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.
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.
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 :
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
This is a story submitted to a writing group – who disliked it because they said they couldn’t empathise with the narrator. Admittedly, it isn’t women’s magazine/romcom format. Anyhow, here it is:
The Old House / When I was Ten
Two in front of me, one next to me. None of them on my side.
They think they know. They don’t. And they won’t get nothing out of me. But we got to go through this game. Even though we all know what’s going to happen. Whatever.
Need a loop in here. What do they think I am, bleeding mind reader? Said to start with I was a bit Mutt ’n’ Jeff but don’t need a bloody signer, just speak up. Now my bloke’s telling her. Oh, here we go. Bloody foghorns, now. Speaking to me like I’m stupid. Or a foreigner.
You don’t have to whack it up like it’s a real interrogation. Like they was Nazis.
That’s what they are. Nazis. ‘Specially her. Even got a moustache, poor cow. No wonder she does this for a living. Frightens people before she even opens her gob. Ceiling lights don’t help her, either. Fluorescent. Very harsh. They should have LED by now. Public building. More energy efficient. That’s what they can’t grasp. You put the money up front now, you save in the long run. Could’ve washed her hair, though, coming to work. Bet she lives alone, bet she – … bloody Nora, she’s wearing a wedding ring. Well, I wouldn’t. Even with the lights off.
“Nothing. Weren’t laughing.”
Hang on, now the other one’s off on one. Sounds like…wotchercallit? White noise? That’s good. White noise! And him with a third degree suntan? That’s what Ed used to say. Third degree suntan! Yeah, not white noise, black noise – ’cept that’d be reggae or rap or whatever. What’s that new thing? Beat boxing? Yeah – we could have a beat boxing session, him and me. If I could hear him properly. He’d win, no doubt.
Never used to get many blacks on the force. ’Spose they do more, now. Come to think of it, he looks a bit like Ed. Edwin. Clapton Park Secondary. Good laugh, Ed. And his kid brother – what’s his name? Winston. Went back to his a few times, met his family. But Mum wouldn’t have him round ours ’cos of the neighbours. We were at Woodberry Down Estate by then. Said she wasn’t prejudiced herself, but she had to live with them. If she’d let – if she’d – I wouldn’t’ve got beaten up so much, ’cos he used to stop –
“No, I can hear you.”
Why they got the Queen up in here? Why they got a picture up at all? What’s the point? But the Queen? Think it’ll make us tell the truth? Mum had one up in the living room, the Queen just after she was crowned. Said the queen’d feel at home on our wall ’cos we lived in Sandringham Road. Very royalist, Mum. Her laughing, She put it up at Woodberry Down and said Her Majesty was in her other Hackney residence.
They going to have the Queen up, they should give the room a lick of paint. Out of respect. No – no – out of a tin! Lick of paint out of a tin. Good one. Out of a tin.
They got damp up in that corner. Black mould in the crack. Need to strip it back, see what the problem is, fix that then some matt white anti-mould. Ronseal. Or Dulux Trade Mouldshield. It’s ground floor here, no outside wall so they probably got a leak in –
Could’ve done with that before we moved. Special paint. Bloody mouldy shithole it was. All us kids had coughs and colds all the time. That’s how I got the ear infection. It’s not just damp, it’s the mould spores. Never got it sorted. So. Didn’t complain to the landlord those days, else you’d be out. ’Specially if you owed rent, like Mum always did. And ’specially if he – … She knew, of course, must’ve done. Just too afraid we’d get chucked out.
Here we go. Back to Godzilla. She don’t half bang on, her. Must’ve been on some course.
I could tell them enough to make a cat laugh. But would they feel any different? Sometimes they say it’s an excuse – no, a reason. Ex–tending circumstances? Or something. That’s why I got a cup of tea. That don’t usually happen, I bet. Soften me up. But you can see they’re only going through the motions. So they can say they, like, explored every avenue.
Nothing new about it. Old as time. Well, old as life. Except David Attenborough never done a documentary about it. That other bloke, long time ago. Bald head. Went on about apes but it was really about people. Think he probably wrote about it. And a lot of shrinks, of course.
It happened. It did happen. Not what I did… that happened. Before. In Sandringham Road. But I just sort of shut it out. I get pictures back, sometimes. But I couldn’t really describe it right. I couldn’t, like, put it how I see it. How I remember it.
I was her little boy and she never done nothing. Then, she stopped me and Edwin being friends. He wouldn’t talk to me – after she wouldn’t let him come round. They could get me then. And they did.
Supposing I was them sitting there and they was me? What would I think? What would I believe? I’d think I was scum. Like they do. I am scum. And I know what happens to scum like me. Once they’re in.
End of work, I s’pose. My old place won’t have me back. Not with all the schools and hospitals they do up, they can’t have someone like me working with kids and vulnerable adults around. That’s what it said on the CBS thingy – no – CRB. Or D something. Enhanced one, it was. Didn’t have nothing to hide then. Well, I did but…
No one wants a paedo.
He was a little toe-rag. I shouldn’t’ve done it but he was… He was asking for it. Hanging around, always hanging around. Devious little sod, stalking me. Then coming round mine. Told me he was sixteen but he never was. He was a rent boy. That’s all he was. Said he loved… and then wanting money, presents, more money – and when I didn’t have any more – My brief don’t look much older –
And I always – I never – never – give in to it before. Never let on even though they called me poofter and nancy boy and all them names. Just ’cos I couldn’t hear right. Me leaning in to listen and them yelling “Woofter wants a kiss”. I never done nothing. And I never knew if I was like it inside or– if it was him – Mr Robinson – what started it off in me. All different now. All ‘out’.
She should’ve stopped him. Robinson. She was my mother… SHE KNEW and she didn’t stop him. He was always careful to come when she was at work and he’d make me send the others round the rec.. But she knew ’cos she came home with a migraine once and caught him coming out and he didn’t ask her for the rent. And she found me there. And the state I was in. And all she ever said, all she ever said was – “We can’t upset Mr Robinson else we’ll have nowhere to live”. Then told me off for sending the little’uns out on their own. And I know – I heard – he was in with the Thompson Gang. Least that’s what people round us said. I dunno, he could’ve been in with Rachman. Whoever. People round us was frightened of him. I was …
… his hands on me. He hurt me. He hurt me and she didn’t stop him.
But she went up the council and she wouldn’t leave until they put her on the list. Went off sick from work and lost three days money. But she got on the list. She did that. And when we moved, it stopped –
“I’m not – “
“ – crying.”
They’ll all know, now. Work. Family. All of them. And when I go inside – ’cos I will go inside – I’ll be a section 43. But they’ll get me. They’ll get me like they did at school. Only worse.
“No – no –“
And if I ever get out I’ll go on the register. And then my life’s over. I’ll have to do myself in.
So what does it matter if I say… or not?
“All right – it happened to me – in the old house. When I was ten. Satisfied?”
Anne has crowned the last day of the Random Things blog tour… HERE
5.0 out of 5 stars Moving, thought-provoking, engaging
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on 7 August 2020
From the moment I began to read, I remembered how much I’d previously enjoyed Lynne McVernon’s writing, when I first discovered Clair and her diva daughter Jess. This is a sequel of sorts, and an opportunity to meet again some of those distinctive characters – but entirely self-contained, and 100% readable as a standalone. This is Annie Buchanan’s story – and what a story it is.
This book drew me in from the very first page, and kept me in its grip throughout the first part as we discover Annie’s life now, and her rather special relationship with son Jude. Her first person stream of consciousness takes us back in time to her teenage discovery that she was adopted, her flight to London from her Scottish home, and the experiences that shaped her. It’s quite a story, a naive and unworldly young girl who struggles to survive, confusing kindness with other things rather less savoury, suffers some quite appalling experiences – and returns home, her life entirely changed by her adventure. The writing is quite excellent, both in allowing us to see everything through Annie’s eyes, and through the extraordinarily vivid depiction of the realities of life on the streets.
And then, another flight – a real one this time to the island of Symi, with her son Jude, home to her brother Fraser (and Clair and Jess). The island paradise is perfectly evoked – its beauty, its blue skies and sunshine, the warmth of its characters – but the influx of both tourists and refugees has deeply changed the dynamic of the islands. The damage wrought by Annie’s experience is mirrored by the stories of those fleeing for their lives, the real kindness of those who offer their support – with glimpses of the way in which such experiences can shape the future. I was shamefully unaware of the situation affecting the islands and its people – the way the story unfolds in its second part certainly opened my eyes to that, as Annie travels on to Leros and shares significant parts of both its past and present.
And then, in the book’s final third, the whole story takes an entirely unexpected turn and verges on a psychological thriller – although the clues were there throughout had I chosen to pick up on them. Tension, pursuit, putting all the pieces together, seeing things clearly – the pacing is perfect, the emotional content so well drawn. Viewed from above, Leros looks like a piece from a jigsaw – and it proves to be where some of life’s complexities achieve resolution and the big picture is finally completed.
Am I making the book feel a little on the heavy side? Despite its content, it most certainly isn’t – the humour is always present, with the author’s clear affection for Annie and her sometimes questionable choices shining through. That same feeling of affection applies to Fraser too – he sometimes takes up the narrative, and I enjoyed his voice every bit as much as Annie’s. There’s a focus on friends and the complexities of family that I enjoyed, a number of other well-handled themes around alienation and belonging, even a touch of romance – this was a book that really worked, and I found it moving, thought-provoking and engaging.
Do read Alaa’s real-life story at the book’s end – it’s a postscript of sorts, but also a perfect prompt for discussion of the desperate plight of refugees, and the need for both action and compassion. Quite a book – and one I enjoyed very much, and would recommend most highly.
At first, it took me a while to get into this book. However, once Annie arrives in Symi the pace quickens and by the time she’s on Leros, I couldn’t put this book down. All the seemingly inconsequential events in the first part suddenly make sense and are masterfully brought together in the climax. This book is so well structured and touches on many of the topics that are all too often brushed under the carpet. Just as the Greek islands can easily get under your skin, I have to confess that so has this book. I find myself thinking about Annie weeks later. Inspirational!
JIGSAW ISLAND SALES
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Another review on the Random Things blog tour – many thanks to Julie Barham of Northern Reader for her close reading and uplifting words…
Annie seems to live in a beautiful part of Scotland, but there is trouble in paradise, a fact which is even more evident when she takes her son Jude to visit her brother on a Greek island. This is a novel about the difficulties of life that a woman can meet in a contemporary world, when determination to find a different way of life can lead to trouble. It is also a very powerful look at the way the arrival of refugees on Greek islands means that those who seek to help are always meeting enormous challenges. There is so much in this novel that it is quite breathtaking, as the author also manages to put in a mystery that reverberates across several years. Identity, family loyalty and the imperfections that affect realistic characters, this is a novel which is memorable for all the right reasons. It creates a strong impression of how the islands cope with an influx of people who have risked everything to travel on the sea, and gives glimpses into their fates. I found this an engaging book with high ambitions, and I was pleased to have the opportunity to read and review it.
The book opens with Annie, a young woman, struggling with her thirteen year old son Jude. He is a mixed – race boy in a small Scottish coastal town as the author describes him, with quite a temper. Her desperation to cope with him leads her to bring forward a trip to see her brother Fraser on Symi, one of the Dodecanese Islands of Greece. He has connections there; to Clair who runs painting groups and spends the rest of her time helping some of the refugees who crowd onto the islands for much of the year, her daughter Jess who manages to get her own way most of the time, and owners of bars, hotels and others who make his life possible as he gets by as a bookkeeper. He also goes out as a volunteer on a boat which tries to help those who turn up in the local waters in makeshift craft. Annie and Fraser come from an unusual family, and the early part of the book goes back to the story of how Annie ran away to London as a teenager. The novel then goes on to the present day, as the desperate Annie turns up on the island with the truculent Jude, hoping that the effects of the community will settle and give him a new focus. It soon seems as if they will both meet significant people, and will find new challenges, especially when the past seems to be catching up with everyone.
The book cleverly combines some shocking tales within the main narrative, and reveals the vulnerability of people in many settings. There is attention to detail, especially in terms of clothing and setting, which really lefts the rest of the story off the page. The author also has a good ear for dialogue, as the various age groups and people are brought to life by their speech and small actions. This is particularly important as a mystery must be solved as a real threat emerges. I found it a good read, with a lot of depth and meaning. I recommend it to those interested in contemporary fiction which reveals real life in this country, as well as some of the reality of the reception of refugees on the islands of a country on the edge.
I found this a fascinating book, partly because I have met some refugees locally, and attempted to teach them English. This book tells some of the stories of people who have risked so much to flee from certain countries, and includes an actual story of one man who had a complex and challenging route to Devon. Please do not be put off by some of the themes of this book; there is some real humour and insight shown in the writing throughout the novel.
Maybe my plotting was too subtle… 4 star Amazon review yesterday
Top review from United Kingdom
COPY FROM THE AUTHOR AND VOLUNTARILY REVIEWED
I’d never heard of the author before but agreed to take part in the tour because I wanted something a little different. I’d love to visit Greece so the setting appealed to me, plus the fact the characters are from Scotland, my home tuft which was doubly appealing even though Annie also lives in London for a period of time. The structure of this short book takes a few chapters to get used to, a variation of stream-of-consciousness which I don’t always get on with but I soon settled into the rhythm. I would have struggled more with a longer book. The book is quirky, well written and entertaining. The book tackles a lot in such a short space of time including Annie’s struggles as a single parent of a bi-racial son. The last third of the book veers off in a direction I didn’t see coming and becomes a psychological thriller. To be honest, I thought the book was too short and the dramatic events the book closes with were not signposted well enough and too rushed.