Category Archives: The Phoenix Story

A FAN AND YOUNG PUBLISHER BRINGS OUT SCREAM OF THE WHITE BEAR

Well, people have enquired many times here, and it has taken eight or more years, but a fan here, supporter, young author himself and online US publisher, Jonathan Thurston, will publish SCREAM OF THE WHITE BEAR by David Clement-Davies, in 2018. Actually it is to be entitled CRY OF THE WHITE BEAR, in the spirit of a new adventure, and leaving behind the really terrible battle that was fought over it and other principals of art, law, truth and decency, with the major New York publisher Harry N. Abrams.  Which, because so much is about money over principle in the world today, has sky-rocketed to success with Young Adult books like A Diary Of A Wimpy Kind, that has sold over 180 Million copies.  The real story of its delay is probably as powerful as the book, but although David is sceptical about so much about the Internet world, or indeed how you really publish without the powers that be, or how much people are truly reading and connecting now, it is entirely appropriate that a young man of talent and passion like Jonathan tries to bring it to the world, with a quiet apology from the author for having disappointed his fans and readers for too long.

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Filed under Books, Culture, Fantasy, New York, Publishing, The Arts, The Phoenix Story, Uncategorized, Young Adult

THANKS TO YOU FIRE BRINGER IS BACK IN PRINT VERSION

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Thanks to the Crowd Funding team who have made Dragon In The Post possible too, which comes on apace, filled with strange mythical animals and the wild adventures of Garth Madfall, the classic fantasy Fire Bringer is now available for Christmas, in hard copy print once more, as well as in eBook format from Phoenix Ark Press. You can get a copy directly by CLICKING HERE. It is also available via Amazon US and in Germany, Italy and France.

But for the Dragon In The Post team who backed the project and David’s work at £25 or more, before the perk price was lowered during the campaign, there will of course also be a free copy of Fire Bringer winging its way to you soon. Thank you all again.

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Filed under America and the UK, Books, Childrens Books, Publishing, The Phoenix Story

WRITERS START TO FIGHT BACK WITH A BIT OF LITERARY FIRE?

Front CoverPart of the little victory of crowd funding the novel Dragon In The Post this year was also bringing a classic like Fire Bringer back into print availability. Here then is the new cover and back page. I have very serious reservations about Amazon’s Createspace though. Firstly the very carefully designed mechanisms to charge you more for each new ‘package’ and the lack of coordination from design teams too, having to communicate all the time through message centres, meaning errors easily creep in. Far more importantly, unlike any old fashioned publisher, Amazon take no financial risks whatsoever. Meaning that they charge you to publish your book, also taking large percentages if it succeeds, but involving no risk whatsoever if it disappears. They also set the minimum price, which I think should be challenged by monopoly commissions, not least because of Amazon so gloating, when I first contacted them, about putting bookshops like Borders into Chapter 11 bankruptcy. With the dawn of eBooks and the Internet the face of ‘publishing’ changed dramatically and of course if you can build and control the platforms, the mediums of publishing, you also control the methods, the prices and to an extent what is said and produced. To be fair to Amazon they did respond to my complaints and improved their ‘service’ but on the whole it seems to me the emperor’s new clothes of modern ‘democratic publishing’, which means as long as we are giving the execs our money, the cats get fatter and how much do they really care what’s out there? We will see what their distribution is now like but whatever happens it’s a proud moment to have a book that was taken out of print in the UK by Macmillan after 12 successful years available once again, to people now and to future generations too. In that sense all books can always be ‘in print’. Thanks again to friends and readers then who made it all happen, because that’s the dedication in the front of the book too! The paperback of Fire Bringer will be on sale in a few weeks, all ready for Christmas.

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Filed under America and the UK, Books, Childrens Books, Culture, Publishing, The Phoenix Story

CYPRESSES, CORFEATS, NAUSICAA AND A HOUSE ON PARADISE ISLAND

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The island, she won’t let you go,” whispered the hazel-eyed local on Corfu’s Agios Gordios beach, on the West Coast of my magic isle. She told me about her struggle and satisfaction in becoming a tourist rep, the legend of Nausicaa finding naked Odysseus here, washed up in the surf, and noticed the Disk of Phaestos hanging around my neck – Crete’s un-deciphered Linear B. I had bought it in my favourite artisan shop in Corfu town, where I get charming old postcards too. Then I’d been upset when it had tarnished in the bath and had taken it back to complain. “Life is never straight, my friend” the owner had twinkled nomicly, trying to convince me it made a better story too, as he assured me it was Stirling Silver, that very British hallmark. I was pleased above all that I hadn’t been lied to by him or been made a fool of either.

On Agios Gordios, this sudden Nausicaa and I joked about life, the real island of Corfu, ‘mad and wild’ Corfeats (according to other Greeks) and paradises naturally lost, or sometimes won again. If Corfu really was Homeric Scheria, at Thucydides claimed, home to those westernmost Phoenicians too, and so perhaps that link with the teacher of Zeno, Parmenides, she plays the strangest role in his rebirth and journey home. A symbol of half unrequited love, perhaps half mother figure, so much so one British scholar remarked that Nausicaa’s beach encounter and laundry scene is so realistic it meant that blind Homer was really a woman. Then the translations of Linear A on Crete turned out to be a laundry list! On Scheria cunning Odysseus, ship wrecked by Poseidon for tricking and blinding his one-eyed son Polyphemus, had to penetrate the palace of Nausicaa’s father, to get help, or breach what Wikipedia so anachronistically calls its magical ‘security systems’.

Since life is a beach though, what could be more magical then than to drink cold beer in the golden October sun, to swim in crystal waters but abandon some of the cliches too, as time and contact help me really experience a place. It has been a wonderful five weeks writing Dragon In The Post here, living in my rented house on Paradise Island, with its gentle garden, a place of recent barbecues and a new Dutch friend who was born here picking garden herbs for the marinade. So it was a bit of a shock to discover time rushing on, as ever, like Chronos eating his own children. The little ferry to Vidos from Corfu port has already stopped running, after three days of very heavy rains and gloomy skies. The Liston arcade in Corfu town still lights up and throbs at night, and the tourist shops bristle in the day, the electric evenings too, as a Maestre, a masterful Northerly wind, sweeps in to dispel the clouds around the great Venetian fort and the 18th century shuttered houses. But the season here is definitely winding to a pleasant autumnal close. Winter threatens in the falling leaves, the coming browns, the cooling airs, the death of each year’s life, but with something far less threatening than England and home.

On Agios Gordios we went swimming together at sunset in front of that burning red fire disk of exploding Hydrogen and Helium, so far beyond the real horizon, seemingly dissolving into a near-whispering, wine-dark sea. The bay held us like a friend, as the slanting afternoon sun painted our skins more golden and that renewed clarity of low afternoon light made everything sharp and real and very fresh and beautiful indeed. It picked out the shape of ‘Buddha Rock’ too, lying on his back on a nearby islet, beyond the Black Rocks, that to me looks more like a jolly Norwegian Troll, with a gigantic, bulbous nose. Then something of the ancient Gods descended, and light and sea and dying sun-disc became a filmy one.

The water does feel different suddenly, like warm silk, below the vaulting Cypresses climbing the slopes like markers to the island’s vigour, and as you stand in the sea, looking back at the hills, smiling or laughing, opening your arms, who would want her to let you go? The generous rains are the cause, and Corfu’s miracle micro climate, although with 10-15 days solid rain in September, it has not exactly been the perfect season. I’ve seen more of Corfu than I ever did last year though, swapping a battered bicycle that once kept me fitter for a sharp-engined white Mercedes (thanks to a free Airport upgrade, although with a struggle). So doing far more of the winding mountain roads, to Halikounas, Sinarades or Paliokastritsa, with its beetling Castello St Angelo and plunging, impossibly turquoise blues. Corfu always gives you a newly inspiring vista and opens your heart and mind, whenever you get locked too much inside yourself. “Oh, think twice, it’s just another day in Paradise” beats the Phil Collins song incessantly from Corfu Radio, of course, with its warning about forgetting other people’s problems. No, sorry, not at the moment.

It was driving up to a beer festival in Arillas in the North West this weekend though that I got to see much more of the ‘interior’ too – Those ever fascinating twisting, witch-hair olive groves, tipping down the slopes into mysteries of cool shade, the lifting massifs of hills, a sudden plain rich with wildflowers, pomegranate trees and pools of yellow sunlight, a flock of very smelly goats and, of course, among such lush vegetation, God-tall Cyprus trees everywhere, like perky sentinels, or officers of the watch. “Do you know their sex?” whispered someone in my garden, with a wink, as if introducing me to some great life secret, and of course the tall, straight ones are boys and the rounded, shorter, pear-like ones are girls. It’s all quite simple really.

I prodded my new friend on Agios Gordios and impressed her talking not about natural Phallic symbols, but the Omphalos, the World Navel and so the belly button. Also a time marker at ancient Delphi, once centre of the ‘known’ and imagined, where those weird women sat on their tripods, breathing in natural hallucinogenic vapours and whispering impossible oracles, or riddling warnings! She countered with talk of columns and the light on Delos, where the place seems to give birth to light itself. Perhaps then, while I learnt her real names are a feminized mix of the ever-present Orthodox Saint here and anti-Turkish intercessor Saint Spiridon and Alexander himself, such a green and fecund isle is an eternal antidote to that superstitious Greek association of Cyprus trees with death, misfortune and graveyards, like the sound of Scop’s Owls hooting in the night.

They are superstitions and legends much explored in the novel I’ve been reading here too, by Sofka Zinovieff, The House On Paradise Street. It is not a masterpiece, no Homer, with little of the literary panache or indeed sparkling charm of a Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, but it is compelling and more importantly valuable. In solid prose it moves between the present, especially that moment of recent Greek ‘crisis’ of 2008, where many worlds seemed to fall apart, and the Occupation by the Nazis, until 1942. Then the bitter tragedy of the Greek Civil War, through the dictatorship of The Colonels too. They could certainly make a far better film of it than that atrocious Americanisation of Captain Corelli with Nicholas Cage. Zinovieff writes like a journalist discovering fiction, which I believe she is, and with that name but also an agent in London, you wonder if English is her first language. She is married to a Greek and has two children. In a sense it is always a story somehow in exile from itself, seeking its own heart, but it is most fascinating both in providing a foreigner’s eye and experience too, with the detail of a tour guide and travel writer, sometimes a touch of the poet, and for its discussion of the British legacy too.

On Corfu they still play cricket!” is the patriotic hero Nikitas’s dismissive quip that references this island in the novel. Nikitas’s sudden death provokes the historical investigation by Antigone his mother, an exile to Soviet and then modern Super Capitalist and ‘Cowboy’ Moscow, forced to abandon him to her sister as a baby, and his English wife Maud, bringing up their children in the anguished environment of student riots and the modern ‘Crisis’ in Athens, while coping with death, loss, age and decay that springs out so suddenly in everyone’s little life. The novel moves chapter by chapter between their competing narratives and one of its biggest flaws is that as such it internalizes none of its male protagonists, perhaps men are the book’s real Greek mystery and threat, but also creates few characters you can really love and so passionately identify with.

Its two central stings in the tale, most clever in the use of the seeming acronym ‘Wasp’ to reference those endless political groups from ELAS to PASOC, and least emotionally satisfying in the revelation over the British protagonist Johnny’s real human love affair, could have been far better handled dramatically. Meaning their power, outrage or beauty are not sought out from within for the reader and so lose effect. Yet they sustain the action and the themes and help a book approach depth and sometimes passion too, if, and precisely because of it’s dark themes, it is perhaps an attempt to avoid passion and get at fact and clarity in recording events many don’t know about. “Passion,” sparkled the girl on Agios Gordios, “That’s what Greeks are.” Meanwhile a book relayed the story of the brave women of Souli opposite Corfu dancing to their deaths in 1803, rather than surrendering to the Turks, or the 400 pleats in the traditional costumes of freedom fighters to mark every year of Ottoman occupation, as it reminds you that passion also brings a talent for tragedy.

I felt peculiarly British then as I saw them playing Cricket the other day in white flannels on the green in front of the Liston and the beautiful Archaeological Museum in Corfu town. “Pakistanis” observed a Greek friend though, with more than a hint of that schadenfreude that sometimes brands all Albanians too, and which is far more prevalent, and redolent with a threat that you can’t feel on Britain’s little island, so much closer to that real fault line of modern Europe; Turkey and the Bosphorous. That evening we listened to Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here in the tiny Time Machine bar, then of course I saw the headline about UKIP’s victory back in the UK and its effect on the Tory Party and remembered the threat of atavism or real economic and cultural conflict is spreading everywhere.

That bar was part of the delight of getting to know Corfeats and a place though. Like tea and backlava with my friend and a young mathematician and Wikipedia guru opposite the Cafe Bristol. Or a game of ‘Gringlish’ and 1980’s Trivial Pursuit in my friend’s half built house with a view, as a storm fired lightening bolts across the bay, and too much booze after supper in my favourite restaurant here, Stimati in the village of Viros. There Spiros deals with his talent and ache as an artist by covering the walls with paintings bright with those ‘Iconic’ or primary Byzantine colours, although unfolding erotic Jungian dreamscapes, instead of God, in between the cooking. While his Scots wife Margaret bustles through with efficient practicality, stopping to discuss Scottish Independence, or to share some clear-eyed jokes and fun.

As for things being not quite cricket, or perhaps exactly Imperial Cricket, down in Corfu town I had noticed how I had noticed several young Pakistani players with surprise too, since this is what equates to a National Greek Cricket team. As the odd African peddles watches on the beaches, or there are so many cheap China stores here. Meanwhile a vastly tall, aging Greek Heavy-Metal hippy, with an Archbishop Makarios beard the length of a shaggy dog story, begs defiantly among the pretty cobbles and the wealthy trippers in the Old Town. Thankfully Corfu is no island to embrace the likes of Golden Dawn though, except perhaps in humorous talk of Independence for Corfu itself. Then, with its highly successful tourist industry and relative wealth, including a deal of British ownership, nor has it faced quite the hardships on the mainland. Despite complaints about sudden house taxes imposed, more than temporarily too, stories of local graft among doctors, to plump the Middle Classes, or that eternal accusation of political corruption at the top in Athens. More than that though, however bad things get, Corfu has an expansion and generosity that is in the landscape itself.

The British legacy is of course very strong on Corfu, the map of which looks a bit like Britain turned upside down. Not only with the cricket, but Prince Phillip having been born at Mon Repos, and celebrated English visitors here, from Edward Lear and the Durrell brothers to Joanna Lumley. ‘Kensington-on-Sea’ they call Kassiopi, South East of Sidari, the island’s most Northern point, bulging in the summer with rich Notting Hillites from London. Both of them above Kalami, where Lawrence Durrell and his lover had that White House on the sea, the property I think now owned by Lord Rothschild, or perhaps that’s above. Lawrence was of course a very different creature to his brother Gerald, that oh so British naturalist of the charming My Family and Other Animals. Whose practical, observant, scientific echo reminds you of the Brit care of local animals here; the tiny kittens like pocket watches and the battered cat families that survive around the dustbins. Perhaps I share fictional Nikitas’s prejudice against Right-Wing people, (except when you’re trying to get some decent service, or to fix my fridge, yet again), but I would translate it to people who don’t like animals instead.

Lawrence’s different kettle of fish to his brother, like some familial fault line at the centre of Paradise Street too, was in his attraction to Eastern philosophy, his protracted philandering, that help some remark he was ‘not a nice man’, but his skill too at history and very gorgeous travel writing, that did a great service to Greece. I’ve never read the Alexandria Quartet but know his painting the island of Corfu as ‘Prospero’s Cell’, referencing a bogus local legend a friend told him that Shakespeare’s The Tempest was set here. As if imagination and literature, from Homer to now, are not a country to themselves, as Martin Amis once remarked in shock at the Islamic reaction to Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses. Well, the art of the novel, and of course the older ‘God Consciousness’ of Myth too, in the very emergence of language and storytelling itself, is that they aren’t entirely separate countries either, if they have power and meaning.

As for the map, physical and internal, and my obviously scruffier end of the isle below the airport, whose open runway always gives me a strange buzz, it is apparently Agios Stephanos to the North of Kalami that attracts the true cognoscenti and the elite ‘Philhelenes’ so questioned in The House on Paradise Street. So the novel discusses that superiority of knowledge and power that in the eyes of Nikitas made the British almost as bad as other conquerors, from Lord Elgin to even mosquito-bitten Lord Byron, but especially Churchill, with his carving up of Europe with Stalin at Yalta. A pact that saw both British and American influence after 1947 go unchallenged by the Soviets, although a role that other Greek protagonists in the story are very grateful for. It made me think of the pretty waitress in the Tea shop who had said so warmly “I like the British”. In the factual historical postscript to the book and with regard to Metaxa and the Colonels, who I first heard about personally on holiday visits as a child with my parents, when Greece was still a Homeric dream, comes that phrase that has haunted the World from London to Iran since WWII – “supported by the CIA.”

Meanwhile my chance friend on Agios Gordios tried to mimic being so ‘verrrrry British’, although she hardly knew where to look when I told her that at Edinburgh University I had once visited a friend at Broom Hall, only to see a tiny bit of the Parthenon on the Drawing Room wall.  It was the Bruce home, and so Lord Elgin’s house and to be fare to myself I tried to pierce the grandeur of it by pretending to steal the cutlery. That Elgin Marble thing, or how you rewrite or correct history in a globalised World, or indeed if you should in a multicultural epicentre like London and The British Museum, serving so many visitors and scholars too, is an aspect that is intelligently dismissed by Nikitas in visiting Maud in London.

So instead to the human horror of war and especially Civil War and the atrocities on both sides, which was of course redefined by that super battle that began before World War II ever ended, the function and ideology of money and so power, Capitalism versus Communism, as the Cold War began. Fought with such vigour by the likes of Allen Dulles in Switzerland and then from America. That East Coast lawyer, OSS man and first Civilian director of the CIA, and great share holder in the American Fruit Company too. It is Churchill’s role I don’t really know about though, who incidentally was brought to power instead of Chamberlain partly through the offices of my grandfather Clement Davies, as Liberal leader and head of the All-Party Group in the UK Parliament.

The novel is fair minded by giving different voices and perspectives, just as one character says Greece was not a British Colony. Although what truth can be reached if Greece still thinks it was ‘them’ doing it all cynically, like modern day Politicians up at the top? When graft can go from top to bottom, all humans have potentially murderous instincts, the British Empire bankrupted itself fighting Nazi evils, for any Imperial evils, as America achieved a new Hegemony, and that ruling instinct was always towards law and order, especially in the vicious and tragic maelstrom of the Balkans. Churchill did not have the power to impose his will at Yalta and had to engage in real-politique, just as the Philhelene ideal was perhaps betrayed by the horrible realities of war, resources and survival. Something to wake up to, as much as Communist Idealists in softer countries woke up to the horrors of Stalin.

A historical postscript reminds you of the fact Greece did not become a country until 1830 either and then references the ‘catastrophe’ of Smyrna in 1927. Not so much Ethnic Cleansing as Ethnic Rearranging, shifting 500,000 Turks and 400,000 Greeks, always the problem of the Nation State, especially when religious identity and ideology steps in too – Christian versus Islam, that fault line so much clearer at the Bosphorous. One that competes with a ‘Greece’ that stretches back to Byzantium and the Eastern Empire. “I’m orthodox and respect their faith,” one waiter had grunted, looking out to sea and talking of ‘them’, after new beheadings on TV, as I failed to get the boat to Vidos. But he certainly didn’t agree when I gave him my weak-livered ‘One Planet’ liberalism. It was of course Ataturk though who tried to modernize a sclerotic Ottoman world, removed his mother’s headscarf in public saying she was too beautiful to hide her face, shifted the Capital to Ankara and tried to separate religion from the State.

Fatherland and God are defined as powerful forces in Greece in Zinovieff’s novel too, as they were in Spain, against those supposedly ‘Godless’ and youthful instincts to create a new world among the often Communist Partisans fighting the Nazis from the mountains or the idealistic Red Brigades. Meanwhile though The House on Paradise Street attempts a story that heals with the instincts of a woman and mother, while not sitting on the fence either. That phrase then – ‘atrocities on both sides’ – which is such a challenge in places like Syria now, is not quite good enough and is countered with the instinct to expose the Right Wing prison camps, the suffering in women’s detention centres, being much a book about women, and indeed the often ruthless support of the British Establishment up to 1947, that included decapitations of at least dead soldiers.

All potentially at the heart of modern debates too about the role of Greece in Europe, or Germany in Greece, just as a new German company was just exposed as one of the most corrupt of all. Or what happened when the European Troika insisted both on restructuring and savage cutbacks, and the actions of the likes of the Universal banking Spider, Goldman Sachs. It was interesting to see Zinovief take a differently slanted line then in the story of Maud’s children, echoing many things I have heard too, from my Economics teacher friend, or local mothers, about the old fashioned rote teaching methods here, in a sense the patriarchalism of history and National loyalty, and that much of it is about the frustrations and bewilderment of young people. So it references the murder of a young student by police, or the student deaths under the Colonels too, but balances that with a skepticism about ‘hoodie’ anarchy and lost generations. So too I’ve heard among new younger friends perhaps a worrying tendency to grow old or give up too soon, though it’s something many feel facing the vast capital gulfs of today. Don’t give up. Remember the light, the beauty, the future and the Gods that make you eternally young. Greece does have a working Democracy, it is investigating the crimes of Golden Dawn members and it also has a right to talk about the flaws of the European or Global Capital model too. Meanwhile Zinovieff can use the protection of fiction to address things that might cause offense here, or furious over-reaction, like why driving is so challenged, smoking is everywhere, or how the loud shouts of malaka at every slam of a backgammon piece sometimes frightens the non natives. Others might find it a quality of foreign difference and charm.

Much meat for my Greek guest at a barbecue who seemed convinced everything from to Ebola to Iraq is a global conspiracy and that old bug bear too, an Israeli one. With that you can’t really argue the facts though, as much as I might agree with the potential conspiracy of Capital and Corporations to always reproduce themselves, sometimes at deep human cost, because it usually descends into a kind of paralyzed mysticism. Yet I also wanted to chat to him about Parmenides, and one theory that the belief the entire history of Western Civilization is based on Socratic rationalism is in fact a misreading or writing of Plato, Parmenides writing just one fragmentary poem on Nature, and about the Snake and the Cadeucus, theatre, dream caves and Aesclepius too. Perhaps that was the lead in to the discussion too of how to learn and earn the joys of just living simply, free of the storms of the world, in such a beautiful place.

As for Britishness, my other experience of it here though was far less dramatic or imperial, at a friend’s birthday in the little Paradise bar overlooking ‘Mouse Island’, Pontikonisis, just below my house, where someone said the Albanian owner foolishly watered the wine. A group of fifteen English ladies, a German and my fiesty American friend, met for drinks and oily snacks. All of whom had married Greek husbands in the heyday of their romance with Paradise, like Shirley Valentines swept into a sea of passion and new possibility. Another English wife I talked to the day before in Corfu Town though now finds that roots are roots and that for her there remains a gulf of understanding or experience at times with her Greek man. The ladies at the supper are mothers, have jobs teaching, or working in the tourist industry, face the common issues of survival and every day life. Sometimes perhaps a cultural paucity too, or a lack of stimulation perhaps, common to young locals too, though Corfu Town is home to the Ionian University, that makes the likes of the Arillas beer festival a weekend must, engagement with the amateur theatre group vital, or talk of celebrity a place of a special frisson. The big, exciting world.

Now though, since the day Jude Law came, to be naughty or not in his villa, the reps have to sign special non-disclosure agreements. We all like the wild, the naughty and the indiscreet too, life-gossip, if not quite the loucheness of Kavos in the far South. I drove down one day, in search of who knows what, to find Kavos, even emptied of tourists, a gaudy horror story of strip pubs, indecorous lounge pools and Medical Clinics seemingly every 100 metres, to take in the drunk and the wounded, from the evening fights or the blow job competitions. The mayor complained loudly when a British Documentary about it was screened, as if it had offended Greek Honour, or Manhood. In that it probably does offer a cliche of a Brit Package Tour, ever pilloried as being the drunks or thugs abroad. But Corfu is big enough, sexy enough, roomy enough, to allow for that too, like a touch of the dark side in the Southern subconscious. I now call Kavos Corfu’s Torrid Zone.

So to sitting in the immortal Robins Nest in Agios Gordios, the charming little bar run by a sparky lady from Chicago who has been here 29 years, seems to have done everything, lets people flow through her place like magic and say’s she dislikes money and is ‘a trader’, the trade being human potential and fun. From dressing up parties, to the beautiful hand painted rocks that litter her place. “We don’t have Greek comedians” said the young car mechanic glumly, over a Trivial Pursuit question, and there are not many jokes in The House on Paradise Street either, but here there’s lots of laughter. So folk come, year in year out, friends and near family, Robin has four Greek children – from America, Britain, Norway, Serbia, although not everywhere. Since Robin thinks I’m far too posh, and that Pink Palace Hotel above is so very pink, it brings a slight yearning for the days when Sir Frederick Adam got so romantic with his Greek wife. As for how little I know, I never realized William Ewart Gladstone was a High Commissioner in Greece. But that world is gone, as the novel warns modern Greeks should embrace a new if however confusing world that they can only understand by jettisoning both some of the prejudices and especially bitter memories of the past, that essentially feed on the dead. The problem is that Greek identity or the search for it among the sense of pride and self worth is so mixed up in the past, and Soumian’s Marble Steep, that abandoning it sometimes seems like abandoning the Gods themselves, or the roots of language. On the other hand, one of my friends hates all that Greek Bazouki music and all life movement is a battle between past and present, localised or wider horizons. Last year my attempt to contact The Lawrence Durrell Society, for instance, as a Brit writer perhaps dreaming of Consulates, exotic Balkan Trilogies or sexy spies, resulted in a very desultory response. With not only the discovery that the budget had been slashed, and the lease on their building gone, but that lunch up North was far more appealing than making an effort to have a drink with a nosy Brit like me.

Hey ho, perhaps Corfu needs some brand new writers and poets, I thought, if anyone reads anymore, especially as I watched a gaggle of Russian sailors decamp around Corfu town last month, in those huge, flat, wide-brimmed sailor’s caps, that always look decidedly fascist. Apparently one of Russia’s largest warships was in port, The Moscow, docked among the giant ferries sailing between Turin or Venice, and bristling with missiles the size of White Mercedes. Young men in a foreign town, they sat politely in the Souvlaki restaurants, or gathered to drink beer and smoke cigarettes, as they got snaps and it all became part of their life memories too. Perhaps, with Mr Putin’s taste for muscle-flexing and the anguish in Ukraine, they’ll do what the Brits did, and not so long ago according to a nostalgic English friend at super who told me her husband’s stolen boat turned up on the news, used as transport for Albanian drug smugglers, and invite the growing phalanx of Russian package tourists swarming to the island on board for evening cocktails. You hear the Slavic voices in my local shop, Nikki Foros, or on the promontory below the big hotel beyond Mouse Island. It all seems so unreal though, on this generous, gentle island, where EasyJet plans to open Winter routes next year. Except when the sun sets and that nagging warning voice comes again, as you watch the News or look at Mr Putin’s face, that history not only repeats itself, but never learns the lessons of history.

So to what’s above me on the hillside, and apropos of a friend writing to ask me if I had been to the house and palace of Sisi. That rather bizarre and tragic woman, Elizabeth of Bavaria, Empress of Austria, murdered by a young anarchist in 1898, often lived in the Achilleon, the fine white marble mansion bursting with old curios, wide terraces with marvelous views and statues of the ancient Gods, to remind you of Germanic Philhelenism. Achilles is the centre piece, of course, the greatest of especially Greek warriors, only to remind you his wound was weak humanity, or mortality itself, as his mother dipped him in the river Styx, but had to hold him by that Achilles’ heal. Perhaps we should remember though that Athens, the home of those lost marbles, Democracy and Pericles, was also a warring City State, built by men and founded in slavery, or that the best of Greece, like the best of anything, was always a kind of myth.

The Achilleon is far better and more proudly preserved a place than the likes of the dusty museum on Mon Repos, open to 8pm everyday of the year, at 7 Euros a pop. It is of course also the place where the Greek experiment in Europe was first hammered out and then the bailout too. I didn’t visit again, but had an ice cream outside and enjoyed the Cypruses and the glowing evening sunlight, just beyond the sleepy village of Gastouri. Where thanks to lost English friends I first came to visit Corfu, three years ago. I thought of one whose father was murdered and told my new Dutch friend about it. “It happened” he said, “though it doesn’t really now. Often with two warnings and then a shotgun.” The crime has never been solved. That new friend of nostalgic British memories at the birthday supper had offered me a little flat to buy in Gastouri, but do up too, that wouldn’t exactly break a very down trodden bank yet, unless I got caught up in too much skimming off the top. Which my dutch friend remarked in his father’s experience of building, as he criticized the mentality here, especially in blaming others, planned to return for some Eco-living and bravely defended the honesty of his Albanian neighbour too.

Such things remind you always of real people and real lives beyond the borders, images and isms, washed up or not, which is what The House on Paradise Street is about too. I suddenly wondered and thought too it would not be remotely possible if the economy was not down. So to the real question, whether to stay on here writing through the winter, perhaps renting, and where any roots really are now? I thought of the little painting I had given my Scot’s friend for her birthday, a pleasant watercolour of Mouse island, bought in an art shop in Corfu town, then of that US girl who had so strangely wanted to get a very confusing tattoo – “Sail on Ulysses”. Then of the big eyed girl on Agios Gordios, who had so suddenly vanished that evening at Robin’s bar, with no reason and little rhyme, that put me in a bad mood for days. Who had told me of the ancient legend, that Pontikonisis had been the boat of Nausicaa, transformed by the Gods. It added to Nausicaa’s paradox, because while it was the Phoenicians who took poor, belabouring Odysseus home to Ithaca, and Nausicaa is said to have married his son Telemachus, that name never mentioned to patient Penelope actually means ‘burner of ships’. Hmmm, whatever the myths or truth, sometimes it is so lovely here I wonder if the island will let me go.

David Clement-Davies October 2014

Around the World? The photo is from the road above Agios Gordios on Corfu.

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DRAGON IN THE POST TRIUMPHS – WE DID IT! 100% FUNDED

Fire_Cutter_-_Dragon_in_the_PostHUZZAH! THE DRAGON IS 100% CROWD FUNDED BUT CAN WE KEEP GOING, WITH 18 HOURS LEFT, CREATE A MODEL FOR FUTURE BOOKS IN THE POST AND ALSO HELP THE RNIB, AFTER MY 100 MILE WALK DOWN THAT GLORIOUS SOUTH DOWNS WAY?

Thank you all, you’re brilliant! We’ve done it, or we’ve achieved that first major goal. DRAGON IN THE POST will happen and FIRE BRINGER will turn to print availability in the UK too. Where the editors so close to home could not protect classic books, or key principles surrounding the writer’s craft, you could. Now can we set sights on that wider ambition for a whole little publisher too though, other books and projects, and the exploration of crowd funding too, by a last big push and word spreading, in these 18 critical hours?

Of course the entire project, which those who have backed are a key part of, will also stay up as a record at Indiegogo, and new links will be put up before it ends. So it can also become a platform for pre-ordering and other perks this year. The story and adventure continue!

You can still “Join the story, become part of the adventure” right now of course by going straight to BUY YOUR SIGNED COPY OF DRAGON IN THE POST AT INDIEGOGO.COM

There is one other thing that would be really wonderful though and that is telling friends about my walking the South Downs Way, now 41% funded for the RNIB, and trying to raise some more money for the blind by pressing JustGiving - Sponsor me now!

Thank you all so much again. Yippee!

David Clement-Davies

The painting is Yasmin Foster’s FireCutter done especially for Dragon In The Post during the campaign. Art work and films are up on the platform.

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THE SOUTH DOWNS WAY’S HAPPY END, CROWD CAPITALISM AND A DRAGON HAS UNDER 65 HOURS TO GO!

horse (5)This photo of the chalk horse is for Steph, DCD walked as hard as Les Miserables for Kelly, he went with gentle irony for Justin, he spread his wings for Yasmin, he watched kites for Sol, he told stories for Jonathan, he quoted Stevenson for Di, he kept talking and trying for Sheila and he applauded the Ice Bucket challenge for Laura, all of whom have kept standing up for him, when others didn’t. You’ve really made the Street Team and those needed thanks to others too is yet to come.

You can make a difference now too to Dragon In The Post, in these racy last hours, by BACKING DRAGON IN THE POST AND PHOENIX ARK PRESS

You can help the blind by taking the £50 Perk or just sponsor a completed 100 mile walk for the RNIB by pressing JustGiving - Sponsor me now!

DAY SIX

Hooray! It’s a really glorious feeling crossing those great white hunchbacks that edge the bleached blue sea at Eastbourne, those rightly named Seven Sisters, that end at the steadily eroding Burling Gap, to stop at last on Beachy Head and look back on another brilliantly clear blue day. It seemed as if I could really see back across all those hundred miles traversed and straight to Winchester, in the West, once a capital town of ancient Wessex and the Treasury of England. Now I should study the maps, fill out the blogs (with so much missed), put up three little films I made to Facebook and The Indiegogo Gallery too and leave some kind of useful or perhaps inspiring record for anyone wanting to walk the South Downs Way themselves. I think I’ll try to ‘publish it’ and keep on trying to raise money for the Royal National Institute for the Blind. Meanwhile, on the way I came up with a new term for what crowd funding might be about, in the future and an age of such impossible capital differentials. Not America’s hated socialism, not just a shop front window on the internet for the same as ever, but some new idea for a way forward where money is an inevitable part of the scenery but where some new spirit and awareness needs to develop alongside- Crowd Capitalism. What do you think?

But I did it, pack on back, hazel staff in hand, trying to have a go with Dragon In The Post too and I’m chuffed. I blogged it all as I went, even if few were reading, which you can read now by scrolling down or clicking on the page above – “The Winchester Chronicles”. Of course the lack of a ticker-tape parade at the end, or any thronging, cheering supporters, dressed in Dragon costumes, (I call it the James and The Giant Peach Syndrome) can lead to a little deflation. Or perhaps it’s a lack of contributions from folk I encountered on the walk, for a book or charity, who I told my story to. Or that’s mostly coming back into the dizzy, preoccupied world, that really started after winding out from Dean’s Place hotel, after a super-powered, fuller-than-English breakfast, meaning I ate everything. Along the little river Cuckmere, passed that mysterious chalk horse no one knows the name of, through aptly named Litlington and down to the estuary where the Seven Sisters National Park begins and the green fields suddenly exploded with bank holiday trippers, chasing dogs, children, kayakers and of course the cars and buses rattling noisesomely between Eastbourne and Brighton – nyawwwwwgn!

You start to dissolve back into the unremittingly ordinary, dare I say humdrum, the doplar shift of time and life and death. Which every traveller knows the sigh of on their return, like that Stevenson inscription on the Toby Stone on Stanes ‘Street’ – “home is the sailor home from the sea and the hunter home from the hill”. Yet especially from real walkers, there’s a knowing smile or greeting if you are carrying a pack and walking stick and look a little foot sore and many “well done’s” from folk I told, with a real glint of admiration in their eyes. No time for laughing, trendy Japanese tourists then finding the sight of windswept me very griggly – which means a bit of raughing at a weary sigh. “I’m not weary,” I cried indignantly “I just came 100 bloody miles!” No time for the irritating scruff of the traveller at Eastbourne Station either, as I asked about the absurdly long Sunday service, (over three hours, with two changes, although partly because I refused to go back more expensively to London to get to Winchester) and who quipped “Walk it the mate, will only take a week.” “I’m not your mate, mate, and I just did, in six days.” But that put me back in the world too, as did the genteel Eastbourne ticket lady objecting to my cussing. “Oh please, I wasn’t bloody swearing at you and don’t be so bloody provincial.” Still, it was good to stop half an hour in Brighton, since I’ve never been and to touch the still fizzy, saucy picture postcard, Quadrophenia feel of the merry place.

But people’s approval at coming a 100 milles reminded me of that wunderlust back in Tich, something very deep in the blood, from friends who suddenly wished they were coming too, or were out there having their own adventure, an instinct as old and primitive as being free, or wanting to conquer the world. Before you do such a thing, a kind of imagined map in the head develops of possibilities, dangers, ‘anything could happens‘, needed kit or warning notes, but the best is gaining the experience and knowledge of it all and sharing it too. Which is why I was annoyed with myself for moments of un-self-reliance, when I stopped thinking and looking and asked others instead. It seemed to lead to two big mistakes. First the day before yesterday when I went storming off too far south towards the sea, after a cracking and perhaps over confident morning. It had brought me back up to Black Cap, then to the sharp turn south ,above Ashcombe Bottom, to the campsite and weird blue-tied security guards sitting reading The Sun in their unmarked car, outside Housedean Farm. Were they spotting for drugs, protecting the Telscombe’s judge’s family out for a night’s wild camping or trying to cheer up the lonely looking fellow humping his solitary tent back to Brighton. The truth is you can sense a lot of loneliness in people too in their travels and wrestles with the wild. I saw my first seagulls tipping down that hill, and several often sullen looking young camping groups, as well as a pure white cow, not quite as noble as Shadowfax or the deer in Fire Bringer. That farm lies on the thundering A27, where I took a photo of the South Downs Way sign for Facebook, backed by the nasty motorway, then crossed the bridge. So up and out again onto the escarpment, blustery now with a more threatening breath of the sea, and massing clouds, un-wondering whether or not there was any ominous meaning in cows half standing up, half lying down. It’s sitting back in doors in the remorselsy damp of Winchester’s chilly, pre-autumn drizzle that I realise how incredibly lucky I was last week with the weather, and how miserable those downs could very quickly become, caught in a storm, or blown into over emotional shapes on the way, like the trees on the down-tops sculpted into wave forms by the wind. That’s how they grow and how we grow sometimes too, since all exists in its element.

So out passed Loose Bottom, down Jugg’s Road, by Slump Bottom, with posh Lewes to the East, reminding me of the nice bloke in the George and Dragon that lovely sunny lunchtime in Houghton and thoughts of Black Tie picnics at Glyndebourne too, to Swanborough Hill by Home and Long Bottom. That made me think of a children’s series years back about War Time refugee kids in long grey shorts meeting a Mrs Gotobed, in a place called Granny’s Bottom – so coming up with the laughing cry “Go to bed, in Granny’s bottom!” Tee hee. That made me ponder my flatmate Norm’s puns back home though and hurry on to Beachy head. I am almost sure now it was at Swanborough Hill I must have missed the sign and tipped off too far south, after some guy on his Mobile Ap said Southease was 2.8 miles away, but all down hill from here. The truth is I was really trying to tell him about Dragon In the Post, but I took the wrong Down, down the wrong hill! That extended bit of the Way was repaired by Roger and Hazel though, elder walkers as tough as ferrets, who marched me back passed the young stud horses, through the charming village of Telscombe, where that important security guarded judge lives, according to Roger, though centred for big cases in Lewes, and where there is also a neglected Youth Hostel. They kindly pointed out the road again at the motor cross circuit on the hill. Looking at the map now it is 2 miles, so my total detour must have been six. Yet any irritation I’d got it wrong so close to the end, or that long metalled roads just hurt more, was eased by eating wild apples o, and the fact that the sun seemed to blaze again and the weather clear as soon as I got back on The South Downs Way. It felt like magic. It snaked me towards the River Ouse in the valley and so to really charming Southease, with its little railway line beyond, worthy of the Watercress Line back in Arlesford. It wasn’t the newness of the hostel there that appealed, although it was built last year, but the pleasant farm barn style and its busy energy; the original way it’s done too, for adults and children. Like the giant Connect Four set in the garden or the interesting information about nearby Ramdeen, haunt of Virginia Wolf and that Bloomsbury Set we are clearly failing (though not entirely) to re-start back home in Tichborne. So, after the sweet girl in the cafe extended her hours to make me a delicious toasted ham and cheese banquette, with a bottle of larger, irritating her grumpy, plump table wiping colleague and my continued struggles with my draining mobile phone, trying to contact a friend, at 5pm came the momentous decision whether to stay here, or march on over the top for the six and a half miles to Alfriston.

I’m glad I did, if it was quite a hike, because the girl’s remark that “I wouldn’t get the satisfaction” if I cheated a little with a cab was absolutely right. Besides, I wouldn’t have met a young man in a Macmillan Cancer t-shirt who had just run 48 Miles in a day from Woking, training for real charity raising, nor a sweet girl with her black mongrel about to walk up Beddingham Hill. Either youth, hope or memory stepped in there, because she was quite wrong that it was only twenty minutes over Firle Beacon to Alfriston – the long evening journey down Bostal Hill took a good forty minutes. But so to private recitations of Gray’s Elegy In A Country Churchyard about drowsing tinklings lulling the too-distant, bloody folds, among the fish eyed sheep, a warm, golden evening, that stealthy fox and the growing shadows of over Alfriston, long before the sun set on the hill, nestled as it is into the darkling folds of the valley. It is an odd place, surrounded with wealthy modern homes, several with Solar Panelled rooves, pompously named driveways and sleek, rich cars, but with a very old centre. So it was a delight to pass The George Inn and see a sign saying its beer licence had been granted back in 1597. That year Shakespeare bought New Place in Stratford, six months after his 11 year old son Hamnet’s death, his brother Edmund was just seventeen, and in the beery, bear-baiting, brothelly reaches of semi-outlaw Southwark, the Rose theatre was still working hard by Winchester Palace in London. While the Swan theatre in Paris Gardens was closed for the summer for staging that lewd and seditious Ben Jonson Play “The Isle of Dogges“. Shakespeare’s troupe had triumphed North of the river in Shoreditch though, their new patron Lord Carey had been enrolled in The Order of the Garter, to become Lord Chamberlain too and for which Will probably wrote The Merry Wives of Windsor, set with Falstaff at the Garter Inn. Two years later The Globe would go up in 1599, after the troupe dismantled the wood from The Theatre and took it south of the river. If the bod at Deans Place is right about the super rich Record Producer’s raves in his mansion nearby though, or the steamy inter marital goings on in the finest hotels, then England is as thankfully as lewd as ever, to be gently reprimanded by Shakespeare’s pricking Fairies. In Shakespeare lust is not the crime, betrayal is.

So to that astonishing purple-blue misty morning yesterday, on walking day six – allowing time out to return to Southampton, and the last push. Not exactly a push, because from Alfriston it all seems to hurry towards you instead and sweep you back into the tide – that was the river, this is the sea. The second irritation at asking the way though was the irritating nasal bloke who stopped with his mates and went on and on and on about what you might see or miss, as the South Downs Way seemed to split into many little tracks here, like its own estuary, then who came out with clunking guide-book phrases like “very historic Alfriston“, or the vital importance of the Long Man of Wilmington too. Which you can only do if you take the eastern track around the Seven Sisters Reserve. The choice of seeing that is balanced against that un-named chalk horse though and the beauty of meandering along the Cuckmere instead at the valley bottom. I confess to a mile’s cheat too by hopping a lift with a Swedish redhead, but even in times of yore they wanted an adventure and I like testing the hitch hiker spirit. So to the sea and up, up, onto those roller-coastal Downs again. As you look along of course, at the Dove- white edges and back along the snaking Down tops to Winchester too, with true pride, you again remember that’s what the Downs you have just crossed are – billions of years of steadily accreting crushed sea shells, chalk, eroded and sculpted by wave and then wind, and given a thin and so very recent layer of earth and grass, farm and housing, forms and passing meanings. Who can remember it all? All being eroded too, as everything is really moving and changing, like the houses at Burling Gap, below the little light House where they shot The Lives and Loves of a She Devil, that are year by year falling into the sea. No wonder the South Downs Way is so clearly marked with wooden signs, to give even more poignancy to those mournful wooden crosses and flowers memorialising sadder endings at Beachy Head, saying CLIFF EDGE. But there, it’s done and it was great.

David Clement-Davies set out on Monday last and reached the absurdly busy Beachy Head Pub on Sunday August 24th, 2014, around 4pm.

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A LITTLE LOST ON THE SOUTH DOWNS WAY!

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A short blog, although it’s been amazing again, because mind are body are too tired to say anything very interesting. Several times on this walk I’ve been close to good tears, at the freedom or loveliness around, but this time it’s both tears of frustration and exhaustion. Because of all the times to get lost on the South Downs Way this wasn’t it and though there’s so much poetry to paint, sliding off the Downs too soon towards the sea ended in a detour that added six miles and probably made the total walk twenty two miles.

It’s not that though, holed up here in the nice and rather interesting Deans Place Hotel in Alfriston, as a wedding party thumps into the night, it’s the beauty, drama and tiredness but also asking why this project has been SO hard. Then I’ve long been saying how Social Media has created a world of folk talking mostly to themselves with the pretence of being ‘published’ out there, because it brings all the stress of media but little of the real power or connection. At least we have done some brilliant things. There is so much to say, following the route from Black Cap, off Harry’s Hill, at first at around 3 miles an hour, and at last to the brilliant new YHA at Southease, detour involved, beyond the River Ouse. This is Virginia Wolf and Bloomsbury Set country and if you’re foolish enough to believe in easy demographics the folk at the Youth Hostel were rather smart, just as many older people use them for affordable holidays!

Then came trying to meet up with a friend and walking over the recovered way for three hours, to arrive here by sunset. Of course going west to East it was right at my back. You start to believe, like some medieval pilgrim, with blogs and meeting people, that it is all somehow connected, having some affect, but then you go online again! SO PLEASE COME AND BACK DRAGON IN THE POST BEFORE IT IS TOO LATE!

Hey Ho, the walking has been lonely, lovely, stirring, strange and beautiful, like all the lives you come across, and coming off the hill the Western sun stretched huge shadows over the stubble corn fields and the world glowed. A fox crossed the road and looked back, near grown calves nuzzled their mom’s bellies, nervous of these weird passing humans, trying to avoid the spattered cow pats, men sat on hill tops above the River Ouse, radio controlling their gliders and the world went on regardless. The wash of browns, greens and blues turns these rolling downs into static waves, and in the distance the light on the sea winks at you like a challenge.

Getting lost, by tipping too far South on this badly signed part of the Way, too close to the sea, was very hard on the thighs, yet I bumped into Roger and Hazel, who put me straight, saw a galloping horsewoman thundering up a slopping field, two women collecting plums in a church courtyard, motor cross bikers burning up the air at a chalky training circuit and a sudden stomp of Ramblers, or whatever the collective noun! We should all be so lucky to get so lost, more often. Then, whatever your apparent woes, there is Mother Nature. So here, beyond the croquet lawn and interesting bits of art to the river Ouse behind the hotel, 5.30 this morning saw a perfect frosty mist rising blue over the damp and secret greens and everything was lovely again. Apparently Alfriston is arty, bitchy, eccentric and very monied, but as we know that doesn’t easily get donated to books or dragons. Much to say, much to look back on today, but maybe climbing the Seven Sisters to finally reach Eastbourne will recharge some batteries and that achievement will never go. The blogs too are their own record of a journey, I’ll expand in time, while if no sudden tipping point has happened, it’s through no want of trying or ideas and I have done everything I said I’d do. Maybe the magic power of that ring of stones left by the Way marker above Alfriston will make something happen by this Wednesday or maybe only the journey matters.

DCD

David stayed courtesy of the Deans Place Hotel, Alfriston, which has 36 en suite bedrooms in very nice grounds, with local art, minature golf and a croquet lawn. Contact telephone 01323 870248. mail@deansplacehotel.co.uk

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DAY THREE – BRUISES, BURIALS AND BREAKFASTING ON BLACKBERRIES!

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Good God, what an astounding, generous, gorgeous day’s walking, that found me shouting not just ‘freedom’ and ‘lovely’ but ‘JUST BEAUTIFUL’ from the start! If I thought little could top the Hartings, today on the twenty miles from Cocking to Storrington, this ancient highway really came into its own for me, and for many coinciding reasons too, past and present. One of the nicest and strangest being the lift I got off the way this evening from Neela, a warm eyed gardener, in her green Citroen Escapade, walking with her dog and her daughter Eli, who turned out to be studying Children’s Literature at Winchester University. Then, when I muttered about crowd funding, Solent Radio tomorrow and told them my name, Eli declared that Fire Bringer is one of her favourite books and she has made many round about read it! That serendipity joins the girl in the estate agent when I first arrived and someone in the new YMCA cafe too in Winchester. Don’t tell me there aren’t strange patterns in the world, just like the landscape.

But first feet first. If the sight of Crypt Farm up the way from my hotel this morning, dozing in a damply glittering 7.30 mist, filled these aching bones with foreboding, perhaps I’m walking through the pain barrier now. While although the way up that hill was steep it was smoothly cemented beyond the field, rather than hard tarmaced, and lovely on the pads. As was so much of what is effectively one of the straightest parts of the South Downs Way that, through a succession of rolling farms, plunged me into dreamy forest groves, rich meadows and magical avenues of light and shape and shade. You need Keats to do it justice, with his ‘verdorous glooms and winding, mossy ways’, since the forest tops are just beginning to be touched by the coming richness of Autumn. As the sun rose higher and hotter though I found myself second-breakfasting on wild blackberries, plunging in and out of near sacred avenues of light and nearly burst out laughing with joy when I emerged in a field of glowing sunflowers, sentinel heads turned all together to praise the yellow East.

On and on the glorious tapestry went, Manor farm Down, Charlton Forest, Taggents farm, Graffam Down, Tegleaze Farm, passing through yet another of those sturdy gates, with their easy metal latches, into a harvested hay field, sweeping down the hill, where the giant round hay stacks looked like golden full stops in the sunlight, as the odd car windscreen glinted with too much speed in the distance. I was caught up there, with a huge grin on my face, by one of two wayfarers from the hotel the night before, burning the ground on his mountain bike and travelling probably two and a half times faster than a walker. He had left at 9am and no doubt benefitted from the Full English I had none of, with all abed in the BlueBell Inn. I won’t grouch too much about cyclists, most have been friendly and considerate, but now and then they do tend to come up your backside unannouncing, with the arrogance of anyone in the sway of technology. We wished each other happy travels, as walkers always greet each other with a chat and the knowing smile of a shared endeavour and he hurried on.

So to discover more of a route you can only have the vaguest map in your head of before you set out. The 100 mile Way is of course many things, not just clear chalk paths or droving tracks, all very we’ll signposted except nearing Eastbourne, where the key when you come to any main road is to look left and right for the next sign. But it involves many narrow metalled roads, pavement paths passed suburban houses, winding bridle ways and points where potential tracks split and rejoin, round hills or through fields. An interesting thing today though was becoming more aware of the management of the South Downs too, with its signs about how this is all farmed landscape, often boasting the ‘Red Tractor’ Farm quality labels, or why gates by cattle grids need to be closed to keep in livestock and paths need to be stuck to. But also a scheme called LEAF – Linking Environment and Farming – explaining, whether it’s true or not, how farmers care for the landscape and how little cut-outs of wild ground are left in ploughed or sown fields for flowers and nesting skylarks, as well as hedgerows allowed to grow wild. Sure enough, looking back across the endlessly variegated scenery, there they were, under a brilliant blue sky and burning sun, dotted with cloud, adding to a constantly shifting landscape of light and shade. Just stop and watch those clouds pass shades like waves across the fields or watch huge renaissance skies pouring out sunlight like rain and you’ll know the majesty of the South Downs.

Perhaps everyone comes to a stage when life is about looking back, not too soon you hope, but it’s an obvious psychological effect on a long journey too, looking back on both where you’ve been and who you’ve met too. But today, as well as looking back with pride at the ground I was eating up, came a succession of merry meetings: The bloke scouting the ground for his students, preparing for a Duke of Edinburgh award; the charming young man who shone when we spoke of The Seven Sisters, and was making for Winchester, to stay at the Sustainability Centre. I tried to crowd fund him and he talked about a writer friend in Winchester who meets her group of compatriots weekly in the famous and charming Black Boy Pub, where I’ve put up one of my posters, though never got a reply from the manageress about the RNIB. Those passing moments act like a kind of bush telegraph,too, whether it was the reservations from the couple I met yesterday about my hotel in Cocking being on a main road,or the shared wonders you might meet on the way. So you do start to touch something almost ‘Chaucerian’ when we didn’t have instant miscommunication, emails and mobile phones, that stretched back centuries in the English experience – how travellers must have learnt of attractive places to go and perhaps settle, of conflict, war, plague and opportunity. So came the approach to Bignor Hill, passed a Bothy I regretted I hadn’t tried to stay in and where there was a famous decoy clutch of airplanes during the war to fool those nasty Germans about Operation Overlord. I wish I had time to detour to the Roman Villa here, but the extensive drops off the escarpment make it a real hike, that could take up half the day, while it prepared me for what came next – Stanes Street.

There it was, emerging out of the white chalk way like history rising before your eyes, cambered, straight, reliable, undeniably Roman. I had no idea at all that part of that ancient road between Chichester and London, which I think becomes Borough High Street through Southwark, shares a central back bone of the South Downs Way. I was suddenly dreaming of Rome, or marching with the eagle of The Ninth and thinking of moments in Fire Bringer too. Not a hard march with such height on it all, following the gentle Lizard’s back of the downs, that makes this such pleasant walking. Far more than pleasant though, from the drama both of the land and skies, where giant clouds, white and angry grey, were massing above like the supertankers glistening out to sea. You could sit for hours and watch how those leviathans of weather mass, form and change over these powerful thermal generators of hills, scooping moisture into an endless vortex of movement and visual drama. My heart was soaring now, as I met a friendly couple on that Roman track, one of whom had worked in publishing for years and rather agreed with my premise that though nice people, they don’t exactly fight for much. On I went passed the Toby Stone, a rather brilliant little memorial from 1955 that doubles as a horse Mounting stone and carries an inscription from Robert Louis Stevenson that I recited at My father’s funeral. Of course the South Downs Way, as much as being an ancient route for life and change, is about ever present death. From those barrows on Old Winchester hill and the daily forest burials at the Sustainability Centre,to other burial sites on the route like the Devil’s Jumps, that I passed yesterday. In fact not a bad place to go! It is fascinating names en route too, filled with local lore, that make this road so numinous too.

Now I was caught up by the second bod from the hotel, marching to Washington, a good four miles on from my planned night top. Just as many use this ground just for walks, or do the Way in manageable sections, I think people sense if they have anything in common or want to share a pace and he hurried on. Lunch was becokoning now and so descending back into a valley I crossed the angry and decidedly murderous A29 and plunged down into the lovely valley of Houghton and Amberley, to be given a lift by a pretty local woman up to the George and Dragon Pub, of course, for a bloke with pressing news of a Dragon In the Post! From the thrumming clientele the promise of food proved as good as the chicken liver pate. Yet as I ate it and chatted to a nice bloke who lives in Lewes about Glyndebourne, champagne picnics and his own walks and blogs, a distinct monied gentility had suddenly entered in that stretches from Hampshire to London and back. It wasn’t exactly him, despite his describing Storrington as a ‘shit hole‘, or worrying about solicitors and costly arguments with his mother. It was the snooty attitude of the publican and his wife, although she did let me mix my purchase of a shandy and pate with eating my own pork pie, only in the Garden of course, not the terrace. Why is it that everything is money nowadays and more respect isn’t paid for the tradition of ancient travellers, pilgrims or not? The guys hulking the beer barrels were far more sympathetic than the landlord to my filling my water bottle, from a hose outside, like a tinker.

It was a delightful spot though, in the bowl of the valley, surrounded by dropping apple tress and everything in me wanted to snooze and linger; the delight of travel and way faring with no purpose at all and as important a part of doing the South Downs Way as meandering, rambling and stopping to look, or look back. Indeed I thought sadly with these astonishing every changing views of the 100 people who lose their sight every week in the UK, or my Dad and his eyesight battles, and suddenly rather regretted not planning my way a bit better, by relying on comps and so not stopping in Amberely instead of Storrington. A feeling not exactly cured by the small, humdrum town that night, yet certainly by a hugely comfy bed, nice spacious room and, above all for a walker, the most magnificent steaming hot showers. Bliss.

The White Horse Hotel – forgive my romance of an ‘inn’, since everyone seems to like shiny new these days – boasts being the former residence to the composer Sir Arnold Bax and at night with the not unsexy tequila chavs at the bar, he might have advised on the choice of music. Not worthy of another harsh comment by my lunchtime compatriot about keeping your wallet pocket well zipped though and it is now a clean but modern joint, that is certainly not for the Houghton set. But they kindly comped me in my adventure, have groups of walkers visiting, naturally a very passing traffic, and I liked them more than the dragon landlady. As for that lunchtime garden though, there is a joy in leaving things behind too, so ever onward, out through the fields and over the odd little metal bridge that crosses the river Arun, all bull rushes and drifting eddies of watery light, past the walls of Amberley castle, and the climb began again, very steeply up the aptly named High Down. There more signs spoke of the wild life here but then to the wonderful, real sight of kites riding above the forest line with their distinctive jack knife tails, while another rock-star-looking couple told me of a local women in the 70’s who as a young mother had done the way with her children and a donkey. We both agreed it would make a book people want to read. But now, nearing home, I was starting to ask again what this walk is really all about. A noble or idiotic protest march against disconnection and publishing corporations these days? A desperate attempt to be heard and tell everyone I meet about a project still marching on, that ends in just a week? Or simply a wonderful adventure and the most glorious lifetime walk you could not only possibly imagine, but actually experience. Well, whatever happens, that’s good enough for me!

David stayed in The White Horse Hotel, Storrington – telephone 01903745760. Rooms are £85 a night with breakfast. He drives back to Southampton today for a BBC Interviewthen picks up the Way this evening, walking on to The Rising Sun in Upper Beeding.

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ON THE ROAD AGAIN FOR THE SOUTH DOWNS WAY AND A PROJECT COUNTDOWN!

I don’t know how else to move the fates on now and push Dragon In The Post forward, except to stretch some muscles before I set off next Monday from Winchester to Eastbourne. I know a three mile round trip walk into Arlesford is hardly pushing it (climbing St Catherine’s Hill tomorrow though), but with a hazel wand in hand and looking like a twit, it’s all freeing too: Watching the cooling change in the weather, after torrential rain these past few days, wondering about light-weight food, imaging how I should break up the walk and generally mixing dread with excitement. So to young deer grazing by the watercress beds, astonishing mountains of cloud worthy of Rannoch’s journey through hope and despair in Fire Bringer (soon to be republished, thanks to what we’ve achieved already at 72% funded) and that carcass of a dead bird on the tarmac I passed before, beginning to return to our primordial soup. A very flattened feeling, if feeling is the right word, when there isn’t any left. An eagle was riding the thermals too though, heron elegantly guarding their spots on the Itchen and with the wheat fields nearly cut for the harvest, all well in the world.

Is it cynical to mix my own project with trying to raise a bit of sponsorship money for the RNIB – The Royal National Institute for The Blind? I don’t think so, and something is better than nothing, if I’m doing the bloody thing anyway. S kindly did a chalk sign in my local pub and if it has no effect on Dragon In The Post, I can do it for another reason too. Also for the fun of writing it up though, having a go, mixed with a vague despair, so rubbed in by the desultory attitude of The Hampshire Chronicle recently – damn their humdrum eyes. Does it mean that either no one will be reading, or wishing disaster on the whole mad enterprise with a typical small county sneer? In fact, since I can see something of a readership in the searches and hits on this site, I know a few people are reading. But why, why!?

To see perhaps if they are exposed for the Hot Fuzz secrets of a wayward Hampshire Life? To find inspiration in my Hardyesque mastery of a country eye? To share a little in some sense of mutual life adventure? Who knows and honestly who cares, except that sometimes I wish people would listen a little harder. Then comes the delight of ‘projects’, for charity or anything else, dissolving into fun encounters and chance meetings, which any walk should be about too – R the wildflower pirate and his girlfriend, who said, as I rounded the bend into their yard on the way home, that she had been wondering about the odd bod down the pub trying to crowd fund a book, just three minutes before. A bit like the blog on Facebook today about a mum whose daughter had dreamt of someone called Robin Williams, only to wake to discover the awful news! Then my immediate neighbour turned up to feed her recently broken horse Marmite sandwiches (keeps off the ticks apparently) and resist my disreputable efforts to get her co-stabler to let me ride her mount. How hard it seems to have an adventure these days! Delightful as she is, she insists that I’m a man with more leisure than sense, more money too (though she is wrong about both, sadly) and that a walk is pointless and I should come up with carefully targeted marketing strategies, before it all ends on August 27th. Yes, perhaps,but it isn’t quite the point of a long fight with publishers and the Internet, and something that is about trying for some connection, as much as anything else. Nor of my very conscious strategy to have some fun and experience, to share that too, rather than endlessly complaining about some people’s meanness, or why we have stopped listening to each other.

I should tell her that my devilish plan, for what it’s worth, is this: To walk for myself and sheer enjoyment, to not fret too much about how hard it is to ‘sell’ an idea and to have a blast. Meanwhile, of course, behind every hedgerow, in the windiest coppices, perched on their chairs of high opinion down the local pubs and sizzling the bacon of their own hopes and dreams, not to mention some natural Schadenfreude, the dream is thousands of Hampshire folk will turn to watch a week’s walk to Beachy Head and a Countdown to project success or failure and intervene at just the right moment too. I’ve lost all hope my compatriots will walk a bit, or rise from their beds to meet me in Eastbourne with ticker tape and prolonged applause, but I know this, on this Hampshire walk I won’t be entirely lonely either.

David Clement-Davies sets out to walk the South Downs Way next Monday, August 18th. A small charity element has been written into the £50 pledge at Indiegogo.com but you can sponsor him purely for the charity too, by writing to this blog or to David’s pages on Facebook. We are at 72% funded on Dragon In The Post with 15 days to go and you can support a book and publishing project now by CLICKING HERE

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THE LAST GREAT PUSH FOR THE DRAGON!

DRAGON IN THE POST IS 71% FUNDED, WITH 17 DAYS TO GO AND ENDS ON AUGUST 27TH!

Seven_Sisters_cliffs_and_the_coastguard_cottages,_from_Seaford_Head_showing_Cuckmere_Haven_(looking_east_-_2003-05-26)

So, back to some wordsmithery and just writing about being happy in Hampshire. Not Philip Larkin’s ‘long slide into happiness‘ kind of happiness but just being in the country, with great people and not worrying too much about a crowd funding project to change the face of modern publishing! Which means exactly what I decided some time back, namely rather than suffering through the exposure and potential failure of a public crowd funding campaign, with a railing or indignant spirit, instead trying to share an adventure with folk, perhaps inspire a bit and use my writing to prove I’m not just asking for money, but some mutual spirit and trying to give something back.

That has brought disappoints, frustrations, a silly and pointless spat with The Hampshire Chronicle and lovely times too, in the powerfully restoring countryside. That electric storm, the ice pure water of the Itchen, unusual discoveries like Jane Austen’s house or the numinous ruin of Titchfield Abbey, along with odd times trying to go metal detecting and an amazing flight to Sandown airstrip on the Isle of White. The problem with an artist trying to crowd fund is most people expect a finished package, a ‘product’ a novel is always more than to the writer and the readers who enjoy it, and it brings the obvious scepticism, from people who don’t really know the history of why I had a terrible battle with both my friends and publishers and why this is such a personal fight too. Naturally the quality of a story is what really counts, or should do, but this is about something else too, the problem being I don’t especially want to share that with strangers or go on about it any more either.

So to the South Downs Way again, which will take some re-training for and the decision to set off on Monday August 18th! That will give me time for a fairly leisurely pace and also have me back 2 days before the project ends, on August 27th, for a last countdown to whether we can make it and what we’ve really achieved. I’d love you to enjoy that too, so each day I’ll be finding a place to transmit and blog my adventures.

If you want a signed, First edition hard copy of Dragon In The Post, with your name listed in the front among the brave backers who made something happen, or some other perks too, then why not CONTRIBUTE TO DRAGON IN THE POST

DCD – PA PRESS

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