Crete is part of me now, for there I changed directions and followed what my heart knew was right but my wallet and academic pre-programming begged to differ. The year was 1974 and I had been disillusioned for some time with my research which was then being pursued just for the sake of it – to finish it. London was home and I bought books as a solace… Some thirty seven years later we have just returned from sharing a love of this island with a lovely group of people..lots of flowers, birds of prey, great food and excellent company. And in that strange way that things happen bits of life link up. Just before I left the world of real jobs in 1986 I was working in a Midlands boarding school, Denstone College where, as a left of centre atheist who can’t play cricket life in a Church of England establishment was… interesting. However I kept getting promoted and ended up as a Housemaster …it turns out that Julia Jones, mother of Matthew one of the first to join as a new boy in Philips House now runs an organisation to promote the Flowers of Crete . I have promised to do what I can to supply images and promote…Crete really is an amazing place for spring flowers and the site is well worth a visit.
However… in April of 1974 I found cheap flights to Crete and travelled everywhere by bus…having studied maths I knew the Greek alphabet, which was handy and could read the destinations. First stop Phaestos where, arriving in a storm I dumped bags in a tourist pavilion and rushed out to find, in a matter of metres, spikes of the monkey orchid (Orchis simia) and Cretan ophrys (Ophrys cretica)..my Damascene conversion. Sadly, 37 years later that wonderful path has gone…but I found much else and a lengthier account is being prepared.
In Foyles, two years previously, I had found the yellow-covered book that became a beacon – Flowers of the Mediterranean by Anthony Huxley and Oleg Polunin. Little did I suspect that, in a few years time, I would be involved with writing another book (Wild Orchids of Britain & Europe) with input from Anthony. On that train journey to Shadwell in London’s East End I was smitten by the horde of small buzzing faces of the genus Ophrys, those insect mimics that for some years I had been photographing in the UK with no idea of what lay in and around the Mediterranean.
I confess that, for years, my annual escapes to various parts of the Mediterranean region leading trips was an essential relief to another life. Despondency inevitably set in as the plane descended from the bright sun of high altitudes into Gatwick or Heathrow and light levels under clouds dropped. Then the train journey home and memories of fields of flowers kept me going as I became grateful for the sight of a clump of primroses at the trackside…and wondered about the point of it all.
With the Wisteria in full flower and humming with the giant carpenter bees that adore it and our vocal nightingales in full chorus it is nice to come home now. We had been in Crete for about 12 days and my intention had been to blog each day or three and create a kind of diary. Reality is not like that and full days in the field preceded by two to three hours editing (start at 05.00) followed by an hour of the same before dinner and two hours work…after cut into time. Finishing a book is never quite as easy as intended…in fact, I am exhausted with a capita “F”. I shall put up a longer essay on Crete, the changes good and bad…in the next week.
I have said before that this will be the last book I do in this way I mean it now so ebooks here we come: readers of this blog will be the first to know SOON when the initial one is ready.