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Sunday, 28 July 2013

Back to Birmingham

Last summer - Mum, Lulu, Oliver, Cookie, Amy and Oscar

My mother's bedroom emptied of all but carpet and curtains; and every crevice, corner, surface, shelf and cranny of the rest of Brin Croft, dusted and scrubbed. Woe to spiders, and other small beasts caught in the nozzle of my searching vacuum. I'm much acquainted with the dust of my mother's house, knowing it in ways that would have been strange when I sojourned there with her, with family and dogs. Lin has been my stalwart companion. The weather has been lovely; high summer in the Highlands without the swelter of England; like warm air rising the wind blows from the south west under cloudy skies. It’s timeless this sound of wind outside the city; the self same wind that impressed me in childhood, that I hear as the surge of trees and leaves, as surf impressing gravel. It gusts ebbs and flows banging doors left ajar, tipping over things carelessly lent, making startling crashes, turning the washing into rippling pennants “Make haste. England expects”.
Oscar has watched us puzzled and even dismayed, knowing 'something's going on' that makes all different; bereft of the joy of long walks through the woods, riverbanks, moors and meadows of Strathnairn. There's been a hierarchy of disposal ending at the Highland Council Recycling Centre off Henderson Road. Before that we've laid out in the carport, for collection by the charity Newstart Highlands
an incalculable miscellany, left after a two day garage sale that has seen people from up and down the Strath directed by leaflets and canvassing up driveways and through clusters of dwellings, including a word through the car window to people on the road
"I'm clearing my mother's house at Brin Croft. Come and have a cup of tea. Lots of bargains!"
I left the selling to Lin who's much better at it. Earlier in the week Guy and Amy helped take two hire-van loads over the Keswick Bridge to Dingwall & Highland Markets. Then they headed south to spend a night at the Rowan Tree Hotel to visit Alvie Church where they'd married three years ago.
I auctioned those items that were not wanted by Roger Milton, Auldearn Antiques, including things valued higher for probate then Roger would pay. Our lawyer, who I saw last Monday, wanted me to have sent these to Bonhams in Edinburgh.
"What? Send them six time further to raise hardly the price of getting them there?"

Tired out but relieved, we turned off the electricity; read the meter; turned off the water and with a final load of rubbish to dump in the wheelie bins at the end of the lane, we loaded our picnic and drove away. It was 5pm on Tuesday. We'd been clearing Brin Croft over most of nine days. We've no need for the gadget on this familiar journey south, but I set the satnav. It's almost fun to have this disembodied female voice counting off waypoints on our route, noting our speed and ETA and the miles we've covered. At the stores I kissed and hugged Isobel; shook hands with David and waved as we  drove away down the B851 to the A9 - for good.
B851 - Google street view of Inverarnie Stores and the track to Brin Croft
The Highlands is becoming foreign - shift of connection with place. Mum made the places she lived. Going to the Highlands was going to stay with her. Now we’ve cleared a property with a familiar postcode. Not a tremor of sadness assailed me. Mum would have wanted little grief at her departure. I was born in her and knew her for 70 years in all the changes of my life and her good and adventurous life; her only unfinished business the momentum that was inseparable from her character; that little spurt of energy that came with handing over a baton bejewelled with understanding and future joys. I need no souvenirs; her memorial is inside. Lucid until the final days of laboured slumber, she'd slowed in her last two years and had to lean on more people than suited her style; almost - and of course unjustly for those involved - resenting the attentions she needed. Death was, as for Epicurus, a natural irritant to be faced with courage and irritation and frustration as a tedious unavoidable interruption of her journey. She said goodbye in so many words to everyone who mattered, without being literal. It was mysterious.
I’m almost glad of the work involved in handling her estate. I’d dreaded ‘going through her things’, but I’ve not been on my own in the business of fetching, carrying, sorting, phoning, emailing and making journeys to the Highlands. Lin is my strength; also my accountant, lawyer, driver and adviser. I’ve grown closer to my stepsister, Fiona, through regular conversations in the last seven months. I’ve been discreetly tended by my children, my attention caught by the new life that began the year mum died - Oliver born in April 2012, in time to be dandled on her knee and crawl on her bed.
Bay and I at Coignafearn

My sister’s reaction to mum’s death is as different and as bewildering as she is from me, and perhaps our mother. Dutiful in caring for mum in the long weeks that preceded her death, Bay hurried away after the formal ceremonies, uninterested – so far as I could see – in the longer procedures of so great a bereavement, preferring to license the clearance men.
On Saturday Colin had again cut and raked the grass along the drive and around Brin Croft. The key was with the estate agent; the house as ready as we could get it for prospective buyers; almost a property again; certainly no longer an inkling of mum's home. She's long away.
In the particulars it's called the 'Master Bedroom'
...and we left a few things in the sitting room
Above Blair Atholl, south of Drumochter Pass, we joined a stationary queue before easing by a score of urgently blinking blue lights and the grisly remnants of a road collision that had occurred 6 hours earlier - a shiny black amputated car roof alone on the grass; two people dead in one vehicle, one in the other - the injured and dead long removed. I read of familiar calls to lay down dual carriageway for the whole length of the road rather than alter the fatal impatience of impulsive drivers.
We were back in England by 2.00pm on Wednesday morning. I unloaded Lin's car in the light of the street lamp outside our house, unknotting a cat's cradle of spider hooks and string from the roof, carrying things gently up the sloping drive to lay them in the hall and sitting room, before heading for bed in the light of dawn.
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Wednesday morning I was chatting to my nurse at the blood donor centre, putting the world to rights and speculating on the name of the new royal baby. Gracie brought up in Mauritius was saying that she'd been embarrassed to pull carrots from the ground and bring them muddied to her home...
"Yet I, Gracie, am ashamed I cannot be more successful doing just that"
At reception, as I left for other errands in town, I was handed my award for 100 donations - a number arrived at in January - a pretty little lapel badge, which I probably won't wear. Bound to get lost. I'm proud of being a donor yet waver at a badge. Might it be a means to reassure people wondering about becoming donors - a painless charity?
I had two talks to give - one a tour of Handsworth Park for members of Sheldon Library. We met at the park gates - seven people around my age, interested, curious, enthusiastic. I spoke as usual of what's involved in creating a trusted green space; what's involved maintaining an urban park with so many other goods - education, health, transport, you name it - competing for cash from a diminishing pool of public finance. We gazed about us enjoying the sunny scene amid the greenery. How I love this park! I know that comes over when I talk about it how it first came about over a hundred years ago.
Visitors from Sheldon with Mark Bent in the Sons of Rest, Handsworth Park
We ended the tour at the Sons of Rest where Mark and his family served us tea and cakes and I circulated old pictures and maps of Handsworth Park, and told them how the building where we sat was saved from demolition with days to spare via a petition of 400 signatures we'd raised from people in the park queuing for loos during a Vaisakhi Festival.
In the early evening I cycled across town towards Moseley to give a talk to 20 members of the Balsall Heath Local History Society. The Chairman reminded me that a payment was involved. "How much?" I said, only half-joking "do you want for me to talk about Handsworth Park?"
My talk was based on my account of the founding of Handsworth Park
"If you had one pound - in what proportions would you spend it on health. education, policing and parks? Unless you can show that money directed to parks is good for health, that it educates people and increases social cohesion, the money will go to those services rather than to the park. That argument had to be made when Handsworth Park was founded in the 1880s. It had to be made again to restore the park in the late 1990s, early 2000s."
A talk about Handsworth Park: Patrick introduces me; Socks the cat lies on the chair beside him

The morning tour didn't go close enough to the edge of the park pool to show that thousands of dead fish - roach - were floating belly up; a fatal reduction in oxygen caused by days of hot weather. On my way home after the tour I met Allen Broad, who leads the park's grounds maintenance staff, driving to the depot "It's happening in Cannon Hill Park too"
Dead roach in the park pool
25/7/13 - Dear Counclllors. Please please emphasis getting the aerator motor that blows oxygen into the water of the Handsworth park pool going again. Don’t just clear up the dead fish. Stop them dying in the first place! I don’t think other city ponds have aerators (oxygenators).  Handsworth Park got them as a result of the lottery refurbishment. Use them please. You can’t install aerators in canals or in Cannon Hill park where fish are also dying in the hot weather. In Handsworth Park we should be able to resolve this problem of fish die-off in hot weather. The motor that drives the aerators is on the island in the pool and the pipe system extends under the surface of the water with six outlets in the centre of the pond. Simon
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The ivy on the apple tree - cut through at the base two weeks ago - is starting to wilt. Tree and ivy have co-existed so long I wonder, unscientifically, if the tree missing its creeper, and fail to thrive.

Amy came round to leave Oliver with us before heading off for a ten hour shift.
"An old lady of 93 died yesterday. She'd had someone coming round to do her garden for years. While the gardener was working she'd sit in her car and read a book. That's where she died. Where she was this weather. 90% of our work involves domestics and things like this."
Our cop's off to work
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An email from Jan Bowman:
Dear Simon I hope all is well with you and family, and that you're enjoying the sunshine, whether here or the Mediterranean. I thought you might like to know that a print of Richard and Flea made it into the RBSA's portrait exhibition this month. I attach a photo of it, hanging in good company.  Exhibition is on till 24 August. There's some nice stuff in the gallery; worth a visit -- if you aren't in Greece! All best wishes. Jan

Jan's sketch of me:

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Celebration of Agios Paraskevi in Ano Korakiana
Στο πανηγύρι της Αγίας Παρασκευής
Γράφει ο/η Κβκ   

s_parask072013a.jpgΛίγη ώρα πριν από την έναρξη του (χθεσινού) πανηγυριού της Αγίας Παρασκευής, οι ετοιμασίες βρίσκονται σε πλήρη εξέλιξη. Η Διοίκηση και μέλη του Συλλόγου φορώντας τα διακριτικά σκούρα μπλουζάκια, φροντίζουν για τις τελευταίες λεπτομέρειες: φωτισμός του χώρου, ψησταριές (για σουβλάκια αλλά και για αρνιά), αναψυκτικά, παρασκευή λουκουμάδων κλπ. Καθώς το φώς της ημέρας χάνονταν αρχίζει να καταφθάνει ο κόσμος, που λίγο αργότερα θα γεμίσει τον υπαίθριο χώρο με τα τραπεζο-καθίσματα, περνώντας πρώτα από τη μικρή εκκλησία για το άναμα ενός κεριού. Η ορχήστρα των «Φαιάκων» δεν θα αργήσει να «σηκώσει» τον κόσμο με τους νησιώτικούς ρυθμούς και η διασκέδαση θα κρατήσει μέχρι τις πρώτες πρωινές ώρες. Όπως θα τονίσει και ο Πρόεδρος της Φιλαρμονικής Σπύρος Σαββανής, η συνάθροιση και η τόνωση των κοινωνικών σχέσεων, η συνέχιση της παράδοσης, αλλά και η ενίσχυση του Συλλόγου, είναι η ιδιαίτερη συνεισφορά  του πανηγυριού αυτού στο χωριό μας, τη δύσκολη εποχή που διανύουμε.Και πραγματικά, το πανηγύρι αυτό αποτελεί μία ευκαιρία συνάντησης των Κορακιανιτών που βρίσκονται τις μέρες του καλοκαιριού στο χωριό...
Όμως, για να είναι όλα στην εντέλεια, οι προετοιμασίες ξεκίνησαν από τα χαράματα (χθες)...(φωτο από Δώρα Μεταλληνού)
Preparations started at dawn - neighbour Lefteri opposite Papa Kostas (photo: Dora Metallinou)

s_parask072013b.jpgΣτο ζεϊμπέκικο διέπρεψε ο χωριανός μας Κώστας Νικ. Σαββανής, χορεύοντας και τραγουδώντας το άσμα «Καλύτερα να με ζηλεύουνε παρά να με κακολογούνε»!>

We've missed another party in the village! My rough translation: 
Shortly before the start (yesterday) of the festival of Agias Paraskevi, preparations, begun at dawn, were in full swing - management and Association members wearing distinctive dark shirts, caring for the latest details: ambient lighting, barbecues (for souvlaki and lamb), soft drinks, donuts, etc. As daylight faded more and more people, after visiting the small church to light a candle, filled a great spread of tables and chairs and in no time local musicians are lifting our spirits with island rhythms and the party will last until the wee hours....the President of the Philharmonic Association, Spyros Savani, reminded us of this festival's special contribution to the village, encouraging neighbourliness, sustaining tradition, and strengthening the Association, in difficult times. 
Our fellow villager Costas Nik. Savvanis excelled himself at the Zeibekiko, dancing and singing the song "Better to be jealous than cast aspersions".
Aleko D adds: Now I give you a small explanation of the Zeibekiko Ζεϊμπέκικο dance - Greek folk dance (rhythm 9/4) and undoubtebly one of the most popular. The name derives from Zei (one of the names of Zeus) and the Phrygian word 'bekos' meaning 'bread'. It symbolises the union of the Spirit with the body and is danced in honour of Greek Gods. It is a solo dance and it's offensive to be interrupted by another dancer. Sometimes the dancers perform feats like standing on a glass of wine or a chair or picking up a table with their teeth! (I am sure you've seen this). The other point which I would like to correct while looking at your blog's translation, you wrote 'Celebration at Agios Paraskevi in Ano Korakiana. Agios is a man Saint and Agia Paraskevi (Αγίας Παρασκευής) is a woman Saint. So when looking at a church: Αυτή (η εκκλησία) είναι η Αγία Παρασκευή and not Agios, or Αυτή (η εκκλησία) είναι ο Αγιος Στέφανος. You say αυτή because εκκλησία is feminine [Join my classes, now starting end of October and you will learn about out all these confusing issues!]
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We continue the work of Handsworth Helping Hands - this weekend a garden cleared, is waste removed, and two beds moved from one house to another...
Awake and smelling the coffee! HHH van with Oscar aboard at the Holford Depot weighbridge, completing Veolia paperwork after unloading garden waste and household clearance rubbish with our Charity Waste Free Tipping Authorisation...

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Simon Baddeley