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Friday, 20 March 2015

Work up Bell Hill, Lydbrook

The Rock Cottage restoration project hovered over us for several years. A favourite place reached by walking up a steep path from the middle of Lydbrook, Gloucestershire. The place has been neglected as the children grew older and my parents-in-law found it more and more difficult to climb the narrow path up Bell Hill from the car park below, and Linda and I met Ano Korakiana. Meanwhile, a nice man but, as it turned out, a wholly inadequate builder, subject to excuses about instructions 'lost in translation' made partial improvements which made the place worse. Its neglect hung over us. Then last July, our friends Martin and Sandra met us in Lydbrook. They inspected. Martin wrote later:
Hi both. Glad to hear you're feeling a little better about the task ahead...I must confess I was shocked to see the condition of the Cottage. I always visualise it as it was in May '92 when I did that veranda roof - and I used my motorbike, we lived in Gloucester. It was a glorious summer that year, Sandra would come over in the afternoons (after work) and sunbathe in the back garden. The ride there in the cool mornings, and the ride back with my jacket tied around my waist because it was so hot - ahhh!, happy days indeed. We'll have to see if we can recapture some of that. Martin X 
No builder or decorator could have been expected to achieve what our friends have, treating their work, mainly carried out by their son Adam and two other young men who work for Martin's company - work for which we paid - but also by Martin and Sandra who except for material have worked on the cottage for free. First, back in August of 2014, a pile of building rubbish and rubble left in the overgrown garden was barrowed or carried away. Phil from Lydbrook Stores gave permission for us to place a large skip where the path met the road. Adam and his mate Jack filled it over a weekend. Timber for logs was piled in the garden. Where, already cut, it was stacked under the lean to at the south end of the cottage. Foliage and other pieces of rotting wood were heaped for burning. Then work began on the interior - first the kitchen (transported from Amy's and Guy's home in Birmingham after new building there( and then the bathroom. The old bath was rescued from the garden, re-plumbed and combined with a shower.

Walls were plastered; stonework cleaned up and repointed, and two walls at the north end of the house were dry lined. Lin and I would go down now and then to see the place 'coming along'. Martin sent me conscientious costings for materials and the lad's labour. I'd send needed cash on-line. We downloaded Martin's photos of the work while we were in Greece in September and October.
Last year - Sandra at work in the hall
The hall being dry walled
The hall this Feb
New catches were fitted to the highly unsatisfactory windows installed by the previous builder which allowed them to open where previously they had merely cantilevered. Leaks around the window frames were made up. Martin would light the wood stove helping dry the place out.
"So much of the problem of damp is being caused by condensation" he said, dismissing prolonged discussion about water ingress via roof and walls that would have had us spending lots of unnecessary money with the previous builder.
Martin set the new windows on a trickle opening to make up for their lack of ventilation strips; set central heating to come on now and then when the house was empty. It began to dry out, helped via the tree clearance I'd paid Dave at Evolution Trees to carry out in January 2014. Lin and I had backed this up with substantial lopping and sawing of the garden trees and shrubs we could get to.
This February - just over half a year later, the body of the restoration was complete.
We went to look at carpets at a Birmingham showroom...
Our grandchildren, Oliver and Hannah play as Amy and Lin discuss carpets for Rock Cottage

Early February, Lin, ferrying her mum between hospital consultants, couldn't come with me. I got permission from the HHH committee to borrow the van in return for a full tank of fuel. With strict instructions from Lin, I took her selected carpets to Lydbrook and carried them up the hill where they were fitted in sitting room, and bedrooms, by Dave, locally recommended. He also laid new lino in the bathroom.
Our bedroom - carpeted and cosy 
Dave at work in Rock Cottage sitting room

Looking out across the Lydbrook valley

Of course there's more to be done; not least recovering the garden, especially the lawn where we lay in summers. For now Lin and I need to re-arrange the furniture stacked upstairs, so we have a couple of working bedrooms and furniture for the sitting room where we eat. The kitchen's fine, but needs a washing machine.
While Dave was fitting carpets Oscar and I set out on an old and familiar walk towards the top of Bell Hill. I wondered if the way had changed; a climb among tall beech trees. So, as we haven't for nearly 10 years, we set out - left turn, up a narrow steep track for 20 yards, then sharp right for a 50 yards and a short turn left and up the hill...

Up Bell Hill
Coming to the top of the first slope I could gaze down on the village...

...How this changes with the summer greenery, yet the beech trunks, once coppiced for chair making, are now so elongated, as they reach for the light, you can still see through them to feel the sense of being overhead, ascending towards the high ridge from where it's possible on a clear day to see the Brecon Beacons. A little further I saw the familiar car dump that reminds me Lydbrook is still its slightly scruffy old self rather than being a smart Cotswold Village.

I didn't rise so, but kept on the path round the village side of the hill...

...greeting Nigel Aston and shaking hands - "Not seen you a while" - descending to the Hangerberry Road just above its junction with Lydbrook's long central street. Dave had nearly completed his carpeting. The rooms felt warmer; the bedrooms cosier; the sitting room almost ready for family and friends. I paid Dave. Oscar and I headed happily back 75 miles to Birmingham.
*** *** ***
On our allotment, Gill, our friend, neighbour, and apiarist was inspecting the hive on Thursday to give the colony sugar feed and Apiguard against Varroa mites. A couple of years ago I persuaded her to keep one of her colonies on our plot. The first colony lasted five months but died during the first winter. The second died in February, a year later, after carrying damp into the hive after an early warm spell had brought the bees out foraging the winter bulb sprouts. The third colony Gill introduced was invaded in July 2014 by another colony which, after killing the tenant Queen, took over. These bees seems to have survived the worst of this winter and are, says Gill, the strongest colony yet. They should even give us honey, as well as pollinating across the allotment and beyond.

Oliver and I have continued to enjoy the plot, one day with Dennis and Winnie, who continues her work on the plot. Last week we cleared a mess of rotting wood, shrubs and other combustible rubbish, my first bonfire in years, good dry stuff, creating little smoke; buckets of water to hand ready to douse the flames in a hurry...

...Oliver is planting for the first time, watering and helping move earth...
I've moved the unsightly pile of weed-filled earth that's sat next to the shed for too long, and am making compost bays from pallets...
One more bay to come: compost from bay 2 will turned into the empty bay 3, so that bay 1 can be turned into bay 2.

I'm steadily planting things - winter peas, winter broad beans, onions, garlic, rhubarb, and I couldn't resist a scarlet rose - but the next few months will be critical if this year's growing is to be far better than previous years'. I've pruned the small trees; top-dressed them. Winnie's been creosoting the shed; continuing to place recovered bricks around beds and along paths. Where seeds are sprouting I've put up nets over hoops. The contest with couch grass continues with every visit to the plot.
I'm away soon to Greece - alone. Lin must care for her mother, who's fallen ill, and needs ferrying between different consultants at different Staffordshire hospitals - tests, diagnoses, treatments and more tests....
Hannah with her great grandmother at Staffordshire General
Linda and her mum wrapping presents last Christmas Eve

I've got lots to do in the next week. Winnie and I will stay in touch across the miles using photos to check progress. I really hope we've choked off the worst of the couch grass but it remains a presence for all the stripping out of those cursed winding white rhizomes. I'm hoping that I'll start a parsnip crop, growing them direct. but also to ensure germinated parsnip seeds grow straight and do not divide, I've sought advice and been told to plant them in tubes. I didn't have any round cardboard tubes to hand, so made cardboard triangle tubes, stapling the open edges. I filled them with damp compost, then Linda, to a background of 'Gardeners' Question Time' on the BBC, used tweezers to pick up the seeds that were showing little roots. I'd germinated the seeds on a damp kitchen towel over the last 10 days. She put two seedlings into a small indentation in the compost in each tube and put soil gently over them. If I get sprouting seedlings I'll thin them down to one per tube and then use a crowbar to make a hole in the bed I have ready for them on the allotment, and slide the tubes into the ground with no cardboard showing. If this works then I'll make up more tubes. Once in the ground I'll cover them with veggiemesh and over that, for a few weeks, lay a covering of fleece. Now all depends on Tyche Τύχη, the blind mistress of Fortune, protecting the young parsnips from Sod's Law, holding s sheaf with a sandalled foot on the shoulders of a suppliant farmer...
Τύχη είναι η υποτιθέμενη «δύναμη» που αποδίδεται σε έμψυχα ή άψυχα αντικείμενα και η οποία είναι σε θέση να επηρεάσει, πέρα από τον έλεγχο του ανθρώπου και τους φυσικούς νόμους του σύμπαντος, γεγονότα και καταστάσεις ώστε να έχουν θετική κατάληξη. Στην αρχαιότητα η τύχη ήταν θεά, κόρη του Ερμή και της Αφροδίτης, και λατρευόταν από τους αρχαίους έλληνες ως προστάτιδα των πόλεων. 
A gauge of my ignorance. I thought the little white tentacles emerging from the germinated seeds were growing upwards - stems rising with the seed earthward. I had to wait a few days and look closer to see these were stems rooting in the damp tissue carrying the seed skywards. Can it be that some of these tiny fragile things will become the delectable parsnips we may enjoy next Christmas?
Germinating parsnip seeds

*** *** ***
Birmingham's Lord Mayor Shafique Shah has to be outside party politics, but representing an inner city ward, he was well aware of the issues HHH volunteers discussed over biscuits, tea and coffee in the Council House last Tuesday morning. Thanks to our ward councillors for arranging this, especially to Cllr Waseem Zaffar MBE, with us for our hour with the Lord Mayor. A useful meeting and for all the civility and pleasant ritual (HHH got a certificate!) not idle chat.
Coffee, tea and biscuits in the Lord Mayor's Parlour

Cllr Waseem Zaffar MBE, Charles Bates, Jan Horn, Lord Mayor Shafique Shah, Mike Tye, Linda Baddeley, Simon B, Denise Forsyth, Nick Jolliffe
Working in Cornwall Road - another 'Skip-it Don't Tip-it' day - tea, courtesy of a resident

...and the next day Denise and I were working with a family to clear rubbish, including a collapsed rotting sofa, left by the previous tenant.

Kinopiastes - Κυνοπιάστες - is Ano Korakiana's sister village south of Corfu Town. Courtesy of John's Corfu World blog I've come across a film - 50 minutes - showing one of the best depictions I've seen of Corfiot rural life in 1970-71. Praise to Kinopiastes in Corfu and to the film-maker David Shaw-Smith, his family and Greek colleagues. This is the finest documentary I've ever seen of a pastoral economy still at work 45 years ago. At 36.21 I see a working threshing-floor (aloni, τ' αλώνι), horses used to loosen the chaff from the grain. My friend Jim Potts wrote a few years back...
" objective, physical structure and space, but also as a potent literary, cultural and folkloric symbol throughout Greek history, literature and folk-song, from ancient times, until the present day. It's sad to see many threshing floors abandoned nowadays, their surrounding walls crumbling, their beauty and function almost forgotten. As people start to go back to the land, maybe some, at least, will be restored. Will the circle be unbroken?" 
I enjoy the way the Greek commentary mingles with the children's English. Watching it, for all my realism about the back breaking labour of working the land, I ache for what's been lost by modernisation and its effect on the life of villages everywhere. 

This coming Sunday evening, at 19.00, there's a meeting in Kinopiastes Philharmonic Hall to consider rural revitalisation, including the revival of rural housing....
Η αναζωογόνηση της υπαίθρου
Μια εκδήλωση - συζήτηση με ευρύτερο ενδιαφέρον πραγματοποιείται την Κυριακή 22 Μαρτίου  και ώρα 7.00 το απόγευμα στους Κυνοπιάστες, σε συνεργασία με το Κέντρο UNESCO Ιονίου. Αφορά στο πρόβλημα της εγκατάλειψης της υπαίθρου και στην αναζωογόννηση των χωριών μας.
My translation: An event - exploring a matter of widest interest - will take place on Sunday, March 22 at 7.00 pm in Kinopiastes, in collaboration with the Centre for Ionian UNESCO. It concerns the problem of the rural exodus and the revitalisation of our villages.
The fast passing pastoral economy was fixed in a series of marble reliefs by Ano Korakiana's laic sculptor Aristeidis Metallinos who died in 1987.

Rapid changes in the countryside, in the rural economy,figured over and over in my stepfather's broadcasts.
"The past is passing away in the English countryside at a rapidly accelerating speed. The change is amazing"
In the mid 1980s Jack Hargreaves uses a visit to a farm sale, where a family that's lived in the same place for centuries is leaving their farm, selling their home to a market in which such places now change hands, on average, every seven years; selling off their agricultural equipment - old and new - to buyers who want them for museums, as garden and pub decoration...
Jack Hargreaves - farm sale 1 from Simon Baddeley on Vimeo.
Out of Town has preoccupied me these last few years. In spring 2012 I found the unruly archive of film and tape at South West Film and Television Archivebrought it back to a lock-up in Birmingham; struggled with the task of getting 16mm film and 1/4 reel-to-reel sound tape matched up. Charles Webster at one of our lunches at Seafresh sketched an outline.  'Jack loved Dickens' I said "Call the project 'restored to life'  - as in A Tale of Two Cities"
Charles Webster's note
A freelancer, Francis Neimczykand then late last year got the offer from Chris Perry to do a deal - letting the new local TV company, Big Centre TV, show existing episodes of Out of Town in return for having the post-production company Deluxe Soho digitise the archive material and Big Centre's editor, Sean Anthony Lee, synchronise and edit this material so that it too can be broadcast.
With Sean, 'my' Big Centre TV editor, at Walsall Studio School on 11th March

One other element of this risky quid pro quo is a 10 second commercial after each broadcast of 'Out of Town' for the Delta box-sets that my friend Charles Webster helped bring to the market..
My son came with me to interview Mike Prince at the formal opening of Big Centre TV on 6th Feb 2015

So now I sit at the kitchen table - 10.30-11.00 these last four Monday and Friday mornings monitoring my stepfather's broadcasts, transmission quality, on TV and on-line, aiming to ensure the commercials are shown, and that no more than 50% of the episodes in each box set will be broadcast (so no-one can download what others have bought). The event that I await is the first broadcast - so far unprecedented - of one of the reconstituted tape-film matches from the archive.
Oscar's got fleas and I'm watching 'Out of Town' on Big Centre TV
*** *** ***
"Cunning is, in fact, integral to Greek integrity, hence the disfavour it incurs from Anglo- and Teutonic mindsets" writes my friend Richard from Corfu. Greece is playing the game of her life, and how she plays the game despite holding a folding hand, will determine the history of the coming future. Being geographically small, Greece and Greeks value the classical merit of cunning - the talent of metis* referring in Greek to wisdom or craft or nous, and to the goddess of wisdom and prudence - η Μήτις. Cunning in Hellenic culture stands higher than it does in ours (tho' Greeks have seen perfidious Albion as a mirror). We are more wary of cunning. It can be ruefully respected, but also detested - no part of our understanding of integrity. Of necessity it's different in Greece. Richard Pine, in his latest op-ed for The Irish Times, written from Perithia, speaks of Yanis Varoufakis Γιάνης Βαρουφάκης.
Varoufakis plays consummate Cretan 
hand with EU ministers

A caricature depicts Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras  and German Chancellor Angela Merkel during the traditional rosemonday carnival parade in the western German city of Duesseldorf. Photogaraph. AFP/Getty Images
A caricature depicts Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras and German Chancellor Angela Merkel during the traditional rosemonday carnival parade in the western German city of Duesseldorf. Photograph. AFP/Getty Images
I am very pleased that Germany’s chancellor, Angela Merkel, and Greece’s prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, took my advice about the need for compromise. The two most entrenched hardliners in Europe – on either end of whatever spectrum you choose – moved together as if orchestrated by newspaper columnists, with Nobel laureate Paul Krugman the chief puppeteer. 
Nevertheless, a kissy-kissy scenario and swapping family photos isn’t on the agenda yet. Behind whatever smiles they can manage for the photo opportunities, Merkel would dearly love to cut off Tsipras’s feet at the shoulders.
If it were not for a growing sense in southern Europe that the underdogs may still be able to snarl a bit, many in the north (and Ireland) would have no hesitation in killing Greece – or at least the Greece led by Syriza which, Charlie Hebdo says, is “the future of Europe”.
It seemed at one point that the palpable sympathy of most Europeans for the Greek plight would not translate into votes, with several around the euro table determined not to let heart rule head when it came to getting re-elected.
As Krugman has pointed out, austerity policies, which the International Monetary Fund admits were ill-founded, caused such a shrinkage in the Greek economy as to jeopardise any possibility of recovery. 
Tsipras knows his government is on sale or return. Crying “Wolf!” is no use, if his election promises (of a new vision of the Greek future) are outperformed and negated by the realpolitik of Brussels and Berlin, and his 20-20 vision is severely impaired. He may well accept by now that, as former governor of New York Mario Cuomo put it, you campaign in poetry but govern in prose. If Tsipras had capitulated to Brussels and Berlin he would be facing another election before the end of this year. And that is still on the cards.
Speaking of cards, Greece’s finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, who taught game theory at Athens University, denies he has been bluffing. “Nothing is farther from the truth,” he said on the eve of the crucial meeting of EU finance ministers. But Varoufakis comes from a Cretan family, and it was a Cretan who famously said: “All Cretans are liars.” If he was speaking the truth he was lying, and if he was lying he was speaking the truth. 
Poker wasn’t around when this was first mooted in 600 BC, but when Varoufakis says “It would be pure folly to think of the negotiations as a bargaining game to be won or lost via bluffing”, he was in fact saying the opposite. And that is how he won the last round of talks. 
When he insisted there was “a red line beyond which logic and duty prevent us from going”, he wasn’t merely stating Syriza’s ideological bottom line: he was also admitting that although the cards in his hand couldn’t beat a royal flush they could force his euro zone colleagues to show their hand. This he achieved, and they respected him enough to let him into the next round of the game. 
Of course Varoufakis was playing the game of his life. Everything in his manner – dress code, body language, approach and withdrawal from the table – proved him the consummate Cretan. And he got what he wanted – what he knew he could achieve, without overplaying his hand. To sit as a neophyte at that table with the big boys (including a scornful Michael Noonan) was to play the Cincinnati Kid against Edward G Robinson, but this time he won. 
To change the analogy, if an Indian army officer couldn’t pay his mess bills, his fellow officers gave him a revolver and told him to do “the honourable thing”. Tsipras and Varoufakis walked out of their meetings with their fellow officers, holding the gun but with no intention of doing anything honourable other than abiding by as many of their election promises they knew they could afford to keep. 
Tsipras returned home cautiously claiming: “We won the battle, not the war. The difficulties lie ahead of us.” Influential figures such as the German finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble are not helping anyone by suggesting Greece won’t be able to deliver on the essential reforms. The simple fact, as Krugman repeatedly emphasises, is that if Greece cannot pay all its debts there’s no future in insisting it should do so. 
Noonan, too, doesn’t help when he so clearly relishes his rehabilitation on the good-boy side of the table, adopting an unseemly attitude to Varoufakis, comparing him to a “celebrity economist, good in theory but not very good in practice”. I think Varoufakis will prove to be a better player than Noonan. The next game could be Russian roulette. Smiles don’t cost anything but they don’t come cheap. Handshakes and hugs, as we know from Northern Ireland, take a little time.
* My footnote: Marcel Detienne and Jean-Pierre Vernant published a book in 1978 called Les ruses de l’intelligence: la mètis des Grecs, translated in 1991 as Cunning Intelligence in Greek Culture and Society.
...There is no doubt that mêtis is a type of intelligence and of thought, a way of knowing; it implies a complex but very coherent body of mental attitudes and intellectual behaviour which combine flair, wisdom, forethought, subtlety of mind, deception, resourcefulness, vigilance, opportunism, various skills, and experience acquired over the years. It is applied to situations which are transient, shifting, disconcerting and ambiguous, situations which do not lend themselves to precise measurement, exact calculation or rigorous logic.. 

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