Sunday, 17 August 2014

Francis Henry Connolley

My uncle died last night. He'd been in a nursing home for about three years and was clearly on the way down.

He was a private person - I'll elaborate on that in a while - and I find I don't really know much about him. He was my father's younger brother. My father served in the army "of King George", as he always put it, and came to England sometime after WWII; Henry was more intellectual, stayed in Jamaica until it became unsafe, and ended up working for Tate and Lyle, eventually as a consultant.

Before I say any more, here's a short story he wrote. I believe it to be substantially accurate and clearly autobiographical; it probably says more about him than I can.

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There is so much compressed into that tiny piece: nostalgia for the old days. Remembering childhood. The White Man in Jamaica, which is no longer white-man's-land, and perhaps never was, even when we ruled it. Perhaps a longing for a more vibrant vision of humanity.

This isn't a hagiography, so I'll pick up that last thread: I called Henry "private" before but more accurately he might be called uninterested in other people and indeed the world in general. Or so he always seemed to me, and to my family. Perhaps he was otherwise with other people. When we visited, he would never ask after us, or the children, or respond to talk about them; that rather made for awkward conversation, particularly in the last years, when he wasn't doing anything himself. In earlier years he'd done a lot of travelling: while working to various sugar plantations particularly in Brazil; after retirement he returned to South America, and went to New Zealand, and was keen to show off his photo albums. But it was always a rather one-way process. Writing it down like this makes me sound whingey and complaining, which wasn't my intent. The reason I wrote it down was as a record for myself, and perhaps my children, and as something of a warning: if you're not interested in communicating with other people, you end up short of resource.

THIS POST ISNT FINISHED, or at least so I hope. I intend to add some more. All I can remember, perhaps.

Monday, 4 August 2014

Book review: Thucydides: the history of the Peloponnesian war

I started reading this perhaps three months ago. So this is hard going and often dry. Its also often confusing. Top tip: look up the maps in the back and follow where things are, it makes more sense that way. If you don't already know the history of the period well - which amounts to, if you haven't read the book before, because this pretty well is the source book for this period - you'll likely get confused; and not understand what is going on until the end. But if you read carefully, this can be avoided: as the intro states, the true cause of the war was growing Athenian power, and Spartan fear of that. The various incidents and accidents along the way were merely opportunities for people to line up on one side or another.

A theme that comes out in book VIII is the importance of Persia. Suddenly, somehow, the action shifts to the Athenian colonies on what-is-now-Turkey and the offshore islands - Chios, Lesbos, Samos, Rhodes - and the way the Persian power can become the decisive force if it is thrown behind one side or the other; and the scramble for support. The apparent pivotal position of Alcibiades is odd too. As the commentary says, it looks as though T only realised this stuff late on: so that it makes its way into book VIII, but not into re-writes of the earlier books.

I found the description of the Spartan disaster at Sphacteria particularly interesting. The Spartans had a fearsome reputation, and even at more-than-4-to-1 odds the Athenians hesitated to attack the isolated troops on the island. But once they did and it worked, suddenly they were no longer afraid. Or, consider the way Corinth got itself tied into knots over Epidamnus in the lead-in to the war.

So there are any number of mottoes you can take from the book. Above all, there's a what-if (which of course the book doesn't address; its a history): the war killed lots of people, wasted huge resources, and weakened Greece, leaving it prey to Philip and later the Romans. Could they have done better? The book makes it moderately clear, or at least plausible, that the Spartans were actually thinking; and the Athenians too, at least sometimes and when well lead. So it might have been possible - perhaps if they'd had some examples before them, which of course they hadn't - to realise that war would be dreadful and was happening because of this clash in the face of expanding Athenian power, and they desperately needed to come to an accommodation to avoid that.

How does that affect how I think about the Ukraine?

Um, I seem to have drifted away from reviewing the book. But that's great: you see, its a book that provokes thought. But maybe only if you have context, so I wouldn't recommend it unless you do want to try and think like this.

Refs

* Daily Mash

Sunday, 3 August 2014

The Peloponnese: Saturday, and general observations

A reminder: the introduction and general index is at the post about the first day, Saturday. Day the last. Another beautiful cloudless morning and as ever its pretty hard to get out of bed to enjoy it. Nonetheless I'm out by 7 and pounding the pavements. My left Achilles tendon is still somewhat stiff, it seems to me, or am I just malingering? Whichever, thinking about it distracts my mind and body, and therefore slows me down, which I sort-of don't mind to much really. As long as I'm under 5:00 / km that's good enough for today. Same route as yesterday nearly; out to the point, only today about half-way along I follow a sign to "the lagoon" which adds a 200 m detour across the sandbar, which is fine as that makes it exactly 10 k back to the village. Its quite still (later the wind gets up) and I go for a quiet slow swim from the mole out into the blue, heading towards Sphacteria but I know I'm not going to go that far. Turn back, into the hotel, but M not in, so seek her at the pool and join in for a couple of lengths.

...finish this...

The Peloponnese: Friday

Day the last, well last full one. Alarm at 6:30 and up at 7 (M had got up somewhat earlier and was sitting quietly on the balcony appreciating the morning until I disturbed her). Run 10 k out along the road around the bay where I walked yesterday. Fast this time: 47 mins, back to a respectable pace. Swim in the sea afterwards; lovely and calm and still.

By arrangement with the infants we breakfast at 9:30, so there is time for quiet before then. The day is to be a rest day, ie we're not going to go anywhere or do anything.

Look at the banana plants and see the "inflorescence" for the first time properly: it dangles down, sometimes a very long way, looking quite rude; and the bananas develope off it, it seems, and wiki confirms.

Lunch at the next door taverna which offers Mezes; its good, but not outstanding.

Afternoon game of Risk in the children's room. We're playing "mission Risk" and after some excitement (M gratuitously attacks me just before going out; the auto-roller on M's phone produces some grossly unfair rolls) I end up winning by sabotaging E's dreams of America.

Slightly delayed by some key-losing-but-not-really excitement, M and I go visit the bay of Voidokoilia, which is a gorgeous horseshow shape when seen from the air and a nice curve from the ground; it dovetails with the lagoon next to Sphacteria. High above is the old fortress which we don't go and see; instead we swim for a bit. Then climb up to the "archaeological site" which is a tholos grave but without its top, all alone in a field of dry grass and prickly things. And over the far side just to see the wide sea.

And so back for dinner at Zoe.

The Peloponnese: Thursday

Up late: 8:45: I ignored my alarm, and the drapes were drawn. We all benefited from a lie-in but we lost vital early cool time. B'fast: what you'd expect from a BW.

To Olympia at about 10, by which time its getting hot and the children are not in a good mood. They reluctantly see stuff, but without enthusiasm. A few times I separate D from E and talk to E and she is more prepared to be interested. We have quite a conversation about wouldn't it be better to restore some bits - all the fallen-over columns of the temple of Zeus; of maybe a couple of roofs over the quadrangle, would do wonders for the shade and also make it more like it was. After 1/2 hour remember we need to see the museum - so its wasn't quite the lightening whip-round I'd feared - and slightly surprised to find it more interesting than expected; again, I had to be dragged away (also, its further from the site than you'd hope).

Back to hotel for last swim (E and I) before we leave the room, though D and M get the detailed packing and stuff.

Comedy leaving town, as usual. Across the hills to start with, then hit the coast, and zoom along. The children don't want to stop en route for cafe so we just keep going. I get somewhat frustrated when we accidentally take the coast road and find a nice place to stop about 15 k out, but they just want to keep going. Their total lack of response to the place is irritating.

M has booked ahead to "Zoe" which turns out to be an excellent choice. Its at Pylos, which I'd wanted to see because of the Sphacteria episode in the Peloponesian war, and it turns out to be well worth seeing, the bay that is. Zoe is a sympathetic place, as the guidebook says: small rooms and big balconies, overlooking the sea, and with a decent sized pool for E, which D still refuses to even sample. Also it has its own kitchen garden, and a fine avenue of banana trees. Arrive about 2, have a good lunch, cards etc, pool, afternoon siesta. M and I sit in shade of trees by beach, I swim in sea, then decide to walk along the shore a little ways, and end up doing 10 k out to the point and slightly round it - most of these walks are on garmin connect, BTW.

Back 9 which isn't considered too late for a meal and we eat in the place as lunch was good.

The Peloponnese: Wednesday

Don't get up for a run: my excuse is my ankle, which felt a bit iffy, and also I was clearly tired yesterday afternoon; perhaps I'd have had the will to visit the Acrocorinth but for that. M does get up early - around six, because she isn't feeling sleepy, and goes out for a walk on the front. I get up at 7:30 and do the other thing I've wanted to, which is to go for a swim in the Gulf of Patras. Not that I get very far from shore. It shelves quickly; dive down to the bottom and retrieve two pebbles to take home. The wind has moderated somewhat, but the waves get bigger than my head not very far out. B'fast at 8, about as yesterday and good. Miranda goes for one last swim, and then its pack-n-off. First stop is the Corinth canal - the deep cut bridge - to show the children who are I think moderately impressed even if they don't say so. Then, slightly on a whim and because we pass by it, stop at Ancient Corinth. Ever so slightly embarrassingly I'm now struggling to remember anything about it. Not a number one site, indeed. The temple of Apollo is the most obvious, and quite impressive. The Roman fountain / bath, which I think they should have filled with water. Perhaps my pix will jog my memory when I come to fill this out.

And then onto the road, via a confusion of directions, towards Patras. Not quite the motorway we'd hoped, because its constantly interrupted by roadworks as they expand the width. Also the Greek way of using the road is entertaining: you're expected to drive in, or move over onto, the thing that in England would be the hard shoulder, if its necessary for people to overtake you, or people on the other side. So all in all it takes about 1.5 hours to get to Rio, just before Patras, where we stop for a cafe and gaze at the bridge across the gulf, which is really very big but somehow not terribly impressive from where we are. And anyway, we're busy playing cards.

After more exciting adventures in which-way-to-join-the-motorway, caused in part by the remodelling, we zoom along towards Pyrgos and then to Olympia our destination. The countryside around that stretch of road is, I would say, flatter and less interesting. As we come towards Olympia the hills begin again; ours is the Europa hotel, picked by M as a Best Western. Its above the modern town, and all very nice in a suitable-for-American-tourists kind of way, ie characterless. But we're only here for one night and it has a decent pool.

...whatever...

M and I visit Ancient Olympia from 6 to nearly-8. There's not all that much there of the gasp-in-awe variety; a temple of Apollo (another one!) and some mighty columns from the temple of Zeus; and the running track for the history of it.

...stuff...

Meal in the evening in the "garden" (as the rooftop resto turns out to be closed): salmon au limon for D, which he pronounces excellent; Greek salad for me (I haven't had one this holiday, only bits of other peoples); Mozzie salad for E; and risotto for M. And more cards of course: what I have come to call the Peloponnesian war.

The Peloponnese: Tuesday

Alarm 6:30 an run another 10 k: along the front, to the tiny "port" (1 k) then up the long slope at the end, past the old gents on the exercise machines, and out of town. The wind is against me (row brothers row) and so is the hill (but god is for us, oh yeah) but the views are good and for the moment I don't care about being fast, I care about nursing my left ankle and doing some distance. At 3 k I pass the sign to Poseidion resort 1 k, and it is, and 1 k further I turn. I start to get sun as I come back into town, and so back.

B'fast at 8 in the room over the front of the hotel: fresh orange juice, coffee, range of bread and pastries, honey, very Greek olives that E won't eat (*not* like olives du marche; and I'm not sure if that's a brand or a type).

Head out just past 9 for the north side of the bay to Perachora, a site M has found for us. Its a small but idyllic site, with the remains of a temple and cisterns and stuff; there's not a lot to see, no standing columns just bases; but you can see the outlines of foundations and the situation is charming (LINK WIKI). Unfortunately the children don't take to it at all; although the cove is small, sheltered and lovely neither of them will swim, but I do, and its delightful. Sit with wet trunks on the old stone seating of the old temple, guest house, or whatever, and realise for perhaps the first time that the people who made this were building forever. That is, I think, they had a different concept of time and no concept of progress. They didn't expect their stuff to be superseded and ripped down in 50 or 100 years; they expected that if they built well, it would be there forever. And, perhaps, they were right. There's a tiny little chapel I visist on the way out; a painting of Christ (I thin) seated on a lion holding a lamb. And a collect-'em-all row of icons at the back.

Then back a few km to a lake (now connected to the sea by a small channel) called Vouliagmenis about 2 k long; we're not sure where is the "correct" place to stop, but pick by chance a good place called, according to google maps, Ypanema. And there is a cafe or two, and a little jetty where you can queue up to take the sausage boat. So we sit in the shade and have our rounds of whist and - innovation - cucumber. One time I'm out I swim - again, no-one else does - and another I go round counter-clockwise to the tiny sweet church - not open, nice simple glass - and then to the channel to the sea, guarded by Greek flags.

On the way back to Loutrakis I collect roadside shrines; though the best examples I've seen are some I didn't bother with, because I assumed they were common, near Dimitsana. Oddity: behind one, which had inside it a bottle of lamp oil for the faithful, was a little careful rubbish heap of old bottles. Its as though the faith is still there, but its a faith that doesn't care for the earth at all (Later - on the coast road to Pyrgos - I realise that many of them - perhaps this is an innovation - are in commemoration of a specific death; which makes collecting them seem a little ghoulish).

Lunch in the hotel - pizza, other unexciting stuff, but M had digestive troubles overnight shall we say and wanted something safe and simple. Then an hour's siesta, followed by the Game of Risk. Which we played on the "red and black sofas", as Mission, and used the cards to determine the starting positions. I was a bit sleepy and not really thinking, and got eliminated early on, so slept feeling too hot. After that really sleep in the room, till past 7.

Decide a swim would wake me up, so invite E in, and we have a lovely talk together as we swim. she declares this her favourite (small) pool ever, mostly because its 3 m deep. By this time - about 8 - the pool is in shadow but the water still warm, and its very pleasant. To my surprise she is about as fast as me at front crawl. But I'm still better under water. And we talk about holidays, and the problems of finding something we all want to do. Game: throwing stones (though I'm slightly eliding two pool sessions together here, never mind, no-one cares about the precise details) and trying to find them underwater. I have an advantage that I can see, with my glasses on, whereas she swims without and can't.

Meal: walk along the front, the sun has set but there is a lovely orange glow and a fingernail moon, about 10 mins along to "Nikos": aubergine for me, Greek salad for M, spaghetti for E and fried shrimps for D. And a slightly rough half bottle of Macedonian rose.