Obituary: Jan Morris, a poet of time, place and self

Jan Morris, who has died aged 94

One of the true greats of travel writing and journalism, Jan Morris, has died. She is also known as a pioneer, changing her gender whilst maintaining her relationship with her partner Elizabeth for over 70 years.

First published on BBC News 21 NOvember 2020.

Jan Morris, who has died at the age of 94, was one the finest writers the UK has produced in the post-war era.

Her life story was crammed with romance, discovery and adventure. She was a soldier, an award-winning journalist, a novelist and – as a travel writer – became a poet of time and place.

She was also known as a pioneer in her personal life, as one of the first high-profile figures to change gender.

Born 2 October 1926 in Somerset, it was while sitting under the family’s piano – at the age of three or four – that Morris made a decision. Feeling “wrongly equipped” as a boy, there was only one conclusion. Morris should have been a girl.

Morris attended Lancing College in West Sussex and then the cathedral choir school at Christ Church in Oxford, attending lessons in gorgeous “fluttering white gowns”. “Oxford made me,” she later wrote.

The heady mixture of High Anglican ceremony and the city’s architectural majesty sensitised Morris to an aesthetic that was to influence her as both a writer and a human being.

As a teenager, training as a newspaper reporter in Bristol involved interviewing the victims of bombing raids at the height of the Second World War.

Morris tried to join the Navy but was ruled out by colour-blindness, instead joining the 9th Queen’s Royal Lancers.

A spell at Sandhurst was followed by a posting as an intelligence officer that led to stints in Italy and Palestine by way of two more cities that came to be inspirations: Venice and Trieste.

Demobbed in 1949, Morris returned to Christ Church to read English, and seized the opportunity of a 12-month fellowship at the University of Chicago to visit every state of the union.

The result was a first book, Coast to Coast. “I love the idea of America,” she later wrote. “It has let itself down very badly since in many ways, but that doesn’t mean to say I don’t admire and love the core values.”

In the same year, Morris married Elizabeth Tuckniss, the daughter of a tea planter. It was, they both recalled, love at first sight – and a partnership that would produce five children and last for 70 years.

Everest scoop

Upon graduating, Morris indulged a fascination with the Arab world by taking a job at a news agency in Cairo. That experience eventually led to a job at the Times.

In 1953, Morris brought the newspaper a world exclusive, travelling with Edmund Hillary as far as the base camp on Everest to witness the historic attempt on the summit.

Morris greets Edmund Hillary on his return from the summit of Mount Everest

It was a physically arduous assignment. “I was no climber, was not particularly interested in mountaineering. I was there merely as a reporter.”

When Hillary and Tenzing Norgay returned in triumph, The Times had exclusive access to the expedition – but the reporter was terrified that someone else might break the news first.

Morris sent a coded message from a telegraph station: “Snow conditions bad stop advanced base abandoned yesterday stop awaiting improvement.” Back in the newsroom, they knew what it meant.

The news was famously splashed on the day of the Queen’s coronation. The world’s highest mountain had been conquered and a new Elizabethan age had begun.

Suez shockwaves

In 1956, Morris left the Times – unable to support the newspaper’s editorial line in the Suez crisis. After joining the Manchester Guardian, as it was still called, the journalist set out to witness the looming conflict first-hand.

The reports Morris sent from the Suez crisis caused great difficulty for the British government. Allegations that Britain and France had secretly persuaded Israel to launch an invasion of Egypt had been hotly denied by all three countries. Morris discovered evidence that this was a pack of lies designed to give the two European powers an excuse to intervene and re-take the all-important canal.

Morris witnessed the fighting in the Negev desert and canal zone before flying to Cyprus to file a dispatch and escape Israeli censorship. While waiting for a flight, the writer struck up conversation with French pilots who said they had played a pivotal role in the attack.

“They told me quite frankly that they had been in action in support of the Israelis during the Negev fighting and had used napalm,” Morris later recalled. British pilots, they claimed, had also been involved.

The Manchester Guardian went with his story. It sent shockwaves through the British establishment and shamed both nations into withdrawing their forces. It was an incendiary revelation that caused huge embarrassment to Prime Minister Anthony Eden. A few months later, he resigned.

A writer who travels

In the 1960s, Morris left journalism, preferring to be simply known as a “writer who travels” rather than a “travel writer”.

Morris wrote about places that were inspirational – Oxford, Venice, Spain and the Arab world – with the dream of capturing the history, style, spirit and challenges facing every major city in the world.

Most dear of all was the trilogy on the history of the British Empire: Pax Britannica. Morris described it as “the intellectual and artistic centre-piece of my life”. Later, the author would reject the suggestion of being too kind to this period of history.

“There was a whole generation of very decent people, many of whom were genuinely devoted to the welfare of their subject peoples,” she later said. However, she conceded, the end was a mess.

In the same year, Morris began taking female hormones in the first stage of the life-long ambition to become a woman. Elizabeth, who had always known of her husband’s conviction, was supportive.

Morris had a high public profile and the publicity that surrounded her decision was stressful. As same-sex marriages were not then possible, they were required to get divorced. But as a family, they stayed together and remained tight-knit.

Jan Morris was legally required to divorce her wife, Elizabeth, but the couple remained together. Morris wrote about the process in her worldwide bestseller Conundrum – published in 1974. It describes the clinic in Casablanca where she had surgery and her subsequent adjustment to life as a woman with a female partner. She was generous to those who found it awkward and “the kindly incomprehension of sailors and old ladies”.

She was forced to ignore warnings from doctors that the procedure could change her personality and even affect her ability to write. The book was the first to be published under the name Jan. There was a sense in which all that travelling was a symptom of forces beyond her control. It was “an outer expression of my inner journey”.

The couple moved to a remote corner of north-west Wales. Jan embraced her father’s Welsh identity – becoming a convinced nationalist – and continued to write. Her output was prodigious. In all, she wrote more than 40 books – so many that she was often a little hazy about the exact number.

There were works on places she had visited, essays, memoirs and some well-received novels. One work remains unpublished because she did not want it made public until she died. “It’s at the publisher’s waiting for me to kick the bucket,” she breezily told one reporter.

On Oxford – the first city to inspire her – she wrote: “The island character of England is waning as the wider civilization of the West takes over. Soon it will survive only in the history books: but we are not too late, and Oxford stands there still to remind us of its faults and virtues – courageous, arrogant, generous, ornate, pungent, smug and funny.”

And on Venice – perhaps her most celebrated work – she recalled the “smell of her mud, incense, fish, age, filth and velvet” and predicted that “wherever you go in life you will feel somewhere over your shoulder, a pink castellated, shimmering presence, the domes and riggings and crooked pinnacles”.

Her biographer and agent, Derek Johns, described what he thought made her writing so distinctive. “She involves the reader,” he wrote, “while she remains unobtrusively present herself; who uses the particular to illustrate the general, and scatters grace notes here and there like benefactions. She is a watcher, usually alone, seldom lonely, alert to everything around her.”

In 2018 – by now in her tenth decade – Jan Morris published In My Mind’s Eye, a personal work collecting the musings of her everyday life.

The world had become kinder to people who had changed their sex, she told one journalist. Kindness and marmalade were her two essentials in life.

She was still living with Elizabeth – with whom she had entered a civil partnership – although the “subtle demon of our time, dementia, is coming between us”, she wrote.

As far as death was concerned, though, they had prepared for it. As a writer, Jan had chosen the words for their eventual headstone with some care. “Here are two friends,” it will say, “at the end of one life.”

Listen to Jan Morris discuss her classic travel book Venice on BBC Sounds.

Do not do battle with Greeks

My thanks to Stephen who added a comment a while back about Paddy’s experience amongst the Greeks, and offered an entertaining link to a rousing You Tube video which you might enjoy.

Hello, to PLF readers. To gain an insight into the nights in the Psiloriti mountains that PLF partook, he was inspired by its people. The Cretan musicians here play, “Do not do battle with Greeks,” played in the mountains among its people.

The art of David Walsh truly speaks to the walker in me

Across the Chalke Downs, Spring by David Walsh

One of the pleasures of running this blog is the opportunity to meet people who I would probably never come across in my day to day life. It is also quite surprising how many of them know Blandford Forum’s greatest travel writer, the ubiquitous Harry Bucknall. And so it was when a brochure for an art exhibition of David Walsh’s work dropped through my letterbox a couple of weeks ago.

I was immediately struck by how David brings real life and depth to his work, much of it being from the downland of Hampshire and Wiltshire. His skies are amazing and absolutely resonated with me as someone has walked on those same hills and Ox Droves. He also spends a lot of time in Italy and he has many works from there on display.

When I rang David to make an appointment to visit his studio we talked about how he may have come across my address and our main vector was Harry; everyone seems to know Harry!

Since then I have visited his studio and bought one of his paintings, something to remind me of the freedom, and the space and emptiness of the Ox Droves above Cranborne Chase close to where David lives. His planned London exhibition has had to be postponed due to Covid, but he is welcoming visitors by arrangement (Covid regs permitting).

If you are looking for something to remind you of better times (ironically much of his work was painted during the brilliant weather we had during the first lockdown with contrail-clear skies; probably a never to be repeated opportunity), please do drop David an email david@david-walsh.net or phone: Studio 01722 780097, Mobile 07806 750748. Do mention the Paddy blog if you do contact him. His work is selling quite quickly so do make contact if you are interested. All his paintings come framed in beautiful handmade frames by a craftsman in Florence.

Visit David’s website to view more of his work for sale as well as those he has sold. David is available for commissions.

Late Summer, Looking towards Salisbury by David Walsh

List your favourite out of print travel and nature books

Once Upon Another Time by Jessica Douglas-Home

As a fan of the Eland approach to seeking out and republishing out of print travel books, I had a recent discussion with a friend where we mused about our favourite out of print travel books. I came up with Jessica Douglas-Home’s Once Upon Another Time which is really enjoyed reading.

We thought that it might be fun to ask you to submit a list of your recommendations for out-of-print travel and environment books that you might want to see brought back into publication. The remit could include classics that have been forgotten about, to obscure works of eccentric genius that never saw the light of day. Not just old-school travel writing but nature writing also. This might be twentieth century stuff, but could be from earlier.

If you have anything that leaps to mind please email me (see About and Contact) or add a comment to this post; please say why you would like to see it published. I’ll publish a definitive list of your recommendations before Christmas. Perhaps we can have more than just recommendations for early twentieth century and late nineteenth century female travellers, mostly (for some reason) in the Middle East and Central Asia. My friend’s list appears to show that whole region crawling with intrepid women fighting off bandits, dressing as men and crossing deserts!

We are very much looking forward to your recommendations and the discussion they may bring.

Love walking? Looking for a walking related job in UK?

This may be of interest to a reader in the UK (south) who wants to work on establishing a new pilgrimage route to Canterbury.

A job for a practical Pilgrim working with the British Pilgrimage Trust. Looks good!

Click here to find out more.

Walking on

Dear Readers,

I apologise for the radio silence over the last few weeks. Things have been very busy with my walk, the aftermath of that, lots of busyness at work, my eldest daughter’s wedding, and a few Covid moments.

My thanks to those of you who offered sponsorship for my walk to Gloucester. Things went pretty well for a couple of days but then I picked up some sort of injury and my left leg basically decided it didn’t want to carry on! By day four I was making just about two miles an hour which was not enough and it was all a little painful. This was meant to be enjoyable; I am no longer as young as I once was, and no longer a soldier and decided that a pause for healing might be the best option! I was rescued and taken back home. I’m all fine now and plan to complete the last three days once the latest UK lockdown is over in December, weather permitting. A few pictures are below, and a nice proud dad wedding photo or two 🙂

In other news, you might be interested to know that Michael O’Sullivan, Paddy expert, and author of Patrick Leigh Fermor: Noble Encounters between Budapest and Transylvania was installed as a Papal Knight in October in a socially distanced ceremony at the Coronation church in Budapest – see photo. Congratulations to Micheal.

I’m looking forward to getting back into regular posts on here, and as ever, I welcome your contributions and comments.

Keep safe and well.

Tom

Dr Foster went to Gloucester

Hello all – it’s that time of year when I have holiday remaining, the leaves are turning, and I need to get a few miles under my feet before winter arrives. So I’m off walking again and raising money for Combat Stress and ABF: The Soldiers’ Charity. I’m also dedicating this walk to the late Ray Washer RE, who died suddenly last weekend. I’m walking around 110 miles from Winchester to Gloucester over six days.

My route will be the Roman road north-west out of Winchester, past Andover (Icknield Way) then to the Kennet & Avon canal, turn west for two days then north towards Stroud around Bradford-on-Avon. Passing through Laurie Lee’s home village of Slad before I drop downhill into Gloucester. I have no idea where I shall sleep but the Lord will provide! If you live along this route maybe say hello!

I hope that you might give generously to encourage me! In the past, readers of the blog have raised many thousands of pounds for these charities (and Shelter). My thanks for that and in anticipation of your generosity this time around.

The link to the Just Giving page is here https://www.justgiving.com/team/Winchester-Gloucester

All the best

Tom

 

Hydra: a haven for international artists from Aussie bohemians to Leonard Cohen

An Australian perspective on the idyllic island of Hydra, home of Nikos Hadjikyriakos-Ghika, Leonard Cohen, and frequented by Paddy, Durrell, and John Craxton.

From Neos Kosmos.

Historically, the small rocky island of Hydra has been closely associated with the Greek War of Independence, in which it played an important role, being a prosperous shipping centre at the time; the sea captains’ mansions that ring the island’s harbour are a testament to its heritage. In more recent decades, however, Hydra has come to be known primarily as an artistic hub, its heyday being in the 1950’s and 60’s, when numerous writers, musicians and painters were drawn to its rugged charm.

Hydra’s appeal to artists can probably be traced back to Nikos Hadjikyriakos-Ghika, the most famous Greek cubist artist and key figure in the Greek modernist movement known as the “Generation of the ’30s”. Ghika was a native, coming from an old and prominent Hydriot family, which had in the past contributed many naval officers and captains in the Greek Revolution. In the 1950s’and 60’s, exhibitions of his work across the globe won him international acclaim; he befriended other artists and intellectuals, and would host them in his Hydra home for extended periods of time.

His 18th century 40-room mansion, perched on a steep hillside, housed such names as Henry Miller, Patrick Leigh Fermor, Lawrence Durrell, Norman Mailer, Edmund “Mike” Keeley, Giorgos Seferis, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Le Corbusier, John Craxton, Rex Warner and Cyril Connolly. Painters, such as Craxton and Ghika himself, were greatly inspired by the island’s unique scenery, as evidenced in their work. Leigh Fermor, spent two years there, writing a large part of his book Mani: Travels in the Southern Peloponnese and translating the Greek Resistance memoir The Cretan Runner.

Hatzikyriakos-Ghika Nikos (1906 – 1994), Memories of Hydra, 1948-1976 Mixed media on paper mounted on canvas. Source: The National Gallery – Alexandros Soutsos Museum

In his celebrated travelogue The Colossus of Maroussi, Henry Miller, who was hosted by Ghika in 1939, lauded Hydra’s “naked perfection” describing it as a “rock which rises out of the sea like a huge loaf of petrified bread. It is the bread turned to stone which the artist receives as reward for his labour when he fist catches sight of the promised land”. In 1961, the Ghika mansion was destroyed by fire, prompting the owner to leave Hydra and never return. By that time, however, a colony of expatriate artists and writers had already been established on the island.

Inspired by Miller’s journey, an international bohemian community of artists and writers had begun to form on Hydra; central figures to this circle were Charmian Clift and George Johnston, a married couple of writers from Australia who moved there in 1956, after some time living on the more remote island of Kalymnos. Their Hydra house soon became a destination for several others looking for a primitive landscape and an unconventional lifestyle.

During their years on the island, they both wrote some of their most important works: Johnston’s My Brother Jack, a classic of Australian literature, and Clift’s Peel Me a Lotus, where she describes her family’s life on Hydra. My Brother Jack’s sequel, Clean Straw for Nothing, was written after Johnston had left Greece, but drew heavily on his experiences on Hydra.

Their dramatic lives, marked by creative fever, substance abuse, tempestuous lovers’ quarrels and eventually tragedy (with Charmian committing suicide) has inspired several authors, who have put special focus on the couple’s years on the island. In her play, Hydra, Australian writer Sue Smith recounts “the passion and intensity of the near mythical ‘King and Queen of Hydra’”; the couple also has a central role in the book Half the Perfect World: Writers, Dreams and Drifters on Hydra, 1955-1964, which details the lives Hydra’s expat community, as well as in Polly Samson’s novel A Theatre for Dreamers, which captures the “hazy, sun-drenched days” of that same group of people. In both these books there is, of course, another central character: a young Canadian troubadour and aspiring writer who has arguably come to be linked with the island of Hydra more than anyone else.

Leonard Cohen

Leonard Cohen arrived on Hydra in 1960, at the age of 26; he met Clift and Johnston, who in fact offered to host him at the beginning of his stay. Soon, Cohen would buy a house on the island for $1500, using a bequest from his recently deceased grandmother. He liked it although it was run down and had no running water. In a letter to his mother, he wrote “I live on a hill and life has been going on here exactly the same for hundreds of years. All through the day you hear the calls of the street vendors and they are really rather musical”; he also noted that the Aegean Sea was 10 minutes from his door.

On Hydra, Cohen met Marianne Ihlen, who soon became his first great love as well as his muse. Ihlen had arrived on the island in 1958 with her then-husband, Norwegian writer Axel Jensen. Soon after the birth of their son, Axel Jr., Jensen left her and the island, and not long after Ihlen moved in with Cohen, along with her baby. Cohen lived with Marianne throughout the 60’s, and for the first seven years he would commute between New York, Montreal, and Hydra.

Marianne in Cohen’s home in Hydra, on the back cover of the album Songs from a Room, which features “Bird on the Wire”

At the time, his ambition was to become an established writer. While on Hydra, he would wake up every day around 7 a.m. and work on his writings until noon; in the evenings, he would meet with his friends –including Clift and Johnston, Redmond and Robyn Wallis and many others- in local bars and taverns, such as the Katsikas Bar, where he would give his first live performances, years ahead of his debut. During his time on Hydra, Cohen published the novels The Favourite Game (1963) and Beautiful Losers (1966), and the poetry collection Flowers for Hitler (1964).

His works were met with mixed reactions and only sold few copies, and he gradually shifted his focus towards songwriting, eventually leaving for the USA in 1967 to pursue a career in music. At the end of that same year he released his first album, Songs of Leonard Cohen, which features one of his most iconic songs, “So Long, Marianne”, written for Ihlen.

Source: Greek News Agenda

Retracing an 80-year-old journey along the river Shannon

The river Shannon

Part of my family come from Kilrush, on the shore of the Shannon estuary (next parish New York) in south-west Ireland. This article appealed to me as many of us find that our travels are yet again being restricted by Covid-19. It reminds us that we can still travel in our mind’s eye through the enjoyment of good travel writing.

By Paul Clements

First published in The Street Journal.

The Ireland of the 1930s was an austere place in which barefoot children played in the streets of a young country where the Catholic Church was all-powerful. Electrification of farms and rural houses was still some way off, and many areas suffered badly from tuberculosis as well as mass emigration.

Despite the poverty, there was another, more carefree side to life which respected the arts, heritage and traditions. People gathered at the crossroads for ceilidhs and made the most of what they had.

This was the Ireland that captivated Richard Hayward (1892-1964), who, although born in Lancashire, grew up on the Antrim coast and became a lover of Ireland. Noted for his travel books on the country, he explored the Shannon in August 1939, just two weeks before the outbreak of the second World War. He set off from the Shannon Pot in Co Cavan in a 12-horsepower Austin car and drove the back roads trailing a caravan hired from the Irish Caravan Company at a cost of £10.

The Shannon is largely the same river that Hayward admired in Where the River Shannon Flows, published in 1940. He was one of the first travellers to write about it in the 20th century. The book’s title came from a song by James Russell, sung by his brother John. It was released around the turn of the century when the Shannon was labelled “The Irish Swanee River”. The song was later recorded by John Count McCormack and by that honorary Irishman, Bing Crosby.

Time-travel, or footstepping, involves recreating an earlier journey, linking the past to the present

That summer Hayward’s book was reviewed by Maurice Walsh in The Irish Times and was top of the paper’s non-fiction list under a section called “What Dublin is Reading”. A prolific author, Walsh was acknowledged as a brilliant storyteller. His novel The Key Above the Door (1927), set in Scotland, sold more than a quarter of a million copies.

Walsh’s books were popular not just in Ireland but in Britain and America. The Quiet Man was originally published by the Saturday Evening Post, for which Walsh received $2,000. It was later included in his story collection Green Rushes (1935) and became an enduring film in 1951.

There was a spirit of camaraderie among writers, who supported each other in difficult times. Walsh was president of Irish PEN and its authors adopted the organisation’s ideals to “maintain friendship between writers in every country in the interests of literature, freedom of artistic expression and international goodwill”.

Time-travel, or footstepping, involves recreating an earlier journey, linking the past to the present. It brings a destination, as well as another era, to life. Many writers have been inspired by shades of travellers long past and the world they experienced. Some of the most celebrated subject names that crop up in the genre include Alexander the Great, Robert Louis Stevenson, Ernest Hemingway, Graham Greene and, more recently, those who have followed Patrick Leigh Fermor’s trail of his long walk across Europe which started in December 1933.

The painter Cecil Salkeld, the writer Richard Hayward, the novelist Compton MacKenzie and the writer Maurice Walsh at a function in Dublin in the 1950s

My time-switching involved transporting myself back to the late 1930s to try to capture Hayward’s spirit and follow in his footsteps, tyre tracks and ripples.

One of the worst roads in Ireland then was the dirt track from Rooskey to Tarmonbarry in Co Roscommon, which had seen cartwheels, hoofs and boots. Hayward recounted the misery created by the clouds of limestone dust as his party drove along it. He wrote that they aged 30 years in five minutes because of the grime that got into their hair and eyebrows. (The road has since taken on a new lease of life and been rebranded the East Roscommon Scenic Drive.)

The timing of Hayward’s book has parallels with today, since people were not travelling because of the war, which began at the start of September 1939. One reviewer, James Stephens, author of The Crock of Gold, said of it: “For some time now we must do all our travelling by book, and this one will carry you to the real Ireland.”

This summer, many aspects of travel were thrown into the spotlight because of the pandemic. But nearly 50 years ago, in the early 1960s, Elizabeth Bishop wrote in her remarkable poem Questions of Travel about why people went abroad.

“Think of the long trip home./ Should we have stayed at home and thought of here?” her tourist narrator asks. “What childishness is it that while there’s a breath of life/ in our bodies, we are determined to rush to see the sun the other way around? [ . . .] And have we room/ for one more folded sunset, still quite warm?”

The edgelands may be regarded as an eyesore, but frequently they are filled with nature and wonder.

Few pause to explore the Shannon sunset or its in-between places, the overlooked and the marginal, known as the edgelands. At first glance there may be little aesthetic appeal in the bauxite factory at Aughinish, the cement factory in Mungret, ruined castles, derelict hotels, old quaysides, abandoned locks or corroded barges – but they all come with their own rich tapestry of history. Some of the most absorbing locations include the estuary and its unkempt mudflats, as well as the precious habitats of the callows and boglands.

The edgelands may be regarded as an eyesore, but frequently they are filled with nature and wonder, somewhere to watch birds, study wildflowers, stare into the water or perhaps just dream a little.

In his poem A Disused Shed in Co Wexford, Derek Mahon celebrates them as “places where a thought might grow – / Peruvian mines, worked out and abandoned [ . . .] Indian compounds where the wind dances”, and the shed itself, “Deep in the grounds of a burnt-out hotel,/ Among the bathtubs and the washbasins/ A thousand mushrooms crowd to a keyhole.”

Shannon Country: A River Journey Through Time by Paul Clements is published by the Lilliput Press and is out now. His biography Romancing Ireland: Richard Hayward 1892-1964, is also published by Lilliput

Yale snaps up biography of artist John Craxton

John Craxton working on Pastoral for P.W., 1948 Photograph by Felix Man

Yale University Press will publish the first biography of British artist John Craxton (1922–2009) in spring 2021.

Mark Eastment, editorial director at Yale University Press London, acquired world rights (excluding Greece) from David Godwin at David Godwin Associates.

John Craxton: A Life of Gifts will be written by the trustee of the John Craxton Estate, Ian Collins, and will come a year ahead of the centenary of Craxton’s birth.

Craxton spent much of his early adulthood in Greece and was well travelled. His contemporaries included Edmund White, Lucian Freud, Patrick Leigh Fermor and David Attenborough. As well as a painter, Craxton was also a book illustrator in the Neo-Romantic style. The biography is compiled using letters from the artist’s life, as well as from interviews conducted before his death.

Collins commented: “John Craxton banned any book on his hedonistic life from 1948 onwards, so I began to make notes for mine in secret on the day we met. We became friends, he relaxed his veto and we recorded many interviews before his death in November 2009. Craxton was erudite, anarchic and hugely entertaining and it has been the honour and pleasure of my life to be allowed to tell his story.”

Eastment said: “There is a growing interest in this fascinating artist and we felt now was the right time for a fully-fledged biography to be published on Craxton. His work is being reassessed and appreciated by more and more people.”

The extraordinary travels and art of Jacques Gregoire

Jacques Gregoire

In 2015, inspired by Artemis Cooper’s biography of Paddy, Dutch artist Jacques Gregoire decided it was ‘time to go walkabout’ and follow in Paddy’s footsteps walking to Constantinople. Unlike some others, Jacques recorded his adventure not in words but in amazing watercolours. From 15-26 September, some of Jacques’ work will be on display at the Osborne Studio Gallery.

In these Covid times, it is probably best to contact the gallery if you wish to visit:

The Osborne Studio Gallery
2 Motcomb Street
London
SW1X 8JU
gallery@osg.uk.com

+44 (0)20 7235 9667

The gallery tells us a little about Jacques and his work:

A tremendous storyteller and traveller who takes notes in form of sketches and watercolours to record life as it changes. He has a deep admiration for wildlife and is a highly skilled painter. The exhibition will show his little gems of sketches from his extensive travels this year.

Dutch artist and wayfarer Jacques Gregoire records nature and the undisturbed landscape wherever he goes, sketchbook in hand. His sketches depict a loving recreation of forests, fields, beaches, lakes, hills and dales highlighting the beauty of nature but also the significance of climate change. Jacques is a highly skilled painter and a true archivist of nature.

The exhibition will showcase Jacques’ stunning watercolours and oil paintings taken from his travels covering his journey of 3000 kilometres in the footsteps of Patrick Leigh Fermor as well as his most recent walk of 1000 kilometres from Amsterdam to the west coast of Ireland.

‘Back in my studio I try to make the landscapes I have seen come alive again. For me they are not a depiction of a landscape, they are the landscape’.

Further details here.

The exhibition catalogue can be viewed here.

Spice: The Last Believers

Thank you to James Hamilton for highlighting this short radio clip from BBC Radio 4 which is available (I hope to all) on BBC Sounds for about another four weeks. This is one of five specially commissioned tales revolving around the possibilities of the word spice.

In this story by Alex Preston called the Last Believers, the writer looks back at a visit to Corfu in his youth and the magical, mythical power of certain spices. Set in Corfu in 1978, the narrator is invited to a book festival by Larry Durrell and Paddy.

Over you you and I hope you enjoy. I shall catch up with it soon!

Listen here.

“A dangerous mix of recklessness and sophistication”: Themes of identity and nostalgic ideas of Europe in the travel writings of Patrick Leigh Fermor

Paddy after the war in Byronic costume – Benaki

Dear readers I hope that you all remain well. During what was almost a global “lockdown” I attempted to publish articles that might have been somewhat longer than usual on the basis that you might have more time on your hands to absorb them! I do wish that I had remembered to offer this masters thesis by Matthew Staite at the time, as it is a good read; absorbing and well written, exploring themes that make us think about Paddy’s work, the times he describes, and his own character. This is only a study of A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods and the Water and does not purport to analyse his other work. I commend it to you and hope that you might find the time to read it.

A PDF of the thesis can be found here: Matthew Staite Leigh Fermor Thesis.

Here’s how Matthew introduced himself to me back in April:

Two years ago I completed a masters degree at the University of Amsterdam in the field of European Studies, in a track attempting to study the Identity & Integration of Europe. As a British person with a love of travel writing, I chose to write my thesis on Patrick Leigh Fermor’s books. Very little academic scholarship exists about his writing, so I attempted to academically analyse the first two books about his European walk and look at themes of memory and how he splits Europe between East and West in the texts. I found your site very interesting and helpful when writing the thesis (I even made reference to you at one point), so I thought I would send it to you in case you found it of any interest!

If nothing else it is worth reading Matthew’s conclusion.

While this thesis has travelled across the width of the European continent alongside Leigh
Fermor, it is time for this journey to come to an end. It has been demonstrated that, while Leigh Fermor sought a Europe bound by common culture and history upon his travels, this was a nostalgic search for a Europe rooted in the past. While the texts may describe his youthful adventuring through Europe, they were written and narrated by an older Leigh Fermor who was more nostalgic for this lost past and who desperately searched for the glimpses of it that remained.

The interaction with memory that this entails proves crucial to both books. As a result of the
parallax structure, the narrative is split between the past time of his journey and the future time of his writing. As a rhetorical device it allows Leigh Fermor to jump seamlessly between the past and the present, enabling him to write in a way that both captures the younger Leigh
Fermor’s boyish charm and the older Leigh Fermor’s wisdom and knowledge. It lends narrative power to the images of lost Europe that he constructs, for Leigh Fermor has experienced this past and can contrast it with the narrative present.

The Europe that Leigh Fermor was travelling through was in many ways on the cusp of
modernity, and many of the things he describes were to completely destroyed or changed by
the effects of the Second World War. He is implicitly critical of the period under communism
that followed the Second World War in Eastern Europe; a criticism of communism (still present at the time of the book’s writing) forms the ‘elephant in the room’ of his narrative. Despite his sympathy for Eastern Europe, Leigh Fermor’s texts also conform to the tradition of writing against Eastern Europe as a backwards and savage place. While there are elements of his narrative that go against this trend, they certainly form the lesser part of his narrative.

The two tiers of class (the peasants and the elite) that Leigh Fermor encounters throughout
Europe stem from this lost past, and he only lightly deals with the contemporary changes that
were happening to the societies he travelled through at the time of his journey. Despite this
criticism, the texts remain a wonderful journey across the European continent and back into
its past. Leigh Fermor’s personality and enthusiasm for knowledge permeate the texts, and
the rich descriptions of history, literature and language that ensue read as a beautiful tribute
to European culture.

This thesis has attempted to alert scholars of the scope for analysis and research that Leigh
Fermor’s travel texts provide. However it is far from a comprehensive study of Leigh Fermor
and his writing. By conducting a close study of only A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods
and the Water, it has only looked at the themes of identity and ideas of Europe that Leigh
Fermor established between Holland and Romania. Due to the complications presented by
artificially constructed nature of the unfinished The Broken Road, there has not been the space to conduct a close analysis of it within this thesis. However that book is certainly of use to scholars, for there is certainly scope for analysis as to how Leigh Fermor includes Bulgaria
within his conception of Eastern Europe, or whether he others with it alongside Turkey as a
demarcation of the orient.

I have also not chosen to incorporate Leigh Fermor’s interpretation of Greece and its
importance within Europe. The latter half of A Broken Road is set in Greece, along with Leigh Fermor’s other travel texts Mani and Roumeli. As the south-eastern edge of Europe, and a nation where he spent a significant part of his life, it would be interesting to analyse how Leigh Fermor’s depictions of Greece correspond with the same themes of identity and nostalgia for Europe’s past that this thesis has explored.

Finally this thesis has largely treated A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods and the Water
as a single and coherent travel narrative. In doing so it has readily jumped between the two
texts despite them being published nearly a decade apart. There is certainly scope for analysis
into the effect of this time on the differences of the two books.

Inspired by Paddy: Alexander McCall Smith on reading in a time of quiet

Writer Alexander McCall Smith

A reflective piece for a Sunday morning. I enjoyed this and I hope that you do too.

By Alexander McCall Smith.

First published on The Herald.

Like many others, I have a pile of books waiting to be read. In fact, now that I come to think of it, I have more than one pile of books. I have one on the bedside table, where most people keep their unread books, but I also have two in my study – one on a chair and another on a table.

I suppose I should also count the temporary pile near the window, but that is the stack waiting to go to the charity shop. That, I fear, may be difficult to reduce in the short term: charity shops are said to be dreading the return of normal opening, as a positive deluge of stored-up donations threatens to engulf them. Barriers have been erected, we are told, and long-suffering staff are steadying themselves to turn away three months’ worth of paperback novels, out-of-date guides to Finland, and Higher English study notes. That, of course, is before they are offered last year’s political memoirs and football biographies.

By strange co-incidence, when our life changed in March and we entered this period of social isolation, I happened to have just completed a reorganisation of the books in the house. This was long overdue, as over the years I had placed books according to what might charitably be called a chronological system. This involved putting the most recently-acquired books in the front and leaving older books at the back. As a result, books on very different subjects sat next to one another on the shelf and the only method of locating them would be visual memory – “I’m sure I saw that book somewhere on that shelf” – or the recollection of when the book came into the house. Neither of these ever worked very well, and as a consequence I came to be the owner of a large number of books that I had forgotten about.

My reorganisation – carried out by a particularly competent person who agreed to take on the task for me – transformed my personal collection. Not only were books shelved according to subject, but within the classifications they were arranged alphabetically, according to author. This meant that now, if I need to find a book on the social practices of baboons, I know exactly where it is. And I do have such a book, as it happens: in fact, I see that I have two. I can also lay my hands on my Dictionary of Australian Slang and Colloquialisms – a very vivid book – or, not far from that on the shelf, my Concise Scots Dictionary. No longer do I have to spend half an hour searching for the biography of King Zog of Albania that I know I possess. There it is, next to the other memoirs of less colourful lives.

As a result of this reorganisation I discovered not a few books I had forgotten about or had never got round to reading. As isolation began, I had embarked on reading one of these recently-surfaced books, which happened to be about monasticism, and what the monastic traditions of sanctuary and quiet can do for us in our increasingly busy world. Or formerly increasingly busy world, because just as I started this book, our world slowed down perceptibly. Traffic noise disappeared; the sky, once criss-crossed by vapour trails, became inhabited only by natural clouds; delicate birdsong filled the air, as if suddenly birds felt they no longer had to shout to make themselves heard. People walked or cycled. They stopped their headlong rush; they paused to take a breath; living in the future was replaced by living now. Time was arrested. It was just the right time to read about monasticism – that curious voluntary withdrawal from the world in pursuit of spirituality.

That book was quickly followed by another on the same subject that I found on my newly-ordered shelves. This was Patrick Leigh Fermor’s A Time to Keep Silence. Leigh Fermor was a remarkable writer, whose books about his famous walk across Europe before the Second World War are justly celebrated. In A Time to Keep Silence he describes visits he made to monasteries in France and elsewhere in the early 1950s. He writes at some length about the implications of suddenly finding time in the day – to read, to meditate, to stay still.

It helped, and it also set the tone for my reading over the next few months of this unusual period. I found that I had no appetite for anything fast-paced or exciting. I found that I wanted to read books where there was a strong authorial voice saying something about what counted in life. In particular, I turned to poetry, and to books about poetry. Reading poetry requires an initial quietness in the mind. When you sit down with a poet, you are being addressed in a way that is intimate and direct: the poetic voice is a very personal one – somebody is talking to you, is saying “listen, this is how I feel”.

Then Zoom came along. Zoom meant that we could see and talk to friends, but it also meant that people could keep book clubs going in spite of not being able to meet others physically. I do not belong to a book club, but I started to have regular virtual meetings with four friends in which we discussed two or three poems for the occasion. One of these friends happens to be a professor of literature and an expert in 19th century poetry. That helped, but the net has been cast wide and we have included contemporary poets in our discussions. At our last meeting, we looked at Thomas Gray’s Elegy (I last read that when I was 16) but we also spent a very happy half hour talking about Edwin Morgan’s King Billy and Iain Crichton Smith’s You Lived in Glasgow. Both of these poems contain beautiful and arresting lines: I have always been struck by Morgan’s haunting opening to the King Billy poem, “Grey over Riddrie the clouds piled up…”

One cannot survive on a diet of poetry, of course, just as one cannot survive exclusively on a diet of biography or architectural history. But I did find myself concentrating on books that ask what one might call profound questions – the sort of questions that we are often too busy to address with the attention they deserve. I learned about subjects I needed to know more about – I had a sense of catching up with myself. I realised I had been too busy, too distracted, to read things I needed to read. These last few months have taught me a lesson. I hope I remember it.

The Mani Sanctuary of A Hero-turned Scholar

A meal with friends around the dining-room table designed by Fermor himself. His house was frequently visited by leading figures of the arts and letters.


Another profile of Paddy and the Mani from 2015, this time by by Sofka Zinovieff. First published in Greece Is.

A modern-day Odysseus, Patrick Leigh – Fermor spent the most peaceful days of his remarkable life in a now-famous house near Kardamyli, surrounded by olive groves.

When people talk about Patrick Leigh-Fermor, they often use superlatives: “the greatest British travel writer,” “the most daring wartime secret agent,” “the last great romantic.” I first met him when I came to the Peloponnese to do research as an anthropology student nearly 30 years ago and I went to stay with him in Kardamyli. Although I then knew little about his life, I was, like so many, immediately won over by his charisma. Paddy, as he was always known by English friends (Greeks called him Michalis, his nom de guerre), lived with his wife Joan in a house just outside Kardamyli that they built in the 1960s. At that point, Mani was still an extremely remote, even wild corner of Europe – the inaccessible middle peninsular of the Peloponnesian three-fingered “hand,” with its striking stone towers reflecting centuries of blood feuds and the dramatic, rocky landscape of Mount Taygetus.

The couple gradually created their remarkable home – a mix between a Byzantine monastery and an English country house: carved stone arches, comfortable armchairs, walls covered in books and paintings by Nikos Hadjikyriakos-Ghikas. Cats (and sometimes goats) prowled over the beautifully designed stone terraces with paths made from smooth pebbles. They had picked their spot carefully – close enough to Kardamyli to have neighbors, shops and a few tavernas, but isolated enough to have the peace they desired. Steps lead from the house down to a beautiful little cove from which they and their friends would set out on long swims. And all around them, olive groves.

Over the years, Paddy became a friend, and I gradually read all his books and learned more about him – the fast living that recalled his hero, Lord Byron, and the daring and resourceful- ness that conjured up a modern-day Odysseus. Wonderfully handsome as a young man, he was always beautifully dressed and remained charming, witty and courteous to the end. A man of action and of letters, Paddy was just as comfortable in grand English drawing rooms or mountain shacks in Crete and he was irresistible to women. A BBC journalist once described him as a mix between Indiana Jones, James Bond and Graham Greene.

Paddy was one of the most cultured people I have met – constantly interested to learn about the people and places he encountered. He not only read literature and poetry but adored reference books. At dinner in Kardamyli, he would jump up to find a dictionary to illustrate a point or an atlas to locate the precise name of something.

An autodidact, he didn’t attend university, but in 1933, aged 18, walked across Europe. Carrying only a rucksack, he started in Holland and made his way through Nazi Germany, Hungary and on to Constantinople.

During the war, Paddy served in the Intelligence Corps and helped organize the resistance to Crete’s Nazi occupiers. He grew a large mustache and dressed as a shepherd with baggy pantaloons and a dagger in his belt. In 1944, he devised a bold, even crazy plan that has fascinated people ever since. Using German uniforms as disguises, he, Billy Moss and a group of Cretans kidnapped the Nazi chief of staff on Crete, General Kreipe. Living in remote caves, they avoided detection for two weeks, ultimately escaping with him back to Egypt.

It was in Cairo that Paddy met Joan, a tall, blonde intellectual and photographer, the daughter of Viscount Monsell. The pair traveled together – in the Caribbean in 1949 (resulting in Paddy’s first book, The Traveller’s Tree) and then in Greece. In Athens they became friends with many artists and writers of the day, including Giorgos Seferis and Hadjikyriakos-Ghikas, and discovered Greece on foot and by mule, bus and boat. These explorations are described in Paddy’s two masterpieces, Mani: Travels in the Southern Peloponnese and Roumeli: Travels in Northern Greece. Richly erudite but also humorous and anecdotal, they remain among the best things written about Greece by a non-Greek. Mani is also a eulogy to the place that Paddy and Joan chose as the ideal place to make their home. Although it was one of the most inaccessible parts of Greece, they quickly became friends with many of their neighbors and there was a stream of visitors from Athens, England and around the world. By the time he died aged 96 in 2011, Paddy had been awarded medals and honors by both the Greek and British governments (he was knighted in 2004). He left the house at Kardamyli to the Benaki Museum, with the intention that it should be used as a writers’ retreat.

If these walls could talk… Furniture, books, personal items, mementos of an adventure-filled life, have remained untouched in the home of Patrick and Joan at Kardamyli. © Julia Klimi

Characterized by contrasts, Paddy was playful and scholarly, he drank impressive quantities and could sing folk songs in countless languages, but he regularly went into silent retreats at Cistercian monasteries. Set between the silvery olive groves of Mani and the lush, green fields of Worcestershire, Paddy’s remarkable life would be almost unbelievable in a novel: walking across Europe, falling in love with a princess, abducting a general, taking the best from Greece and England and becoming the finest travel writer of his generation.

Sofka Zinovieff is a British author • http://www.sofkazinovieff.com

Dervla Murphy’s lore

Dervla Murphy at 88

Although some have questioned why she is featured on the blog, I know that others enjoy reading about this intrepid lady, who is perhaps a more intrepid and accomplished travel writer than our very own Paddy. Her books are available via the website of our friends, Eland Publishing. Dervla celebrated her 88th birthday mid-November 2019. Isabel Conway met her for a chat about her extraordinary life and adventures.

by Isabel Conway

First published in Business Post.

I’m in Lismore, Co Waterford. A wilderness of greenery cloaks a couple of stone outbuildings that have old iron artefacts leaning up against them, behind a pair of high gates. The undisturbed scene is a flashback to the past, offering no sign at all of human occupation.

A local man gives directions, pointing towards the secluded laneway. Dervla Murphy, as he puts it, is “one of our own”, and she lives up this laneway in a collection of 17th-century buildings.

For more than 50 years, Ireland’s greatest travel writer of modern times has travelled the world, mostly alone and by bicycle, returning home from Peru, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Africa, India, Israel, Palestine, Laos, Siberia and many more far-flung places to write 26 internationally acclaimed books.

The indefatigable Murphy’s vicissitudes on the road are the stuff of legend. She was attacked by wolves in the mountains of Yugoslavia on that first journey by bicycle to India. Luckily, she was carrying a .25 revolver that Lismore’s gardaí had shown her how to use before setting out during one of the coldest winters on record in 1963. She succeeded in shooting one wolf dead and frightening the others off.

In her time, Murphy has been stoned by youths, stung by a scorpion, assaulted in Azerbaijan and narrowly escaped with her life after being robbed three times in Ethiopia.

Invasion by bedbugs and tick bites were unavoidable when bedding down in mud huts, kraals and doss houses, or wherever gave protection from ferocious extremes of weather and other dangers. Malaria in the African bush, dysentery in Pakistan, brucellosis in India, hepatitis in Madagascar, broken ribs in a couple of countries, a fractured coccyx and a broken foot in Romania, a new hip after a fall in Palestine.

Ever the stoic, Murphy would usually get back on her bicycle after she was patched up. It’s the measure of this extraordinary woman, called a “goddamn nutcase” by an American tourist when she refused his offer of a lift while hiking along a desert road in the burning heat.

With trepidation, I locate her back gate and follow the overgrown path to a stone structure. An admirer of Murphy all my life, I am nervous about meeting this most intrepid of travellers, who celebrates her 88th birthday next Thursday.

The much-loved author of Full Tilt, her debut remarkable story of cycling 4,500 miles from Ireland to India rarely gives interviews. Our meeting has been organised via a longtime friend of Murphy’s, based in London. They met 40 years earlier, trekking in the mountains of Peru. The friend cautions me: “You’ll find Dervla courteous and hospitable, but she doesn’t suffer fools gladly and hates being called courageous or brave.”

I arrive at a collection of several unconnected stone buildings across a cobbled courtyard, a forge, piggery, cow house and store converted into a study, kitchen, bathroom and bedroom. The door of the first building is ajar. An entire wall is taken up by a packed bookcase with lots more books lining smaller shelves, including more than two hundred titles Murphy read while researching her last book Between River and Sea, published in 2016 and focusing on the Israel/Palestine conflict.

The room has two desks, one on which Murphy wrote all of her books first in longhand, later typewriting before delivery to her mentor and publisher of more than four decades, John Murray in London. She acquired an electric typewriter to speed the work up a bit, but has never used a PC. A cherished old Tibetan flag that the Dalai Lama gave her in gratitude for her work with Tibetan refugee children covers the typewriter.

A sheathed dagger lies on a side table, and dotted around are handicrafts brought home from the ends of the earth. Framed photo collages of Murphy with her three granddaughters Rose, now 23, Clodagh, 21 and Zoe, 19 , have pride of place.

A sturdy, somewhat stooped woman with short white hair, wearing loose trousers, a body warmer and open toed hiking sandals crosses the cobbled yard and enters her study. She is welcoming and delivers a firm handshake. Her eyes are penetrating, those of a professional observer who misses nothing. She also has that invaluable writer’s gift of being an expert listener and communicator, one who has charmed her way into the affections of people – from influential diplomats and the like, to the poorest of the poor – who gave her friendship and assistance on her journeys.

A bench covered with a warm rug is the domain of Wurzel, her beloved elderly terrier. Two young cats streak after each other’s tails.

“I don’t know what I’d do without my animals,” Murphy says. “I used to have six or seven cats and four and five dogs at a time. I was always so delighted to see them when I came home at the end of long journeys, glad to be back in my territory and be starting on the next book.”

In her 80th year, Murphy had spent a long period travelling between Israel and Palestine researching the follow up to her widely acclaimed Gaza travelogue A Month By The Sea. Next, she switched her sights to Jordan, visiting Syrian refugee camps, as usual delving deeply into the region’s politics and history as well as its people and culture with visits to Petra and Wadi Rum.

“I had to come back after fracturing my pelvis,” she says. “It wasn’t a fall but a silly way of slipping, as I was sitting down.” Since then, a combination of emphysema and arthritis in her neck have put a stop to both her travels and her writing. “There’s no good having angst about it,” she says. “You realise these things are inevitable as you get old. I won’t be going anywhere; I might as well face it, but that’s okay.”

The only child of intellectual and unorthodox parents, Murphy’s lifelong stamina may owe something to her childhood diet, which involved plenty of raw beef and raw liver. She never saw her invalided mother stand. As if her mother foresaw that Murphy was destined to conquer massive distances and daunting physical challenge she would never know herself, she encouraged her to get out and see the world.

It was only after her mother passed away that Murphy could realise her dream to travel and write about her journeys. At 16 she was already cycling around England and, by the time she was 18, she had biked alone through post-war France along the Rhine to Germany.

She gets up at 5am, eats only once daily, and usually is in bed by 9pm. She possesses neither a TV, central heating nor consumer comforts and goods the rest of us take for granted. It smacks of a strict monastic lifestyle. “Oh, not at all,” she laughs, pouring herself a beer. “It takes me two hours to eat that one meal. I have an absolutely colossal breakfast with plenty of my own brown bread.”

I can vouch for the excellence of Murphy’s soda bread and the nourishing soup containing at least six vegetables she has made when I make a return trip a few weeks later. Since our last meeting, the British Guild of Travel Writers has awarded her its prestigious Lifetime Achievement prize.

Though she has received many awards, and can count the likes of Michael Palin among her many admirers, Murphy is visibly overwhelmed by this most recent recognition. The founder of Bradt Guides, Hilary Bradt, has hand-delivered Murphy’s framed citation from England. It reads: “Dervla is the real thing. In an age of gimmicks and promotions she has travelled for the sheer love of it, for enjoying spectacular scenery away from the crowds and for meeting people away from the trappings of civilisation.”

After lunch, Murphy sips a glass of beer, Wurzel next to her, and shares her strong opinions on a variety of topics.

She is a fervent opponent of mass tourism, pointing to its negative contribution to the climate problem with the never ending increase in air traffic. She also believes that it does little to improve the economies of formerly remote enclaves.

“Mass tourism exists for nothing else than to make profit,” she says. “It tries to sell itself as being so important to local economics. In my experience, the reverse is actually true.”

She cites Pakistan’s Baltistan as a location where so called intrepid travellers “stay in hotels staffed by people brought in from outside because the locals don’t have the training”. When she travelled to the remotest corners of the region, taking her young daughter Rachel and writing Where the Indus is Young, there was no electricity nor cash economy.

“People were advanced in other ways,” she recalls. “They had enough food and they were sustainable. Now they have little or nothing in winter when the fruit and vegetables are sold to feed tourists, and they’ve bought consumer goods that are pretty much useless with the money they earned.”

In her ideal world, everyone would cycle and cars would be taken off the roads. “Cars are the curse of our age,” she declares, adding that it may be too late to do much about rescuing the world and reversing climate change.

As a grandmother she does not want to express too much pessimism, so as “not to depress young people too much about the future”. At a time when the vast majority of women who can afford to travel in comfort couldn’t imagine staying in hostels and cheap guest houses, these are places where Murphy has been happiest. “I loathe hotels, always have,” she shudders.

Does she believe young people today travel as she has done – curious, fearless, adventurous? “ The first thing I see them do is plugging in their laptops or getting on the phone to Mummy and Daddy at home,” she says. “It drives me insane. Why do they bother leaving home if they miss Mummy and Daddy so much? But I blame the parents too, telling them: ‘Remember now to get in touch every evening so we know you’re okay’.”

Her daughter Rachel went travelling in India at the age of 17 for six months. How often did she contact Murphy on that trip?

“Once,” Murphy replies.

A phone call?

“Oh, there were no phone calls. It was a letter.”

Murphy does, however, say that it is now more dangerous for a woman to travel solo. “It’s riskier now in certain countries where people have suddenly acquired these mobile phones and see these pornographic videos and depictions of sexual violence against women,” she says.

“And yes, there are places where I would worry about the safety of my granddaughters. It’s a great shame but, sadly, the way the world has gone. I was so lucky, but we must always believe in the goodness of people in general. Far from intending to hurt us, most people are humane, helpful and don’t intend us harm.”

Eleven of Dervla Murphy’s titles are in print through Eland Publishing, including the classic Full Tilt: Ireland to India with a Bicycle, her autobiography Wheels within Wheels: The Makings of a Traveller, and her last two books on Palestine and Israel. For a full listing of these titles and for more information, visit travelbooks.co.uk/dervla-murphy

A Renowned Travel Writer’s Letters From the Road

Patrick Leigh Fermor writing under a makeshift shelter in his garden at Kardamyli, Greece. Credit…Estate of Patrick Leigh Fermor

It has been a while since I posted a book review on here. Some more recent readers may wonder why I am posting a book review from 2017. One stated purpose of the blog is to bring all (suitable and relevant) material relating to Paddy under on roof, hence the reason for posting this good quality review by Charles McGrath of A Life in Letters by Adam Sisman (published in the UK 2016 as Dashing for the Post), published in the New York Review Books December 1 2017.

Though hardly known in this country, in his native England Patrick Leigh Fermor is practically a cult figure, often said to be the best travel writer of the 20th century. But Fermor — or Paddy, as he was known to just about everyone — was also a famous vacillator and procrastinator, always distractable, unable to meet a deadline, and much of the effort he might have put into books and articles went into letters instead. Adam Sisman, the editor of this volume, guesses that in the course of his very long life (Fermor died in 2011, at 96) he might have written as many as 10,000. Sisman has selected fewer than 200, but they do add up to a biography of sorts — or, rather, a scrapbook of a rich, fascinating life lived mostly out of a suitcase and in a race to the post office. Until he was almost 50, and finally owned a house, Fermor seldom stayed in one place longer than a month.

The Fermor who emerges in these letters (and in a conventional biography published in 2012 by Artemis Cooper, granddaughter of Lady Diana Cooper, one of his most favored correspondents) was a bundle of contradictions. He was a man of letters but also, like his hero Byron, a man of action — a war hero and a restless adventurer, who even swam the Hellespont when he was 69. He never finished school — his headmaster called him “a dangerous mixture of sophistication and recklessness” and tossed him out for holding hands with a shopkeeper’s daughter — but was prodigiously learned, conversant in at least eight languages and able to recite hours of poetry by heart. He was an old-school Englishman, a toff — bespoke clothes, club memberships, plummy accent, riding to hounds — who lived most of his life abroad, broke much of the time, settling down at last in Greece. He was an unabashed snob and social climber who also relished the company of peasants and shepherds. He was a famous ladies’ man and at the same time deeply in love with his wife, who patiently overlooked his wanderings. (She even lent him money for prostitutes.) And he was a tireless socializer, beloved by an enormous circle of friends, who often yearned for solitude and sometimes hid out in monasteries.

Fermor was, as he freely admitted, a shameless scrounger of invitations and of houses he could borrow. (Invited once for lunch at Somerset Maugham’s villa on Cap Ferrat, he reportedly showed up with five cabin trunks, intending to stay for weeks. Maugham dispatched him the next morning.) His letters were, among other things, a way of keeping up with his friends and repaying their hospitality. Many of them are not thank-you notes in the traditional sense, but rather performance pieces of a sort, meant to charm and entertain. The book also includes a great many letters of apology, written in “sackcloth and ashes,” as he liked to say: to his long-suffering publisher, to friends he feels guilty about neglecting (he procrastinated about letter-writing, too) and one to a girlfriend (John Huston’s wife, as it happened) informing her that he may or may not have given her crabs: “I was suddenly alerted by what felt like the beginnings of troop-movements in the fork, but on scrutiny, expecting an aerial view of general mobilization, there was nothing to be seen, not even a scout, a spy or a dispatch rider.”

In his introduction Sisman says that the letters are written in a “free-flowing prose that is easier and more entertaining to read” than that of Fermor’s travel books, which is true up to a point. The books are so original they take some getting used to. The most famous of them is a three-volume account of a journey Fermor undertook in 1933, when at age 18 he determined to walk all the way from the Netherlands to Constantinople, as he romantically insisted on calling Istanbul. It took him a little over a year, in part because he kept making side trips and detours. He slept in barns and hayricks, and even outdoors once in a while, wrapped in a greatcoat, but more often he stayed in the castles and country houses of Central European nobility, who passed him along, like a mascot, with letters of introduction. He got on not so much by his wits as by his charm, and with youthful avidity he took in everything he saw and heard.

But Fermor didn’t begin writing the first of these volumes, “A Time of Gifts,” until some 40 years later, and the third volume remained unfinished at his death. His account is both immediate and shadowed by the passage of time, evoking a vanished world all but erased by war and the blight of communism. The style is ornate and layered, syntactically complicated, and it sometimes preens right up to the edge of overwriting before pulling itself back with an arresting image or self-deflating observation. Fermor’s friend Lawrence Durrell once described it as “truffled” and dense with “plumage.”

The letters, by contrast, are spontaneous and effortless-seeming, and sparkle — a little too brightly sometimes — with puns and jokes and with the inexhaustible charm that made Fermor such a welcome guest (and bedmate). For American readers his constant name-dropping and favor-currying may prove a little off-putting: The letters are crammed with mention of the rich and titled, who all seem to be marrying and divorcing one another. Sisman, the author of exceptionally good biographies of Boswell, Hugh Trevor-Roper and John le Carré, here in a subsidiary role, provides copious and helpful footnotes not only uncovering Fermor’s many buried literary allusions but also explaining who is who. A typical example, suggesting both the scope and almost incestuous ingrownness of Fermor’s acquaintance: “Professor Derek Ainslie Jackson (1906-82), nuclear physicist and a jockey who rode in the Grand National three times. Among his six wives were Pamela Mitford, Janetta Woolley and Barbara Skelton. He left Janetta for her half sister, Angela Culme-Seymour.”

The best of Fermor’s letters, by and large, are to three women with whom he was not romantically linked but nevertheless formed deep attachments: Lady Diana Cooper; Ann Fleming, wife of Ian, the James Bond novelist; and Deborah Mitford, youngest of the famed Mitford sisters, Duchess of Devonshire and châtelaine of Chatsworth, the great country house where he loved to spend Christmas and rub elbows with the likes of Prince Charles and Camilla. All three women, not coincidentally, were splendid letter writers themselves, and like all great correspondences, Fermor’s with them took on a life and texture of its own. You sometimes feel that they enjoyed one another on the page even more than they could have in person.

It goes without saying that nobody writes letters like this anymore, and it’s a loss. Fermor could never have texted or tweeted, not just because he was a bit of a fogey, but for the same reason he often let weeks pass before answering a letter. He needed to wait until he knew what he wanted to say.

Charles McGrath is a writer and former editor of the Book Review.

Virtual journeys – Winchester to Exeter via Salisbury, Wells and Glastonbury

The Clarendon Way from Winchester to Salisbury

I hope that you are all well and starting to enjoy getting out and about after the lockdowns. Many restrictions remain in place, varying country by country, and there is definitely uncertainty about travelling to other countries. I recently tried a bit of a long distance walk, but it is difficult with no real hospitality available for bed, or board, or even water which was much needed here in England as recent temperatures have been very high; only three Summers have had as much sunlight as this Spring here in England since sunlight records began, I think, in 1923.

In the autumn of 2017, having some time on my hands I decided to make one of my “step out of the door journeys”, taking a pack and a good pair of boots to make my own pilgrimage to somewhere. I like these journeys. They may not be exotic, but as a walker you really feel and experience the ground, the sounds and smells all round you. You see things that travellers on other modes of transport do not, meet and get to talk to people as you pass by, and make your own journey, unconstrained by way-marked walks, just using footpaths that take you in the direction you wish to go.

This journey was to be a “pilgrimage” from Winchester (from my door via the cathedral) to Salisbury cathedral, to the tiny city of Wells with its magnificent cathedral, thence on to the head of the River Exe via the ancient and mysterious holy place of Glastonbury, down the river valley to Exeter and its Gothic cathedral. It took me seven days of walking.

The route:

Day 1 – Winchester to Salisbury 34km. Slept in Sarum College (they will do low cost accommodation) with the best location in Salisbury right in the enormous Cathedral Close. This is a pleasant if long first day along the soft beech lined route of the Clarendon Way via Kings’ Sombourne and the River Test.

Day 2 – Wilton to Maiden Bradley 38 km. A short taxi ride out of the city to Wilton and up out striking west through a very large forest with a straight Roman road running through the middle for miles and miles. I barely saw a soul; Wiltshire can be bleak and is very sparsely populated in the rural areas. I ended up at a place called Maiden Bradley, the only place around with accommodation which turned out to be full. Taxi to Frome to find B&B and a hot meal.

First glimpse of Glastonbury Tor

Wells Cathedral School

Day 3 – Frome to Wells 36 km. A lovely walk in the sunshine after the “harshness” of Wiltshire the day before. I caught my first glimpse in the distance of Glastonbury Tor, an objective for the next walking day. I ended up in Wells just after dusk and stayed in a hotel in the gatehouse of the cathedral close. The next day I took some RnR and looked around the Bishops’ Palace, the cathedral school close, and the ornate cathedral itself. Really worth a day out if you can make it.

Wells Cathedral

Day 4 – Wells to Glastonbury 18 km. A short walk on the Somerset levels to the magical Tor with its magnificent 360 views. I could even see Wells cathedral in the distance. The town itself is a strange place with more shops selling crystals and other “magical” things than I have ever seen. One bookshop had a window display devoted to whittling wood! The next leg was to be to Bridgwater. I had agreed a rendezvous with a friend for a cup of tea and needed to push on, but the maze of drainage ditches and the flat emptiness of the Levels was at the same time going to take some time to navigate and was not an attractive prospect so I took a bus to Bridgwater which is a pretty enough town with statues to men who had struck out for the New World and brought trade to this place. Grabbing a coffee the next morning from Starbucks a lady there was celebrating 10 years’ service as a barista. Good on her; she was happy in her work.

Exmoor stag hunt

The stag that got away

Day 5 – Bridgwater to Wivelescombe 31 km. The landscape changed as I approached Exmoor National Park, meeting a lady from Surrey who had settled in a village but was unhappy as the locals did not easily accept incomers. The day was dominated by coming across a stag hunt. Riders everywhere, with scouts on quad bikes and in 4x4s using walkie-talkies to direct the hunt. The stag kept well ahead of the huntsmen and women who often ended up in the wrong place. They were suspicious of me with my camera but polite. At one point the stag charged out of undergrowth just a couple of hundred yards from me, pursued by just two hounds. With quick reactions I was able to get a shot of the stag in flight running for a small valley full of trees and bushes, well away from the main body of the hunt. I probably saw more of the stag that day than did most of the hunters. Wivelescombe is a tiny village in the middle of nowhere but had a welcoming inn.

Tiverton

Day 6 Wivelescombe to Tiverton 31 km. A pleasant if unmemorable day of walking with nothing really standing out. Tiverton had clearly been a prosperous place in the past with its wealth being founded on the wool trade, having some very ornate public buildings. It is now dominated by the Heathcote textiles factory and many pubs. I experienced my first Wetherspoons drink and meal. A pint of beer being just £2.40, and a special “curry night’ meal and a pint for £5.99!

Choristers practice at Exeter cathedral

Day 7 Tiverton to Exeter 28 km. A pleasant enough walk but my vision of a lovely walk along the banks of the River Exe were not to be. There is no path as such, and a lot of time was spent high up looking down into the valley and walking on roads. It was a little disheartening to see that the final push into Exeter meant a steep climb up to the hill that bears the Roman signal station, or a very long walk around. I chose straight up and eventually found myself walking through the small suburbs of the city, into the ugly modern centre (Exeter was badly bombed by the Germans in April and May 1942 as part of the so-called “Baedeker raids”, in which targets were chosen for their cultural and historical, rather than their strategic or military, value). My goal, the cathedral was worth it, and afterwards, having a pint in a nearby pub, I bumped into an officer serving in the same Regiment as my son, and his fiancé, who were to be wed in Exeter the next day. It was a very good way to end my 216 km (134 mile) odyssey.

If you are able, I thoroughly recommend this mode of walking. Have an idea of a place to walk to. Grab a few Ordnance Survey maps and plot a route with accommodation stops on the way. I was very ably assisted by Booking.com, only making my bookings during the afternoon of my planned stay to ensure I knew that I would make a location.

Happy walking. Real or virtual!

See more of the journey here in this shared Google Photo Album

Patrick Leigh Fermor’s Greek villa prepares for its first guests

Paddy’s house is open for guests from 1 July, but the costs are high, and most “adoring fans” are unlikely to be able to afford the prices. This article sums it up  – ‘the house has been modernised to entice the kind of people wealthy enough to rent it’. It strikes me that we should suggest to the Benaki to set aside 2-4 weeks per season for lower cost rental and application by lottery for those less able to afford it. Are these prices in-line with the spirit of Paddy’s wishes? 

By Alev Scott

First published in the Financial Times 23 May 2020

It was February, and I was inching towards the waves that lap Kalamitsi beach, just south of the village of Kardamyli. The brilliant morning light — sharper than the haze of summer — fell on cliffs fringed by cypress trees; beyond them were orange and lemon groves, and the distant bleat of goats. There was no sign of human life. I am usually a fair-weather swimmer but the blue-green water was exhilarating, clear to the white sand and rocks below.

I looked back to shore; peeking out of the treetops was the honey-coloured house belonging to the English adventurer, Hellenophile and former second world war spy Patrick Leigh Fermor.

He designed and built it in the mid-1960s with his wife Joan and their architect friend Nikos Hatzimichalis. Most of the stone, prised from the foothills of the Taygetus range, was brought by mule; some large pieces were manhandled by Leigh Fermor and his team of local masons, “sweating and tottering” as they moved them into position.

About 500 metres from the beach below the house is a small, forest-covered island. Every day, until two years before he died in 2011, aged 96, Leigh Fermor would swim around the island and back, emerging “svelter and browner with every passing day”, as he wrote in a letter in 1985. I took a few, frozen strokes in its direction before swimming as fast as I could back to shore.

The house is almost as celebrated as the man himself, and there has been much excitement about its reopening. With no children to inherit it, the writer bequeathed it to the Benaki Museum, an Athens art museum founded by his friend Antonis Benaki. Leigh Fermor specified that he wanted his home used as a writers’ retreat, while acknowledging that this would be expensive, and granting permission for its rental in summer months.

After a painstaking renovation, it will finally receive its first paying guests on July 1, a fortnight after the easing of lockdown restrictions allows Greece’s seasonal hotels and villas to open up. It can be booked in its entirety, for up to 10, or as three self-contained parts: the main house, for six, and the guest house and “traditional house”, both sleeping two.

When I knocked on the imposing double gate, a smiling, middle-aged lady opened it — Elpida Belogianni, who worked as Leigh Fermor’s housekeeper in the final decade of his life. Behind her, workmen strolled around a manicured garden stretching down to the sea, and electricians checked newly installed air-conditioning units. “Come,” said Elpida, ushering me in.

I knew from photos that the house was beautiful, but I was unprepared for the way it lays itself open to the sea and sky.

Medieval arches wind around the main house, mimicking a Byzantine monastery. The walls, a metre thick to keep out the summer heat, are covered in art (the most valuable paintings by Leigh Fermor’s friends — Edward Lear, John Craxton and Nikos Ghika among them — have been replaced with facsimiles). On the terrace, the pebble mosaics reveal paw prints (cats were Joan’s favourite animal) and a winding snake (Patrick’s), while painted snakes grace almost every room of the house.

In his study, I noticed an anachronistic-looking copy of Gone Girl (second edition, 2013), presumably abandoned by a passing visitor but nevertheless duly catalogued by the Benaki Museum; Leigh Fermor’s signature in Greek characters had been stamped on its inside page.

Inevitably, the house has been modernised to entice the kind of people wealthy enough to rent it — each bedroom now has a television, and a newly built swimming pool is visible in the lower garden, just above the beach (“Paddy would have hated it,” Elpida confided). Leigh Fermor was house-proud, but also liked the shabbiness of his creation, as he explained in the 1986 anthology The Englishman’s Room: “The room and its offshoots sound grander than they are; but from the stern Mitford test — ‘All nice rooms are a bit shabby’ — the place comes out with flying colours [thanks to] time, wear, and four-footed fellow-inmates.”

When the Leigh Fermors arrived in Kardamyli in the 1960s, they had very few neighbours — the tiny chapel near their house, dedicated to the archangels Gabriel and Michali, was almost a personal one. Now, in part due to its extraordinary natural beauty and in part to his legacy, the bay has become a popular destination for both Greek and foreign tourists, especially for hikers.

The morning before my swim, I had set out on the mountain trail from Kardamyli to Sparta, a path much trodden by Leigh Fermor himself, and described in his book Mani (1958). I climbed up past medieval tower houses, surrounded by colour: almond blossom, anemones, irises and mysterious wildflowers; soon, the sea fell away behind me and ahead of me the last of the snow was visible on Mount Taygetus. For those wanting to experience the magic that kept Leigh Fermor here for nearly half a century, the view from the mountain to his house will reveal even more, perhaps, than the view from the sea to his house.

Al Hakawati الحكواتي (The Storyteller)

As ever I enjoyed the latest newsletter from the wonderful and very clever people at Eland books. They highlighted a series of readings on The HandsUp Foundation website which is a young charity raising funds and awareness for aid to Syria. They have recently launched a series of stories, read by some of the UK’s best-loved voices, including the likes of Levison Wood, Mishal Husain, Petroc Trelawny, David Dimbleby, Clare Balding (of course!) amongst others.

You might enjoy listening and perhaps contribute to their fundraising (listening is free). Start listening here.

A reading from Mani: In the Footsteps of Patrick Leigh Fermor

The travel firm Kudu Travel runs walking holidays, with some in the Mani. They are fans of Paddy! Here one of their guides reads from Mani after a drive to Gaitses, high on the western flank of the Taygettus range at the edge of the Koskarakas Gorge.

After a pleasant, three hour easy walk following the route taken by Paddy and Joan when they emerged from the overgrown gorge, after their momentous crossing of the mountain. They visited the ‘handsome old church’ on top of a knoll, and the neighbourhood where they sampled their first glass of Mani wine, and listened to a reading.

Kudu’s highly rated footsteps of Paddy tour to the Mani is due to run 10-20 October 2020.

Kim Wilkie chooses Two Figures and Setting Sun by John Craxton as favourite painting

‘Two Figures and Setting Sun’ by John Craxton. Copyright of the John Craxton Estate, all rights reserved, DACS 2019.

When asked to choose his favourite painting for Country Life’s ongoing series, My Favourite Painting, landscape architect Kim Wilkie chose Two Figures and Setting Sun by Paddy’s book jacket illustrator and friend, John Craxton.

Says Wilkie, ‘Landscape, for me, is more about light, sound and stories than appearance. You really can hear, smell and taste this painting. The vibrating patterns are mesmerising; they root a fleeting moment in a timeless place. The setting sun pulses, the motion in the waves and figures is slowly rhythmic and the mountains float on the horizon. I have stared at the painting for hours and it draws you in deeper. It drifts into your imagination.’

John McEwen on Two Figures and Setting Sun by John Craxton:

John Craxton first came to prominence in the early 1940s as a neo-Romantic painter in the pastoral tradition of the 19th-century Samuel Palmer. Craxton disliked being labelled, but, to his friend and collector Sir David Atten-borough, he ‘grudgingly admitted’ he would accept ‘Arcadian’ (John Craxton by Ian Collins, 2011).

John Leith Craxton was born into a musical family. His father was a pianist, musicologist and professor at the Royal College of Music and his mother, a descendant of Benjamin West, the second president of the Royal Academy, gave up a career as a violinist to mother her family of five sons (John was the fourth) and one daughter, the future oboist Janet Craxton. John was brought up in St John’s Wood, where his parents kept open house to young and old in an atmosphere of benign bohemian disorder. That spirit prevailed when, in old age, he presided over his parents’ later Hampstead home, the music room of which is still used by professional musicians.

For much of his life, Craxton lived and worked in Greece, latterly in Crete—suitably for an Arcadian, as Arcadia was originally a region of southern Greece. He was the artist counterpart of his friend, the Greek-based travel writer Patrick Leigh-Fermor, whose book jackets he illustrated.

Craxton took 15 years to paint this Arcadian homage to his adopted land, due to much revision, including the loss of a figure. A boy flings an octopus onto the quay: ‘The subject is Greek in its bones but what amuses me is the old romantic English love of mood coming out in me,’ he wrote.

Further articles about John Craxton here.

Creforce: the Anzacs and the Battle of Crete

Creforce book cover

I was recently contacted by Melbourne-based journalist Stella Tzobanakis whose parents are both from the Greek island of Crete. She has written Creforce: the Anzacs and the Battle of Crete, the release of the second edition of which coincides with Anzac Day 25 April 2020, and the 79th anniversary of the Battle of Crete 20 May 2020. Some of you may be interested in this new book written with children in mind.

Creforce: the Anzacs and the Battle of Crete is the dramatic story of the second Anzacs and their role in one of the biggest battles in the military history of Australia, New Zealand and its Allied forces during World War II.

The book is written for children 10 and up and explores the real-life `adventures’ and misadventures of more than 14,500 young Australian and New Zealand soldiers who were sent to the Greek island of Crete – famous for myths, Minotaurs and labyrinths – under the second formation of the Anzac Corps,to help defend it against Nazi Germany.

The book includes never-before told, first-hand accounts of those that lived through the battle, and reveals the author’s personal Anzac story, discovered whilst writing this book. It also weaves in the battle stories of extraordinary and real-life `characters’ including:

Roald Dahl: the famous British novelist and children’s author who was a fighter pilot.

Charles Jager: the 20-year-old amateur lightweight boxer from Richmond, Melbourne who loved the racetrack and Greek classical stories.

Charles Upham: the educated sheep farmer turned valuer from New Zealand who was single-minded, persevering, swore a lot and hated injustice. Upham is one of only three men to have won the VC twice and his obituary is here.

Reginald Saunders: the 19 year-old soldier who was the first Aboriginal Australian to be commissioned as an officer in the Australian Army.

Horrie the Wog Dog: the little terrier who became an unofficial mascot. He was smuggled into Greece, evacuated, bombed off his ship and carried messages for the Allies.

The people of Crete: who have been likened in the book to Ned Kelly for their outlaw-style tactics as part of the Cretan resistance. The most notable is The Cretan Runner, George Psychoundakis, an uneducated, poor, young Cretan shepherd who became a decorated war hero for aiding British soldiers, including author, scholar, Patrick Leigh Fermor.

You can purchase the book at https://stelitsahome.bigcartel.com . For further information on where to find the book contact info@stelitsa.com.au or try messaging Stella via Facebook Messenger

South Bank Show on Vimeo

Ever wary that material on You Tube etc may be taken down (there are too many broken links in the Video category), I’m posting this as a separate post just in case the You Tube version I published on 9 June 2019 (was it really almost one year ago?!!!!) is removed.

South Bank Show 15 minute excerpt from the 1989 show. Thank you to Freddie Gage for this.

Leigh Fermor, Southbank Show. from Freddie Gage on Vimeo.

Ten years of the Patrick Leigh Fermor blog and Sex O’Clock High

Paddy by Mark Gerson, bromide print, February 1954 (National Portrait Gallery)

In all the excitement (or is it boredom) of the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown, I failed to complete a post I was drafting in mid-March to mark ten years since starting this blog. So here it is!

By March 2010 I had been “blogging” for a year on my other site MyByzantine. It was a new world for me and I had enjoyed seeing that site grow from four visits in February 2009 to 1,600 a month one year later (and remaining over 2,000). That site has clocked up over 460,000 visits since its launch.

During that time I had also read all three volumes of John Julius Norwich’s Byzantium history series, losing one volume into the Shkumbin river in Albania when a laden donkey fell into the thrashing river losing my baggage during my journey to find the Via Egnatia in Albania and Macedonia (you can read an account here). The insurance claim process was amusing, but I digress.

Through John Julius Norwich I had discovered Paddy and started to read and enjoy his books. Doing a little bit of Googling I found out that Paddy had no website like most other authors, and from what I read was very unlikely to start one at his age. I had also found a lot of interesting material about him, and by him, scattered across numerous sites on the web. I decided to use my “skills” from the Byzantine blog to bring all this material together into one place. The idea of the Patrick Leigh Fermor blog was born.

The first post was not about Paddy at all, but an obituary of his SOE colleague Ralph Stockbridge. This was published on 21 March 2010, and has had over 800 views since then. This was followed by a couple of obits about Sophie Moss. Many other obituaries followed of George Lane, Paddy’s wife Joan, and John Craxton. It was a “soft launch”, but visits had risen from a massive 23 in March 2010 (I recall wondering if there was any interest in this aging writer), to over 2,200 by May. Since then there have been over 1,850,000 views!

It was very sad that Paddy died in the following year. By then the blog had a strong following with over 14,000 visits on the day that his death was announced. There are now 970 posts on the blog and I do have a great backlog of genuine Paddy related material, as well as the more prosaic that I now post that is, mostly, well received by you my dear readers. You continue to send me new material, and I can’t really keep up, especially now that I have to wash my hands every five minutes 🙂 .

Thank you for your continued support. I have to say that having this “audience” during the lockdown has in some way helped me through this difficult time of being apart from many of those I love, and I do hope that the posts have in some way helped you to get through the first part of this difficult time.

I would like to finish by reposting the first article of new Paddy written material that I found and posted on 2 April 2010. It is from the Spectator and called Sex O’Clock High. Some of you may have been following from the start, others stumbling across this crazy site more recently. However long you have been reading I do hope that you all enjoy reading Sex O’Clock High. For some of you this might be the very first time you have read this amusing, and so typically Paddy piece.

Keep well.

Tom

Virtual journeys – a pilgrimage to St Peter-on-the-Wall

St Peter-on-the-Wall

The restrictions are starting to come down around the world now. Soon we can start to think of roving further than the local park. Whilst we still remain generally confined, here is another, short, virtual journey for you to enjoy.

In June 2018, during that very long, very hot summer that we experienced in the UK, I needed to get away. My relationship with my partner of four years had suddenly ended not long before and I thought that some sort of pilgrimage might help me to see things in a better light. Where was I to go?

I am actively interested in The British Pilgrimage Trust and searched their site for suggested routes. I only had a few days. Their routes page has some lovely suggestions – do you know that 2020 is designated the year of British Pilgrimage (sigh)?

The route I selected was a three to four day walk in Essex called The St Peter’s Way. This pilgrimage leads you from the heart of the Anglo-Saxon Kingdom of Essex, from the oldest wooden church in the world, St Andrew’s, Greensted, to Ongar Castle all the way to one of Britain’s most ancient and remote churches – St Peter’s-On-The-Wall, which has attracted pilgrims over the flat expanse of saltmarsh at Bradwell for over a millennium. I had arrived from London via the Central Line, taking it to its terminus, and then a taxi to Ongar.

The route follows in the pilgrim footsteps venturing through some of the most spectacular countryside in Essex – and it is good – through ancient woodland, over commons and hills, and down to the salt marshes on estuaries – Maldon Sea Salt anyone? – and coastline.

I walked across some of Britain’s most fertile farmland, weaving my way along the wildlife-rich River Roding, via the 12C church at Blackmore, and from the fragments of the lost Writtle Forest toward the bird-rich waters of Hanningfield Reservoir. I paid my respects to the rescued 14C Mundon Church where I found a pair of birds trapped inside (and shooed out), and the skeletal limbs of the Mundon Oaks beckoned me toward the sea.

Mundon Church

Passing a wedding reception in a lovely field setting, I walked through the village of Tillingham where I stopped to watch a gentle game of cricket on the green. The last few miles were very hard. It was so hot and the marshes induced disorientation. I had to use the sea wall as a guide, until eventually Saint Peter’s lonely shrine appeared in the distance. This church was built by a Lindisfarne monk, Bishop Cedd in 654 incorporating the Roman bricks and stones for the Saxon Shore fort, half of which still remains, the other half having been consumed by the sea.

The weather throughout was gorgeous, and so hot that I just slept out in my sleeping bag in woods, or overlooking the sea. At St Peter’s I settled down into what I think must be the pilgrim shelter, listening to the soft singing of a group from the Othona community, who welcomed me in to join in their prayer. For the rest of the evening and night I was alone, watching a beautiful sunset, except for a family of hares out to graze. I watched amazed as the male engaged in a hard fought battle with a stoat. I cannot remember who won.

Hare

In the morning I walked to a local town and caught a train back to Liverpool Street in London. Were my troubles solved? No. But I had an extraordinarily good walk in a part of England that may often be dismissed by walkers. I thoroughly recommend it.

Follow my route via this Google photo album.

Download a route guide here.

Finally, I wanted to say thank you to all those who have recently made small donations via the Donate button on the blog. You are very generous and I hope that you continue to enjoy the content of the site. Many of these donations go towards the cost of site hosting and the growing cloud storage costs for the pictures and other content. We remain the world’s leading site for content relating to Patrick Leigh Fermor which was my goal when I started this site back in 2010.

A video of the church.

Patrick Leigh Fermor in Crete – a reminder of better times

Members of the International Lawrence Durrell Society & Patrick Leigh Fermor Society visit Crete in 2018, following Paddy’s paths… The meeting took place in Heraklion Crete in a historical farm… and features our good friedn Chris White in his straw sun hat and white beard!

I just thought i would share this as it reminds us of those far off sunny days when we were able to travel and to share good food and drink together.

Virtual journeys – Istanbul to Edinburgh

One of my favourite posts is about Owen Martel’s journey from Istanbul to Edinburgh. Posted in 2012 I have always enjoyed this video; I guess it lets me imagine myself on such a long, epic walk. Maybe it does the same for you too.

His video is an all-time favourite and it brought the excellent band Darlingside to my attention with their beautiful song “The Ancestor”. Their harmonies are superb.

The crazy Owen subsequently walked for seven months across the US pulling a cart.

Part of a series of posts to help you escape during the Covid-1 lockdown/travel restrictions.

Cooking for Patrick Leigh Fermor

Elpida Belogianni was Patrick Leigh Fermor's cook from 2001 to his death in 2011

Elpida Belogianni was Patrick Leigh Fermor’s cook from 2001 to his death in 2011

Elpida Belogianni, the cook at the Leigh Fermor house in Kardamyli, recounts memories of the late author, and his particularities when it came to food.

by Vivi Konstantinidou

First pubished in Greece Is April 16th, 2020

A man of simple tastes, who ate his meals at the same time every day, could hold his drink, and was an avid smoker. That’s how Elpida Belogianni, who worked as a cook for the late writer from 2001 until his death in 2011, describes Patrick Leigh Fermor.

She approached Paddy, or “Kir Michalis” as he was known by everyone in Mani, about the job at his house in Kardamyli when she heard that the previous cook had left her position. Being an old acquaintance of her father, Giannis Belogiannis, Leigh Fermor hired her on the spot.

For health reasons, Leigh Fermor’s wife Joan made sure that he stuck to a strict diet, Elpida recalls. When she passed away however, he loosened the restrictions and made new rules, personalized to his tastes: he started eating a lot more meat, which he loved (particularly pork chops with butter and onions, and oven-roasted lamb with vegetables), as well as dishes like moussaka, baked gigantes beans, and eggs sunny-side up with bacon. He created his own dietary plan, which he then stuck to happily and religiously.

In the mornings, he would have one cup of Chinese tea, one orange, and three slices of toast: one with orange- or Seville orange marmalade, a second one with butter and marmite, and a third one with gentleman’s relish (a type of anchovy paste).

At 11.00, he would have a “medium-sweet” cup of Greek coffee. For lunch he ate whatever Elpida cooked. His afternoon snack consisted of another cup of tea with two Digestive biscuits. Then dinner.

He was never a fan of elaborate delicacies; he preferred simple meals, even when hosting large groups of people. He often declared that nothing could beat a plate of lentil stew drizzled with olive oil or a freshly fried fish, dipped briefly in seawater to achieve the perfect saltiness.

Famously gentle, he was always polite and good humored, never angry or irritated, and he showed no desire to try other types of food, so Elpida avoided experimenting with new dishes. “Any time I did cook something new, his response would either be: ‘Very tasty, I’d like to have this again’ or ‘Very tasty, but I don’t want to have it again’,” she laughs.

Asked if she remembers any moment in particular from cooking for Paddy, she ponders for a while, then enthusiastically recalls: “One evening – he was widowed by then – I had cooked him his favorite lamb in the oven, and I thought to recite the poem “The Lamb” by Alexandros Katakouzinos. He listened to it carefully, and it led to a discussion about Greek poetry that lasted all night, as we sat in front of the fire and had large amounts of wine.

“He was an experienced drinker, but I got really dizzy, and woke up in the morning with the worst headache. As we sat down for lunch that day, I couldn’t speak from the pain. He, on the other hand, was completely fine. Eating his meal in silence while reading a book, he looked up every now and again, shook his head with guilt, and muttered: ‘Poor Elpida, poor Elpida…’”