It was an accident. We booked a family holiday to a Greek island, late as usual and having to pay the full whack upfront, and it was only when I got home that I realised that we had booked two weeks in Cephalonia. Captain Corelli’s Mandolin. The hype was ridiculous, the book was everywhere and the film was, as they say, eagerly awaited. A friend had worked on the film, we only found this out when, after discovering where we were going, he told us about the island as he had just come back. On the actual holiday I eventually surrendered and read the book, it seemed as every other person had a copy. I didn’t enjoy it, overhyped books are rarely enjoyable, but it led to an interesting little game.
A couple of years later we went to Corfu. My Family and Other Animals. Now this was getting interesting, as I’d read it at school and hated it. I was about the age that Gerald Durrell was in the book and I didn’t keep a diary, therefore, I couldn’t see how he could remember all those stories, I thought that it was made-up, fiction. Reading it again as an adult, I loved it. It captured that sense of freedom you have as a child but rarely have in reality although Durrell seemed to genuinely have that freedom to roam around the island, free from such mundanities, such as school. Also I could now read between the lines, his siblings were older, they and his mother could have helped him with the text. Unlike Cephalonia, Corfu didn’t seemed to have changed much, it had of course, but it was easy to imagine an eccentric English family decamping there.
Later on, Spain. As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning. Again Laurie Lee had, up to that point, avoided me. If asked, my reply to ‘What is your favourite book?’ is by default 1984, however, I don’t remember the first time I read it or how I felt, a few books in my life have left me astonished: A Clockwork Orange; Decay of an Angel; Nicholas Nickleby; and now As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning. I wanted to be transported back to the 1930s, I wanted to walk to Spain, I wanted to be able to write even a tenth as well as Laurie Lee. I would eventually make my way to Cider with Rosie but first, to continue the holiday theme, it was Homage to Catalonia, there are a number of books on the Spanish Civil War, I had previously read For Whom the Bell Tolls but Lee captured the mood of the 30s and impending war in a way I could relate to, my background is more Lee than Orwell, Grammar rather than Public school.
The holiday game has subsided somewhat since. Stories set on Greek or Italian islands tend to be romantic thrillers and that’s not for me. I’ve toyed with the idea of buying 1984 or A Clockwork Orange in Spanish (I can neither read or speak Spanish beyond ordering a beer) and then spending my holiday trying to decipher the language, it’s not as romantic or as foolhardy as walking to Spain with a violin, but it might be a bit easier.