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As I will walk out one December morning

November 19, 2014

DSC01639Many thousands visit this blog every month, and have done since I started it all in 2010. I know that you all enjoy different sections and themes. The Paddy blog is, and will remain, free at the point of reading, but I do want to ask you for something quite important at this time.

Homelessness is a terrible scourge, and between 10-13 December I will walk from Winchester Cathedral to Bath Abbey to visit my daughter and to raise money in support of the UK charity for the homeless, Shelter.

Below I tell you why I want to do this at this time, and how you can donate. This applies to anyone whatever your location in the world, as long as you have a debit card, credit card or PayPal account.

I have set myself a modest target which I want to smash, so please give as much as you can via my Just Giving site here, to help the homeless at this Christmas time. Please give.


For all sorts of reasons, people in our great country, men and women, and sometimes entire families, end up without a home, have no bed of their own, without warmth, and don’t get to eat simple, wholesome food.

All of you reading this have these things and more: a job; friends and family to share your happy times with; money; and perhaps more than this, a future.

We have all passed these people in our towns and cities, perhaps feeling guilty that we have not given them a pound. But also maybe thinking that if we did they would only spend it on booze. You may be right.

The charity Shelter aims at long term solutions for homeless people, giving them chances not just for a roof over their head, but also to help them make a future. To get a job and to rebuild their lives.

I have a friend who lives on the streets around my train station in Winchester. He is called Paul. He is an ex-soldier, and served his country well, but for reasons that I don’t understand he now has problems with alcohol and lives on the streets. He is about my own age.

I met Paul in May and wrote about him, contrasting his life with someone more privileged, also a brave soldier, in this poem.

It would be good to help Paul and others like him at this time of year when the nights are painfully long, and damp and cold.

My daughter Harriet finishes her term at Bath University on 14 December and for some time I have wanted to walk to Bath. So at this Christmas-tide I am going to do that. It is not so far, only about 60 miles but I will probably end up walking further. I thought that maybe I could combine my walk with raising money for the work of Shelter.

I will have some modern clothing and kit and will try to keep as dry and warm as I can. But I will live outside under meagre cover, with a simple shelter and may experience some of the cold and damp that is the daily lot of people like Paul.

This walk will not change anything, but it may help some good people who have fallen on hard times and who are really just like you and me. The people who we so often turn away from and walk on by. My walk may however make a small difference.

It will soon be Christmas and we will spend an awful lot of money on ephemeral things. Please consider giving some of what you may spend to help the work of Shelter with homeless people in this country; give some of your hard earned cash to the cause which I am supporting.

Thank you from me. And thank you from Paul.

You can donate now very easily on my Just Giving page. Please help.

Patrick Leigh Fermor archive now fully available to public at National Library of Scotland

November 18, 2014

General archive itemsAfter a year of intensive work, Paddy’s archive is now available to the public at the National Library of Scotland. The inventory is 81 pages long and the list of Paddy’s correspondents is well over 1,000, with many many famous names including Gore Vidal, Truman Capote, Iris Murdoch, Lawrence Durrell, Bruce Chatwin, Cyril Connolly, the Duchess of Devonshire, Prince Charles and Paddy’s publisher John Murray. Future goals include digitising the most important material and to run some exhibitions.

The NLS have today issued a press release as follows:

The archive of one of the most charismatic characters of the last century, Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor, is fully available to the public from today (Tuesday, November 18) after being catalogued by the National Library of Scotland.

Sir Patrick, who was universally known as Paddy, was the finest travel writer of his generation and has been described as “a cross between Indiana Jones, Graham Greene and James Bond.” He was a decorated war hero, adventurer, scholar and Hollywood scriptwriter who could count princes and paupers among his friends.

The archive, which arrived at the National Library in 2012, is vast, occupying some 16 metres of shelving. Its contents offer a journey through the 20th century in the company of some of its key figures.

The inventory alone runs to 81 pages and lists extensive correspondence from fans, friends and associates; literary manuscripts, often with numerous annotations and revisions; diaries; notebooks, passports; sketches; photographs; articles and research papers. One of the star items is the only surviving notebook from his youthful trek across Europe which began in 1933 and provided the source material for his most famous books A Time of Gifts, Between the Woods and the Water and The Broken Road.

Sir Patrick died in 2011 at the age of 96 and is regarded as a central figure in 20th century cultural life. That is reflected in the archive which includes correspondence from many famous names including Gore Vidal, Truman Capote, Iris Murdoch, Lawrence Durrell, Bruce Chatwin, Cyril Connolly, the Duchess of Devonshire, Prince Charles and Sir Patrick’s publisher John Murray. One of the many unexpected items to be found in the archive is what appears to be an unpublished handwritten Sir John Betjeman poem, literally written on the back of an envelope.

Cataloguing the archive has taken a year and it has revealed a much larger number of correspondents than were expected – over 1000 – along with thousands more photographs.

“It is a history of the colourful life of a celebrated writer,” said Graham Stewart, the curator who worked on the cataloguing project. “He was undoubtedly a superstar of his day and his books have, if anything, grown in popularity over the years. There has already been a lot of interest in the archive and we expect this to increase now among Leigh Fermor fans and people interested in the 20th century more generally.”

The Library is working on digitising major elements of the archive which will be made available through its website. Plans are also being considered for staging exhibitions and displays of the material to reach as wide an audience as possible.

A major element of the archive is Sir Patrick’s war years which saw him organise guerrilla operations in Crete against the occupying Nazis. He spent much of this time disguised as a Cretan shepherd, living in freezing mountains caves.

In 1944 he organised one of the most daring feats of the war when he led the team that kidnapped the commander of the German garrison on Crete. This was made into a film Ill Met by Moonlight in 1957 starring Dirk Bogarde and the story was told by Sir Patrick in the recently published memoir Abducting a General.

“You get a real sense of how dangerous this work was when you come across letters that were smuggled from Cairo into Crete and carried miles across mountains, sewn into people’s clothes,” said Graham. “It’s an archive that holds many surprises and is likely to produce many more discoveries once it really starts to be used.”

The archive was presented to the National Library by the John R Murray Charitable Trust which also supported the cataloguing work. Sir Patrick’s books were published by the Murray family.


The imaginary Istanbul in Patrick Leigh Fermor’s literary odyssey

November 17, 2014

An interesting discussion about Paddy’s perspective of Turkey, the Ottomans and his Constantinople with reference to his trilogy of the Great Trudge.

By Charles Sabatos

First published in The Daily Sabah, 25 August 2014

In December 1933, Patrick Leigh Fermor, 18, set off from London with the goal of crossing Europe on foot from the Netherlands to Istanbul, which he reached at the end of the following year. Decades later, he retold this youthful adventure in “A Time of Gifts” (1977) and “Between the Woods and the Water” (1986), the first two parts of a planned trilogy that made him one of the most acclaimed British travel writers of the 20th century. Yet the second book left off at the Romanian-Bulgarian border, with the tantalizing phrase “To Be Concluded,” and for almost 40 years, his readers awaited the final volume, which he left unfinished when he died at age 96 in 2011.

The conclusion of Fermor’s trilogy was finally published in 2013, posthumously edited by his friend Artemis Cooper, but as its title “The Broken Road” suggests, the account abruptly ends on the Bulgarian coast just north of Turkey. Fermor’s impressions of Istanbul were relegated to an anticlimactic few pages of notes from his original travel diary. Cooper (also the author of the definitive biography “Patrick Leigh Fermor,” 2012) suggests in her introduction that Fermor’s disappointment hindered him from describing the city: “he recounts nothing of the leftover Byzantine glories of the old capital. . . and little of its Ottoman splendor.” Instead, his journey ends with a detailed account of his visit to Mount Athos, where he went after spending less than two weeks in Turkey. Having spent the last decades of his life living in Greece, Fermor saw the fading capital of the Orient (which he always referred to as “Constantinople”) as a place whose Western heritage had irretrievably disappeared. Yet he had already discovered an imagined Istanbul before even reaching the Golden Horn, in scenes across Central Europe and the Balkans that foreshadow his imagined destination.

In “A Time of Gifts,” which takes Fermor across Germany, the Netherlands, Austria and Czechoslovakia, he first encounters the Turks in Vienna. There, the museums hold relics of the 1683 siege that he describes in typically dizzying detail, including “scimitars, khanjars, yatagans, lances, bucklers, drums … the turbans of janissaries, a pasha’s tent, cannon and flags and horsetail banners with their bright brass crescents…” The destiny of Haghia Sophia is reflected in his fantasy of an Ottoman siege of London: “What if the Turks had taken Vienna, as they nearly did, and advanced westward? … Might St. Paul’s, only half rebuilt, have ended with minarets instead of its two bell-towers and a different emblem twinkling on the dome?” For most of “Between the Woods and the Water,”

Fermor is crossing territory formerly ruled not just by the Austrians but by the Ottomans, and references to the Turks reveal their legacy across the region. At the end of the second book, Fermor visits the island of Ada-Kaleh on the Danube in Romania, whose Turkish inhabitants were culturally, linguistically, and physically exotic: “Something about the line of brow, the swoop of nose and the jut of the ears made them indefinably different from any of the people I had seen on my journey so far.” At a time when the fez, the veil and the Ottoman script had already been banned in the Turkish Republic, Fermor felt the island to be “the refuge of an otherwise extinct species long ago swept away,” and their antiquated dialect is his first exposure to the Turkish language: “astonishing strings of agglutinated syllables with a follow-through of identical vowels and dimly reminiscent of Magyar … immovably lodged in its ancient mould, like a long-marooned English community still talking the language of Chaucer.” This little settlement outside of time and space symbolizes the destiny of the Ottoman Empire: “They had conquered most of Asi, and North Africa to the Pillars of Hercules, enslaved half Christendom and battered on the gates of Vienna; victories long eclipsed, but commemorated here and there by a minaret left in their lost possessions like a spear stuck in the ground.” At the beginning of “The Broken Road,” crossing into Bulgaria, Fermor truly feels that he has reached the Orient, where “clues to the recent centuries under the Ottoman Turks lay thick and plentiful on every side.” In Karlovo, he sees another group of Turks, whose “wild and uncouth look” prompts further historical reflections echoing those he had in Vienna: “It seems, at moments, something of a fluke that St. Peter’s and Notre Dame and Westminster Abbey are not today three celebrated mosques, kindred fanes to Haghia Sophia in Constantinople.”

Nonetheless, he recognizes “charm and grace” in Turkish architecture: “The Ottoman Empire has joined the eastern Roman Empire which it destroyed; but a posthumous and perhaps deceptive glow of charm and elegance pervades its mementoes.” The most evocative of these mementoes may be the abandoned mosque he discovers on a moonlit night in the Bulgarian mountains (illustrated on the cover of the British edition of “The Broken Road.”) Fermor’s trilogy, which has been translated into a number of European languages, deserves a readership in Turkish as well, for its poetic language and cultural insights. Although he held Orientalist views typical in some ways for an Englishman of his generation, and his lifelong love of Greek culture influenced his indifference to that of the Turks, his imaginary “Constantinople” was shaped not just by his classical education, but by the local people he met on his journey, as well as books by authors like Mor Jokai and Panait Istrati (both of whom describe the Ottoman influence in the Balkans.) Through these experiences, he absorbed the Central and Eastern European image of the Turks, a mix of fact and fiction, history and myth, tied not to colonial conquest, but to local folklore and its traditions of suffering and survival.

Paddy’s wall hanging from the castle of Passerano

November 16, 2014

Hanging made for Paddy when living in the empty castle of Passerano in 1958-9:

This picture was sent to me by Artemis Cooper some time ago. I hope that you enjoy looking at it and relating it to the part of her biography where Paddy moons around in Italy searching for love and as ever trying unsuccessfully to write.

Artemis writes:

I have just taken possession of this, thanks to Richard Riley who appears with it in the photo – he has had it in his basement, Paddy left it there years ago. Richard agreed to let me take it, and thought it a great idea that it be sold in aid of the house at Kardamyli. The hanging was made for Paddy when he was living in the empty castle of Passerano in 1958-9: he had it made by the local nuns! I thought it might be the centrepiece of a collection of Paddy memorabilia (yet to be collected) that we could sell when we come to do a charity event for the house.

James Bond’s secret: he’s Jamaican

November 15, 2014

Ian Fleming on the beach near Goldeneye Photo: Getty

A review of Goldeneye: Where Bond was Born, by Matthew Parker. This biography of Bond’s creator reveals an Ian Fleming who was cruel, vain and racist.

By Lewis Jones

First published in The Spectator, 9 August 2014

Ian Fleming’s first visit to Jamaica was pure James Bond. In 1943, as assistant to the Director of Naval Intelligence, he flew from Miami to Kingston to attend an Anglo-American naval conference and to investigate the rumour that Axel Wenner-Gren, a rich Swede and supposed Nazi, had built a secret submarine base at Hog Island, near Nassau. He was accompanied by his old friend Ivar Bryce, who was also in intelligence, and who put him up at a house his wife had recently bought. As they left the island, Fleming told Bryce, ‘When we have won this blasted war, I am going to live in Jamaica… swim in the sea and write books.’

Three years later he duly bought 14 acres in the parish of St Mary on the north coast, with a beach and a coral reef, for £2,000 and spent the same again on building a primitive house, which he called Goldeneye. With no glass in the windows and no hot water to begin with, it was essentially a large room with some small back bedrooms and a kitchen with a stove and a sink. Bryce, who had found him the site, called the house ‘a masterpiece of striking ugliness’, but Patrick Leigh Fermor approved of its ‘enormous quadrilaterals’, which ‘framed a prospect of sea and cloud and sky’.

Fleming had negotiated two months’ annual holiday from his job as foreign news manager at the Sunday Times, and invariably spent it at Goldeneye, where his library included the 1947 edition of Field Guide to Birds of the West Indies by James Bond. In 1952 — when he also married and became a father — he wrote Casino Royale, in which James Bond’s cover at the Royale-les-Eaux casino is a ‘Jamaican plantocrat’. He wrote a Bond story there every winter until his death in 1964, aged 56.

Parker sketches the history of the island, beginning with its idyllic millennia under the Taínos, who called it Hamaika, ‘land of wood and streams’, and were wiped out within two generations of the arrival of Christopher Columbus in 1494, leaving behind them only a few ‘heartbreakingly relaxed’ words — barbecue, hammock, canoe. Fleming’s favourite period was naturally that of the English privateers of the 17th century, as he simply adored pirates. He gave Bond various ‘piratical’ attributes — the scar on his cheek, for example — and several women admired his own ‘slightly piratical’ broken nose. The plot of Live and Let Die turns on the discovery of Sir Henry Morgan’s treasure trove.‘What I endeavour to aim at,’ explained Fleming in his essay How to Write a Thriller, ‘is a certain disciplined exoticism.’ In Goldeneye Matthew Parker makes a convincing case that Fleming’s exoticism is essentially Jamaican, and that the island is crucial to a proper understanding of the man and his work. Three of the novels — Live and Let Die, Dr No and The Man with the Golden Gun — are mainly set there, and over the years Fleming became ‘soaked’ in its atmosphere, a ‘cocktail of luxury, melancholy, imperialism, fantasy, sensuality, danger and violence’.

Fleming shared his historical preferences with Noël Coward, who built two houses nearby, and with whom he had an unlikely but close friendship. They both loved the Royal Navy, and were nostalgic for the Empire; when Gandhi was assassinated in 1948, Coward wrote in his diary that it was ‘a bloody good thing, but far too late’, and after Suez the Edens recuperated at Goldeneye. Fleming and Coward both loathed the arrival of the tourism they had helped pioneer. And — unlike Fleming’s wife Ann (née Charteris), who on her visits to Goldeneye before her divorce from Esmond Rothermere used to pretend to stay with Coward — they both disliked intellectuals.

One of Ann’s intellectuals was Peter Quennell, who was apparently known as ‘Lady Rothermere’s Fan’, and was an occasional guest at Goldeneye. Quennell noted that Coward treated Fleming ‘as if he were a distinguished member of the opposite sex’ and that Fleming, most untypically, ‘seemed positively to enjoy being teased or even ridiculed’. Nor did he appear to mind when Coward lightly fictionalised his affair with Ann in the novel Pomp and Circumstance. Coward later turned down the role of Dr No in the film with a telegram reading ‘No… No… No… No!’

Fleming obviously had much more in common with Commander Bond, not least his forceful heterosexuality: ‘I loved being whipped by you,’ Ann wrote to him in 1947, after a rendezvous in Dublin. Author and hero both swam like fish, and drank like them too, mainly spirits. Quennell recorded that at Goldeneye the Commander — Fleming retained his wartime rank — ‘tended to drink in the American way’, with plenty of vodka martinis or ‘very brown whisky sodas’ before dinner, but nothing with it, so Quennell would be forced to ask for something, to his host’s annoyance.

And then there was the smoking: ‘Bond lit his 70th cigarette of the day.’ Both commanders had a weekly order of 300 from Morlands of Grosvenor Street. As early as 1949 Fleming began to experience a tightening of the chest he called the Iron Crab, and in 1956 he cut down to 50 a day, but he kept at it. When he married Ann he wrote to her brother Hugo, who disliked him, tactfully promising never to hurt her except with a slipper — but he did. In the last photograph of them together at Goldeneye, Fleming, who had been told by doctors to stop smoking and drinking, is holding his sinister cigarette holder in one hand and reaching for what looks like a very brown drink with another, while his wife stares into the camera, her ‘anguish’, as the caption notes, ‘clearly visible’.

Parker argues that Fleming and Bond were both pretty unlikeable, but that this made them more interesting. Besides his cruelty and vanity, Fleming was by today’s standards a racist. He loved Jamaicans but was also wary of them, always taking to Goldeneye his Browning .25 from the war, ‘for defence against the Blackamoors’. He was patronising about their ‘childish faults’ and ‘simple lusts and desires’, and didn’t take Independence seriously. Less heinously, he was also something of a snob. Sean Connery, who quite liked him, thought him ‘a real snob’, but in his review of Dr No Paul Johnson cleverly out-snobbed him, dismissing his snobbery as ‘very second-rate… not even the snobbery of a proper snob’.

Parker thinks Robinson Crusoe was written by Robert Louis Stevenson, and is a bit muddled about English titles, but his book makes an entertaining addendum to Andrew Lycett’s definitive 1995 biography.

Buy Goldeneye: Where Bond was Born: Ian Fleming’s Jamaica by Matthew Parker

Robert Macfarlane on The Old Ways

November 13, 2014

Old WaysThe author of The Old Ways discusses some of the problems for any walker-writer such as how to spring surprises along the way, and how not to give your reader blisters.

by Robert Macfarlane

First published in the Guardian Book Club, 1 August 2014

“All I know is that at the very early stage of a book’s development”, wrote Vladimir Nabokov, “I get this urge to gather bits of straw and fluff, and eat pebbles.” Like Nabokov, I’m a pebble-eater and a straw-gatherer: my books begin as gleaned images, fragment-phrases and half-thoughts, scribbled on to file-cards or jotted in journals.

Tracking back to the earliest entries for what became The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot, from 2006, I find hundreds of these “pebbles”. Some are barely recognisable (“Dew ponds, ash frails, thin trails”), and others plain weird (“sunset as spillage; junk light of dusk”). Huh? Some mark the start of paths that never got followed: “Go see the bronze dragons in the Forbidden City; take Schiller along.” Why? Others now seem like fingerposts pointing in the right direction: “Dreamtracks and trespass; rites of way and rights of way.” “Each path to be told as a story, each story a path, leave cairns in the language as you go.”

That last line is pretty much The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot in miniature, though it would take another five years and 1,000 miles on foot for it to grow into a book. In that time I followed many different paths: Neolithic tracks on the chalk of southern England, pilgrim trails to a holy mountain in the winter Himalayas, a branch-line of the Camino in Spain, a tidal path into a mirror-world off the Essex coast and routes through the disputed territories of the occupied West Bank.

Because paths are places of encounter and company, I met scores of other walkers as I went: botanists, activists, archaeologists, poets, mapmakers – and everyday folk out with their dogs, taking a break. One early reviewer noted: “Macfarlane doesn’t seem to meet any dickheads.” Well I did meet them, several of them – but I didn’t find them interesting enough to write about. I had plenty to say as it was: songlines and pilgrimage, ghosts and memory, trespass and access, birdsong and light, the shimmer of detail … The book became an exploration of how paths run through people as well as places, and how landscape shapes – scapes – us both in the moment and in memory.

Walking is a repetitive activity. You put one damn foot after the other – and that’s what makes the walk. It’s often tiring and it’s sometimes boring. This poses a primary problem for any walker-writer: how to spring surprise along the way, how not to give your reader blisters. I wanted style to solve that problem. So I set out to devise a form that enacted its subject: to make a patterned book of path-crossings, full of echoes and back-glances, doubles and shadows. A book of many ways, then, through which readers might pick different routes. I also tried to leave those cairns as I went: guiding alignments of image, word and incident that only became visible at certain places along the journey.

I became obsessed with prose rhythm (Nabokov’s influence again). At one point I wanted to write each chapter with a different base-rhythm, a poetic foot (iamb, trochee, dactyl) that would tap its tempo through it. That ambition defeated me in the end (surely for the good) though I continued to scribble scansion marks above my sentences, revising some of them dozens of times to get the rhythms right on the ear. One chapter describes sailing old open boats along the sea-roads around the Outer Hebrides. Rhythm was crucial here to represent the sea’s own measures: the rolling whale-back swells that lofted us towards Sula Sgeir, 40 miles out into the north Atlantic; and the unforgettable experience of being in mid-Minch at the turn of tide: billions of tonnes of water pausing, trembling, unsure of their obligations – before starting the long slop back north.

“It’s hard to create a path on your own”, I note early on, and The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot accompanies other writers and artists as it goes, both dead (Edward Thomas, Nan Shepherd, Patrick Leigh Fermor) and alive (Ian Stephen, Raja Shehadeh, Steve Dilworth). The best contemporary non-fiction seems to me as formally intricate and experimental as any fiction, and among the books I kept close to hand while writing were the essays of John Jeremiah Sullivan, Rebecca Solnit and David Foster Wallace, the reportage of Katherine Boo, John McPhee and William T Vollmann, and the travelogues of Barry Lopez, William Dalrymple and Iain Sinclair. When energy was ebbing, I turned to the dark glitter of John Banville, or the baroque visions of Cormac McCarthy.

The book has lived some strange afterlives since it was published two years ago, and its paths have led me in unexpected directions and to fresh collaborations. One of the best things about being a writer is hearing from readers: a reminder that the artefact over which you privately labour for years goes into the world and – if you’re lucky – finds its way into the imaginations of others. Not all of these communications are kindly. “Robert Macfarlane, you are a charisma-free zone,” declared someone recently. But then a day or two later someone else got generously in touch: “Your writing gives me an erection of the heart!” I guess you can’t please all of the people all of the time.

Buy the book: The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot

Preserving the best of Romania: Charlie Ottley and Jessica Douglas-Home on Pro TV

November 12, 2014


Watch this inspiring interview with Charlie Ottley, presenter of the Wild Carpathia series, and Jessica Douglas-Home, President of The Mihai Eminescu Trust, to find out why Romania’s heritage, natural landscape and areas of wilderness are so special and need protecting.

An interview on Romanian TV in English where Charlie and Jessica discuss the importance of preserving Romania’s wilderness and cultural heritage.

In one generation all the forests of Romania may be gone.

Watch the interview here

Jessica Douglas-Home la ProTV from Mihai Eminescu Trust on Vimeo.


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