Saturday, 6 May 2017

Their last day here

Between Nymfes and Episkepsi

I have been in charge of the children – 3 and 5 - for the first hour of each morning of the stay. It gives Amy and Guy – on holiday – longer to sleep, and even Lin. If a child doesn’t wake me – probably by climbing into our bed, I, when I rise, head downstairs in nightgown and slippers a step at a time, knee joints hurting, but using the outside steps from our side balcony, lined with wisteria and honeysuckle, to avoid the creaky stairs above the guest bedroom, re-entering the house like a burglar, first peeing on the compost in the garden, before I wash and get breakfast ready in the dining room next to the kitchen, putting away, last night’s washing, handling each item like spillikins.
Hearing an overhead thump of a waking child I hurry out again, ascending the steps to usher a pyjamad grandchild, perhaps both, downstairs, back the way I came, saying ‘shush, shush’, finger to my lips.
“Have a wee. Come on go to the loo. Yes put the seat on top. V.good. Let’s get this nappy off Hannah. Go go. Shoo shoo. Excellent. I’ll put that on the compost in a moment. Now wash hands. Wash! Very good. OK, sit at the table. Now!”
Oh to have the craft of Miss Pross, to be drawn by Phiz, immortalized by Dickens for my mundane morning valour. I issue orders. Mostly ignored; bringing drinks, a bottle for Hannah, cup for Oliver, then a flaky chocolaty cereal in bowls set before each child, to be followed by a small croissant. Scheherazade told tales to save her life; I tell them to keep my grandchildren eating breakfast, and quiet.
“One day the sun didn’t come up in the morning..."
I’ve no idea where this is going, but I win a good few minutes of compliance thinking up what that would be like, starting with everyone thinking the clocks are wrong but slowly grasping that lots of people are now in a quandary as to what to do, apart from being astonished, and increasingly worried. “Shall we get up? Stay in bed? Where’s the sun? Phoning around, listening to the radio, looking at the TV. Yes we’ve phoned Australia and China to see if the sun’s still over there, but they say ‘no, it should be with you by now. What on earth is going on? Do we go to school, to work?’ ”
Oliver’s fascinated. I’ve got some control, authority. Hannah, at 3, probably doesn’t understand this story, but she follows Oliver’s rapt attention to my words.
“Eat your cereal or we stop the story.”
I get breakfast done and start helping them get dressed, Amy having left two piles of clothes in the dining room.
“Tell me more” says Oliver
“Where do you think the sun has gone?” I ask, since I too have no idea.
Could an android ever be programmed to deal with the moving three-dimensional co-ordinates of dressing a small child, getting legs in pants and trousers, head and arms through the right holes in a T-shirt, pulling on socks so the heel’s in the right place? As it is, at a certain point in the putting-on, the children help, stretching, reaching, leaving me to pull down, pull up and tidy. Phew.
“In places where there are no street lights, people looked up at the stars. The Milky Way ran like a great river across the sky. Some could see the Plough and the North Star. Down in Australia they could see the Southern Cross but*…where are your shoes? Ah. Got them. Left foot! Push… but they could not see the moon. People were still too sleepy and too puzzled to be frightened. “What the heck is going on?” they asked standing in the streets, peering out of their windows “Someone needs to do something”
“Do you know why they couldn’t see the moon, Ollie?”
“Why not?”
“See if you can guess. Let’s go and see if the kittens in the apothiki are OK”
A north wind was driving fluffy clouds. Since it felt too cold for the beaches we’d enjoyed on previous days. On their last full day we managed to agree, almost amicably, to visit the winter fall at Nymfes – a village on the slopes of the island’s northern range.
“Which way?”
“Through Skripero, to Trompetta then through Horespiskopi on the road to Roda. But after Ay Douli just beyond Episkopi take a right on a winding road for two kilometres.”
“We’ll follow you” said Guy.
I added the road between Nymfes and Episkepsi to this map

I’d have preferred to take the bends up to Sokraki, then down to Zygos and, via Klimatia, arrive at Episkopi and the turn to Nymfes (which means 'brides'), but no-one will listen to me so I keep my thoughts to myself rather than fuel arguments - to the power of four.
There was a signpost next to the platea in Nymfes, and a small road leading east. A kilometre along there we parked the cars beside the most beautifully sited football field. In the middle of nowhere, backed by rock at the head of a valley that looked out on tree covered mountains.

Guy and the children had a kick about on the perfect astroturf.
“Even I would come to watch a football match here” with a good seat on the small Adriatic-facing grandstand.
We set out to walk to the waterfall. The wind was still chilly, now and then whistling in the trees beside the road; an urgent stirring of leaves and branches. On a bend a steep set of earth-dug steps supported by wood-pegged risers and the rickiest of handrails led downwards. The falls, more a pair of thin cataracts, was visible between tall narrow tree trunks reaching-up from the ravine. Leading, I set off on my bottom. The family followed.
The water fell with pleasing noise into a clear lime stone pool before running away into thick woods and deep green ground cover.
Climbing the forty steps back was easier.
“Linda and I will go back for the cars” said Guy “you walk on”
The walk with Amy and Oliver and Hannah, towards Episkepsi (meaning 'visitation') , which until now I’ve always muddled with Episkopi (meaning 'oversee'), was a joyful trudge, rising gently upwards through olive groves, our road pot-holed now and then by rain, making it trickier to drive Hannah’s pushchair. Each turn was a promise of a possible sight of the next village, while, looking back, we could see the football field, a green postage stamp far below.
“My legs are hurting” complained Oliver
“Stop that” I said, though later I realised I’d not given him a stick which, with me, he’s come to regard as a necessary part of a proper walk.
Later when recounting the day as the children lay in bed I mentioned this grumbling about ‘legs hurting’.
“I was fibbing” said Oliver
I suspect he was commenting on Hannah in her pushchair.
The day was a consolation, taking my mind off them going back to England the next day, when, strolling down N.Theotoki in Corfu Town, I heard a familiar rumble, looked up and caught a second’s glimpse of their plane rising, wheeling northwards. Gone.
*The story we invented together...You don't want to know or perhaps you do, in which case it turns out that through the imaginatory genius of a young astrophysicist called Sabrina Pasterski that we learned that the sun had, for unexplained reasons, been sucked into a worm-hole, but her ideas were, at first, laughed out of court, after many scientists backed by generals and political leaders tried to set the moon alight with a massive series of rocket based thermo-nuclear explosions with which they hoped, fruitlessly as it turned out, to set the moon alight, hoping it would serve as a substitute sun. It was Sabrina who, through the invention of a device called 'the wobbly spade' (Oliver's contribution to the tale. A tool for altering the space time-continuum), and precise and brilliant calculations and the use of a rocket ship that she had built in her garage, that Sabrina, with the help of another even younger genius - just 10 years old - called Mohammed Squarrrekkjhwtwwr Urgagaghtere-ben-Grrrkch (called 'Mo Squerk', for short) that the earth was drawn through the same worm-hole to rejoin the sun in a different universe. In the next episode Oliver is waiting to learn how the moon, gravely damaged by the ill-thought attempt to set it on fire, was also brought - if indeed it was - through the same worm-hole, just before it closed (watch this space - literally).

Friday, 14 April 2017

Πάσχα στην Άνω Κορακιάνα - Good Friday

Pietro Lorenzetti Christ's entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday 

It’s Good Friday. What a waste it would be, if people like me, without faith in resurrection, miracles or virgin birth, might be tempted to throw out such an accurate demonstration of human nature; even turning away from witnessing the same population who provided a cheering procession last Sunday as Jesus arrived in Jerusalem on a peaceful donkey, but became, within a week, victim of a blood drenched lynching, incited by a religious hierarchy panicked, in their high offices, by the breach of small regulations; an uneasy imperial governor who for political expediency makes the killing of an innocent man official, ignoring his wife's pleas, and lending wood, nails and executioners; of a dear friend whose uncomprehending disappointment turns to anger and impulsive betrayal, and another, who’s resolution faltered when faced with torchlit darkness, armed soldiery and the dreadful smells and sounds of torture. Caiaphas, Pilate, Judas, Peter. There are many bit parts. Simon of Cyrene who carried the cross part of the way up to Golgotha; Veronica who lent her veil to wipe Jesus’ face; two thieves walking to the same death. Many witnesses.
Andrea di Bartolo Way to Calvary
** ** ** **
It's not that I take Greece for granted now we've been regularly at home here these ten years. Not for a moment. It's that some of the fervent, and to Lin, I suspect, feelings that would overtake me when I touched on Greek ground and heard Greek spoken and saw it written, are not so impulsively expressed. I was in love - am still in love - with this place, but now it's more like an extended friendship. Companionship. I'm at ease here.
Hannah and Oliver on the walls of Kassiopi castle
I hoover the floor. I know the details of dust, the mould on the plaka, the dry shed leaves I sweep from our small garden. I love hanging washing that dries in hours, seeing it blowing in the warm breezes that waft between the village and the mountains; remembering to feed the cats where they've left their shit - after I've washed it away - so we won't tread in it as we go up and down the steps to Democracy Street, whose blemishes I know in my sleep. I change the broken bulb in the municipal light that hangs off a bracket on the side of the house, helping us in and out at night. In the morning the piss-pots emptied on the compost of greenery and dried weeds along with peelings from potatoes and carrots. In the grandchildren's case I enjoy reminding Oliver, as I empty his, that only male wee works on compost. One day Hannah will challenge me on this. Oliver's learning the difference between 'bitch' as a rude word and the description of a 'lady dog'. I don't want him getting into trouble with teachers, but nor do I want him town-ignorant. Five days ago swallows began returning to Ano Korakiana.
There was a problem with our water supply. Strong as usual outside; a dribble indoors. I needed to replace the pressure regulator that moderated the high pressure supply to the village. Bought from a plumber by Sgombou, the new kit wasn't too tricky to fit in place of the old one, blocked and rusted, unwilling to loosen up when tapped with a hammer.

Fiddlier was mending the sink drain inside a cupboard in the utility room. Woeking on bended knees is harder work these days, as I explain to Oliver, watching with pleasing interest.
"Turn on the tap....wili it leak? Yes? No! It's OK. I'll tidy things up later"
Mending the sink drain u-bend in the utility room

...nnd Lin's already resealed a gap that's opened up between the stove and its lid, using thermal filler and sealing rope. 
On Good Friday afternoon we drove to a stretch of empty shore at Sidari, treading on warm cushions of dry seaweed, sat on the jetty.

Friday, 10 March 2017

'A fortnight ago things changed...'

A summer meet of the Friends of Black Patch Park outside the Soho Foundry Tavern
.... for Black Patch Park and its friends. It was not as if The Friends haven't left a lobbying trail since we founded ourselves 13 years ago. But last year - 16th March 2016 - we met the late Darren Cooper when he was the Leader of Sandwell MBC. Unofficially he assured us that things must change. We had prepared a draft report on the case for bringing back housing along the edges of the Black Patch, arguing that only by having people who opened their windows and doors onto the park was there a hope of restoring and maintaining it.
In the meantime the park became more and more ravaged by fly-tipping - with the worst we'd ever seen hitting even the national press at the end of February. Given the amplifying repetitiousness of these problems I didn't hold out much hope for the meeting we'd sought with the new Leader of the Council several weeks earlier. Phil Crumpton and I had sat in the middle of a wrecked space venting - feeling our hopes were futile, wasted.
Three years ago we'd designed a visitor's trail for the Black Patch - 'striving to renew a place' 
In February last year we'd written about 'bringing people back to the Black Patch'
Leader's Office - Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council 23 Feb 2017
L-R Simon B, Andrew Simon, Phil Crumpton (FoBPP), Cllr Richard Marshall, Cabinet member for Leisure, Cllr Steve Eling, Leader of Sandwell MBC, Ajman Ali, Interim Director, Neighbourhood Strategy, Sandwell, 
Ash Barker and Harjinder Jheet (FoBPP)  (photo: Max Cookson, Transport & Waste Operations Manager)

At the meeting between Cllr Steve Eling, Leader of Sandwell MBC and the Friends of Black Patch Park on 23 Feb 2017, Cllr Eling said he was impressed at the comprehensiveness of the report that the Friends had produced, recommending that people be brought back to Black Patch Park as the only solution to its neglect and blighting. His Cabinet had walked around the park a few weeks earlier. He had followed our case. He agreed with our plan and its arguments for rezoning the area for new housing around the park and beyond. This, the Leader agreed, was the only way to resolve what he described as the ‘conundrum of the Black Patch’ - a problem created by a prolonged series of failed piece-meal measures; in particular, a repetitive cycle of forced illegal entry, consequent trashing, expensive clearance, inadequate boundary securing and monitoring. “Black Patch” he declared “has been historically disadvantaged by its lack of connectivity. But there’s a new connectivity which changes the fortunes of the Black Patch”. There would be no solution to the ‘Black Patch conundrum’ without a restorative strategy for this part of the Borough.
- Such a strategy must not be implemented piecemeal, since piecemeal actions have brought about the notorious problems of the Black Patch,
- The strategy must reconfigure ‘a new space’ that visibly and physically breaks out of the ‘isolation’ of the park created by transport and former industrial infrastructure – such as railway embankments and the ‘tunnel’ of Queenshead bridge,
- This new space is an answer to the challenge of how to create a sustainable community in the area; bringing new tenants and residents in affordable housing, not only to the borders of the park, but to a wider area, via additional housing along a new hub-walkway linking Black Patch to the Metro station on Handsworth New Road and the neighbourhood of Birmingham’s Soho district.
Note: These are the views of the FoBPP following their meeting at Sandwell Council offices but I received this email y'day:
'Good Afternoon Simon. Both the Leader, Cllr Steve Eling and Cabinet Member for Leisure, Cllr Richard Marshall have agreed that your draft notes are an acceptable account of the meeting and are happy for them to be in the public domain. If I can be of any further assistance please do not hesitate to contact me. Many Thanks, Jane Perham, PA to The Leader'
The Friends of Black Patch Park - "We can't go on meeting like this!"
Back to the future - 30 March 2017 - and I'm writing on Facebook:
The Friends of Black Patch Park have been allowed a few weeks of optimism, believing after our meeting on 23 Feb 2017 (current group photo on the top of this blog entry) with the Leader of the Council, one of his Cabinet colleagues and officers, that the area around the Park would be rezoned for housing - and the future of the park assured by restoring it as the green centre of 'a community of place'. The words of Cllr Steve Eling, Leader of Sandwell MBC, had been that there must be an end to 'piece-meal' decisions in this area of Smethwick, and a recognition that 'the conditions now exist for a sustainable community of park users in the area; that would finally 'offer a solution' to what he called 'the Black Patch conundrum'. But Sandwell's Cabinet have now referred, to planning committee, a plan for a transit site for Travellers next to the park (Ref: DC/17/60410), and, in so doing, have driven a wedge through Cllr Eling's vision of a sustainable housing plan for the area - one that offered a solution to the decades-long neglect of this area. Neither despair nor resignation are in the vocabulary of the Friends of Black Patch Park. We shall continue to make a case that we, mistakenly, understood had been accepted by the leadership of Sandwell Council. The speed with which the transit site (see map below) between Boulton Road and Foundry Lane has been cleared, suggests that despite the reference in past weeks to alternative sites in the borough, these were, in actuality, given no serious consideration. Now we are being asked to believe that a transit site on a vital part of what ought to be zoned for housing in Cllr Eling's vision, as he shared it with us on 23 Feb, will actually be paid for and used by Travellers, when the tempting space of Black Patch Park, whose security Sandwell MBC and the police have been unable - even unwilling - to protect, is just across the road. The placing of this site, intended as a means by which the council can trigger eviction procedures under Section 62 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, is more likely to ensure continuation of the 'piece-meal' problems of occupation, trashing and expensive eviction and clearance that have long blighted the Black Patch area.
Plan for a Transit Site next to the Black Patch

Transit site next to Black Patch Park - in the heart of what should be new housing around the park









This is Cllr Steve Eling's 3-page letter to FoBBP member Phil Crumpton seeking to allay fears about the current decision to place a temporary Traveller's Transit site next to the last remaining homes near Black Patch and in the centre of an area that a month before he'd described as the 'sustainable housing area' that would recreate Black Patch Park as a 'community of place'.
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Andrew Simons (Hon Sec FoBPP) draft letter of objection to application DC/17/60410:
Dear 
I am writing on behalf of the Friends of Black Patch Park in relation to the planning application (DC/17/60410) for a temporary traveller transit site at the corner of Boulton Road and Foundry Lane, Black Patch, Smethwick B66 2LS. The Friends wish to object to the planning application on several grounds. 
1. The planning application is in contravention of planning policy guidance for traveller sites as set out by the Department for Communities and Local Government in 2015 (Planning policy for traveller sites, DCLG, August 2015). In particular, we wish to draw your attention to the following:
a) There has been no community engagement with either the settled or traveller communities with regards to the proposed transit site. For example, there has been no consultation with residents of Murdock and Avery Roads which are immediately next to the proposed site, or the residents on other adjoining streets such as Perrott Street, Eva Road, Foundry Road, Queens Head Road etc.
b) There is little or no evidence of SMBC having worked collaboratively with neighbouring local planning authorities – even though the proposed site is immediately adjacent to the border with Birmingham – to ensure that the site is sustainable economically, socially and environmentally. Indeed, the proposal appears to be designed with the aim of forcing travellers into neighbouring boroughs.
c) The proposed development takes no account of the existing Local Plans for the Black Patch area, for example, the Smethwick Area Action Plan (2008). It is the view of the Friends that such a transit site would undermine the priority for housing development in the area surrounding Black Patch Park and therefore contribute further to a piecemeal approach that is not sustainable in the long term.
d) There is no evidence that other alternative sites within the borough have been given due consideration to ensure that the best site is chosen. This would include a consideration of the needs of the traveller community as well as the resident community adjacent to such sites and embrace such matters as the access of travellers to adequate education, health and welfare services.
2. The proposed transit site will have a detrimental impact on local amenities and environment for residents living next to the site. This includes resident living immediately adjacent to the site on Murdock and Avery Roads and residents living in the wider area who use Black Patch Park. 
The presumption made by SMBC is that the site will not be used owing to the up-front fee and weekly rent. However, this does not exempt SMBC from following relevant planning law or guidance, and is based on an assumption that may prove incorrect. What if some or all the proposed 34 pitches are taken and there is no plan for managing the development as required by DCLG?  How will this proposal help with the development of a long term sustainable plan for the Black Patch area?
We would request that the Council take our objections into consideration when deciding this application. We would be happy to meet with representatives of SMBC on site to discuss our objections in person.  Yours sincerely etc FoBPP
**** **** ****
Last May I got an email from Gill, the apiarist, who keeps bees on Plot 14.
I now have a nucleus colony which can go to your allotment. They are Buckfast bees, specially bred to be both docile and prolific.
So they were - a source of quiet satisfaction through the seasons, a presence on the plot, peered at carefully now and then; seen individually in flowers on the allotment and beyond. Sometimes I imagined them before I went to sleep.

In September 2016 we had our first honey off the plot. For winter Gill insulated the hive. This February I emailed her
Dear Gill. Do you have any idea how the colony on Plot 14 has weathered the winter? Last year was such a good surprise.  X Simon 
28th Feb: Simon. Unfortunately, it has not survived. Varroa depleted the colony and the cold weather put paid to the rest. I shall be getting another colony in the spring, though. Gill
Winnie and I wonder if the siting of the hive backing onto the to park fence, next to the plot shed, trees and brambles, confines the bees to a space that holds damp. We wonder about moving it to a different place on the plot - possibly a chamber inside the fruit cage open to the sky - placing any new colony in the centre of the plot. Now looking at the hive what I thought was sleep and winter quiet, is an emptied hive. Oliver has been curious about the malign work of the Varroa mite. We sat in the kitchen and I called up an animated youtube clip...
I guess fear adds to my feelings. I hate this 'thing' whose reproductive cycle parallels the bee's; that east its way into the bee's young, sucks their blood, breeds in their chambers, excretes on them, uses the bees to spread - vampires. It's not the insect that does the harm, but the diseases it carries in its parasitic life. I know that Buddhism could calm me, show how all is part of the great cycle, and even Christianity would strive to teach me that 'they know not what they do'. A test of love. Before he went to sleep - staying our house tonight - I said "Sleep tight, don't..." He completed "...let the Varroa bugs bite". 
Varroa destructor on its honeybee host





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