Bricks and Mortars

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In the early 1960s, Austen Kark was travelling in Greece in the Greek Prime Minister’s second-best car, driven by the second-best chauffeur. The visit was part of his duties as Head of the BBC World Service, but he was also, as edgily as a boy taking a school friend home for a visit, hoping to show his wife, the novelist Nina Bawden, what it was about Greece and the Greeks that so enthralled him.

It wasn’t going well. It was December and cold. Fog veiled the mountains, and they could afford only the cheapest food, since they were paying for their own subsistence. In Lamia there was no room in any hotel, and the chauffeur billeted them in a private house of dark, mysterious rooms and daunting lavatory arrangements. But in the morning the lady of the house sailed into their room bearing a tray with the elements of ritual Greek hospitality: brandy, jam, grapes in honey, glasses of water. She sat down with her guests and began the usual Greek inquisition: Where were they from? How many children? Where were they going? Nina, who as portrayed here was given to intuitive flashes which surprised her husband, said: ‘I like these people. I could live here .’ Pleased beyond measure, Austen replied: ‘When I retire.’

It was more than twenty-five years before the plan could be effected, and by then they had lots of reservations, many of them taking the form of dark remarks by Nina. Practical considerations led them to Nauplion where, it turned out, there were no houses for sale. Selling one’s house is not a Greek habit, and Greek laws of inheritance meant that every property usually had dozens of owners. The house they eventually found was a ruin, but they undertook to buy the top floor once it had been restored. Everyone advised them against it.

The project involved the active and voluble interventions of Athina, an Athenian lawyer, Pericles, an Athenian architect, two Naupliot brothers who were restoring the house with the aid of their experience a

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About the contributor

Jill Paton Walsh has spent her energies on enjoying her friends, and on trying to write good fiction for the past thirty years. She is an Oxford graduate living in Cambridge – Through the Looking Glass is a favourite book.

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