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Friday, 18 July 2014

Οι ψύλλοι

I'm being bitten by fleas. It made me search in my head for a picture I recall seeing on one of many visits to the Barber Institute on campus; a woman hunting under her blouse for a flea. Peeping Toms gazing from an interior window - and I, standing before the picture.
Giuseppe Maria Crespi A woman looking for fleas, about 1715 (Barber Institute)
I've not had annoying encounters with fleas until now. It may be the cat, the dog, or the fecund season, but we have them in the house. With the name of the artist, Crespi, Google shows me Robert Hooke's astounding, microscope-aided, drawing of one of the beasts that are biting us. Lin's seen some of them. I've not, but I've got the bites; on my legs, at my mid-riff.
Micrographia: or some physiological descriptions of minute bodies made by magnifying glasses : with observations and inquiries thereupon. Robert Hooke 1667

The vet gave us a Bravecto pill for Oscar, and an external treatment called Stronghold for the cat - who's called Flea, as I had to tell him, which isn't funny really - and a spray called R.I.P. We make more frequent use of the vacuum. I've removed all bed clothes down to the mattress cover on our bed; thoroughly hoovered our bedroom; moving the big Brittany marriage bed to suck up ancient dust, lifting the base boards I made years ago.
Linda's done the same in our front bedroom, the task made more difficult because that room's still full of mum's stuff yet to be dispersed or disposed, plus things to go to Greece.
Lin said "A flea jumped on my leg, a baby one, just hatched"
"Down here by the fridge last night"
"I caught it, squashed it and put it on the table to have a look, on a piece of paper. It jumped off"
*** *** ***
6.00am, by the Iron Man at the top of New Street on Tuesday morning

On Tuesday I was up at first light to take the train to Wigan where I led one of my seminars on relations that make good government for managers in the Library Trust. This work gets rarer. I like the preparation and the journey to and fro almost as much as the teaching...Our morning was in the dark panelled stained glass windowed council chamber of the long abolished Leigh Council - an agreeable space smelling of wood, with interested and enjoyable people; the kind I always prefer to work with; so ready to learn I never have to teach for all my inclination to give a good 'lecture'; one to assure me the world is as I say it is!

Leigh Town Hall
This seminar focuses on skills and values for working in a politically led organisation. It will: 
                    - assist you to read and maintain your knowledge of the political scene,
         - explore the skills and values basic to political-management working,
- develop and fine-tune your feel for the boundaries between political, managerial and professional work,
- add to your vocabulary of political concepts, offering models of competence and integrity in politically sensitive situations.
- Brief introduction - overview of the morning
- Reading the Council’s political environment: facilitated exercise
- Defining political awareness: skills and values; talk and discussion
- Work on ‘critical incidents’: facilitated exercise
- Summary and feedback: Q & A 
Tutor: Simon Baddeley’s expertise lies in the study of working relations between politicians and managers in local government. As well as in the UK, he’s taught and researched in Australia, New Zealand, Sweden, Japan, and Canada. During the morning Simon will stimulate interest in the skills and craft involved in managing with political awareness, as well as facilitating discussion among participants of the local political environment and its implications for officers. 
I've only passed through Wigan on the train, never been there in all my years as a tourist in my own country, but in the pages of Orwell - who taught me about mining in words. So it was nice, in the hour and a half, before my train to stroll through Wigan town centre, visit W.H.Smith and get Robert Harris's latest fictionalisation of the Dreyfus affair, to read on the train to London, and buy a tasty steak pie, to munch as I wander, wheeling my bicycle, along the mid-summery slope of the town. It feels like a place.
The centre of Wigan in June - remote from coal mining but the legacy's there

In the middle of the afternoon I caught a Virgin Pendolino bound for Euston, treating myself to a generously reduced First Class seat - only £30.

I snoozed and read Harris, did a few emails using free WiFi. Got to Euston chilled by over-enthusiastic air-conditioning, regretting the days when train windows could be opened and closed to adjust the temperature.
Arrival at Euston
I warmed in London; shirt sleeves, shorts, small skirts and bare skin all about, green spaces teeming with groups of people chatting  - conversations sur l'herbe - crowds packed so close, a few naked people might have passed unnoticed. At a coffee shop on Euston Road, I sat outside reading Harris, enjoying a smoothie as traffic poured by and London made vast urban haa.
Supper at Pasta Plus where Ziggi and I talk and listen non-stop on all subjects roaming under our shared suns, including growing old, allotments, the corruption that accompanies incompetence in managing inner-city grants, my fascination with Aristeidis Metallinos of Ano Korakiana, the work of Handsworth Helping Hands and the pleasure of jumping between white and blue collar work, the concept of hyperdiversity and the erosion of a core identity no-one celebrates sufficient to maintain a centre for the faster turning centrifuge.
"It's squeaking"
"We're doing well on diversity. Hyperdiversity's something else. We worry about social cohesion but with the hollowing out of localism there's not enough infrastructure. You get the futile despair of populists...wanting what? A good moan?"
We agreed to have lunch together before Christmas.
I had booked myself a guesthouse out of the centre - just £30 for a single bed with WC and shower across the way, a few miles out of the centre. I took the Victoria Line...
On the Victoria Line heading for Seven Sisters

...just three stops to Seven Sisters, where I asked the way of a rich mix of strangers struggling with English until a local African pointed me to my lodging, as urban noire as I could desire, up a narrow winding stairway, helped by a friendly Lebanese women who carried my Brompton to the landing...
Hopper-land: West Green Road, N15

I slept well and showered in the morning, before setting off for a more or less down-hill cycle ride down Seven Sisters Road, six and half miles, via Islington and Holborn, to Soho, to rendezvous with Charles Webster in Frith Street, and share a sandwich and tea at the nearest Prêt. He's left Delta Leisure where he was working as a senior commissioning manager when we met four years ago... plan a re-publication and redistribution of my stepfather's films.
"I've left my mobile on, Charles. Expecting news of my daughter's giving birth to our second grandchild. She's two maybe four days overdue"
I'd said as much as an excuse for leaving my phone switched on for the last few days.
Charles and I reviewed what had been achieved since we met. The Jack Hargreaves archive of films and tape has been moved from Plymouth to Birmingham, its exact contents far better understood and on record, with a start made on synchronising Stan's location films to Jack's commentaries on tape.
With Charles Webster

The Out of Town DVDs licensed from Endemol have been re-produced under Contender's now surrendered licence from me, now that I've bought all rights in my stepfather's work from Endemol. Between us, with the energies of Kaleidoscope and especially Dave King, 34 'lost episodes' have now been turned into a box set by Delta - original Out of Town episodes, unlike the earlier box set which is also selling well, but which Jack made several years after he'd left Southern Television. A few weeks ago I earned the first lot of royalties on the Delta publications.
"Not bad really. All this in four years when we've both had other things on our plates" I said, knowing Charles' wife has been going through the unrelenting ordeal of chemo since we met.
London was jammed, teeming in the sun...
On my way along Oxford Street on a June afternoon
Marylebone Station - time for a choc milk shake before my train to Snow Hill
*** *** ***
At home we've been grand-child sitting and gaming in  the garden with Oliver, along with Liz and her babe, Sophia...

..and Oliver's been helping me crop the plot; making ten-minute walk with Oscar to our allotment, carefully crossing the busy Hamstead Road, walking through the Victoriana estate to the gates of the Victoria Jubilee Allotments...
...figuring out how to fill the watering can from my tank, helping collect the potatoes I dig and the broad beans I pick...

"Potatoes" I cried. "Tatoes" he echoes as each earth apple rises on my fork
Plot 14 in June 2014 - fourth year! Some of my 'black gold' compost in  the foreground
I'm harvesting; taking stuff home that Lin cooks. I'm now cultivating sprouts, potatoes, Jerusalem artichokes, purple sprouting broccoli, cabbage, a few onions and runner beans. There are fruit trees but only the apples have fruit, and these not much. Gill's bees are busy, the aroma of honey hitting my nose when I approach their hive. I have the rough form of an approach to improving the soil. It will take time, but I'm clearer it must be done. There's no magic bullet. I must dig and not step on the places where I've dug. I must dig again and again, ever removing the larger stones, glass and other rubbish.
Stone and couch root harvest from a two hour dig

To the soil in winter I'll again add manure for worms to pull in. The other day we had pilferer's on the site. My gas cooking stove was pinched, the one mum gave me for the plot a year before she died, and - more vexing - nearly all my garlic, hung to dry in the shed trellis, was filched.
My garlic crop was stolen. I shall plant again in November.

Where I can ponder the world news

Before I plant I dig over; weeding and weeding with especial attention to extracting and disposing of couch grass rhizomes. Over the planting space I've dug, I rake in compost, the expensive stuff I've bought. Where I plant I add in dollops of topsoil - watering in from the roots up.
A bed being got ready for my sprouts and broccoli - next to a large self-seeded fennel I'll let stay where it began
Young plants in and protected from pigeons
Over the cabbages and their kin I've added plastic half-hoops and netting.  I've yet to get a working compost heap; one that's hot and smelly. Today I worked through the rows of young plants hoeing out the expected small surface weeds; heaping up soil around the growing plants, and removing the stones that've worked their way to the surface through new soil and compost.
Some of my vegetables. The lemon is from Ano Korakiana

*** *** *** ***
Continuing work with Handsworth Helping Hands...Yesterday was the fourth day day of our 'Clean-up Green-up' in Church Vale close - HHH's endeavour to carry out longer projects with more involvement of people who live in a particular place. Linda, Denise, Paul, Dennis, Simon and Winnie have been helping tidy and landscape gardens, and the small square that fronts the houses. Residents - including their children - have joined in. HHH committee agreed the idea; we booked a skip from Bogan, circularised the houses in the area beforehand and announced the project on our Facebook pages.
Skip paid for by HHH. Partnership with Fleet & Waste. Metal aside for the scrap men. Builder's bags for loose rubbish
Winnie with residents

Thanks for the very welcome tea, coffee and encouragement, some digging, heavy lifting, the provision of electricity for the drill, and water for plants, as well as tea and coffee for volunteers. The notorious grot-spot next to the laundrette at the head of the close, outside the iron railings and gate, has again (as fully expected) been flytipped. As agreed, when taking on these pilot 'Clean-up Green-up' days, the HHH van picked up the the black sack involved and recovered an addressed envelope, as well as litter-picking other rubbish on the space.
The low wooden railing at the corner has been shattered by a careless driver. HHH volunteers and residents are also clearing and tidying a back alley that leads off the close - full of rubbish, some of it smelly organic waste, as well as tangled green undergrowth. John O'Reilly turned up on request today with sweeper 3391, tidying gutters and parking area. Thanks, John, for coming out within minutes after Denise pleaded for a sweeper from Holford Waste. Hanging baskets have been placed on all houses, some on existing brackets and others with new brackets. Dennis and Lin have been rolling stained preservative onto wooden fencing and railings.
Volunteers - Carol, Oliver, Denise and Dennis
There have been lots of conversations, reassurances and expressions of hope that this face-lifting exercise will be sustained. We're back in Church Vale close on Monday with another skip.
The normal condition of the green patch, next to the launderette, at the entrance to Church Vale close

Edging smashed and more fly-tipping nearly every day, in front of a notice threatening a £20,000 fine for dumping
John O'Reilly arrives with the Fleet and Waste Sweeper

There was a bag of dead pigeons in the rubbish and undergrowth up this alley

Kabs and team arrive with a council crusher truck to clear heavier waste and things that aren't allowed in the skip
Dennis, one of our volunteers
Nearly finished - a few more hanging baskets to come
Litter collected, edges weeded, area swept 
We are all aware that it is unlikely that this area will remain tidy. Were such continuity of maintenance  assured the efforts of the last few days would have been unnecessary. The area including the entry into the close has become an invitation to fly-tip, despite the council's threatening notices. Litter blows in from the rest of the area. Where properties are landlord owned, the landlord does little by way of encouraging tenants to attend to the area outside their houses. Only the residents together can commit to this. The area is a convenient lay-by for people who are non-residents to park and do business, unconcerned incidentally at our presence as this continues.

One of our volunteers at the local tasking group - regular meeting with local agencies, councillors and other volunteers in the area - has been told (or not told for security reasons) that the police have their eye on this space. There's already a CCTV camera pointing up and down Church Vale, but it misses this place, quite rightly so if one isn't to be overwhelmed by surveillance. There's an illegal garage in the close paying no business rate and making a terrific row when work goes on, though the place fell silent for much of the time HHH volunteers were there. As in the case of the larger projects with which I've been associated over the years - the restoration of such useful and delightful urban places as Handsworth Park, the saving of the Victoria Jubilee Allotments, our own street residents' association - this is an intervention whose objectives seem at first to have a low chance of fulfilment.
Neighbours and friends in our road
In this game you're always losing until you win. To the man at the chippie who, when i told him what HHH was doing in the Vale these least few days, and who replied "You've got a job for life there, mate", I replied "But of course". What matters as much as the physical work is the demonstration, - via an alliance of volunteers (all from the area) and residents, that people care about the appearance and character of the places where they live.
First man standing (photo with his permission)
**** ****
From the Ano Korakiana website:
Ειδήσεις ~ 17.7.14  1.«Τέτοιο καλοκαίρι δεν έχουμε ξαναγνωρίσει τα τελευταία 50 χρόνια», έλεγαν οι παλαιότεροι, από αυτούς που έτρεξαν στο Κοινοτικό κατάστημα για να βρουν καταφύγιο από την ξφνική βραδινή μπόρα, στη μέση του θέρους. Και πράγματι, έως σήμερα, το φετινό καλοκαίρι χαρακτηρίζεται από ξαφνικές εναλλαγές του καιρού… 2.Οι έρευνες για τις κλοπές της προηγούμενης εβδομάδας συνεχίζονται, λέει η Αστυνομία…3.Σύμφωνα με ανάρτηση στο facebook, μετά την Κορακιάνα βρέθηκαν και στους Πουλάδες ψόφιοι σκύλοι, από δηλητήριο…. 4.Για μια ακόμη φορά επιχειρήθηκε ο καθαρισμός του δρόμου του Αθραουλιά από σπουπίδια και μπάζα, που πετούν κάποιοι, μετατρέποντας το όμορφο μέρος σε μικρή υπαίθρια χωματερή.
(my translation) News ~ 17.7.14.  1. An old man, chatting to neighbours taking shelter in the community store from this evening's summer storm, observed "We've not had such a summer in 50 years." This summer has indeed been marked by many abrupt changes in weather... 2.The investigation into last week's thieving continues, say the police... 3. For posting on Facebook, after a Korakiana discovered dead chickens and dogs, poisoned ... 4. Yet another attempt to clear the beautiful track through Athroulia of litter and rubbish foiled by a casual fly-tipper.

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Simon Baddeley