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Saturday, 10 December 2011

The puzzling invisibility of the new

Last night I was waiting for my train back to Birmingham, sat in a squashy armchair, in the Victoria and Albert Pub inside Marylebone Station drinking London Ale, catching out of the corner of my eye, amid a stew of chat and muzak, as I approached the final chapters of A Woman in Berlin, images on a high flat screen, of our Prime Minister, mingling with other European politicians in Brussels. A strip of closed captions (see also) with dopey phonetic interpretations of multi-tongued events hopping across the screen, telling all who watched, no doubt as cursorily as I, that David Cameron was distancing the Country from its Continent. No sign of Nick Clegg, nor anyone from the Lib Dem side of our Government. My beer, but most of all my book, better brewed and far better written, attracted easily the greater part of my attention. Of current events, widely discussed, Bagehot wrote... yesterday in the Economist
Britain did not walk out of the EU last night. But let there be no doubt about it: we have started falling out...
... (always thanks to Jim Potts' blog Corfu Blues for drawing this thinking journalist, a member of his family, to my attention).
I was in London to take Christmas presents to the Greek side - multiplied by another generation. Even as I dropped off two parcels in central London a transit van was there to whisk them off to various addresses across the Channel.
Jewellery Quarter Station, Birmingham, on Friday morning
I've owned a folding bicycle since 1998. 14 years later they're all over the place. Had the rack on my Brompton - the only kind I've owned - not been broken I could have cycled with my parcels from home to Jewellery Quarter and from Marylebone to my London drop-off. Instead I had to fold and load everything onto taxis. Delivery made, I could unfold and pedal swiftly through Green Park, down Buckingham Palace Road, over Battersea Bridge to Phoenix Cycles, where Mike - forewarned - was ready to repair and overhaul the Brompton I bought from him in February 2004. Leaving him a list of jobs I set off on foot then bus to South Kensington for a few hours at the V & A, where I stayed most of my visit in the Medieval and Renaissance Galleries. Sublime and quietly exhilarating.
Ox and ass: part of a book cover carved 1200 years ago
Mike texted me to say my bike was finished and I was back by bus to pay his bill and pick it up, with replaced rack, rear mudguard, front wheel, pedal, new front tyre and tube. Not cheap until you compare the cost of a modern car's annual service.
Crossing Chelsea Bridge

Once over Chelsea Bridge, above the ebbing Thames, I turn briefly east along Grosvenor Road then sharp left up Lupus Street to work my way, as the crow flies, to Victoria where I join the teeming traffic along Grosvenor Place surging towards Hyde Park Corner, where I escape through the easternmost arch of the Decimus Burton Screen to cross into the cycleway that runs north through through Hyde Park to Marble Arch, where I head a short way up Edgware Road before turning into Seymour Street to work my way via back streets to Marylebone Station.
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Europe has a dark and shameful history of finding scapegoats for hard times. A well known phenomenon; decide you need someone to blame - someone, anybody - a rejection candidate. Once you have a person, a people, a country, in the cross-hairs, you must, to justify pulling the trigger, heap on better and better arguments for your choice of target. Greece is well coated in blame Velcro. Nick Malkoutzism, making no excuses for corruption in the Republic ('A line has to be drawn between valid criticism and prejudiced posturing'), writes a good piece on myths about Greece and the crisis for his blog Inside Greece, 8 December:
...For much too long, this crisis - which Europe now unanimously admits is a systemic one - was approached as if it was a symptom of the failure of one country: Greece. Rather than treat Greece as the weakest link in a chain that would be tested to its limits, the eurozone chose to view it as the font of all Europe’s woes. The fact that a more comprehensive strategy to tackle the euro’s weakness is now being sought is tantamount to an admission that the wrong strategy was adopted. The blinkered view that persisted over the past couple of years was built on certain myths that went largely unchallenged and became established in public discourse, much to the damage of both Greece and the eurozone. These myths have since given rise to other tales that threaten to undermine any possibility of recovery, even at this late stage. For this reason, perhaps now would be a good time to address some of the misnomers and misconceptions of the past months...
"Never, ever throw anything away: You can preserve it, freeze, cook it, reuse it, or give it to someone who needs it more than you."
Eleni Nikolaou, Ελένης Νικολαΐδου, of the Tender Age Nursery-school in Kifisia, a suburb of Athens we know quite well, has written a cookbook of austerity recipes. She'd begun looking through Greek newspapers published during WW2. Among reports of the privations of those years she came across many survival recipes and advice on living frugally.
«Συνταγές Πείνας», το οποίο περιγράφει συνταγές με φθηνά υλικά που χρησιμοποιούνταν κατά την περίοδο της Κατοχής το 1941-44. Ο λόγος που το εν λόγω βιβλίο πηγαίνει πολύ καλά σε πωλήσεις είναι προφανής: Η πρωτοφανής οικονομική ύφεση που μαστίζει την Ελλάδα τα τελευταία δύο χρόνια. The Hunger Cookbook

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Ray Suarez introduces a wise and troubling text and podcast in which Jim and Maria's daughter, Nina-Maria Potts - for America Abroad - fluently bi-lingual, she writes and speaks, with interviews and local sounds, of a further de-population of the villages of Epirus - the Zagorochoria,Τα Ζαγοροχώρια - north of Ioannina.
...“There used to be no water, electricity or roads. That changed, now we have tourism. The hotels. Tourism woke this village up.” That growth has been derailed by the economic crisis. Local hotel owners say they've only worked a month this year and worry they won't meet their operating costs or be able to pay off their debts. Kostas Vasdekis, who owns the hotel in the main square worries his two daughters, both graduates, might not find work. “I worked all my life for their future. Now I don't know what will happen. They want to go abroad. Everything I did, I did it for them.” Even villagers who came back to Greece recently worry they made the wrong choice....
I maintain vigorous hope for a revival of sustainable communities - clusters of villages and smaller provincial towns; a global trend to be observed if sought in India, Australia, Canada and much of Europe including Greece.
 To survive and even thrive in villages it is neither possible nor feasible to revert to the past whose grinding conditions so many sought to escape; nor is it possible in some straightforward way to revert the attitudes and values of a globally urbanised world to villages. The ideas, techniques and values essential for survival and success in these small linked communities have not yet been assimilated or in some cases even invented. The new ideas and practices exist but only in certain places unique to particular critical clusters of people. Every small community is different and unique and there is so simple generic set of guidelines on how to make villages or clusters of villages work for their inhabitants. The ideas are out there - hardly realised, evolving, their originality, difficult, even impossible, to distinguish amid the suffocating noise of present crises  and current understandings of the world. There are communities dotted around the world which seem to be working (some we know, some we don't and wouldn't know what we were seeing of they were evolving in front of us because of our urban globalised preconceptions). I very much doubt if the centralised governments of large modern states are capable of helping such new ways of living too evolve, and certainly the past for all our nostalgia about it has little to teach us in this matter (notwithstanding sources of wisdom in our species that have always been present in, and at, different and unpredictable places and times. The work of Elinor Ostrom (Nobel Prize 2009) is helpful but there are many many other sources of inspiration. We cannot look to Athens. London, Berlin or Washington, nor Delhi, Beijing or Rio for answers and inspiration. Though it may be that men and women who will support and can lead, and are leading, these other ways of living, will come from the heart of great cities - not escaping, not refugees but pioneers

Fred Emery and Eric Trist, revered seniors when I was first working in England in the 70s. dwelled upon the puzzling invisibility of the truly new, in an article written for a collection of papers on the Competitiveness of Nations in a Global Knowledge-Based Economy - 'Towards A Social Ecology: Contextual Appreciation of the Future in the Present' (Plenum 1972)
...Concealment and Parasitism: The second major difficulty in predicting the future states of large complex social systems, that of early identification of emergent processes, poses far more perplexing methodological problems. However, if social life is properly characterised in terms of overlapping temporal gestalten, then many of those processes that will be critical in the future are already in existence in the present. If this were not the case, it would be difficult to see how such processes could quickly enough muster the potency to be critical in the next thirty years. Thus, for instance, the conditions for World War I were laid before the end of the 19th Century, and correctly perceived around 1900 by such oddly gifted men as Frederick Engels and the Polish banker, Bloch (Liddell Hart, 1944, p. 26). An obvious question must be asked at this point: ‘Is this not the same class of evidence that is the basis for extrapolative prediction?’ Such evidence does include some evidence of this class, but its most important additional inclusion is of processes that are not recognised for what they are. The early stages of a sycamore or a cancer are not obviously very different from a host of other things whose potential spatio-temporal span is very much less; likewise with many in social life.
One suspects that the important social processes typically emerge like this. They start small, they grow and only then do people realize that their world has changed and that this process exists with characteristics of its own. Granted that there are genuine emergent processes (otherwise why worry about the next thirty years), then we must accept real limitations upon what we can predict and also accept that we have to live for some time with the future before we recognize it as such....
Mum, in the Highlands, spoke of the high winds Thursday night when I spoke to her Friday afternoon on the phone - "I woke in the middle of the night. I thought someone was trying to break into the house...we lost power some of the day, but all's fine now."
Saturday I cycled over to Plot 14 to do carpentry on the shed, check my cabbages now netted and dig over the area near the park fence where we plan a small orchard. Someone reported a polytunnel stolen from their plot. I wonder if the structure lying on Chris's allotment, next to ours, is the missing tunnel, not stolen but blown yards north by the gales.

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The search continues for original Southern Television Out of Town programmes by my stepfather, Jack Hargreaves. The thing I, and other friends assisting, are seeking will begin like this mock-up:
In the meantime it's pleasing to know that Delta Home Entertainment plc have bought the licence from Endemol to redistribute the DVD versions of Out of Town that Jack made for home viewing in 1986. They are not the Southern Television originals but they contain new commentary and sound over a sample of Stan Bréhaut's old 16mm location film.

1 comment:

  1. Just caught up with this.
    Happy Christmas and a very happy New Year



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Simon Baddeley