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Wednesday, 4 July 2012


Draining rainwater off the bottom of Plot 14
I'm up to the ears in a variety of things against a background - ominous - of weather that would have a sensible man laying planks for an ark. It’s not as if we are not now used to prolonged and relentless rain as in Jan and Feb in beloved Corfu, but there lies - almost stationary - across our latitudes such a massive swathe of rain-bearing cloud as to make us forget the shape of the sun and the colour blue. I’m counting our blessings that no home of ours is on a floodplain. It’s also good that our allotment, though not shaded by it, sits in the lee of a large sycamore, as well as on a good slope, into which, with a few digs of the mattock, rain puddles can be ditched off the plot. By some oddity of ground some plots on the same site are waterlogged. My problems are minor compared to others trying to grow food with so little sun. I even get quite cheery about my progress as a gardener, despite the onion fly and the climate change elephant lurking diffidently in every exchange about weather. Droll. Pornographic books are leading the New York Times best seller list, while there's deep prudery and self-censorship on the subject of man-made limate change - journalists, broadcasters, politicians - people who ought to know better - fearful of stirring the merchants of doubt.
Relationships that make government
East of London, I left the film I've made in Thurrock compressing, and cycled from my hotel - Formule1 - to find the muddy Thames, downstream of the Dartford Tunnel, just above Tilbury. I could see the river on my map, but the seawall was elusive.
The cycle routes on my map were lock-gated or just not there. I probed various roads heading south. The long trucks passing to and fro, in and out of broad concrete parks inside security gates, might have been under the guidance of robots. The landscape full of human activity seemed unpeopled. Wildflowers, grass, shrubs and low trees  pressed against sturdy security fences watched by roving cameras, in a soundscape of distant trains, planes and automobiles and a panorama of pylons, radio masts, chimneys, warehouses, flaking hoppers, silos dominated by the venting upperworks of Proctor and Gamble's vapourous refinery under which I spied a church tower approached by a private road.
I parked my bicycle and wandered through its graveyard, peered through the clear leaded windows into the restored interior.
St Clement's Church
I waved to a cyclist with earphone exiting the works. Friendly, as fellow cyclists in Leadville tend to be, pointed me to a footpath between nettles and elder. It wound for a hundred yards past little piles of urban drinking trash and boulders covered in graffiti to the edge of the Thames, and a vista of ruffled brown water at half-tide; about three more hours of ebb; already fifty bare yards of gripping anaerobic mud; shopping trollies embedded at intervals like lobster traps. A concrete slab footpath edged the harbour wall with iron steps - over which I carried my Brompton - leading round corners at intervals.
The footpath along the river that goes by Proctor & Gamble
I followed it for a mile. It began to rain. The path might have continued eastward but I turned inland on a narrow weedless path between a wall and fence that threaded back between factory land towards Grays, ending up in the car park of Morrisons from where I cycled three miles back along the uneven London Road, edged by small shops and dolls house terrace homes and pinch points until I came to Shampaan, sat down with Leigh Fermor's Mani picked up from the free shelves at Sally's in Ipsos, (Vikram Seth was too heavy for my bike pannier carrying filming gear) and ordered a delcious sequence of poppadoms and spices, a Cobra to quench my thirst, King Prawn Sag and stuffed paratha.
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Church Vale - 3 years ago. New houses fill the lower space
Wednesday morning. I collected the Handsworth Helping Hands van from the park compound to help dig over and plant a flower bed near us. Last Tuesday - 26 June - a group of us, Mike Tye, John Rose, Denise Forsythe, Lurleen Salmon, Linda and I  swept and cleared litter from the small triangle called Church Vale where Robert Road and Hutton Road meet Church Vale. The City Council sent along a big refuse truck and crew to pick up discarded furniture and building waste. In the Googlesat image there's a bare space in the lower part of the area where a pub was demolished some years ago. I struggled to reacll its name. The Dovedale was there one day, rubble the next; anything but 'a local' it had ceased to be the haunt of regulars long ago and went as far as I know, unregretted, since mainly used for drug transactions, not even trying the standard methods of advertising wide screen sport, karioki nights or a 'beer garden'. In its place seemed to spring up about half-a-dozen redbrick terrace houses with plastic doors and windows, at their end, facing the Vale, a 'flowerbed' soon thick with well rooted nettles, dock and rose bay willow.
Cleaning up in Church Vale
This familiar urban puzzle - ambiguous space - probably owned by the builder. He died on site; a heart attack during construction said a neighbour over the way - Stephen Lee. His largely absent son has so far allowed the nettles to thrive - good for butterflies and cover for the beercans tossed among them. Was this bed's existence a condition of the original planning permission; part of a general intention to keep a sense of Church Vale as a place? It would have taken a while to trace let alone chase someone to do the right thing, so we agreed at our meeting on 28th June to dig over the bed, remove the weed roots, and plant flowers and shrubs. Lin phoned and emailed around seeking offers of plants, digging a few from out own garden. Allen Broad of Birmingham Parks and Nurseries at the Park compound asked where I was off to this time with van and when I told him gave us a hundred Pelargoniums, loading them himself in the back of the van. They were a batch surplus to requirements from an order of thousands for the park. Our Pelargoniums, unlike the same perennial flowers in Corfu, can't survive the UK winter outdoors and must be dug up and greenhoused or they're effectively annuals but it was still a most welcome gift.
The rain, ever present, stopped for a while on Wednesday and we assembled with plants, tools and van to do our good work. We all know the potential futility -
"it'll be full of rubbish in a few weeks"
"People will steal the flowers"
"They'll just knock'em down"
and even "what's was wrong with the nettles? Kept people off, didn't it?"
We bantered back about searching for buried gold and did passersby want to pick up a spade and have a share of it. These chance remarks and thoughts passed like ripples. Several others passed by and raised their hands in palpable delight
"Good work, good work!"
We're old hands when it comes to doing the local citizen thing. You never give up. It helped, we reckoned, to have plenty of photos posted on the social web and a few poses with our local councillors, especially on this occasion Hendrina who stayed all along planting and tidying and chatting, so that we got to know her much better.
"I'm really getting to like Hendrina" said Lin later.
Waseem dropped by and chatted with me about progress on the drive to complete the S106A on the Victoria Jubilee Playing fields. He has Ghaz Hussein in the City Planning Department striving to give the matter impetus after years of delay.
"Adrian Goldberg is giving me a minute's air time on BBC WM" I said "It was going to be today but that lovely bloke Eric Sykes died mid-morning, so it'll be tomorrow."
We all went on about the weather.
"Do you remember blue? That shiny thing that used to hang in the sky; what was it called?"
With Councillors Waseem Zaffar and Hendrina Quinnen
We enjoyed ourselves. Rajinder Rattu dropped by to give moral support, suffering at the moment and unable to do physical work,
"I don't believe in anti-biotics. I'm letting it clear itself"
John did much digging, then headed off to a meeting to do with his Credit Union responsibilities; Steve Lee came out of his house to help place the flowers and shrubs. Steadily the bed was filled. Hendrina was sweeping the pavement, Lin and Mike digging in a few more plants. I was piling up roots and rubbish and laying our tools and gloves back in the van...and for a moment or two the sun came out.

E-mail from Lin on 6th July to City Waste Services Manager at our local depot:
Dear Nick. As you know, our organisation, Handsworth Helping Hands, did a street clean-up in the Church Vale Triangle area last week and were very appreciative of the help you arranged for us. This week we planted a raised bed along one side of the Triangle. The Triangle is now starting to look a little better than before.
The actual 'Church Vale' road leading to the Triangle, however, is still a terrible mess, with rubbish in the gutters, fly tipping on the pavement and black bags and green bags uncollected, probably having been put out on the wrong day. This road is a constant rubbish blackspot. I regularly walk along there, and find it demoralising and depressing.
As you know, the more rubbish there is, the more will probably be dumped. Would it be possible to consistently target Church Vale for extra cleaning for a while, and try to break the cycle? Also regular attention around the Triangle gutters by the street sweeper would be much appreciated.
The waste bins around the Triangle are well-used (often for bags of household waste, I suspect), but are often full to overflowing, with more bags of rubbish dumped around them.
There are four waste bins in the Triangle area, but none of them is on the side of the Triangle where the row of shops, including two take-aways and two shops selling confectionary, is the source of a lot of the street litter. Would it be possible for another waste bin to be located on the shop frontages area, where the pavement is very wide and there's plenty of space for one - or maybe even two?
Yesterday I walked through Church Vale accompanied by a friend from another area of Birmingham, and I have to say that I felt ashamed of the state of our streets. We would welcome any advice you can give on how we can assist you in encouraging residents to dispose of litter, household waste, bulky items and building waste in a responsible and appropriate manner. Perhaps you might be able to attend a meeting of our Committee at some time in the near future, to discuss what can be done?
Handsworth was once a very up-market area of the City of Birmingham. I hope you will be able to help us in our attempts to make Handsworth an area to be proud of once again. Yours sincerely, Linda Baddeley, Treasurer, Handsworth Helping Hands
Church Vale flowerbed by Handsworth Helping Hands
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The excellent journalist, Nick Malkoutzis blogger at Inside Greece, op-ed writer and deputy editor of Kathimerini - Greece's only daily newspaper in English, and writes a balanced piece 'Mythmakers and problem solvers' on how far the Republic is and is not working to restructure its economy, deploring the derogatory half-truths about what's being achieved:
...Greece has given the world abundant reasons for criticism both in the run-up to this crisis and in trying to deal with its fallout. It has failed, among other things, to close down superfluous public organizations, slash waste in the state sector, implement the liberalization of closed professions, reduce bureaucracy, speed up its justice system and overhaul its tax code. This, however, does not justify those who regularly give the impression that nothing is being done.
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I don't want the Euro to go. I want Europe to work. I want a solution to the insane crisis that has revolved around so-called rich bailing out so-called poor Eurozone nations, when, as seems obvious all involved depend on one another. We do not speak of Michigan, Ohio, Washington or Pennsylvania 'bailing-out' Tennessee, South Carolina, Mississipi or Alabama - to juxtapose some rich and poor states in the US. They have the Federal Reserve's control over the exchange rate of the US dollar. So we should move towards an assiduous recognition of states-rights within a united Europe. These events - from confederacy to federacy - occurred in America, though not without a terrible civil war. In Australia six separate self-governing colonies of Britain became the Federation of Australia - a peaceful but contested process that lasted decades. This statement, referring to decisions to be made by 9 July 2012, was issued from the EU Summit on 28th-29th June.
EURO AREA SUMMIT STATEMENT - Brussels 29 June 2012
• We affirm that it is imperative to break the vicious circle between banks and sovereigns. The Commission will present Proposals on the basis of Article 127(6) for a single supervisory mechanism shortly. We ask the Council to consider these Proposals as a matter of urgency by the end of 2012. When an effective single supervisory mechanism is established, involving the ECB, for banks in the euro area the ESM could, following a regular decision, have the possibility to recapitalize banks directly. This would rely on appropriate conditionality, including compliance with state aid rules, which should be institution-specific, sector-specific or economy-wide and would be formalised in a Memorandum of Understanding. The Eurogroup will examine the situation of the Irish financial sector with the view of further improving the sustainability of the well-performing adjustment programme. Similar cases will be treated equally.
• We urge the rapid conclusion of the Memorandum of Understanding attached to the financial support to Spain for recapitalisation of its banking sector. We reaffirm that the financial assistance will be provided by the EFSF  (European Financial Stability Facility until the ESM becomes available, and that it will then be transferred to the ESM (European Stability Mechanism), without gaining seniority status.
• We affirm our strong commitment to do what is necessary to ensure the financial stability of the euro area, in particular by using the existing EFSF/ESM instruments in a flexible and efficient manner in order to stabilise markets for Member States respecting their Country Specific Recommendations and their other commitments including their respective timelines, under the European Semester, the Stability and Growth Pact and the Macroeconomic Imbalances Procedure. These conditions should be reflected in a Memorandum of Understanding. We welcome that the ECB has agreed to serve as an agent to EFSF/ESM in conducting market operations in an effective and efficient manner.
• We task the Eurogroup to implement these decisions by 9 July 2012.
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Jan Bowman came round on her electric bicycle to try to finish a portrait of Richard. Jan did one of me in return for a bicycle about a year ago - complicated exchange after Dhiaa had left me his bike on joining the government of Iraq. Richard's likeness has been eluding her. She thought having him in our kitchen amid the clutter might help.
Jan and Richard
Amy, Oliver and Guy came round for lunch. We left Jan and Richard indoors so's we could enjoy an interval of sun in the garden.
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In the afternoon I was on the allotment with Oscar, trimming grass verges, weeding and sowing some more onions. I sowed some beetroot, some carrot. Nearly everyone's onions have fallen to an insect that bores into the onion's heart. Mine cannot be unaffected.
A plot holder this afternoon told me
"I've thrown away all my onions. They look OK on the outside, but the onion fly goes right inside"
He told me the fly was also on the Victoria Jubilee last year. I'm wondering what can be done. Danny who helped me with sowing other plants a few weeks ago is suggesting nematodes. It may also be necessary to grow onions under fine mesh.
Aftab has sent me a circular for the event we're planning on the allotments...
‘Cultivation to Consumption’ 5 to 7pm - 19th July 2012 Come and enjoy freshly grown food by Victoria Jubilee Allotment members and get involved in preparing the food with ‘Aftab Rahman’ Director of Legacy and Chef (director) at Bay Leaf (

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Simon Baddeley