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Interested in Byzantium and Patrick Leigh Fermor

‘All was going according to plan’

7th May 1944

Messages are beginning to bear fruit….and Paddy realises they will have to travel further westward. They still don’t have a plan on how to depart but they are now getting better links with Cairo via the radio set at Dryade and their brave messenger, George Psychoundakis. Paddy and George stay on in Genna a further night.

In the evening Manoli, Billy, the General and the main party travel further westward to the village of Patsos, where they stay in a sheepfold in a gorge by a tumbling stream.

Paddy writes: ‘On the night of the 7th, the party with the General moved by an easy night march to Patsos, which was only two or three hours away from me. They were being fed and guarded by George Harocopos and his family, (George, a thoughtful and well read boy, later to become a gifted journalist, was the son of a very poor, but very brave and kind family, all of whom had been great benefactors to the wandering British). All was going according to plan.’

But when we saw the branding mark, We only stole the ram, Sir

6th May 1944

Paddy and Giorgos remain based in Genna – messengers coming and going as they desperately try to arrange a safe beach to be picked up from. Giorgos Psychoundakis returns with Dick Barnes – known as Pavlos.

Paddy writes: ‘This reunion with Dick – like many occasions in occupied Crete when one wasn’t actually dodging the enemy – became the excuse for a mild blind. ‘Mr Pavlo and I set off to Yeni,’ writes George Psychoundakis in ‘The Cretan Runner’, “where we found Mr Mihali (me) and Uncle Yanni Katsias. We sat there till the evening and the sun set. Yanni took us to the east side of the village where they brought us some food and first rate wine and our Keph (well-being) was great. The four of us were soon singing. Mr Mihali sang a sheep-stealing couplet to the tune of Pentezali, which went:

Ah, Godbrother, the night was dark
For lamb and goat and dam, Sir,
But when we saw the branding mark,
We only stole the ram, Sir.

The ram – the head of the flock – meant the General.’

Billy, Manoli, the General and the rest of the kidnap team remain in the sheepfold above Gerakari.

‘This is very satisfactory news’

5th May 1944

Paddy and Giorgos remain in Genna, coordinating messengers. They are joined by Giorgos Harokopos and Giorgos Psychoundakis, who then heads back off to the wireless set run by Dick Barnes at Dryade with a message.

The main party in the evening leave Gomara and walk up the Amari valley via the village of Gourgouthi to their next hideout – a sheepfold above the village of Gerakari.

And in London Orme Sargent, the senior Foreign Office officer at Under Secretary level working to SOE, sends a memo to Harry Sporborg, deputy to Major-General Colin Gubbins, Head of SOE, expressing great approval of the coup. ’I have just heard of the success of an Allied Mission in Crete in capturing a high German officer. This is very satisfactory news and I hope it will be possible to get the German out to Cairo as I believe is intended.’

[1] National Archives HS 5/416

‘… if my companions are feeling half as uncomfortable as I do they must be feeling terrible’

4th May 1944

The main party are still hiding in the valley of Gomara. Billy Moss records in ‘Ill Met by Moonlight’:
“It rained all night long , and, as was inevitable, we are soaked to the skin. Around me I see a picture of human misery, and I know that if my companions are feeling half as uncomfortable as I do they must be feeling terrible.”
Spirits are lifted in the afternoon when messengers arrive from Sandy Rendel and Dick Barnes.

Meanwhile in Fourfouras Paddy and Giorgos leave the comforts of Giorgos’ family home and travel 14kms further up the valley to Pantanassa…..searching for the whereabouts of a working radio set.

Paddy writes:

“Among the cypresses of Pantanasa George and I ran into a hitch. The Hieronymakis family, we knew, were in touch with at least one of our wireless stations. By ill luck it was about the only village in the region where neither of us had ever been. The Hieronymakis knew all about us, we knew all about them, but we had never met and there was no one to vouch for us. The old men were adamant: ‘You say you are Mihali, Mihali who? And who are Siphi (Ralph Stockbridge) and Pavlo (Dick Barnes)? Never heard of them. Tk. Tk. Tk! Englishmen? but, boys, all the English left Crete three years ago …?’ The white whiskered faces turned to each other for corroboration, beetling brows were raised in puzzlement, blank glances exchanged. They went on calmly fingering their amber beads, politely offering coffee. It was no good raging up and down, gesticulating under the onions and paprika pods dangling from the beams: every attempt to break through was met by identical backward tilts of head with closed eyelids and the placidly dismissive tongue click of the Greek negative. They wouldn’t give an inch until they knew (as they say) what tobacco we smoked. We could, after all, be agents provocateurs.”

“This impressive but exasperating wall of security was only broken at last, after two precious hours of deadlock, by the entry of Uncle Stavro Zourbakis from Karines – a friend of us all. Everything dissolved at once. In greetings, recognition, laughter, Raki, a crackle of thorns and sizzling in the hearth and the immediate summoning and despatch of runners to the two sets in the North West.”

Paddy and George move on for the evening back down the valley to the village of Genna, where they were to stay for several days:

“The goat-fold of Zourbovasili lay in rolling biblical hills. There was a round threshing floor nearby, where George and I could sleep on brushwood with a great circular sweep of vision. This place was to become, during the next three days, the centre of all going and coming of messengers as plans changed and options elapsed. But now, after the scrum of the last few days it seemed preternaturally quiet in the brilliant moonlight. Ida towered east of us now, Kedros due south: The White Mountains, which had come nearer to us during the day, loomed shining in the west. How empty and still after our huddled mountain life, was this empty silver plateau! A perfect place to watch the moon moving across the sky and chain smoke through the night pondering on the fix we were in and how to get out of it. There was not a sound except a little owl in a wood close by and an occasional clank from Vassilis’ flock.”

the Telegraph reports ‘martial law’ being declared on Crete

3rd May 1944

Another day spent in their hideout in the valley of Gomara. They are still stuck and have no contact with Cairo, and no idea of when, where or how they will get off the island.

But they have a plan….in the evening the party decide to separate.

Billy, Manoli Paterakis, the General and the main kidnap group will stay in Gomara.

Paddy and Giorgos Tyrakis will travel in the evening up the Amari to Fourfouras, Giorgos’ home village, in search of a working radio station.

They still remain in the news in the UK – the Telegraph reports ‘martial law’ being declared on Crete.

Front page news

2nd May 1944

If only they knew!

Paddy, Billy, the rest of the kidnap team and the General spend another miserable day in the ditch, fearing capture…but it is getting quieter for them, as the German patrols are now searching further up the mountain.

Meanwhile in the UK ….they are front page news – in the Express, Telegraph, Guardian and Times!

In the evening they decide to move a kilometre or so westward – to the valley of Gomara.

Giorgos Pharangoulitakis describes it his memoir ‘Eagles of Mt Ida’: ‘We decided to shift towards the valley of Gomara, just west of Ayia Paraskevi, a part where they had searched every inch, and where we could take up a better defence posture. It was a steep rocky place with a hole like a sort of grotto under a cliff where we could hide for the night.’

In the end they spend the night and the following day under the branches of ‘a very large pear tree …it was like an eagles nest’.

‘the General realises that our capture would prove fatal for him’

1st May 1944

A long and dangerous day spent hiding in the ditch outside Agia Paraskevi. Probably the low point for all in the journey, and where they are most vulnerable to discovery by the German cordon – Moss records Kreipe’s realisation of his personal need for the success of the operation in order to ensure his own survival:

“I think the General realises that our capture would prove fatal for him.”

They can hear German patrols, sometimes as close as 50 metres, searching for them.

Paddy records that food is brought to them from Agia Paraskevi:

‘Antoni unpacked bread, cheese, onions, a dish of fried potatoes, some lamb and a napkin full of ‘kalitsounia!’ – crescent shaped fritters full of soft white cheese and chopped mint. Then a big bottle of mulberry raki came out and a handful of little tumblers. ‘This will warm you up,’ he said filling them: ‘White flannel vests all round.’ He splashed politely over to our guest with the first one, saying ‘stratege mou” (my General) then to the rest of us. They went down our throats like wonderful liquid flame. ‘And here,’ he said pulling out a gallon of dark amber wine, ‘red overcoats for all.’

What they don’t know is that in Cairo SOE have made a public announcement that Kreipe has been kidnapped and has already been taken off the island by submarine and is on his way to Cairo.

However they are still stuck, with no way of contacting Cairo and have no idea – as yet – of how they will get off the island.

The descent of Mt Ida

30th April 1944

The descent of Mt Ida has been exceptionally arduous in the dark so the day is spent recovering in Vorini Trypa, the large cave above Nithavris on the side of Mt. Ida.

That evening, in the rain and mist, they leave the cave and head further down the mountain into the bottom the Amari valley.

It is a difficult and very dangerous journey as the Germans are hunting for the General and are in all the villages immediately around them.

They first head west to the village of Kouroutes and then south until they stop and hide in a stream bed outside Agia Paraskevi.

Paddy records: Rain came swishing down: ‘Marvelous for the olives’, Manoli murmured. We waded through a stream and began to climb again. The rain turned to sleet. At last the village of Aya Paraskevi was only half an hour away. The Germans would have sentries out, perhaps patrols; better to stop there. We piled into a ditch mercifully overgrown with cistus, thyme and myrtle; protection from view, but not from the rain.

Map of Crete to follow the kidnap story

Crete map from Ill Met by Moonlight showing Moss’ entry beach and the escape route

I’ve been asked if Chris White can share a map to help follow the story. There is a map on page X1 of Abducting a General if you have a copy. We do have a photo on the site of the map from Ill Met by Moonlight which may help a little. See here along with some more photos. Copyright the estate of William Stanley Moss.

Alternatively there is this hand drawn map by Paddy’s own hand.

The ascent of Mount Ida in wind and snow

In the snow on top of Mount Ida

29th April 1944

The weather is deteriorating and the kidnap team need to walk over the side of Mt Ida and down into the Amari valley. It will be a long and arduous day and night.

At midday the party leave Petradolakkia and skirt the side of the Nidha plateau. They are heading for the mitato belonging to Roti, where they will rendezvous with Kapetan Petrakogiorgos and his andartes who will escort them over the side of the mountain. They climb up to the plateau of Akolyta and in rain, wind and snow they head over until they can see signal fires in the Amari telling them it is safe to descend. They shelter in the remains of a mitato before descending. After a long and arduous descent they are led to Vorini Trypa – North Hole – a large cave with tunnels and caverns heading off from the back of it. This cave has been used by the Resistance on several occasions before this visit, and is used by Dunbabin and George Psychoundakis in August 1944.

“Ach so, Herr Major.”

28th April 1944.

PLF and the kidnap team spend the day at Petrodolakkia with Xylouris and his andartes, where they take many photos. Tom Dunbabin has sent 3 members of his team from the Amari to the hideout, including Reg Everson and a wireless. The plan is to send a message to Cairo so that an evacuation date and beach can be identified, but the radio is broken. They are stuck. PLF sends off various messages, including one to Dick Barnes who has a radio station near Rethymno. The team are joined by Grigori Chnarakis, Nikos Komis and Andoni Papaleonidas, who have walked up from the kidnap point. They are meant to bring with them the General’s driver, Alfred Fenske, but he has been killed on the journey.
At Bletchley Park the codebreakers decode a German signal stating that Kreipe has been kidnapped.

PLF records the following incident:

‘A curious moment, dawn, streaming in the cave’s mouth, which framed the white crease of Mount Ida. We were all three lying smoking in silence, when the General, half to himself, slowly said:

“Vides ut alta stet nive candidum Soracte”

The opening line and a bit of one of the few odes of Horace I know by heart. I was in luck.

” … Nec jam sustineant onus” I went on
“silvae laborantes geluque
Flumina constiterint acuto”

And continued through the other stanzas to the end of the ode. After a few seconds silence, the General said: “Ach so, Herr Major.” For five minutes the war had evaporated without a trace.[i]

[i] William Stanley Moss recorded this mutual love of the Classics in ‘Ill Met by Moonlight.’

‘Paddy discovered that the General is a fair Greek scholar, and, much to the amusement of our Cretan colleagues, the two of them entertained each other by exchanging verses from Sophocles.’

PLF and George Tyrakis rendezvous with the team

27th April 1944.

PLF and George Tyrakis rendezvous with the General and the rest of the kidnap team north of Anogia. In the evening they begin the long trek up the slopes of Mt Ida to the Xylouris sheepfolds at Petrodolakkia. On the way they rest briefly in one of the many mitatos (cheese huts) in the area.

Third time lucky … the kidnap is on!

26th April 1944.

Third time lucky…..the Kreipe kidnap team leave the Zographistos farmhouse outside Skalani and walk to the kidnap spot and wait for the General to drive past. At 9 pm they stop the car and the kidnap begins. The General is handcuffed and hidden on the back seat of the car. They drive past the Villa Ariadne and through Heraklion, entering by the Agios Giorgos gate and leaving by the Chaniaporta. They drive on into the mountains, stopping at Yeni Gave, where Billy Moss, Manoli Paterakis, Stratis Saviolakis and the General leave the car, heading up a track for a hideout in a ravine north of Anogia. PLF and Georgos Tyrakis drive for a further 2 kms and dump the car at Campo Doxaro, at the start of a track leading to the Cheliana ravine and the sea. They take with them the pennants from the car and head to the village of Anogia.

Abducting a General – locations by each day

The more observant amongst you may recall that this post was actually first published way back in February. That was to keep the time sequencing of the operation that ended with the kidnap of General Kreipe intact. Between then and now Paddy had been joined by Billy Moss and detailed planning and reconnaissance was underway, including refining the actual details of the kidnap action, rehearsing timings, working on signals, the dress to be worn (the famous captured German outfits), and of course, for any operation of this type, the extraction plan. I’ve repeated the post as the introduction to the series of narratives put together by Chris White which will commence in earnest tomorrow.

Over the next few weeks I am honoured to be able to share with you some work by Chris White, co-author of Abducting a General, who has spent many weeks and months on Crete over the years tracing the precise route and locations of the kidnap. In 2020, Chris posted this series on Facebook. He has approved it being repeated on here. Stories will pop up from time to time, and will run virtually day-by-day during the time period of the kidnap. I hope that you enjoy it.

Over to Chris ….

We start on February 4th 1944. Paddy parachuted on to the Katharo Plateau and was met by Sandy Rendel, whose base was in a cave a few miles away. The cave is now known as the Spiliaou ton Anglikon, the cave of the English. This week I have been exploring the area around the plateau and visited the cave…..a long stony walk through woods and ravines and along the sides of steep valleys.

The photos: the first shows where the cave is (centre of picture) in the landscape; the next three show the cave in more detail.

Mount Pelée, the La Soufrière volcano and The Violins of Saint-Jacques

The ex-convict, Louis-Auguste Cyparis (aka Ludger Sylbaris), as billed as the last survivor of St. Pierre on this Barnum and Bailey Poster

The news this week of an eruption of the La Soufrière volcano on the Caribbean island of Saint Vincent, made me think about Paddy’s novel (and second book) The Violins of Saint-Jacques published in 1953.

Reading this BBC article I see that local media have also reported increased activity from Mount Pelée on the island of Martinique, north of St Vincent. It was the devastating 1902 eruption of this volcano that inspired Paddy’s novel, which was subsequently turned into an opera by Sir Malcolm Williamson.

You might want to catch up with blog articles about the Mt Pelée eruption, especially the short piece about the only survivor, Louis-Auguste Cyparis.

If you don’t have a copy you can buy The Violins of Saint-Jacques: A Tale of the Antilles here.

A milestone: over two million views

Some of you may be interested to know that sometime over the last few days the blog passed the point of two million views since I started it on 21 March 2010. The first post being about Ralph Stockbridge and not Paddy!

There are now 1,007 posts, and we have over 452,000 visitors to the site in that time. I do have around 250 posts in some form of draft state. I guess many of them may be duplicates or redundant now, but there is some life left in us yet!

You made this happen and thank you to all visitors for your support over these eleven years.

Don’t forget if you wish to publish something just get in contact with me atsawford [at] gmail .com

Your ideas for the marking of the 10th anniversary of Paddy’s death

Thank you all for the terrific response to suggestions to mark Paddy’s upcoming anniversary. They came in by email and comment, and I have summarised the ideas below. Please feel free to continue to submit your ideas by comment on this article or contacting me at atsawford [at] gmail .com

NOTE – THE POLLS I CREATED DO NOT WORK . SOME WORDPRESS NONSENSE. PLEASE IGNORE AND JUST ADD A COMMENT INDICATING YOUR PREFERENCE IE INTERESTED/ATTEND/ATTEND AND OFFER TO HELP. I MAY BE ABLE TO DO SOMETHING TO FIX THIS OR PROVIDE AN ALTERNATIVE BUT NOT TODAY! MY APOLOGIES. IF YOU HAVE SUBMITTED A POLL RESULT PLEASE NOW ADD A COMMENT.

PLEASE INDICATE IF YOU ARE WILLING TO ORGANISE, OR HELP TO ORGANISE, AN EVENT. I SHAN’T BE DOING ALL THIS BY MYSELF!!!

Online Conference

Chris O’Gorman suggested ” a virtual Paddy mini-conference. It is very short notice I know, but equally there are some very knowledgeable people around who might have talks that they have already written, ready to go? It would also be good if we could get some press coverage – or maybe there could be a PLF anniversary crowd fund for something Paddy would have cared about? Maybe for the Benaki, or for Greek or Cretan veterans?”.

Julie Vick echoed this idea. She wondered “if it would be possible to have a virtual conference where members could volunteer to give short talks on some aspect such as Paddy’s life and history, his writings, Greece, as well as why he is important to them.”

This is a great idea, but perhaps time is short.Having a reliable platform to use would be key. A Zoom licence for up to 100 participants is around £120 pa. If everyone made a small pro rata donation the cost per person could be kept very low; just a few pounds. The event could be recorded and hopefully accessible afterwards.

One alternative might be to encourage those who have material to make a video or audio file to upload to a selected You Tube channel. Have a think.

Please comment and show your interest by adding a comment.

A Detailed Bibliography

Stefan at Southwing Fine Books in Australia has suggested a proper, and very detailed bibliography, or as he says, a “proper” one! I’m working with Stefan to enable this.

Event in France (or anywhere else for that matter)

Nicolas Ruelle has offered to see if something can be arranged in France. Over to you but please signal interest here and I’ll pass on your email details to Nicolas.

If you wish to run an event of any kind (dinner, conference etc) please contact me and I’ll help suggest a format for you to promote it.

A lunch at Dumbleton Hall

Alun Davies has made the marvellous suggestion of a lunch the Dumbleton Hall hotel. I recall going there after Paddy’s funeral (16th June) and it would be a marvellous, and obviously appropriate, venue. Current UK Coronavirus restrictions to end “all social distancing” may come into effect on 21st of June so a proper lunch may be possible after that.

If you are interested in a lunch, or dinner at the hotel during the period 23rd to 26th June please add a comment.

Contribute anything!

James Down wrote to me with this “

I’m not sure it would be of interest, but just after I graduated, in fear of never having the chance again, I did a trip in 2014, starting at Paddy’s House, then hitchhiking up through the Balkans to Croatia, catching a boat across to Italy, then walking all the way back home, to Sussex on my own. The thing I thought may appeal or be relevant to the anniversary is that I have some pictures of Paddy’s house as it was before anything was updated as part of the Benaki project. I also fell asleep there, to escape the heat, inside the arched entrance way and had an amusing encounter with a very shocked Elpida.

I’d be happy to contribute them, captions, or an explanation as a stand-alone item, or perhaps as a part of wider mosaic of your reader’s personal interactions or memories with Paddy and his wider orbit.

I love the idea of doing something in fear of never having the chance again,. Perhaps that should be the theme? Paddy in a sense did that. It does not have to be Paddy related, just something that is important to you that you would like to share? I can post it anonymously for you of you wish.

I’ll be asking James to get his stuff together and make his contribution! It would be great if any of you felt you would like to contribute something (you know we have a very wide editorial brief so come on 🙂 )and I will make a very special, extra effort to get it out there in your name on the blog in a timely fashion! Best to send to atsawford [at] gmail .com

A Greek themed dinner in London.

Like Alun’s suggestion above, Dr Chris Joyce has suggested an event involving refreshment. Possiibly a “Greek Themed” dinner somewhere in London with the sort of food, and most importantly, the drinks that Paddy liked. If you are interested please add a comment.

Travel Writing World podcasts

Eric Newby on the trip that would make him famous: a climb up Mir Samir in Afghanistan in 1956. Credit...Hugh Carless/Press Association, via Associated Press

Eric Newby on the trip that would make him famous: a climb up Mir Samir in Afghanistan in 1956.
Credit…Hugh Carless/Press Association, via Associated Press

I was recently directed to this excellent site following a mention in the Eland Books newsletter. Travel Writing World is an award-winning podcast and website featuring interviews with travel writers, book reviews, author profiles, and resources for travel writers and their readers.

To date I have enjoyed a discussion about Eric Newby’s A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush, and Peter Fiennes, former publisher at Time Out, talking about his 2020 publication Footnotes: A Journey Round Britain in the Company of Great Writers.

There are no discussions (yet) about Patrick Leigh Fermor, but I am looking forward to listening to Colin Thubron talk about the recent death of his friend Jan Morris, travel writing in general, and the tenth anniversary of his book To A Mountain in Tibet. An excellent group was assembled to remember Bruce Chatwin on what would have been his 80th birthday.

I hope that you enjoy listening to an episode or two.

Visit Travel Writing World

Medieval Pilgrimage

Are those of us who are locked down like those in medieval times who coud not actually go on pligrimage and were only able to imagine it?

In the always fascinating BBC Radio 4 programme, In Our Time, Melvyn Bragg (who in 1989 interviewed Paddy on The South Bank Show – short extract here) and guests discuss the rise of pilgrimage for Christians in Europe in the Middle Ages and options for those who could only imagine pilgrimages and imitate them at home.

The podcast archives go back many years, divided into categories like ‘Culture’, ‘Religion’ and ‘History’. The Margery Kempe and Thomas Becket episodes are brilliant too, both linked to pilgrimage.

Lock yourself away and give 45 minutes to fascinating discussion, where you are sure to learn a few things.

Listen to the episode here.

There are almost 900 episodes in the In Our Time archive which you can browse here.

Marking the tenth anniversary of Paddy’s death

This coming June it will be ten years since Paddy’s death. I feel it is appropriate that we should somehow mark this anniversary in one or more ways.

I have a few related items which I may be able to post, but I would like to ask you, loyal readers, for any ideas that you may have or anything that you wish to share.

Let’s open the floor to anyone, any idea, and anything, and let June be a blitz of Paddy related memories and material.

Send me your ideas via the comment facility here, or email me as found in About & Contacts. Whilst we are on that subject, I have recently discovered that BT Internet appears to block emails originating from Gmail accounts. There is nothing I can do about this. So if you have mailed me and I have not replied it may be that I never received the email. You can also send me email via atsawford [@] gmail.com  and that should get through.

Winter walks

Winter scene, drover track near Alresford

How quickly the seasons change. Just two weeks ago I escaped lockdown for a long exercise session and ended up walking 42 km – this was not planned, I just kept going! – on a lovely winter’s day, complete with warm sunshine on hard frozen ground, snow underfoot in some places, quickly followed by dark clouds and flurries of snow, as well as a final period walking over the South Downs back into Winchester in the dark, having to watch my footing to avoid an ankle twist in the frozen ruts of the path. As I write, Spring has arrived and the first daffodils are about to burst open in my garden, lagging somewhat behind the more enthusiatic crocuses.

Nevertheless, I thought that I would share some pictures of that long day which was inspired not only by a burning urge to spend a long time outside, but also a marvellous BBC 4 series called Winter Walks. Five familiar faces take us on gentle walks over 30 minutes of relaxing and absorbing television, exploring landscapes in Yorkshire and Cumbria in a series of immersive and intimate documentaries. The series kicks-off with the Poet Laureate Simon Armitage, on a coastal walk to Robin Hood’s Bay. The others include broadcaster and campaigner Selina Scott, the Reverend Richard Coles, radio and TV presenter, late of 80’s band the Communards, politician Baroness Warsi, and author and broadcaster Lemm Sissay. These are perfect little programmes for watching over a tray supper. You can watch the series here on BBC iPlayer if you are in the UK, or, by using a VPN, you can spoof your location to the UK.

My walk exercised me hard and cleansed my mind. I didn’t look at a phone all day and just bathed in the beautiful countryside around Winchester. The route, if any of you are interested, was east along the south bank of the River Itchen towards the little village of Easton. Then on through Avington Park, on towards Ovington, turning to cross the Itchen near The Grange Vineyard. A long walk along old drover tracks took me to the part ruin of The Grange, former home of the Baring family with its Palladian portico for a lunch stop. Then out of the park, south towards Alresford, the source of the Itchen and the football field sized watercress beds. I continued southwards as the sun started to set towards the tiny village of Tichborne, famous for its ‘valueless Tichborne bonds‘. As Orion rose to my left I walked in the dark up to the South Downs Way, crossing through rich farmland towards Cheesefoot Head, and thence through lovely little Chilcomb and then home.

Perhaps you have stories to tell of your own winter walks wherever you are in the world?

Paddy’s Great Walk: A great author, adventurer remembered in print

A recent artilce about Paddy to add to our blog collection.

By Alan Littell
First published in Olean Times Herald Dec 12, 2020

I met him only once.

It was 21 years ago, in Athens, Greece, on the occasion of a speech he gave growing out of his wartime exploits as a British special agent serving with Greek resistance fighters in German-occupied Crete.

At the time of the talk he was a world-famous author, traveler, and cultural and historical polymath. And what should have been, for me, the pleasure of a long-anticipated conversation about his singular brand of literary magic turned instead to dismay and embarrassment on my part and obvious anger on his over a question I had put to him.

His name was Patrick Leigh Fermor. According to the people closest to him, the failure of the late war hero and travel writer known familiarly as Paddy to complete the third and final memoir of his extraordinary mid-1930s walk across Europe was for decades a gnawing source of pessimism and wounded pride.

The author had set out as an 18-year-old schoolboy to make the journey — from the Dutch coast to Turkey — but it was not until some 40 years later that the memoirs would begin to appear. “A Time of Gifts” was published in 1977 and “Between the Woods and the Water” in 1986. They won immediate acclaim. The New York Review of Books, for example, praised the works as incomparably “vivid, absorbing, and beautifully written.”

On the night I met him, Leigh Fermor, a brilliant prose stylist yet notoriously slow writer, was widely rumored to be struggling to finish the third volume of the trilogy.

As we chatted over drinks at the end of his talk, I asked how he was getting on with it. His response was immediate and explosive.

“Oh, don’t ask me that!” And he turned on his heel and stalked off.

I was aghast not so much at his reaction to what I had said as at my inexcusable want of tact. I had caused pain to this remarkable man.

We know now that the writing Paddy had done on volume three had not even come close to achieving a publishable manuscript. For as hard as he had tried — and as old age, debility and a crippling case of writer’s block held him in their grip — the task confounded him.

Two books tell the story of Patrick Leigh Fermor and of the last leg of that celebrated trek — what commentators invariably refer to as Paddy’s Great Walk but which he himself offhandedly dismissed as The Great Trudge.

The first is Artemis Cooper’s handsomely crafted biography, “Patrick Leigh Fermor,” published in Britain in 2012 and a year later in the U.S. In it, Cooper relates the life of a trim, square-shouldered, curly-haired adventurer of enormous charm and courage.

She had known Paddy for most of her life. She admired him as an author whose books on travel — particularly his works celebrating an enduring love affair with Greek culture, language and landscape — were triumphs of 20th century literature and scholarship. But at no time does she let her personal friendship and affection for Paddy blunt a balanced portrait of a sometimes moody, sometimes depressive, sometimes bumptious character addicted to women, alcohol, endless talk and round-the-clock partying.

“He had always resented going to bed,” writes Cooper “[He] revelled in the smoky world of tarts and nightclubs, all-night cafés, seedy bars and chance encounters.”

Paddy was also afflicted by an almost pathological need for distant travel. As Cooper makes clear, he was essentially rootless. He wrote his books in getaways that ranged from Greek islands and French monasteries to a clutch of English country hotels and private estates. In late middle age he built the only home he would ever possess, in a shaded olive grove overlooking the sea in his beloved Greece.

The second of the two recent works is the one that Paddy on his own was unable to finish. Assembled and published posthumously from existing manuscripts and diaries by biographer Cooper and the travel writer Colin Thubron, it tracks the conclusion, in 1934, of his European ramble. The book appeared in 2014. Its title is “The Broken Road.”

While lacking some of the youthful exuberance of Paddy’s first two memoirs, the final volume is told in the author’s distinctive voice. He continues his trek as the traveler and observer we have come to know — historian of art and architecture, geographer, antiquarian, ethnologist, speaker of Balkan languages, scholar of classical literature. Above all, he continues as a peerless story teller.

“‘The Broken Road’ may not precisely be the ‘third volume’ that so tormented him,” note his literary executors, “but it contains at least the shape and scent of the promised book.”

Still, of all Paddy’s writing, it is a much earlier work, “Mani,” that strikes me as his most personal and idiosyncratic. A dazzling account of a season of travel in a remote corner of southern Greece, it wonderfully captures the spirit of place: a bare, desolate upland terrain peopled by a breed of dark-visaged relics of ancient Sparta.

The book also traces Paddy’s lifelong quest for order and tranquility in a career of frenetic wandering. Order and tranquility, however, are oxymorons. They are attributes he rarely attained. In a revealing passage of longing for an irrecoverable past, he takes the reader with him on a Zen-like jaunt among the “smashed and scattered masonry” of antiquity.

“A spell of peace lives in the ruins of ancient Greek temples,” he tells us.

“As the traveller leans back among the fallen capitals and allows the hours to pass, it empties the mind of troubling thoughts and anxieties. …

“Nearly all that has happened fades to a limbo of shadows and insignificance and is painlessly replaced by an intimation of …simplicity and calm which unties all knots and solves all riddles and seems to murmur a benevolent … suggestion that the whole of life, if it were to unfold without hindrance or compulsion or search for alien solutions, might be limitlessly happy.”

Alan Littell is a longtime contributor to the Times Herald. He lives in Alfred. Note: All of the books mentioned in this piece as well as others by Patrick Leigh Fermor are still in print. They are available in larger bookstores and on Amazon.

Shortlist revealed for Stanford Dolman Travel Book of the Year

The shortlist has been announced for this year’s Stanford Dolman Travel Book of the Year prize.

This year’s eight-book shortlist includes Without Ever Reaching the Summit by Paolo Cognetti (Harvill Secker), The Border by Erika Fatland (Quercus), Shadow City by Taran Khan (Bodley Head) and Travelling While Black by Nanjala Nyabola (Hurst).

Also in the running are Wanderland by Jini Reddy (Bloomsbury), The Lost Pianos of Siberia by Sophy Roberts (Transworld), Along the Amber Route by C J Scholar (Sandstone Press) and Owls of the Eastern Ice by Jonathan Slaght (Allen Lane).

Part of the Edward Stanford Travel Writing Awards, the £2,500 prize is run in association with the Authors’ Club. The judging panel features author Lois Pryce, explorer Benedict Allen, author and past recipient of the Edward Stanford Outstanding Contribution to Travel Writing Award Colin Thubron, journalist and author Monisha Rajesh, and author Nick Hunt.

Vivien Godfrey, chairman and CEO of Stanfords, said: “We’re delighted to announce the shortlist of such varied and truly unique titles. These books act as a tonic for us all during these times when travel has been halted and adventures have been limited.

“It’s been a tough year for Stanfords and travel writers, and the Edward Stanford Travel Writing Awards this year are a much-needed boost to our spirits and a great excuse to celebrate what the genre has to offer.”

Held in March, the awards will also crown the Bradt Travel Guides New Travel Writer of the Year, from a list of four finalists who have submitted original writing of between 600 and 800 words.

The winner of the Edward Stanford Outstanding Contribution to Travel Writing Award, previously scooped by authors including Bill Bryson, Michael Palin and Paul Theroux, will also be announced on the night.

Breaking lockdown – let’s dash to the Red Ox in Heidelberg!

The author Carol McGrath in the Red Ox in Heldelberg

The author Carol McGrath in the Red Ox in Heldelberg

I don’t know if the Roter Ochsen is actually open or not at the moment, but when author Carol McGrath sent me a link to her blog post from early 2020, before all this crap descended on us, I just had to dream of a return visit to the Red Ox. I thought that you might like to run away there too and have virtual Pfälzer Bauernbratwürste and ein großes Bier vom Fass. 

Paddy Leigh Fermor in Heidelberg by Carol McGrath.

I have always admired the writing of Paddy Leigh Fermor. He lived in Kalamitsi a short distance from the village in the Mani where I base myself during the summer. I never did get to meet him but have twice visited the villa he designed himself and part constructed with the assistance of a Greek friend who was a local builder.

My first visit was shortly after his death while it still held the manifest redolence of his long intrepid life, personal photos, military memorabilia and the eclectic artwork he collected during his lifetime. The second visit was last Autumn after necessary renovations had been carried out by The Benaki Museum with the support of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation. Inevitably this resulted somewhat in the loss of the aura of the man that previously had seemed to have been inured into the very fabric of the building.

It is still a magnificent memorial to a great Hellenophile, a British War Hero and a writer of unique talent. My introduction to his writing was in the early Eighties when I read his breakthrough book A Time of Gifts which to quote the back of my 1978 Penguin edition – “Like a tramp, a pilgrim, or a wandering scholar, an eighteen year old boy set out, one wet December day in 1933, to walk to Constantinople”

A few years ago, not on foot, obviously, I retraced his visit to Heidelberg and the Red Ox Inn which today looks remarkably similar to his description of it dating back as it does to 1933. This Blog records in pictures that visit combined with Paddy’s original prose. Enjoy.

On the far side of the bridge I abandoned the Rhine for its tributary and after a few miles along the Neckar the steep lights of Heidelberg assembled.

It was dark by the time I climbed the main street and soon softly-lit panes of coloured glass, under the hanging sign of a Red Ox, were beckoning me indoors.

With freezing cheeks and hair caked with snow, I clumped into an entrancing haven of oak beams and carving and alcoves and changing floor levels. A jungle of impedimenta encrusted the interior – mugs and bottles and glasses and antlers- the innocent accumulation of years , not stage props of forced conviviality – and the whole place glowed with a universal patina. It was more like a room in a castle and, except for a cat asleep in front of the stove, quite empty.

Continue reading here

A paean to Paddy for his birthday

This short paean to Paddy was written in both English and Greek by the writer Maria Mavroyenneas on her Facebook page and shared to a Paddy Facebook group. It celebrates Paddy and marks his birthday on 11 February 1915.

The wonderful British author and last great philhellene, was born on this day in 1915. He lived in #MANI and we all knew him simply as “kir Michalis”, Mr. Michalis. I idolised him as a child but, over the last twenty something years of his life, my husband and I became firm friends with “kir Michalis” and his wife, Joan; or “kiria Joanna” to all us locals.

After being knighted on his 90th. birthday, he called us. His usual British reserve slipped as his pride and pleasure shone through. He was, in every sense of the word, a gentleman and we, too, were all pleased for him; not to mention proud. Other than his foreign circle of friends and dignitaries, he mixed with us local people, showing his love and concern for his fellow villagers. Sir Patrick and Joan Leigh Fermor were beloved members of the community. I have so many happy memories of them both.

It is difficult to find the words to describe the man, a living legend with all the attributes of children’s fairy tales. His enjoyment of life was unique, his passion, his thirst for action and adventure; right to the end. Speaking in excellent Greek, showing the great depth of his knowledge of Greek idiom, as he got older, he would say to us,

“I have eaten the bread allocated to me,” before adding with a rueful smile, “and some bread allocated for others!”

It was as if he did not age, did not tire of life; his hunger for life was so strong that it could have spanned ten lifetimes, a thousand years. The slightest thing inspired his curiosity, his enthusiasm and he enjoyed sharing it with others. I struggle to describe him; an incurable romantic, a dreamer, an intellectual brimming over with feelings and ideas but, also, possessed of a childish innocence. Ever the heart and soul of a party, he would steal the show with his humour, laughter and songs. He would, however, disguise his own sadness so as not to dampen others’ spirits when, one after another, people he loved departed; friends, comrades-in-arms, his beloved wife.

He was a wanderer of the intellect and of dreams, who could never get his fill of knowledge or reflection. Always on the go, a perfectionist, on occasion stubborn. In the middle of a conversation he would jump up and fetch one his many books, all well read by the way, to reinforce an argument or emphasise a point. Talking to him could, sometimes, be like an interrogation, “what do you think of …. what about ……. what is your opinion of ……… ?” His attention would always be fixed on the answer, as if the speaker were imparting some fascinating insight. Just like in his great youthful voyage, he listened to ordinary people, touched their lives, was not afraid of adventure, to get involved. Later in life, assisted by his wonderful soul-mate, he started to write, drawing on his incomparable wealth of words, places and experiences. He made his home in Mani, then still hidden away and undiscovered, far from his merrymaking friends in Crete where, at the sound of one of their mantinadas, he would abandon his pencil and paper to set off to eat, carouse and drink “white bottoms” (“down in one”) with them.

His daily life was simple and uncomplicated. Never one to cause offence, he showed great respect for local customs and traditions. A friendly greeting was always on offer. He never said a bad word about anyone. Without being directly asked, he never spoke of himself. “I” was not his favoured pronoun, wherever possible it would be replaced by “we”. Honour and friendship were, I think, his two favourite words. To him friendship was to the death, which he proved by his deeds. He was a complete, wonderful human being.

On our last visit, we found him writing. The chance to break off for a friendly chat made him happy. He tried to sing an old Greek folk song but his vocal chords, affected by illness, struggled. We knew it was time to go. After all, he should not even have been talking. Our last conversation was by telephone as he lay in a hospital bed, accompanied by his friend and housekeeper, Elpida, able only to listen, not to reply. We were all emotional as we told him that everyone in the village asked after him, sending their love and best wishes. When would he be back?

One of the most moving memories we all share in the village is of kir Michalis standing at attention in the village square and singing proudly, along with the rest of us, the Greek National Anthem. To him it was a duty and an honour to attend our National Festival Days. His example showed us the way. On the 25th. March, 2011, he made his last visit. He left us shortly after, on the 10th. June at the age of 96.

He was handsome like any true man of spirit should be, an authentic intellectual who inspired us all.

The Canyon’s Echo, my e-novel, is devoted to Sir Patrick & Joan Leigh Fermor for their kind support and guidance.

Σαν σήμερα γεννήθηκε ο σπουδαίος Βρετανός συγγραφέας κι ο τελευταίος μεγάλος φιλέλληνας ΣΕΡ Πάτρικ Λη Φέρμορ ή απλά κυρ Μιχάλης (11 Φεβρουαρίου 1915 -10 Ιουνίου 2011), ο οποίος, έζησε στη Μάνη. Τον θαύμαζα απίστευτα από παιδί, αλλά τα τελευταία είκοσι και πλέον χρόνια, εγώ κι ο άντρας μου υπήρξαμε πολύ στενοί φίλοι του ίδιου και της γυναίκας του, Τζόαν ή κυρίας Ιωάννας. Όταν στα 90α του γενέθλια χρίστηκε ιππότης απ’ τη βασίλισσα της Αγγλίας μάς πήρε τηλέφωνο να μας το ανακοινώσει, και ήταν τόσο συγκινημένος, ενθουσιασμένος και περήφανος για τον εαυτό του που δεν μπορούσε να το κρύψει· το καύχημα και ο κομπασμός δεν άρμοζε στους τρόπους ενός αληθινού, με όλη τη σημασία της λέξης, τζέντλεμαν που ήταν. Πέρα απ’ τον αριστοκρατικό του κύκλο (που ο ίδιος διέφερε κατά πολύ!) συναναστρεφόταν και με μας τους ντόπιους όπου με κάθε τρόπο μας έδειχνε την αγάπη και το ενδιαφέρον του.

Αλήθεια, τι να πρωτοθυμηθώ;

Το λεξιλόγιο φτωχό για να περιγράψεις αυτόν τον “ζωντανό” θρύλο με τις ιδιαιτερότητες ήρωα παιδικού παραμυθιού. Δεν έχει ξανα υπάρξει άλλος με τέτοια φλόγα, τέτοιο πάθος για ζωή, τέτοια δίψα για δράση, για περιπέτεια… μέχρι το τέλος! Θυμάμαι που μας έλεγε: “Εγώ τα έχω φάει τα ψωμιά μου”, και συμπλήρωνε με αυτοσαρκασμό, “και… τα ψωμιά των άλλων!” Δεν έχετε δει άνθρωπο να μη μεγαλώνει, να μη χορταίνει τη ζωή, να θέλει να ζήσει δέκα ζωές, 1000 χρόνια, να ενθουσιάζεται με τα πιο απλά, με το κάθε τι και να το εκδηλώνει κιόλας! Ένας αθεράπευτα ρομαντικός, ονειροπόλος, γεμάτος συναισθήματα και με μια αφέλεια παιδική. Η ψυχή της παρέας, ο “κλέφτης” της παράστασης που σ’ έκανε να γελάς και γελούσε και αυτός περισσότερο, αλλά που θα καταπίεζε τη δική του θλίψη με γενναιότητα για να μη σου χαλάσει τη διάθεση, όταν, ο ένας μετά τον άλλον, “έφευγαν” οι αγαπημένοι του: φίλοι, σύντροφοι συμπολεμιστές, η λατρεμένη του γυναίκα…

#Ένας_ταξιδευτής_του_νου_και_του_ονείρου, που δε χόρταινε να ρουφάει τη γνώση και να στοχάζεται. Αεικίνητος, τελειομανής και πεισματάρης. Εκεί μου σου μιλούσε, ξαφνικά άφηνε το ποτό και πεταγόταν για να φέρει κάποιο βιβλίο απ’ τα εκατοντάδες διαβασμένα που είχε, το οποίο, περιείχε κάτι σχετικό με την κουβέντα. Ήξερε που ακριβώς να το βρει, ακόμα και που ήταν το κομμάτι μέσα στο βιβλίο που αναζητούσε. Η κουβέντα μαζί του ήταν τύπου… “ανάκρισης”: πες μου γι’ αυτό, για το άλλο, τι πιστεύεις γι’ αυτό, για εκείνο… και σε άκουγε μαγεμένος λες κι έλεγες το πιο σπουδαίο πράγμα του κόσμου. Έτσι και στο νεανικό μεγάλο ταξίδι του ΑΚΟΥΓΕ τους απλούς ανθρώπους, χωνόταν στις ζωές τους, δεν φοβόταν να βάλει τον εαυτό του σε περιπέτειες, να μπλέξει… Και ώριμος πια, με τη βοήθεια και τη συμπαράσταση της υπέροχης συντρόφου του ξεκίνησε να γράφει αναπολώντας λόγια, τόπους και εμπειρίες, κρυμμένος στην άγνωστη μέχρι τότε Μάνη, μακριά απ’ τους γλετζέδες Κρητικούς φίλους του που με μια μόνο μαντινάδα τους, πέταγε μολύβια και χαρτιά κι άνοιγε πανιά για φαγοπότια, μπαλωθιές κι άσπρους πάτους μαζί τους!

Ο βίος του λιτός και απλοϊκός, δεν προκαλούσε, έδειχνε σεβασμό στα ήθη και έθιμα, θαύμαζε τους πάντες και ποτέ δεν έλεγε κακό λόγο για κανέναν. (Όχι ότι δεν είχε κατά καιρούς τις διενέξεις του, αλλά έκρινε πράξεις/συμπεριφορές κι όχι ανθρώπους) Ποτέ δεν μιλούσε για τον εαυτό του, εκτός κι αν τον ρωτούσες. Η λέξη “εγώ” δεν υπήρχε κι αν χρειαζόταν να υπωθεί πάντα έβρισκε τρόπο να την αντικαταστήσει με το “εμείς”. Οι πιο ιερές του λέξεις ήταν ΦΙΛΟΤΙΜΟ και ΦΙΛΙΑ, πιστός φίλος μέχρι θανάτου και το αποδείκνυε με πράξεις, ένα ολοκληρωμένο παράδειγμα ακέραιου, άριστου ανθρώπου…

Όταν πήγαμε να τον δούμε τελευταία φορά τον βρήκαμε να γράφει. Η συζήτηση τού έδωσε τέτοια χαρά που όπως έκανε πάντα, άρχισε να μας τραγουδά ένα παλιό ελληνικό τραγούδι. Καταλάβαμε, τότε, ότι ήταν ώρα να αποχωρήσουμε· είχε καρκίνο στις φωνητικές χορδές και δεν έπρεπε καν να μιλά. Η τελευταία μας επικοινωνία τηλεφωνική και μονόπλευρη, εμείς μιλούσαμε εκείνος άκουγε. Η φωνή πρώτη τον εγκατέλειψε. “Κυρ Μιχάλη μου, όλο το χωριό σε περιμένει και ρωτάει πότε θα ξανάρθεις”, κι ήταν να μην τού λεγες τίποτα για τους ανθρώπους και το χωριό (#Καρδαμύλη) που τόσο λάτρευε…

Απ’ τις πιο συγκινητικές στιγμές που έχουμε όλοι να θυμόμαστε ήταν η στάση προσοχής που έπαιρνε στην πλατεία του χωριού όταν δακρυσμένος σιγοψυθίριζε μαζί μας τον Εθνικό Ύμνο. Θεωρούσε καθήκον και τιμή να παρευρίσκεται στις Εθνικές μας γιορτές· η 25η Μαρτίου 2011, ήταν η τελευταία φορά, “έφυγε” τον επόμενο Ιούνιο στα 96 του χρόνια.
Ήταν ωραίος, όπως πρέπει να είναι ένας άνθρωπος του πνεύματος, ένας αληθινά διανοούμενος, και βέβαια, όπως πρέπει να είναι ο καθένας μας…

#SirPatrickLeighFermor #MANI #MESSINIA #MarMorStories

Abducting a General – locations by each day

Over the next few weeks I am honoured to be able to share with you some work by Chris White, co-author of Abducting a General, who has spent many weeks and months on Crete over the years tracing the precise route and locations of the kidnap. In 2020, Chris posted this series on Facebook. He has approved it being repeated on here. Stories will pop up from time to time, and will run virtually day-by-day during the time period of the kidnap. I hope that you enjoy it.

Over to Chris ….

We start on February 4th 1944. Paddy parachuted on to the Katharo Plateau and was met by Sandy Rendel, whose base was in a cave a few miles away. The cave is now known as the Spiliaou ton Anglikon, the cave of the English. This week I have been exploring the area around the plateau and visited the cave…..a long stony walk through woods and ravines and along the sides of steep valleys.

The photos: the first shows where the cave is (centre of picture) in the landscape; the next three show the cave in more detail.

Picnic papers

Words of Mercury by Artemis Cooper

Hello All,

It’s been a while since I last made a post. A combination of factors is the cause, including, if I may say, partly due to Lockdown lethargy. It is all getting a little boring now, with the highlight of the week being a choice of which supermarket to visit just for a change. In fact, we are enjoying visiting all the different good quality independent bakers, butchers and green grocers who appear to be doing a booming trade.

Regular correspondent Brent McCunn sent me this a little while ago, which is the first post of 2021, a year which will mark the tenth anniversary of Paddy’s death.

Many will have a copy of Words of Mercury (the link takes you to my Amazon seller page where you can buy very good condition first editions), the 2003 compilation, edited by Artemis Cooper, of some of Paddy’s lesser known works including magazine articles. On page 51 we have Rumania – The Last Day of Peace, which is from the introduction to Matila Ghyka’s, The World Mine Oyster, 1961. It is a haunting piece, that last day of true joy before the darkness that would fall over all of Europe, and change the Between the Woods and the Water world forever.

Brent has found this slighty longer version which appeared in Picnic Papers, published in 1983, compiled and edited by Susanna Johnstone and Anne Tennant.

Brent says:

You may have come across it, but if not here attached are scans of his contribution. The book comprises offerings from many of literary, artistic and upper crust society. The likes of Diana Cooper and Derek Hill also included recipes related to their favoured picnic food. None were forthcoming from Paddy. Interesting in that Derek Hills’ portrait of PLF is in Gika’s house museum in Athens, if I recall correctly. Hill painted many from society and the arts. I met Hill in 1980. I was working at a stately home in Yorkshire and he came to paint the owner’s portrait. I had several interesting chats and was allowed to watch parts of the painting procedure.

I am a keen hobby cook hence the cuisine section.

Cheers
Brent McCunn

Links to the pdfs for you to download and read follow.

Keep safe and well.

picnicfermor001

picnicfermor002

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Your responses – out of print travel and nature books

Dear Readers,

I hope that you are well. It is a colder day here in Winchester, with wintry showers, sleet and rain, suddenly interspersed with dazzlingly low and bright sunshine. Despite the virus, there’s a lot of activity as people in this little city prepare for Christmas. I shall be putting up the tree tomorrow.

The response to the call for your lists of out of print books produced some interesting ideas. I thought that it woul dbe useful to list all the responses. So here they are, culled from your comments appended to the post, or sent to me by email.

The sharper ones of you have already joined some dots, linking this to our friend Nick Hunt’s assignment for John Murray which may see some of these books published next year to mark the tenth anniversary of Paddy’s death.

John Monahan

I offer “Journey to Khiva” by Philip Glazebrook and “Vanished Empire” by Stephen Brook.

Robert M Davison

Xan Fielding’s Hide and Seek
Sandy Rendell’s Appointment in Crete
Mary Chubb’s City in the Sand

City in the Sand is connected because Mary was (in the 1930s) associated with the British Egyptology Society’s excavations that were led by John Pendlebury, another larger than life character in the Cretan theatre.

One more – Theodore Stephanides – Climax in Crete

Incidentally I have copies of all the books I mentioned (and many more besides) but it is sad to see them so long out of print.

Over the years, in different places, I was able to collect quite a few books related to the Cretan war – from many different perspectives. The German perspective is well (and humanely) told in von der Heyde’s Daedalus Returned.

David Sanderson

Two out of print travel books which I think Paddy in particular would approve of are Kiwi At Large and Kiwi Vagabond by E S Allison.

Errol Allison was born in NZ in 1918. He served with the 20th Battalion in Egypt, Greece, Crete and Libya. Captured in 1941 he went from prison camps in Italy to Germany. After escaping twice and being recaptured he spent weeks in a Gestapo gaol and eventually took the identity of a Belgian and met up with the Russians in action. He returned to NZ and resumed teaching.

(Taken from the dust jacket)
In 1954 he embarked on the travels described in Kiwi at Large. Leaving home with £80 he wanders 22,000 miles alone in twenty countries, to see places he had a lifelong curiosity about, and to satisfy his longing to see places where he had fought. He travels rough in seamy third class Indian trains, in crowded Arab coaches, on donkeys and on foot. His bed, sometimes under a tree or in a Persian stable, is more often in peasants’ cottages, in Greek monasteries, in Arab dives, in cheap hotels of shady character, in deserted ancient cities – though occasionally in wealthy homes.

Kiwi Vagabond is the sequel, telling of the journey from England across Europe and Asia.

I read both books some time ago and loved them. They are little known and deserve to be read by a much larger audience. I believe Errol subsequently worked at a quite high level for the Red Cross. He comes across as a marvellous individual. Highly recommended.

rlindsaybrown

Anything by John Hillaby, who I think has been rather forgotten since his death in 1996, but a big favourite travel writer of mine in my childhood and teens. Slow burn and not so showy, but a genuine love of outdoor and place comes shining through in his writing and a rare focus on the local when exotica was the thing.

Dr JP Simpson

One of the most interesting travel books I have (and it took some getting) is ‘John Blades Currey: Fifty Years in the Cape Colony’, one of 1,000 copies superbly edited by Phillida Brooke Simons and published by the Brenthurst Press, South Africa in 1986. Brasenose, Oxford-educated Currey’s account of his travels in Outeniqualand and Namaqualand and his involvement in the Eighth Frontier War cover the period 1850-56 and are immensely enhanced by his watercolour illustrations. The book is remarkable for its balance and impartiality at a time when the indigenous inhabitants, Boers and British were increasingly pitted against each other for rich farmland, gold and diamonds. The book is historical “gold dust” because Currey was private secretary to Cecil Rhodes. In the flyleaf of my copy is a handwritten copy of a letter dated March 27th (1902) from the Archbishop of Capetown to Currey that reads in part: “….So our friend is gone from us! It was like him that being owner of large mansions and estates he should die in a simple cottage. He was in death what he had been in life. Now that he is gone, I trust the rancour of his enemies will cease to pursue him. I am dreadfully grieved that I never was allowed to visit him and pray with him and that Jameson did not keep the promise he had conveyed to me through Michell.”

antoon van coillie

Black Lamb & Grey Falcon , Rebecca West : such an incredible book on the lost world of Yugoslavia just before the Second World War & any of Freya Stark’s books….

John Rigby-Jones

George Bean’s books on Turkey

Stefan

What a wonderful idea. I have spoken here before so some will know that I’m a bookseller and book collector. I’ve managed to travel fairly widely in my seventy-odd years and I’m still a bit fit. I always said you travel to faraway places only to see if it’s worthwhile going back again. There are five places on earth which I hope to see again before I die. Only one concerns us here. I lived in Crete in 1977. We rented a house in Xaniá on Psaromilingon St which cost us all of 2000 drachs a month— about thirty quid. I wonder what the rent would be now, just off the harbour. I have managed to pick up a good collection of Crete and PLF but I’ve never been able to afford a decent Pashley: Travels in Crete or Spratt’s Travels and Researches…

In my opinion the best modern writing about Crete is still Llewellyn Smith’s The Great Island. It did get a second edition and you can pick it up at a reasonable price. Do so, because you will never prise my own copy out of me. Some people read Tolkien every year. I read Crete. Another excellent work is easier to find and cheap: Gail Holst’s Road to Rembetika. I had been back to Crete (I’ve been back many times) with a party of four and we walked from Chora Sphakion to Xania via Pachnes. It was only February and what a February we picked. I have never seen such snow. The locals in Chora Sphakion said we could do it in day. But you don’t believe Cretans, do you? Four days later, we came down with broken backs and broken tents, exhausted, to a small spring in the woods below the snowline. We knew we must be getting close. We were soon in Zoúrva. My diary at the time got stolen so I cannot recall the name of the kyría who served us. She was wonderful. There were no tourists at that time of year. Three of us were vegetarians but that was no problem. We intended to continue our journey but large amounts of krasí and retsína meant we camped overnight. Later, we were back in the kafeneion. Zoúrva is still only a tiny village but that evening, with only four tourists, some old men walked in. They had the lyra and bouzouki and one was playing some kind of drum. Yes, they were playing for us but, somehow, they seemed far away and were playing themselves into some kind of mesmerism.

I am not particularly interested in the Minoan and archaeological stuff although Dilys Powell, The Villa Ariadne, is superb. The dark ages are not well covered in Cretan literature but by the time we get to the Turks and Venetians we are starting to hear Cretan voices. This was when Cretans became Crete and there are lots of titles to read.

A work of fiction, Prevelakis’s The Sun of Death, ought to be on the pantheon of world literature. It is apparently not so much fiction either.

There is a little-known work by Tasos Dourountakis: Anezina and Me: A True Cretan Story. It’s a family history of the kind all too prevalent in the English-speaking world but not often found in Crete. It would be for the better of all if Cretans, however old or young, started writing their family histories. You don’t have to write well; you just have to write. Go for it!

Dr JP Simpson

In reply to Stefan.
You mentioned Dilys Powell in a post. Is her ‘An Affair of the Heart’ still in print? I re-read my copy almost annually!

Stefan
In reply to Dr JP Simpson.
Yes, that’s another excellent work. It’s still available in those wretched print-on-demand things but decent first editions are still inexpensive.

Stefan

I’m back again. I shall mention another area I’ve been fortunate to spend quite some time in—Ladakh in the far north of India in the Himalaya.

Most of the old travel books can be found in the print-on-demand industry but I much prefer “real” books. Where Three Empires Meet is by E.F. Knight (not a female). It’s Victorian but is immensely readable and was very popular. It went into many editions. A first is becoming expensive but some of the later editions are reasonable. Get one with the author’s photographs.

Lieut-Colonel Torrens’ Travels in Ladâk, Tartary and Kashmir is another surprisingly readable Victorian work. If you can afford it, make an investment and buy yourself a first edition.

And the book that set it all off for me was Zanskar: the Hidden Kingdom by Michel Peissel. All his books are worth reading.

You mention nature books too, Tom. So, closer to home, I have to admit I was very late stumbling across John Wyatt’s The Shining Levels. What a superb piece of writing! All of these books and many more still continue to bring joy as you get older. I shall confine any future post to just a list of titles.

Dr JP Simpson

In reply to Stefan.
‘Ancient Futures: Learning from the Ladakh’ by Helena Norbert-Hodge… the humanism of old ways? Would that be a fair summary?

Stefan

In reply to Dr JP Simpson.
She gave me a lift once when I was on my way to Choglamsar. I found her intellect intimidating but I would say “the humanity of old ways,” a superb expression, thank you. I think Tom, and PLF, would understand. In 1986 I had befriended a Tibetan refugee. We did some serious drinking together. In 1989 I tracked him down. He was in a broken condition with an older wife and a very young child. I got him out of the gutter and he acted as guide and interpreter for my wife and myself for a few months. In 1998 they were all doing fine and their young girl was growing to be a proud Tibetan. She spoke Ladakhi, Tibetan and English (as well as I! Albeit with a US accent).

Modern travel narratives on Ladakh tend to be the “look-at-me”, Lonely Planet stuff. Nevertheless, two works on Alchi stand out:

Alchi: Treasure of the Himalayas. Ladakh’s Buddhist Masterpiece by Peter van Ham, Amy Heller & Likir Monastery; Hirmer Verlag, Munich; 2018. This is outstanding and cheap! Publication was heavily sponsored. (Available in English language edition).

Alchi: Ladakh’s Hidden Buddhist Sanctuary. The Sumtsek by Roger Goepper; photography by Jaroslav Poncar; Shambhala Limited Editions, Boston, 1996. 1500 copies. This will cost you a few bob more but don’t bother with the later New Delhi paperback imprint.

A slightly dry, but still fascinating work is A History of Western Tibet, A.H. Francke; Partridge, London 1907.

We ought to include also some biographies. Nicholas Shakespeare’s debunking of Chatwin. I don’t mind reading Chatwin but I am aware that some (a lot?) is fiction. Julian Evans’ biography of Norman Lewis: Semi Invisible Man: the Life of Norman Lewis is superb.

Dr. JP Simpson

Well, Stefan, your memories of Ladakh brighten a dull Irish Sunday evening! I think Helena Norbert-Hodge self-publishes now but it was her editor and friend of 30+ years ago, Tessa Strickland, who put me on to her. And, yes, Nicholas Shakespeare’s QUALITY biography of Bruce Chatwin scrubbed the scales from off my eyes but even so, I cannot ‘diss’ him, just as I cannot ‘diss’ T.E.Lawrence.

Stefan

In reply to Dr. JP Simpson.
I knew, but forgot to point out, that it’s “Norberg”.

Chatwin will be worth reading for generations to come but I fear readers will be lovers or haters. My own sister is a bookseller in the north of England. Her husband is a book tragic also. He is a PLF fan (and has a collection I envy) but my sister thinks PLF is awful. She thinks Chatwin is the bee’s knees. Her husband doesn’t and I don’t.

I read Lawrence about 45 years ago and found him hard going. I still have a copy somewhere so I shall go rummaging. He is not the flavour with bookbuyers at the moment because of his prejudices so collectors (and booksellers with nous and shelf space) should be snapping things up.

Do you know what?—I have never finished Byron’s The Road to Oxiana. I have tried and tried but it’s boring. His story is tragic, yes. In my opinion his achievement was a seemingly trivial guide he wrote in the 1930s for London Underground for London’s sightseers.

Tom has invited us to dine on on travel, environment and nature. This is probably half the British Library but I think many more of the PLF subscribers should be helping Tom out with his list here.

Stefan

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.