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Saturday, 17 September 2011

Invisible and incalculable

From England our daughter Amy emails us a picture
With exception of a few brief spatters, there has been no rain on Corfu since May. The weather has become slightly debilitating, making leaves and people droop. But the evenings are growing cooler, though still marked by the sounds of families in conversation from windows, balconies, front gardens. Cinta had phoned Lin to offer some paint that would otherwise be thrown out. We went round to her’s and Paul’s house after dusk.
“The knock on effect” said Paul as we sat on their terrace surveying a twinkling panorama from Trompetta above us past to coastal Sayada 15 kilometres away on the mainland back to the brighter cluster marking Corfu Town due south “is that there’s a dearth of insects and so far fewer migratory birds stopping by. Food is scarce. The Scops Owls aren’t here.”
Their mournful bell-like “don” is a night sound in Corfu. Cinta made me mug of tea, a coke for Lin and snacky things cheese and biscuits, crisps and a treat – smoked salmon on melba toast.
“And there’ve been some bad fires. We saw the effects of that three day fire blew over the northern slopes of Pantocrator above Palia Perithia” I said and after a pause, “What of the economy?"
“I was coming home the other day on the road into the village from Kato and I saw a woman and her child sat on a blanket on the edge of the road. Sign of the times”
We discussed the growing apprehension further north among the owners of detached villas.
“In England I guess we’d be seeing signs of Neighbourhood Watch
“Trouble is it’s near impossible to attract the interest of the police. They are already so understaffed...” There’d been moves to start vigilanti groups
“…god help us. Can’t you see it with so many gun-owners. Get an alarm. Turn up mob handed. Shoot the maid.”
Recently a senior British politician on holiday had walked in on a break-in. They’d cleared off but the fall-out probably involving phone messages between London and Athens raised the threat of a gang targeting a foreign VIP’s family. It had brought the Greek equivalent of the SAS to the island. Work is getting scarcer and this divides Greek and foreign workers including Brits.
“We know a plumber. Did a good job on our house” I said “Bumped into Lin in Sally’s in Ipsos and said ‘there’s no work’. He’s thinking of going home after working here 27 years.”
“We find” said Paul “That where once an estimate would be approved on trust, clients check everything looking for savings.”
We hovered over the riots in England but there was little to add to what’s been said. Humans don’t fit the rules that can be inferred from sociology. They do odd things. Sometimes others copy them. The state of the economy’s a factor, but it could have happened without that. We try filling in dots with subjective analyses, but the narratives are as various as those for an individual. "Who wrote these knees?" said Spike Milligan. Who wrote these riots.
“I will preserve with many the memory of a bereaved father saying “Go home lads. Go home”. He did something Tolstoy would recognise - an act that changed the direction of things and which will mark the event in history above the social analyses.
A great gibbous moon came up over the shoulder of the dark mountains behind us, glittering on the sea. “We sort of found a beach to ourselves yesterday afternoon” I said “but it was tricky, working our way along a dirt road near Dassia through dry vegetation and high trees until we came upon a concrete structure, an unfinished derelict embedded in bamboos in the shape of a semi-circle, perhaps planned as beachside apartments with a mouldy white truck parked outside, various bits of rusting dusty equipment and on the equally bare second floor a smashed up car. How did it get up there? If we were in the Appalachian this is a cue for a fleeting glimpse of something lurking trailing its knuckles along the ground.
‘You stay here’ I told Lin ‘I’ll go and look around’.” We giggled. “Anyway Lin strolled on ahead with the picnic and I parked the car in one of the bays of the structure where it was a little cooler. A few minutes later having trailed her through a crushed bamboo path I found Lin sitting on an empty stretch of shore. OK it was crisscrossed with the tyretracks of beach buggies and there was the detritus that’s always – left or washed up – on tideless Mediterranean beaches, plastic bottles, cans, sweet wrappers, and off shore the regular sound of internal combustion engines – cars and motorbikes on water - but we enjoyed a swim in almost clear lukewarm water, then a picnic and a book to read while sipping chilled wine, then lying in the heat hearing the lap of the sea until after an hour a man appeared behind us and cried ‘No your car here’. We packed and headed home.” “I like the idea of imagining being all the horror films we’ve seen and not seen” said Cinta, but we agreed we’d come across a local farmer who’d savoured a big idea until the bank backed out. Down in the dark we heard a Scops owl. “They’ve not all gone away.” But even I could see that far beyond the vagaries of the weather which may or - as some believe so determinedly - may not be affected by our species’ way of extracting energy from the earth, that the sea in which I’d bathed wasn’t right. The devil’s in the detail. The overgrowth of slightly slimey underwater mould that coats the stones on the seabed, the imperfect clarity of water in which nothing inhuman swam, where I saw a few sea urchins small, stunted even. 15 years ago I was taken by someone rich to a more or less peopleless island where we and other’s in the family picnic’d under large parasols on a long clean beach unapproachable by road, but when I borrowed a snorkel and goggles it seemed to me the sea floor was without life even there – grey, brown and sparsely populated by a few small fish the floor even here littered with mould veneered remains of objects thrown from visiting yachts. My cousin shrugged despairingly “It’s men, The sea here is finished.” We’d swam and played with our children in his large pool in the woods in the remains of the coveted woods on the edge of Athens from where we could see in the distance not just heat haze but the summer fires set by mistake on purpose to gain property in the same places we were already enjoying. The better off see these things but being mostly civilized, aware of their access to more exclusive goods, will only speak in whispers - if at all about excessive numbers and the pollution and poverty that drives others to predation different, less effective but uncannily equivalent, to the mind of anyone with an education, to their own more effective narrative. So they retreat yet deeper into enclaves, building walls – literal and mental. The swimming pools of the rich, beside which one may lie in relaxed comfort reading and talking in the happy company of friends and family, are made nice by chemical stewardship, constant attention, cleaning, filtering the sun oil and other dregs of pleasure into a sea that looks exquisite from the indistinct perspective of a poolside lounger ‘colour it perfect blue that perfect sea that stretches over my peripheral vision to hazy blue perfect mountains under this perfect sky’; put it on a postcard or ‘an attached image’ home. Into it - invisible but to those who wade and swim on the shore – we allow the waste water of our lovely pool to drain. It passes down pipes, disappears even into seepage, but reappears as a smooth membraned efflorescence reminiscent of a failed embryo laced with small items of debris trailing the rocky shores of that perfect sea - the lymphy mess of something that might once have been alive. It sometimes astonishes me how much happiness I can feel even as I see daily evidence of my species’ dire impress on its surroundings. It’s a sort of intoxicated fascination that I live in times of ‘now or never’. Thousands of influential humans across the world know these problems. They speak and write and warn presenting analysis and evidence in eloquent multi-media broadcasts, but I can name no-one in significant power who dares allow anyone but their god to address the crucial problem of human numbers.
Most think of the current economic crisis. from Perithia in the north of the island, Richard Pine, who owns neither car nor swimming pool, writes his latest op-ed in the Irish Times for 16 September '11, ends:
.... In the village where I live, tempers are very frayed. The huge impact on public opinion of the “Indignant” protest in Athens from May to August showed how much more effective is a dignified gathering than union-led rioting. In one sense people are very angry at what is happening to their country, especially when all are being penalised for the faults of a few, and the way that sovereignty has been eroded – if not confiscated altogether – to the extent that Greece will effectively be owned by other EU states for the foreseeable future, thus mortgaging the hopes of an already dispirited, and largely unemployed, youth population. In another sense, anger is futile unless it is translated into action, which seems impossible, given the government’s own paralysis. Greece is fighting not only the future, but its own history. The anticipated default is due not merely to current mistakes but to 30 years of profligacy. Greeks cannot tell which is more prevalent: pessimistic despair or impotent rage. Society is on the brink of either implosion or explosion. But which? Even an apathetic citizen carries within him buried rage, and may be all the more dangerous for that. In view of the hopeless situation, citizens are prepared to withhold the new property tax which falls due in December, even though the government insists it is vital if the current budget shortfall is to be covered. Yet life goes on. Ordinary citizens, despite their despair, lead ordinary lives. The next lemon and orange crops are well on the way, and many villagers are self-sufficient in vegetables and eggs. The third week of September sees the grapes going to the local winery, and soon after, the long season of olive harvesting begins, thus guaranteeing two of life’s most vital fluids. These are visible signs of survival, but the consequences of what is seen as inevitable bankruptcy, and its impact on everyday life, are invisible and incalculable.
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I had a call from Bob Churn, Birmingham City Council planning - landscape practice group - the other afternoon regarding the children’s play area on the edge of the Parklands Estate, included in the S106A of 2004, yet, like the playing fields still not created. My reply to his suggestion that given objections to the play area by 'some' residents the money allocated to it might be spent in Handsworth Park:
Dear Bob. Thanks for taking the trouble to phone me regarding contingency plans for the long delayed children’s play area included in the Victoria Jubilee Allotments Section 106 Agreement that was determined in May 2004. We know a play area was included in the text of the approved application N/01514/03/FUL ­ - i.e, 'An index linked sum of £27,000 towards the maintenance of a play area'. We are convinced that Marcellus Lindsay’s group’s two surveys of Parklands residents are convincing evidence that he and his neighbours have confirmed their approval for this element of the S106A. (Marcellus’s letter to me which you will perhaps have seen suggests a substantive majority in favour of the play area as currently proposed). We know that  a reason for delay relates to the City Council’s need to confirm that Persimmon’s alternative specification for the play-area ensures it meets national standards for such facilities, but that the objection of a very few residents has also contributed, either directly or, as suggested by Marcellus Lindsay, as an excuse for delay. The resident who I understand to be the main objector has told me on several occasions (button-holing me on the allotments) that she is apprehensive about noise from the playground next to her home on the estate, an even more concerned that ‘undesirable elements’ will gather there and use it as an access to the estate and her property. She showed me the slightly larger green area that is currently fallow containing mature trees, between the edge of the VJA site and Hamstead Road, which would bound the east side of the play area. She  insisted that a play-area next to this larger green space would become a point of entry for ‘bad people’. I am unsure who this fallow land belongs to. She initially insisted it was an area as large as the VJA and would not be convinced by my map showing it to be far smaller. If this resident could be assured that a secure fence existed between this piece of land and the proposed playground you might be able to put her mind at rest and lessen her objection which seems to be irrational, especially as this use of the land would have been known to her or her solicitor/surveyor at the time she took possession of her home on the Parklands Estate. Since your call yesterday I’ve sounded out a few others on the allotments and in the area who have been concerned about the delayed implementation of the S106A by Persimmon (by email and phone from Greece, saving money with the use of skype) and we are in wholehearted support of the position taken in favour of a children’s play area by the Parklands Residents Association - see letter below from Marcellus Lindsay dated 30 Aug’11, quoted also here: The Parklands Residents Association (PRA) FULLY SUPPORTS the playground. This has been the position for a number of years.  There are, however, two residents that have objected and, as a result, delayed the construction.The position of the PRA results from taking two separate surveys/polls of residents.  The first was only marginally in favour, the second had a more significant weight in favour of the playgrounds…..Additionally, my previous communication with Cllr Quinnen and Alan Orr has noted that the residents who had contacted them with the objections did not represent the views of the wider community. The PRA is the recognised and accepted representative body for the residents of the Parklands development.  I note by the way Sam Collenette’s considered support for 'an area for community development’ and her preference for  'less play equipment’ and  'a safe space with a spongy floor for very mixed use.’ Parkland Estate’s fairly small gardens and the distance, from a toddler’s point of view, of Handsworth Park (the park in general and its play-areas near the leisure centre), make the Parklands play-area, as included in the S106A for the Victoria Jubilee site, a social good fitting between the green spaces now available for allotments, and the future playing playing fields for older children and adults. We would deplore diversion of funds from and official support for such a facility because of ill-judged assessments of risk by a small minority. I’m copying this letter to Sam Collenette, Marcellus Lindsay, Stuart Morgans and our ward councillors - who have earlier been approached by the objectors and so will have an interest in ensuring a democratically determined outcome on the matter of the play area for Parklands. Kindest regards, Simon (Baddeley) Handsworth Allotments Information Group (HAIG)

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Simon Baddeley