Tag Archives: Henry Miller

On This Day – Stuck in a Lift with a Turtle

Even though travel restrictions are easing I am not yet minded to risk it so I still have no new stories to post so I continue to go through my picture archives and see where I was on this day at any time in the last few travelling years.

On 20th August 2014 I was in Corfu in the Greek Islands with my family and a new pal…

Corfu Stuck in a lift with a turtle

There were a lot of steps at the Adonis and Asonitis Apartments so the sensible route to ground level was by the lift (elevator) so rather than tackle the challenging vertical concrete stairs my habit was to take the easy route.  Today, after clearing up the rooms as best I could before the hotel cleaners came in and passed out it was my job to follow the children down to the beach and bring with me the inflatable turtle.

We were on level four and I had to go to level minus one but somewhere between one and three the lift suddenly groaned, juddered then abruptly stopped and the lights all went out as though there was a sort of power failure.  I waited a minute or two (actually, if I am being completely honest, only a second or two) and then I descended into frantic panic.  I have always had a fear of being stuck in a broken down lift.  I jabbed at the control buttons and it was then that I noticed that they were all damaged and caved in as though someone had attacked them with a lump hammer so I could only conclude that this sort of thing was a regular occurrence.

I waited a minute or two (actually only a second or two) and then pressed the alarm button which emitted a deafening screeching sound rather like someone having open heart surgery without an anaesthetic but still nothing happened and I started to contemplate a day stuck in a broken down lift and wondering how I was going to pass the time.

I had no mobile phone (probably wouldn’t have worked anyway) no water, worse still no Mythos, no book to read, no knife and fork in case I was here for so long that I had to eat my green reptile companion and no weapon to defend myself with if it decided to try and eat me!

It was very hot and very humid stuck in the confines of a metal prison cell dangling from a cable and probably about to crash to the bottom in a nasty, messy accident.

Turtle in a lift

I pressed the alarm several times, blamed the turtle for our predicament and looked for a hatch in the roof like you see in a James Bond movie but the situation was hopeless so I put the turtle in one corner and told it to leave things to me and had another attempt at operating the controls.  The turtle didn’t seem to be as concerned as I was I have to say. Nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing, but then after a few moments the hopeful flicker of lights, a welcoming hum of air conditioning and a faintly reassuring whirr of machinery as the lift returned to the top floor and to my relief the doors thankfully opened.

After that lucky escape I wasn’t going to risk the lift again so I walked down the steps to the beach and at the poolside bar realised that I needed a Mythos.  I found a table in the corner for Turtle and me (after sharing a traumatic experience together we were bonding nicely now) and went to the bar and ordered a glass of beer and a dish of nuts for me and a beaker of plankton and a side of seaweed for Turtle.

I sat and enjoyed the Mythos and had ten minutes lad chat and then left and made my way to the beach where everyone wondered why it had taken me so long to get there and completely refused to believe my (admittedly) unlikely broken lift story and accused me of just hanging around the bar while I continued to protest that I had been literally hanging around in a lift!

Turtle

I didn’t do a great deal more for the rest of the day but Turtle had to entertain the children.  He was exhausted by the end of it all so I gave him a lift back to the apartment.

Corfu Turtle

This is my son with a Turtle in 1993…

003

Can anyone name the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles?

The Durrells in Corfu

Corfu Post Card 1984 Old Town

“If I could give a child a gift, I’d give him my childhood.” – Gerald Durrell

Every now and again, and I am not sure why, the story of the Durrell family living in 1930s Corfu gets remade into a television series.  There is a new one right now on the BBC in the UK.

I had visited Corfu almost thirty-five years ago but although on that occasion I toured the island from north to south and from east to west I came as a holidaymaker rather than a traveller and I saw everything but didn’t see anything.

Corfu Tonn Greece

This third visit to Kalami continued to nudge my memory and from what I can remember it hasn’t really changed a great deal at all – the Venetian elegance of Corfu town, the lush green vegetation of the interior, the twisting roads, the soaring mountains, the views that so enchanted Edward Lear and Henry Miller, the limestone ribbed bays where we spent our lazy days were all very much as I remembered them now and suddenly it didn’t really matter that I hadn’t paid attention to these details all those years ago because now my head and my camera were full to overflowing with all these unchanged images.

In my opening Corfu post I mentioned that I had prepared for the visit by reading Gerald Durrell’s ‘My Family and Other Animals’ which forms a sort of Corfiot trilogy alongside brother Laurence’s ‘Prospero’s Cell’ and Henry Miller’s ‘The Colossus of Marousi’  all written about many of the same places, and often the same people, but from quite different perspectives.

Gerald Durell Corfu Greece  Lawrence Durrell Corfu Greece

Previously I had stayed south of Corfu town in the resort of Perama where it turns out that Gerald Durrell lived with most of his family (his mother, brother and sister).  I say most of his family because although his book, ‘My Family and Other Animals’ (and the TV series) would have the reader believe that he lived there with all his family it turns out that he didn’t live with older brother Lawrence at all.

Lawrence and his wife Nancy lived some distance away in Kalami in the White House and curiously Gerald doesn’t even mention her once in any of his Corfu books possibly because they were written twenty years after the event and Lawrence and Nancy were long since separated and divorced.

Nancy Durrell

The White House claims an association with younger brother Gerald but it seems he never lived there at all.  In fact it is entirely possible that he never even visited the place because Perama is over forty kilometres away and eighty years ago there were no asphalt roads or cars or even public transport that would have made an afternoon visit comfortably possible.

White House Kalami

Gerald it seems was prone to extreme exaggeration and although his books are entertaining they miss the truth by a mile.  Actually I tired of them.  I enjoyed the first but the second was written when Gerald was in his fifties and had clearly lost touch with his childhood and with reality and I gave it up half way through.  He said himself that he didn’t enjoy writing them and only did so to make money to finance his naturalist expeditions and this I am afraid is blindingly obvious.

Gerald never mentions either that is mother Louisa was hopelessly addicted to the gin bottle.

I much preferred the work of Lawrence with his sublime descriptions of life in Corfu (and equally curiously he doesn’t ever mention the other members of his family who lived here at the same time), a diary of vivid memories that for me at least bring the place to life.  How wonderful it must have been to live in this place all that time ago and experience a life of bohemian indulgence.

Sadly the truth turns out to be that Lawrence was a misogynist, a bully and an abuser and the idyllic life he describes may only have been spasmodic or one sided.  Henry Miller refers at one point to ‘black eyes for breakfast’.  I find it a shame that a man who could write such elegant prose should also have such a darker, unpleasant side.

As for Henry Miller – I found the ‘Colossus of Maroussi’ rather self-indulgent and heavy going but whilst I have abandoned Gerald Durrell I will return to Miller.

Kalami Bay Corfu White House

I have one last comparison to make.  For ten years I have been in the habit of visiting the Cyclades Islands, specks of volcanic rock in the space between mainland Greece and Turkey and have gleefully declared them my favourites but now that I have been reunited with the Ionian Islands I have to reassess this opinion.  In ‘Prospero’s Cell’ Lawrence Durrell describes the sighting of a Cretan boat in the bay of Kalami and this seems to me to sum up perfectly the difference:

The whole Aegean was written in her lines…. She had strayed out of the world of dazzling white windmills and grey, uncultured rock; out of the bareness and dazzle of the Aegean into our seventeenth-century Venetian richness. She had strayed from the world of Platonic forms into the world of decoration.”

No words of mine could improve on that wonderful comparison of the harsh, barren Cyclades and the soft, abundant Ionian.   So which do I prefer – impossible now to say, perhaps it may even be neither but the Dodecanese instead which is where I am bound for next.

Island Hopping, Back Packing, Greek Islands, Paros

Journey To The North – Bishop Auckland

Witton Castle Durham

Land of the Prince Bishops…

Bishop Auckland in the northern County of Durham has always sounded to me like a place I should visit because a place with two names always sounds intriguing to me like Kings Lynn, Saffron Waldron and Westwood Ho!

Westwood Ho! incidentally has the distinction of being the only place name in England with an exclamation mark and this would be very impressive indeed were it not eclipsed by a parish community in Quebec, Canada called Saint-Louis-du-Ha! Ha! which has two!!

But I have never been and that is all the more surprising because this is Kim’s home town.

Kim of course has fond child hood memories of the place, now half a century away and like most of us she laments the passage of time and the erasure of childhood memories; from her description of modern day Bishop Auckland I was certain that I was going to be disappointed.

Escombe Methodist Church 1963

Kim, centre row, third from left (1963).  No designer clothes or replica football shirts, hand knitted cardigans and home haircuts – those were the days!

We began at Witton Castle, a crenulated fifteenth century manor house which became the centre of a mining estate three hundred years later but by the 1960s had fallen into derelict disrepair where Kim would play amongst fallen statuary and in haunted rooms but more recently has been purchased, repaired and transformed into a holiday park and a restaurant which Kim doesn’t approve of at all.

All the way around she kept telling me how it used to look and I was reminded of the assessment of Henry Miller about the reconstruction of the Palace of Knossos on the island of Crete – “There has been much controversy about the aesthetics of Sir Arthur Evans’s work of restoration.  I find myself unable to come to any conclusion about it; I accepted it as a fact.  However Knossos may have looked in the past, however it may look in the future, this one which Evans has created is the only one I shall ever know.  I am grateful to him for what he did…”

There is no real castle at Witton Park anymore, but there is history and I could smell that in the breeze that brushed past my face as we walked around the adjacent gardens.

Escomb Church Bishp Aukland Durham

Next we went to the village of Escomb, once a pit village where Kim grew up and spent her early childhood.  Her memories have been bulldozed away now in frenzied 1960s slum clearance housing improvement projects and the dismantling of the pit and anything associated with it but the main reason to visit Escomb is to see the seventh century Saxon Church, quite possibly the oldest and the finest example of its kind in the country although this claim is contested by Bradford-on-Avon in Wiltshire, Barton in Northamptonshire and Bradwell-on-Sea in Essex.

I liked this place and even though the heart of the village had been brutally ripped out fifty years ago there was a genuine sense of community, after looking around the interior of the church on the way out we chanced upon a local resident who was coming to polish the pews or arrange the flowers or whatever and after only a short introduction Kim and this lady where exchanging memories and comparing a list of local acquaintances.

I have seen this happen before, in 2008 in Pula in Croatia in a chance breakfast encounter in a hotel Kim recognised the local Durham accent of a fellow traveller and within two minutes had established that they came not just from the same county or the same town but from the same village, knew the same people and used to go to the same school – it is sometimes a very small world!

As we drove away back towards Bishop Auckland through woodland and pasture it was hard to imagine that this was once a huge industrialised area with both open cast and deep shaft mining but also a massive ironworks with a mill, which was one mile long and half a mile wide all of which has been demolished with little trace.

And so we finished in the town of Bishop Auckland  where Kim had painted a grim picture of decline and deprivation but I found a pleasant county town with an open market place and an especially fine Wetherspoon pub before moving on to the jewel in the Crown – Auckland Castle, the home of the Prince Bishop’s of Durham.

It turns out that until 2010 this was the official residence of the Bishop of Durham but strapped for cash the church decided to sell both the building and the collection of unique paintings inside until a local businessman stepped in and bought them both and now has grand plans to finance a proper restoration and make this place a major tourist attraction.  I am not so sure about that and was pleased to see it today before the swarms of visitors arrive and even Kim was forced to grudgingly concede that this intervention represents progress.

I liked Bishop Auckland and as I left I was determined to return again quite soon.

Have you ever been pleasantly surprised by a visit somewhere?

Aukland Castle Bishop Aukland Durham

Weekly Photo Challenge: Broken

Corfu Stuck in a lift with a turtle

There are a lot of steps at the Adonis and Asonitis Apartments in Corfu so the sensible route to ground level is by the lift (elevator) so rather than tackle the challenging vertical concrete stairs my habit was to take the easy route. Today it was my job to bring with me the inflatable turtle so it was a doubly sensible alternative this morning.

We were on level four and I had to go to level minus one but somewhere between one and three the lift suddenly stopped and the lights all went out as though there was a sort of power failure. I waited a minute or two (actually, if I am being honest, only a second or two) and then I descended into frantic panic. I jabbed at the control buttons and it was then that I noticed that they were all damaged and caved in as though someone had attacked them with a lump hammer so I could only conclude that this sort of thing was a regular occurrence.

Read the full story…

Corfu, My Family and Other Disasters – Assessment

Corfu Post Card 1984 Old Town

I had visited Corfu almost thirty years ago but although on that occasion I toured the island from north to south and from east to west I came as a holidaymaker rather than a traveller and I saw everything but didn’t see anything.

This second visit to Kalami in as many years continued to nudge my memory and from what I can remember it hasn’t really changed a great deal at all – the Venetian elegance of Corfu town, the lush green vegetation of the interior, the twisting roads, the soaring mountains, the views that so enchanted Edward Lear and Henry Miller, The limestone ribbed bays where we spent our lazy days were all very much as I remembered them now and suddenly it didn’t really matter that I hadn’t paid attention to these details all those years ago because now my head and my camera were full to overflowing with all these unchanged images.

In my opening Corfu post I mentioned that I had prepared for the visit by reading Gerald Durrell’s ‘My Family and Other Animals’ which forms a sort of Corfiot trilogy alongside brother Laurence’s ‘Prospero’s Cell’ and Henry Miller’s ‘The Colossus of Marousi’  all written about many of the same places, and often the same people, but from very different perspectives.

Gerald Durell Corfu Greece  Lawrence Durrell Corfu Greece

Previously I had stayed south of Corfu town in the resort of Perama where it turns out that Gerald Durrell lived with most of his family (his mother, brother and sister).  I say most of his family because although his book, ‘My Family and Other Animals’ would have the reader believe that he lived there with all his family it turns out that he didn’t live with older brother Lawrence at all.

Lawrence and his wife Nancy lived some distance away in Kalami in the White House and curiously Gerald doesn’t even mention her once in any of his Corfu books possibly because they were written twenty years after the event and Lawrence and Nancy were long since separated and divorced.

The White House claims an association with younger brother Gerald but it seems he never lived here at all.  In fact it is entirely possible that he never even visited the place because Perama is over forty kilometres away and eighty years ago there were no asphalt roads or cars or even public transport that would have made an afternoon visit comfortably possible.

White House Kalami

Gerald it seems was prone to extreme exaggeration and although his books are entertaining they miss the truth by a mile.  Actually I tired of them.  I enjoyed the first but the second was written when Gerald was in his fifties and had clearly lost touch with his childhood and with reality and I gave it up half way through.  He said himself that he didn’t enjoy writing them and only did so to make money to finance his naturalist expeditions and this I am afraid is blindingly obvious.

I much preferred the work of Lawrence with his sublime descriptions of life in Corfu (and equally curiously he doesn’t ever mention the other members of his family who lived here at the same time), a diary of vivid memories that for me at least bring the place to life.  How wonderful it must have been to live in this place all that time ago and experience a life of bohemian indulgence.

Sadly the truth turns out to be that Lawrence was a misogynist, a bully and an abuser and the idyllic life he describes may only have been spasmodic or one sided.  Henry Miller refers at one point to ‘black eyes for breakfast’.  I find it a shame that a man who could write such elegant prose should also have such a darker, unpleasant side.

As for Henry Miller – I found the ‘Colossus of Maroussi’ rather self-indulgent and heavy going but whilst I have abandoned Gerald Durrell I will return to Miller.

I have one last comparison to make.  For ten years I have been in the habit of visiting the Cyclades Islands, specks of volcanic rock in the space between mainland Greece and Turkey and have gleefully declared them my favourites but now that I have been reunited with the Ionian Islands I have to reassess this opinion.  In ‘Prospero’s Cell’ Lawrence Durrell describes the sighting of a Cretan boat in the bay of Kalami and this seems to me to sum up perfectly the difference:

The whole Aegean was written in her lines…. She had strayed out of the world of dazzling white windmills and grey, uncultured rock; out of the bareness and dazzle of the Aegean into our seventeenth-century Venetian richness. She had strayed from the world of Platonic forms into the world of decoration.”

No words of mine could improve on that wonderful comparison of the harsh, barren Cyclades and the soft, abundant Ionian.   So which do I prefer – impossible now to say, perhaps it may even be neither but the Dodecanese instead which is where I am bound for next.

Island Hopping, Back Packing, Greek Islands, Paros

Read here about all my Greek Island visits…

Click on an image below to scroll through the gallery…

 

Corfu, My Family and Other Disasters – Stuck in a Lift with a Turtle

Corfu Stuck in a lift with a turtle

“Marvellous things happen to one in Greece – marvellous good things which can happen to one nowhere else on earth”                                                                   Henry Miller – ‘The Colossus of Maroussi’

Every morning was a challenge rather similar I imagine to a US Navy SEALs advanced level assault course because I felt obliged to organise early manoeuvres and when everyone had left the rooms to give them a tidy and leave them in some sort of reasonable shape before the cleaners moved in.

Sally and the girls had rearranged their room in the way that they like it – rather like Belgium after the German Panzer division had passed through on the way to France in 1939 and this took some time to make presentable so generally I waited for everyone to leave for the beach, do a bit of tidying up and then have fifteen minutes with a cup of tea and sometimes, depending on how much work I had had to do, thirty minutes with two!

This particular morning I took the extended option.

There are a lot of steps at the Adonis and Asonitis Apartments so the sensible route to ground level is by the lift (elevator) so rather than tackle the challenging vertical concrete stairs my habit was to take the easy route.  Today it was my job to bring with me the inflatable turtle so it was a doubly sensible alternative this morning.

We were on level four and I had to go to level minus one but somewhere between one and three the lift suddenly stopped and the lights all went out as though there was a sort of power failure.  I waited a minute or two (actually, if I am being honest, only a second or two) and then I descended into frantic panic.  I jabbed at the control buttons and it was then that I noticed that they were all damaged and caved in as though someone had attacked them with a lump hammer so I could only conclude that this sort of thing was a regular occurrence.

I waited a minute or two (actually only a second or two) and then pressed the alarm button which emitted a deafening screeching sound rather like someone having open heart surgery without an anaesthetic but still nothing happened and I started to contemplate a day stuck in a broken down lift and wondering how I was going to pass the time.

Stuck in a broken down lift with a turtle!

I had no mobile phone (probably wouldn’t have worked anyway) no water, no Mythos, no book to read, no knife and fork in case I was here for so long that I had to eat my green reptile companion and no weapon to defend myself with if it decided to try and eat me!

It was very hot and very humid stuck in the confines of a metal prison cell dangling from a cable and probably about to crash to the bottom in a nasty, messy accident.

I pressed the alarm several times, blamed the turtle for our predicament and looked for a hatch in the roof like you see in a James Bond movie but the situation was hopeless so I put the turtle in one corner and told it to leave things to me and had another attempt at operating the controls.  Nothing, nothing, nothing but then a flicker of lights, a hum of air conditioning and a whirr of machinery as the lift returned to the top floor and the doors thankfully opened!

Corfu 2012

After that lucky escape I walked down the steps to the beach and at the poolside bar realised that I needed a Mythos.  I found a table for turtle and me (after sharing a traumatic experience together we were bonding now) and went to the bar and ordered a glass of beer and a beaker of plankton.

I offered a fifty euro note in payment and then came across another Greek peculiarity.  Shops, bars and restaurants have never got any change in the till.  Hand over anything bigger than a twenty and they freeze in panic and look at you as though you are trying to pay in Spanish doubloons or you are a Martian passing by and offering to pay in Moon Tokens.  If you don’t believe me next time in Greece take a look inside a cash till and all you will see is a couple of one cent coins, some disused drachma and a couple of rusty washers.

Anyway, we got the payment thing sorted out and I sat and enjoyed the Mythos and had ten minutes lad chat with the turtle and then left and made my way to the beach where everyone wondered why it had taken me so long to get there and completely refused to believe my (admittedly) unlikely broken lift story and accused me of just hanging around the bar while I continued to protest that I had been literally hanging around in a lift!

For the rest of the day we went through a familiar routine, swimming in the sea, riding on turtle while listening to the occasional drone of an outboard motor, the melodic flapping of pedalo paddle wheels and the gentle plop or rowing boat oars spearing the limpid sea before returning to the rooms and then a final swim in the pool before going out for evening meal.

At the next table tonight were a young couple who had probably been there some time judging by how much drink he had consumed and they worked their way through starters and main course and then just as the desserts arrived he did something completely foolish and produced a diamond ring and made a dramatic down on one knee proposal.  I wanted to intervene and say NOOOOOO! Don’t do it!  But it was all over in a flash, the offer made and accepted and they ate their baklava, drank the complimentary ouzo and disappeared into the night.  Luckily I didn’t have turtle with me so I couldn’t make the same mistake!

I imagine that sometime early next morning the poor man woke with a thumping headache and hazy memory and looking over at this girlfriend would be consumed by the thought “What’s that bloody sparkly thing on her finger?”

Corfu Turtle

Corfu, Journal and Picture Album

“Marvellous things happen to one in Greece – marvellous good things which can happen to one nowhere else on earth”, Henry Miller – The Colossus of Maroussi

Corfu: “this brilliant little speck of an island in the Ionian”, Lawrence Durrell – Prospero’s Cell.

“The Greek Earth opens before me like the Book of Revelations….The light of Greece opened my eyes, penetrated my pores, expanded my whole being.” Henry Miller – The Colossus of Maroussi

“Other countries may offer you discoveries in manners or lore or landscape; Greece offers you something harder – the discovery of yourself”, Lawrence Durrell – Prospero’s Cell.

Island Hopping 2006, In the Footsteps of Henry Miller

Rush for the ferry Koufonisia Greece

“Greece is what everybody knows….It is what you expect the earth to look like given a fair chance…. It stands as it stood from birth, naked and fully revealed.  It is not mysterious or impenetrable, not awesome, not defiant, not pretentious.  It is made of earth, fire and water.  It changes seasonally with harmonious undulating rhythms.  It breathes, it beckons, it answers.”         Henry Miller    

 Read the full story…