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Thursday, 16 April 2015

Small works

From downstairs Lin calls “What have you done now?”
“We have a problem”
The stove, just refilled with wood, was keeping us warm. The hollow half-cone cast iron moulding that linked it to the stove pipe had dropped off onto the marble base of the stove. Six 5mm bolts sheared.
“It’s because you let the lid fall with a bang all the time” said Lin “Cast iron’s brittle.”
We opened both french windows to clear any smoke. I measured the height from floor to chimney, went down to the apothiki and found a suitable piece of sturdy plank under 60cm to prop back the moulding, now cooled in water. I offered up the moulding, pushed the plankprop under it, while Lin jammed in planky firewood wood, front and back, to hold it in place.
Sorted until the morning, I considered the problem. The sheared bolts were firmly married to the stove casing, almost invisible.
“I’ll have to drill them out and cycle down to Tzavros in the morning to get replacement nuts and bolts.”
The morning was bright; clear blue. Ripe for a cycle ride south.
First I took the moulding outside. My metal drills found an easy centre in the bolt heads. Through to the other side, the metal  drill gave a grip to a big nail used as a punch. Bang, bang, bang. A sharp tap with a small hammer and the holes were clear. I tidied the interior surface with a sanding disk on the angle grinder.
“If the rest of the job’s as easy…”
I disconnected the stove pipe and swivelled the stove to the light. Reaching inside with grippers I tried to turn the bolts. No way were they going to give. But drilling was hampered by the inadequacy of my metal drills and the difficulty of getting them centred on the sheared end of the bolts.
The solution was for Lin to hold the moulding in place so that its bolt holes gave me a centre on the stove. With the six bolt holes just pricked with the drill, I began drilling proper, having first used the angle grinder inside the stove to cut through the immovable nutted bolts. Sparks flew.
“Why bother?” Said Lin “Once you’re through the casing they’ll surely drop off anyway”
“It feels better this way”
Drilling with my metal drills was frustrating. They were the cheapest kind and lost their edge in moments.
I got out my bicycle, checking tyres for thorns at the end of the path to the lower road. The pleasure of being on the large bicycle on a fresh sunny morning – a downhill run almost the whole 7 kilometres to Tzavros. A list of small things to buy.
At Kostas’ I got the 5mm nuts and bolts, but he was out of 5mm metal drills - the cheap ones and the good ones. On to Technomart another kilometre. They had some in stock.
Now the long ascent back to the village – a test of my declining powers. I stopped for a scoop of melon ice cream and a glass of water at Emeral; rested at the Doctor’s Bridge turn and ate a choc biscuit and again, after the turn onto the village road, at the bridge over the stream. The wind was fresh and chill; wild flowers blooming; the mountain sides greening with spring leaves. It was pleasing how a five minute rest recovered my powers. Here was the steepest part in the last half kilometre. Fine on 1:1 gears. I walked up the path, rang my bell.
Lin in our small garden says “Hi”
“Right let’s see what happens now. Make me a cup of tea, woman”
“Yes master”
Each hole took the best part of 10 minutes drilling, with me switching through even my new drills.
“You need a diamond tip”
“Get me a set for Christmas”
The holes were not well enough aligned to get all the bolts through. We argued, Lin as usual using that dratted past tense containing the futile imperative “You should have…”
She left me to it and went to work in the garden. I used a larger drill from my set, a cheap one, but it worked well enough, enlarging the drill holes now the casing had been pierced. Offered up again, each bolt, two at odd angles, came through. I tightened the nuts. All flush. I loosened them again.
“Li-in! We’re ready for the fire cement.”
“Hm” she said “Well done Baddeley”
The cement – red sticky from a tube was applied as I watched. Then I tightened the nuts for good.
“Looks good” I said “I’ll just grind off the bolts an inch”
“Not too close to the nuts. While the stove’s facing this way I’ll give the back a coat of stove paint.”
That done we eased our mended stove back in place, vacuuming up ash and soot. Lin applied marble cleaner to clean scuffing on the base; re-attached the stove pipe to the next length of pipe, sealing the join with silver tape.
“Cup of tea?”
“And now be more careful about not banging the stove lid. I keep telling you”
“Yeah yeah”
I put my clothes in the washing basket, had a shower and felt pleasantly clean and achy from the cycling and drilling.
Later I said “The problem with the sorts of repairs we do, or the things we make...It’s not like a craftsman doing similar things over and over...improving on experience; knowing the measures and having the right tools to hand. How could we have known that stove moulding would just drop off one evening? What do I know about how it attaches…the width of the holes, the number of bolts? Now it’s reattached is it likely to happen again? Touch wood, no. Something else will break or go wrong. No wonder I sometimes seem cackhanded; always an innocent...If you get me diamond tipped drills when will I need them again?”
**** **** ****
On Good Friday, coming home from a walk in the late afternoon, we could hear singing in the large school room above us – the choir from Sokraki rehearsing one of the three Great Friday songs, ‘Ω γλυκύ μου έας’ – ‘Oh! My Sweet Spring’ that I chose to begin my mother’s funeral in the Highlands. In old age, memory’s palette has more shades to mix from present cues. I allowed myself – so it felt – a tear. I wonder if there’s some reservoir of grief as yet untapped though I sense, as someone gingerly feels themselves after a fall, that my mourning’s done. The richness of her long life, her hand in mine at her last breath, Bay and I beside her bed, her genes so thoroughly, often familiarly, in me; and didn’t we both say at moments of chat immersed in favourite places, happy with the hour, even the whole day, that, come a time, these things would all pass. Once I grew out of thinking of my mum’s death as beyond bearing, the infant's nightmare, their ending became the hidden ingredient - the risky spice - of our shared enjoyments. I like seeing things of hers here in Greece – the windvane that followed us for 50 years, the pitch pine drawers used to store garden things now part of the bedroom wardrobe Lin and I built last year, the pyjamas Lin’s wearing now, the cashmere neckwarmers good for cycling in chilly winds, a small oil portrait of a woman that mum found in a junk-shop (when such places existed), seen now in the Greek light that seeps through the shutters.
Easter Saturday coming up to midnight: Stephanie and Wesley live close to the higher church. They’d invited us to a recording, in their big sitting room, of the Corfu Christmas panto, Cinderella, in which Wesley played a moustached and goatied ugly sister performing in ever expanding hoop dresses, while Steph played half an extemporised double act between the main scenes – one of two spivs in pin stripe and trilbies. Maria, also in the panto, had joined us with her sons James and Adam. The finale done, we got our coats on against the chill and strolled with candles unlit to Ay Georgias.
“The Greeks find the British enjoyment of men dressed as women and vice versa as strange” said Wes.
The annual panto’s plot is topped and tailed, characters and plot, exposed to a hybrid Brit-Greek audience by a Corfiot clown front of curtain.
The triangular courtyard of the church was full, a platform with speakers for the priest and a lozenged image of Christ risen, and, beside the church, the brass helmets and plumes of the village band. We joined the throng of familiar faces and every age. I stepped up via the back door into the smoke wax scented glistening gloom of the church’s crowded interior audience to prayer and incantation, candles all around below the lights of the big chandelier. The congregation moved slowly towards the front, lighting their candles from the original flame and walking them down to join the people outside. From the podium there were more prayers until at midnight "Kristos Anesti!" bang bang bang bang of fireworks, a merry tune struck up by the band and further away the sound of shots, hugging and kissing and handshaking, faces uplit by candles. Down the short steep hill, guarding our candles in the wax cradles Wesley had given us, to Democracy Street where villagers lined the road, more hugs and kisses and the hum of happy greetings “Kronnia Polla!” “Kala Paska” “Kristos anesti” "Alethos Anesti”. Under our porch was room for one more candle flame cross to join three from previous Easters.
** **
Peter and Elena are married and she expects a child in September. Easter Sunday afternoon, a spotless blue day, Peter’s parents, Paul and Lula invited us to a lamb roast at Elina's parents, Procopius and Xrysa's home on Filareto, beside the road to Kanoni. We’re used to filotemo here, but here, if that’s possible, the gift was amplified as we - strangers - were, from the first second of our arrival, drawn into the orbit of two Greek families joined in pride and happiness at each others’ children’s union. Starting with warm handshakes and kisses we were sat at joined up terrace tables under a veranda overlooking the narrow road from town. Between us already many plates spread with prosciutto, salami, feta cubes, slices of hard cheese and village rosé in jugs not allowed to empty, a bottle of tsipero circulating and Sunday toast. To the rhythm of songs whose lyrics all but I and Lin knew the company sang, now and then breaking off to clash our glasses and plastic cups in toasts to health up and down the tables.
“Come” said Procopius “the spit”
He gestured the turning. I followed him to a cooking space where glistening with fat a whole lamb turned above the charcoal, watched by Anna, Xrysa's mother.
“Here, baste!” he handed me a brush and jar of olive oil and then pinched off a piece of crisp skin and juicy flesh, piquant with rosemary, salt and the smell of the roasting beast.
“Ready?” he asked me
“Thekka lepta?” I ventured
“Thekka lepta” he instructed his mother, who smiled without a hint of indulgence.
Back at the table village sausages were added to the mezes, cut six or seven times, to make delectable mouthfuls.
Lin began nudging me as I ate “Don’t be so greedy”
We sang and hummed and toasted and drank, Paul, Lula, George, Lin, I, Procopius, Xrysa  George, Rula and her daughter Eleni, Pete and Elina, his brother Kostas.
Procopius and George ready to unspit the lamb

A plate of kokoretsi passed round - a delicacy some don't like because made of lamb's intestines turned inside out, washed, rubbed with salt, soaked in lemon juice, threaded onto a skewer, wrapped with the intestine to hold the roll together, crisped over the fire. It was time to prepare the lamb for the table, unshackle its neck, draw the spit from centre, lay the cooked carcass on wood and chop it limb from sizzling limb. Procopius and George prepared the feast. Chop chop chop. Bones and sinews gave way. Rich slivers of meat and crisp skin were laid in square platters for our table. I carried one, trailing the delicious scent of the roast to the table and so to our plates to be enjoyed with the help of fingers, fatty, hot and lickable.

Procopius filled the wine jugs, led the toasts amid the eating and the singing and dancing. Two plates were smashed followed by more, with Xrysa adding the regular clanging of dropped oven and baking tins “Oopa” “Oopa”.

When the younger people had gone the grown-ups continued the meal with two enthusiastic household dogs bounding under and around the tables. We played 'conkers' with dyed red hard boiled eggs - a game I still haven't the knack to win.  As the sun sank and began to dazzle us Xrysa hung a cloth from the beams of the veranda. Procopius - or was it Paul? - threw more plates to smash in the road...
...and then we continued dancing there, waving to passing cars on their way to Vlacherna and Kanoni, some drivers and passengers waving back happily “Kala Paska” “Kronia Polla”.
Music, dancing, plate smashing, ironware clashing continued, tables were swiftly cleared, more wine poured, sweet things served on platters, and hardly consumed, before Procopius whipped the whole table cloth with all on the table to the floor “Oopa” – and danced amid the shambles swiftly tidied by Lula and Anna, who’d already swept our wreckage from the road. Then we were dancing, even I, on one of the tables. Procopius picked up the other and threw it over. Xrysa pulled a hollow brick from the garden and hurled it into the shattered debris of plates and glasses. Two girls passing outside were invited to join us. They too were soon dancing and singing, plied with food and wine
“You realise where you are?” said Paul “we're all vampires!”

Then there was coffee. Slowly the party wound down, the terrace tidied, even as the music and singing continued. In the Greek way of enjoying a party eyes never glaze over, speech is never slurred, no-one gets drunk, for all the wine that flows, and no-one whispers “You know I really like you”. Wit stays sharp. Mickey is taken. Procopius and Paul, father to father “Me Greek bastard no English! You English bastard, no Greek”. At some point I went over to Paul; gave his shoulders a hug “Thanks for asking us to this. I couldn’t be happier”. So when it was time to leave we all hugged, kissed, shook hands and went our ways.
*** ***

Anna Metallinos has brought me a rich diplo and chocolate cake these last two days as her daughter Angeliki and I work in the Aristeidis Metallinos museum listing the features of each of the laic sculptor’s works – whether marble or stone, its dimensions, whether a full sculpture or a relief, oblong or oval. Andreas has dropped in and answered more of my questions. He brought in his father's marble - Kozanis κοζάνυς. The works in stone - like one of my favourites, the small statue of a woman - came from local houses that were falling down or were stones just lying beside the road, which might have come originally from a quarry at Sinies.
"Why did he sometimes use marble and sometimes stone?"
"We don't know"
"Which is easier to work?"
Right now this is my favourite - smoothed stone; hardly 15 inches high

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Simon Baddeley