Friday, 31 October 2014

Late October in the village

As the time to leave the village and return to the distant city grows closer I find myself playing down here; playing up there. It’s the same for those long departed swallows. As they assembled on village power lines beside their fledglings, emptied nests growing stale under tiled eaves of a village in Greece, twitching for the flight south; reversing the excitement of Easter’s arrival, fretting for a village in Africa.
 “You’ll like it”
 “Are we there yet?”
I’m balancing regret and anticipation, a slight time vacuum that matches this weather; poised between late summer and gentle autumn; sounds and smells evoking life as a planet in a universe of parents, their story my sun, sensations and images evoked by wood smoke, slight chill, misty evenings, lit windows into glimpsed interiors; the quiet of this village strewn along a mile of mountainside with its wide precise focus on the scrubbed mainland hills of Epirus. Here is a warmed space in which to be absorbed uninterrupted by clues to the present; so the click of burning wood in the stove is both now, and long ago, a reminder to feed the fire. I roam in time, occupied by beloved presences long gone from the earth, places past, still ineffaceable. So will we be for our children I hope - an indelible frieze. I’ve been employing my imagination on the recovery of Rock Cottage, assisted by Martin’s regularly forwarded pictures from Gloucestershire. He and Sandra and Adam have been travelling down to the Forest of Dean at weekends from their home near Worcester - equipped with first aid for our first second home, plus Jack and other helpers – ‘Team Ward’ Martin calls them. I’m nearly ready to imagine us being able to stay again in the Forest of Dean – but there’s tiling, painting, carpeting yet, and the hope that the problem of upstairs damp will be solved, by adding gutters, burning logs, clearing drains, living there…
Adam mending the guttering
Sandra on the windows 
Martin's lit the fire to help dry the house ~ 'Team Ward' at work
There’s the allotment, plot 14 on the Victoria Jubilee, from which I’ve pledged these last years, I’ll supply vegetables for our next Christmas lunch. Winnie’s been sending reassuring pictures of well prepared soil, sprouting winter onions…
Plot 14 England (photo: Winnie Hall)

There’s walking and cycling on the canals with dog Oscar, who while we’ve been away, has been shared between our neighbours and Amy. There’s a host of work to be done on the house in Handsworth; continuing work on the Jack Hargreaves archive sat in that slatternly lock-up on the Tyburn Road; see what Francis in London has done by way of further digitising film and tape, synchronisng sound and image. Second day home – Monday after next – I’m giving an evening talk about the history of Handsworth Park to Barr and Aston Local History Society in Great Barr Memorial Hall.

And there’ll be seeing the grandchildren again; familiar after an interval of just a fortnight since they were with us in Corfu, a fortnight since Guy and I went out on Summer Song; Dave our guardian. “Let’s go to Lazaretto Λαζαρέτο
“Gouvinon Island”
He was still puzzled.
“Execution Island”
I’m averse to the name. A cloud shadowed the mountains. We motored out of Ipsos into a calm sunlight sea. No chance to sail…
”Unless those two big clouds come together, then we might need Gouvia as a bolt hole” said Dave as we passed close by Cape Kommeno.
But the sun shone on us between them. The island came closer.

We slowed near the jetty, took a second pass to avoid the shallows, and went in nose first, Dave mooring us with a knot shoved into a slot between a pair of jetty’s rough stones, our bow covered in fenders touching the water. The clouds moved across the sun.

I’d been here a over four years ago, expecting now to see the museum announced in 2007 completed, a place to tell the story behind the walls scarred with bullet hole, the serried ranks of crosses that face you a few yards up a slope from the jetty; memorials for young men and women shot during the Civil War - bearing dates between 1947 and 1949.
A Museum of Medical History and National Reconciliation is to be built on the historic islet of Lazaretto, Corfu. The old leprosy hospital, which has been listed for preservation, is set for restoration and the surrounding area will be refurbished and made fully accessible to the public, according to a Corfu Municipality architectural study that has the approval of Deputy Environment Minister Stavros Kaloyiannis.[Long history of Corfu isle honored with a Museum February 24, 2007]
But someone and something doesn’t want the history yet; can’t tell it. The occupation executions perhaps yes, but not the fratricidal killings that came after. When I was here in May 2009, the new building had looked smart, ready to be used for visits, lectures, exhibitions. The older buildings including the old and perfectly shaped small church, were readied for restoration, scaffolding erected, walls being stripped, some re-plastered. Now the whole place lay besmirched with neglect, mossed, mildewed, rusting, streaked with gutter dripping. In a clearing was a large stack of hardened sacks of cement, paper pealed.

“There’s a €1000 of cement gone to waste there” said Dave.
"It could have been stored under cover surely?"
The notice I’d seen before showed the starred Euro-symbol and the amount dedicated to creating this memorial - €314,000
“That’s gone somewhere else” we muttered.
 “There’s some rain” I said, feeling speckles between the pines. Someone had been strimming and lopping recently or all would have been disappearing into the shrubs, saplings and trees decorating the rest of the island. There were also roughly squared boards bearing more names, listed without dates or other identification. We'd been going to sit and eat our sandwiches. Instead we headed back to Summer Song, passing another notice, the only one that speaks of what happened here.

“What a great place for a taverna!” said Dave “A proper jetty. You could have a to-and-fro ferryboat from Gouvia”
“Yes. An open air grill. souvlaki  lamb, pork, kokoretsi  chicken breasts and legs and beer and wine” “It would be a cracker of a place”
"Singing, dancing..."
Remembering. Someone told us an old man they knew saw soldiers with rifles bringing prisoners to the harbour.
“Young men and women from the prison marched to the old port to board a boat to the island. They were shouting and singing as they walked!”
We got back on Summer Song and motored round the island before heading back to Gouvia Bay. Guy had phoned Amy.
“They’ll meet us at the jetty there in an hour”
The clouds passed as we closed the jetty by the old Venetian shipyard, tied up beside the caïque already moored there and strolled ashore as Amy, Liz, Lin, Sophia, Hannah and Oliver drove up. Dave had brought small life jackets, and fitted one to Oliver.
“We’ll meet you at Ipsos” said Amy. Liz and Oliver came with us on Summer Song.

Oliver with his dad "What's that noise?"
A breeze got up off Kommeno again. For a quiet half hour, before calm returned, we sailed under the foresail, Liz at the helm. Moored again in Ipsos, tidying the boat, turning the handle that pumps grease into the stern gland, I thanked Dave
 “That was such good outing. Your reassurance made it so”
Oliver had spent most of our return journey exploring inside the cabin, observing as we approached Ipsos “Look at the lovely water” A boy's memory of the sea.
Meeting up at the harbour in Ipsos

*** *** ***
Douglas Adams would have used the name of a town, Roget might have a clue for me, and the Germans, a suitable compound adjective to describe the bitter-sweet (?) experience of having the house to ourselves, now Liz, Sophia, Guy, Amy, Oliver and little Hannah have flown back to England. They left - eventually - in grey weather which is always better, except the plane that should have taken them home was struck by lightning somewhere on its approach to Kapodistria. It landed with everyone safe but then sat on the runway effectively unusable while Easyjet announced they were sending a replacement jet which would mean waiting in the airport for the rest of the day. I was grandpa childminder helping with the children until at leafs they trooped into security just before nine in the evening and I headed back to Ano Korakiana.

"I don't see how they can get any compensation" said Lin later, reading the cancellation and delay leaflet everyone had been been given at the airport "It's hardly Easyjet's fault if they get struck by lightning"

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Winter onions showing through

Winnie has sent me pictures of her labours Plot 14 on the Victoria Jubilee; my winter onions surfacing; Brussels sprouts coming along; Jerusalem artichokes doing fine. What also pleases me is the appearance of the soil as a result of our continued weeding and mixing with compost, and the neat work Winnie’s done with weed suppressant and the flowers she's planted on some of the borders.
The soil on my allotment is getting closer to how I want it to be

From W: its coming along I still got so much to do up there  it will all be done by the time u come back  everyone up there keeps walking past n saying its coming along so well I think they would love to nick me to do theres - hahah  - yours is looking the best hahah  I love it up there I had to get some more gas coz the one run's it over there?
We are full up with family - Amy and the baby plus Oliver and Amy's friend Liz and her one year old Sophia. Lovely weather this last week. Shirtsleeves, swimming but also endless nappies! And constant sentry duty on babs. What you are doing makes me so pleased and happy. X S
don't worry simon u be home soon back up there  having tea hahah...all the big stones will be moved I get the pins and all the sides will be done to I put up feed for the littie birds blue tits we get now and I planted a plant that the bees love Denise gave it me for the bees haha u have a place for ya bike n van when it all done
Winnie's stone garden
It is – rightly – forbidden to use artificial pesticides on all Birmingham CC allotments; ditto nutrients. Getting the soil right now feels to me the priority to an extent I hadn’t grasped as I kicked off with digging and weeding – especially the extraction of couch grass roots – the new plot in 2010. The developer treated us all too casually, hence the lack of proper topsoil when we took over the plot, and the plethora of old bricks, glass, bits of plastic, wire, chunks of wood and seemingly endless stones.
Weed suppressing cover on Plot 14
***** *****
From Martin:
Hi Simon. Progress report - when we arrived at the cottage yesterday (Saturday), the chimney breast had dried out somewhat - but the bedroom above is damp still on the outer wall, and that drain is definitely blocked. I've diverted the down pipe shoe at the bottom to temporarily divert rainwater away from the structure, but I really need to get that guttering fixed urgently. I'll see if I can find a roofer to do it. Getting to it is the problem though.
I lit a log fire all day Saturday, and this helped dry things out. The heating is drained down at the moment.
We went to remove the furniture, and had a grisly discovery;
The rat that lived in our sofa

It appears 'Roland' had been living in the sofa! - the furniture has now been burned in the garden, along with the ruined cupboards.
I've got the radiators back on, and have the phone number of the man who installed the boiler - so I was going to try and get him back the charge, refill, service, and re-commission the gas boiler - if that's OK with you. After so long being unused there could be corrosion and dangerous fumes from the heat-exchanger. It could be dangerous.
The bathroom is coming on:-

Adam and Jack are back there today, I have fully briefed them on what to do. Regards, Martin x
**** ****
Meanwhile, in the village, students from the architecture department at the University of Patras are using Ano Korakiana's churches and connected building as case material for their studies in design and restoration...
Αρχιτεκτονική Σχολή...επί το έργον
Γράφει ο/η Κβκ   
Ξεχωριστό το χθεσινό σαββατιάτικο πρωϊνό για το χωριό μας…και αυτό χάρη στην παρουσία φοιτητών και φοιτητριών του Τμήματος Αρχιτεκτονικής του Πανεπιστημίου Πατρών με επικεφαλής τον επικ. Καθηγητή Σταύρο Μαμαλούκο (με σημαντική επιστημονική δραστηριότητα στους τομείς της έρευνας της εκκλησιαστικής αρχιτεκτονικής, της συντήρησης και αποκατάστασης μνημείων κ.ά.). Το χωριό επιλέχτηκε για την πρακτική άσκηση των φοιτητών σε εκκλησίες και παλαιά χαρακτηριστικά οικήματα και η παρουσία τους θα διαρκέσει έως την Δευτέρα.
Λίγο μετά την άφιξή τους και τη συνάντηση με την εκπρόσωπο της Δημοτικής μας Κοινότητας Αγγέλα Θύμη και τα μέλη του εκκλησιαστικού συμβουλίου του Άη-Γιώργη, Σπύρου Βλάχου και Χρήστου Ζερβόπουλου, θα χωριστούν σε δύο ομάδες για να αναλάβουν δράση στο εκκλησάκι του Αγίου Στεφάνου στην πλαγιά του βουνού και σε κατοικία στο μεσαίο δρόμο του χωριού.
Η εργασία της ομάδας και του επικεφαλής της είναι αξιέπαινη και ελπιδοφόροα για το νέο επιστημονικό δυναμικό του τόπου μας, που παρά τη δύσκολη συγκυρία, αποκτάει τις βάσεις για να κρατήσει ζωντανή την ομορφιά και την ταυτότητα, που μας κληροδότησαν οι προηγούμενες γεννιές και την οποία συχνά και υπό την πίεση της ανάγκης, καταναλώνουμε.
Το μεσημέρι η «ομάδα» θα βρεθεί να απολαμβάνει τον ίσκιο και το κρασί (φανταζόμαστε) στην περγουλιά του Γιώργου Μεταλληνού, στο μεσαίο δρόμο, ενώ η εργασία της αποτύπωσης θα κρατήσει έως αργά το σούρουπο, για να συνεχιστεί τις επόμενες δύο ημέρες…
Υ.Γ. Το πόσο δύσκολο και απαταιτικό είναι να διατηρήσουμε τα στοιχεία της αρχιτεκτονικής (και όχι μόνο) παράδοσής μας, φάνηκε στο διάβα της «ομάδας» από την συνοικία του Άη-Γιώργη, όπου δόθηκε η αφορμή για μία ολιγόλεπτη, πλην όμως γεμάτη πάθος και αγάπη για το έργο του, υπαίθρια «διάλεξη» του κου καθηγητή, προς όλους τους ακολουθούντες…φοιτητές και μη.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Picnic below Mount Pantokrator

Picnic below Pantokrator (photo: Liz Basden)

We got out of our cars into warm sunlight before the mist arrived to surround our small stroll around the summit of Mount Pantokrator, now and then parting to reveal the distant roofs of Old Sinies far below, and closer, the winding white road by which we'd arrived, ascending from Ano Korakiana via Sokraki, Zigos, Sgourades and Strinilas. Lin and I explored the cluster of commercial radio huts, slung with humming air conditioning units, a hamlet of aerials glued with concrete to the southern col of our small summit.

The monastery church was locked and barred.
"Why?" I asked Spiro in the shop
"The priest is ill. Normally it's always open"
Young cats, unlike most in the village, collected for cuddling - unwary of strangers
We descended a kilometer to a place in sight of the mountain top and spread a picnic on a grazing just off the road in the company of things that keep people away from such lovely places – two varieties of ant, a dung beetle, wasps, a lone mantis, a bumble bee, small butterflies and day moths.
"Why didn't you bring the picnic blankets?" asked Lin
"I forgot"
I'd spread a spare shirt, a couple of towels, even my jacket.
"We're fine!"

*** *** ***
Yesterday we went as usual when we have a car to the Lighthouse - ο Φόρος – table-top sale at Kontokali, then after the usual humming and haaing with arguments and indecision, to a pebbled beach near the ruin of the old Venetian Arsenal where the Corfu Rowing Club have made three wooden rafts into a jetty.
We’d bought souvlaki and giros from Spiridoula, working as ever over the turning spit at George’s.
“Did you get chips for Guy and Amy?” asked Lin
“No! I got what people ordered..I made the list as I thought agreed"
Lin shrugged to Amy “You didn’t tell your father to get chips as well”
“Shall I go back?”
“No don’t bother”
We sat in the sun on two picnic rugs I’d remembered to bring this time. I sat on the jetty, jeans rolled up, and dangled my feet in the mild sea. A slight breeze blew from the north. A few locals shared the shore.
Gouvia pier

Planes came high overhead now and then. After a while Guy and Amy took Hannah and Oliver further along the shore for shade. Lin lay to read. Sophia slept. Liz and I leapt off the jetty; drying and warming and swimming again. As the sun lost some of its strength Amy and Guy came back with the grandchildren. Oliver dislikes water at the moment and clung to Guy up to his waist. Liz dipped Sophia.
“There’s a pervert over there.” said Liz “He's watching the women. I don’t think it’s at the kids”
“He had his hand in his underpants feeling himself…Doing it” said Amy
I saw this gaunt elderly man, lean and bronzed, in the distance. I strolled over crunching gravel and for an hour stood between him and his glassy stare, standing by him in the water when he rose unsteadily and swam a few listless strokes; resting my shadow across him, as muttering soundlessly he tried to stare at women on the beach with the rusty focus of a spent torpedo. Peering at his watch he picked himself up and doddered from the beach.
Amy joined me jumping in again ...

..and so it was for the rest of the afternoon, before going into town; watching the sun set from the Faliraki corniche, a drive homewards for a long supper at pleasantly talkative Strapunto – delicious grilled meats (some boxed to take home for Sunday supper), breads, feta and salad, grilled mushrooms, chips and the children not embarrassing us too much with sudden complaints, as we sat across from a model family, father and uncle, mother, three small slim daughters and yiayia smiling benignly.
Home again in the cool of the evening
“Don’t bring the washing in now” said Lin “It’ll be fine in the morning”
The children disappeared into the soundest sleep.
“I’ll shower off this salt in the morning” I thought, heading for slumber, nearing the end of Jeffery EugenidesMiddlesex – a wonderful fictional biography about Greeks in America starting - almost - with the destruction of Smyrna; the massacres of 1922 - an event whose truth is debated still.

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