And so to Greece

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December, West Cork.  Storm-felled wood, Ash, Holly, Oak, which Lisi  gathered, sawed, and split into logs, burns brightly in the hearth; warming our bodies; flames throw dancing shadows on the walls, mellowing our souls.  Evenings will be like this here for several weeks to come.  Not until April will temperatures begin to rise, the rain to ease a little, the ground drain, days to lengthen as nights shorten.  Until then, little useful work can be done outside.  The slow growth of recently sown and planted vegetables, Broad-Beans, Garlic and Shallot, will continue unseen, below ground.

Christmas cards arrive from friends in Greece evoking memories.  The reality, wild winter days, chilly evenings, cold nights, torrential rain, all of which are typical in Southern Greece through the early months of the year, are largely forgotten; ignored, eclipsed by memories of ‘Alcioni mares’, halcyon days, successions of sunny winter days, warm under clear blue skies, calm seas, enduring periods of bright sunshine, gentle strolls along byways lined with early spring flowers; squat Iris, Oxalis, Crocus, Colchicum, Anemone, Grape Hyacinth, scented Wild Narcissi and Giant Orchid.  Such are the rather rose-tinted memories of place and people which engendered within us an eruption of nostalgia for our former home; a  wistful longing to be there.

A search of meteorological records informed that, during the early months of the year, the Southern Peloponnese can expect average day temperatures around double those recorded in West Cork; sunshine hours are treble.  In Greece, January, and February in particular, are wet months, around 230 millimetres falls there compared with 260 in West Cork, but Greek rain invariably falls in relatively short, very heavy showers; total hours of rainfall are considerably fewer in Greece, furthermore, skies are rarely fully overcast for more than a day at a time.

A further search for flights to Athens found mid-January seats costing less than twenty euros.  I needed no further encouragement.  Flights and accommodation are booked; our 2019 late-winter adventure will begin when we leave here for two months on 16 January.      

   

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S.O.S.

IMG_1890Along with over four-hundred concerned others, I spent last Thursday evening in the ballroom of the West Cork Hotel, Skibbereen.  We had congregated there to discuss how the building and subsequent operation of a thermo-plastics production factory to be located a little more than a kilometre from the town centre, might be prevented.

None of us ought to have been there.   Had Ireland’s ultimate planning authority upheld objections to permission to build being granted, no meeting would have been necessary.  That the foray continues is thanks entirely to the authority having voted two to one, against their own inspector’s advice, in favour of permission being granted.   That permission to build the proposed Brobdingnagian pile was granted is beyond belief.  Quite apart from any other objections, of which there are many, to construct a huge, featureless, industrial complex in a bucolic landscape presently dressed with hedged pastures crossed by streams gently flowing into the Ilen river,  would be consummately inappropriate; an environmental act of war.

Throughout the year, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, the proposed thermo-plastics factory will, if it is ever built, process raw material into plastic pellets, know as ‘Nurdles’.  Raw material will be shipped into Ringaskiddy, ninety kilometres from Skibbereen, where it will be transferred to heavy lorries,  to be trundled for  along a largely two-lane country road passing through the centre of Innishannon,  by-passing Clonakilty town centre along an itinerary of twisting residential back streets which serve the town centre as an inadequate by-pass to ultimately crawl through the busy retail centre of Skibbereen.    Even on a fine day, it is not an easy drive in a family car on a fine day.  Finished  ‘Nurdles’, will be trundled over the same route back to Ringaskiddy.  To imagine a lorry coming from Ringaskiddy loaded with raw material meeting another loaded with finished hurdles heading back to Ringaskiddy in say North Street Skibbereen, would be excellent material for a farce writer but, if the scheme eventually goes ahead, such scenes will surely be regular occurrences.

I have, as clearly as I am able, presented sound reasons why I, among many others, have failed to understand how this scheme could have advanced to a position whereby its progress can only be halted through the auspices of a fabulously expensive and time-consuming judicial review.

That the proposed factory will have four tall chimneys informs of emissions.  The nature of these emissions is unknown, the planning authorities involved in granting permission for the factory to be built had not, incredibly, believed it fit or necessary to ask; no more did they question the composition of the effluent the applicant intends to dump into the Ilen.

It seems that little or no information concerning the processes to be effected within the proposed plant, their potential emissions and effluents, has been made available by the applicant.  Critics of the scheme, however, have sought opinions gleaned from independent scholarship; objective studies of drawings submitted to the planning authorities and intelligence of similar nurdle production plants operating elsewhere in the world have provided a good deal of relevant information; information which gives cause for pessimism.

Emissions from the process are toxic.  As they exit the factory chimneys, the prevailing west wind will take them directly over Skibbereen; the town centre, its residential areas and its new hilltop secondary school which, incidentally, is just about the same height above sea level as the chimney tops of the factory.  Liquid effluent from the plant will flow continually into the Ilen.  It too will be toxic; a threat to marine and avian life,  and to the livelihoods of those engaged in the local fishing industry.  Toxic particulates flowing from the chimneys will fall on the rich grass of the dairy and beef farms around the factory; a threat to the livelihoods of local farmers.

At the end of November a nurdle manufacturing factory located close to the A6 autoroute at Beaune, France, owned by the same concern wanting to build at Skibbereen, caught fire.     Despite the best efforts of fifty fire-fighters, trained to deal with plastic factory fires and the use of specialist equipment, the fire raged for ten hours.  Skibbereen is far from any motorways and with the greatest respect to our firefighters I doubt they have either access to, or have been trained to use, equipment up to fighting a plastics fire for ten minutes; why would they need such resources?

There is much else about which I could write, the disruption to local life the construction will cause, the puzzling over what is really behind the doubtful course this application appears to have taken, but no, I believe I have provided sufficient food for thought concerning this lunatic project.  I sincerely hope it will never come to pass!

For further, more detailed, and reliable reference to this appalling story visit:  https://saveourskibbereen.ie/

To H✳︎✳︎✳︎✳︎✳︎ With my Thanks.

When, in June 2015, I abandoned ‘Sensateman’ (http://sensateman.blogspot.com),  the blog to which I had been posting since 2010, to begin, ‘Unreasonablejottings’, I wrote and posted the following:

“I am not at all sure why I am here. I happened to be reading another’s blog and noticed an invitation to establish my own.  At the time it seemed to be a good idea to click on the button but ten minutes or so ago was another time when I was slightly someone other than who I now am.”

Several years on I am even less sure; I have posted nothing since November last year.  It is not that I have not been writing.  Shortly after I began to write for ‘Unreasonablejottings’, I relocated my home to Ireland where  I joined my local writers’ group.  Since then, with their encouragement, I have written at least twenty stories each year.

This morning I was surprised when a fellow group member announced she had found this blog and had extracted from it the paragraph above to read to the rest of the group.  I am as unsure of why she wanted to do this as I am as to why I chose to change from ‘Sensateman’, to ”Unreasonablejottings’, but she did as did I.

In a way, I am grateful to her.  She has inspired me to pick up my pen once again and to record a few random flakes of my life as they fall.

I have now imported my original blog, ‘Sensateman’ (http://sensateman.blogspot.com),  into this blog.

Wye 1: A Stroll to The Crown

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The second of November this year was a glorious day; warm and sunny, blue Sky dotted with puffs of pristine white cloud. The day owed more to summer than to autumn; a perfect day for a stroll from Wye to ‘The Crown’, an earthwork etched into the chalk of the Downs.

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A fine site for a cheek-by-jowl housing development; should be able to get a hundred or three on there!

We, daughter, grand daughter and myself, left Wye village along Olantigh Road, named after its manor, first recorded as being held, in the late thirteenth century, by a Ralph Kempe. Passing by the abandoned, presently unoccupied, fine Edwardian red-brick buildings which, until recently, were the main campus buildings of Wye College, an internationally renowned agricultural research centre; the college was established in 1894. I felt sadness for the buildings, for the village and for future would-be students who could now never be. The history of Wye college, correctly, ‘The College of St. Gregory and St. Martin at Wye, began in 1447 when John Kempe, Archbishop of York at the time, founded the college for, ‘the training of Priests’. Why, in 2004, the by then owners of Wye College, Imperial College London, choose to destroy the asset they held in trust for the whole nation, and cast over a hundred years worth of dedicated research and discovery to the winds, is a mystery to me; perhaps the hundred million pounds they expected to make by developing the land and buildings may have influenced their decision; if so, may they choke on their Bitcoin feasts!

There are documented reports of doubtful doings between Ashford Council, Kent County Council and a firm of developers, concerning negotiations, behind closed doors, in advance of a planning application, concerning the building of 10,000 new homes on land belonging to the college, land registered as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Fortunately, some informed and alert villagers rumbled these corrupt and nefarious deceits and mounted huge opposition to nail any such scheme, opposition which was ultimately successful enough to scupper, for the time being at least, the appropriately named Imperial College’s mercenary ambitions.
When Olantigh Road ran out of the village, into surrounding farmland, we turned onto a wide track on our right, onto the path that would lead us up to The Crown. The track first passes by a fine modern building, completed only twenty yeas ago. The ‘Kempe’ building was purpose built to house the college library. Presently, the building is presently home to a new school, the Wye Free School. Beyond the school the track passes through an avenue of trees half-hidden behind which rows of lately field laboratories in which Wye College students worked to serve a global community.  These buildings are presently on death row, shortly be demolished to accommodate new buildings for the expanding Free School. Many of the buildings are still occupied. Squatters or short term tenants? It does not matter; useful buildings are being saved from pointlessly wasteful dereliction. The commissars of both Ashford Borough and Kent County County Councils were against the opening of a Free School, state funded but managed by a board independent of local authorities; I doubt then that the planning departments of those councils will be in any hurry to approve plans for new school buildings. The occupiers of the ex-Wye College outbuildings could be secure for quite a while.

The broad track narrowed to a single path, a white line of bare chalk beside an established hedge at the base of which we noticed a rat, fearlessly padding his way past us to satisfy whatever ambition had inspired his journey. I plodded, on my rising path, struggling a little now to keep up. Beyond the hedge on our left, a large ex-Wye College field had been planted by Ripple Farm Organics with vegetable crops. Ripple farm have a lease on the land, presently into the 2020s, from Imperial College. Eventually the path, becoming yet steeper, entered a wood, to bring some respite from the midday sun which, through the thinning canopy of the wood, shafted columns of bright light illuminating dancing dust motes and spheres of diaphanous insects. Perspiring and panting, I emerged from the wood onto a sheep-cropped, grassy meadow. Following an imagined contour line, a little below the summit of the ridge of the North Downs which stretches from here to the White Cliffs of Dover in the East, and West to Farnham, Surrey; a hundred miles or so in all.
The ‘Wye Crown’ is an excavation of the chalk escarpment filled with white-painted flints. The effect is an image of a dazzling white crown set into the face of the hill.

The crown was originally created, by students from Wye College working under the guidance of the college Vice Principal, in 1902 to mark the coronation of Edward VII. On the night of the coronation the crown was lit with 1,500 fairy lights and similarly illuminated in 1935 to celebrate George V’s silver jubilee. To mark the Millennium a stone pillar was sited above the crown on the top of which are arrows pointing to several historically interesting sites from Winchester in the West to Richborough in the East.

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Hitherto the crown has been maintained by Wye College students. Now there are none, I do not know on whom the responsibility for The Crown’s maintenance will fall. Imperial College perhaps?

From the Crown we took a diagonal path across the grassy slope to the point at which we had entered the wood earlier. From there we picked up our previously trodden route past the Free School and along Olantigh Road into the village where we enjoyed an excellent pub lunch at the ‘King’s Head’.

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The Iron Mountain Festival

John McGahern died in 2006.  In 2007, Leitrim Council and NUI Galway staged the first John McGahern Symposium an event, at which, for the delectation of symposium attendees, eminent writers and scholars who had known or had been influenced by McGahern, presented papers and read from books relevant to his literary legacy. In 2008 the university published the first of four, annual, John McGahern yearbooks in which themes established at the symposiums are expanded; covetable, beautiful books.

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Spread from the 3rd Yearbook, 2010

The symposiums ran until 2013 when, presumably, the funding ran dry; the year books published only until 2011. Two years after the sad demise of the symposium, in 2016, Leitrim Council instigated an ‘The Iron Mountain Festival’, a similar event but with a rather broader base, less exclusively literary. Last year I traveled up to Carrick-on-Shannon for the inaugural ‘Iron Mountain Festival’ which, although different and more varied in content from the symposiums, clearly followed a similar format.

The first Festival enjoyed sufficient success to warrant Leitrim County Council running a second Festival which ran, this year, from 6th – 8th October.

I enjoyed the festival but lamented the passing of the symposiums with which last year’s festival had, I believe, kept greater connection; Annie Proulx and Anne Enright both spoke a good deal about their own books invoking McGahern themes of place and memory. Other 2016 contributors spoke about language and landscape; the identity of place through folklore and built shelter.

This year, there was more emphasis on music and on conditions which stimulate emigration, on multiculturalism. The event, it seemed to me, had edged from literature towards current affairs; recent history; national border issues; Brexit; immigration. Bernadette McAliskey and Muhammad Al-Hussaini were interesting to listen to but a long way from John McGahern. During the nineteen-seventies, anthropologist Henry Glassie spent ten years living in Ballymenone, County Fermanagh, bandit country, where he recorded the lives of his neighbours, how they coped with the violence of that time. Henry’s book, ‘The Stars of Ballymenone’ (2006), is a story of place and people, McGahern only once removed. McCabes, Eugene and Pat, also invoked McGahern; Eugene McCabe’s four closely-linked short stories,‘Tales From the Poorhouse’ (1999), set close by Henry Glassie’s Ballymenone, are masterly evocations of Ireland in the mid-nineteenth century; Patrick McCabe’s, ‘The Stray Sod Country’ (2010) recalls, for me, McGahern’s, ‘That They May Face the Rising Sun’.

Sunday, the last day of the festival, had very much an end-of-term feel about it. The venue for the day was Skerry Rynn’s Pub at Ballinagera, where Karen Ryan, her friends from the London Irish folk music scene, in company with local musicians and singers, provided musical excellent entertainment. During breaks in the music Leitrim poets gave readings of their work.

Despite my reservations about the evolving format I enjoyed the festival. I shall be there next year.

Folkestone Triennial

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I have some very early life memories of Folkestone, as a child I would be taken there by my parents, probably because it was the nearest town of any consequence to Dymchurch, a coastal village ten miles to the west, where, on Bank holiday weekends we would invariably stay at the “Silver Waves Chalet Hotel”. For me this place is now exists only in memory; yet another lacuna in the story of my life. The hotel was built during the nineteen-thirties; a bold modernist design, horizontal lines, long and low, white painted rendered concrete, extensive metal framed fenestration, a flat roof from which projected a circular, fully glazed sun lounge also flat roofed, for use when there was no sun (most days) or when the sea breeze became a little too bracing (sun or not, also most days). Sadly, the hotel was built in the wrong place at the wrong time; The war ended the dream before it had begun. By the time my family began to use it the hotel, built for an age which had, in some respects, moved forward a century in five years while in others was on its way back to the dark ages. Inadequately maintained for want of resources, the place had become shabby, unkempt, nature had long reclaimed the tennis courts and croquet lawn; the rickety bridge that led over the wide drainage dyke to the sands gave such case for concern that we crossed a couple of hundred yards further along the dyke over a brick road bridge.
DE205725-1628-464D-BB8C-9668A6952372I doubt the building reached its twenty-fifth birthday before being demolished. The rickety bridge no longer straddles the dyke. The below-sea-level hotel site has been re-developed. A score of cheek by jowl private houses have been built there. How much life expectancy, I wonder, can these buildings expect?
Dymchurch, a less than two hour drive from our London home, had been a place of childhood convalesce for my father whose early years were dogged by illness. The long periods he spent there, lodged in an ancient cottage in the Main Street, bred within him a lifetime affinity with the village.
From those earliest visits I formed impressions of Folkestone which were almost certainly false. My young mind committed to memory a Folkestone that might have been before 1914, 1899 perhaps when the Pavilion Hotel beside the harbour had just been refurbished; it had been built in 1843.
Two huge brick built Edwardian Hotels, ‘The Grand’ and ‘The Metropole’ marked, and still mark, the western end of ‘The Leas’, a broad and level promenade, lawns, flower beds, a bandstand, above the cliffs through which zig-zag wooded paths meandered down to sea level. An ingenious water-powered funicular lift transported those not up for walking the paths.
Researching for this essay, I have learnt that the lift is presently closed for want of funds to address demands made by the nannies at the Health and Safety executive. News which ought to be shocking but sadly is not.
26112368-D348-473E-87C3-951AB291A0C4The ‘Golden Arrow’, a train which ran daily from London to Paris, passed under ‘Union Bridge’ near Dulwich College. Occasionally, on Sunday mornings, my father would take me to the bridge to wait for the train to thunder under the bridge; crossed Union Flag and Tricolour flapping up front; thick plumes of smoke and steam pouring back from the engine. On my childhood visits to Folkestone I would again see this train, crawling down the last yards from the highest brick viaduct in the world onto the harbour arm station.
In the early 1960s I was visiting Folkestone again, making fleeting visits as I passed through the town on my way to motoring holidays in France. The ferry I took was steam powered, cars were loaded onto its deck by crane, a slow process. The ferries too were slow but, on calm, fine days, there was nothing to compare with the sensation of gliding almost silently over the sea; only the gentle hiss of escaping steam broke the tranquillity. The ships were small and accommodated only a limited number of passengers who would sit around the walls of a room on one side of the ship’s companionway until summoned by the steward into the dining room on the far side. Perhaps fortunately, my crossings were all on calm, fine days.
Because my visits to the town at that time were so transient I have few memories of them. I do, however, remember the disappointment of noticing the condition into which many of the town’s finer buildings had fallen. A keen disciple of Nairn and Betjeman, I was sensitive to the unwarranted neglect and destruction of our built heritage. Rather than spending my youthful energies gallivanting in France, perhaps I might have directed them to defending what was fine in my England by fighting its barbaric destruction by mindless Philistines who allowed the destruction of Folkestone’s beautiful Pavilion Hotel and its replacement with the monstrous ‘Motel Burstin’ modeled, apparently, on an ocean liner but appearing to have been designed to compete with the worst of communist brutalist architecture.
In 1976, circumstances largely beyond my control had me living just ten minutes drive from Folkestone, my nearest town of any consequence. During the ten years during which I lived at Acrise I came to know Folkestone, and many of its inhabitants, very well. Although the town was a neglected mess I kept a strong fondness for it. Since my childhood several of its treasures had been lost but the majority remained, albeit that some were in less than fine fettle. Apart from the afore mentioned monstrous excrescence which rose, seemingly overnight, from the last resting place of the beautiful Pavilion Hotel, the majority of buildings in the lower town Centre were owned by a slot machine arcade operator; misnamed ‘amusement arcades’ these places are toxicants in any town. The arcades exclusively attracted their own brand of follower for whom, in order to survive, surrounding businesses were obliged to cater. West Folkestone was a world apart whose residents had little call to go East and were more likely, to satisfy their shopping and socialising needs, to drive west to more apposite places; Sandgate and Hythe.
There were good places in which to be in the Old Town but they were oases in a cultural dessert.
F19D4976-2800-4461-966C-6398111F0613In 1996 I left England to live abroad, I continue so to do. Periodically I return briefly, to visit my daughters. My most recent visit coincided with Folkestone’s third Art Triennial. I had to get there.
I was far from disappointed. The month long event was magnificent; works were on public display from the far West of the town to the far East; art works by major international names from the world of contemporary art. The exhibition is impressive but more so is its effect on the town. This is the third Folkestone Triennial, the first being in 2011. The knock-on effect of this glorious indulgence in creativity appears to have been nothing short of miraculous. The ‘Amusement Arcades’ and all the tack that surrounded them have been swept away. Artists’ workshops and the services that serve them have taken leases on vacated commercial properties. Creative architecture is evident everywhere. Interesting Cafés have opened to serve the creators and their followers; the town is alive and buzzing as I have never known it.
D2702740-DAE1-410B-A472-E90A4419434EThe junk-yard fun-fair and its attendant market site are no longer polluting the foreshore to the west of the harbour. Plans are presently being realised to redevelop the site and redevelopment of the harbour arm, including refurbishment of the old marine railway station is close to completion. Can all of this, depending on whether you are a chicken or an egg person, be a result of Folkestone finding art or art finding Folkestone. To me that is academic, I am just so happy to see this lovely town finding sponsors with the Vision of their Victorian and Edwardian forebears.
Much of the foregoing text has been written from memory, some recent, some far less so, I cannot guarantee the truth of any of it but I am happy to have written it and will never let veracity stand in the way of a dubious memory.

Aran 1: MV Plassey

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At the end of September I made a pilgrimage to Aran, three rocky islands beyond the wide entrance to Galway Bay which defy the worst of Wild Atlantic weather. For many years past I have wanted to visit these islands, inspired originally by watching Robert Flaherty’s 1934 documentary film, ‘Man of Aran’, and thereafter reading J. M. Synge’s account of his visits there at the beginning of the twentieth century.

To discover what I might find to interest me when I arrived on Inisheer, I re-read Tom Robinson’s, ‘Stones of Aran’ books and watched as many videos about the islands as I could find on ‘You Tube but, when I stepped off the ferry, peculiar novelties of the place surprised me. Passing between the gathering of irregularly aligned buildings which constituted the island’s main town, I savoured the sounds of the island’s inhabitants conversing solely in Irish. I also noticed an extraordinary number of motor vehicles around the place. How did they get there? Where did they go? From where did they get their fuel?

I spent the next few days exploring the island on foot. Nowhere was further than a half hour stroll from my base at the hotel and the narrow, snaking island roads, contained everywhere between high stone walls, were well surfaced making for easy walking.

One of my rambles took me close by the rusting remains of a wrecked ship, high and dry on the shingle. The remains, I learned later, were those of the MV Plassy.

The Plassy, had been launched in 1940 as the ‘Juliet’, a steam trawler. Later she was re-named, converted into a cargo vessel; her steam engine replaced with a diesel. During the spring of 1960, carrying a cargo of Whiskey, yarn and stained glass, she was caught in a storm which drove her onto rocks close to Inisheer. The trapped and imperiled crew were miraculously rescued by islanders who, by means of a rocket fired from the beach, sent to the ship a line along which all eleven men were hauled to safety by Breeches Buoy. Subsequent storms moved the wreck, first from the rock on which it floundered to a beach at Inisheer, then higher up the beach onto the shingle bank where, contorting and decomposing a little more each passing year, it remains. Quite what happened to the cargo is an untold mystery.