No, this is not my writing - yet it couldn't more perfectly describe our current 'summer' weather. This is from the opening chapter of Gerald Durrell's 'My Family and Other Animals', which hilariously sets out the conditions that led his family to up sticks for Corfu in the 1930s. Durrell was nine or ten and about to experience a magical sojourn in a land of warmth (of climate and of people), colour, extraordinary eccentricity, natural marvels and the kind of freedom a British ten-year-old can only dream of nowadays. He pootled about in his round and unstable boat, the Bootle Bumtrinket, made for him by his brother Leslie. He drove his brother Larry into paroxysms of rage ( 'That bloody boy!') by filling their various villas with animals, birds and insects of varying degrees of aggression or dependency: a matchbox-full of tiny scorpions, a vicious seagull, a tortoise called Achilles, a hoopoe called Hiawatha, a pigeon called Quasimodo, dogs called Widdle and Puke. He wandered through olive groves in the stunning heat, down to rock pools and beaches. He put up with tutors trying to give him an education - an education he did indeed receive, but a far from conventional one. The 'little English lord' was accosted by peasants who fed him gossip and folklore along with olives, grapes and figs. He spent hour upon hour in contemplation of birds incubating or spiders lurking under trapdoors, with a single-minded concentration perhaps unachievable by modern children, if we are to believe current theories that the internet has damaged our capacity to keep our minds on anything for more than a nanosecond.
Months ago, when we were planning our holiday to Corfu, I blogged that I was going to take Durrell's Corfu Trilogy with me and read it while there - and this is what I did. Absolute joy - first of all the joy of rediscovery, as I'd read it when I was a child. The writing holds true: there are scenes of utter farce which would fit well into 'Fawlty Towers'. There is the capturing of an era long gone, where children could roam free without the frowning disapproval of Health and Safety, where the island was unspoilt, following traditional ways of life. There is the utter lyricism of the style: Durrell has an extraordinary eye for detail and ear for dialogue. He teaches you and entertains you and casts a spell with beautiful and observant images which are pin-sharp.
|View from villa to Corfu Town|
|Wedding party at Agni|
|Sun loungers at dusk, Agni|
So, before autumn has us entirely in its clutches, and with the hope that you too found your summer idyll, I'll hang onto the memory of what he describes: 'Gradually the magic of the island settled over us as gently and clingingly as pollen. Each day had a tranquillity, a timelessness, about it, so that you wished it would never end. But then the dark skin of night would peel off and there would be a fresh day waiting for us, glossy and colourful as a child's transfer and with the same tinge of unreality.'
(Gerald Durrell: My Family and Other Animals; Birds, Beasts and Relatives; The Gardens of the Gods)