Category Archives: Paddy’s Friends

Dorset, in a Mediterranean light

John Craxton in Hydra, Greece, 1960. Photo: Wolfgang Suschitzky

This second article about John Craxton discusses Craxton’s personal and professional journey towards the happiness and creativity he found in Greece. It is written in the context of the 2016 Salisbury Museum exhibition that I know many of you attended. I have left the article as is so do excuse the references to events long past in a different world!

Remember the new biography by Ian Collins – John Craxton: A Life of Gifts  – is published by Yale University Press.  Craxton was book cover artist for most of Paddy’s books, friend to Paddy and Joan, as well as Lucian Freud, and lover of Margot Fonteyn.

By Maggie Gray

First published in Apollo Magazine, April 2016

Before he moved to Crete, before the sparkling light of the Mediterranean permeated his world view and his canvases, John Craxton painted rather more morose depictions of his native England. The artist was born in London to a cosmopolitan family, but from a young age lodged at his aunt and uncle’s house in rural Dorset where, if his early paintings and drawings are to be believed, he spent a lot of time wandering and sketching the landscape, immersed in his surroundings and his own thoughts. In early works he cuts a lonely figure – for it is difficult not to read his solitary shepherds and poets as self-portraits of some kind – among the ancient hills and gnarled trees, with only the birds for company. This brooding but lyrical vision of England won him recognition as a young talent in the neo-Romantic school – though like all good neo-Romantics he disliked the term. Craxton eventually strayed a long way from the fold, both geographically and stylistically, settling in Crete and pursuing a lighter and highly distinctive style. But the sense of being within a landscape – of drawing one’s own energies and emotions from its larger rhythms – that he established in chilly Cranborne Chase never left him or his work.

Poet in Landscape (1941), John Craxton. © Craxton Estate

Poet in Landscape (1941), John Craxton. © Craxton Estate

Craxton’s reputation faltered towards the end of his life but was revived somewhat at the end of 2013, when the Fitzwilliam Museum mounted a retrospective at which his colourful Cretan paintings were a revelation. A number of these kaleidoscopic canvases are now on display at the Salisbury Museum (until 7 May), but the show – curated by Craxton’s biographer and executor Ian Collins, and on the second leg of a tour that started at the Dorset Museum in spring 2015 – is a decidedly more local affair. On view alongside examples of his major works are Craxton’s childhood sketches; a series of paintings by his uncle, Cecil Waller (all for sale); a selection of items from the Pitt-Rivers Museum in Farnham, whose collection fascinated Craxton as a boy (it closed in the 1960s); and a set of portrait drawings he made of local children that have only recently come to light. Craxton’s designs for cards and book covers (most famously for his friend Patrick Leigh Fermor) add a further note of personal domesticity.

Knowlton Church (1941), John Craxton. Private collection

Knowlton Church (1941), John Craxton. Private collection

This eclecticism makes for a less cogent show than the Fitzwilliam’s (which also benefitted from a simpler layout and higher ceilings than is possible in Salisbury’s 17th-century building) but the odd combinations do result in surprising insights. In the second of the main exhibition rooms, for example, are several paintings and drawings of rural landscapes and buildings (and a startling image of a dead hare on a tabletop, made when Craxton was living with Lucian Freud in London, which is an interesting diversion). They range from grey and moody visions in ink, to more controlled and colourful variations, including one, Alderholt Mill (1943–44), in which the house is painted in blocks of brilliant red, white and green. It’s an unexpected injection of colour that foreshadows Craxton’s later paintings (to which the curators have established a direct line of sight). It’s also a detail that is picked up in the bold wall colours selected for the display, which switch from a deep slate blue to brilliant yellow, marking Craxton’s departure for sunnier shores.

Alderholt Mill (1943–44), John Craxton.

Alderholt Mill (1943–44), John Craxton.

The artist’s first inkling that there might be a life for him outside the UK seems to have come from a visit to the Scilly Isles in 1945, after which he swiftly upgraded to the Mediterranean proper, travelling to Greece in 1946. Crete became a regular base for the artist, and while he did not officially relocate until 1960, the island replaced his home country in his affections quickly and completely. ‘I can work best in an atmosphere where life is considered more important than Art – where life is itself an Art’, he commented in 1948:

Then I find it is possible to feel a real person – real people, real elements, real windows – real sun above all. In a life of reality my imagination really works. I feel like an émigré in London and squashed flat.

Craxton’s ambitious Four Figures in a Mountain Landscape (1950–51) serves as a centrepiece and turning point in the Salisbury display, which gathers several of his later paintings into its final two rooms. The large painting is an unashamedly Arcadian depiction of Aegean life, woven with colour, which encapsulates much of what changed in Craxton’s art after he went away. The smaller pictures surrounding it tell us a bit more about how and why his style evolved. Greek Fisherman (1946), made after his trip to the Isles of Scilly, but before he got to Greece, is an important reminder that the artist’s efforts to lighten his palette predated and probably inspired his first trip. He was already asking questions of his art – and was clearly predisposed to find his answers in the Aegean.

Four Figures in a Mountain Landscape (1950–51), John Craxton. © Craxton Estate. Photo: Bristol Museum, Galleries & Archives

Four Figures in a Mountain Landscape (1950–51), John Craxton. © Craxton Estate. Photo: Bristol Museum, Galleries & Archives

Two Greek Dancers (1951), meanwhile, reveals an important innovation that he would only make once he got there. The deceptively simple composition depicts two figures in outline against a pale grey-blue ground – but what astonishing outlines they are, changing colour as they feel their way around their subjects, indicating the local hues that have otherwise vanished into the airy surroundings. This technique recurs in various inflections throughout his later paintings, and few approaches so elegantly express both the hot, crystal clarity of the region’s light and the scattering, vibrating colours that it produces. Four Figures in a Mountain Landscape is, in reality, no more colourful than some of his British scenes: deep, dark blues and greens dominate the foreground as the sky turns to sunset overhead. But the whole thing is held together by silvery, shifting and vibrant threads of paint. They transform the image, laying down the memory of the warmth and brilliance of the day just ending, but also the expectation of another such day to come. You don’t see that in Dorset very often.

Buy John Craxton: A Life of Gifts here.

The art of friendship in post-war Greece

Still Life with Three Sailors (1980–85), John Craxton. Private collection. © 2018 Craxton Estate/DACS

Still Life with Three Sailors (1980–85), John Craxton. Private collection. © 2018 Craxton Estate/DACS

 

The first of a few articles reminding us of the genius of John Craxton as his new biography by Ian Collins – John Craxton: A Life of Gifts  – is published by Yale University Press.  Craxton was book cover artist for most of Paddy’s books, friend to Paddy and Joan, as well as Lucian Freud, and lover of Margot Fonteyn.

By Tom Fleming. First published in Apollo Magazine June 2018.

John Craxton disliked being described as a ‘neo-Romantic’ artist, preferring to be known as a ‘kind of Arcadian’. He spent most of his life in Crete, where his enjoyment of the Mediterranean lifestyle was in inverse proportion to the rate at which he finished his paintings (he termed it ‘procraxtonation’). He never quite shed the label of a promising talent who had failed to develop. But he did not regret moving away from England. His work may not be as celebrated as that of his friend Lucian Freud, with whom he first went to Greece in 1946 (and later fell out), but it has a joie de vivre that speaks of a life well lived, one in which Greece played a fundamental part. As he wrote later, he preferred to live ‘in an atmosphere where life is considered more important than art – where life is itself an Art’.

Those last words could be the strapline for ‘Charmed Lives in Greece’ at the British Museum. It focuses on three friends – Craxton, Patrick Leigh Fermor and Nikos Hadjikyriakos-Ghika – who met just after the Second World War and remained close for almost 50 years thanks to a shared attachment to the pleasures of Greek life. Through artwork, letters, photographs and notebooks, the exhibition builds up a kind of group biography, structured loosely around the various homes they made for themselves.

Pine trees in Poros (1949), Nikos Hadjikyriakos-Ghika. Ghika Gallery, Benaki Museum, Athens

Pine trees in Poros (1949), Nikos Hadjikyriakos-Ghika. Ghika Gallery, Benaki Museum, Athens

The most spectacular of these was Ghika’s family villa on the island of Hydra, with its nine terraces dug into the steep hillside overlooking the harbour. Born in 1906, the son of a distinguished admiral, Ghika was an elegant and much-liked painter who had studied in Paris during his youth, returning to Greece in the 1930s. Like several of his generation, he brought modernist sensibilities to bear on the renascent national culture of the period, and was a busy presence in Greek life. He set about restoring the Hydra house in 1936 and with his first wife made it a stopping point for anyone and everyone.

Leigh Fermor and his girlfriend (later wife) Joan became regular guests after the war. Paddy, as he was known, was famous around Greece for his exploits with the Cretan resistance against the Germans. In the early 1950s he and Joan stayed at Ghika’s house for two years while Ghika was travelling, during which time Paddy (never a stranger to using other people’s houses as writing retreats) constructed most of Mani (1958), his book about the southern Peloponnese. A product of his near-exhaustless curiosity about Greek history and culture, Mani is full of the lyricism and ebullience that defined his prose. Quotations from his writings are displayed around the exhibition, as evocative in their way as the many images. It was Craxton who illustrated the cover for Mani, and he did the same for all of Leigh Fermor’s subsequent books.

Moonlit Ravine (early 1970s), John Craxton. Private collection © 2018 Craxton Estate/DACS

Moonlit Ravine (early 1970s), John Craxton. Private collection © 2018 Craxton Estate/DACS

Craxton, too, stayed for long periods at Ghika’s house. He was impressed by the way Ghika’s art fused Cubist and Byzantine elements, and their influence on each other is clear when you see their paintings side by side. They both enjoyed painting the dramatic Hydra landscape. Craxton developed a palette that included near-fluorescent greens and blues, using them to convey the heat and light of the Greek terrain. A Hydra panorama from 1963–67 and a Cretan ravine painting from the early 1970s are some of the exhibition highlights.

In 1960, Craxton moved permanently to Crete, occupying an old Venetian house in the port of Chania. A photograph taken by John Donat from Craxton’s terrace that year, with the artist’s aluminium teapot on the stone in the foreground, a few fishermen in the harbour below and the sea stretching out above to fill most of the picture, magnificently evokes the Cretan atmosphere. A year later Ghika’s house in Hydra burned down, and soon afterwards he and his second wife converted an old olive press in Corfu. Around the same time, the Leigh Fermors built a home on the Peloponnese coast, near Kardamyli. A photograph from 1965 shows Leigh Fermor in a traditional dance with the local masons. They lived there for two years before getting a phone line or electricity.

From left: Tom Fisher, Paddy, Joan , John Craxton, Margot Fonteyn, Frederick Ashton and Ruth Page

There is pleasure – and a pleasurable sense of envy – to be had in this. It will be a rare visitor who steps out of the central London traffic to see ‘Charmed Lives in Greece’ and does not come away wishing that they too could live in a house by the sea with no phone or electricity. But there is also, perhaps inevitably, something too idyllic about it all. Political context is non-existent: there is no mention of the devastating Greek Civil War of 1946–49, for instance. On a personal level, we learn almost nothing about either Joan Leigh Fermor or Ghika’s two wives, or of what went on in their marriages, or about the sources of the money that enabled their lifestyles. The result is undeniably charming, but also superficial.

This is particularly noticeable in the catalogue. Ian Collins contributes an excellent essay on Craxton in Greece, but elsewhere critical faculties seem to have been abandoned. Thank-you letters comprise a significant primary source, and not even Leigh Fermor can be interesting when tossing out those. The focus on houses and decoration is reminiscent of World of Interiors. Given that one of the author-curators, Michael Llewellyn-Jones, is a former British ambassador to Greece, it is no surprise that the whole thing occasionally feels like an act of Anglo-Greek diplomacy (a field in which the British Museum has not always excelled).

From the left: Nikos Hadjikyriakos-Ghikas, John Craxton, Barbara Hutchinson-Ghika, Patrick Leigh Fermor, Joan Leigh Fermor, 1958

Still, the book contains a wealth of archival documents and images, including some fine photographs that will be manna to Leigh Fermor’s many fans. Any exhibition that provides a chance to see Craxton’s paintings is enough to improve the mood. It’s in his Arcadian spirit that ‘Charmed Lives in Greece’ is best enjoyed.

Click this link to purchase a copy of John Craxton: A Life of Gifts 

Finding Bruce Chatwin


Today marks the birthday of Bruce Chatwin, born 13 May 1940. This was sent to me by the author Carol McGrath’s husband Patrick. It’s a reminder of the close friendship between Bruce Chatwin and Paddy, as well as the stunning scenery around Kardamyli. I’m hoping to visit again in September; maybe second time Covid lucky!

A visit to the beautiful spot in the Greek Mani where the author Bruce Chatwin’s ashes were scattered.

Carol McGrath is the best selling author of The Women of Hastings Trilogy – The Hand Fasted Wife, The Swan Daughter and The Betrothed Sister published by Accent Press. She presently lives in the Mani, not far from Paddy Leigh Fermor’s house.

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

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

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.”

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.

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…’”

The Passion of Christ goes digital – from Athen’s Byzantine and Christian Museum

I first discovered Paddy through my interest in Roman and Byzantine history. In fact through the excellent three volume work, Byzantium, of Paddy’s great friend John Julius Norwich. Some of you know that I run a parallel blog about Byzantium, and I thought that on this occasion I would share a recent post; I wondered how both Paddy and John Julius might have enjoyed it, and so, I hope, do you. If nothing else the music is sublime

In time for this (Orthodox) holy week period, the Byzantine and Christian Museum in Athens is offering a digital tour of some of its best works. 

This gold-embroidered Epitaphios (liturgical vestment) dated to 1751 from the famous workshop of Mariora in Constantinople stands out among other exquisite works of art in this digital exhibition which draws on the collections of the Byzantine and Christian Museum in Athens. Hidden in its linings, conservators found the original signatures of the embroiderer and of the person that donated it – Mariora and Timothea. The masterpiece of Byzantine art is a long-term loan from the Exarchate of Jerusalem in Athens.

The digital exhibition, which visitors to the museum’s website can view this week, is a 33-minute video featuring 95 works from the museum’s collections on the Passion, Burial and Resurrection of Christ, and is accompanied by some wonderful music.

This unique digital presentation of museum objects of different places, eras, styles and materials aspires to contribute to a more comprehensive understanding of the centuries-old illustration of the leading events of the Divine Economy, as described in the Scriptures. The works, mostly portable icons, are thematically distributed according to the chronological sequence of historical events and their theological symbolism, beginning with Lazarus’ Sabbath and ending with Easter Sunday.

 

The Joys of Greek Food – With Elizabeth David on her wartime culinary journey across Greece

This popped into my email this morning. Elizabeth David was a well known food writer of the 1950’s. She also knew Paddy, has a biography written by Artemis Cooper, and is up there with the list of British Philhellenes. I thought that it might keep you occupied as you commute from your bedroom to the lounge via the kitchen.

You can read the article in Neos Kosmos here.

If you do get lost on your new journey to work. Here is a useful map with some ideas for what to do this coming weekend.

Waugh and Patrick Leigh Fermor

Evelyn Waugh, c 1940

A little bit more on a post I made in 2016 – It took Joan to make him a gentleman.

Evelyn Waugh is quoted as describing Paddy and Joan Rayner (later his wife) as “the Nicotine Maniac and his girl.” The source for my post was Simon Fenwick. Recently I found something on the Evelyn Waugh Society website that offers us a little more information.

The quote appears in a November 1952 post card from Waugh to Diana Cooper, who as we know was a friend and greatly admired Paddy. The cryptic message seems to relate somehow to Leigh Fermor’s involvement in a 1949 visit to Mentmore Towers where Peter Beatty, possibly a mutual friend from Army days, apparently lived or was staying before his suicide. Waugh’s contemporaneous comment on that event in a letter to Nancy Mitford does not mention Leigh Fermor. Letters, p. 312.

Simon Fenwick’s note to me said:

…when they met Paddy may have been an officer but it took Joan to make him a gentleman. Paddy was totally undomesticated and remained so. He flooded baths and spilt drinks over sheets. He also smoked 100 a day, habitually set the bed on fire and woke up in clouds of smoke. In one of his letters Evelyn Waugh refers to Paddy and Joan as ‘the Nicotine Maniac and his girl’. Not unnaturally Joan and he had separate bedrooms although hers was invariably covered in cats which he wasn’t keen on. I suppose Paddy was quite a good advert for the fact that smoking doesn’t always kill you.

In her response to Waugh’s post card, Diana Cooper (also sensitive to Paddy’s smoking habits) referred to the pair as “the chimney and his girl.” see Mr Wu and Mrs Stitch, pp. 148-49.

Paddy’s birthday

Paddy would have been 105 today. Let’s take a moment to remember him.

Here are a few pictures from a colourful life.

 

The Lovers’ Wind

A Happy New year to all readers! At the recent launch of the English translation of Nicolas Bouvier’s So It Goes, our friends at Eland also marked the return of their Travellers’ Film Club by showing a film about Iran of which ‘Nicolas would probably approved’. If you have read Bouvier’s wonderful The Way of the World, you will know that Bouvier, and his artist friend Thierry Vernet, were forced by deep snow to over winter in the mountains of Iran. The Lovers’ Wind is a truly amazing film showing off a stunning and beautiful country with so many varying types of landscapes. Take an hour to watch it on your laptop, or, if you have a smart TV, you may find that you have the You Tube app available and can watch it on a larger screen.

The Lovers’ Wind (French: Le Vent des amoureux) is a 1978 French documentary film directed by Albert Lamorisse about the landscape of Iran. It was commissioned by the Shah of Iran as an exercise to show off the progress of his country, it certainly shows what a beautiful place it is. I wonder how much it has changed in those 40 years? Lamorisse was killed in a helicopter crash while filming some of the final scenes of the documentary near a dam. His widow and son completed the film, based on his production notes, and released the film eight years later in 1978. It was nominated for a posthumous Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.

Something newly discovered for Christmas – rarely seen painting of Paddy from Budapest

A portrait of Paddy done in Budapest in the 1960's

A portrait of Paddy done in Budapest in the 1960’s

I have been saving these images for some months now so that I could present them to you at Christmas; it is always good to have something new for Christmas!

Sent to me by a friend, the coat of arms is from the back of a chair that was in the von Berg house in Uri utca, Budapest when PLF stayed in 1934. It survived WW2, the Hungarian Revolution and Communism. There is a very detailed description of it in Between the Woods and the Water (pp 27, 29, 32 in the paperback edition). As we have written before:

Úri utca (Lord’s Street) is at the very heart of the Castle District and lining this ancient cobbled thoroughfare are the one-time palaces and townhouses of the old Hungarian nobility. Stop in front of number 15, a plain two-storey house, and you will be at the very core of Leigh Fermor’s Budapest. If the owner, Baroness Gloria von Berg is at home, you are likely to receive a warm welcome and a free tour of the very quarters in which PLF slept. It was her father, Baron Tibor von Berg who hosted him in 1934. From this hospitable house he explored Budapest in a way that few English travellers had achieved at that time.

The portrait is of Paddy done in Budapest during a visit he made there in the mid 1960s. It surfaced recently in the flat of an old friend of Paddy in Budapest, and has been seen before by very few people, and almost certainly its first appearance online. I hope that you enjoy it. How interesting that new items can emerge even after all these years.

The von Berg coat of arms from a chair at the house in Úri utca, Budapest

A coat of arms from a chair at the house of the von Berg’s in Úri utca, Budapest

Merry Christmas to you all, and thank you for your comments and support over this past year. We still average around 10,000 visits per month. I do encourage you to use the search facility (upper right of page); it is quite excellent. If you have something you wish to know about Paddy, tap it in and hopefully you will find something to interest and inform you from over 900 posts.

 

Event reminder – launch of So It Goes and return of the Travellers’ Film Club

As mentioned in our review of Nicolas Bouvier’s So It Goes, to celebrate its publication, Eland will be hosting a book launch at 6pm (with seasonal pop-up shop from 5pm) on Thursday 28th November, to be followed by the return of the Travellers’ Film Club at 7pm.

They will be showing a film which they feel honours the spirit of Bouvier, The Lovers’ Wind by Albert Lamorisse, an extraordinary film, shot entirely from the air in Iran in 1970. Join them at The Holy Redeemer Church Hall, 24 Exmouth Market, EC1R 4QE.

Entry is free but it’s helpful to rsvp: press@travelbooks.co.uk

The unmasking of Blunt

I read this today and had to share it. John Betjeman was a friend of Joan’s in her youth, and it was he who after staying at the house in Kalamitsi made the statement that we now recognise about the living room being “one of the rooms of the world.” So I have no hesitation in sharing something a little different. It might make you smile, which has to be a good thing!

By Richard Ingrams in The Spectator’s Books of the year – part two. Ingrams writes:

A book that gave me great enjoyment (for all the wrong reasons) was Harvest Bells: New and Uncollected Poems by John Betjeman (Bloomsbury Continuum, £16.99). The compiler, Kevin J. Gardner, professor of English at Baylor University, Texas, claimed that all the poems in the book had been subjected to his ‘rigorous scrutiny’; yet somehow a spoof Betjeman poem, published in Private Eye after the exposure of Anthony Blunt as a Russian agent in 1979 (for which I was partly responsible), had found its way into the professor’s ragbag of a compendium:

Who’d have guessed it? Blunt a traitor
And a homosexualist,
Carrying on with tar and waiter —
There’s a sight I’m glad I missed.

‘Betjeman,’ Gardner writes, ‘replicates the unmasking of Blunt in the exposure of his own subconscious feelings, which lurk behind a typical Betjemanesque facade of moral and aesthetic superficiality.’ It’s hard not to feel delighted when a pretentious academic (particularly an American one) comes a cropper in such a memorable way. And it’s not hard to imagine Betjeman, who would have hated this book, howling with laughter at the poor man’s discomfiture.

In fact we have our own unpublished Betjeman poem, written on the back of an envelope and now available online in Paddy’s archive at the National Library of Scotland.

Unpublished John Betjeman poem on back of envelope

Nicolas Bouvier – So It Goes: Travels in the Aran Isles, Xian and places in between

So It Goes coverPerhaps I have not read widely enough amongst the travel writing genre, or exposed myself to a wide enough variety of travel authors, but for my money, Nicolas Bouvier is one of the top travel writers of the twentieth century. At his best he surpasses Paddy, for he brings a rare sense of humour to his writing, something that Paddy, for all his marvellously detailed prose, is not noted for.

Some of you may have come across Bouvier by reading his best known work, The Way of the World, or perhaps you might recall a few mentions on this site, including, Armenia, Nicolas Bouvier and Paddy. It’s been over twenty-five years since a new work by Switzerland’s master travel writer has been translated and published in English. It would appear that Rose Baring, at that lovely publishing house, Eland, has made it her personal mission to get this collection of shorter travel stories published. I have enjoyed everything I have read so far, and I think you will too. Buy a copy for someone for Christmas. At 180 pages it is manageable for all. Don’t just take my word for it.

‘Nicolas Bouvier was a writer of rare grace and subtlety. Every essay here shimmers with imaginative insight and wry humour. He has long been known to cognoscenti. Now, perhaps, his stature will be more widely recognised: one of the most brilliant, penetrating and individual travel writers of his time.’ Colin Thubron

‘Bouvier writes with such verve and style and carries his erudition so lightly. This is the perfect literary travel companion for the Aran islands, Xian and point in between. The Japanese Chronicles are next on my list. Bravo Eland and Robyn Marsack for this brilliant translation.’ Natania Jansz, publisher of Sort of Books

‘Passionate curiosity, appropriate seriousness and a comic sense are kept in balance by a wide, tolerant and most unusual cast of mind. He has the intuitive gift of capturing landscapes, atmospheres and personalities in a flash, and he finds himself totally at home in the heart of heterodoxy and strangeness […] he catches scenes and atmospheres with a painter’s eye and a poet’s ear.’ Patrick Leigh Fermor in his introduction to the first English edition of L’Usage du Monde.

Rose Baring, in her publisher’s foreword to So It Goes, explains what drove her to get this lovely collection translated into English by Robyn Marsack, the final part of Eland’s homage to Bouvier:

Only twice have I read a travel book and immediately wanted to speak to the author. The first time it was Ogier de Busbecq’s Turkish Letters, and I was well aware that I would never get through to the sixteenth-century Habsburg ambassador to the court of Suleyman the Magnificent. The second time was when I finished The Way of the World by Nicolas Bouvier in 2006. It didn’t take long to discover that Bouvier had died in 1998, and I entered a period of mourning for this man I had never met.

Despite his brilliance, Bouvier had largely slipped back beneath the Anglophone waves. Tracking down and publishing the works which had been translated – The Way of the World, The Japanese Chronicles and The Scorpion-Fish – allowed me to spend time with his words if nothing else. I tried, and largely failed, to trace the field recordings he had made of music from Zagreb to Tokyo. I looked at the images he had collected from around the world, the photographs he began to take in Japan in the 1960s, the poetry he wrote. I watched, much more than once, the film made about him in 1993, Le hibou et la baleine, and other snippets on the internet. I still long to have met him, and feel quite envious of the translator of these stories, who did.

So It Goes is the final element of Eland’s homage to this exceptional chronicler of the world – a selection of his shorter pieces of travel writing, and an essay on the childhood which catapulted him into the world equipped with such fertile curiosity. It contains all the hallmarks of his particular genius: an acute, painterly eye for the details which escape many others, an ear attuned as much to the qualities of a wind or the soft exhalation of a carthorse as to the nuances of conversation, and a willingness to open himself totally to the experience of a place, even when it threatens to unhinge him.

The title, So It Goes, is a phrase which crops up like a mantra throughout the book. Bouvier borrowed it from Kurt Vonnegut, whose writing he hugely admired. In Slaughterhouse Five (1969), the phrase implies that even faced with the horrific destruction of war, no good will come of shirking the truth. Bouvier is as good as his word.

Rose Baring

Extract from So It Goes
Scotland: Travels in the Lowlands

‘I ate some mussels with French fries in the dimly lit saloon bar, back turned on a huge pool-table where three couples were playing, their laughter high-pitched and loud, as though the inn belonged to them. The women, absurdly made-up for such an out-of-the-way place, pocketed their balls, fags in their mouths. The owner and his wife, who seemed to know them well, greeted each win with smarmy compliments. After a bit they came to my table with a bottle and three goblets. They seemed more fragile than the glass. I said, ‘A nice place you have here,’ meaning, ‘The natural surroundings are enchanting.’ She leaned towards me and whispered in my ear, ‘They kill me – this whole damn business is killing, simply killing,’ and disappeared into the kitchen, dabbing her eyes with her white apron. He remained. He told me he’d been trying to put the place back on its feet for several months, without success, and that his wife couldn’t stand it any more. Then, I don’t know why, he talked about the death of the poet Robert Burns (that colossal genius whose eyes shone with drink) in the doll’s house that the Customs administration, by whom he was employed, had offered him in Dumfries as a mark of their esteem. As he spoke, big tears rolled down his cheeks. I know that Burns makes the whole of Scotland cry, but there was something more going on here. I instinctively touched the back of his hand with my fingertip; he clasped mine and held it between his enormous paws for the time it took to swallow back something rising in his throat. What was he struggling against? I remembered the unexpected scene from several hours earlier: those two lost and frantic girls, their hair crested with red, opposite the unsightly woman calmly making an effort to set them back on their feet. Precarious, flawed little lives beneath the sky, a glittering sky tonight: theirs, hers, mine too. All looking, with what help we could find, for an honourable way out. So it goes.’

You can purchase So It Goes from Eland here. Why not treat yourself and buy The Way of the World at the same time?

To celebrate the publication of Nicolas Bouvier’s So It Goes Eland will be hosting a seasonal pop-up shop from 5pm on the 28th November, to be followed by the return of the Travellers’ Film Club at 7pm. They will be showing a film which they feel honours the spirit of Bouvier, The Lovers’ Wind by Albert Lamorisse, an extraordinary film, shot entirely from the air in Iran in 1970. Join them at The Holy Redeemer Church Hall, 24 Exmouth Market, EC1R.

Watch Bouvier talk about his favourite books in 1993.

Nomad – reminder, you have five days left to watch

Just a quick reminder that the Werner Herzog film about Bruce Chatwin is only available until Saturday 26th October on iPlayer. It is really quite absorbing, combining Chatwin’s often beautiful text with Herzog’s amazing cinematography; sometimes it is as if time stands still as we observe landscapes or wait for interviewees (especially when discussing Songlines) to respond.

Watch it here.

Read the original blog article here.

Nomad: In the Footsteps of Bruce Chatwin

Because of the close friendship between Paddy and Bruce Chatwin, this blog has often highlighted material about the controversial, but acclaimed travel writer who died of HIV in 1989. I have just come across a programme on BBC iPlayer which I hope that many of you can access (is iPlayer still restricted by geography?), as it is a short film by the great German film-maker, Werner Herzog, paying homage to Chatwin.

Nomad: In the Footsteps of Bruce Chatwin was first shown last Saturday on BBC 2 and is now on iPlayer for the next 27 days. I hope that you find time to watch the film (85 mins long) which you can find here. iPlayer does require registration. The blurb is as follows:

When legendary writer and adventurer Bruce Chatwin was dying of Aids, his friend and collaborator Werner Herzog made a final visit to say farewell. As a parting gift, Chatwin gave Herzog the rucksack that had accompanied him around the world.

Thirty years later, carrying the rucksack, Herzog sets out on his own journey, inspired by Chatwin’s passion for the nomadic life. Along the way, Herzog uncovers stories of lost tribes, wanderers and dreamers.

He travels to South America, where Chatwin wrote In Patagonia, the book that turned him into a literary sensation, with its enigmatic tales of dinosaurs, myths and journeys to the ends of the world. In Australia, where he and Chatwin first met, Herzog explores the sacred power of the Aboriginal traditions that inspired Chatwin’s most famous book, The Songlines. And in the UK, in the beautiful landscape of the Welsh borders, he discovers the one place Chatwin called home.

Told in Herzog’s inimitable style – full of memorable characters and encounters – this is a portrait of one of the 20th century’s most charismatic writers, which also offers a revealing insight into the imagination and obsessions of one of the 20th century’s most visionary directors.

If you would like to find other Bruce Chatwin articles on the blog, take a look here.

You might like to revisit our friend Jasper Winn’s walk when he retraced Herzog’s amazing winter 500 mile walk from Munich to Paris in 1974 to save his friend’s life. Listen via the link here.

Terrific Fun – The Short Life of Billy Moss: Soldier, Writer and Traveller by Alan Ogden

“Billy” Moss with his Russians

With grateful thanks to Alan Ogden and Gabriella Bullock for permitting me to share this with you. It is the first extensive attempt at a biography of William Stanley Moss MC, known to us as “Billy” Moss, the second-in-command to Paddy during the Kreipe kidnap, and also author of a number of books including Ill Met by Moonlight and its sequel War of Shadows.

A full pdf of this with extensive footnotes is available to download and print here. A slightly shorter version, edited for the 2018 Coldstream Gazette, and also downloadable as a pdf is here.

by Alan Ogden

The Fates had at first been kind to Billy Moss. Born into a privileged background and brought up by devoted parents, he was good looking, athletic and a precociously talented writer; he had penned his first book Island Adventure by the time he was fifteen. With a languid charm and a playful self-deprecation typical of his era, Billy had every chance of succeeding in whatever career he chose to pursue. Then, three months after his eighteenth birthday, a reluctant Britain declared a state of war with Germany and his future was no longer a matter of choice; it was a day that was to impact on him for the rest of his life.

Childhood, boyhood and youth

Billy’s father, Stanley Moss, was born in Japan in 1875. The son of Charles D. Moss , the Chief Clerk and Registrar of H.B.M.’s Court for Japan, Stanley was a successful businessman, making and losing a fortune three times over. At the age of forty, Stanley married Natalie Galitch, a Russian national eighteen years his junior born in Nikolayevsk-on-Amur, at that time a busy port in Eastern Siberia. Her father at one point was the mayor of Harbin, a city of 60,000 which had been built during the construction of the Chinese Eastern Railway [1897-1902] that linked Vladivostok with Chita.

An only child, Billy was born in Yokohama on 15 June 1921 and two years later, after a devastating earthquake levelled most of the city – ‘the house was wrecked and after spending one week on the hill above the house with no protection and sleeping in the open air [we] were taken off by American destroyer’ – the Moss family made their way to Kobe, then to Shanghai and from there to England. It was to be the first of many such journeys; by the time he was a teenager, he calculated he travelled two and a half times around the world, including a return journey to Japan in 1927/28.

Schooling started for Billy at the age of five; at The Hall School in Weybridge he was viewed as ‘a most promising child’ and at St Dunstan’s School in Finchley Road, he received a similar appraisal the following year. From there, he was sent to Lydgate House School in Hunstanton in Norfolk where he made an excellent impression. On his leaving, the headmaster wrote to his parents that ‘he had been a fine little fellow, has proved himself most capable and loyal as Head Boy’. With a wide range of interests such as art, theatre, cinema, and music, together with sports such as cricket, football, boxing, and tennis, Billy soon settled in to his public school, Charterhouse, set in the Surrey countryside outside Godalming.

In his final year at Charterhouse, with the help of two friends, he produced Congress, a school magazine to which he invited illustrious Old Carthusians to contribute. Many accepted with the exception of Robert Graves who wrote a testy letter of refusal – ‘Dear Mr Editor, Sorry: I have no story and don’t write articles and the chief connexion I have with the school is a recurrent nightmare that I am back there again…’ The one and only issue with a print run of 1,000, and illustrated by Billy, was by any standards a considerable success. It included fiction by Richard Hughes of High Wind in Jamaica fame; a history of the Boer War by Lord Baden Powell; humour by Ben Travers and W.C.Sellar of 1066 and All That; reminiscences of actors Aubrey Smith and Richard Goolden; articles by golfer Henry Longhurst and travel writer Henry Baerlein; and Lieutenant-Commander Scourfield’s account of the mining of HMS Hunter off Spain.

Stanley Moss, having lost his first fortune in the Yokohama earthquake disaster, had worked hard to accrue a second, only to lose it in the Wall Street Crash of 1929. A third foray into Japanese mining proved successful until the Japanese government sequestered his assets. Stanley died suddenly in 1938. They had been a close-knit family, travelling together to many parts of the world. Billy found he felt the loss of his father more acutely as time went on than he did at first.

He and his mother were left in relatively straightened circumstances and the fees for his final year at Charterhouse were paid by his uncle, the diplomat Sir George Moss, later Adviser on Chinese Affairs to SOE’s Delhi Group.

On leaving school in July 1939, Billy accompanied his mother together with her sister, Olga, and her brother-in-law on a trip to Riga. Leaving Tilbury on 3 August, they arrived in Gothenburg and after a brief stopover in Stockholm, they reached Riga on 7 August. Almost immediately they found themselves caught up in the chaotic events that surrounded the British declaration of war against Germany on 3 September. Running perilously low on money, they left Riga on 7 September and reached Stockholm where they caught a train to Oslo. After several adventures in search of a ship, they ended up in Bergen where they found a passage to Newcastle. Their ship, The Meteor, once the Kaiser’s yacht, sailed at 11.30 p.m. with over 200 passengers on board, most of who slept on deck in fear of being torpedoed by a German U-boat . The very next day Billy started work as a trainee accountant with The British American Tobacco Company , which had recently relocated from London to Egham after the Ministry of Supply had requisitioned its Westminster Head Office. After finding digs in Staines, Billy worked for the company until the New Year of 1941 when he joined the Army.

Off to war with the Coldstream Guards

Enlisting in the Coldstream Guards, one of Britain’s oldest and most distinguished regiments, Billy started his military career at the Guards Depot in Caterham, the home of ‘spit and polish’, and moustachioed Sergeant Majors with a variety of encouraging phrases. Accepted for officer training, he progressed to Sandhurst in April and by the beginning of August was gazetted Second Lieutenant Emergency Commission . Soldiering on the home front at that time was somewhat akin to peacetime; King’s Guard at St James’s Palace, cocktail parties, deb dances and a spell with the holding battalion at Chequers . In his diary, he noted ‘it had been wonderful staying at Chequers at a time when every word spoken by Churchill was gospel and thrilling to see him “off duty” and to speak with him and eat and drink with him and understand him and his ways’. A period of guarding Rudolf Hess at Mytchett Place in Surrey was followed by a posting to the 6th battalion before finally being sent overseas in August 1942 to join the 3rd battalion. As Billy put it, ‘there had been the blitz, and yet we had all been so gay – theatres, night-clubs, restaurants and riotous weekends’. Continue reading

Paddy’s sister, Vanessa, by her son Miles

Vanessa Fenton (nee Fermor) relaxing in India (copyright by Miles Fenton 2017)

Vanessa Fenton (nee Fermor) relaxing in India (copyright by Miles Fenton 2017)

Paddy’s nephew Miles Fenton sent me this photograph of a painting he did of his mother, Paddy’s sister Vanessa, relaxing in a chair in India. We are indebted to Miles for this.

Miles lives in Canada and is an artist. He has contributed a number of photographs and comments to the blog over the years.

Lives remembered: Colonel David Smiley

David Smiley (left) and “Billy” McLean in Albania 1944

This article has no credit but I think from the Times. David Smiley is to me one of the most fascinating characters from the days of SOE and the unique group that assembled at Tara under Sophie Tarnowska. Smiley was a hard fighting soldier who excelled as an irregular. You can read more about him in obituaries from The Times and the Telegraph. If you can find a copy of his book, Albanian Assignment, I thoroughly recommend it.

Andrew Tarnowski writes: Your record of the passing of Colonel David Smiley (obituary, Jan 14) should not be without a mention of his part in one of the most glamorous and eccentric episodes of the Second World War: life at the Villa Tara in Cairo during 1943-44. He was one of a boisterous handful of dashing young SOE officers who lived between missions for several months at the villa they called Tara in Zamalek, on Gezira island. Under the presiding genius of Countess Sophie Tarnowska, a young and beautiful refugee Polish aristocrat, it became a centre for high society of all nationalities, with parties that ended, as often as not, with an orgy of broken glasses, pistols fired at the ceiling and smashed windows.

“We lived on a lavish scale,” Col Smiley wrote later, “and Tara became notorious for its riotous parties and for the eccentric behaviour of its occupants. It became my second home, and the time we spent there was the happiest and most amusing of the whole war.”

Patrick Leigh Fermor, one of the inmates, recalled Smiley’s arrival at Tara with Billy McLean from their exploits in Abyssinia, Greece and Albania. “Cavalry sabres stuck out of the bedrolls the suffraghis lugged upstairs . . . and assegais and strange Ethiopian swords stuck out as well, pre-Albanian trophies from the wild tribal levies they had commanded all through the Abyssinian Campaign,” he wrote in an account of life at Tara.

When I interviewed Smiley for a book in 1997 he told me that the famous kidnapping of the German General Kreipe on Crete in 1944 by Billy Moss and Leigh Fermor (recorded by Moss in his book Ill Met by Moonlight) was planned at Tara. Billy, who later married Sophie Tarnowska, and Leigh Fermor dreamt up the plan one night at a nightclub, the Club Royal de Chasse et de Pêche, and then Smiley remembered that they all worked out the details.

“We all planned that particular operation in the bathroom at Tara. We were all pretty well stark naked and on the wall was steam; the walls were tiled. I remember we were drawing with our fingers on the wall, a sort of road here; we’d be able to stop the German general’s car there; we’d have a covering party there — all that sort of stuff. But it was all in the bathroom.”

I think their life at Tara, perhaps, gives us a glimpse of the spirit of those men. It shows that fine soldiers as they were, they were also lots of fun.

Obituary from 2006 – George Psychoundakis the Cretan Runner

George Psychoundakis during the Resistance

The wartime resistance fighter and SOE courier George Psychoundakis, who became a writer and literary translator, has died in Chania, Crete, at the age of 85 (2006 obituary). He won international fame in 1955 with the publication of his memoir of the Nazi occupation of his homeland, The Cretan Runner, which was translated with inimical lyricism by Patrick Leigh Fermor (later Sir Patrick), who had been parachuted on to the island to help organise the resistance.

By Simon Steyne

First published in the Guardian 21 February 2006 (and later corrected – see below)

Born in the mountain village of Asi Gonia, George had only a brief schooling before becoming a shepherd, a craft that made him familiar with the island landscape’s every feature. He joined the resistance as soon as the airborne German invasion of Crete began on May 20 1941, and operated as a messenger for Leigh Fermor, who took over command of the underground forces in western Crete from Xan Fielding in January 1942. Leigh Fermor’s wartime exploits became widely known through his own writings and Dirk Bogarde’s portrayal of him in the 1957 film, Ill Met by Moonlight, about the kidnapping of the German commander General Karl Kreipe.

George’s memoir told the story of the German occupation and the Cretan resistance from the time of the invasion to the island’s liberation on May 23 1945. His effortlessly poetic account reflected a passionate love of his homeland and its people, a geologist’s and botanist’s eye, the wonder of a young shepherd’s experiences during furlough in Egypt and Palestine, chortling bemusement at the habits of the upper-class British agents, and deep comradeship with his fellow resistance fighters – not least Manoli Paterakis and “Michali” (Leigh Fermor’s codename), who remained his lifelong friends.

George and I got to know each other in Crete in 1990. At our first meeting, he held up his map stolen from a German guard post. Against the lamp, the light shone through the pinholes left by the flags charting troop movements – and smiling with typical wryness, he displayed the helmet he had also taken from the guard “after I’d slit his throat” (an incident not recounted in his book). As a student of the German resistance, I had interviewed communists and social democrats who had been anti-fascists long before the war. But when I asked George why he had immediately joined the resistance in Crete, he looked at me as though I was from another planet and replied with one word: “philopatria” – love of my country.

George Psychoundakis in 2004(?)

George was imprisoned after the war because there was no record of any Greek military service, and in those 16 months he wrote his memoir in exercise books filched by Leigh Fermor from the British School in Athens. Dispatched to fight in the civil war for two further years, he finally returned to his village. His sheep had been stolen in 1941 – he once offered me the ruined hut to rebuild as a home in Crete – and, soon embroiled in a family feud that was to dog the rest of his life, he began a period of isolated existence as a charcoal-burner.

He worked as a navvy and was even an extra in the 1964 film, Zorba the Greek. But later, George – no leftist – was supported by friends in high places in the conservative Nea Demokratia party. Partly through that patronage and, with evident irony, in 1974 he and his friend Paterakis became groundsmen at the German war cemetery at Maleme. As he reportedly said, “I’m surrounded by Germans, but none of them will talk to me.” But George’s long service at the cemetery affirmed his respect for the war dead; he knew what life was worth.

The Cretan Runner brought George little wealth and also irritations. Some on the island appeared to resent the greater recognition he enjoyed than others who had fought. John Murray published the first English edition, but it was pirated by Greek publishers who sold many copies for which George received no royalties. Penguin reprinted the book in 1998. His translation of Homer’s Odyssey from the ancient Greek into a modern Cretan dialect was published, to much acclaim, in 1979.

May 1991 saw the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Crete, and the commemorations included an exhibition at the National Army Museum in London. Its deputy director, David Smurthwaite, and I arranged for George and his wife, Sofia, to come to the royal opening, and during the week he visited Winston Churchill’s country home at Chartwell, Kent. George always had a deep affection and admiration for the wartime British and New Zealanders; Churchill and General Bernard Freyberg, the allied commander on Crete, were his heroes, and he had his photograph taken standing by a picture of Freyberg.

Visiting George was remarkable. Apart from lazy meals in tavernas run by his extended family and at home (memorably including a kid, slaughtered and grilled for us at his daughter’s house), lubricated by home-made rakis and everyday stories, there were times of sadness and almost farcical humour. One moment he was recounting the death of comrades or pointing to villages in the Amari valley burnt in reprisal for the Kreipe kidnapping; the next he was yelling for me to stop the car. “Here,” he said, with a grin that betrayed both pride and mischief, “disguised as a woman, I took a donkey loaded with explosives through a German checkpoint.”

He is survived by Sofia, a son and two daughters, and four grandchildren.

· George Psychoundakis, resistance fighter and author, born November 3 1920; died January 29 2006.

The following correction was printed in the Guardian’s Corrections and clarifications column, Friday March 3 2006.

In the obituary above we said that Patrick Leigh Fermor parachuted into Crete to help organise the resistance. In fact he arrived at Crete by sea. We said Leigh Fermor “filched” from the British School in Athens the exercise books in which Psychoundakis had written his memoir of the Nazi occupation. In fact he first saw them in 1951 when Psychoundakis himself showed them to him. The villages in the Amari valley were not burned in reprisal for the kidnapping of the German General Kreipe; he had been kidnapped several months earlier.

The Extraordinary Life of Mike Cumberlege SOE

Great to have been contacted by Robin Knight the author of this book about a truly brave friend and colleague of Paddy’s.

This first-ever biography of Lt. Cdr Mike Cumberlege DSO & Bar, Greek Medal of Honour, murdered in Sachsenhausen concentration camp in February-March 1945, recalls a man who was ‘truly Elizabethan in character – a combination of gaiety and solidity and sensitiveness and poetry with daring and adventurousness – and great courage.’

Cumberlege came from a maverick sea-going family. He was highly resourceful and lived by his wits, skippering ocean-going yachts for wealthy Americans before the war. In 1936, he married Nancy; their relationship was close and, with the sea, forms a thread in The Extraordinary Life of Mike Cumberlege SOE.

From 1940, Cumberlege served in undercover roles in the Royal Navy in Marseilles and Cape Verde and was on the staff of General de Gaulle in London. Posted to Egypt in 1941 in the SOE, he formed a para-naval force of fishing vessels, took part in fighting in Greece, attacked the Corinth Canal, escaped from Crete, was wounded and returned three times to Crete clandestinely. On a second operation to destroy the Corinth Canal in 1943, he was captured. Tortured in Mauthausen concentration camp, he was transferred to Sachsenhausen and spent twenty-one months in solitary confinement.

The book contains unique material gathered from the family and from well-wishers in places as far apart as Ukraine, Australia and the US.

Robin’s book claims to offer:

  • Unique insights into the pre-1940 world of top-end ocean sailing in the Atlantic, Mediterranean and Aegean
  • Never-before published letters, images and original documents about SOE para-naval activities in the eastern Mediterranean during the Second World War
  • More than seventy previously unpublished photographs, many taken during the war by the subject
  • A story of love and hope, identity and belief, tragedy and evil

The book can be purchased at Fonthill Media for £17.50 or on Amazon

Billy Moss at the wheel of the Crusader, part way to Rarotonga, 1959

William “Billy” Stanley Moss, at the wheel of the Crusader, part way to Rarotonga, 1959

One of the great pleasures of running this blog is that I often receive contacts from people in all corners of the world on topics related to Paddy and his friends. Sometimes this can lead to putting people in touch who have lost contact, or being able to upload some interesting content for you all to enjoy.

In early October I was boarding a plane to Spain to walk a short leg of the Camino Frances from Leon to Santiago de Compostela, when I received an email from John Ewing. We have never met but he was trying to reach Billy Moss’ daughter, Gabriella Bullock, to pass on some items from a trans-Pacific journey completed by Billy in 1959. They have never met, and Gabriella was unaware that this information existed.

Hi Tom,
My name is John Ewing, I sailed with Billy Moss across the South Pacific in 1959. I have quite a lot of information and some photographs of the trip and Bill, which I would like to share with his family. It is likely that your society would have contact details for his very proud daughter Gabriella, I would appreciate your forwarding this email to her so that we may communicate by email.

I was able to put them in touch and I am grateful to John for sharing this photograph of Billy at the wheel of the yacht Crusader, on the way to Rarotonga, the most populous island of the Cook Islands. How wonderful is this?!

Please don’t hesitate to get in touch if you have something to share with the blog community of over 1,000 readers. See About and Contact for details.

Danube Institute video Noble Encounters

Many of you will have had a lot of enjoyment reading Michael O’Sullivan’s excellent book Patrick Leigh Fermor: Noble Encounters between Budapest and Transylvania which was published in the summer.

Michael gave an excellent presentation at the Transylvanian Book Festival back in September. In anticipation of the London launch next week of Patrick Leigh Fermor: Noble Encounters between Budapest and Transylvania, you may wish to dip in and out of this video by the Danube Institute featuring Michael and Dr. Tamas Barcsay (great-nephew of Miklos Banffy) talking about Paddy’s time in Hungary and the people he met there.

Find out more about the book and its background here.

You can purchase the book by clicking this link Patrick Leigh Fermor: Noble Encounters between Budapest and Transylvania.

Sir David Attenborough – A Poetic Eye: John Craxton on Cranborne Chase and Crete

Dorset County Museum’s art exhibition A Poetic Eye: John Craxton on Cranborne Chase and Crete was officially opened by Sir David Attenborough and Hilary Spurling OBE on the 27th March 2015. Many of us were able to see this either at the museum or when it moved to Salisbury.

This video includes an explanation by Sir David Attenborough on why he loves the work of John Craxton. Sir David has been a lifelong fan of Craxton’s work.

John Craxton (1922-2009) was one of the most interesting and individual British artists of the 20th century. His life story, starting with wanderings on Cranborne Chase, was as colourful as his later pictures of the light, life and landscapes of Greece, and illustrations for Paddy’s books..

This exhibition at Dorset County Museum in Dorchester charted Craxton’s journey from Cranborne to Crete, from early paintings of dark and menaced war-time landscapes to joyful scenes painted under bright Cretan skies.

Anna Sándor de Kénos – BBC’s Last Word

Anna Sándor de Kénos

BBC Radio 4’s Last Word, obituary programme, speaks to Dr Michael O’Sullivan, author of Patrick Leigh Fermor: Noble Encounters between Budapest and Transylvania, about the life of the late Anna Sándor de Kenos.

Go to position 22 minutes 10 seconds here for the start of the piece (may not be available outside of UK – sorry!).

Paddy the Great, king of Greece

From the April 2018 edition of The Oldie magazine, a remarkable podcast interview with the late John Julius Norwich to celebrate the Charmed Lives in Greece retrospective exhibition at the British Museum. John Julius recalls the special life and tremendous spirit of his friend Patrick Leigh Fermor, the man whom John Julius credits with opening up the Byzantine world to him – the subject of his first book on the subject Byzantium: The Early Centuries.

John Julius talks about Paddy’s incredible intellectual curiosity and lightness of touch: ‘All the time you were aware of being in touch with perhaps the most extraordinary man you’d ever met.’

Listen to the interview here.

Anna Sándor de Kénos, friend of Patrick Leigh Fermor – obituary

I have been able to find a copy of the obituary for Anna Sándor de Kénos and hope that you find it interesting reading.

Anna Sándor de Kénos, who has died aged 97, knew Patrick Leigh Fermor in Transylvania when he made his now legendary journey on foot, beginning in 1933, which took him from the Hook of Holland to Constantinople.

They met in July 1934 when he was travelling through Transylvania and Anna Sándor de Kénos was staying with some of her aristocratic neighbours.

This was the period immediately before Communism annihilated the almost feudal way of life of these ancient Transylvanian noble families which Leigh Fermor recorded in Between the Woods and the Water.

Anna Sándor de Kénos was close to the Csernovits family, one of whom, Xenia, became Leigh Fermor’s lover in 1934 and whom he later immortalised as Angela when the book appeared in 1986. She was also close to one of the book’s most enigmatic characters, Elemér von Klobusiczky, who features under the pseudonym Istvan.

Just over a decade later, on the bitterly cold early morning of March 3 1949, the majority of the Transylvanian aristocracy, including the Sándor de Kénos family, were arrested and taken away to internal deportation, Anna among them.

Like many Hungarians she fled Budapest in November 1956 when the Hungarian Uprising was still raging, settling first in New York. She spent the rest of her life helping many of her fellow dispossessed and impoverished aristocrats to settle in the United States. These included members of the Almásy family, one of whom was depicted in the film The English Patient (1996).

Her munificence extended to all Hungarians. However, it was with those still trapped under the repressive Ceausescu regime in her native Transylvania that Anna Sándor de Kénos’s real sympathy lay.

Though tiny in physical stature she earned the nickname “the titaness of Transylvania” for her fearless disregard for officialdom. This extended even to the intimidating Communist apparatchiks in Ceausescu’s Romania, which she revisited regularly from the mid-1960s.

Anna Sándor de Kénos, seated front left, with other members of the Transylvanian nobility in exile at the Plaza Hotel, New York, 1960

Anna Sándor de Kénos, seated front left, with other members of the Transylvanian nobility in exile at the Plaza Hotel, New York, 1960

Another favourite target was officious airport check-in clerks. Once, at Sarasota Airport, Florida, in the mid-1960s when checking in for a connecting flight that would eventually take her onward to Budapest, and laden down with massive overweight baggage containing clothes and food for the poor of Transylvania, she was ordered to pay a substantial overweight baggage charge.

Her response was to point to a lady on her left hand side and declare in a strong Hungarian accent: “Sir, as you can see, I weigh a mere 44 kilos, the lady on my left I reckon about 144, why don’t we split the difference in our combined weights, or perhaps you would rather have me take her with me and make her into a delicious Goulash for my poor people in Transylvania.” The charge was immediately dismissed.

At the age of 92 Anna Sándor de Kénos applied to a US bank for a 30-year mortgage of $100,000. Three years earlier she had walked the excruciatingly long route of the Csíksomlyó pilgrimage to a Marian shrine in central Transylvania, a journey that would have challenged pilgrims half her age.

It was an 
unusual undertaking because the pilgrimage is the highlight of the Catholic calendar in Transylvania and she was a devoted Calvinist. She told a friend that she did it because “anything that was banned under Communism must be good for the soul”.

Anna Sándor de Kénos, known as Annuska, was born on March 21 1921 in Deva, the capital of Hunedoara County, which had been ceded from Hungary to Romania by the 1920 Treaty of Trianon.

The scion of a 16th-century Transylvanian noble family who were long characterised by unflinching determination and optimism in the face of adversity, she was one of two daughters born to Béla Sándor de Kénos and his wife Etelka (née Buda de Galacz), who were then living on the family estate near Deva.

The family’s circumstances were, like so many other “class enemies”, greatly reduced from quite comfortable to an indigent state under Communism in Romania. Though deprived of all the privileges that would have come to one of her class, Anna Sándor de Kénos was never resentful of her reduced situation.

She worked in New York for the renowned cosmetics company created by her fellow Hungarian Ernö László, whose client list included the Duchess of Windsor, Greta Garbo, Ava Gardner and Jacqueline Kennedy, before giving it up to work as a theatre nurse.

Anna Sándor de Kénos in Budapest on her 90th birthday

Anna Sándor de Kénos in Budapest on her 90th birthday

She spent much of her life in Sarasota, keeping open house for Hungarian émigrés. On occasion she had as many as 50 guests for dinner. The only rule was that guests should make a donation for her charitable interests in Transylvania. After the collapse of Communism in 1989 she spent part of the year between Budapest and her native Deva.

Although Anna Sándor de Kénos never married, her name was linked for many years to a Transylvanian nobleman who also never married.

With the death of Anna Sándor de Kénos, the last living link to the Transylvania and Hungary of Patrick Leigh Fermor’s Between the Woods and the Water has gone. She is survived by her nephew, Daniel Lészay de Lésza.

Anna Sándor de Kénos, born March 21 1921, died May 18 2018