Tag Archives: Literature

The Huldufólk of Iceland

“This is a land where everyone is aware that the land is alive, and one can say that the stories of hidden people and the need to work carefully with them reflects an understanding that the land demands respect” –  Terry Gunnell, a folklore professor at the University of Iceland

We have moved on from Wroclaw in Poland and its street dwarfs so I thought you might like some pictures of the Huldufólk. the “hidden folk” of Icelandic folklore who live in a mystical landscape of mountain passes with peaks lost in the clouds, of arctic chill, windswept valleys, gnarled volcanic rock, wild moss and winter scorched meadows.

“It’s sort of a relationship with nature, like with the rocks. (The elves) all live in the rocks, so you have to. It’s all about respect, you know.” – Icelandic Singer Bjork.

In a land like this. of fire and ice, a place that is wild and magical, where the fog-shrouded lava fields provide a spooky landscape in which it is possible that anything out of the ordinary might lurk, stories flourish about the “hidden folk”.

According to Icelanders these are the thousands of elves who make their homes in the wilderness,  supernatural forces that dwell within the hallowed volcanic rubble and coexist alongside the 320,000 or so Icelandic people.

People in Iceland do not throw stones into the wilderness just in case they carelessly injure an Elf!

“It has caused a lot of arguments, as it’s something that’s very difficult to prove. Iceland is full of álagablettir, or enchanted spots, places you don’t touch – just like the fairy forts and peat bogs in Ireland. They’re protected by stories about the bad things that will happen if you do” – Terry Gunnell

If you are wondering where the Huldufólk are in my pictures? Well, according to Icelandic lore they are hidden beings that inhabit a parallel world that is invisible to human eyes, and can only be spotted by psychics and little children, unless they willingly decide to reveal themselves to people.

Sometimes however you can see their houses…

Have you been to Iceland – Have you seen the the Huldufólk?

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 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 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’ (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 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.

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

Weekly Photo Challenge: Eye-Spy

I-Spy books were small paperback books that were popular in the 1950s and 1960s.  Each book covered a subject such as I-SPY Cars, I-SPY on the Pavement, I-SPY on a Train Journey, and so on and so on and so on.

The object was to be vigilant and spot objects such as animals, trees, policemen, fire engines, sea shells etc. etc.  a bit like train spotting and they were recorded in the relevant book, and the more things you spotted this gained points.  More points were available for the more difficult spots.  Once you had spotted everything and the book was complete, it could be sent to Big Chief I-SPY for a feather and order of merit.

No, I kid you not! 

The books and the challenges were supposedly written by a Red Indian chief called Big Chief I-Spy who turned out to be a man called Charles Warrell who was a former school teacher and headmaster who came up with the idea of  I-Spy in 1948. He retired in 1956, but lived on until 26th November 1995 when he died at the age of 106.  For part of this time he also worked as an antiques dealer in Islington.

Those who played the I-Spy game became members of the I-Spy Tribe and were called Redskins.  The head office was variously known as the Wigwam by the Water or the Wigwam-by-the-Green.  Neither of these exotic sounding places were situated on the American Plains or in the Black Hills of Dakota, the former was located next to the Mermaid Theatre at Blackfriars and the latter was in London’s Edgware Road.

I had quite a collection of I-Spy books but to be honest I never finished any of them because some of the items were absurdly difficult to track down (how, for example, do you I-Spy fish unless you are a deep-sea fisherman working on a trawler or a scuba diver?) and I never got a single feather although I did join the club and had an I-Spy badge that I used to wear on the lapel of my school blazer.

The original first thirty-two I-Spy books were in black and white only and cost sixpence each and the titles were:

At the Seaside The Army
On the Farm The Wheel
History Sport
On a Train Journey People and Places
Dogs Musical Instruments
In the Country Men at Work
At the Zoo- Animals Antique Furniture
At the Zoo – Birds and Reptiles The Universe
In the Street Road Transport
On the Road Town Crafts
The Sights of London Country Crafts
Horses and Ponies The Sky
Ships and Harbours People in Uniform
Boats and Waterways Motorcycles and Cycles
Aircraft Bridges
Cars Sports Cars

Some of these books were extremely useful for parents, especially on long journeys.  For a very small cash investment there would be short periods of peace while children were preoccupied with spotting things –  ‘On a Train Journey’‘Road Transport’ and ‘Cars’ were good for this sort of thing.

On a long car journey my dad would invent his own I-spy games and challenge us to spot a red lorry, spot a black cow, spot a petrol station, in fact spot pretty much anything he could think of if it successfully kept us all quiet.  When he got desperate he would tell us to look out for the sea and when we were on the way to Cornwall or Wales he usually started this little distraction roughly at about Oxford which is of course just about as far from the coast as you can possibly get!  This was very optimistic because if you are familiar with the geography of England this is the equivalent of trying to spot the Caribbean Sea from Kansas City, the Hudson Bay from Calgary or the Pacific Ocean  from Alice Springs.

When you finally got there, ‘At the Seaside’ was very useful for parents because they could send you off for hours at a time staring into rock pools and poking around at the shoreline to find things while they sat and enjoyed the sunshine.  I suppose some would be frowned upon today because they encouraged kids to go off to places that parents today would consider dangerous such as ‘In the Street’, ‘Boats and Waterways’, ‘Bridges’ and especially, probably the most dangerous of all, ‘Wild Fruits and Funghi’!

i spy wild flowers

Some were useless of course and we didn’t buy them, I mean what chance was there of completing ‘The Army’ I-Spy book unless your dad was a squaddie? And how were most normal kids supposed to spot ‘Aircraft’?  I never went near an airport until I was twenty-two and neither did most of my pals.

Some people took this all a bit too seriously and here is an entry that I have found on www.doyouremember.co.uk : “Glad to know that others remember the I-SPY Books. I used the books regularly as a child in the 1950s and 1960s (and beyond), was a member of the I-SPY Tribe and won various prizes, including a wigwam (or tent!) I led my own local “patrol” and we met the second Big Chief I-SPY, Arnold Cawthrow, on a number of occasions. He visited my home in Barking twice and mentioned me and my Red Arrow Patrol in a number of his Daily Mail columns. I kept in touch until he retired in 1978 and remember the whole I-SPY experience with much affection.”

I-Spy a sad man!

What sad games do you remember playing as children? How did you keep kids amused on long car journeys?

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…

Ireland, The Preview

Ireland Map

I have just returned from Ireland and will be posting about the journey soon, but before I get around to it this is a little taster…

Ireland Guiness

Ireland Father Ted Tour Craggy Island Parochial House

Galway Street Entertainment

Ireland Cliffs of Moher

Ireland Ennistymon Bright Colours

 

Favourite Blogs of 2013

Spain Tapas Bar

CHEERS!  – ¡SALUD! –  YIAMAS

I have had a really good year at the keyboard and posting my blogs but I have also enjoyed reading other work just as much.  Some catch the eye straight away, some can be found indirectly through others, some appear like shooting stars and disappear without a trace whilst some continue to get better and better.

I thought it would be nice to share with you my favourite blogs of 2013.  Seven of my favourites reappear on the list from 2012 but there are three new ones which replace some that have sadly slipped away into blogging oblivion!

Don’t panic anyone – this is not an Awards Blog so it does not come with any requirement to display anything, reveal embarrassing facts or to pass it on to anyone else.

They are in no particular order except this one, which is my favourite.  We have fallen out with each other a couple of times but I still keep going back for another spat and for more of this post about ex-pat life in Gibraltar:

http://roughseasinthemed.wordpress.com/

Author Richard Tulloch writes about his travels:

http://richardtulloch.wordpress.com/

Adrian shares his excellent pictures:

http://adrianharveyphotography.com/

I like this one even though there seemed to be fewer posts this year:

http://abitofculture.net/

Great pictures here from Gunta in the USA, especially the surf and the sunsets:

http://gusgus64.wordpress.com/

A lovely recollections and memories blog:

http://opobs.wordpress.com/

Great posts about one of my favourite countries – Portugal – and a lot more besides, including a shared obsession with windows and doors:

http://restlessjo.wordpress.com/

and then a new one for 2013 – a gentle pot-pourri of good stories from an Englisman living the good life in Turkey:

http://unclespikes.wordpress.com/

Also new for this year more travel tales from:

http://gallivance.net/

and finally a blog  from Canada with some excellent short stories:

http://letscutthecrap.wordpress.com/

Apologies if I didn’t include you in my top ten this year, it’s nothing personal and I still enjoy your posts – I will review the list at the around the same time next year!

One final thing – this is not really a blog so I can’t include it in my blogging top ten but I have to mention my friend Dai Woosnam who comments regularly on my posts and writes an excellent monthly on-line magazine full of articles, anecdotes and links called Daigressing – if you write to him at DaiW@gmx.com, then he will add you to the mailing list.

One final, final thing – if any of you in my top ten get ‘Freshly Pressed’ then you will be removed from it immediately! 

KEEP POSTING…

Writing Paper and Pen

Weekly Photo Challenge: Free Spirit

Windmills of La Mancha

”Somewhere in La Mancha, in a place whose name I do not care to remember, a gentleman lived not long ago, one of those who has a lance and ancient shield on a shelf and keeps a skinny nag and a greyhound for racing…

…His fantasy filled with everything he had read in his books, enchantments as well as combats, battles, challenges, wounds, courtings, loves, torments, and other impossible foolishness, and he became so convinced in his imagination of the truth of all the countless grandiloquent and false inventions he read that for him no history in the world was truer.”

Cervantes – Don Quixote

Read the full story…