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Saturday, 14 May 2011

Back in the Midlands

police procedural in transit limbo
Sunrise at Hanley
We flew easily enough from Kapodistria to Manchester, waited four hours in transit limbo until our coach arrived. We were in Birmingham by 7.00am this morning, chilled. I've been going through mail and planning errands, making lists, starting with mowing lawns front and back.
Back in Birmingham
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I'm intrigued by a story in the press about Athenians returning to villages - not just for Easter and other special events, but more permanently. It's easy to be sentimental about villages - but people can get over-enthusiastic about cities. For generations the city has been where people made their fortune,  associated it with escape from parochialism and deprivation.
My family has not made a living from the land since before the beginning of the industrial revolution over 200 years ago. That is the extent of my engrained urbanisation. For the last 100 years we have watched the slow death of villages, especially the small largely self-sufficient rural settlement. (See Geert Mak's An Island in Time about the decline of a Friesian village). By and large that's been a good thing. The life of villages is too often bathed in the golden fog of nostalgia for an idea of community - bucolic Arcadias.
At the same time we see the world no longer even slightly balanced between rural and urban; almost wholly metropolitan. Doesn't over 80% of the Hellenic population now live in Athens or Thessaloniki and isn't it in cities across the world that the Greek diaspora has thrived? I believe that in the UK - a proportion repeated across much of Europe, certainly Australasia - only a tiny percentage - about 4% - make a living from a countryside now serving as a site for highly mechanised farming, land so drenched in artificial nutrients that its crops might as well be cultivated hydroponically, while cattle are drugged units serviced in boxes leaving the countryside as a large park for people who live in cities where the better-off can enjoy second homes. Could this report of reverse migration hint at a sea-change? One that has been presaged...
“When all the trees have been cut down, when all the animals have been hunted, when all the waters are polluted, when all the air is unsafe to breathe, only then will you discover you cannot eat money.”
...longed for by a minority of innovative thinkers, certainly not shared by the majority and an idea that would depress many of the younger people who feel as stuck in their villages as many ghetto dwellers feel stuck in their 'hood.
I've just across a blog by Eugenia from Preveza and originally from Skiadas in Epirus, but now in the Bay Area, California, a brain-worker like so many diaspora Greeks. She's picked up on a piece in The Guardian by Helena Smith who regularly reports for the paper from Athens.  I commented on Eugenia's blog:
Crises in the countryside forced thousands across the world into urban poverty as well as creating the cosmopolitan life of cities. Good and bad as usual. Another crisis may repopulate a thousand dying and dead villages across the world. Is this a disaster-driven flight from the city, containing the potential for making a multiplicity of small sustainable settlements linked by the web allowing the creation and maintenance even among dispersed small settlements of the business, culture and civility hitherto regarded as unique to the metropolis. To survive in villages will require a level of social cohesion self-help and survival skills that will place great demands on skill, ingenuity and courage. I think it is possible to be an island without becoming insular, but there will be a great demand for talented craftsmanship, social competence and political integrity. You have said this already, so thanks for seeing opportunity where others see crisis, a new future rather than an escape to an outmoded past. The new villages will not be like the old villages riven by superstition, injustice, feuding, gossip and poverty. This is a return to the future.
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My son has made this exquisite sketch of our garden in Handsworth, capturing the sounds of the city - close to and further away.

1 comment:

  1. Welcome back to rural Handsworth, heard comedian Don Maclean last night describing it as such.Have had my marching orders from Victoria & Jubilee so no fresh veg for our table this year.I think we have an island mentality developing here now in Birmingham in more senses than one............


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Simon Baddeley