Review: The Girl from the Hermitage by Molly Gartland

Published by Lightning Books 2020

Fascinated by this period of Russian history since a teenager – after watching Dr Zhivago – I wanted to review Molly Gartland’s The Girl from the Hermitage, and I’m glad I did. Inspired by a portrait discovered by the writer in Moscow, a tragic sweep of decades is reflected in the lives of one woman, her friends and family, progressing through WWII, Perestroika and Glasnost to the 21st Century. Starting in 1941, the contrast between deprivation during the Siege of Leningrad with conspicuous consumption in 2016 carries the sense that, somehow, nothing changes, just the nature of the venality, fear and suppression. Galina is the girl from the Hermitage, as a child, living through the siege in its cellars with her art restorer father, following the death through cold and hunger of her mother. When he is commissioned to paint the portrait of the young sons of a colonel, the difference in wealth and lifestyle between himself and his sitters highlights the callous dishonesty of Stalin’s military, a negative precursor to the Soviet concept of egalitarianism. Galina becomes an artist and we follow her experiences, the theme of art and portraiture interweaving with the growth of capitalism, and overshadowed by increasing corruption. Enough of the plot; the characterisation is truthful and engaging, relationships as simple and complex as reality. Galina is a heroine of talent, wisdom and restraint, patience being her heritage from life in the Hermitage. As she aged through betrayal and injustice, I found myself angry and frustrated on her behalf and wanted to know what became of her – the mark of excellent storytelling. Molly Gartland’s knowledge of and connection with her subject is evident throughout; so firmly rooted in reality, the writing is also rich in imagery and attention to detail without ever halting the narrative. This is a book to be savoured and to learn from. Thank you for letting me read it.

https://www.mollygartland.com/

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Herkos odonton – a barrier of teeth i.e. keeping secret

OK, opening the barrier, and about to give away one of my secrets. Not that I have a bronze medal for Scottish Highland and Country dancing, not that I was asked to give up maths in 5th year because I was causing the teacher anxiety, and not that I pretended, when I lost my train ticket in 1967, that I was French and couldn’t understand the ticket collector at Raynes Park.

The secret I’m about to give away is one that many fellow writers share, and that is…when you say you’ve bought our book on a specific day, or will by our book, we can always tell whether or not you have because…

THE GODS ARE WATCHING YOU

TERRIBLE WITH RAISINS & JIGSAW ISLAND

HERE

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Another five star review for JIGSAW ISLAND

Thanks to Jillian Morton for her review of JIGSAW ISLAND. Deleted a couple of words because – oops – they contain a spoiler 😱 But thank you, Jillian, for a great review. Taken a while to get here from Oz but those luxury cruisers take their time 😎😎

Continue reading

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The cuts to our brainchildren that we can’t bear to lose.

Cutting and editing is one of the most difficult things to do as a writer. Some years ago, I started a novel based on a situation (a hugely dysfunctional neighbourhood) then realised there wasn’t a strong enough story. So I’ve backtracked and provided a plot. Now I have to lose a lot of what I enjoyed writing – particularly the bits that made me laugh. So I thought I’d post some outtakes. Hope they make you laugh, too…

From WIP: Working title: THE LIFE OF LALLA

Number Eight, Chatt Abbas Close, Ruby’s home, New neighbour: Day One
Ruby was at school. Her father, Steve, abandoned American Football on Sky in favour of hovering by the window with his lager and squinting through the net curtains. His Vauxhall Astra gleamed on the drive and the council white van that he drove was parked outside next door. He always parked the van in front of number seven A) to give him a clear view of his rival Tolly’s, at number one, and B) to show who was king of the road.

In the front garden, his sons, Cashus and Tisan, dismantled another motorbike. Their mother, Yvonne, was playing a computer game, Djinn Ja Tan’gul of Minnjh: The Tongue of Thighbold (V2) on the laptop with her headset on. In her pocket was a note from Ann Cann passed to her by Ruby before school that morning. Unable to read, herself, she would pretend to read it with her youngest daughter, later.

Steve clenched his teeth as the new next door neighbour pulled up outside number six, Minnie Chickerell’s house, in her Series 1 BMW.

‘’Oo she think she is? Lady Muck…People like ’er – think they own the bleedin’ road.’
He glanced round at Yvonne, but she hadn’t heard his remark, lost in her game world, mouth slightly open, fingers working rapidly. He turned back to the window and pulled himself to his full five foot five, tension jacking up his shoulders to his hairy ears. Steve had a problem with women or, rather, women he couldn’t bully. He would probably have been more comfortable living in Saudi Arabia, except for not being a prince and therefore unable to circumvent the ban on alcohol.
‘Whoever moves in number nine’d better be more normal.’
Truth to tell, no-one who moved into number nine, the end-terrace on the other side of his mid-terrace house, stood much chance of Steve liking them, what with the council turning down his application to do a swap.

Number Eight, Ruby’s house. New neighbour: Day Two
Ruby’s father Steve believed the rest of the world existed to make his life difficult. Had to be up early because of a hospital appointment for Yvonne. Women’s stuff. Went in the van. Couldn’t get the Astra out because half a motorbike was in the way.
‘Bleedin’ kids, blockin’ me in. Where’s Cashus? Where’s Tisan?
Yvonne was listening to Showaddywaddy on her MP3, her stare fixed on the ground. She zipped up her hoody and got in the passenger seat of the van, anticipating the stirrups and the cold metal spectrum. Leaving the safety of the house filled her with anxiety.

Steve arrived back from the hospital with Yvonne to find that the stuck up cow next door had parked her posh car outside number seven. Number seven was her house, true, and he hadn’t met his next door neighbour yet. But she was obviously a stuck up cow for having a newer car than his and parking in his favourite spot. His fury was boundless.

Number Seven
With the phone at her ear, Alison prepared the bedroom for their first night in their new home. She didn’t allow Granny into her head, being able to imagine the conversation word for word. Granny would call Clark an untrustworthy, two-timing shyster, Alison would defend him, Granny would say they could have written the Ten Commandments about him and Alison would fall back on being forty two and Clark being her best hope of fathering her baby. At this point, Granny refused to be shut out.

Granny Lalla: Ask me you’re better off having a bundle with that clapped out old carpet man. (Currently steaming the carpets)

Despite Alison’s realistic approach to their relationship, Clark’s many unscheduled absences often stirred her imagination to alarming scenarios, such as his being horribly mangled in a train crash or knifed on a secret mission in a trans-gender brothel, deep in Soho or, given the current climate, his arrest for seducing an underage beauty many years ago. These fictions were sometimes darkly amusing but more often unsettling. As she pulled the bedcover straight there was another hammering at the front door, this time so urgent that she dropped her mobile and fled downstairs, propelled by dread. Walter Arrowsmith poked his head out of the living room as she passed.

‘Spotted what it is, missus. Dog urine. Unmistakable.’

At the front door was an angry, short, middle-aged man dressed in jeans, a singlet and a baseball cap.

‘You parked in my parking place! Mine! Come ’ere, think yer own the road!’

‘Who are you?’

‘Next door. Twenty-three years. Always parked there.’

Alison glanced past her fuming neighbour. ‘Erm – I’ve parked outside my house, not yours.’
This passed as though she hadn’t spoken.

The argument became circular. A warning bell rang in Alison’s head and she was about to apply her superior power of persuasion when a taxi drew up. Clark! Carrying a profusion of gerberas, sunflowers and asters – all her favourites – he strode up the garden path past the fuming pint-sized neighbour and lifted her off her feet.

‘Mah wee darlin’! Good to be home!’
The neighbour retrieved the fallen bouquet and held it uncomfortably.‘’Ere – yer dropped yer flowers.’
Clark turned on his best bloke-bonding act. ‘Sorry, pal. Thanksalot. Ma first day in ma new home. Clark MacArne – and you’re…?’
‘Steve. Live next door.’
‘Real privilege to meet you, Steve. New neighbour, new friend!’ Clark held out his hand.
Steve, initially hesitant, launched into a strange ritual of punching knuckles and clasping palms at forty-five degrees. All dead serious. Steve, the pudgy, fifty-something adolescent. After which he restarted his harangue about the BMW being parked in his space.
Clark mentioned the motorcycle parts blocking their drive and Steve smirked with pride at the opportunity to prove that there had, at one time, been lead in his pencil –
‘O them. My twin boys, Cashus and Tisan, they’ll get it sorted for you, Mark.’
– then swaggered down the path, ignoring Alison.
(All characters are the work of the author’s imagination and any coincidence to persons living or dead is coincidental.)
This is how I see Steve (apologies to whoever posted this on FB)

Steve Shackley?

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JIGSAW ISLAND – new review on Goodreads



This is a warm and delightful read. I really enjoyed it. Characters and relationships are brought to life with skilfully written and convincing dialogue. The relationships are believable and very relatable. All in all, it was an engrossing plot, well told, satisfying and thought-provoking.

Thank you, Linda, reviews are so important
See Get the Books! (above) for book sales of JIGSAW ISLAND and TERRIBLE WITH RAISINS

Terrible with Raisins and Jigsaw Island

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For those of you who remember calypso…

Shopping calypso, shopping calypso, hear all about it – yakka-yak-yak
Morrisons Sainsburys Aldi and Tesco – giving out the discounts and getting it back
Well we had a happy ‘sperience in Teignmouth town
Never thought our groc’ry store would let us down
But on a day we least expect our Waitrose close its doors
An’ ‘spected us to stand up an give it big applause

Head in your botty, way up your rectum, John Lewis Partners – kacky kack kack
Leave us with Lidl, what you expect? Them pay staff half the wages and give the rest the sack
Now we have to book deliveries and wait a month in line
Or travel into Exeter on A-three-seven-nine
So when we got the energy we make the trip at last
And spend a bloody fortune ‘cos we’re desperate for class

OK – now I have your attention: New novel JIGSAW ISLAND HERE

Artwork by Lynne McVernon / Digital render Martyn Stead

Posted in Contemporary Women's Fiction, Fiction, Greek Islands, Humour, Leros, Life on the edge, new writing, Personal, Writers, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Non-parent writing about parenting issues – where have I gone right?

Having ducked out of the whole breeding issue, I stand as an observer of friends, family, colleagues – and partner – who have all trodden that uneven path. I’ve been lassoed in from time to time, as a totally unprepared stepmother, and as a godparent. Being without a god of my own, I declined the ‘god’ bit, but am still fond of the kids and have become close to other children of friends. So why have I featured motherhood so strongly in my writing, both close and dysfunctional? Maybe exploring it intellectually? Apparently it works, though, readers are convinced by it. An example from TERRIBLE WITH RAISINS – Clair and 17 year old daughter, Jess visit a Symi beach by taxi boat. Any comments?:

Symi harbour

‘We’ll have been here a whole week by this evening.’
We were having breakfast on the terrace – nonchalant, now, about the view. Jess continued, contemplative.
‘You know, it’s really odd about holidays. You’re having a good time and you think ‘I want it always to be this moment’. And you try to hang onto it but it goes racing away and you suddenly find yourself in another moment on a wet day in October remembering the moment you were trying to hang onto. Except we’re here, now, and it’s holiday and it’s wonderful!’
She wiped a dribble of Symi honey from her chin and squinted out across the harbour.
‘Shall we go somewhere else today? Oh – d’you mind if I go for a drink with Nikos tonight?’
The last was tacked on so casually it was difficult to object. I wondered how long the assignation had been on her agenda. They met at the supermarket while I was talking to Fraser on Monday – before we went to Nimborio! Sly little… At least the arch manipulator was being deferential. I OK’d it.
As we waited for the next Nanou boat I squinted around the harbour for Richard’s white hair. Or Mandy’s blonde. Failed on both. When the boat arrived we headed for the prow to avoid the exhaust of the engine and the tobacco fumes of the two-man crew. Jess hissed in my ear.
‘Look – there’s that woman with the purple face, you know, the one who was so arsey on the boat coming back from Sesklia. Huh – Arsey Purple!’
I glanced round instantly catching the woman’s narrow eye. She stood with a little man who looked spookily like Charles Hawtrey. I pointed him out to Jess.
‘Who’s Charles Hawtrey?’
On the boat, we played a ‘Who would we least like to meet here?’ game. Number of points dependent on level of undesirability. My sort of partner, Howard was Jess’s opening gambit, for which she claimed a thousand points. I vetoed it as too predictable. After a tussle over rules Jess conceded, provided that her Granny Connie and step-grandfather, Joe, were also excluded. Play recommenced with Brenda next door at home in Aborigine Road, for fifty points. And so it continued with teachers, ex-employers, sometime friends and foes. I hurled in Jess’s contemporary, Sharn (sic) Fellowes, for twenty-five points. Sharn had dressed like a hooker since age nine and spoke to her elders as though they were dung beetles.
‘But Sharn’s a good laugh!’
I wouldn’t budge. Counter attacking, Jess threw in Harry Whelkin, self-appointed convener of Aborigine Road Neighbourhood Watch and right-wing bigot. I had to admit it was an excellent call, boosting her score to three hundred.
‘So why do you suck up to him, Mum?’
‘I don’t. I’ve been to a couple of meetings because we have been broken into twice.’
‘So why did you go to his barbecue? You said it would be like a white supercilious convention.’
‘White supremacist. I couldn’t think what else to do with Howard.’
Oh tits. Played right into her hands. Jess looked at me solemnly.
‘Are you that lonely, Mum? That you have to be with him?’
‘No, I’m not lonely, darling. It’s like that old song, ‘If you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with’. Except there’s no one I love that I can’t be with. But I may as well be with someone when it suits. So – Howard.’
‘I so don’t understand you!’
She could have asked now if I had loved her father. It perplexed me that she’d never wanted to know about him. In her position I’d have been eaten up with curiosity. Maybe she was waiting for me to say. Or maybe she was intuitive. Or perhaps she realised that his role wasn’t important – well, not important to our relationship. It was all getting too serious. I played an ace.
‘Rita Whelkin!’
Jess was caught off guard but delighted.
‘Oh yes – no! Bleeurrrghhh! Vomit, vomit! Ten million trillion points – and a zillion for her wig and her dog!’
‘I win, then?’
‘I’m a slaughtered daughter! Look – my guts are splattered all over the boat and my bum hole’s landed on Arsey Purple!’
At Nanou Jess went straight to the taverna and ferried two beers back to the shade of our parasol.
‘Here’s to everyone we don’t want here! Long may they be somewhere else!’
‘Yamass!’

TERRIBLE WITH RAISINS – eBook HERE

Next novel JIGSAW ISLAND – eBook HERE

Posted in biography, Contemporary Women's Fiction, Greek Islands, Humour, Life on the edge, new writing, Parent, Personal, Single mother, Single mothers, Writers, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Start ’em young

In 1990s in Berkshire, I ran a young people’s performance group, Fable Productions. Students devised, wrote, and performed their own plays. I remember them all.


Occasionally, I wrote plays based on students’ ideas. Wonder do they remember me? And have they heard of my books – Terrible With Raisins and Jigsaw Island?

Terrible with Raisins and Jigsaw Island

 

 

Posted in Contemporary Women's Fiction, Fiction, Greek Islands, Humour, Leros, Life on the edge, new writing, non-fiction, Personal, Teaching, Theatre, Writers, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

An island like a jigsaw piece upon a painted ocean…

Managed only a foundation year at art school but loved every minute – still fiddle with paintbrushes and collect art. Top left ‘Condo Blue’ by Dean L Hohn, a Tasmanian photographer, top right 3D artwork by Liz Shreeve, Australian artist living in Sydney. Bottom left, my very own JIGSAW ISLAND cover design – digitised by Martyn Stead.
Find Ebook and Paperback HERE

An island like a jigsaw piece upon a painted ocean…

(Apologies to Samuel Taylor Coleridge…)
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Another story – this time lighter – about a little girl and an Archangel – and set in Greece…

I wrote this between TERRIBLE WITH RAISINS (eBook here) and JIGSAW ISLAND (eBook here). It’s a long short story, hopefully heartwarming but nearly 4,000 words – so only for the brave…

MESSAGE TO ARCHANGEL MICHAEL

25th October 2018
Hi Mum and Papa
Loving UCL, although parts of it are a bit gruesome. Enjoying student life, though and very proud of wearing my very own stethoscope! London smells of diesel and autumn and rain and excitement. Too far north, though 😦 . Grandma Lil is more a pal than a Grandma. Think she’d quite like to come to a few parties but I’ve ducked out of inviting her. She said I could practise bandaging her if I want, so very helpful. But I’ll have to move into hall in the New Year. I found an old digital recorder (I thought I’d lost years ago) in with stuff I left at her place.  Charged it up and what a surprise! Thought you’d like to listen to it while your baby’s away, so I’ve uploaded it – the link’s at the bottom of this email. Hope you like. See you at Christmas. Sending love – Smelly-Lili :-)) xxxx :

LILI’S RECORDING:
Thursday evening
I got this digital recorder for my birthday. So, this is like – a well, sort of – diary. Except I’m not writing it. I’m saying it.

Me leneh Lilias Despina Pandrotis. That means my name is Lilias Despina Pandrotis in Greek. I’m Lilias after my English Grandma and Despina after my Greek one. Everyone calls me Lili. This is my secret tape for when I’m older.

I’m ten years old two months sixteen days. My best friend is Yiannis he’s nearly eleven.  We support Olympiakos, that’s the Piraeus football team. Rivaldo’s my favourite player. I live on a Greek island called Pindros in the Aegean Sea between Greece and Turkey. Our dog is called Rivaldo. He smells of earth and dog and wet fur. The cats are Midge and Madonna. They keep themselves very clean but they often smell of fish, which they’ve probably stolen in the harbour. They caught seven snakes in the garden last year. Lizards are too quick though. Lizards are good things because they eat flies and mosquitoes and stuff.

My Mum’s English and she tried learning Greek but when she used to speak it to Papa he replied in English and she got cross. Mum smells of her flower perfume and sun lotion and shampoo and solder. I can speak English and Greek because I’m bi-ling-something.

Papa’s a doctor the only doctor on Pindros. Papa was there when I was born he pulled me out of Mum’s tummy. He lets me use his stethoscope and showed me how to take blood pressure with the black bandage and the puffer and he lets me hit his knee with a little hammer to test his reflects. Once I did it a bit hard for a joke and he yelled “Yamó!” which is very rude in Greek. He works really hard specially in the summer when the tourists fall off their motorbikes or get bad tummies. Mum calls it the Pindros poos. Papa smells of medicine stuff and sweat and clean cotton. Mum and Papa laugh at me and call me Smelly Lili, just because I notice things like that. I don’t smell of anything except the sea when I’ve been swimming. And probably sun lotion like Mum. And shampoo. And clean cotton, like Papa, until I get it dirty. And I’m too young to sweat.

Saturday morning
Mum’s at work and Papa’s in his surgery. Mum makes jewellery she’s a silversmith and she’s got a shop called Pandrotis Silver where she sells it. That’s our name Pandrotis. Her shop’s in the town by the harbour. The harbour’s called Aghia Marina. I want to be a doctor and a silversmith and a footballer when I grow up. They’ll have proper girls leagues then and I’ll play for Olympiakos.

Mum’s shop is next door to Angelica’s taverna. Angelica is Yiannis’s mum. If there aren’t any customers at the taverna she lets us and his sister Leda sit at the tables outside and draw or drink lemonade or just muck around. Sometimes Costas Spoulopoulos asks Angelica for a coffee. He’s always asking for coffee at the tavernas and kafeneions. Mostly he gets one. Angelicas quite nice to him but sometimes she gets cross like if he goes there three times in a day. Papa says were not to call Costas crazy or mad but be kind because he has learning disability really.

Sunday – before church
My favourite things are playing football with Yiannis going fishing in Yiannis’s Dad’s boat swimming and playing with Rivaldo. Sometimes we let Costas Spoulopoulos play football with us. Costas is really old – at least thirty I think and he’s not very good at football except heading the ball and sometimes bouncing it off his tummy he’s really fat to make us laugh. Some people say he should be locked up on Leros. That’s where they have a hospital for mentally ill people. Yiannis said Costas is trelos. That’s Greek for mad so I tell him not to use it about Costas because of his learning disability. You should respect older people even if they are trelos.

My favourite times are my birthday which is on the twenty eighth of June and Christmas and Easter and St Michael’s Day. I think that’s’ in November. I like living here except when it gets really hot and I have to wear a hat and Mum puts sun block on me, like factor 50. Yiannis doesn’t have to. Well not factor 50 only 20 it’s so not fair. And I don’t like it when it’s raining because it gets really boring. Sometimes in winter it rains lots and the hydrofoil from Piraeus can’t get here but the ferry is bigger so it can.

Tuesday morning before school
I woke up with the sun so I’ve got plenty of time to talk. Last November Papa took us to see o Papouskai Nikos kai Yiayia Despina – that’s Greek for my Grandfather Nikos and Grandmother Despina – in Simi for St Michaels Day. We got on the hydrofoil and o Papouskai kai Yiayia moo were waiting for us on the harbour in Yialos. Papouskai always has a cigarette in his mouth. He smells of cigarettes and salt and of him.

We walked up the Kali Strata to their house in Horio which is the old town. Kali Strata means the good steps. There are three hundred and seventy-five of them Yiayia Despina complains about her legs aching. Lots of people came from everywhere to celebrate St Michael’s Day and all the tavernas were full.

On St Michael’s Day we went round the island in little boats to the monastery of the Archangel Michael at Panormitis. Archangels are the most important angels. If you live in Simi and your names Michael – you get called Panormitis. Then all over the world they know you come from Simi.

They don’t have any monks in the monastery which I was disappointed at when I was little. But they have a room there with all different bottles and really cool model boats that people have put messages in and money or a present and asked the Archangel to pray for them to give them a baby or a husband or stuff or make wishes to come true. Anyone can do it. It doesn’t matter where you put it in the sea it always ends up at Panormitis and then Archangel Michael makes things all right for you.

Wednesday in bed after dinner
Yiayia Despina told me about a boat that hit some rocks coming out of Panormitis Bay and then they found in the chapel that someone had stolen some gold and silver presents people gave to the Virgin Mary and the robber was on the boat that had crashed. That showed that Archangel Michael was watching. I decided to send him a message.

As soon we got back to Yiayia Despina’s house I went to my bedroom and when everyone was asleep I crept down and got the torch Yiayia keeps by the front door and took it up to my bedroom. I switched it on under the sheet and wrote on a paper napkin from Manos’s Fish restaurant. I put:
Dear Archangel Michael – Please will you make my Mum and Papa not to shout at each other. They are called Doctor Theo Pandrotis and Chrissie Pandrotis.
Love from
Lilias Pandrotis, Pandrotis Silver, Aghia Marina, Pindros, Greece.

Except I wrote it in Greek because he’s a Greek Archangel. I put it in a plastic bottle with a screw-on lid and the rest of my pocket money, one Euro and thirty cents But I couldn’t throw it into the sea because Mum and Papa were with me all the time. So I put it in my backpack and took it back to Pindros because they said you can send a message in a bottle to the Archangel Michael from anywhere.

On the first morning home, I made sure no one was looking and then threw it in the harbour. Except there was someone looking, Angelica, and she and told me off for throwing rubbish. So, I said I was doing it for a good reason but it was a secret. She gave me one of her half laughing, half frowning looks then took my hand walked across to the taverna and gave me a mint choc chip ice cream. “Now what kind of secret is it, Lili mou?”, she said. I told her it was a very serious secret and she had to promise to keep it. She shut her teeth and tapped them and said “Herkos odonton” – that means closed teeth and really, really private and secret. So I told her about Mum and Papa always fighting and how I thought if I sent a message to Archangel Michael he might stop them doing it. She listened and she didn’t just make noises and keep doing something else like other adults do. When I finished, she hugged me. Angelica smells of souvlaki and pizzas and coffee. I couldn’t hardly breathe against her chest. But it was nice.

Next day I saw Mum and Angelica through the see-through plastic that Angelica puts up in winter. They were having a glasses of wine. They talk a lot together Mum and Angelica. Angelica leaned across the table and held Mum’s hand and Mum cried. I hoped Angelica kept her promise and didn’t tell Mum what I said.

Friday before Christmas – Papa’s alone on Pindros
Mum brought me here to Grandma Lil’s in Watford in England for Christmas. Papa had to stay on Pindros because there wasn’t a spare doctor and there were lots of refugees in leaky boats drowning and needing help. But I didn’t want to have Christmas without Papa. I looked up the distance from Pindros to London on the Internet. I want to fix it in my head so I know exactly how far away he is.

At Grandma Lil’s there’s a Christmas Tree with lights and a white fairy on top. I thought an Archangel would have been better. I got a stocking full of presents on Christmas morning. Grandma Lil said Father Christmas brought it. I got a Gameboy and a Spiderman jumper from Grandma Lil She thinks I’m at dimotiko – I mean, primary school.  Mum gave me clothes and scrunchies for my hair and other stuff. Then we had Christmas dinner with turkey and roast potatoes and stuffing. Without Papa, I was too sad to eat it. Mum was angry.

Boxing Day
Grandma Lil asked if I’d like to turn out her Chinese trunk. The trunk’s carved with people, birds and flowers and smells old and warm. Inside, there are fans and heavy bits of glass and photograph albums and a little painting like in the chapels on Pindros of a man with wings and a halo that looks like a gold plate behind his head. Grandma Lil said she had no idea who it was it was just something my dead Grandpa George had picked up in the Fatty Can gift shop in Rome but if I liked it I could have it. But I knew it!  It was Archangel Michael! So, I said “Efharisto Yiayia Lil”. I hadn’t forgotten I was in England, I just thought it’d make her laugh because she looked a bit sad – and it did. I asked if it could be our secret. Herkos odonton. She said I was a funny little girl but she promised.

Mum asked if I’d like to stay longer with Grandma Lil. I said I sort of did but I didn’t want to be away from Papa.

Papa met us in Athens and he gave me a late Christmas present at the hotel. It was the new Olympiakos strip. Yay! Mum said “Oh for heaven’s sake”.

He knew a cinema where they had Spiderman on. So, we left our suitcases at the hotel and went to see it. Mum and Papa wanted me to sit between them but I lied and told them I couldn’t see over the person in front – It was a boy and he was quite small so maybe they knew I was lying – so Papa had to sit next to Mum.

The sea was rough on the ferry back to Pindros and I was sick on a lady’s bag and she made a face. The lady was pretty and thin and had yellow hair. Papa gave her one of his cards. Mum was cross while she was wiping me down even though I said I was sorry and I didn’t mean to do it. She said she wasn’t cross with me.

Mum put up a sign with ‘For Sale’ on it outside Pandrotis Silver. She said it was just to see what would happen. I didn’t think it would do any good. Everybody on Pindros knew the jewellery was for sale anyway. There weren’t any tourists for Papa to look after but still lots of refugees so he was working really hard. Then they had a really big fight and Mum yelled “Three months? You haven’t been paid for three months?” And then Papa said “So I’m to blame for austerity, too?”. Then it went very quiet and I knew Mum was telling him to shoosh in case I heard.

After that they stopped shouting at each other every day because Papa was out all the time with the refugees. Then Papa started sleeping downstairs. And it was my fault. I worked it out. I asked Archangel Michael to stop shouting at each other but I forgot to ask him to make them like each other. I asked Angelica if I should send another message. But she said even Archangels couldn’t do everything and just to say a thank you in my prayers. I decided to send a thank you note in a bottle, anyway, just in case, and put a picture in it to make it obvious even to an Archangel.

It was hard drawing anything for Archangel Michael showing people liking each other. You could give them smiley faces but they might look dorky. And definitely not kissing – bleeagh! So, I decided to copy Grandma Lil’s icon. I didn’t have a gold pen for the plate behind his head so I used yellow. It looked more like a frisbee than a gold plate and one wing was a bit bigger than the other because I didn’t start in the middle of the paper but it didn’t look too bad. I wrote:

Dear Archangel Michael
Thank you very much for stopping my Mum and Papa (Chrissie and Doctor Theo) from shouting. They are still sad, so can you make them like each other, please? I am not cross with you because it was my fault for not asking you properly and you did your best.
Love from
Lilias Pandrotis

So that Angelina wouldn’t see me, I went to Lalarios beach round the corner from the harbour. It smelt of coffee from the kafeneion and rotty from the dead stuff washed up on the stones. I checked no-one was looking, then threw the bottle in the sea.

Mum started tidying up at Pandrotis Silver. I helped. I sorted the garnets and amethysts and turquoise and rose quartz and my favourite fluorite. Its purple and white and green and Mum says it means I’m a really spiritual person. I polished rings and necklaces and put them in boxes with crinkly paper and wrapped up the silver wire and the clippers. She cleaned out the kiln she had for melting silver and the little drill and the soldering iron. She had her CDs on really loud and she didn’t talk much. And I think she cried again, because I saw her shoulders moving.

One day, when Yiannis and I were coming back from school, we saw Costas, the learning disability man, picking something up from the ground. It was a ring. Not a nice one, like Mum’s. He pushed really hard and got it on his finger. Yiannis and I followed him. He stopped at Takis’s kafeneion and asked for a coffee. But while he was drinking it we could see that the ring was hurting him and he couldn’t get it off and started making little noises. So, I thought I’d better tell Dad and I ran up to the surgery. Dad said I was right to tell him. He picked up his bag and he came down to Takis’s with me. But Costas wouldn’t let him touch his finger. It was going all blue and he ran away from Dad.

Lefteris’s place was next down the street. Dad ran ahead and told Lefteris the problem. So when Costas got there got there, he invited him in for a frothy coffee because Costas likes those best. Lefteris winked at us and we saw Dad hiding behind the counter. He held up a little bottle. He’d put some stuff in the coffee. Drugs! Costas drank the frothy coffee and he closed his eyes and smiled a lot. And I thought, “Yay Papa! Bravo!”. But then Costas stood up and shook his head and went off staggering a bit towards the harbour.

Papa ran round the back way to Angelica’s. Costa was getting slower and slower. But he didn’t fall over and when he got to the harbour Angelica was waiting for him.  And because she’s mostly nice to him he went with her and she gave him another cup of coffee. Papa was standing down the little alley at the side and he gave us the thumbs up. He’d put some drugs in the coffee again!

Costas drank the coffee and swayed about. But then he got up staggered off. Papa told me to run back to the house and ask Mum to bring the wheelbarrow. So, I did. She argued a bit but in the end she yanked it through the side door and we wheeled it down.

Costas was bumping off walls. We saw him turn the corner past Angelica’s. Papa was still hiding so as not to frighten him. There was Mum and me with the wheelbarrow and Yiannis, Leda Angelica and Papa all watching. Suddenly, Costas stopped and swayed like one of those toys on a spring. Mum and I rushed forwards with the wheelbarrow and he fell in. Plop! Fast asleep!

His finger was really big and gone all grey. Papa couldn’t get the ring off. He said he’d have to cut it. I thought he meant Costas’s finger but he said no. Then Mum had an idea. Papa and Angelica and Yiannis and I wheeled Costas in the wheelbarrow to her shop. When we got there, Mum started up her little jewellery drill and, while Costas was snoring, she drilled the ring off his finger. Papa put a big bandage on Costas’s finger and we took him back to his mother’s house while he snore away in the wheelbarrow.

The best thing was, Mum and Papa walked back with their arms round each other and they were laughing and they stopped once and had a kiss – and I didn’t even mind. Angelica took Yiannis and Leda and me to the taverna for pizza ice cream and coke.

I told Angelica about the last thank you note and drawing. She said Archangel Michael must have got it express delivery and laughed. I said I’d send another one to say thank you for putting the ring in the road for Costas to pick up and making everything better. But she said no or I’d be the single greatest cause of pollution in the Aegean. That was really wrong of her because I am ecologically responsible.

Then she said I should stay the night because Mum and Papa were busy. I told her the shop was shut and Papa didn’t have surgery, but she gave me and Yiannis and Leda big bowls of ice cream that we could eat in the bedroom, so I stayed and shared Leda’s bed and Angelica gave me a big T-shirt to sleep in. Mum and Papa weren’t cross when I got home in the morning and we all went for a picnic at Nimborio. Mum took the For Sale down from the shop and got all the jewellery out again ready for Easter when the tourists start coming. Archangel Michael is a pretty good at magic!

Costas’s finger got better. Mum fixed the ring in her workshop and made it bigger for him so he’s very proud of it. But he keeps it in his pocket so that no one can saw it off. He still goes round the tavernas and kafeneions but he doesn’t ask for coffee any more because he’s afraid it will give him a bad finger so he asks for zestee sokolata instead. That’s hot chocolate in Greek.

Mum and Papa sit in the same room and go to bed together now and Papa helps her talk Greek and if they begin to argue about anything Papa will say – Fancy a special coffee? – and the other one will say – And a little bit of drilling? – and they laugh and kiss and go, like, really gross. They don’t know it’s all because of me and Archangel Michael. Angelica promised she didn’t tell.

Grandma Lil’s coming on holiday at Easter so I’m making her some Easter earrings with fluorite in them. Mum said “Suppose you’d better make some for Yiayia Despina too,” so I will.

Papa’s going to help Yiannis and me start an under elevens five a side league (Costas can’t be in it) so maybe we could play the other islands. Bravo! So were practicing really hard. We put Leda in goal but she’s not very good. Papa said wed have to think of a really good name for our team. So were called Archangelos Pindros. Mum’s designed us a shield and our strip’s gold like the Archangel Michael’s and white and blue for Greece. Cool. Dad said it’s like Leeds United but I don’t know who they are.
(End recording)

28th October 2018
Darling Smelly L
Glad you’re still enjoying the life of a fledgling medic. We’re looking forward to having another Dr Pandrotis in the family! We listened to your recording, laughing and crying at the same time – So, it was you and the Archangel! We’re both feeling a little embarrassed – and very grateful. Angelica laughed when we told her, said you’re a great kid, even if you’re too brainy for your own good, and she loves you. So do we, heaps. Yiannis will be back from University in Thessaloniki for Christmas. Leda really misses you both, so when you and Gran get here, we’ll have a big celebration. Rivaldo is getting very old and sleeps in the house, now the weather’s cool. You won’t have a problem with that! Midge and Madonna still prowling…and yowling!
Big hugs to you and Grandma Lil
All our love
Mum & Papa

 

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