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Benedict Allen follows Patrick Leigh Fermor’s epic 1931 quest across Europe, tracing the inns, haystacks and castles the young adventurer stayed in as he foot-slogged his way through Holland, Germany, Hungary and Romania towards Byzantium. 

With his academic career punctuated by numerous school expulsions, the young Patrick Leigh Fermor put aside his troubles and set out across Europe to reach Constantinople in Turkey. It was the original backpacker journey, but also a quest in the romantic tradition of Lord Byron - that of the man of action and the intellectual combined.

His two accounts of that journey, A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods and Water, are a masterly portrait of a Europe about to be swept aside by war, and also an insight into the brilliant, classically educated mind of the author.

It is in remotest Greece that Benedict Allen finally tracks down the great man himself to discuss the nature, purpose and future of travel writing.

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"The Cretan Runner" by George Psychoundakis

George Psychoundakis (Greek: Γεώργιος Ψυχουντάκης, November 3, 1920 – January 29, 2006) was a Greek Resistance fighter on Crete during the Second World War. He was a shepherd, a war hero and an author. He served as dispatch runner between Petro Petrakas and Papadakis behind the German lines for the Cretan resistance and later, from 1941 to 1945, for the Special Operations Executive (SOE). During the postwar years he was at first mistakenly imprisoned as a deserter. There he wrote his memoirs, which achieved worldwide success.

After the liberation, Psychoundakis was arrested as a deserter and was confined for 16 months despite having been honoured by the British with BEM (Medal of the Order of the British Empire for Meritorious Service) and £200 as an award for his services during the war. While in confinement he wrote his memories of service in the SOE and the Cretan resistance movement. His former superior Patrick Leigh Fermor, later Sir Patrick, discovered his plight by accident and managed to secure his release by clearing up the misunderstanding.



After reading his manuscript, Patrick Leigh Fermor translated it into English, and assisted in getting it published, under the title Cretan Runner: His Story of the German Occupation in 1955. The book has since been translated into a number of European languages. After his release from prison, Psychoundakis was first forced to fight in the civil war. Then he worked as a charcoal burner in the Cretan mountains to support his family until his book was published.

Here’s my review….

I am working my way through all of Patrick Leigh Fermor books and, whilst he is only the translator here (also adding a few helpful footnotes and an introduction) Crete feels an important part of his myth, as well as an interesting slice of WW2 history in its own right. Actually Patrick Leigh Fermor is really only a bit part player in this book, though he adds a few helpful footnotes in addition to translating the book into English.

This is a fascinating insight into an active member of the Cretan resistance during WW2. George Psychoundakis was a young shepherd boy when the Nazis invaded his home in 1941. Whilst clearly very bright and perceptive he was relatively uneducated. This does not hamper his descriptive powers and, bearing in mind his lack of education, this is a remarkable book.

As George Psychoundakis explains, Crete has a long history of occupation and counter-resistance, and he had no hesitation in participating in the resistance. He was a runner, carrying messages between different resistance groups and across diverse, usually mountainous terrain, barely resting for weeks. A risky and courageous existence, frequently achieved with very little food or sleep, in extreme conditions and all for no recompense. The conflict in Crete between the Cretan guerrillas, supported by a handful of British soldiers, and the Nazi occupiers was extreme. The hated Germans behaved barbarically to the Cretans and punished acts of insurrection by torturing and destroying entire communities. This book describes the backdrop to these years.

Prior to WW2, George had never left the island of Crete. For a short period during the war he left Crete and visited Egypt and Palestine. Viewing these new worlds through his eyes is a real pleasure and one of the many highlights in the book.

I found the huge array of different characters to be a little confusing however this did not hamper my enjoyment of this guileless account of a courageous and extraordinary resistance fighter.

4/5

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"How the Dead Live" by Derek Raymond

This is the third book in Derek Raymond's Factory series.  

The Factory novels, nominal police procedurals are narrated by an unnamed protagonist, a sergeant at London’s Metropolitan Police Department of Unexplained Deaths, also known as A14. A14 handles the lowlife murders, and which are in stark contrast to the headline-grabbing homicides handled by the prestigious Serious Crimes Division, better known as Scotland Yard.

In How the Dead Live the unnamed Sergeant is sent out of London to investigate a missing person case in a small English village called Thornhill. The complicity and sleaze that is rife in the village is presumably meant to mirror that of broader British society. This was written in the mid-1980s and I wonder what Raymond would have made of our own era.  

As with the previous two books, the prose is bleak and our uncompromising hero is like a blow torch, incinerating virtually everything that gets in his way. Unlike the previous books, he is discernibly angrier here, and his dialogue frequently seems to be that of a somewhat camp playground bully. I preferred him in the first book, when he went about his business in a quieter and more understated manner. Still, there is some predictable pleasure in him taking down a selection of corrupt fat cats in addition to some of his own colleagues.  

This is the weakest of the three Factory novels that I have read so far. That said, I know that number four, I Was Dora Suarez(1990), is very highly regarded, and, for all its flaws, this is still compelling and I raced through it, and enjoyed the whole thing.

The five books in Derek Raymond's Factory series are…

1. He Died With His Eyes Open (1976)
2. The Devil’s Home on Leave (1985)
3. How the Dead Live (1986)
4. I Was Dora Suarez (1990)
5. Dead Man Upright (1993)

Click here to read a discussion thread about Derek Raymond.

4/5

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Another Friday, and it’s time to celebrate the weekend.

Denim and Lawrence’s stinging attack on Britpop from Denim On Ice, but you knew that already didn’t you?

Denim - The Great Pub Rock Revival

Here’s some new music, a collaboration between Prince Fatty and Nostalgia 77 on the Tru Thoughts label.
Tru Thoughts is an independent record label based in Brighton, UK

Prince Fatty Meets Nostalgia 77 - Seven Nation Army Dub feat. Dennis Alcapone

I’ve been revisiting Magazine a lot this week.  With McGeoch gone to the Banshees “Magic, Murder And The Weather” was never likely to be amongst the band’s best work but this is just a perfect pop song that is right up there with their very best…

Magazine – About The Weather

And it features on my latest mix

Here’s a classic pop tune from the 1970s and from another bunch of unclassifiable mavericks…

Sailor - A Glass of Champagne

And, finally, does anyone else remember The Untouchables (the LA band, not the British band) and Free Yourself?  It was released on Stiff Records in the UK and got to number 26 in the UK singles chart in 1985 and is mightily infectious…

The Untouchables - Free Yourself

Have a great weekend

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"Reasons To Be Cheerful" mix

A special mix to get you in the mood for Dreams Never End on Saturday 4th October 2014. 

Dreams Never End Club is a monthly club night that takes place on the first Saturday of the month at The Alibi pub in Hove, East Sussex. Dreams Never End Club is a celebration of art and life. We put emphasis on playing music that has stood the test of time, that might have been marginalised at the time of release but has since become classic. It’s not just old records, anything new and pressed on vinyl stands just as much chance of being played: Mogwai, Django Django, etc. Tony Wilson, founder of Factory Records, was a hero for not putting profit above the need for a good piece of art, this is what we are aiming to do with DNE Club. The way that music and graphic art was combined on original vinyl releases means they will be valued long into the future. Our manifesto is to promote vinyl, equality, friendship, dancing and happiness. 

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN

Tracklist…

nigeyb - Stummerville intro
Aswad - Warrior Charge
Associates - Boys Keep Swinging
Simple Minds - Celebrate
Brian Eno - Baby’s On Fire
Magazine - About the Weather
Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros - Rudi, A Message To You
The Cure - Close To Me (Closet Remix)
Ian Dury and the Blockheads - Reasons To Be Cheerful, Pt. 3 (12” Version)
M - Pop Muzik
The Knack - My Sharona
Devo - Come Back Jonee
The Motors - Airport
Morrissey - Hairdresser On Fire
The Cure - The Walk

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Enhance that Friday feeling with some more tip top tuneage

I’ve been listening to a lot of The Cramps this week, and here’s one of my all time favourite tunes by The Cramps.  

Well you can’t dig me you can’t dig nuthin, do you want the real thing, or are you just talking…?

The Cramps - Garbageman

I expect you need a lie down after The Cramps.  Here’s one of my favourite tunes by one of my favourite bands.  It’s Build a Fire by The KLF…

I hum this tune for all the girls I’ve known…

The KLF - Build a Fire

It’s also been a week for listening to the Mescaleros.  Here’s the late great Joe Strummer with Get Down Moses performed at the Cambridge Folk Festival in 2006…

Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros – Get Down Moses
My old mucker Blitzkrieg Bob turned me on to Tarrus Riley and I’ve been enjoying a good old rummage through his back catalogue which in turn meant I discovered this fantastic lovers rock style tune…

Tarrus Riley – She’s Royal

And finally, another nod to a much missed musical legend, let’s celebrate Lou and that Crazy Feeling…

Lou Reed – Crazy Feeling

Have a great weekend.

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"A Time of Gifts" by Patrick Leigh Fermor

"A Time of Gifts" by Patrick Leigh Fermor

In 1933, at the age of 18, Patrick Leigh Fermor set out on an extraordinary journey by foot - from the Hook of Holland to Constantinople. “A Time of Gifts" is the first volume in a trilogy recounting the trip, and in this volume the reader accompanies him as far as Hungary. 

It’s an exceptional book. Published years after the event, in 1977, it still perfectly captures the wonder of his extraordinary journey and the many fascinating people he met on the way. What elevates this magical book are Patrick Leigh Fermor's gifts as a writer and the resultant delightful prose; his enthusiasm for knowledge and learning which peppers every page; and his personal charm which makes him as welcome in aristocratic homes as hostels or the homes of farm workers or labourers. 

Patrick Leigh Fermor also provides an alternative cultural history of central Europe. His gifts for languages and history result in musings about Yiddish syntax, Byzantine plainsong, and most memorably the whereabouts of the coast of Bohemia as mentioned by Shakespeare (turns out it existed for 13 years but also turns out Shakespeare probably couldn’t have cared less), and much much more.

So, in summary, a beautifully written travel book, that also serves as a history book, and in the company of the most charming and enthusiastic teenager it’s possible to imagine. A remarkable book by a remarkable man. I look forward to the next volume, Between The Woods And The Water, though plan to read the recent biography Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure by Artemis Cooper first. All in all this feels like the start of another beautiful relationship.

5/5

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Patrick Leigh Fermor nameplate


The Patrick Leigh Fermor Appreciation Society 

I started "The Patrick Leigh Fermor Appreciation Society" after reading A Time of Gifts and around a quarter of Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure by Artemis Cooper

I am already in thrall to Patrick Leigh Fermor

There seems to be so much to admire about the man: enthusiastic, tolerant, charming, open minded, heroic, passionate, erudite, educated and a great writer. I am sure he had his less attractive qualities however, so far, I am captivated by his many positive characteristics. Whilst I know very little about him, I am already set upon reading all his books and others associated with him and his era and exploits. 

If you feel the same, or think you might, then please come and get involved.

Click here for “The Patrick Leigh Fermor Appreciation Society”

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My second video featuring footage and photographs from the End of the Road 2014. I am much happier with this one as it gives a broader perspective than the other more arty version.

End of the Road Festival is an annual music festival in England which focuses on alternative music, mostly folk, alt.country and Americana. It is hosted at the Larmer Tree Gardens, on the border of north Dorset and Wiltshire, and usually takes place over the first or second full weekend in September, opening camping on Thursday afternoon with the entertainment running from Friday to Sunday inclusive. The first festival took place in 2006, and sold out for the first time in 2008. The festival is independently run, and started by two friends Simon Taffe and Sofia Hagberg.

Music is a Flaming Lips mash up

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A homemade video I made for the wonderful “Gravity” by Pete Fij / Terry Bickers….

Pete Fij / Terry Bickers “Gravity”

Quite pleased with this one.

"Gravity" is available on their album "Broken Heart Surgery". Buy "Broken Heart Surgery" from their Bandcamp page.

Please note I have no association with the artist. I am just a fan of their music.

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So it’s that time again and here’s a selection of top tuneage to kickstart your weekend.

Joy is unconfined as the new album by Pete Williams new album “Roughnecks and Roustabouts” is available to download on Pete’s PledgeMuisc page.   Something I strongly recommend you do.

Here’s a track from it.  It’s called “People”.  I knocked up this video too…

Pete Williams - People

I’ve been listening to a lot of music by the Head brothers recently, especially the Pale Fountains and Shack, and also the peerless “Magical World of the Strands” from whence comes this beaut…

Michael Head and the Strands - And Luna

Another artist who has been popping up on the nigeyb turntable is Glen Campbell.  She’ll laugh when she reads the part that says I’m leaving…

Glen Campbell - By The Time I Get To Phoenix

Here’s the haunting timeless simplicity and beauty of “Know” by Nick Drake…

Nick Drake - Know

And finally, here’s the wonderful “Sister Europe” by The Psychedelic Furs…

The Psychedelic Furs - Sister Europe

Have a wonderful weekend.