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Saturday, 7 May 2011

On such a day as this

Round about now – before we go to England for fourteen weeks with the various tasks awaiting there – I start to preen my pinions for departure, thinking of pleasant things to compensate for the hurt of leaving the village. Seeing our children, being reunited with Oscar dog, getting to work on the allotment, cycling again (I could do it here but the time hasn’t seemed right), working on Central Handsworth Practical Care Project - next meeting 19 May - with Edmund and the others involved, rejoining the Friends of Black Patch Park, going to the Highlands, walking there and making more films of my mother’s memories, continuing the project to find more of my stepfather’s programmes, tending the garden in Handsworth….watching the days pass until our return to dear Ano Korakiana looms closer.
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I call my construction a 'Zorba table' with no slur on Hellenic joinery - which we recognise as second to none - but because this convergence of an old set of table legs we found deep in nettles and abandoned floor planks amid greenery below our garden, imitates Z’s enthusiasm for impulsive imperfect contrivance as well as being a souvenir of the a fine day, the only sunny day in an April fortnight fourteen years ago, when we enjoyed a picnic by the sea in Crete. It was in a location that had recognisably - for anyone who'd seen the film - been used by Cacoyannis and now overflowed with eponymous tributes – Zorba’s Hotel, Zorba’s Taverna, Zorba’s taxis, Zorba’s whatever. At that time of the year we had the shore to ourselves and found to our delight a sunburnt shack with a rickety veranda on which stood a whitened table rimed with sea salt and a set of chairs similarly aged and there, under a cloudless sky and a chilly sea sparkling on the pebble beach still littered with last year’s plastic waste Linda, myself and my mum enjoyed cheese, bread, olives, tomatoes (with salt) and, retsina (fake of course but with a hint of the old resin).
“Put your table where we need it in the garden” said Lin “Let the summer sun go to work on it.”
It's strange to think that in a few weeks I'll be off to the Highlands to distress a vanload of new Barbour jackets being paid a generous fee to hang them on local barbed wire fences where they can be elbowed by Highland cattle, beaten with birch twigs, bombarded with sheep dung and genuine Scottish mud, trailed through the braes, steeped in peaty water, left in the game larder with some well hung game from 12 August on, so that by next winter they can be worn with pride by families collecting their children from schools between Highgate, Blackheath and Kew.
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This morning the weather’s jocund. A brisk warm wind has the sea bustling with white tops, slamming unattended doors, rattling shutters, jostling our washing as we hung it out to dry.
“My knickers only need one peg, yours need two”
“I have pants
“Same difference”
“No way. What’s sexier? Off with your pants, or off with your knickers?”
“Take off your kecks?”
“Your kecks?”
“That’s a northern word”
“Hm. I like it”
Contented as we are on shore, it would be a joy, on such a day as this, to set sail for a day enjoying a steady breeze, seeing the passing coast as we head for a place to eat, a shoreside taverna or a cove to picnic and swim, but we’ve neglected our boat Summersong; lost our enthusiasm for sailing her. I who prided myself on my seamanship, who once sailed smaller boats across oceans alone and with a crew, have grown older, more nervous of the sea than when I’d set out on my open 17 foot gaff cutter to explore the Solent. Lin, whose sailed with me here and, shortly after we met in the early 70s down the unfriendly north Devon coast to the Channel Islands, during a summer of gales and in swells that hid a fishing boat a hundred yards away, is less confident of my competence now than she was. I’m loth to delegate any responsibility for this sad circumstance to Summersong, a 27” sloop boat that’s brought such happy adventures to its previous owners – Norman and Pauline who’d spent a decade coast-hopping her from Spain to Greece and beyond - and which after we’d bought her impulsively on eBay, brought us here to live, to make new friends and know new and lovely places. A bad carpenter and so on. Summersong is a safe sturdy boat but she’s not in an ideal condition to be taken out on a tideless sea subject to calms, zephyrs and local squalls – her rig, though in good repair and renewed, not handy for swift reefing, her engine untrustworthy. Engines and I have not been friends on sailboats. I prefer to sail from mooring to mooring, wait for a breeze, lie to or run before strong weather, but my age, the need to moor stern or bow to, the long calms and the need when short waves blow up to motorsail to get home before nightfall on a day out with friends, makes a stronger more reliable engine than then the rusty old 9hp Yanmar in Summersong essential. Apart from being difficult to start, the engine’s so old now, she probably delivers under 5hp.
I mentioned this to Mark. He said “Why not let Ollie have a look?” and arranged for his friend and workmate to look at Summersong at her mooring.
I was a little shamed to have Ollie see our old boat in the condition she's in after we've left her unsailed for a year, but here he was, standing on our cabin sole, assessing prospects. Lin and I waited for a verdict – he being an Australian navy trained marine engineer working for one of the finest-run yacht charter businesses in Greece. It came – modestly presented – as music. Something could be done, given hull, sails and rigging were in good repair; not at once, as until winter O was totally preoccupied with his work. "This engine's seen it's best days"  We needed a new one - or a good second hand one - in the region of 16 to 18 hp. He’d install it, replace the stern gland and tidy up its electrics. He suggested we buy engine and spares in UK, possibly on ebay; have them shipped here; a Volvo Penta MD2020 or a Yanmar 2YM16
"There are easily available spares around here for both of those"
“So what’d this all cost…and what can we do and what can you do?”
O mentioned a rough figure. I looked to Lin. She nodded.
“How long would it take?”
“The whole job could be done in a day and a half.”
“Blimey!” Kerkyra kelpies at bay, we could have a serviceable Summersong by next spring.
Along the edge of Corfu’s five kilometers of dual carriageway between a large T-junction at Tzavros and the city lies the linear concretion that almost invariably gathers along big roads for motorized traffic making it difficult to identify places along the coast with which we’ve now become familiar.  The visitor, in the season, leaving the city to head up the east coast of the island, is treated, often amid hurrying trucks, coaches and cars, to a magnificent vista of mountainous Epirus and the edge of more precipitous Albania – peaks whitecapped into April. Between the mainland and the island lies the sea of Kerkyra, broadening to the south where even on clear days the mainland disappears into hazy distance, narrowing to the Corfu Channel to the north, where hardly a mile of water separates the two – the foreign shore almost treeless, rising bare and scrubby with few buildings, the other sprouting houses vying for the view amid thick groves of olives and clusters of tall cypress trees, the spinach green of Corfu, subject for a philippic against bad building and corrupt planning.
Along this shore – sometimes nicknamed Corfu's 'Kensington' for its wealthy and English reputation, it is possible, when sailing, to detect the unfortunate aesthetic effects, not of over-popularity which is utterly understandable, but of ill-judged architecture. The green complexion of Corfu, like so much of the Mediterranean littoral, is the victim of an infection, often not visible from the shore, especially from the terraces that afford such coveted views. From the sea it is possible, as did Gulliver on the delicate skins of Brobdingnagian royalty, to see budding wens, pustulant cysts. The rocky land, which once grew olives, extrudes concrete, attached to scarred escarpments as new tracks for cars rip zig-zag amid wrenched olive trunks, and pretentious new walls encroach upon ancient rights of way. The ass that carried olives is replaced by the tracked hydraulic digger. These are not the finely wrought mansions and outhouses of the signorini – houses that long ago created their own genius loci, but like the homes of the nobles amid their estates they are built isolated from villages, in which people who want to enjoy Corfu, could find a hundred lovely houses but which in the minds of those who encroach on the islands greenery present insufficient opportunity for display, the parking of many cars and the digging of swimming pools – yes water-appropriating swimming pools on the sea girt gem of Corfu (Alan Barratt several years ago applied his inventiveness to finding a substitute for these chemically made baths that would allow a rich home to enjoy its own clear water). These suppurating Lopachkin constructions coarsen the landscape of Corfu as once its signorini exploited the island’s peasantry.  Callousness towards people becomes callousness toward land. These injustices are not separate. Memories, conscious and unconscious, of inferiority, humiliation and poverty inform the aspiration of new builders, who unable to do what the signorini could do by way of dominating their ancestors, have determined instead to dominate the rural landscape, gradually, but remorselessly, turning it into a tree lined suburb of isolated mountebank mansions owned by absentees.
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I don’t need to be reminded that ugly buildings don’t make ugly people - there's no connection. I’m from Birmingham for goodness sake. At Kontokali, where it blends with Gouvia there’s an unpromising peninsular of newish building between the old road that once connected separate villages, and the short motorway out of the city.
Here at number 24 on The National Road of Paleokastritsa, has been since this January, The Lighthouse, Ο Φάρος, a new community centre, its undistinguished front on the main road across from a Mercedes showroom, and its back on the old road. It’s financed and managed by the Greek Evangelical Church of Corfu, Πνευματικό Κέντρο, Ελληνυκής Εναγγελικής Εκκλησίας Κέρκυρας   –  Carol Murphy would nowadays be described - probably not her preference - by that superflous compound, an ‘active citizen’. Among many other things she organizes table top sales at weekends which is how we’ve been coming across her since arriving in Corfu. She told us of The Lighthouse.
Carol Murphy at The Lighthouse
The other Saturday we visited a bazaar there. The church and its congregation including Carol have initiated an impressive new facility – providing open house to all faiths and – as Carol said “no faith too. All welcome.”  On two spacious floors the place is open mornings and afternoons all week except Sunday and Monday, with evenings reserved for events, which the Pastor, Miltiades Pantelios, Μιλτιάδες Παντελιός, told me would make the place self-financing.
Pastor Miltiades Pantelios
There’s a lecture room with audio-visuals which can also be a function room for exhibitions, meetings, seminars, parties and weddings. There’s a well furnished drop-in space with comfortable chairs, sofas and tables with WiFi and computer consoles with games, table tennis, a music player and children’s library with a serving area for coffee, tea, orange drinks and light snacks. There’s also a secure space for young parents and their children with a play area monitored with CCTV. We liked the filter coffee there, the lack of blaring musak allowing us to make phone calls and do our email and sit and chat with Carol and briefly with the Pastor. It’s a good place and these are pleasant good people with an especial concern for young people who may be at a loose end or indeed anyone seeking succour in this busy fragmented world. I hadn’t realised that the Greek Evangelic Church had been around so long, the first founded in Athens in 1858. The Corfu Ministry was started nearly 80 years ago by women. Under the leadership of John Boukis it grew and spread believing in the Nicene Creed but with no allegiances that maintain the old filioque disagreement that has so long separated Latin and Greek Christians welcoming all who are tired, disappointed and scared. The Pastor told me of the Church where he holds regular services at 1100 on Sundays in the city at 3 lakavou Polila Street near the seafront of Garitsa Bay, services in Greek with simultaneous translation.
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So the UK referendum on Alternative Voting has ended with a continued preference for the existing First-past-the-post system. Results. And see via Corfu Blues what Bagehot has to say.

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Simon Baddeley