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Friday, 24 November 2017

First world problems

Arthur Rackham - an illustration from Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens

Magpies leap around inside the frieze of black branches at the bottom of the garden. Unruly wind stirs a medley of orphan leaves; stripping the trees of the few that remain, reminding me of infancy. Some I’ve gathered on our front lawn where a few rainless days will dry them, so I can run the mower over them, bagging their grated remains to join the compost on my allotment or use them for mulch, food for worms.
John comes to the door with Dieter, who rolls, delighted, in wet leaves. Oscar joins him barking welcome to “walk time” in Handsworth Park.
The weather’s mild. Lin complains “it’s cold” so now I start inroads on the logs I cut and split in summer; lighting the wood stove in seconds – top-down – the warmed flue whistling, wind drawing up the first flames, crackling, roaring. I’ve worked through my in-tray since we came home. On recommendation from CS, improver and restorer of houses, I brought in Wayne and Barbara of Genesis to clear all our roof gutters. Booked an eye test to check a small cataract in my left eye, made appointment for a flu jab,  and for the dentist; filled in the form for my 126th blood donation, confirmed an appointment with Mr Martin Sintler at City Hospital to assess me for an operation on the inguinal hernia I developed in August.
On Monday, recruited from the 1000elders, I kept an appointment with Dr Benoit Smeunink at QE Hospital to be briefed, and sign consent forms, for participation in the ‘Bed-Rest Study’ in the New Year – official title Exercise 'prehabilitation': A novel intervention to protect against disuse-induced muscle atrophy and sarcopenia in the old
The drift of government policy is to keep those of us who might otherwise be reliant on the burdened NHS, healthy and fit until we drop painlessly and naturally - what ever that means - dead (like in the movies!). The main killers of the elderly are heart disease, cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, strokes, Alzheimers, diabetes, pneumonia, flu, nephritis - a kidney thing, septicemia - and there's another list of illnesses that contribute. The whole population is susceptible to the same dangers, but getting older increases susceptibility, hence so much research on reducing the ill-effects of 'slowing down', and in this case, being confined to a hospital, and worse, to a bed, after a procedure. How can I avoid sarcopenia, or worse, cachexia?  Like an old horse, once I lie down, the chances of getting back on my feet lessen. The vet can gently finish off a horse, but I could be bed-ridden, with occasional wheel-chair forays, for an unpredictable age.


Other things, vexing in their banality; long spells sitting in our kitchen half-heeding recorded phone messages, pressing handset keys between sales talk, wrestling gently with human respondents working to a script, striving to sort confusion between energy company Npower, who we’ve left, and energy company Solarplicity, who we’ve joined, about gas and electricity supplied to Rock Cottage during what appears to be a difference between the two companies’ switch-over dates and their use of estimated meter readings as against the actual readings they were sent by me - an issue also described as 'cross metering' or 'erroneous transfers'. Solarplicity says switch over was 3rd Aug for gas and electricity. Npower says it was 2nd Aug for electricity and 17th Aug for gas, and insist this is confirmed on the 'national data base', an entity I can't even find on the web, but which may be the National Meter Data Base or could it be the Meter Point Administration Service (MPAS)? I'm being mailed court order threats from Npower – on and off the most complained-about of all energy companies in Europe -  in pursuit of gas and electricity bills for whose payment I have dated receipts. The sums involved are under £5. The transfer process began mid-July 2017. Over these four months consider the cost of our time and their time pursuing this ageing company-made error. Result of our time (Lin and I share this sort of chore) on the phone so far? Agreement by Npower to stop phoning (they even phoned us in Greece) and mailing demands – until the dispute is resolved.
24/11/17 Your reply from npower. Your account number:12601** Code: E1*T. Hello Mr Baddeley. Thank you for contacting us about your account. I am sorry to learn that you have not received a resolution for your complaint. I am aware from reviewing your account that this is still ongoing. Our Complaints team is working on resolving this for you and I have made them aware that you have contacted us again about this issue. Rest assured, Mr Simon Baddeley, we will be in touch soon. Your unique reference number for the complaint is 12601**47, please quote this should you wish to speak to our Complaints team directly on 0800 316 9328. They are available from 8am to 6pm Monday to Friday and 8am to 2pm Saturday. If you prefer, you can email complaints@npower.com. Thank you for your patience in this matter, Mr Simon Baddeley. I am confident that this will be resolved for you shortly. Kind regards Chris Thewlis, Customer Services Director, Customer Services
‘Our’ (No! ‘your’) problem according to Solarplicity - another 25 minutes on the phone - is that the sums involved are too small to ‘raise a dispute’, which means we can’t recruit them in stopping Npower in their system’s automated tracks. Fascinating as a symptom of the times, this tiresome ‘first world problem’ vexes but doesn’t worry me. If it ends up in court – unlikely - I shall, as both of us have in the past, enjoy telling this well documented fiasco to a court. (We’ve never lost a case). There are places where, in a different world, I might be trying to get Linda out of solitary confinement based on mistaken identity, or travelling to the Hague to bear witness against Ratko Mladić for the murder of our child.

29/11/17 Email from npower, to back up a phone call from the company, that looks to have sorted 'our' problem:
Unique Reference Number: 10157***   Dear Mr Baddeley. Further to our telephone conversation this afternoon, I can confirm that in line with our agreement, I have now removed the outstanding gas balance of £28.47.
As I have been unable to contact Solarplicity directly with regards to the closing meter readings, I have confirmed that we could either continue to contact your new supplier and re-agree a new final meter reading. Alternatively, we could remove the balance however, no further amendments would be made to the final meter readings.
You have confirmed that you would be happy for me to remove the outstanding balance without agreeing a new meter reading with your supplier. Therefore, I have applied a credit balance to your account today and this leaves nothing to pay. 
I can confirm both your gas and electricity accounts have now been closed to a £0.00 balance.
If you’d like to discuss this with me, please call me direct on ****etc Kind Regards, Bev Young, Specialist Advisor, Executive Liaison Team
* * *  * * *
A meeting was held at Dot’s care home the other day. Anticipated this last fortnight, it was to determine whether Staffordshire NHS Trust could continue to pay for my dear mother-in-law’s care, or whether this should be handled by Staffordshire County Council’s Social Services who would seek funding from the family. Amy, our daughter was at the meeting at the care home, attended by an NHS manager and nurses who look after Dot. She phoned us to say the NHS, after 17 months at the care home,  would no longer pay for Dot’s care. We await a rubber stamp to this decision after which we have about 6 weeks to continue paying the care home out of Dot’s inheritance, such as it is, or make alternative arrangements.
“I can build ramps” I said to Lin
“Yes” said Lin "and we can clear the sitting room at our house, put in a bed and all that’s needed, and have a visiting and occasional live-in carer service.”
Dot can hardly stand, let alone get about, but she can be gently moved from bed to wheelchair. She can feed herself but her care must involve washing and therapy to deal with the risk of sores from spending most of the time bed-ridden, as well as “going to the loo and all that”. Now should be payback for all the National Insurance Dot's paid through her long life but what’s been paid out so far, for her care in old age and disability, can no longer be paid, and the state wants, now, to dip into her savings. Arthur, her husband of 70 years, died in April 2016 at 98. She’s regularly visited by her grandchildren, her niece Janice, and Lin and I and the grandchildren, and also Oscar dog, who is welcome at the care home.
“I knew the NHS wouldn’t continue funding” said Lin, “Mum’s situation didn’t meet their criteria”
Just before we left Corfu, there came a message from Epirus asking if it was true that XX, a mutual friend we knew had been ill, was confined to a care home in Perama. We made some enquiries, located the place and visited - a 15 minute walk across the causeway from below Kanoni. I promised after our visit to write to him, care of another friend, he being without phone, radio, tape player, books or computer (not wanting them even when offered)...adding that I'd put the letter on the internet to ensure that, one way or another, he'd get to read it, or, at least, have it read to him:

xxxxx
House of Elderly Care
Perama Gastouriou,

Dear Xx

I’m sending this via our friend Yy, who promised to bring you and, if necessary, read you this letter. I’d prefer to hand write, but the letter may be easier to read, typed. I’ve used larger than normal font; your description of me as ‘distinguished’, as I sat at your bedside, being a measure of your disability.
I’m so glad we met you again just before we headed back to England.  Despite your circumstances, you entertained us for two hours with the same thoughts and words that marked our first acquaintance.
We’re back in Birmingham after three days in Venice, chased up the Adriatic, from Igoumenitsa, by a gusting gale. 
Passing the Karaburun Peninsula, on Anek Line's F/B Asterion, before a southerly gale

Those big ferries are floating warehouses with noisy accommodation. They clang, echo and rumble, almost ignoring the sea. We snoozed in armchairs, among truck drivers.
As our ship approached Fustina, the clouds pealed back, revealing distant peaks across the horizon – snow-topped Dolomites. Lin and I roamed the lagoon by water-bus. On Torcello we ascended the restored campanile of the island’s Byzantine cathedral. 
Up the campanile of Santa Maria Assunta 
A young man at the ticket office said we could ascend the tower, but its belfry was open only “to priests and children under 6”. Only at the top, having breached this rule, and admired a sunlight panorama of marsh and water from the vertiginous belfry, did we grasp the Italian leg-pull. “Only priests and small children! Ha!”
Venice sparkled. One afternoon, we sat in the sun at Pellestrina, a village on the narrow lagoon spit, sipping coffee and local wine, hearing the sound of Adriatic surf from over the mighty sea wall that protects the city and its islands.
Back in England we’re working through in-trays; the largest challenge - arranging to move my bed-ridden mum-in-law from her care home, for which the NHS will no longer pay, to a room in our house, which will be equipped with kit and care brought in to help us out, leaving Lin, when I ask her if we can be in Corfu for next Easter, saying, of our next flight, already paid, “I hope so”.  Lin’s mum has been a wonderful grandma. Like you, it’s not good to see her bedridden. She’s without her husband of 70 years, who died 17 months ago. These things are tests of character. Mine not hers.
There’s junk mail, bills to be paid, and jobs to be done – like cleaning out house gutters. The wood I collected, sawed and split last August is feeding a wood stove in the kitchen....Lin and I are working on your escape plan. We’ve got you faked papers, cunning disguises and skeleton keys, and a scooter that will be left near the end of the causeway to Kanoni, where you will be met - password ‘λοιπόν’ - and escorted to a safe house until the hue and cry has died down. Love, Simon & Lin XX
Ernest Hemingway with the sculptor Toni Lucarda on Torcello 1948 (Archivo Cameraphoto Epoche. NYRB Oct 2017)


On Torcello - we crossed the ditch on the planks


The other side of the sea-wall at Pellestrina


On Pellestrina - a long narrow strip of an island at the edge of the Lagoon of Venice

Thursday, 9 November 2017

«Ὁδὸς ἄνω κάτω μία καὶ ὡυτή»

1943 - 'So was it when my life began'

In my childhood, lines were planted by their case officers – teachers, parents – introduced as suitable friends, even mentors to be trusted, but in truth, secret agents, sleepers to be activated far in my future.
My heart leaps up when I behold
A rainbow in the sky:
So was it when my life began;
So is it now I am a man;
So be it when I shall grow old,
Or let me die!
The Child is father of the Man;
And I could wish my days to be
Bound each to each by natural piety.  
Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future
And time future contained in time past.
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.
Footfalls echo in the memory
Down the passage which we did not take
Towards the door we never opened
Into the rose-garden.
My words echo
Thus, in your mind.
I knew these words, enjoyed and cherished them as companions and close neighbours; recalled them every day in mused fragments. I listened to Eliot's dry monotones on a 78 record in English class at school. These were trusted lines; taken for granted even. I wrote English essays on Wordsworth's maxim - extracted - 'The Child is father of the Man. Discuss'
My age stretches my recollection of times past into what younger people think of as history, but instead of studying history like them, as something taught - a subject detached - I am history, an inhabitant of times before theirs.
Only now have those sleeping lines come out - replete with meaning; truly here;  tumbling over themselves to fulfil their creators' spells.
2017 - 'So be it when I shall grow old'


 'The same road that leads upwards, leads downwards' Heraclitus. The road between upper and lower Korakiana from our balcony, after 2 days of heavy rain - the first on beloved Corfu since May

Thursday, 26 October 2017

Papa Kosta has died. Αντίο παπα-Κώστα Φαϊτά

Priest blessing a child 1981 a marble relief by Aristeidis Metallinos, sculptor of Ano Korakiana
Single tolls of church bells these last two days have sounded in the village, from postern gate to postern gate across Ano Korakiana. Father Kostas, village priest, died in Ioannina Hospital on Tuesday. He had been ill with leukemia, but we saw him often in Democracy Street, until perhaps just the last fortnight.  His funeral service will start in Agios Georgios tomorrow - Friday at 9.30. From 3.00pm there will be a procession - with his coffin - to Agios Athanasios, where he will be buried.
Αντίο παπα-Κώστα 25.10.17 (from the village website by Thanassis Spingos)
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Αντίο στον παπα-Κώστα Φαϊτά. Στον ιερέα και άνθρωπο που πέραν του Λειτουργήματός του, έδινε αδιάλειπτα το παρόν επί τρεις και πλέον δεκαετίες σε όλες τις πτυχές της συλλογικής καθημερινότητας της κοινωνίας του χωριού μας και όχι μόνο.



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Goodbye to Papa-Kosta Fyta. To the priest and man who, beyond his function, has been constantly present for more than three decades in all aspects of the collective everyday life of our village society and beyond. (my trans.
*** ***
Friday 27th Oct 2017. All Lin and I did was to follow his coffin from Ag Georgios this afternoon, a mile and a half, over an hour an half, with a hundred and more before us, walking to a crowded church...amid the trees and meadows below the village under a gentle blue sky with a sweet breeze bearing the scent of autumn bonfires. 
Kostas Apergis' - Κώστας Απέργης - delivered a eulogy for Papa Kostas at the church of St. Athanasios, below Ano Korakiana, as our village priest was buried this late afternoon....(I will try to translate his words later, but my abilities to capture Apergis' eloquent farewell, to a good and simple man, fail me.)
"Οι τον σταυρόν, ως ζυγόν αράμενοι..."Γράφει ο/η Κώστας Απέργης   27.10.17«Οι τον σταυρόν, ως ζυγόν αράμενοι...δεύτε απολαύετε,  ά  ητοίμασα υμίν βραβεία»
Πάνε 32 χρόνια απ΄ όταν στον Αη Θανάση, μοιραζόμαστε τη χαρά της εισόδου σου στο ιερατικό στάδιο φωνάζοντας <<άξιος>>...Σήμερα, βουβοί, στον ίδιο χώρο σε αποχαιρετάμε!Τότε ήσουν νέος, σχεδόν παιδί. Μόλις είχες εκπληρώσει την εντολή του δημιουργού, την αναφερόμενη  στο βιολογικό προορισμό του ανθρώπου «αυξάνεσθε και πληθύνεσθε» και είχες φτιάξει την οικογένειά σου.Και ευθύς σήκωσες το βαρύ σταυρό της ιεροσύνης, αναλαμβάνοντας τη διακονία της εκκλησίας της  Κορακιάνας.Δύσκολο το χριστεπώνυμο πλήρωμα αυτού του χωριού... Εσύ όμως ανταποκρίθηκες με τον καλύτερο τρόπο στις υποχρεώσεις σου.Πάντα κοντά στον άνθρωπο, χωρίς ξεχώρισμα. Πλούσιοι, φτωχοί, νέοι, γέροι, άρρωστοι, ανήμποροι κάθε λογής.Σε όλους ήσουν δίπλα, σε όλους παραστεκόσουν. Στο ναό, αλλά και στην κουζίνα, στο καφενείο, στην πλατεία,  έδινες παραμυθία πνευματική και υλική...«Ξέρει ο παππάς!», σε ακούγαμε να λες, όταν συνάνθρωποί μας έρχονταν σε ανάγκη και χρειάζονταν  βοήθεια...Κατά τις ιερές ακολουθίες ελάμπρυνες με το ιερατικό σου ήθος και την καλλικέλαδη φωνή σου τις τελετές, υπέβαλες τους πιστούς και δημιουργούσες μια μυσταγωγική ή δοξαστική ατμόσφαιρα.Πιστός και ταπεινός λευίτης, σύμφωνος με τον όρκο σου, ακολουθούσες πάντα το «πείθεσθε τοις ηγουμένοις υμών», ακόμη και όταν οι ηγούμενοι έδιναν εντολές αντίθετες  με τους θείους και ανθρώπινους νόμους...Και τότε σήκωνες διπλό το σταυρό, φόρτωνες τις ενοχές στον εαυτό σου και ζητούσες συγχώρηση σαν να ήσουν εσύ ο φταίχτης. Ήταν φανερός ο σπαραγμός σου!Σήμερα σε αποχαιρετάμε. Φεύγεις σε νέα ηλικία. Πολλά μπορούσες ακόμη να προσφέρεις, αλλά, άλλα  βουλήθηκε «ο ζωής κυριεύων και του θανάτου».Ας είναι ελαφρό το χώμα που θα σε σκεπάσει!Εμείς, συντετριμμένοι, σε προβοδίζουμε προς την «Ουράνια Πόλη» φωνάζοντας ξανά «ΑΞΙΟΣ»!!!

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