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Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Αλλά μη βιάζεις το ταξίδι διόλου...

'But do not rush the voyage in the least'
We've long enjoyed coming to Dog Rose Pool in winter, spring and in summer for picnics near the constant sound of water, paddling, sitting on grassy banks surrounded by wild flowers and heather and rounded lichened stones near the head of Strath Nairn, a natural amphitheatre made of gentle hills behind us and the panorama of the strath all the way to Farr to the north and the profile of Brin Rock, carved by ancient glaciers, in the middle distance.
Summer 1996
Today as yesterday with Sharon we eased my mother into her car and I drove slowly south via Dunlichity, past loch Clachan, loch Duntelchaig to the cross roads beyond loch Ashie, where on a whim we turned left towards Whitebridge, the Great Glen to our right invisible, skirting loch Ceoglais, travelling on the narrow roads in a circle back towards East Croachy where, looking for a place to walk the terriers, I turned up the gravel road that leads after a mile to a few isolated houses and a semi-derelict set of buildings near the headwaters of the Nairn.
Winter 1998
Rabbits scattered maddening the dogs as we drove up to broken houses and a collapsed caravan and stopped at a gated meadow with horses. I went to the shack where a Highland terrier sat peacefully on a low veranda. A man came to the door - friendly. "May we pass through your gates?" "Of course". I took the car a little way up the uncropped slope as deep into the long grass beyond the meadow and left my mother to gaze at the view and with the dogs ranging around me picked my way along and between the divided peaty streams that run down from higher up the Strath and mark the sound of the place as they tumble over boulders joining and separating narrow islands of grass and heather. After a few hundred yards I came to where we've often stopped and paddled, building dams of heavier stones to extend the natural pools. When Mum could walk she'd come here even in winter with me and Amy and Richard. I came after a while to the dog roses, two bushes, one a little smaller, but neither much changed in size or proportion since the children were small. I wandered around seeing no sheep nor birds, just the occasional fly. Too much breeze for midges. I went back, treading carefully between stones and streams and boggy patches, water seeping into my shoes and, for a moment missed the car, then saw where I'd left it in the greenery Mum now sleeping, sunk in her seat so the car seemed to be empty. "For a moment I thought you'd been kidnapped!" "Did you have a good walk? I glimpsed the dogs," "Isn't it just impossible to imagine how things were last winter. Can you remember just six months ago? All this covered in snow." *** *** Searching John's Corfu World - a blog I've long enjoyed - I find he's dug out this 1986 clip of the Youth Philharmonia playing on the bandstand on Corfu Town's Spianada. Κάθε λιμάνι και καημός - 'Every port and sorrow' 'Every port, every sorrow' (I suspect it's untranslatable) but I get the meaning.
* * * The government has persuaded truck drivers to end their week strike. The left will see the the union members' narrow majority to vote to end industrial action as a betrayal of socialism; the middle and right claims a victory for a PASOK government in their drive to end the professional monopoly of drivers - many of whom have invested house-price sums to acquire a limited pool of heavy goods vehicle licences. The government will now continue trying to open up the market for these licences, in the process devaluing the investment of existing drivers. Barnaby Phillips at Al-Jazeera on these events.
Greek strikes normally follow a certain pattern; a day or two of protests, a loud march to parliament, hurried government concessions, and everything goes back to normal. This time, however, the government has raised the stakes. It's passed an emergency order, which means that truck drivers who refuse to return to work could be arrested or lose their licenses. And it's said that the army and navy will be used to transport fuel to hospitals, airports and other "critical sectors". Why does this strike matter? Because it's become a key test of the government's willingness to pursue the reforms which it says will restore competitiveness to the Greek economy. Trucking is one of dozens of so-called "closed professions" in Greece. This means it's a profession that is virtually impossible for an outsider to enter. The holders of trucking licences belong to a lucrative closed-shop. Consequently, a licence is a valuable commodity, often traded informally between friends and family, and worth tens, or possibly even hundreds, of thousands of Euros...
Richard Pine has written in his Letter from Greece in The Irish Times 4 August '10 under the heading 'Which weighs more on the state - assassination or economics?' - a piece addressing 'moral and structural confusion', 'the vortex', 'massive social danger to this still-developing nation':
To accomplish a turnaround in Greek society – and its economy – depends not only on fiscal rectitude but also on a new understanding of what the Greek state means to the Greek people. Papandreou is faced with a dichotomy: which is more serious, the threat from terrorism (which steals lives in order to bring down the democratic state) or the kleptocracy (which allows the rich to get richer and the poor to get poorer)? If you want to maintain the fabric of the state, then that fabric must be durable and acceptable to the members of the state. No one – other than the terrorists themselves – would argue that the state is worthless, yet few would accept the present vortex as a sustainable society.In the middle, between the stabilisers and the terrorists, are the trade unions, which, quite understandably, are seeking the bes
t deal for their members. Few union leaders, other than the ideologically focused and well-positioned communists, can see the vortex for what it is: that, beyond the economic circumstances, there is a massive social danger to this still-developing nation.
The death of a journalist affects his wife and children (one, in Giolias’s case, as yet unborn), his colleagues at Thema Radio, and the whole media hinterland. Ten cent on a litre of petrol (currently €1.60-€1.80) and a hike in VAT from 19 to 23%, affect everyone. Which is the greater tragedy? Which story tells us more about the society in which we live? Thou shalt not kill. Thou shalt not put another 10% tax on a bottle of ouzo. Thou shalt not raise the retirement age.
Ironically, in the midst of all this moral and structural confusion, Dora Bakoyannis, one of Greece’s most able politicians (and Papandreou’s predecessor as foreign minister), who is critical of the innate clientelism of the Greek state, is forming a new party. It started with a “Forum for Greece”(forum για την Ελλάδα.....See also)...
23 July 2010 - From a bridge on the road to Fillipidi Konstanta - οδό Φιλλιπίδη με Κωνσταντά - near Volos on the Gulf of Pagastikos in Pelion, news of a debt-ridden truck driver's suicide by hanging:
...Η οικονομική κρίση χειροτέρεψε την κατάσταση και φέρεται να αδυνατούσε να ανταπεξέλθει στο βάρος των οικονομικών υποχρεώσεων, με το άνοιγμα των χρεών να ανοίγει διαρκώς και το μεροκάματο να περιορίζεται δραματικά...
On 'Communist views from Merseaside' - Dreaming Neon Black - blogger Adam Ford, comments on 6 August, including this:
This social tragedy claimed a victim in the days leading up to the strike, when a sixty-seven year old, debt-ridden trucker took his life, hanging himself on a bridge over a motorway. Indeed, the Greek suicide rate has nearly tripled this year, according to suicide helpline Klimaka.
Furthermore, confident in the knowledge that trade union bureaucracies will help them if disputes get out of hand, the Greek state must now turn its attentions to lawyers, notaries, pharmacists, architects, civil engineers and accountants, according to the EU/IMF prescription. If these groups are to have a chance of surviving the onslaught, they must break with the bureaucracy and reach out to working people around Greece and throughout Europe.
[13 Aug '10: Surge in Greek suicides?] I'm not a Communist, or indeed any other -ist. Karl Marx is often misquoted saying something similar, but anyone attempting to comment on the state of the human world; to understand the wave form of present social and economic change would be careless not to read one of the great prose piece of the 19th century - the essay by Marx and Engels called The Communist Manifesto. My stepfather, working in advertising in the early 1960s, handed me the notorious pamphlet - the English edition of 1888 - republished again and again. "A spectre is haunting Europe..What a piece of copyrighting's there!" he remarked.
The bourgeoisie, wherever it has got the upper hand, has put an end to all feudal, patriarchal, idyllic relations. It has pitilessly torn asunder the motley feudal ties that bound man to his "natural superiors," and has left remaining no other nexus between man and man than naked self-interest, than callous "cash payment." It has drowned the most heavenly ecstasies of religious fervour, of chivalrous enthusiasm, of philistine sentimentalism, in the icy water of egotistical calculation. It has resolved personal worth into exchange value. And in place of the numberless and feasible chartered freedoms, has set up that single, unconscionable freedom - Free Trade. In one word, for exploitation, veiled by religious and political illusions, naked, shameless, direct, brutal exploitation.
The bourgeoisie has stripped of its halo every occupation hitherto honoured and looked up to with reverent awe. It has converted the physician, the lawyer, the priest, the poet, the man of science, into its paid wage labourers.
The bourgeoisie has torn away from the family its sentimental veil, and has reduced the family relation to a mere money relation.
The bourgeoisie has disclosed how it came to pass that the brutal display of vigour in the Middle Ages, which Reactionists so much admire, found its fitting complement in the most slothful indolence. It has been the first to show what man's activity can bring about. It has accomplished wonders far surpassing Egyptian pyramids, Roman aqueducts, and Gothic cathedrals; it has conducted expeditions that put in the shade all former Exoduses of nations and crusades.
The bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionizing the instruments of production, and thereby the relations of production, and with them the whole relations of society. Conservation of the old modes of production in unaltered form, was, on the contrary, the first condition of existence for all earlier industrial classes. Constant revolutionising of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones. All fixed, fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses, his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind.
The need of a constantly expanding market for its products chases the bourgeoisie over the whole surface of the globe. It must nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, establish connexions everywhere...
The Communist Manifesto, published in 1948's year of European revolutions, has the vigour, momentum and analytic rigour - comprehensively rebutted, so I thought, by one of my undergraduate lecturers - when I was at Cambridge long ago ("Why did the 1917 revolution end up in Russia where capitalism was still at a primitive stage rather than in the USA where it had evolved into the economic driver of the world?") - of Dostoyevsky, Dickens, Tolstoy, and certainly Henry Mayhew, who's 1851 map of the state of London's poor presented the evidence that nearly a century later inspired the Beveridge Report, which argued the case for social insurance and, in November 1942 eight months after I was born amid world war, laid one of the foundation stones of Britain's welfare state - 'the object of government in peace and in war is not the glory of rulers or of races, but the happiness of common man' and the object of the state is to provide a standard of living 'below which no one should be allowed to fall' recommending ways of fighting the five 'Giant Evils' of 'Want, Disease, Ignorance, Squalor and Idleness.'
For some reason the 'spectre' that's stuck in my mind is not Marx and Engel's 'communism' (incidentally I read somewhere that the 'spectre' phrase was neither Friedrich's - I remember the spelling by thinking of 'fried rich' - nor Karl's but Jenny von Westphalen's, to whom he was married) but the relentless diffusion of embourgeoisment they describe at the start of their famous essay.
All fixed, fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned...
The constant sound of water

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Simon Baddeley