Lawrence Durrell and Patrick Leigh Fermor by Thos Henley

Some of you may recall an article I published by a young wandering minstrel, Thos Henley, about his visit to Paddy’s house (see here). Thos is a hard-working and aspiring musician who seems to have a happy life, perhaps somewhere on the Left Bank in Paris, entertaining the Parisians with his music and DJ talents. Recently Thos has completed a piece for the blog which contain excerpts about Lawrence Durrell and his meetings with Paddy.

by Thos Henley

These are all excerpts concerning Paddy from the book “Lawrence Durrell: A Biography” by Ian MacNiven about the life of Durrell the writer best known for his travel books and the infamous and epic romantic “Alexandrian Quartet”

After Lawrence Durrell is welcomed into Walter Smart’s social circle in Cairo he meets Paddy for the first time:

“Under tree in the Smarts’ garden in 1942 Larry met Patrick Leigh Fermor, and officer with the SOE who as a youth had walked from Holland to Romania, and the two talked far into the night.”

Now in living in Alexandria, Lawrence or Larry Durrell, who had recently published his first major novel ‘The Black Book’; would often have to travel into Cairo where he once again met up with Paddy and Xan:

“Closer to Larry’s old flat in Zamalek, Xan Fielding, transformed into an agent with the SOE, now camped intermittently at ‘Tara’, a mansion on Sharia Abou el Feda at the north end of Gezira Island. Patrick Leigh Fermor and William Stanley Moss had established Tara as the unofficial Cairo rest house of the SOE. Xan and Paddy had spent many months together ‘in caves and goat-folds’ on occupied Crete, and Xan had told Paddy about The Black Book and had regaled him with anecdotes about Larry  in Athens…

The men of Tara passed most of their time incognito in Crete, Greece, France or elsewhere, but when they hit Tara it was with months of back pay and a great deal of pent-up exuberance to spend. For a few weeks at least they could forget the German reprisals on Crete, the civil war that was shaping up in Greece, or the coming conflict between Tito’s Partisans and the royalists in Yugoslavia. Tara had many bedrooms, a grand ballroom with a parquet floor, and a piano borrowed from the Egyptian Officers’ Club. The resident spirit was the young Countess Sophie Tarnowska, separated from her husband. Among Larry’s familiars who were often found there were Ines Walter, remembered by Moss as ‘enormously décolletée, happy in the role of a Hungarian peasant’, and Alexis Ladas, ‘singing Phillidem’ and recovering from and appendectomy. Against heavy competition, Tara was arguably the site of the wildest parties held in the wartime Cairo. At one of these, Countess Tarnowska’s Polish friends shot out all the light-bulbs; at others, everything from gold balls to sofas were thrown from the windows; once King Farouk appeared with a case of champagne. Such happenings became almost the norm in wartime Egypt.

Paradoxically, Tara was also a place where some of the best literary conversation in Cairo was available. Paddy had been translating Villon, and the books that he and moss were later to take along on their seemingly suicidal but successful mission to kidnap General Kreipe, the Divisional Commander of Crete, indicate the range of their interests: Cellini, Donne, Sir Thomas Browne, Tolstoy, Marco Polo, Les Fleurs du Mal, Alice in Wonderland, Shakespeare.”

We catch up with Paddy and moss later on as Larry soaks up and contemplates the city of Alexandria, the two men are in Crete (McNiven also mentions Xan Fieldings capture and the help he received from the Polish SOE agent, Krystyna Skarbek):

“While Larry was experiencing the little death of Alexandria, his friend Paddy Leigh Fermor, together with William Stanley Moss, were confronting real death on Crete. Paddy had been parachuted into Crete on 4 February 1944, and Moss had followed him two months later. With the help of several bans of andartes, Cretan guerilla fighters, they kidnapped General Kriepe, the commander of the Germain garrison, and kept him hidden on the island for eighteen days while the entire German Force frantically combed the island. Finally a rendezvous was made with a fast patrol boat sent from Egypt. Then shortly after the Normandy invasion Xan Fielding was dropped into southern France, where he was captured by the Gestapo. He was due to be shot, but was rescued through the courage of a woman accomplice.”

After the war, Larry wrote an account of his pre-war life on Corfu and then found himself indulged in the two best years of his life in the idyllic and reforming island of Rhodes:

“In the late Summer of 1946 several old friends showed up for a week of rollicking days of exploration and nights of talk and song around the baobab tree. Xan Fielding, Paddy Leigh Fermor and ‘the Corn Goddess’, as Larry called Paddy’s wife Joan Eyres Monsell, burst upon the scene. During that ‘first miraculous summer’ after the war, Paddy had read Prospero’s Cell on Corfu, and the trio had resolved the visit Larry. For Larry it was and orgy of talk about books: “We sat up in my churchyard till three every morning reading aloud,’ until the Mufti rattled his shutters in protest. Paddy had a vast repertoire of songs in at least five languages and Larry pronounced him ‘quite the most enchanting maniac I’ve ever met’. With full daylight they would plunge into the turquoise sea, pack some food and wine, and set off. Larry took them one day to the ruins of Cameirus, where ‘wine-sprung curiousity’ sent them into the vast network of the ancient plumbing, ‘crawling on hands and knees through the bat-infested warren of underground water-conduits’, to emerge covered with cobwebs and droppings. At one point they came upon a sacrificial stone, and nothing would suffice but a re-enactment of an ancient ritual, with Paddy as the subject for a circumcision, Xan brandishing a large knife in one hand while extending the victim’s member with the forefinger and thumb of the other , Larry the officiating prest, and Joan recording the scene on film. The climactic point at Cameirus came when Xan, inexplicably naked, leapt a couple of wards from a wall to the top of a column, which rocked sickeningly for some moments while the others froze. The column steadied and Xan posed, ‘like a flying stylite’. Never had they all felt so immortal, so invincible.”

Paddy is non-existent in the book except for a few dedications in Larry’s books to him and Xan until 1953 when Larry is teaching English and living in the villa Bellapix on Cyprus, a period that would be remembered in his masterpiece ‘Bitter Lemons’:

“Larry seemed to embrace interruptions. Paddy Leigh Fermor came to stay with him for a week in mid-November, and they went on long rambles across hills where the seasonal rains had brought out the greyish leaves of the asphodels, the bright splashes of crocuses and celandines. Back at Bellapix, they celebrated the predictable riotous evenings. Once they went through Paddy’s vast repertoire of Greek songs far into the night, the lane outside the house filled with quiet neighbours, among them the usually boisterous Frangos, who told Larry, “Never have I heard Englishmen singing Greek songs like this!’”

Related article:

I knew Patrick Leigh Fermor through his words, and he will know me by mine

Lawrence Durrell and Patrick Leigh Fermor


4 thoughts on “Lawrence Durrell and Patrick Leigh Fermor by Thos Henley

  1. Rob MacGregor

    Great stuff, as I remember Paddy and Joan also visited Durrell in France (it is mentioned in Bowker’s biography of Durrell – I’ve not yet read MacNiven’s). There was also an article by Simon Fenwick in the TLS in Nov 2012 regarding Larry, Paddy and Xan’s friendship entitled “Shanks’s Europe – Patrick Leigh Fermor, Lawrence Durrell and Xan. Fielding: a friendship. As it is subscription only I have not managed to see what it contains but I think it may refer to letters between the three? It would be wonderful if the letters between the three (if they do exist) were published in future.

  2. Pingback: A review by Paddy of Artemis Cooper’s book Cairo in the War « Patrick Leigh Fermor

  3. Pingback: Thos Henley’s personal tribute to Paddy « Patrick Leigh Fermor

  4. Pingback: Thos Henley and the inspiration of Patrick Leigh Fermor « Patrick Leigh Fermor

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