροδιαφυγή...Καταβάλλουμε ως λαός βαρύ τίμημα για τις εγκληματικές επιλογές των προηγούμενων ετών. Αναγκαστήκαμε να λάβουμε αποφάσεις επώδυνες, που αδικούν πολλούς συμπολίτες μας. Αλλά θα ήταν ακόμη πιο άδικο να αφήσουμε τη χώρα μας ανυπεράσπιστη στις ορέξεις των κερδοσκόπων, αδύναμη να καταβάλει μισθούς και συντάξεις και να ανταποκριθεί στις στοιχειώδεις υποχρεώσεις της...
Yet what I recall of that period when Andreas Papandreou led PASOK was his pursuit of an agenda as critical for Greece - though his achievements are obscured amid the current crisis - as the stability of her economy. Andreas Papandreou broke the enduring dominance of the old Greek Right, shifting Hellenic politics to the centre in line with other European democracies. He was bold in pursuit of inclusion in a land divided and speechless when it came to what had happened to dear Greece between 1939 and 1949 (none writes better of this, unearths with more scholarship than Mark Mazower).
Above all Andreas Papandreou drove a bold politics of reconciliation with Greeks who since the terrible civil war - Ελληνικός Εμφύλιος Πόλεμος - (a subject regularly addressed on Democracy Street -see especially 'I dreamed I entered the home of a woman') had been treated as political pariahs - exiled, imprisoned, silenced, even conveniently forgotten. Old communists, veteran andartes and many others were invited in from the cold; made eligible for war pensions, allowed to recover alternative histories of the past forty years and opportunities to participate as full honoured citizens of the Hellenic Republic. Furthermore Andreas Papandreou with Constantinos Karamanlis, played a key role in recovering democracy during metapolitefsi. Amid these tasks we can see now that the economy was not just neglected but used to fund the recreation of a happier land.
* * * *
Next Sunday 21st March, from 1300 starting at the Park Lodge on Hamstead Road, I'm doing a 'History Walk' through Handsworth Park finishing up at Mark Bent's cafe on the lake. I hope we won't need umbrellas.
The Ranger Service mentioned this to Graham Young on the Birmingham Post and Mail. Graham announced the walk in last Thursday's edition, giving me and our beloved park a fine plug in the process.
Simon Baddeley grew up in London and the Home Counties. But, like so many other ‘immigrants’, from the moment he first came to live in Birmingham in 1972 he fell in love with the place in general – and Handsworth Park in particular. A lecturer at the University of Birmingham’s Institute of Local Government studies, Simon, 67, is fascinated by the relationship and struggle between politics and reality. And it was the fading state of Handsworth Park in the 1990s which led him and others to try to engage others into doing something positive about the 63-acre site. Their enthusiasm paid off. In 2006, the Grade II-listed park was reopened following an £8.5 million restoration scheme.
That it happened at all is partly down to Simon spending hours in the Birmingham Community Library more than a decade ago. His subsequent 40-page publication, History of the Founding of Handsworth Park, substantiated the link between the Industrial Revolution, Soho House and St Mary’s Church where pioneers Watt, Murdoch and Boulton are remembered with memorials. “This is the cathedral of the Industrial Revolution which started here more than Ironbridge,” says Simon. “All of these places have the most extraordinary connection. It’s where the modern world began.” His research was also one of the key factors which helped to secure the necessary funding through the Heritage Lottery Fund, European Regional Development Fund, Single Regeneration Budget, Advantage West Midlands and the city council. On March 21, he’ll be leading the latest of his regular walks through the park to explain how it was founded and opened, on June 20, 1888. The walk will include views of the boating lake, bandstand, wooded avenues, sports ground and the landscaping of the park by designer Richard Hartland Vertegans. “He liked people to come across spaces they didn’t know were there,” says Simon. “For some, the railway line through the park might have been a problem. Vertegens saw it as an opportunity to create two parks in one.” Simon’s research taught him that it was only thanks to human foresight that there is a park in Handsworth at all. Cannon Hill Park was a gift to the city, but Handsworth Park had to be fought for politically,” he explains. “It was originally in the boundary of Staffordshire which was green, but some people realised that at the rate Birmingham was expanding, if they didn’t create the park the land would have been built on within 20 or 30 years.”
This is just the same sort of vision, Simon believes, which led to plans for the ICC and surrounding facilities in the 1980s.
“It’s hard to remember now how confused we felt in the 80s,” he says. “The hardest thing was to admit that we were no longer the city of 1,000 trades. Back then, when we took pride in our brash vulgarity, you would never have believed that people would now be coming to Birmingham as tourists.” Looking forward, he believes the next decade will be hard for public and private sectors alike, but he warns against the city council trying to make false economies in parks. The Victorians realised that if you put a park in the middle of a bustling city you would have to assume the fecklessness of human nature. A few people can do a lot of damage; just a few regulations can prevent a lot of damage. “The best park keepers are diplomats and being assertive is so important. I’ve never felt unsafe in Handsworth Park, but you want everyone to feel like that and it’s great to see people having picnics in the park now...When it reopened was one of the happiest days of my life. We’d fought for 15 years for that. But a park with no keeper would be one step from a derelict urban wasteland..." [To join the history walk meet outside the lodge at the park’s Hamstead Road entrance at 1pm on Sunday, March 21.]
A postcard from 1900 - relaxing in the middle of a bustling city
* * * *
Last Friday: an in-house event - one of three - that I've been asked to organise for a council in the south of England; the hum of responsible gossip as managers learn more about their council's elected political representation, helping one another to put 'faces to places', with tutoring from officers in Democratic Services.
The feedback I was sent about this event was especially nice to read. I know it's because I listen to Linda when she criticises me for going into 'lecture-mode', but I've also learned much in the last two years from John Martin. He, while we were working together in Australia, pointed out - in the nicest way - that I'm so attached to ideas - in love with them even - that I can forget the duty of a teacher to get on with those who've given up their time to learn about those ideas. I knew that Myers-Briggs showed me as an introvert but I made no use of that information until John explained its effect on my teaching. I begin to see now why JM and I - and a few others with whom I've enjoyed working - make such a good mix when leading a seminar. The e-mail from Vickie, my client and most competent behind-the-scenes event organiser:
Dear Simon - here are all the comments from last week - Particularly like "Quite probably the best tutor I have ever had the good fortune to learn from" That's amazing! Positive comments:
* Excellent, fluid presentation, good use of handouts and analogies
* Excellent
* Absolutely brilliant. Superb. Quite probably the best tutor I have ever had the good fortune to learn from.
* Very good course - presenter excellent with many examples and anecdotes to demonstrate a complex subject, tailored to group
* Engaging speaker, v good learning/support materials
* Very informative, challenging and engaging- thank you
* Very good presenter
* Very thought provoking
* Pitched at an excellent level
* Another great training course, well presented and informative
* Very good presenter! Very useful and appropriate to our organisation
* Very charismatic, hugely knowledgeable - kitchen analogy excellent
* Excellent speaker
* Excellent - engaged throughout
* Excellent content and pitched at a good level
* Good range of activities, lively and engaging pace - thank you
* Eye opening
* Very good, Innovative
* Excellent
Farnack in spate


  1. Beautiful imagery! Definitely fitting for the time of year.

  2. Hi Simon,

    Great comments from the attendees!! A good presenter and use of good analogies makes a huge difference!


  3. Hi Simon (May I? Surnames seem curiously un-bloggish),

    If you like Mazower (and you really ought to..) then you should read his recent edited compendium Networks of Power in Modern Greece. It's a mixture of history & anthropology, but then Greek anthropology is almost purely history and increasingly vice versa.

    It includes Veremis, Koliopoulos et al, as well as a Corfiot academic on a rather arcane analysis of Ottoman shipping.

    I enjoy the blog, btw. Long-time lurker, etc...

    PS: Have you read any Herzfeld? If not, then I think you'd like him.

  4. Do I start with 'Ours Once More: Folklore, Ideology and the Making of Modern Greece' Συστάσεις ? Thanks so much, Aris, for pointing me towards Michael Herzfeld and the latest Mazower. Xerete.

  5. Hi Simon,

    sorry for the slow response: I'm afraid I'm a quite lackadaisacal blogger, but I cite my great-grandfather (allegedly famously the laziest man in Avliotes) as precedent.

    It's been a good while since I've read Herzfeld in earnest, and the only book I read in depth (as opposed to plundering for quotes) was
    "Anthropology Through the Looking-Glass: Critical Ethnography in the Margins of Europe". If you know the classic Paddy L-F Hellene/Romaios dichotomy, then it's that, filtered through anthropological theory.

    I knew a don who said that the first and last 300 words of any American ethnological monograph were eminently skippable (British Anth is resolutely empirical, the 1960s aside) but Herzfeld's Theory (with a capital T) is still worth reading.

    I hate to throw more names at you, but have you heard of Roger Just? I think you'd like him too. Possibly also Juliet Du Boulay, who my tutor was horribly sniffy about. Women can't do theory, apparently... (insert rolly-eyed emoticon).

  6. Sorry, yet another post...

    My BA tutor ( wrote a good book on the modern Greek family, but a better essay (pace Koliopoulos) on banditry in Greece.

    Is it wrong to see much of Greece's current economic trauma as partly derived from the emphasis on sheep thieves as national heroes?

    A good few years ago, I was treated to (too) many free ellinikos in a cafe near the new town hall in Corfu town, during the Stephen Saunders saga. The kafenion opinion was that he was 'a fair target.' There's a deeply anti-statist undercurent (no, current) in Greek life, which I think comes from Kleftic roots. Not from contemporary ballads or anything, but from the state ironically reifying anti-statist ideals in a country with possibly Europe's most ambiguous relationship with the state. But I digress, massively.

  7. Thanks so much for these references. Lots of pleasurable homework here. S


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Simon Baddeley