quarta-feira, 23 de abril de 2008

Lost vision in Cyprus

The good thing with writing a blog is the recalling of friendships and times spent with friends, not always possible to reflect these moments in written stories or even photos. I feel that I have such good fortune in meeting an amazing cross section of class and education and now is no exception in that the new lady in my life is again Brazilian but very well educated and with an artistic family. Graca's father was born into what I beleive was a poor family and he climbed a ladder of class and social limitations, he married a lady that was from the opposite side of the wealth scale but made his way with self education and hard work, a jazz saxophonist that became major of his town and when his family had grown up he wrote books and gained national recognition as a poet.
It is this that as reminded me of Basil Bunting.
I first met Basil in Sima's house in Corbridge around 1983, Sima was seperated from Basil and did not really enjoy his visits or company, the story is that he was more keen on the young house keeper than Sima but then that was normal for Basil since he had married Sima and brought her to England when she was 15 years old, he clearly liked the ladies young. Sima and Basil had one son, I think is name was Robin but I cannot remember too well.
When I and Jacky moved to Weardale I did very little work for the 9 to 10 months as we learnt self sufficiency and not having a workshop or clients.
One couple that I did do work for, very strange pair that had incredibly bad body odour and a filthy house, created problems for me with a chap that operated a mechanical digger.
The work was to construct a garage on an odd and difficult site, the one side had an dirt road that led to a farm and the other was directly onto an exsisting road, the one to the farm went in a curve and climbed quickly leaving me with the task of digging out and shoring up during periods when the farmer was not using the road. I employed the digger driver to remove the soil quickly and let me put in foundatios, which he did generally well but the bill for the job was meant to be for labour and diesel whilst he was at the site, however he must of decide to drive back to his house evry night and then add the time and fuel costs to my bill. I gave the clients a figure for the work based on one price and the digger came in at twice the amount that I expected. I refused to pay the difference and ended up with a solicitors letter demanding payment so I needed to find a solicitor to handle the case, this I did by using the friend and solicitor of John Arthur in Hexham.
John Halliday worked in Hexham with his partner Robert Lewis and was married to Maria, a teacher and the daughter of Basil Bunting. John and Maria, whilst living in Matfen village, where friends of John and Diane Fowler ( John was the head designer of publicity for Proctor and Gamble UK and Diane was a primary school teacher) it was at a party in Maria's house, Matfen, just before the first Christmas we spent in Weardale, that we met the Hallidays and the Fowlers for the first time. Maria at that time was a small pudgy lady with a grand sense of humour and lots of fiz but did not strike one as being attractive. A few years later the four of them jointly bought a large house on the edge of Corbridge and Sima bought aplot of land to the side of them. I ended up doing a lot of work for the Hallidays, Fowlers and Sima Bunting and became very good friends to the all, this was why I got to know Basil.
Some years later after the death of Basil Bunting, his son, who was at that time a teacher in London, bought a ramshakled property on the island of Cyprus, some 25 kilometres North of Pathos but had no idea at all about building construction so his mother asked me to go to Cyprus for two weeks to help. The idea that she had was for the three of us to go to Cyprus and employ two locals to do labouring and for me to organise and act as technician, with Sima and her son paying the bills, it appeared to be a good idea as I would be free a lot of the time to explore the island, roughly doing one weeks work and one weeks holiday with Sima paying for the flight and the food.
The result was nothing like the offer, firstly the flights were cheap package holiday deals, her son did not arrive during the first week and Sima and I spoke practically no Greek, the labourers did not get hired because Sima did not wish to spend the money and we had no car or accomodation sorted out for when we arrived, although Sima could drive she did not wish to drive from the airport, not so easy when you are without a map, at night and the Cypriot drivers did to not wish to use headlights at night.
The first task was to find lodgings and then food, the following mornings task was to find the house that they had bought and check out the work schedule, at this time I was unaware of the fact that her son was not arriving for another week and Sima had no intention of paying workers.
Sima and I found the little house and made discisions based it seemed on the idea that her son would grow quickly tired of the trip to Cyprus so she would acquire the house, therefore the house was effectively hers and she would decide on the asthetics.
The work was to remove the old roof, conserve any stonework of interest and put on a new roof that would act as an open upper floor for sun bathing with a vista of the sea, the first task was for me to buy tools and materials, sand and cement. Sima and I went into Pathos to find anyone selling what we needed and in fact found lots of places that could provide us with all the basics, it was just a question of the Greek language and the greek etiquette when buying and negotiating a transaction. The principle is easy to understand but the time lost is hard to accept when you have put yourself on an island with a dead line for you to leave, you are required first to meet the complete family and be formaly introduced, then you sit and wait for the sweet tea to arrive, if you speak good Greek it must seem a very short wait for your cuppa but if not it is one awlful y long period of silence. Having made your acquaintance of the family you are allowed to select what you want and order anything to be delivered, pay in cash always gets a smile and a firm hand shake with the certainty of quick delivery.
I tried to make the roof appear from the inside like a traditional roof, where the wooden beams are put in and bamboo is laid on top and over this is placed bamboo leaves with half a metre or more of soil, which will then grow a layer of grass. The first task of removing the old soil was back-breaking with the added insult that the day time stayed at 42 degrees, first trying to throw the hard clay soil into the garden and then letting it all fall into the room below to be cleared later. After putting in the new beams and covering them with bamboo I ordered a lorry of pre-mix concrete with a lorry-pump to throw the concrete, over the top of several houses, onto the new roof. The job of man handling this tube and not being able to see the driver but shout simple Greek instructions to him over the top of neighbours houses, was crazy fun and this was only the start of single handed trying to get 7 cubic metres of concrete level in scortching heat, I managed it, finishing in the almost pitch black of night.
The two weeks shot by and on the Sunday before I was due to return(Wednesday) I was still working on the house and its roof finishing off the edges with stone that lay in the garden. The amount of good stone became difficult to find, whilst lifting stone under an old pig sty I bashed my head on a roof timber, initially knocked to the ground and slightly stunned I continued and completed the roof in the afternoon. Sima returned and asked me if I could help her clear all the soil from the downstairs room, tired but realising that at least this job was in some shade I got to work on the final job of my two week stay, no holiday and no pay.
Whilst I dug the soil in the dark and threw into the brilliant sun shine outside I became aware of the fact that I could see only through one eye, my right eye was completely black, no vision what so ever. Panic and worry of being miles away from any doctor that I felt I could trust, also it was Sunday and no one except the padre in Cyprus worked on a Sunday.

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