Late Good Friday night the band hurried with taps along the street to join the procession at Agios Georgios. We met them, led by couched banners on Bravi, waited at the verge, as they headed west to the church by the bandroom. Then back up the street some people following others by their casements and doors crossing themselves as the bier was portered by, decked with carnations, rhizomes of wisteria and camellia. In and out of the crowd ran that urchin sister of Katheriniki looking in doorways and windows. People noticed her running loose. She knows us but would not take a hand. As she dashed off up a side road in the dark, Lin - the teacher - followed. I walked on up behind the band slow marching to a dirge up beyond the defile to Venetia, where they retraced their steps and Lin waited for me. “I lost her. It was like that film Don’t look now. The little figure flitting in and out of sight in the back streets. “ Back at Ag.Georgios, a dignified prayer, then everyone dispersed, some like us taking home the flowers threaded into the bier in the cenre of the church.
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This is our third easter in the village. On Saturday night, our candles were lit from the altar at Agios Geogios. We waited with others at the top of the village until midnight; heard the distant fireworks from Corfu town echoing off the mountains above us; then the band struck up, the lights came up and off went the village fireworks with gun shots and we processed down Democracy Street and burned our third cross on the lintels before being invited next door to a tableful of food. For me and Leftheris and Natasha and Fortis a bowl of magiritsa – the insides of their lamb, μαγειρίτσα – in tasty gravy to be soaked up with bread. Their mum said “The children don’t like the insides” They shook their heads vigorously in agreement. This excused Lin who had the same problem with lamb’s intestines, tongues, kidneys and liver – though she can enjoy kokoretsi.
Holy Saturday with our neighbours: breaking the fast of Great Lent
It was lovely how much with Natasha’s English and our littler Greek we could share, not just pleasantries, fun though that was, but music – symphonies, opera, hymns as well as rebetika and local songs – all with humming and words which even I – tuneless – could join in at times, especially bits from Wagner, from Verdi and Puccini and tunes of Mozart’s and Theodorakis’ Ena to Chelidoni song which led us to the story of the architect’s wife buried in the stonework of the bridge at Arta which led us to Yianni Moralis’ portrait of my stepmother Maria in the National Gallery in Athens which Leftheris had seen on the internet, and then to family photo albums. We agreed on our liking of the old black and white photos and the pleasure of hard copy versus the web where I now store so much of my family’s images.
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On Easter Sunday we had a lamb roast at Mark and Sally’s. At one in the afternoon, having been up until nearly four the same morning enjoying food – singing and conversation with our dear neighbours, we strolled down Democracy Street. The spitted lamb was turning over a bed of charcoal. Our assembly came from most parts of the UK, some long inhabitants of the island – citizens - others like us still new and some visitors, one in Corfu for the first time. Angie and Martin we’d met before but I learned they knew Richard Hill’s part of the world, and indeed, when I mentioned his address, knew his street. I explained Richard’s craft and the finely re-carved roach I was so looking forward to holding in my hands in May. We came onto Pompey and the writer Graham Hurley who’s given me so much pleasure. Kerkyra sea and the mainland mountains in their distant detail, while behind us the three crags, on one of which some lads had raised a flag – not the patrida, because it was red and yellow, but we couldn’t make out the pattern. “Could ever a village be better placed?” Swallows darted among the houses. Our company spread across two tables on the balcony; smoke from the roasting lamb full of rosemary rising upwards; cheerful conversation. We ate olive-oiled pitta bread from a barbeque, helping ourselves from dishes of pasta mixed with glazed carrots and sausages; dressed salad; small roasted fowl to be eaten delicately. “This is just the first course" reminded Sally. There was wine, which could be diluted with ice and sipped for hours; also beer and water. Then the lamb – I honoured with half the head. “I’ve never seen anyone trying to eat a lamb’s head with a knife and fork”. True the only way to tease the meat from a skull is to pick it up and feed in the old way.
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A letter to the Birmingham councillor who oversees parks:
Cllr Mullaney. The crisis in public sector finance is forcing painful decisions on councillors. In the case of Birmingham parks we understand that officers are recommending, as a way of getting the same ranger and warden coverage despite reducing their number, by making them on-call, available from ‘hubs’ across the city. There’s a suggestion that this could benefit smaller parks previously without rangers.Our concern is that Handsworth Park will lose out under this new arrangement specifically that, after its brilliant Heritage Lottery Fund refurbishment over the last decade, it may lose its small dedicated staff of permanent wardens.The British public has long recognised that an inner-city park without the permanent stewardship of wardens is poised to descend into urban wasteland, blighted by the violence and vandalism that made it unusable to citizens in the first place.So much of the contribution of wardens to the popularity of a park is objectively impossible to measure by today’s performance figures because, like fire prevention, it entails a constant process of nipping potential problems in the bud. Crime and anti-social behaviour prevented before it occurs is, like the permanent presence that reassures bona fide park visitors, impossible to measure, in the way it may be possible to measure numbers of park tours, education visits and logged events.The threat to Handsworth Park is, we understand, the result of a shift in formula funding that makes decisions about the numbers and deployment of rangers and wardens the responsibility of education officers. Education has different priorities to the Recreation Service. If schools wish to arrange a park visit they can reserve the security and tutoring of rangers and wardens for a particular time and place to coincide with the tour in question – a measurable unit of activity. A decision about the placing of a warden 'hub' may make sense in terms of these measurable educational priorities, but they are unwise in terms of the wider contribution of permanent wardens to Handsworth Park.Before it was restored and staffed Handsworth Park was regarded by the police superintendent at Thornhill Road as a ‘no go area’. The area’s schools never used the park for visits. They would not have imagined participating, as they do now, in an annual 'Classroom in the Park' event. Indeed with the support of parents local schools used to discourage children from using the park for travelling to and from school. This view of Handsworth Park as a dangerous place diffused through all communities of Handsworth and had, at the time I wrote my ‘History of the Founding of Handsworth Park’ in 1997 throughout Birmingham, affected adults as much as children.If implemented in such a way as to remove the park's permanent staff, the proposed ‘outreach’ approach to the stewardship of Handsworth Park will erode twenty years local campaigning and the transformative investment that, in the last decade, has recovered this beautiful space not only for the people of Handsworth but for visitors across the city and further afield.If the hub idea must proceed there’s a spark of hope that the permanence of wardens essential to the security and maintenance of what’s been achieved in Handsworth park can be sustained – if one of the selected hubs is based at Handsworth Park. Apart from the vital need for permanent wardening created by the environment, demography and history of Handsworth and Perry Barr, the logic of retaining Handsworth Park as a warden hub for the larger area is difficult to challenge. In Handsworth Park there is a well equipped purpose built classroom with a park office, community meeting space and kitchen, the Boat House café with toilets and summer boating facilities, the leisure centre with car parking, one of the finest cricket grounds in the north of the city, a restored bandstand, listed park keeper's house, and newly equipped children and young people¹s play areas. To this list will shortly be added, under the S106A attached to the development of housing on part of the adjoining Victoria Jubilee Allotments, three new playing fields, 80 new municipal allotments (the largest new allotments site in the UK since WW2), plus further children’s play areas, sports pavilion and gardeners’ community hut.This is an area of urban green space playing a role in the regeneration, community resilience and history of Handsworth and its surroundings. Retained as a hub for adjoining parks, Handsworth Park is optimally placed and resourced to serve the ‘outreach’ needs of other parks in the area. We deplore, with everyone, the need to reduce the number of rangers and wardens in the city. We implore you not to turn this crisis into a disaster, by removing permanent staff from a place where they can do the most good for the whole area.Yours sincerely, Simon Baddeley (Historian of Handsworth Park)
Nick Booth at Grassroots, to whom I copied this wrote by return: ‘Have you put this on your blog? If not please do so and either link to http://handsonhandsworth.info/ or http://birchfield.org.uk/ and/or http://sohowardbirmingham.com/ or link to them and also go and add a comment on one of their posts - lining back to yours. These blogs are run by neighbourhood managers so this stuff should be just up their street. 'Tho’ he cautions ‘a council officer is unlikely to make a concerted effort. (They’ll) add your e-mail to their blog, but might simply link to the post as part of a round up of what people are saying in and about their patch.’
Anyway I copied the letter to Tracey Thorne at Hands on Handsworth, to our ward councillors, and to area park managers at Edgbaston and Handsworth and to Adrian Goldberg at The Stirrer.
Dear Adrian. Can you give a mention in the Stirrer to my letter to Cllr Mullaney re social damage to Handsworth following decisions by the City Council to cut back the wardening of Birmingham parks. The cut backs – presented as ‘reorganisation’ - may be unavoidable. The threat now lies in plans to shift a projected warden 'hub' from Handsworth Park, with all its facilities, to Edgbaston Reservoir, providing only an 'outreach' warden and ranger service from there to Handsworth. In effect Edgbaston would keep a permanent staff base as they wait to be deployed for ‘outreach’, but Handsworth would lose its permanent staff. If Handsworth was selected as the hub it would at least keep a vital base of permanent warden presence while carrying out 'outreach' duties. Best wishes. Simon
Lee replied almost at once mentioning progress on the Victoria Jubilee site next to the park:
Thanks Simon, very good letter. The play area (on the VJA) should start soon, all of the designs have been finalized. I have met with the landscape architect on site (Alan Smith). The cricket perimeter fencing is almost complete. Once Education hand the pitch over it will be maintained from the park by BPN grounds maintenance staff. Not sure what is happening with the gate access from the park? all the best ....Lee. Perry Barr Constituency Parks Manager