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Monday, 8 November 2010


South Island, New Zealand
Sunday: From Base Brisbane - a backpackers' hotel opposite Central Station in Brisbane costing A$70 for a double with baths (note: hot water is a problem on the second floor) and WC down the corridor and a steak and beer supper the night before for A$10 each, we caught the efficient Airtrain to the International Airport - under A$30 each return, and without fuss were on a flight over the Tasman Sea - what locals call 'the Ditch' - over South Island, New Zealand, to Dunedin, Les at the Pacific Blue check-in kindly getting us seats by an exit for the extra legroom we cherish. The flight was easy, no frills, pay for your snacks - then after three and a bit hours we were over the mountains of Otago descending to Dunedin, where Val awaited us under a grey sky.
It was chilly, as though we'd flown into the Highlands in June, with similar landscape. So here we were in New Zealand - a place I'd never thought I'd actually see, let alone where I'd find myself - 11000 miles from England - invited to lead a one day seminar in a few days. Once home in Dunedin - 23 kilometres from the airport - Val took us into her warm home at the end of a cul de sac above the city. A log stove was burning merrily. She'd given us her bedroom. We'd enough light to stroll around a garden that mixed familiar British plants with more exotic. Amid the colour and greenery, even the weeds were familiar - couch grass, the tenacious invader and the beautiful nomad dandelion - envy of respectable flowers for its irredeemable wildness.
Some British gardeners struggle to achieve this ambience of timeless relaxed inattention and I've never seen it on a TV gardening programme. Cobwebs are allowed, moss approved, lichen welcome. In the back was a dry stone wall, random bluebells, small fragrant roses, a mossy edged lawn sprinkled with daisies, a little pond, a big old garden shed, a greenhouse with untidy shelves and a kitchen garden needing a few more vegetables, a hedge with an archway leading to a small jumbled patch for compost with a wooden gate that might or might not open onto another tree lined street - a rich patch of England on the other side of the world, and our washing hung out in the sun. Across the horizon, above the low buildings of Dunedin, lay the hazy South Pacific and, to the north west, steep green pastures edged by the bright yellow of gorse in spring, topped by a roll of white cloud beneath the blue. We could hear Blackbirds, "but" said Val "if you hear snuffling late at night that's Possums." In the same house is Val's son Laurence, who helped get my laptop working on the WiFi and on our first morning was coaxing the garden. Steak and sauté potatoes and Greek salad for supper, then early to bed with "no hurry in the morning," so read myself to drowsiness with The Bridge over the Drina - a book about a real bridge in Bosnia Herzgovina that I don't want to end I'm enjoying it so much. In his introduction William McNeill writes
no better introduction to the study of Balkan and Ottoman history exists...with humour and compassion Andrić chronicles the lives of Catholics, Moslems and Orthodox Christians unable to reconcile their disparate loyalties.
Monday morning the wind was still chill but the sky clear but for the long white cloud on the high ground above. The house sits in a slight dip, shielded from the chilly breeze so we could enjoy the warmth of Val's front garden.
"The Maori call this place Aotearoa - The Land of the Long White Cloud" said Val. Later she said with a wry smile "Some call it the land of Wrong White Crowd." I suspect that's an old one - but important for me to strive to understand.
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From Chris on the plot next to ours on the Victoria Jubilee Allotments:
Hi Simon. Sounds like you need to be heading nearer to the equator! I will try and have a look at lifting a couple of your plants and give you a report on how they have grown. I got some very small "salad" potatoes (very expensive in supermarkets) but the bigger ones seemed to have started to rot; of course my crop was not from seed potatoes but just left overs, so was a bonus realy. I have very much slowed down with the work on trees and hedge pruning before spring; and finally putting the roof properly on the shed. All this and a general tidy up and putting weed control sheets in the strawberry beds will have to be done in the next few weeks as I will be off for my 3 mouth winter escape in Jan. The weather here has been good but turning to rain and colder this week Hopefully arrange a get together for a morning or afternoon tidy and sorting out world politics after your return in Dec. Happy traveling till then. Yours Chris
From Scylla Parkyn, our Hon.Sec.:
Hello Simon, thank-you for your email. I have spoken to one of the park rangers and he said that we are still in line for some leaves, although we haven't quite established where the Allotments they could drop them off ( I did suggest that maybe they could put them on their own plot in the corner for the time being, which they agreed might be an idea, as nothing is being done on it at present, and that they would look into it. The next Allotment meeting will be on 20th November at 11.00am in the Meeting Room. If you can make it perhaps you would like to raise the issue about the bee keeping, especially as you are also allergic to bee stings yet would not object to a beehive on the allotment. I'm sure your offer of giving a talk on how to use a scythe would be welcomed  (in any case,  there's been no sign of a communal rotavator or strimmer appearing). Delith at no 10 had a little 'shed warming' tea party the other day (a few pictures were taken, if you would like one to add to your documentation), while we have managed to find a rather palatial recycled summerhouse/shed affair which is also now up opposite. With best wishes, Scylla 
Dear Scylla. Thanks for your reply. I won't be home until 6 December, but if you think it appropriate do mention this email exchange and say that I fully appreciate the apprehensions of anyone who has a fear that something as apparently minor as a bee-sting (they don't hurt even a quarter as much as a stubbed toe!) could end up causing an allergic reaction so severe as to be fatal. When younger I was stung by both bees and wasps - no where near a hive in the case of the bees, though I was by a nest in the case of the wasps. I had a strong and quite alarming reaction that was cured - luckily - at a nearby medical centre (of which we have several in Handsworth). The nurse saw me about half an hour after the stings and gave me an adrenaline jab for anaphylactic shock and said "It's lucky you got to us when you did." Since then I carry the kit that at the time only a nurse or doctor could provide. These remedies are easily obtainable and for the last thirty years I've had no worries. I was stung by a wasp a month ago. Quite painful but actually no need for treatment because I had no reaction beyond the smart of the sting. I regard my allergy as my responsibility and have equipped myself accordingly (check with local GP!). Bees are essential for the pollination and reproduction of the things we grow on our allotments and gardens and I would be very keen to see beehives in the hands of qualified apiarists on the Victoria Jubilee Allotments - if need be on a plot next to ours or anywhere fellow plotholders consider them welcome. Bees are having a hard time at the moment from various diseases and we need to encourage their husbandry, apart from valuing their role in helping us with growing things. There's an immense amount of advice on the web about beekeeping on urban allotments which includes guidance on how to avoid causing harm to other plotholders or their families. Avoiding apprehension is another thing requiring education, reassurance and respect for safety measures recommended by professional beekeepers. I hope very much that common-sense will prevail on this matter, or we'll end up cutting off our noses to spite our faces, which is a bit silly. Bees and wasps can sting you anywhere and at any time whether on allotment, or at home, in your garden or indoors even or in a car - supposedly safe from all insects. (Some advice on stings including allergic reactions). Part of our problem on the VJA is that shortly after our site was opened in June this year, one of the allotment liaison officers seems to have settled an issue between a beekeeper and another plot-holder, fearful of allergic reaction to stings, in favour of the latter. This has set a local precedent that needs to be debated and I very much hope reconsidered. (My abject apologies to the parties involved if I've over-simplified this incident or just got the wrong end of the stick.) BTW I look forward very much to following Delith's example and having a 'shed-warming' party later in the year or New Year. But first we must get the shed put up. Best  Simon
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George Papandreou feels sufficiently pleased with the support shown for his party PASOK in the Hellenic regional and local elections held on Sunday to delay calling a General Election to test support for his government's economic policies. It's typical that a central government uses local elections as a litmus test of its own popularity - especially now - but of course what we're c,urious about are the actual local results of elections to the new councils created by the Kallicrates Plan for the re-organisation of local and regional government across Greece, especially those for the new Municipality of Corfu - Δήμος Κερκυραίων - an amalgamation of the island's thirteen previous local councils. (see my earlier note on local government re-organisation in Corfu in a May 2010 blog). A more pessimistic take on the local polls comes from Costas Douzinas and Petros Papaconstantinou:
...In a country where the turnout is usually up to 80%, some 45% of the electorate abstained and another 10% spoilt their ballots. Pasok received approximately 34% of the vote, the opposition New Democracy 32% and the Communists 11%. The three radical left parties that had not managed to field common candidates polled about 12%. If the wider left had created a united front against the measures, it would have emerged as the hegemonic bloc confronting the neoliberal logic of the ruling elites. In view of these results, Papandreou, looking gaunt and exhausted, announced that he will not call an election but continue with the implementation of these measures...
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Our dear friend Danica in Belgrade who I last saw in Oxford in the northern hemisphere summer has just lost everything from her hard drive - 'tabula rasa' as she writes on Facebook and on her blog - Digital Seredipities.
simon, i am in huge shock and grief.
i lost application im preparing for Harvard to send in 4 days
i have to write mission statement agaain
and research proposal
and to translate one of my works from Serbian to English
all in 4 days.
im installing programs now.
money doesn't matter
i paid for new hard disc
what matters is data
i will write now post on digital serendipities about this experience
and even more about support of humans and friendships
this seems good test to know who are really my friends and who not.
thank you for being my friend.
much love to lin and you
I know the feeling. These 'little' crises are sent to test us - remember Newton's thesis, eaten by a dog or did the maid use it to light a fire or was that someone else who lost all their work in the same grievous way? (What actually may have happened) I keep three external hard drives, one left at home, and two which travel in separate cases, plus I've a flash drive for ID stuff hung round my neck, and documents, images, film and sound left in the 'cloud' - e.g. Google-docs, Flickr, Soundcloud,Vimeo and Youtube - with links via this blog. Loss of a hard disk is still vexing but think of the 24/7 work we ask of these things! In a vain attempt at consolation I sent D this page from Dog with the Blog
** ** **
In a connected world I'm interested in any perspective on the incomprehensible world of economics. This piece in the Otago Daily Times (8 Nov '10) by Peter Lyons, an economist at St.Peter's College in Epsom, NZ I found quite helpful - if for nothing else than that he admits there are no easy answers:
...The United States, Japan and the United Kingdom are abandoning monetarist orthodoxy. Their central banks are pumping money into their economies with the aim of stimulating demand and driving down their exchange rates. This aims to increase the competitiveness of their exports. As the New Zealand dollar increases in value against these currencies it makes our exports less competitive on world markets.  Export-led growth was meant to be our saviour but this may be denied to us by the beggar-thy-neighbour polices of other countries. Further decrease in effective demand in New Zealand will lead to rising unemployment which could spill over into the housing market. If significant declines in house prices occur, this could create a negative wealth effect. As people feel less wealthy they cut back spending, leading to a nasty deflationary spiral. This is what other countries are desperately trying to avoid. There are no easy answers but we need to look seriously at our use of monetarist policy through the Reserve Bank. It is a debate that is long overdue. Our economy is not out of the woods by a long shot. These are strange times as countries seek to extricate themselves from the debt quagmire left by decades of monetarism....
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Andrew Coulson shared some thoughts by email about our Prime Minister's vision of the Big Society from which I extracted this::
...The idea of the Big Society is to recreate civil society, to turn back the clock to a life when we lived a few miles from the rest of our families, worked in the same place, shopped in the same place, went to pub or church in the same place, etc – i.e. a pre-motor car society. But it is also presented as a way of having a reduced state – i.e. civil society structures take over from what the welfare state does now. Politically this is very clever, as it means it can appeal to the right (smaller state) and to the left (mutualism and communitarianism), not only within the Conservative Party but more widely. But as a piece of political ideology the BS is in danger of complete meltdown. Cameron could not get a cheer for it at the Conservative Party Conference. I think that is because most Conservatives know that if the voluntary sector bodies they are involved in are to prosper they need constructive relationships, and often resources, from the state. They also know that they will be unequal – easy in villages and among retired people, much harder in cities and 30-somethings with young families trying to hold down jobs. So they neither believe that a top-down initiative can add much to what they are already doing, nor that it can replace the state in (say) crime fighting or care for the elderly...
My reply (extract):
As one involved in local community activity most of my adult life the impulse comes from advice given me ages and ages ago by my step-father who said two things of especial importance about political involvement and engagement to me when I was about 16. They must have been important or I wouldn’t recall them so clearly. The first was “You can get almost anything done if you don’t mind not taking credit for it.” (My Dad added to this also with a remark about how rewarding it was to have planted an idea and see other’s claiming ownership of it and pursuing it with enthusiasm.) I am sure JDS has ever approached the world in this spirit. The second observation was that trying to make anything happen in a democracy is like wading through thick treacle. ‘There are so many others trying to influence the same decision-making bodies that you will only achieve your goals by wading faster and more persistently and occasionly joining up with others who’s hopes and desires you share. The result of this is that I've never had any doubts about the role of perseverance and the patient courage demanded by political engagement. Few of the projects that have mattered to me (parks, allotments, green spaces in cities, transport transformation) have involved under 20 years and many of these continue messy and fragile and incomplete (e.g. The ending of autodependency (:)))  I have always consoled myself without using it as an excuse to be less resolved that none of my political heroes ever lived to see their dreams realised. Wilberforce never saw the ending of slavery, only our declaration of its illegality. Many of the most stalwart campaigners for women’s suffrage never themselves lived to gain the vote. Martin Luther King’s dream...and so on. I’m sure this applies to those who campaign against the predatory lobbying of big pharma that you mention. David and Goliath has always been an appealing image learned in childhood classes. The summarising maxim for me is not ‘don’t let the bastards grind you down’ (tho’ I like that phrase) but ‘you are always losing until you win.’ Until people can be persuaded to take on games that they seem to be losing over most of their adult lives I don’t see how government can hope to rely on dreams of ‘civic engagement’. Being poor is just such a losing game, so asking such people whose achievements revolve around daily and weekly survival to do yet more is bizarre. Best, Simon (in Dunedin, NZ) (See Stuart Weir on 'sham' localism)
Linda looks over the Pacific 

1 comment:

  1. Wonderful post! Travel writing has this magic spell of transforming readers to far away lands...and your words definitely helped made the voyage worthy!


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Simon Baddeley