Happy Birthday Filedem! Born 100 Years Ago Today

Paddy after the war in Byronic costume; Filedem? Courtesy of Benaki Museum

Paddy after the war in Byronic costume; Filedem? Courtesy of Benaki Museum

Happy birthday Patrick Leigh Fermor born on this day, 11th February 1915.

This has to be one of the most difficult occasions to mark. Should we go big or just keep it to something more modest? Perhaps it is the latter for today but something will be arranged for later in the year with the Patrick Leigh Fermor Society to properly celebrate his life and achievements.

To record your thoughts in this special year we have a new page “Marking Paddy’s Centenary”. Add your comments, birthday wishes, your favourite quotations from his works, or links to things of interest. It is your page: do with it as you will but do remember to play nicely.

Remember that Nick Hunt will be speaking and signing his book Walking the Woods and the Water at Hatchards in Piccadilly tonight 11th February.

Paddy as Filedem?

Paddy as Filedem?

To make this a proper celebration we need to sing. A very long time ago Marina Petsalis-Diomidis sent me a link to the song Filedem. As Paterakis recalls on camera during the 1972 reunion (see video section), Paddy liked the song so much that his comrades in Crete started calling him Filedem as a nickname. The song is a traditional Cretan song. Filedem -Φιλεντέμ – the name “File Edem” means “My friend Adam” in Turkish. The song is accompanied by some lovely scenes from Crete and Cretan hospitality. I have found an English translation of the words – it is all very racy and so typically Paddy – but you don’t need them to sing along loudly with the chorus in Greek.

The English lyrics in summary:

I am in love with a married woman
May God guide her
I am in love with a married woman
May God guide her

To renounce her husband
and love me.
To renounce her husband
And love me.

Filedem filedem..

White roses in your yard
How can you sleep alone
How can you sleep alone
White roses in your yard.

Filedem filedem.

I am in love with a married woman
And she has two small children
I will be sending one (to fetch) water
And the other one (to fetch) wood.

Filedem, filedem

White and big roses
How can you sleep without a man
How can you sleep without a man
White and big roses.

Paddy’s Centenary – Petroc Trelawney on BBC Radio 3

Petroc Trelawney

Petroc Trelawney

Just a quick note to say that I have heard that Petroc Trelawney may play some appropriate music to mark Paddy’s birth on his Breakfast show on BBC Radio 3 next Wednesday 11 February. The show runs from 0630 to 0900.

Nick Hunt Marking Paddy’s Centenary

Harry Bucknall, Tom Chesshyre, and and Nick Hunt at the Stanford's Travel Writing Festival

Harry Bucknall, Tom Cheshyre, and and Nick Hunt at the Stanford’s Travel Writing Festival

In response to my request for ideas as to how to celebrate Paddy’s centenary this year we have had one or two ideas, but please come forward with more. So far we have the suggestion of a special page for your comments and quotes which we shall do, as well as a big Greek style party at my flat which appears to involve mass destruction of plates, furniture and ceilings with the unrestrained use of firearms in confined spaces. I am just checking the conditions of my lease and will come back on that one.

I have the idea of a one day event later in the autumn and shortly I will be asking you to vote for a couple of options via the wonderful Poll facility on WordPress.

Meanwhile, fresh from his successful debate with Blandford Forum’s leading travel writer, Harry Bucknall (author of Like a Tramp, Like A Pilgrim: On Foot, Across Europe to Rome) at the Standford’s Travel Writing Festival on Saturday, Nick Hunt will be out and about next week giving a couple of talks to mark the centenary. Nick will be in Waterstones Glasgow on 9th February and then at Hatchard’s Piccadilly on Wednesday 11th itself. Please do go along to support Nick and buy a copy of the really excellent Walking the Woods and the Water: In Patrick Leigh Fermor’s footsteps from the Hook of Holland to the Golden Horn. Nick is very entertaining and offers a very serious perspective on walking, Paddy, and his own personal experiences during his long walk which we did so much to support.

Elias Athanassakis – the car spotter – retells the story of Kreipe’s kidnap

My thanks to Nick Galousis who highlighted this You Tube video in which Elais Athanassakis, who passed away in 2002, tells the story of the build up to the kidnap and his part in it.

Paddy describes Elias in Abducting a General as “a very bright and enterprising young student working in our town organisation” and it was he who had to commit to memory all the details of the General’s car, even down to the size of the headlight slits, so as to ensure that the correct car was chosen on the busy road. He reconnoitered the route with Paddy and had the task of observing the road to signal back when the General was approaching and whether or not he was accompanied.

The video is in Greek which is great for those of us who speak Greek :-)

A review of Artemis Cooper’s Cairo in the War 1939–1945 by Patrick Leigh Fermor

Paddy on the roof of Tara in Cairo

Paddy on the roof of Tara in Cairo

So it seems we can still find the occasional piece of Paddy’s original writing to get us excited. He reviews his good friend Artemis’ book, remaining very formal and making no mention of his friendship! Who else though was better placed to review this book than one of the residents of the infamous Tara?

by Patrick Leigh Fermor

This article first appeared in the TLS of September 1, 1989.

 

Artemis Cooper’s introductions and accompanying text to Duff and Diana Cooper’s published letters, A Durable Fire (1983), and to Lady Diana’s Scrapbook (1987), had a strong dash of her grandmother’s humour and lightness of touch; but only a most clairvoyant critic could have predicted Cairo in the War, 1939–1945. Her account, though it sticks punctiliously to fact, is as hard to put down as good fiction . The research is wide, detailed and scrupulous. She lays hold of the military background – the dramas unfolding just off-stage, but threatening to break out of the wings at any moment – with a soldierly grasp; and she seems to have talked at length with all the surviving dramatis personae.

Unleavened by personalities, military history can be heavy on the hand, and politics too, once the urgency has gone. The author’s skill redeems them both. As for the complex country and people on whom the war had impinged, she has segregated the strands with great discernment – the Copts, the Arabs, the Mamelukes, the Ottomans, all the sects and enclaves of the Mediterranean and the Levant, the Helleno-Judaeo-Ptolemaic nexus of Alexandria, the fellahin and the effendis and the nationalists, the rivalries of the Western European powers, with their local allegiances and clients and phobias, and, above all, the reigning Albanian dynasty and the predominating British presence and tutelage.

The author is particularly helpful and fair about the tensions between the last (in the persons of the young King Farouk and the proconsular Ambassador, Sir Miles Lampson), which culminated with British tanks all round the Palace, near-abdication and an enforced change of government: the German advance in the desert was the raison d’état. The enemy was held and driven back; certain froideurs remained at the top; but, astonishingly, the surface of the luxurious, dazzling and hospitable social life was hardly ruffled. At times this resembled the Duchess of Richmond’s ball before Waterloo, at others the Congress of Vienna: “The Kings sit down to dinner and the Queens stand up to dance . . .”. The pool at the Gezira Sporting Club sluiced hangovers away, the willow smacked the leather, polo-balls whizzed there all afternoon, and roulette-balls plopped at the Mohammed Ali after dark. There were enticing restaurants and enterprising night-clubs, party followed party and bedtime often coincided with the first muezzin’s call from the minaret of Ibn Tulun. Guilt about rationed London bit sharp now and then, but for those on short leave from the Desert, not deep.

Among the missions and staffs and the permanent officials, intrigue and gossip were as intense as in Mrs Hauksbee’s Simla. The author is eerily well informed about Groppi’s Horse and the Short-Range Shepherd’s Group and, a fortiori, about GHQ at Grey Pillars and SOE at Rustam Buildings (particularly the latter) and all the cross-currents, promotion-mania and the clashes – eg, “Bolo” Keble and Fitzroy Maclean – the political schisms of Southern Europe and their repercussions in Egypt. The pages on spies and counterespionage and raiding forces are one of the most impressive parts of the book.

The author is perceptive about the frustrations and amusements of all ranks of the assorted armies. There were shaming moments, but on balance it seems that arrogant behaviour towards the Egyptians may have been more frequent among the commissioned than the other ranks. In the case of a pasha who was insulted beyond endurance by a very drunk officer, nemesis was brisk and condign. The oblivious offender was inveigled to the pasha’s house. Most would have kept quiet, Artemis Cooper observes, but he was soon telling everyone, “You’ll never guess what happened to me last night — dashed unpleasant. I got buggered by six Nubians.”

In spite of the strains on high, the diplomatic world, the military, the cosmopolitan, the purely decorative and the intellectual interwove to a surprising degree, and lasting friendships were formed. The contribution of Greeks such as Seferis, and transplanted Greece-addicts like Lawrence Durrell and Robin Fedden, were important here. Poets and writers teemed, and Personal Landscape, the Nilotic equivalent of Horizon, was impressive. The author unfolds the catalogue of personalities with humour and understanding, though she is unduly dismissive of Sir Charles Johnston: cf his sonnet “The Lock”, and his Pushkin translations. The only omissions I can spot are Elizabeth David, the painter Adrian Daintrey and the writer-painter Richard Wyndham. Perhaps she should have included an eccentric cavalryman called Colonel Wintle, who got into hot water for taking a surrendered Italian general to luncheon, in full uniform, at the Turf Club.

The book ends with the calamitous post-war aftermath. Like the abstruse anecdotes, the range and choice of the photographs will promote sighs of delighted recognition and occasional ground teeth, and it is hard to think, on finishing, how this demanding book could have been handled better, more lucidly or more entertainingly.

You can buy Artemis Cooper’s Cairo in the War: 1939-45 on Amazon.

The Paddy blog is changing …

But don’t worry. It is only the look and layout that has changed. The format that I used up to now was no longer supported by WordPress who supply the engine behind the best blog about our favourite author and all round adventurer and gentleman.

I have chosen a neat and crisp format which is not so different to before and will enable me to take advantage of new features and plug-ins, when I get the time to find my way around.

You may find some of the older posts have lost a bit of formatting and where it is very bad I will try to sort out the issues, but with over 600 posts it won’t be possible to check them all. You can help me by getting in touch – see About & Contact – and informing me of howlers.

Would Paddy have understood any of the above? Probably not, but I am sure that if he had a computer he would enjoy browsing to find interesting articles and to look at pictures and videos of his dear friends and colleagues. More to come.

Finally it will be the centenary of Paddy’s birth on 11 February. If you have any suggestions about how we might mark this event please do come forward with your ideas and I will see what I can do.

Tom

The letter to the mysterious Mr Todhunter about Bob Bury

A letter dropping out of a book, in a hotel room in Ithaka. The letter referring to a wartime colleague in Palestine from 1941. The letter writer being Paddy to a mysterious “Mr Todhunter”. A delightful little article. Who can identify Mr Todhunter? What do we know about Bob Bury in Palestine? We know he met Paddy in Crete in 1944. You can comment at the end of this article or contact me.

By Andrew Pippos

First published in The Australian, 17 January 2015

A common feature among reviews of Patrick Leigh Fermor’s work is a reference to him as the greatest travel writer of his time. Because of such reviews I’d intended to read Fermor some day — the highest praise is a memorable introduction — but still hadn’t got around to it when I came across his 2003 collection Words of Mercury on the bookshelf of a hotel room in Ithaka, Greece, about two years ago.

A handwritten letter dropped from between the pages when I opened this book — and it may as well have fallen out of the sky, it may as well have been addressed to me, given my surprise to open a book by a famous writer and find inside a letter from the author himself.

Addressed to “Dear Mr Todhunter”, the letter was signed “Paddy Leigh Fermor” and dated 2004. Fermor turned 89 that year. His handwriting was both pretty and difficult to read: some words resolved only after you stared at them long enough. In the letter, Fermor asked Todhunter for help with his next project. Before coming to the nature of this help, he first offered some background: in 1941 he was visiting an Allied camp near Mount Carmel, Palestine, when he met a troop of Kurdish fighters led by a “clean-shaven figure with gold-rimmed spectacles”, whom Fermor learned was an Englishman named Bob Bury.

This Bury, “a delightful chap”, was training Kurds to form resistance groups in the event the Nazis broke through in the Middle East.

Next, Fermor’s letter told a story about his 1944 abduction of General Kreipe, the German commander of Crete. On a beach in southern Crete, Bury was among the small team of British soldiers who came ashore to meet Fermor and take custody of the captive general.

Kreipe and Fermor and the soldiers then sailed to Cairo. Bury would be killed a few months later in Italy.

Fermor wrote to Todhunter: “I want to write something about him (Bury), and would very much like to be in touch with his kith and kin. The only thing anyone seems to know about him is that he went to Eton. Would the provost of Eton know his family? I would be most beholden for any guidance!”

Todhunter, from what I can gather, was an editor in London. Years ago he might have visited the village of Vathi in Ithaka, stayed in that hotel on the town’s lake-like harbour, and left behind the letter and book by Fermor. Perhaps the book arrived there some other way.

Who was Bury? Did Fermor intend to write a story about him? The letter described Bury coming ashore in occupied Crete “with Tommy gun at the ready, very disappointed there would be no rough stuff involved”. He might have been a wartime version of the aristocrat who sought adventure in the crusades or the colonies.

After finishing school in 1933, Fermor walked across Europe to Constantinople, later writing about this experience in a trilogy of travel books, only two of which were published in his lifetime: A Time of Gifts, which tells of his travels from Holland to the Danube, and Between the Woods and Water, which takes him to the border of Serbia and Romania.

A final volume, The Broken Road, was published posthumously in 2013.

Wanting to know whether he did discover more about Bury, and why, at the age of 89, he wanted to write about an acquaintance who died 60 years earlier, I sent an email to Fermor’s biographer, Artemis Cooper. She replied the next day: “Paddy never did write about Bob Bury, but he used every possible excuse to postpone work on the book he was supposed to be writing — the third volume of his trilogy about his walk across Europe. He also thought about writing a book on Crete and another on Romania, but they never came to anything either.”

Cooper might have forgotten that she had already replied to my email, because a month later she wrote again: “Dear Andrew, Sorry I’ve been so slow to reply to you.” Cooper suggested the Bury material was for a book about Fermor’s time as a British special operations officer in occupied Crete. She added: “By 2004 Paddy’s eyesight was deteriorating fast: he could not admit it, but it was too late to begin any major project.”

Both replies provide for the one picture: Fermor avoided work on the unfinished trilogy by writing about his war stories from Crete (and such a book, Abducting a General, was published late last year). In that letter he was pursuing whatever idea gave him pleasure. Fermor, who died in 2011 at 96, intended to write as his blindness approached. He was already very old but had many years of work ahead of him.

Andrew Pippos is a Sydney-based writer.