Patrick leigh fermor

Fun and games at the TLS

‘When everyone appears to be of one accord in thinking the right thing, go the other way.’ This was, broadly speaking, the maxim by which J.C. wrote his weekly N.B. column for the Times Literary Supplement, after inheriting it from David Sexton in 1997. Tonally different to the rest of the paper, N.B. under J.C. became a place where a contrary spirit found its expression in a series of ongoing, in-joking set pieces. From updates on the latest grammatical or linguistic dicta in the (mythical) TLS Reviewer’s Handbook, ‘perambulations’ among bookshops in search of forgotten or out-of-print works, and a set of satirical prizes, such as the Jean Paul Sartre

How to tether your camel and other useful tips

Here’s a treat for Christmas: a bona fide literary treasure for under a tenner. And a handsome little hardback, too, which you could certainly squeeze into a stocking. On Travel and the Journey Through Life is an anthology of one-liners and observations on travel, from the high-spirited and romantic to the moody and downright cynical. When it comes to travel writing, all roads lead one way or another to Eland, that elegant publisher and gritty survivor. All sorts of brilliant people say nice things about Eland. Colin Thubron, the doyen of travel writers, to cite just one, admires its ‘nearly extinct integrity’ and ‘eccentric passion for quality’. And this is

Learning to listen: Sarah Sands goes in search of spirituality

It was the 13th-century wall of a ruined Cistercian nunnery at the far end of her garden in Norfolk that turned Sarah Sands’s thoughts to exploring monasticism in her final year as the editor of BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. She already had a soft spot for the ‘Thought for the Day’ slot — ‘an oasis of reflection’. But she was finding it increasingly hard to set aside any time for reflection in her busy, noisy, anxiety-filled ‘5G life’ — office meetings from pre-dawn to dusk and evenings of emailing with the phone beeping every few seconds. In this charming and quirky homage to A Time to Keep Silence by

Clouds, storms and swirling stars

The 20th-century painter Balthus once suggested that the author of a book about him began with the words: ‘Balthus is an artist about whom we know nothing; now let’s look at his works.’Actually, there are many important figures about whom we know nothing, or at least very little. Giovanni Bellini is a case in point. Information we don’t have about him includes when he was born, and even whether he was the younger sibling of Gentile Bellini — as is usually assumed — or in fact his uncle. The discovery a while ago of a Latin poem suggesting that in old age this artist of tranquilly thoughtful saints and Madonnas

Spectator Books of the Year: The biography of a man who prayed he’d never have one

‘I pray I shall not find a biographer,’ said Steven Runciman, eminent historian of Byzantium and the Crusades, Grand Orator to the Patriarch of Constantinople, Astrologer Royal to King George II of the Hellenes, Laird of Eigg, screaming queen, howling snob and honorary whirling dervish. His prayer has been denied, but he could not have found a better biographer than Minoo Dinshaw, whose Outlandish Knight (Allen Lane, £30) is monumentally impressive: scholarly, witty and gorgeously written. When Runciman was in charge of the British Council in Athens after the war he dismissed Patrick Leigh Fermor from the only job he ever had, having tired of ‘Paddy’s little irregularities’, such as

In the footsteps of Marco Polo: the journey that changed William Dalrymple’s life

This is the introduction to the 25th anniversary edition of William Dalrymple’s first book, In Xanadu: A Quest At the end of the windy, rainy April of 1986, towards the end of my second year at university, I was on my way back to my room one evening, when I happened to trudge past my college notice board. There my eyes fell on a bright yellow sheet of A4, headlined in capital letters THE GAILLARD LAPSLEY TRAVEL SCHOLARSHIP. It hadn’t been a good week. I was 21: broke, tired of revision for exams and already longing for the holidays. But stopping to look closer, I found that the notice was an announcement concerning

Why you should never meet your heroes

As we become steadily accustomed to life in the Age of Celebrity, it’s become a truth that, as Mark Mason put it in the Speccie last month, ‘meeting your heroes is almost always a bad idea’. Reading the letters page in the London Review of Books, it seems that this advice extends to visiting any place associated with your heroes. Last summer Max Long, an undergraduate at Magdalen College, Oxford, arrived at Patrick Leigh Fermor’s old house at Kardamyli in Greece, hoping to pay homage to one of his heroes. His visit, he reports, was unideal: ‘To the hairy, shirtless, sandalled old man who occupied Paddy’s studio as though he

Patrick Leigh Fermor and the long, daft tradition of Brits trying to save Greece

Twenty-odd years ago, while on holiday in the deep Mani at the foot of the Peloponnese, I got into conversation with an old and only partially reconstructed Greek communist shop-owner. I had been showing him a bit of pottery I had found on the sea bed at Asomati, and he wanted to know what had brought me to the Mani in the first place and was it Patrick Leigh Fermor? I said no — not strictly true — and he seemed pleased.  Leigh Fermor, he said — and he was not prepared to elaborate — had not been good for Greece. It came as something of a surprise, as in

Go east – the people get nicer, even if their dogs get nastier

When Nick Hunt first read Patrick Leigh Fermor’s account of his youthful trudge across Europe in A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods and the Water, he knew ‘with absolute certainty’ that one day he would make that journey himself. When I embarked on Patrick Leigh Fermor’s biography, I made an equally firm resolve that I wouldn’t walk a step of it. Paddy’s books had left me with a vision of a timeless Europe suspended somewhere between memory and imagination, and I didn’t want that vision distorted by layers of personal impressions. But to Hunt the books posed a question. Eighty years on, was there anything left of the

Finally, a celebrity memoir worth reading

Unlike many celebrity memoirs, Anjelica Huston’s is worth reading. In her Prologue she writes that as a child she modeled herself on Morticia Addams, and where a lesser celebrity memoirist would go on to say that she eventually played Morticia in a film of The Addams Family, Huston is generous enough not to labour the point. Instead of the usual ghosted drivel, she offers — as she does in her acting — a quirky charm and a reckless honesty. Her story is an interesting one, and is generally well written, sometimes even beautifully so. Her father was the great film director John Huston. Her mother ‘Ricki’, an ex-ballerina and his

James Bond, author

There is one last James Bond book from the late 1950s that remains unpublished. We will not find the typescript lurking in the archives, nor hidden amongst the papers held by Ian Fleming’s estate, for this book is not about James Bond but written by Bond himself. It is from Fleming’s 1959 novel Goldfinger that we learn that 007 spends his hours on night duty at the Secret Service compiling a manual on unarmed combat called Stay Alive!, containing the best that had been written on the subject by his peers in intelligence agencies around the world. Bond is more industrious in the field than at the typewriter and no

Charles Moore’s notes: Liberal-leaning Muslims are the people most opposed to the niqab

We are not allowed to know any details about the Muslim woman, charged with intimidating a witness, who has been ordered to take off her full-face veil to give evidence in court. But when it is all over, it will not be surprising if she turns out to be a convert. All mainstream religions have some sort of teaching about what to wear. Within living memory, for example, it was all but compulsory for women to have their heads covered in church. But general teachings in favour of modesty have different cultural applications, and it is usually false to claim that a religion absolutely insists upon a particular garment. What

Transylvania Diary by Thomas W. Hodgkinson – diary

Ehe-Gefängnis. The word, strictly speaking (which is how one should always speak), means ‘marriage prison’, and refers to an austere cell maintained in some of the magnificent fortified Saxon churches of central Transylvania. When a local couple decided to divorce, they were first locked in this narrow room for several weeks. There was only one bed: single. There was one chair, one plate, one knife, one fork, one cup. The result was that within a few days, the couple would realise they didn’t actually need a divorce after all — not because they wanted to escape the hell of enforced proximity, but because they had fallen in love again. I’m

High life | 21 March 2013

He was a member of a charmed circle of Hellene and Philhellene intellectuals just before and after the second world war, experiencing modern Greece and seeing it as a place rich in beauty and a stimulus to artistic creation. Patrick Leigh Fermor, whose biography by Artemis Cooper I just put away almost in tears — like a magical night with the girl of one’s dreams, I didn’t want it to end, but end it did — was a second Byron in Greek eyes. I found the book unputdownable, as they say in Boise, Idaho, especially the rich descriptions of rambunctious jaunts to tavernas and places I had spent my youth