Anne of Greengables and I

Have you ever read a book and regretting not having discovered that book much earlier in your life? That is how I felt, the first

Prompt 3 of #cafeanalogtalk is green

time I read ”Anne of Greengables”. Why had noone told me about this book before?

When I grew up, my mother very much steered me towards which books she thought I should read. When she grew up, she read a book series called ”Kulla Gulla”. And this is what she wanted me to read too. The similarities between Anne and Kulla Gulla are many. Both being orphans. Both going through a harsh life, as basically servants, in the families who bring them home. But, there is a big difference. Anne has lost both her parents, but at an early age, arrives to the prosperous farm Greengables, run by two elderly, unmarried siblings.  She becomes a much-loved daughter. Since it is Canada, she grows up on a lovely island and never get to lack a thing. She gets to go to school, have more or less rich friends and go on to higher education, being a very clever girl. Despite being teased for her red hair, in school, she thrives and have friends. And she catches the man every girl wanted.

Kulla Gulla’s story is set in Sweden, at a much earlier date. She is brought in as a help to families where the mother is sickly or dead, to look after a household full of children, all by herself. While it seems like she is an orphan, it happens that she is the local aristrocrat’s granddaughter. So she moves from utmost poverty, to a completely different world. The difference is, that she brings the poor children in her care, with her, and they get a life, they could never even have dreamed of. When she grows up, she never forgets her childhood and what she lived through. Her purpose in life becomes  social work in a poverty-stricken country. She marries below herself, but to a man who believes in the same things she does.

So the formula is somewhat the same and plenty of other authors of the era, wrote similar stories. Orphans seem to have been the thing of that age and the previous. In a way, it gets tedious. All these  rags to riches stories, which of course comes off as nothing but fairytales. I finally had enough of this kind of literature and at the age of 12, moved over to true stories instead. As an example, I sat and read diaries from the 1700s, written by king Karl XIII’s wife Hedvig Elisabeth Charlotta. And Isaac B. Singer stories, which opened up an entire new world to me. That of rabbinical Poland, before the wars.

But pre-12 then? Well, I read Kulla Gulla of course. But every Friday, we were supposed to borrow books in the school library and I would borrow anything with print in it really. After school, I would go home and devour the book and then sit with nothing to read for the rest of the weekend, since I have always been a fast reader. The public library became like a second home to me. I read everything. Comic books like Asterix & Obelix, Lucky Luke and others. I read Biggles, the Hardy Brothers, what in Sweden was called Kitty (but in the US goes under the name of Nancy Drew), and lots of books about horse crazy girls, books about girls who are funny and always get in to trouble and so on and on and on. Yes, I did see Anne of Greengables, but the cover was such a terrible turn off, that I never even took it off the library book shelf.

Not until 1988, did I discover Anne for real. I was living in Utah, and we loved watching everything being shown on the PBS channel. That is where we watched British comedy, British Mysteries and Masterpiece Theater. Now and then they had pledge drives and during one of those, they showed an Anne of Greengables marathon. Canadian TV had made the most wonderful adaption of the books and I sat glued to the television. I even had my husband agree to a pledge, since one received something nice in return. Can’t remember what it was though, but it was something Greengables related. Not only did I get to see the first series, where Anne is a child, but they also showed the sequel, which end in one of the most romantic screen scenes ever. Gorgeously handsome Gilbert Blythe explaining to Anne, that with him there will not be any mansions or grandeur and Anne telling him that it is not what she wants at all. The audience finally getting to see them kiss, is the best scene of two seasons! Yes, I am a hopeless romantic.

Alright, enough drooling everyone! Unfortunately, (Gilbert) Jonathan Crombie died of a stroke at the early age of 48. So, it puts a damper on this scene. The thing is though, that despite me loving the TV version, I still did not pick up the books to read them. Not until about 1993, did I finally go and purchase them and start my collection. And I very quickly became obsessed with Lucy Maud Montgomery.

What is it with Anne that is so alluring? Well, for one, it is a classic fairytale. She is taken in by two elderly siblings, who are for the most part without humour and very strict. Respectable, but somewhat odd in the community, since neither ever married. In other words, items for gossip. Together, they raise the orphan Anne, or so they think. But Anne does not really need any raising. She is already set in her ways and girls like her, do not grow on trees for sure. She gets in to trouble over and over again, because of her pride and hot temper. But she is always forgiven. And more or less, becomes loved by everyone.

I guess for me, the allurement have always been that the clever, not so good-looking girl, still succeeds in life and even catches the eye of Mr. Handsome. Something which of course never happens in real life. It seems you can not have brains and be lucky in love at the same time. Ugly or mediocre looks, will always limit you. Except in fairytales like Anne of Greengables and all other books, by Lucy Maud Montgomery. But as far as literature goes, is it not, after all escapism that we want, when picking up a novel? And when growing up, is it not happy endings, we are looking for?

But as I said, I discovered Anne late. And the books even later. When I had been trying to get pregnant for almost three years. But, for some reason, I had the feeling that there would be a child. A little baby boy. So, not only did I buy baby blue yarn to knit baby clothes with, in the summer of 1993. I also bought Anne of Greengables books that summer. My mother came for a visit and she quickly decided that she would knit and I could sit and read to her. So, in the garden of my flat, Anne and Gilbert’s love story finally unfolded. We both loved ”Anne of the Island”. Not so much the fourth book in the series. And while my mother went back home, and never picked up the rest of the books, to see how the story ended, I did. (I got pregnant that December and 14 months after the baby clothes were knitted, my son Daniel could don them.)

About that time, is when I discovered the periodical ”Avonlea Chronicles”. A Prince Edward Island publication about everything Lucy Maud Montgomery. I can not even remember how I discovered such an obscure publication, but it must have been through my subscription of the magazine ”Victoria”. I quickly paid for a subscription, but it took many e-mails and hassle to get the subscription going and every issue came at least six months late. In the first issue received, I noticed the penfriend page and immediately decided to send an ad to the editor. But, by the time the ad was published, the magazine had become even more sporadic. It seemed like they had forgotten that I was a subscriber. I never knew when my ad was published, but on arrival back from a trip to Stockholm, in July 1996, I found all of 35 letters in my mail box. I could hardly believe my eyes and it took quite a while to answer them all. Never did it occur to me that I would weed among the answers. They all deserved a reply.

Eventually, I had 47 new penfriends, including the late comers. And even if I did not mean to, I soon had my favourites. Not everyone is a natural letter writer. Nor is everyone particularly dedicated. Little by little people stopped writing. We ran out of subjects or people became busy with life and babies. Or retirement and bad health. At the same time as I kept up correspondence and having babies of my own, I also widened my Lucy Maud Montgomery readings. Thanks to one of my penfriends, I expanded my library and I was also lucky to find old copies of books out of print, in my own country. While Anne will always have a special place in my heart, my very favourite book of Montgomery’s is actually ”The Blue Castle”. Because it hit close to home in many respects, just like Jane Austen’s ”Mansfield Park”. The best books are actually the ones where you can recognise yourself and your own life, in the text.

Today, only two of my 47 Anne penfriends remain. But we really have been through thick and thin. We are all writers, who chat on and on in our letters. Which makes it such an effort to write, because it is time-consuming. This has led to our letters being scarce. But when written, they become like books. The thing is though, that even if we do not hear from each other on the regular basis we might want, we still know that we are friends. I think of them always. And of their families. And for some reason, I think they think of me too. It is just so difficult to keep up the paper correspondence we started out with 20 years ago. I know that we all sit with stacks of stationery. And I know that we all would love to sit down with pen and paper and just chat away. But things are pulling at us, in all directions, in a way that L.M. Montgomery never could have imagined.

But through Anne, our eyes have been opened. We have got to know people we would never have met otherwise. For me, it has meant true friends that I have never experienced before in my life. We have been through births, deaths, children’s disabilities, bad health, ups and downs together. And yet, we have never been able to give each other a comforting hug or be there for each other physically. But sometimes, having someone to vent to, is more important, than to have a physical hug. I can feel a sadness over how much Facebook and other things, have taken over simple pleasures of letter writing and keeping up with the only friends I have. But I guess, it is a sign of our time. Maybe it is time to take a step back, get the Anne books out and re-discover the more simple pleasures in life, that does not demand a good internet connection? Write a letter instead of sitting reading stupid or discouraging posts on Facebook?

Comments Off on Anne of Greengables and I

Filed under What's Up

Do you have a favourite flower?

I LOVE flowers. One of the reasons why I am such a fan of the TV show ”Midsomer Murders”, is because you get to view not only the most beautiful houses, England has to offer, but the most amazing gardens. You have to be quick, to spot them, but it gives me a high, to see them!

When I visited Kent, two years ago, Sissinghurst, was first on the agenda. As was Churchill’s Chartwell. The gardens are to die for.  I honestly would not mind going on a gardens of England tour, if there was such a thing. (There probably is!) BUT I am no gardener myself. It is just a fact I have to accept. The green fingers are totally missing.

In 2001, we moved to a house of our own, and I had bought loads of garden magazines and drawn planting maps, in preparation. When spring arrived, I went shopping for seeds and ready grown plants, while my husband had to create flower beds. Sadly, our soil is of the worse kind. Full of building material which makes it hard to work with. Most of the plants I planted, did not survive at all. Nor did the plants friends gave us. So, my garden is a sad excuse. It does not look at all, the way I would have loved for it to look. But this does not mean, that I do not love flowers and appreciate them wherever I go.

Today’s prompt on Cafe Analog, is just the word flower. I have interpreted it as, what is my favourite flower. But do I have only one favourite? If I was put on the spot, I would say the rose. I know. Boring. Is that not everyone’s favourite? Well, perhaps there is a reason why so many people love roses?

Yesterday, I talked of my parents, who basically could not agree on anything. The same went as far as what to plant in their garden, in 1974, when we moved to a house of our own. My dad wanted to plant his favourite flower. The RED rose. But my mum, hated red roses. She insisted on PINK ones. How did they settle this disagreement? Well, my dad, who was the one usually deciding things, planted his red roses in prominent places. And my mum got a corner where she could put hers. I loved my parents, but the roses they planted were not my favourites and never will be. Both of them loved the kind of roses you will find at the florist’s. The ones that are pretty for a couple of days and then dies. And most of all, which do not smell a thing.

In an episode of ”Poirot”, this beautiful  heiress Elinor, is accused of murder, because the deceased was a girl (Kelly Reilly), who had stolen Elinor’s fiancée. For some reason the topic of roses comes up in Poirot’s interview with the accused. Elinor tells Poirot that her favourite is the passionate red roses, but that her fiancée always loved the colourless white roses the most. And every time I see that episode (and yes, I love Poirot, so I watch them over and over), I always think ”A man of my choice! What is wrong with white roses?”. Of course, he was a swine who cheated on his fiancée, but… And her argument was that there was something wrong with his emotional life. All the same:

My favourite flowers are white roses. Just like Vita Sackville West! Sadly, her white roses had already bloomed, when I finally got to visit Sissinghurst. Maybe I love them so much, because they mean true love? But there is something so clean and ethereal with them as well. And the ones I have in my garden, which actually thrive, believe it or not, smell just divine.

Madame Plantier, was married to the gardener at Malmaison. A place I have always dreamed of visiting when the roses are in bloom. This is where Napoleon’s wife Josephine, created a sanctuary, for her emperor husband. Well, why does one say that? I doubt she was out in the garden and dug or cut back the dead roses. It was her gardener of course, who created the garden and her interior decorators, doing up the indoors. All the same, a rose I love for the smell. Walking by the now gigantic bush, to the front door, make us rub against the flowers and we get totally encompassed with the smell.

But, I actually do not mind baby pink roses either. The ones who lean towards white that is. The same year that I planted Madame Plantier, I also planted Maiden’s Blush. Another rose with an amazing smell. If I had the room, and was guaranteed that the roses would survive, I would make more flower beds and plant more old-fashioned roses. These two are rather open ones, but the roses I love the very most, are the ones that look like cups. They speak to my inner soul. But when I was planting my garden, and researched roses, I read in horror, how some of the roses I was attracted to, needed help every morning, to open up. Otherwise they would start rotting from the inside.

Imagine a mother of four children, the youngest only a couple of months and the others three, six and eleven, standing every morning trying to open up every single one of her roses, instead of fixing the children breakfast or mediate in their ”fights”. Sadly, I had to give up the thoughts of such roses, since they seemed to demand more work, than I was going to be able to do.

On my wish list, I have always had this particular rose: Glamis Castle. I have never seen it alive, nor then smelled it. But the beauty! Imagine a garden full of these kind of roses! My beloved cup roses.

My goal is to at least learn how to draw these roses, so I can have them on paper. And maybe one day, I can find a kind, which can open itself?

A lot of talk about roses. But the fact is, that I am not the kind of person, who can not see beauty in many things. I actually find tulips very attractive as well. Even if their blooming time is when I do not really want to be outdoors. And in southern Sweden, the blooming time can be over in a day, because of all the wind and storms. I have had my sad tulips come up and the next morning, only the stems remaining, all the petals scattered over the lawn. What tulips did I plant in my garden? BLACK ones! I love the black tulips with a passion. They have a rugged beauty to them, which is difficult to resist, and the colour, is not really black, but a deep, deep, deep burgundy or purple.

The flower, which I dreamed of planting in my garden, was Foxglove. But with small children, and some of them with NPF problems,  I did not dare to even try to plant a poisonous flower. What they are told, often goes in one ear and out the other. Now when the children are a little bit older, I might try, since foxglove do look lovely together with roses.

Another flower I have not dared to plant, since I suspected it would die, being the kind which demand a lot, is the Peony. Once  again I am drawn  to the cup-shaped type of flower. It’s similarities  with  the  rose  is amazing.

On my list of favourite flowers, I also need to add some perhaps less sophisticated ones. Flowers which speaks to the senses in another way, than the very beautiful ones. Well, it is hard to say that any flower is ugly. Is it not? I mean look at the lilac for example. To look at all the little intricate flowers making up the big clusters we see on the bushes, puts me in awe. And the smell almost makes me dizzy. Even the much hated dandelions, have their own beauty.

But there are two flowers, which are rather plain, and still stir up lots of emotions in me. The first one is Gerbera. It looks like a big Daisy. And the first time I saw that flower, was in my twenties. We had sister missionaries over for dinner and as they rang the door bell, they handed me a single Gerbera. And for some reason, it was such a sweet gesture and the flower just looked so happy, that I felt in a good mood every time I looked at it. Every time they came for dinner, they brought me a new Gerbera. Always in a different colour. My favourite one probably being the red one. But when my oldest son graduated from school, I bought him a lovely bouquet with pink gerberas, to match his pink graduation tie. And they were soooooo lovely.

The other one of the simple flowers I love, is the Poppy. It makes me so happy when summer has arrived to our part of the country and the wheat, corn, rye and barley fields have poppies scattered all over them. It feels like a symbol of my province and makes me so happy to see it and for getting to live exactly here. No doubt, they grow in other provinces as well, but this is Skåne for you. On the other hand, when I visited Belgium, it meant a lot to see the poppy fields, for other reasons. In southern Sweden they symbolize life, in Belgium death and remembrance. And I will never forget, visiting the Tower, the year they started to put all the ceramic poppies in the moat. It was powerful and the poppy took on another meaning entirely.

@millies_swedish_journal on IG

I realize that I have many favourites actually, but most of all, that I love flowers. Many take them for granted. But when your garden has foul soil, you realize that they are a gift. Not all will grow in it. But the ones who do, are much appreciated.

Comments Off on Do you have a favourite flower?

Filed under What's Up

”Do you like your name?”

”What is in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet” said ”Juliet Capulet”, using William Shakespeare’s words. Of course, in her case we are talking of Romeo being the same person, whether he is carrying the name of Montague or not. Her being forbidden to socialize with any member of that family.

But names do mean a lot. Certain names will open doors. Like Windsor and Bernadotte. Others will make us feel resentment, like the name of Judas or Jude. For the most part a name carries associations with it, memories, and this will mean love or hatred, depending on what experiences we have with the name. Noone in their right mind will name their newborn Adolf, will we? But on a more personal level, I would never have named one of my children names like: Helene, Susanne, Carina or Katarina. Because I associate them with people who all bullied and hurt me badly, through my growing up years.

But how about the name we, ourselves were given at the time of our birth? How do we feel about them? Today, 1st May, this shop called Cafe Analog, starts a challenge. Every day this month, there is a prompt: a word or a sentence, which all of us taking part in the challenge, have to do something with. The tag for the challenge is #cafeanalogtalk. You will be able to see some amazing art work on Instagram, under that tag. People will doodle, letter and create from the prompts. But I must admit, that they started out with a barrel of dynamite. At least it got my wheels turning and my oldest daughter’s only comment, when she read the first prompt, was: You don’t like your name!

It is more complicated than that, I’m afraid. When I chose HER name, I did it with utmost care. It had to live up to several criteria. 1. It had to have a connection with Christ. 2. It had to have family connection. 3. It must not be able to be shortened  4. It had to be pretty and not have a stupid meaning. Like myself and all her siblings, she was given three names and I consider all three names equally important. Her first name was given to her because I love Jane Austen and wanted my girls to have Austen names, providing they also had been in the family already. I decided on Emma, because it was the name of my grandmother’s sister, my husband’s great-grandmother AND because while Emma Woodhouse is an annoying girl at times, she always learns by her mistakes and does take advice on her behaviour. I wanted my daughter to follow Emma’s example, in that respect. Name number two and three, fills the other criteria but also have family connections. This is how I chose my first seven children’s names, only with number eight, who died in utero, did I choose to go another way.

Sadly, my  parents did not follow this pattern at all when choosing mine or my sister’s names. When I was born, my parents had a shock, since my dad wanted a son. He had decided that my name was supposed to be Jan Thomas and there were no other options. But I was not a boy. I was a tiny premature girl, born in week 35 and I had to have a new name. My dad insisted that I must be called Charlotte, my mum’s middle name. But she refused. She wanted my name to be Camilla, since as a hair dresser, she had a customer, whose daughter had that name. And she liked it. But there was never any discussion on what names mean or how they can effect a child when growing up. Neither would budge, as far as the names went and I remained unnamed until they just grabbed a ”name” out of thin air, from nowhere. Tina.

My given names became Tina Camilla Charlotte Tilly. And from the moment I became aware of my first name, the one people called me by, I HATED it. It did not feel right. It made me cringe. Something was not right. And as soon as I started pre-school, everyone told me that it was not right. In Sweden, this was not a name. It is a verb, which means defrost. It is also the pet name for persons named Katarina and Kristina. Not an official name. Children told me that I could not have that as a name. Teachers told me the same. And I was terribly bullied for not having a real name. An odd ball in all respects, since I was tiny in stature, wore glasses, was extremely shy, had unmarried parents and most of all, was a brilliant A student. In a working class town, where your only goal was supposed to be heading for the assembly lines at SAAB or Volvo. You do not name a child like that Tina!

In sixth grade, I was forced to move school with several other children, because we lived on the wrong side of the school lines. Other children were brought in from other schools as well and if I thought bullying was over, I was seriously wrong. I had just gone from the ashes straight in to the fire. We now had a Katarina in the class, as well as a Kristina and both demanded to be called Tina. The previous told me that I had no right to the name and the teacher had to call me Tilly instead. I just gave up and started to bug my parents about a name change. Which they said no to. And I did not dare to offend.

IG: @millies_swedish_journal

But when my first-born son reached the age when he realized that mamma is not named mamma, but actually has a name, just like everybody else, I made a final attempt with my mother, who was the only one left of my two parents. And her answer… It was rather shocking. ”I don’t give a shit what you call yourself!”. My mother is a chapter of her own, but those words sent me straight to the tax office, where I not only changed my name to Camilla, but also changed the order of my names, so that NOONE would ever make the mistake of calling me Tina again. Not even airline personnel or customs people.

Finally, I had peace. Finally, I felt like a whole person. Finally, I felt like me. The person I should have been from the start. No longer did I cringe every time someone mentioned my name. And I do not feel bad at all for doing this, because my parents never intended to call me Tina. It was an emergency decision and a very, very poor one. That name brought me so much pain, so much anguish and sorrow, that I would have liked to have removed it entirely from the records. Or changed it in to something else starting with a T. But, I can not get myself to do that. But every time I receive a new calling in church and is set apart for it, I feel nauseated when my entire name is pronounced. Same goes every time I need a blessing. But it is one second and then it is over.

Do I like the name Camilla? Hmmm! It is alright. One of the things on my to do list, is to read Fanny Burney’s book ”Camilla”, from the 18th Century. Perhaps I will come to love the name then? When I discovered the meaning being servant for the temple, I can not say that I jumped for joy. With my own children, I have chosen mostly biblical names, with beautiful meanings. But noone raises an eyebrow when they hear my name. Especially not in southern Sweden, (which means a lot of Danish connections). In Denmark it is a quite common name and I love going there and finding mugs, pens and all sorts of things with my name on it. Slowly, I have come around to the name being an alright name to have. And after all, it is and signifies ME, so yes, I like my name.

Comments Off on ”Do you like your name?”

Filed under What's Up

The Swedish middle-aged vigilante

As a native Swede, I can look on my countrymen with a certain distance and  come to the conclusion, that there are certain facts, that can not be overlooked, because they are very disturbing. One of those facts is, that there is a problem with middle-aged Swedes.

They seem to have reached a level of development, where they automatically have decided that they know everything and thereby have the right to be the community police, if not vigilantes. They feel this overwhelming duty, to tell the rest of us how we are supposed to behave. And not at all in a loving and caring way. No as rudely as they can, with that better than thou attitude, which usually makes your blood start boiling, if you have any kind of temper in you.

What do I mean? Well, take for example when you are looking for a parking place and finally find one. You pull in and climb out of the car, ready to go pay the parking and then suddenly you have an angry middle-aged man in front of you, telling you severely that he had been standing waiting for that particular parking place to open up.

Or the classic. You stand in a long queue at the supermarket and a new cash register is opened up. You head for that one straight away, since you perhaps only stand there with two items to purchase, while everyone else have filled trolleys. You end up first in the new queue, pay and while you package your items, the middle-aged woman comes up to you, angry as a bee, because you were not the next in queue, in the long one. But the cashier did not say, I can take the NEXT in queue, did he or she? No! The person said ”I am open over here as well”.

This thing of thinking that it is alright to scold another human being, which you do not know at all, and putting yourself above that person, is more than I can take. But it is very, very Swedish. The people who know you, who might be entitled to have an opinion, they will do the other Swedish thing. Which is to boil under the surface, but not say anything. Smile and pretend that everything is perfect, but then go and back stab you to others.

This morning, I was part of a road incident. Now, it is not the first road incident, I have been part of. I have had men walk up to me and bawl me out for stealing the parking place they had their hearts set on. I have had a man overtake me and then park in an angle in front of me, blocking my way and then step out of the car, walk up to me and bawl me out in the most threatening manner. Why? What had I done? My son choked on some apple pieces and half vomited them up in my hand. While I was driving. I needed both my hands, so I rolled down the window and emptied the apple pieces out the window. For this, the man stopped me and told me that he was going to report it to the police. I had dirtied down nature!

Every morning, I drive my boys to school in two other villages. I start with the one, whose school has the earliest starting time. To get there, I need to be on a high way with speed limit 70 km/h. Some days traffic is smooth and we reach the school without any problems. But other days, we end up with a tractor in front of us, driving 30 km/h and this is a problem. Because on this road, there is basically no way to get around. The only place where you can take someone over, is just as you leave the village. If no cars are coming down the hill, you can speed up an overtake a slow-moving vehicle where the road switches from 40 to 70, since the slow movers can not go up to 70 particularly fast, if at all, as in the case of a tractor.

But tractors are not the only problem. So are the old drivers. The ones who decide to get out and drive during rush hour, even though they are frightened to death of being on the road. They will not bother going up to 70 km/h at all, on any part of the road. They will sit and move between 50 and 60 all the way, dropping the speed every time there is a car in the opposite lane, since that car might be dangerous?!

I have driven this stretch for years, every single morning, and I have learned to spot the ones which will drive poorly or excessively slow. You notice right off, when you start moving towards that 70 sign, when they do not speed up at all. So, this morning I had two cars driving in 40 when it was time to start accelerating, to get up the hill and I took the chance and overtook them both. BUT one of the cars had one of those evil middle-aged men in the car, who can not accept being overtaken. Nor that he gets overtaken by a woman. So what does he do? He reacts the way most middle-aged men do, when I have overtaken them. He started speeding up, tail gating me.

For some reason, I felt the threat from him. I KNEW this man meant trouble and that it would end in a bawling out. At the same time, part of my brain told me that, no way he would follow me to my end station. Who has the time to be that adamant about being a vigilante?! I do not speed, if I do not have to. But this man felt like a threat and I did not want him to overtake me in a dangerous way, to show me who is king over the road. I felt forced to drive faster than I wanted. Feeling chased by him. As we neared the village, I turned my blinker on and sure enough, he was right on my tail. I could not believe this! But I drove in to the village, stressed out for having him on my tail the entire time, feeling his hatred from the other car.

Getting to the little narrow road, which will eventually lead you to the hidden school at the end of the road, plenty of parents were sitting in their cars, having dropped children, on their way out and off to their jobs. There was a long queue to get out on the main road. But I was on the main road, so I turned to enter the narrow road and that is when I spot that a boy has walked between the cars. He stopped, so I moved on. I mean, it is not a wise thing to walk between cars in morning rush hour or at any point, since you can not be seen. But I hear someone honking. Not understanding that it is the vigilante.

I drive slowly on the road, since there are children everywhere and cars. Too narrow for us all really. And I park the car, open the door and help my youngest son out. But my heart is sitting in my throat, because I know that the vigilante has followed me all the way and has parked to block my car from exiting. While I walk up with my son’s rucksack to the school and he runs off to do his little morning flax, I see that the man has climbed out of the car and is standing writing things down. And I see the teachers by the school reacting. Looking at him.

I walk out to the car, relieved to see that his car is not standing in a 90 degree angle behind mine. But as I close the door of my car and put the seat belt on, he jerks open my door and tells me ”You drove very fast today”. And what ensues is so shocking that I get furious with him. He stands and threatens me and tells me that his camera has it all filmed, that he knows my address and he asks me how long I have had my license, because I am going to lose it. And my only thought is ”Is this an under cover police man?”. I get angry and tell him that I overtook two cars that were not accelerating to go up the hill. So what, was his answer. He tells me that it is not any problem with a person driving 50 all the way, on a 70 road. NO? I told him that I drove fast because the next car drove way too close to me and he just did a semi-evil laugh and told me ”you always say that”. I tell you, this man had me all shaking and my only thoughts by now were ”If my driver’s license is taken from me, my boys can not attend independent schools anymore and that will be the end for them. With their autism, it is the only way for them to receive the help and assistance they need on a daily basis”.

When he finally lets me go, with his final words that ”the hours are counted till your license is gone, I am going to see to that!”, I drive off shaking like an aspen leaf. I drive my next son to his school and he is in an uproar, since the man had told him that his mother drives like a garden rake. After dropping my son off, I headed back to the first village, to go talk to the police. Because this is not right. I was forced to drive faster than I wanted because I felt threatened by this lunatic. And I wanted answers. Was this an undercover police? Where was his badge then? And the juice blender? His companion? What is this film camera he is talking about? If he has filmed while driving, with his mobile, then he has broken the law since you are not allowed to touch your mobile while driving. And if he is a law official, he is supposed to identify himself.

I am still shaken by the audacity of this man. To be such a vigilante, that one hunts someone down, instead of driving to where he was going in the first place! Only in Sweden! To stand, not like the polite police officers do and talk in a calm manner with the driver, but to stand and haul threat after threat at me, while my son sits scared in the back seat. And why? Because he is a middle-aged man who can not stand to be taken over on a road. Especially by a woman. I drove to the police station to report him and what do I find? Only open on Mondays between 09:00 and what was it, 10:00? So crime in these three villages, can only take place on Mondays during morning office hours. And it being a Tuesday, I just had to sit down in my car, and drive off home instead. Not having anyone to talk to. Not having anyone to report the incident to. And worse of all, not even having taken the man’s license plate number. Because the way HE hounds people down, he can cause accidents. To be chased by a vigilante, will make everyone run or drive as fast as they can to escape.

Comments Off on The Swedish middle-aged vigilante

Filed under What's Up

My Friday Book: ”The Durrells of Corfu”

Many years ago, decades as a matter of fact, my husband and I, was backpacking through certain European countries. At one point, we arrived to Salzburg, Austria, in order to see where Amadeus Mozart was born and raised, but also to see all the spots made famous, by the film ”Sound of Music”. I had read reviews before hand, how one should take a bus tour with a guide, since it made it all so much more fun. The guides playing music from the film and being as enthusiastic, as all the tourists sitting on their buses. So my husband and I, bought our tickets and boarded one of the two buses available, on that day. And boy were we in for a nasty trip. Our guide was an old nazi hag, who made sure we all knew where she stood. She hated the film ”Sound of Music” , so the bus remained silent.  She also hated her job and tourists, but most of all, she wanted to set the record straight.

Everywhere we arrived, she talked of ”Hollywood tralala”. Nothing in the story being correct. NOTHING! Among other things, she informed us that the von Trapps did not have to flee at all, but just sat down on a train and left Austria. If they had walked off, like they did in the film, they would have walked straight in to Germany.

Louisa, Gerry, Margo, Larry and Leslie Durrell, in the TV version

Some months ago, Swedish TV started showing the TV series, ”The Durrells”, and we started watching it, my husband, two of our children and I. It is a cozy series in one way, but I could not stop thinking about the nazi lady in Austria, with her super blonde hair, ice-cold face and words ”Hollywood tralala”. Too many questions arose in my mind, while watching the first season. Because there was too much of everything. Too much struggle for money, too much bohemian outlook on life in the children, at the same time as they expected a roof over their heads and food in their bellies, not to speak of their total lack of education. I just had to find answers. And while three out of four children wrote memoirs, I chose to not go that route. Through my research of women who served during world war two, I have discovered people having a propensity towards romanticizing their lives, creating a new story that is not really theirs and them starting to believe it to be true, themselves. I did not want to read Gerry’s or Larry’s or Margo’s pink tinted versions of their family and lives in Corfu. I wanted the truth, so I chose an outsider’s view, someone who had nothing to gain, by being dishonest.

Michael Haag starts out his biography on the family, by telling us that the family was a master of deception. That they twisted the truth so hard, that they came to believe it themselves. (Just as I suspected.) Margo, who by no means was the dip she plays in the TV series, stated that ”I never know what’s fact and what’s fiction in my family”. But perhaps it was necessary to lie. Gerry had to write best seller books in order to survive. He wanted to travel and discover animals and he wanted to keep a zoo, which all cost money. And why not write about a super excentric family then, which can charm everyone? If eccentricity really is endearing? Larry also had to live off his writings, for big parts of his life and if his little brother could lie about the truth, well, then he could not come up with another tale, could he?

Truth is, that the family that we see on-screen, is a far cry from the real thing and I would like to explain why, by going through the chapters in Haag’s book. At the onset of the TV series, we see a mother who feels that her entire life is falling apart. Bournemouth, where they live in a small semi-detached house, is cold, wet and bleak. And she miss her dead husband, which has left her destitute. Neither of her four children are shaping up the way she would have liked them to and in all this, she grabs the bottle at all hours, in order to cope. She decides, that the only way to sort her children out and survive financially, is to move to Corfu, where life expenditures are cheaper. So off they go. And I can swear that the sub-text said 1939. But that just can’t be. The TV producers can not be that idiotic.

The book starts way earlier than the TV series though, with the very beginning of Louisa’s and her husband Lawrence Samuel’s lives. Both were born in the Raj, at the end of the 19th Century. While Lawrence, as I will call him, was first generation born in India, Louisa was second generation. She grew up a privileged girl with tennis, dancing and amateur theatricals as the most strenuous things in her life. Lawrence on the other hand, studied at the Thomason College of Civil Engineering and met Louisa via her brother, who was also a student, at the same college. In 1909, at the age of 25, he had worked himself up to district engineer, on the railways, and felt enough well off, to take on a wife. In 1910, the 26-year-old married 23-year-old Louisa and a year later, their son Lawrence George was born. Or as I will call him, Larry.

The family moved around for almost 20 years, from one railway project, to the next. Lawrence was away for weeks, while Louisa stayed put in one location, with their son, a nanny and servants. In 1915, Louisa gave birth to their second child, Margery, who only lived to the age of four months. The baby caught diphtheria, which in those days was incurable. Louisa now took to the bottle. Gin became her only consolation and trying to contact the spirit world. All the same, in 1917, she gave birth to Leslie, another son, and because of the loss, the year before, she became completely over-protective, of this child. He could never do anything wrong and was allowed to do as he pleased, in everything. And he totally played on her fears, abusing them maximum.

In 1919, Margaret was born, nicknamed Margo. In 1920, Lawrence decided to retire and start his very own civil engineering and construction company, in Jamshedpur. The town was constantly growing and his company had lots of work, among other things, constructing a hospital. All financed by the Tata family, who today owns Jaguar, Land Rover and Tetley Tea.

1925, their last child, Gerald or Gerry, was born, when Louisa was 38 and Lawrence 40. Gerald had no memories of his dad really, since he only saw him  twice a day for 30 minutes. Nor did he get to know his brother Larry, who had been sent to Britain in 1923, to attend boarding school. Larry never returned to India again. Gerry was not the only one who lacked memories of Larry, since he had been away to boarding school in India as well, for three years, prior to going to Britain. In other words, Leslie and Margo did not have any memories of him either.

Something which will come as a shock to most people, who watch the TV series, is the fact that the children were raised by their nanny, like upper class children were in those days. Margo explained that they only saw their parents at 16:00, when it was time for tea. She and her siblings had to dress up in nice clothes, to go see their parents, in the drawing-room. Not quite the cozy family after all, who had gone through thick and thin together. The only one who really shared trials with his parents, were Larry, in the early years of the couple’s marriage.

In Jamshedpur, they were surrounded by their own tailor, servants standing waving leaves, their own governess and of course a nanny. Margo insists that they were very badly behaved children, completely wild, and Leslie often being ill, since he was actually a rather fragile boy. He would pretend a lot of the time though and  holding his breath, till he got what he wanted. Most often he would pretend to be ill, if his parents were going to go out and do something nice, just the two of them. He could not stand that, at all. But Margo felt that her mother did not really enjoy going out anyway. She liked to stay home while Lawrence went to fancy dress parties, sang, played tennis and joined amateur theatricals, all on his own, away from Louisa.

In the text, it is pretty clear that Louisa saw illness everywhere. Where it was not. The doctor became such a frequent visitor, that he ended up as their friend. Perhaps her insecurity stemmed from Lawrence having affairs? After all, this was the 1920s, and bedhopping was a common thing in upper British society. He clearly showed that he enjoyed others’ company more than his gin drinking wife’s. Just a guess.

In 1927, the family moved to Lahore, but the happiness was short-lived. In early 1928, Lawrence was starting to have severe head aches and behave irrationally. He was advised to go rest in cool Dalhousie, where he took ill and had to be admitted to an English cottage hospital. The governess had to take care of the children, while Louisa stayed with Lawrence. He died of a supposed brain tumour, but the doctor said brain haemorrhage. Louisa’s reaction to his death, was that she seriously contemplated suicide. The only thing stopping her, was Gerry and him only being three years old. She knew he needed her.

She decided to move to England, sold their Indian house and sent all their belongings to a house she and Lawrence had bought in 1926. The two of them had set their foot in England both in 1923, when they dropped off Larry at his boarding school, in 1925 when they left Leslie at a boarding school and again in 1926, after they found out that he was bullied at his school. Now they arrived in 1928, to this eight room house in Dulwich and very soon, hired help for polishing the silver and cooking meals. But it was only Louisa and Gerry, who lived in the big house. Margo, 9, and Leslie 10, were packed off to boarding schools right away and Larry, 16, was living in Cambridgeshire, preparing to take his entrance exams, to the prestigious universities.

In 1930, Louisa decided to rent out the house and moved herself and Gerry to a service flat, in the Queen’s Hotel, Upper Norwood.  There were no rooms for Margo and Leslie, but Larry, who had decided on not attending university after all, had a room, which he used when he was not spending time in the bohemian areas of London. Gerry shared room and bed with Louisa, which can hardly have been fun for him, since she spent most of her time with her gin bottle and smoking. But at the hotel, they became acquainted with another family. Three generations of women, a grandmother, mother and daughter, who in 1931, decided to move to Bournemouth, since it was a retirement spot for military and civil servants. Mrs. Brown, the mother, talked Louisa in to buying a house down there as well, and sell up in London. Louisa followed her advice and bought a mini mansion, called Berridge House. A large house with an enormous garden for just her and Gerry. And now Louisa decided to sink even more in to her mourning, with the help of gin.

In 1932, things had got so bad, that Louisa had decided to just take Gerry and go back to India, but someone stopped her last-minute. The author of the book does not know what happened next, but Louisa had a break down of sorts and was sent to some kind of home, while a strange woman came to look after Gerry. Why or how this came about was not explained either, probably because the family has not wanted these un-cozy details, to leak out. When Louisa came back from wherever she went, she moved herself and Gerry to a smaller house, closer to civilisation, called Dixie Lodge, and hired a governess for her son. For some reason, she changed her mind about having a governess though and enrolled Gerry in the local school, instead. Which he thoroughly hated. Especially all sports activities.

The same year that Louisa went AWOL, Larry met his soul mate Nancy Myers. Just like him, she had dropped out of school. They settled in Bloomsbury, living off their inheritances. So, when the TV series pretend that these people were destitute, it is outright lying. All the children came upon an inheritance, when they turned 21. During this time, Larry and Nancy became acquainted with another artist couple, George and Pam Wilkinson. In 1933, the two couples went to live and write/paint in a Sussex cottage. Larry also introduced Nancy to his strange family. On visits, they would all sit in Louisa’s bed, while Gerry went to sleep there, and chat. Louisa sitting  drinking her beloved gin. All the others drinking tea.

All the children realized that they had to look after their mother, because otherwise they would have no family. And soon things got bad. Gerry dropped out of school, for good, at age 9. Louisa’s drinking became more and more of a problem. In 1934, George and Pam Wilkinson were bicycling around in Europe and reached Corfu. They sent letters to Larry and Nancy, trying to persuade them to move to Corfu, since they felt that it was a much nicer place for two people living off their inheritances, than England would ever be. The couple was all for it, but decided that the entire family must go. In the TV series, it is said that the family moved to Corfu because they were so very poor. But that was absolutely not the case at all. Larry insisted they all go, to get his mother away from her alcoholic habits. Which of course was ridiculous, since she was an alcoholic and continued drinking her entire life.

Larry and Nancy, married 22 January 1935 and left for Corfu on the 2 March that same year. On the 6 March, the rest of the Durrells climbed aboard the ship, sailing for Greece. While their first days were tough and resembled those shown in the TV series, it was just a temporary set back. Like the bank not having forwarded her money, Larry’s and Nancy’s luggage not having arrived and Margo and Gerry being homesick.

Soon enough, Louisa found a property to rent for six months. The Strawberry-Pink Villa as Gerry named it in his book. Margo 16 and Leslie 18, were given a room each, while 10-year-old Gerry shared bed with his mother, as usual. Thanks to the taxi-driver we see in the TV series, Spiro, the family lacked nothing. He had lived in Chicago for 8 years and taken his Dodge with him, when he returned to Corfu, to work as a taxi driver. But he became so much more to them, than just a means of transportation. Like personal shopper for one.

Larry thought that Gerry needed some kind of education, so he talked his friend George Wilkinson, in to becoming Gerry’s tutor. George and his wife had settled on Corfu and Larry and Nancy took a cottage close to theirs. That is one of the things which bother me the most about Gerry and his famous memoirs. The most blatant lie of all, that Larry lived with them and that Nancy basically did not exist. She did exist and she and her husband Larry lived together, him writing books and she painting. Larry never really lived with his mother, after he was shipped off to boarding school, from India. If anything, it was just for short periods of time, while in transition.

Leslie Durrell

The ones who integrated the most with their new surroundings, were Margo and Leslie. Leslie roaming around with his gun, just like in the TV series, but eventually working for the local police. The one who did not integrate at all was Louisa, who never learned a word of Greek, at all.

One day, George Wilkinson also introduced a character we know from the TV series, Theodore Stephanides. But not a whole lot about him comes across in the TV series. Theodore was 39 in 1935 and a renaissance man according to Haag. He was a doctor, scientist, naturalist and poet. And he could relate to everyone in the family. Theodore, like Louisa, was born in India to a Greek father and a London-born Greek mother. Theodore grew up with English as a first language, being a British citizen and only came to Corfu, learning Greek, when his father retired there. During WWI he fought with the Greek Army, and again in the Asia Minor Campaign of 1922, whereupon he went to Paris, to study medicine and radiology, under Marie Curie. He also studied astronomy in Paris, but decided that instead of becoming an astronomer, he would set up Corfu’s first x-ray unit, in 1929. He married the British Consul’s daughter Mary and had a daughter, Alexia, with her. With Louisa, Theodore discussed herbs, plants and recipes, with Margo, diets, exercise, and acne remedies, with Larry he discussed everything under the sun and with Leslie, weapons and game. Quite misrepresented in the TV series, in other words.

6 months after their arrival, their lease ran out and they moved to a larger villa, which Gerry 20 years later named the Daffodil-Yellow villa, even though it was pink. It was a huge four-story Venetian villa with extensive grounds. Close by, was Gouvia Bay, where sea planes landed on their way between England and Egypt. They kept the gardener that came with the place and hired on his wife, Lugaretzia, which is possibly the hired hand, which they have in the TV series. This is where things turned possibly as wild, as one sees on TV. The entire family lived under the same roof, since it was one of those transition times for Larry. He and his wife looking for a new place to live. He regressed to childhood, with keeping a messy teenage room in the house. Leslie took the verandah for a shooting gallery. Margo was sick after kissing the feet of an old corpse. Gerry now was given an own room, where he started his animal collection. George Wilkinson no longer wanting to teach him. And Louisa ”knocking back the gin”. Theodore came on his weekly visits, accompanied by his daughter Alexia, whom he hoped would marry Gerry one day.

In spring 1936, Larry and Nancy, moved to their own place again, in the North of the island. Doing so, made Nancy misplace her birth control device and soon, she found herself pregnant. Since both birth control and abortions were strictly forbidden in Greece, they had to persuade a doctor to terminate the pregnancy, pretending that Nancy was of a too frail constitution to carry a child. But it was not this, which made them hated on the island. They insisted to swim in the nude every day and the islanders responded to this outrageous behaviour, by stoning them. They tried desperately to find a secluded spot to continue this form of relaxation, but they were always watched by someone, somewhere.

Larry kept on writing books, the entire time he spent on Corfu. Most of them where not publishable in England, because they consisted of too many descriptions of sex. But he and Nancy had befriended the author Henry Miller, who had the same problem, and this man helped Larry so that his books could be published in Paris, instead. Life was tough for the couple though. The house and part of Corfu, they had decided to settle on, had appalling weather conditions and communications. They had to live off fish and macaroni from a tin, food had to be kept in a cave or down a well to not spoil and the charcoal stove was not the best for cooking meals on. But they persisted.

At one point, Margo was having health problems and Louisa took her and Gerry to London, to have it all sorted out. Soon after their return to Corfu, in July 1937, Larry and Nancy packed their bags for Paris, where they stayed from August 1937 to April 1938. On their return to Corfu, they only stayed till November that year and then were off  to Paris and London, till May 1939. This, even though they had their house built on to.  Larry just needed to be where other authors were living, and be part of that community, instead of sitting on Corfu, isolated away from the world.

In September 1937, Louisa gave up the Daffodil-Yellow villa and moved in to the Snow-White Villa, instead. Mainly because she realized that Larry and Nancy did not intend to live under her roof again, now having a big house of their own, where they intended to spend the rest of their lives.

Other things were changing too. Theodore became involved in a malaria campaign on mainland Greece and Cyprus, for the coming two years. So his visits basically stopped.

This is where Haag gives us another view of the family. Like I mentioned above, Northern Corfu was very deeply religious and old-fashioned and Larry and Nancy’s eccentric ways, were sure not appreciated there. Haag lets a 10-year-old girl give testimony in the book, of her impressions from meeting the Durrells. She grew up in a British merchant family and visited the Durrells, but that visit made a very strong impression on her for years to come. The family all talked at once, shouted at each other, Gerry behaving like a child, even though he was a teenager and even though they had guests, they upped in the middle of the dinner, to throw out Gerry’s toads, through the window. She felt that they completely lacked manners and upbringing, behaving more like the locals than like British people. At the same time, they made fun of the Greeks, Gerry later on recalling that the Greeks behaved like clowns. But this girl felt that the only ones behaving like clowns on the island, were the Durrells.

I think all of us who watches the TV series, see a family which does not fit in. They want to run their own race, but they do it at a cost. Because deep down, they do want to fit in. Not be looked at, as outsiders. Sadly, they were not accepted by either side because of their ways. The British people on the island felt uncomfortable with the family, because they did not know how to classify them. They did not belong to the professional class, nor the officer one or the gentry. The family socialized with peasants and villagers and this made them outsiders to the British. You could say that the British acted like snobs. But, there is a problem with that sentence. Because the Durrells were outsiders to the peasants and villagers as well. The Greeks did not feel inferior to the British at all. They had their pride. But, they knew their place as one says. There were subtle social rules that both the Greeks and the British followed, invisible barriers and borders not to be crossed. The Durrells disrespected those social rules entirely. And you can not do that. Because it leaves everyone uncomfortable around you.

You could say that they were communists and regarded everyone as equals. But they were not! Louisa had lived a privileged life her entire life and acted that way. So did her children. She warded off Margo’s suitors, one by one, as not good enough, for example. What you do, when you pretend that someone ”below” you is on the same level as you, creates humiliation, for  that person. That person knows that you are not sincere. That it is all a playact. That in reality, the borders are still there. And for an entire family to live year after year, in the illusion that they were one of the locals, is just embarrassing. The Greeks never felt that the Durrells belonged! And their behaviour offended not just the British population, but the Greek one as much. It takes years to fit in to a community, set in its ways and values. Some things you will never learn, since there are unwritten rules and laws only known to those growing up in the community. You can be accepted on one level. But you will never be counted as ”one of us”. The Durrells seemed to be oblivious of this fact, when they later wrote all their books.

In September 1938, after Larry had ballet dancers visiting his and Nancy’s house in Corfu, and him having an affair with one of them, Nancy told Larry, she wanted a baby. They soon left Corfu, for Paris and London. Margo decided to leave as well, to attend art school in 1939. Soon she was followed by the family’s servant, Maria Condos. Haag states that the family were close friends with the Durrells, Leslie serving on the police force with Maria’s father. So it is an utmost disgrace what happened next. Leslie seduced Maria and the Condos wanted to kill Maria for dishonouring her family, in that way. Another proof of how the Durrells ran their own race. Maria was shipped off to England, so she would not get killed.

Maria was soon followed by Theodore’s wife and child, who understood that war was coming. But Louisa remained in Corfu till June, when the bank told her that in the event of war, she would be cut off from her money in England. This made her close the villa and travel back to England with Gerry and Leslie. Strangely enough, Margo went back to Corfu in August 1939 and moved in with the Condos family.

But war was soon declared and all the men disappeared to army camps all over Corfu. Greece was for the time being neutral but was preparing itself for a defensive war. Larry and Nancy, who at the time was on Corfu, with their friend from Paris, Henry Miller, started destroying all papers and paintings at the same time as they were packing to flee the island, like many other Brits. They were able to flee to mainland Greece and Athens, where Larry took up a position with the British Embassy, translating Greek newspapers and writing counter propaganda, to the German propaganda spread around. Larry, Nancy and Henry never set their feet on Corfu again, even though the couple owned the White House there.

Margo stayed in Corfu though, till she met a British flight engineer named Jack Breeze. He told her that she was being ridiculous for thinking that she could melt in with the Greek population and hide. Instead he ordered her to go home to her mother and wait there, for him to marry her. Henry Miller also left Greece about the same time, for New York, where he soon discovered that Spiro, whom they had all got so attached to, had suddenly died.

Larry and Nancy tried to stay as long as they could in Greece. He tried to get a job with Naval intelligence, but when that did not work out, he was assigned a teaching job. Nancy gave birth to their daughter Penelope on 4 June, 1940. But the Germans had their eyes set on Greece and the couple managed to flee to Egypt last-minute, in April 1941.

When Louisa got back to England, she rented a flat off High Street Kensington in London. But she was drawn again, to Bournemouth and bought a house there, 52 St Albans Avenue, where she would live out her life. This is where Margo arrived at the end of 1939. Early 1940, Jack married her and the airline, BOAC, posted him to South Africa, so off Margo went again. They did not stay in South Africa for long though. Their continued life with BOAC meant moving on to Mozambique and Ethiopia. Margo even managed to get caught by the Germans and having to give birth to her first child, in an Italian run POW camp. How this girl, whom the TV series portray as an air-brained girl, survived this is beyond me, because she had to have a C-section, without anaesthesia! Finally, towards the end of the war, Jack was posted to Cairo, in Egypt and Larry was only hours away, in Alexandria. Yet they never met up.

One of the men Louisa had disapproved of as a suitor for Margo, was her son’s tutor Pat Evans. I mention it, since this young man, even though his family were quakers, signed up with a Royal Tank Regiment and fought the desert fox, Erwin Rommel. Then in 1943, he joined the SOE and worked with the Greek Resistance 1943-1944. A true hero ending up a Major, but Louisa deemed him inferior to her daughter!

Theodore also became a war hero, serving as a doctor with the British Army, in Greece, till it fell in May 1941. From then on he worked as a doctor in a military hospital in Cairo, and soon managed to find Larry and Nancy. In July 1942, all women and children were evacuated to Palestine and this is when Nancy decided that she had had enough of Larry. She asked for a divorce. Larry was posted to Alexandria to write upbeat stories for the newspapers, to boost morale. And Theodore was posted at a hospital nearby, so they could still see each other, from time to time. But Larry soon found a new woman, Alexandrian Eve Cohen.

Towards the end of 1942, Gerry got his call up papers, but was excused since his sinuses were not fit for service. Instead he was put to use, taking care of cows and horses on a farm. Leslie had already tried to enlist with the Royal Air Force, but with a burst ear drum, he was also rejected, just like his brother, and ended up working in a munitions factory. He continued his liaison with the family servant, Maria Condos, and towards the end of the war, when Margo got back home, it was discovered that Maria was pregnant.

In 1947, several things happened. Margo bought the house opposite her mother’s house, with her dad’s inheritance. She had divorced Jack Breeze and needed to support herself and two sons, so she opened the house as a boarding house.

Gerry came to live there with her and kept a growing zoo, in the garden. Larry showed up with his new wife Eve, as well, and moved in with his mother. Nancy really wanted to come for a visit too, and perhaps dump Penelope on the family? Nancy  had married an Edward Hodgkin in Jerusalem, and a new pregnancy was treating her poorly. But Louisa did not want such a visit, from her former daughter-in-law, so Nancy was forced to put Penelope in to a boarding school, near Bournemouth instead. Larry brought Penelope home for visits, but the family really did not want Nancy in their lives. Not until 36 years later, when she was dying of cancer. Then Margo and Penelope tried to care for her. To me, this shows that not only was Louisa an alcoholic, but she was not the sweet TV Louisa at all. Instead, she was a very judgemental woman, putting on airs. I am sorry, but she certainly dealt with people in an awful way.

Maria Condos gave birth to her and Leslie’s son in September 1945, but there seem to have been no agreement that Leslie should do the honourable thing. Not from his side, nor from Louisa’s. Maria Condos had to raise her son, entirely on her own. Margo offered her a place to stay for a while, but Maria ended up on an estate in Bournemouth, struggling to survive, working in a laundry facility, at a hospital. If this is not outright shameful, what is? She loved Leslie and he just took advantage of her. Once again, crossing a line that should not have been crossed.

Instead of marrying the mother of his child, he bought himself a sail boat with his inheritance and the boat sank on its maiden voyage. Then he shacked up with Doris, an 11- year-older woman and they ran a pub together. But in 1952 they headed off to Kenya, to escape bad finances. He really was a mess. Spoiled from birth. In Kenya, he managed a farm and then cleaned at a school, but had to flee back to England in 1968, after stealing funds from that school. In London, he worked as a janitor and he died in a pub, 1982, where he used to sit and boast and tell everyone, that he was a civil engineer. Not quite the cute young man, who I saw deliver a baby on TV, last night. Total ”Hollywood Tralala”.

Gerry, was one of the successful brothers. He spent all his money on expeditions all over the world, collecting wildlife, with his wife Jacquie. When he eventually ran out of money, he started writing humorous books about his family and his travels, to finance further expeditions and the zoo he started, in Jersey. To keep it all afloat, he had to write two books a year, and he did not care whether the stories were true or not. He made himself the hero in them, even if events had happened to say Leslie or someone else in the family. It was common practice, to steal the glory from each other like that, in his family. And both Margo and Louisa, full well knew that most of his writings were pure fiction, but very convincing such. So much so, that they more or less adopted his version of their lives.

Louisa was the first to die. In 1964, but Haag does not say from what, so I guess we should assume that it must have been alcohol related. Noone can drink heavily for half a century and not be effected by it, physically. Leslie, as mentioned above, was the next to die and then Larry in 1990. Larry worked as a press attaché in Belgrade, for the British Embassy, after the war and that is where his daughter Sappho, was born in 1952. But Eve ended up in a military hospital in Germany, with severe depression and hallucinations. In 1953, he took his daughter to live in Cyprus and Louisa arrived to look after the child, while he worked as a teacher. In 1954, Eve joined them and Louisa returned to England, since she could not get along with this daughter-in-law either. Larry took a new job with the Cypriot government but in 1955, Eve decided to move back to England with Sappho and filed for a divorce. Larry spilled no tears over it, he soon had her replaced with an Alexandrian co-worker by the name of Claude Vincedon. The two of them moved to Provence, in 1957, where he stayed for the rest of his life. Writing books and finding a new life partner in a fourth woman, named Francoise Kestsman.

Gerry’s wife filed for a divorce in 1976, but he was like his brother and soon found a new woman. A very much younger American graduate student, by the name of Lee McGeorge and they married in 1979. Together those two ran the zoo, wrote the books and went on expeditions. He died in 1995. The last Durrell, was Margo and she passed away in 2004.

As for the book itself, I would only give it three stars and this because it only scratches on the surface. I do not think that a book becomes particularly objective, when one quotes from memoirs one knows are false and more than a little bit fictive. But, the book does one thing for sure and that is taking away the pink coziness one watches on the TV, every week. The handsome actors are doing such a great job. The storyline is very cute. And it shows a sort of eccentricity that we can all accept and perhaps envy a little bit. BUT…

The truth is not cozy at all. The truth is that mother Louisa was ill prepared for life, like many young women were in 1910. Her social class taught girls to marry and servants would take care of all the boring bits of life. She might have loved her husband Lawrence, but would he indeed have stayed with her? Already in India, he was craving a vivid social life and it would not have changed in England. His wife’s drinking would have got them ostracized from certain things and people. Louisa’s alcohol problems started long before he died, so his death was not the cause.

What we see of Louisa on TV, is fiction. When she arrived in Corfu, she was already considered old. In the photos of her, you do not see a slender, attractive woman. And Haag does never mention that any men showed her any interest. So ”Sven” and ”Hugh”, is just there for the TV watchers to get a cheap thrill. Her love was for the bottle and between the lines, I read that the youths more or less had to take care of themselves and her.

Maybe, the children would have had different lives, had Lawrence not died? But the fact is that none of them were interested in formal education. Could he have forced them to stay in school, get educations and Leslie and Margo, at least, getting proper jobs? Looking at all of their failed marriages, tells me that they were incredibly difficult to live with. Not because of eccentricity I think, but more likely selfish attitudes and manners. When the parental guidance is not there, children have to raise themselves. And it is a fact, that children of alcoholics, are forced to become the parent. Only a very strong person, will come out alright in the end, having grown up the way the Durrell children did. I would say, that their social class is the worse culprit in all this. A working class child, would have had to come to grips with things much sooner. Such a child would have had to step in as a parent to younger siblings and the drinking adult.

Instead, in this case, you had four children, brought up by nannies, governesses and boarding schools. Never having to take any responsibility for anything really. And they go off to paradise to do nothing but enjoy themselves. And Louisa, never the leader, sitting watching the entire thing with a gin bottle in her hand. Hardly any surprise, that the children will see their life in Corfu as a rose coloured cloud, each and every one of them, making it in to their dream and later when reality caught up with them, selling that dream to us, to keep it alive and themselves afloat. I could not look upon the last episodes of season two, with quite the same eyes. Just like that day in Austria, the awakening was rude and left me feeling sad.

Comments Off on My Friday Book: ”The Durrells of Corfu”

Filed under What's Up

Book sale 2019: Rare books and great investments!

Thanks to migraine, I did not get to publish this Tuesday, but put so much in to it, that I will publish it now, two days late:

Today was the start day for the gigantic Swedish book sale and with that, time for my yearly blog post about my finds. Because this year I do have some gems, thanks to my daughter.

Gone are the days when I stand in a long queue at midnight, waiting for the magic moment when the doors open and everyone flood inside, running to grab the few books available. Nowadays, there are special sale books printed up, on toilet paper, as I call it, so one does not have to lose out on the most desired books. Even of the good quality books, there seem to be loads. Meanwhile, the book shop workers look with sadness at the fact that people read less paper books and are less prone to buy books in physical shops. In a couple of weeks, all the left over books, and there can be many, will be half price of the sale price. But do you dare to wait and see if the book you want, will still be there?

I headed to the sale as soon as I had dropped my boys, at their respective schools. Because I wanted the extra bargain of buying four books and just paying for three. I walked in with a shopping list containing four books. I was not going to get any other books, than those four. And I walked out with twelve books! And headed for a second book shop, because my daughter phoned me, after I had just stood in a queue for 30 minutes and had exited the shop with a heavy burden in my hands. She wanted me to go back inside, with my load, to buy ”1984”, for her. I decided against it, since there were too many people and I did not fancy standing in the queue one more time, for ONE book. At the religious book shop Arken, I did not find ”1984”, but I found seven more books. Let’s say that my elbows hurt really bad now and so does my head, since I had breakfast on the run, going from the car to the shop. As I threw the wrapper of my protein bar, in a garbage bin, I failed to notice that some idiot had placed a road sign, on top of the bin, on the same metal pole, so when I raised my head, I banged it as hard as one can, into the road sign. And in true Swedish fashion, people just stared at me, trying to ascertain whether I was drunk or not. Why else stare like that instead of asking me if I was alright? People are so rude, that it is beyond belief!

Anyway, I will start with my favourites from the History department:

Simon Sebag Montefiore has long been a favourite historian of mine, along with David Cesarani, who is no longer with us. I have watched documentaries with Montefiore as the guide or host, and he is wonderful to listen to. His wonderful British sarcasm makes you smile or laugh, his posh accent, likewise, and on top of that, an intellect to die for. A book by him is a must read and in my upper teens, I devoured anything about the Romanovs, so this will be a delight. It is a book, which has been sitting on my wish list, since it was published and now at an affordable price.

Having a rabid feminist in the household is a true challenge for me as a mother, who is more moderate as that goes. But her questioning everything about the past, make me more and more adamant about staying objective and acknowledging the importance of not judging people of the past. We were not there and do therefore not know anything, what it was like for the people who had to or made the choices they did. Our society is miles from what it was in the past. And the book ”Vad hände med barnen?” (What happened to the children), is totally in line with where I as a historian put my focus. Sure, it is fun to read about the glitter and glamour, but deep down I am a grass root historian and social history is the most interesting in my opinion. This book is about foster children and what happened to them, as the well fare state Sweden took shape. Especially illegitimate children were put up on auction, to be used as a free labour force. Eva Dahlgren, has previously written about fallen women, a book I have managed to miss, and in that book, she drew the conclusion, that those women often started their lives, as foster children, sent around to different orphanages and foster homes, their entire childhoods. I really want to read this book, since my grandparents grew up in that era, at the beginning of the 20th century. Even if they were not themselves put up for auction, this is the society they lived in. And my grandmother, who was an illegitimate child herself, could easily have ended up as one of these children. She actually was a foster child, but instead of being ill-treated, she became spoilt rotten. Her foster parents being the tenant farmers, of her rich biological grandfather. My other grandmother was raped and had a child out-of-wedlock, due to it. But she chose to go another way. She could easily have given up her child. But her child had to be raised by her step-mother and father, while she tried to support herself. Life was tough and cruel and to know how we have got to where we are today, and keep on protecting that from other ideas, we need to know more about the past.

Since I am on the topic of history, the next three books cover the period of time, which has been my utmost focus for the past 25 years or so. World War Two. The first one was not a hot selling book this morning, since it is a criticism against Sweden’s actions or non-actions, during the war, when especially Norway needed our help. It is written by a Norwegian and is in translation called ”The Swedish Betrayal 1940-1945”. I am under no false illusions about my country and what it failed to do during the war. I even went in to battle on Facebook, when an advertisement for the digitally restored ”Schindler’s List”, brought on a discussion. Swedes have no reason what so ever, to pat ourselves on our backs and say that we were on the winning side of the war. Anti-Semitism was flourishing here as well as in every other country in the world. But what Swedes today turn a blind eye to, is that it never died. It became taboo to mention it or talk about it openly, but media in Sweden is terribly anti-semitic and either voice the opinion of the people or set the stage for what we are supposed to think. You choose. In the advertisement, it said that xenophobia is dangerous and that we must not let it take over our minds. I object strongly, to comparing the Holocaust with xenophobia. Anti-Semitism is nothing of the sort. It is hatred of Jews, nothing else. And when putting up an advertisement for ”Schindler’s List”, it should clearly state ”never again must anti-Semitism rise to these heights”. It should not exist at all!

The Moorhouse book is an amazing book, I found at Arken’s sale. ”The History of the Third Reich, through 100 items”. The sort of book you can dive in anywhere and read on a topic of interest. In a way like an encyclopedia.

”And you did not come back” is going to be a tragic little book. Found this one at Arken as well. About a Jewish woman, who was arrested in France, together with her father, and deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau. She survived, he did not, but 70 years later, she still could not deal with the horrors she went through, and the book is a letter to her long gone father.

As a book-loving mother, I dream of finding the perfect books for my boys. ”Boo” mentioned that they had been writing with runes yesterday, so I bought this beautiful book about the world of the vikings. Tons of maps, pictures of weapons, chapters on all sorts of aspects of viking life, and yet it does not seem like a heavy book, but something he at least can enjoy looking at pictures in. And who knows, maybe even try to read here and there.

For ”Kitty”, I thought that Gaiman’s book might be a nice one. It seems like he has tied in all Nordic myths in to a story. They kept that book in the youth section, so here is hoping that it is not too deep or boring.

My youngest son sat down in the car one day, asking why I do not read fairy tales for him, before bed. He is autistic and has severely delayed language, so books can not be too complicated. I bought these two, to start reading to him, before he falls asleep, to see how it goes. He is on Melatonin, so he goes down pretty quickly, which has made it sad to try to read something to him. Before I notice it, he is asleep and I have no idea how much he has heard of a story. The Bauer book has beautiful illustrations, which is needed in books read to him, and I just love the series, which ”Alice Through the Looking Glass”, belongs to. Lovely illustrations. We own quite a few of that series now.

We now move in to memoirs and biographies. As a person who has always been very interested in Judaism (no not to convert or anything), I just had to buy this biography on the Talmud, at Arken. When I studied Religion History, Judaism at the University, we only had time to study the Talmud very shortly. This will give me the chance to have a much closer look at a book so abhorred by the Nazis and so loved by the Jews. Quite looking forward to that one!

I guess, to read Jane Austen in translation, is somewhat of a sacrilegious thing, but it is a beautiful edition and I sometimes find letter collections, difficult to read through in one go. The letter writer always assuming that it is only the recipient who is going to read the letter written and assuming that person knows who are mentioned. For the person who reads the letters as an outsider, it  can get frustrating. So, I decided to get the Swedish translation, which has not actually been out on the market that long, so I am surprised it was already on the book sale.

Michelle Obama hardly need an introduction. All places having a book sale, including the supermarkets, are selling this book. One can say what one wants about Barack and his presidency, but noone can say anything but that Michelle Obama is one classy lady. An amazing woman whom I want to get to know , through this book, and I saw many women carrying around this book in their shopping baskets this morning. No doubt for a reason. It was one of the four books, I had intended to get for certain, when I walked in to the shop.

I always tell myself not to buy novels, since I can borrow them at the library. Sadly, I did borrow ”The Ladies’ Choir of Chilbury” from the library, but my daughter, who has severe OCD, cleaned it away and not until I had to pay a late fee, did I find the book again. So, returned unread. Might as well own it then, so I can read it when I have the time. It is supposed to be good, about the vicar wanting to dissolve the church choir, when all the men has marched off to war. And the women refusing, since they need the choir and music, in such a time of distress. They create a new choir, a ladies’ choir, where women of all ages are welcome. I can’t resist books about the Homefront!!!

Hackendahl, by Hans Fallada, is a classic about a German family in Berlin, before, during and after the Great War. So far, I have bought all Fallada novels, which has been on the sales for years now. Every year, a new one. So I could not stop this year, could I? Especially, after my German penfriend really recommended the Fallada novels to me, as the best of German literature.

The lost Garden, by Giorgio Bassani, has been on my wish list since it was first published in Swedish. An Italian classic about the persecution of Jews in Italy. Something less heard of, since it was not as organized as in other countries and Mussolini did not seem to really have a clear policy in mind. Ever. I am so happy to finally have the book and being able to read it, when I find the time. It promises to be an excellent read.

Like I said at the beginning, my daughter wanted me to re-do the book shop on her behalf, carrying twelve heavy books in my hands and I refused. But at Arken, I did find some gems and one of the greatest ones, was the complete set of ”War and Peace”. Four hardcover books for almost nothing. I know. Am I insane? Probably. ”Gubby” sat and watched the Snoopy film, a couple of months ago, where Carl has to do a book report and by mistake chooses ”War and Peace”. ”Gubby” wanted to know why Carl  was so upset about it, and asked me all sorts of questions, which I could not answer, because I have never read it. I had to confess this to him and then I started to look for a hardcover copy from Amazon’s secondary sellers. But only half-heartedly, since I hated ”Anna Karenina”, which I read when I was 18, for a school paper. Here I stood, today, and on top of their bookcase, was a big red sign saying 99:-. I turned the books, which are held together by a paper ribbon, and saw what they were. I could not walk away from them. Not at that price. And I should give them a go! One really should read that book once in one’s life. I watched part of an

episode, of the British dramatization, a while ago, with gorgeous James Norton as Prince Andrei, and decided that I must watch that series from beginning to end, ONE DAY. Perhaps as a reward for having finished the books?

While you might not find the books I was lucky to find at the Arken sale, the others ought to still be available at the local book shops, since they usually get more books than they can get rid of. Good luck finding some good bargains out there and then sit down in your favourite chair, and start reading. There really is nothing better than to escape in to the pages of a good book!

 

Comments Off on Book sale 2019: Rare books and great investments!

Filed under What's Up

When do you become an artist?

I started with bullet journaling 28 July 2017, after a trip to a mall, which houses a craft shop. By co-incidence, I stumbled across a wall with pens and notebooks, intended for bullet journaling. I had never ever heard of the concept before  and looked at the examples they had pasted on the wall, beside said items. The ”doodles” spoke to me! So, happily I walked home with my first notebook and pens intended for bullet journaling and sat down to watch Ryder Carroll’s video on YouTube.

A year and a half later, discussions are getting sour on Facebook, whether a decorated bullet journal, really classifies for a bullet journal or not. And if it does not, what then is it? I got so fed up with the trolling, that I started to look for art journal groups instead of the bullet journal ones, but I could not see my bujo, as it is called in everyday language, classify as such either. So, the question remains, what is it I am doing? And what is the content of my notebook called?

Today, another question popped up in my mind. This, after I took a photo, when daylight admitted it, and posted it on Instagram. For a couple of weeks now, I have taken part in a doodle challenge on Instagram. Doodle challenges are very popular and one could fill an entire book with just different such, every month. But, most of us have limited time for our hobbies and for me, one is usually enough. Or should I say, one is usually more than I can bite off.

I often start a doodle challenge, being all gung-ho about it, having lots of ideas. But after one or two days, I have already fallen behind and feel the panic come over me, when other people post ”today’s doodle”. I do not want to be accused of copying someone else’s work, but if the theme is say ”Alice in Wonderland” and the word of the day is bottle, how many original ideas can one come up with? To this day, I have never been able to complete a singe doodle challenge. Sometimes, I have managed a couple of days only, sometimes a week or two. The most, was a Harry Potter doodle challenge, where the host did a tutorial of everything we were supposed to doodle. That one, I almost finished! Late.

Why almost? Well, I looked at her tutorials and soon did not like them anymore. All characters looked the same, dressed alike. And my artistic vein wanted change. I did not want to look at a page with everyone dressed in black robes, nothing but hair colour separating them from each other. So I started thinking outside the box. Which takes time. And when the final doodle was ”Fawkes”, I failed to come up with a Phoenix all together. The tutorial was not good enough to show me a nice looking bird, that I wanted to sit in my book.

Now, what is my question? I had to google for the answer actually. Because, for a while and especially today, I have been wondering why the bullet journal society uses the word doodle for everything done with a pen. Writing is called handlettering, which sounds so formal and so bizarre in my ears. What else but handlettering would you do in a book, with a pen? (Machine lettering is out of the question.) And drawing is called doodling.

But when you look it up on google, a doodle is described as aimless. That the only purpose for doodling, is to keep you occupied. You are not supposed to create something meaningful. With that description, I do not understand why the bujo community is using the word? Is it because none of us are artists? And to call it drawing would be presumptuous? But then, some bujo accounts turn out to be ”owned” by artists. They know what they are doing and yet, they call it doodling.

When I sit down and start a doodle challenge, it is not aimless at all. I am not sitting with a pen in my hand while talking on the phone and just making senseless patterns over and over again. I sit down with my book, a pencil, sometimes ruler, eraser and my phone. On the phone, I search for pictures of flowers or what ever, and then I start trying to create. I have an aim alright. To get a specific thing on to that paper.

When I am finished with the pencil and somewhat content with what I have done, I get my pens out. My Uni Pin 0,05 usually and lately also, my Micron 0,03 and I start filling in the pencil lines. As well as I can, since for some reason that seems so difficult to do. Often the inked picture has altered itself from what it was in pencil. Sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse, in my opinion. Is this aimless? Have no purpose? Someone very sweet, told me that at least it gave me 5 minutes of me-time and relaxation. It can be relaxing. It can also be very frustrating to not be able to get an image to look the way you want it, thanks to lack of the skill required. But 5 MINUTES? Hardly! I guess if a picture took 5 minutes to accomplish, it might classify for a doodle. But if it took an hour? What then?

The doodle challenge I took part of, this month, was called #mydoodlenine. Everyone, who decided to take part, had to ”doodle” a grid of nine squares. In the middle, you were supposed to ”doodle” something, anything. The remaining eight squares? You were supposed to look at the middle square that all your fellow participants had ”doodled”, choose eight of them and copy them or adjust them. Some posted all nine squares filled within hours of the doodle challenge’s start-up point. All I could feel, was overwhelmed. I guess, to them it was doodling. Or?

It took me a couple of days to decide what my square was going to contain. And I did not time myself, when I sat and created my picture, but it certainly was not done in five minutes and it was not aimless. My aim, was to create a picture to be happy with and that could be shown in public, on instagram. Does it really qualify for a doodle then? Or drawing? Slowly, during the weeks since the challenge started, have I saved other people’s posts, to get eight ”worthy” candidates together. I have NOT chosen images from popular accounts, but my aim has been to get nine squares together, which match each other.

Early on, I decided to not colour any of the squares in, since the colours no doubt, would clash in the end, or force me to opt some out, because they demanded ”ugly” colours. How did I choose other people’s work? I looked at which ones I could make pretty in just plain ink and which ones I could make in to mine. Sitting copying someone’s ”doodles”, I realized, was not really my thing. I had to change them, if just a tiny bit. Because, how can two people really ”doodle” the same thing? Is that what doodling is then? It becomes aimless, when you copy? In my world though, that makes it more aiming than anything.

#mydoodlenine on IG: @milliemumof7

Now, I would never dream of calling myself an artist. But for the life of me, I can not understand, why this would be called doodling and not drawing? My aim certainly was to create something pretty. I do not want any ugly pages in my bullet journal or whatever Ryder Carroll wants to call my notebook. It had the purpose of completing a challenge, where I wanted to learn a new skill. I wanted to create something accurate, that is for people to see what the different pictures portray. And there was pressure. From myself to finish the challenge, to not mess the page up and to make it good enough for my IG account. In other words, these nine squares are not doodles but drawings and why has the doodle word even entered the bujo world?

Every single person who sits down on purpose, to create a bujo page, with more than just letters and numbers on it, are indeed doing something with purpose and are not being aimless. They are creating and thereby being artists. Of course, not all artists are equally talented. Some are even challenged. But as long as one is happy or content with the result, who cares? So, stop calling drawing with a purpose, for doodling. It feels so very wrong and belittles all amateur artists out there.

Comments Off on When do you become an artist?

Filed under What's Up