So what did I find to do in London in August?
Well for one thing a long-delayed spring cleaning of piles of papers, magazines, journals, books – as well as excavating drawers stuffed to overflowing with ‘things that might come in handy’ !
20 blue Westminster Council recycling bags later, I was at last able to make an attempt to see what might possibly be lurking on a collection of ancient computer discs….. not DVDs or CDs, but those prehistoric rectangular formatted diskettes we used to use.
If you remember these then you were using a computer in the early to middle 1990s.
I have hundreds of these diskettes, and have long wanted to have the time to investigate just what they contain….apart that is from the dross of everyday correspondence, and drafts of long forgotten lectures and articles.
Formatting on these varied, as technology progressed, but most could only be retrieved in plain text.
Still to be investigated – if I ever find a way of extracting their secrets – are the idiosyncratic Amstrad diskettes secreted safely in a cupboard in Corfu…..
There were a few nuggets on those I was able to open, including some snippets from projects that may have had potential once…..
For example, a book idea that dawned in the late 1980’s – was to combine a nostalgic look at Alkmini’s early days in Corfu – of her childhood immediately post WW11, in the troubled times of Greece’s civil war….together with cameos of the present (1989’ish) Corfu, and of our life there, having migrated from London, further interspersed with descriptions of those aspects of Durrell’s Corfu (as described in the books of Lawrence and Gerald Durrell) – that still existed.
I remember putting together what must have seemed rather chaotic proposal for such a book, which received very short shrift from several publishers, after which the idea faded.
And there, on an ancient diskette, I found bits and pieces of what went into the book proposal…. not great writing, but glimpses of a few moments in Corfu – in 1989:
The old woman and her goats
“The road to the village of Korakiana is narrow and winding – to the left the hills fall away to the Durrell’s distant wine-dark sea, with orchards of ancient olive trees undulating in the evening sunlight, the extraordinary dancing shapes of their contorted trunks muted and shaded by the dense grey-green foliage. To the right the foothills of Pantokrator – Corfu’s brooding northern prominence – rise steeply, the slopes an ocean of olive trees, punctuated with candle-like cypruses and splashes of colour from heavily laden fruit trees, as far as the eye can see. Ancient stone cottages and crumbling barns are interspersed with eye-jarring modern villas and functional, often partly-built, apartment blocks. Older homes are sited organically into the hillside – whitewashed, or with pastel orange and pink traditional local colours, at one with their setting.
A group of three local women are standing talking by the roadside, two in modern dress one far older, traditionally garbed in blue and white, with a curious headpiece. Their two goats are active – one, a huge pure-white nanny, stands magnificently, fully erect on its’ hind-legs, grazing on a bush while its hectic black and white offspring vainly attempts to reach swaying teats. The elderly woman holds a bunch of wild-vegetable leaves, carefully picked for her evening meal – and in her earnest conversation fails to notice as a second goat start to nibble these, while simultaneously one of the kids at last gains frantic suction onto its’ source of nutrition. We pass this scene in a matter of seconds but it remains in the mind’s eye – it is Corfu in 1989 – only a mile from one of the island’s densest conglomerations of hedonistic modern neon and plastic bars, shops, mini-markets and video-rental shops, fronting two miles of beach strewn with topless, tabloid-reading, par-baked, lobster-red, Dutch and British, German and Scandinavian, blistered or sun-screened bodies. Durrel’s Corfu has more contrasts, and a different sort of fauna now. But in essence the island of 50 years past is still here, it remains a timeless place despite the carbuncles that grow on its coastline.”
The tortoise and the watermelon
“We have wild tortoises on our garden. Over the years any strays found on public roads, in imminent danger of motorised destruction, have been transplanted to what we imagine is a haven of plenty and safety. Despite this months go by without a trace of the immigrant beasts – apart from periodic episodes of mysteriously vanishing spinach, or half-chewed wild-strawberries – the tell-tale bite of the primitive beak is the giveaway – showing that they are still around.
A magnificent specimen turned up during watering time the other evening. He (gender identification using deduction based on what followed) stood forlornly, gazing at parched grass, as I descended the steps towards the well in order to water the most stubbornly unproductive fig tree in Greece. I lifted the animal and carried it (posterior first to avoid receipt of unwanted excreta) to the terrace where I had decided to try to offer it nourishment, before returning to water the vegetable patch
What would a starving (?) tortoise want most at 5pm on a blazing August day ?
Watermelon, I reasoned, and placed a quarter of a melon that I retrieved from the fridge, in front of the bemused creature. I shouted for Sasha to cease her labours at the other end of the garden. She dropped her hose and ran to view the spectacle of one of our seldom-sighted tortoises in action.
And what action !
For reasons that were momentarily beyond me it went into reverse at the sight of the watermelon, partially reared on hind legs, then charged it with a force incredible to behold – not once but three times, shaking the fruit, and burying his head in the pulpy flesh.
Over the years, we’ve heard ancient battle sounds echoing from the meadow below the house (see a picture of Dumbo in this meadow, on the left, near the top of the Blog), as male tortoises crash against each other during the mating season. I wonder, did this particular crazed watermelon-destroyer mistake the shape of the fruit for an imagined rival? Whatever the motivation, not stopping to eat, and with vestiges of juice and pulp dripping from his primeval face, he tottered triumphantly into the undergrowth having demolished the enemy – or was the point of the exercise to cool his head?”
I think I’ll search the diskettes for more….they represent a sort of instant time-travel possibility!