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Sammy here. I have spent a week trying to get my adventures in order. I have to tell you it’s not easy. My driver said he used to have the same problem with his village-beating career as a cricket batsman; he reckoned he struggled to get his ducks in order. This, like a lofted cricket ball, went straight over my head.
Life isn’t all about adventures, if it were it would just be life and mundane. His C.C and B.W., which I now know stands for Chief Cook and Bottle Washer (funny name I think, but that’s what she calls herself when he needs sustenance on a journey) says life can be like parking up on a beach and watching the sea. Much of the time it’s flat-calm and a little boring, but occasionally when a tidal wave heads to land, you have to ‘fun like ruck’, (he always laughs when she says this so I know I am missing something).
They’re entitled to comment on the devastation a tsunami can cause, they saw it two years ago in Thailand where memorials to lost loved-ones sit high up on the cliffs, showing where that cruel wave had broken against the rocks and split asunder many families. I would have liked to have gone too but they went by aeroplane because they said it was too far for me at my age and I had a nice little rest while they were gone.
Anyway, today I am looking forward to a relatively minor adventure as we skirt Southampton; I would like to pick up my skirts and run but I plod along at 55mph on the inside lane with cars and lorries dashing by. I am rocked and buffeted by a Royal Mail pantechnicon but I don’t mind because it reminds me that I am still here and many of the caravans and campervans that left factories in 1984 have long ago perished in the tsunami of progress and modernity.
I am a simple chap, what for me is an adventure is run-of-the- mill for many, but when you read about the things I call an adventure, please judge them by what I, as a big lumbering campervan, can do. I will never drive a racing car, never fly in an open-cockpit aeroplane, never swim halfway across The Channel, let alone finish the second half. I will never go through the jungles of Africa or the Amazon, at least not without a chainsaw and stump puller (she laughed at this as well, but I don’t know why!).
I hate chainsaws...I always think that if men had to use hand saws and plain elbow grease, they’d think twice about cutting down trees. There again, I am now wondering where all the trees went, as we drive through the New Forest. He reckons they were all cut down to build Henry VIII’s warships and even a great galumph of a campervan that has never been to school knows that they didn’t have chainsaws in those days. I spend most of my time happily dumfounded listening to them. He says they didn’t have chainsaws back then although they had chain mail. She says they might have had chain mail but didn’t have chain letters or even stamps to go on them. Even I know they certainly didn't have those intimidating Royal Mail pantechnicons.
He was busy with my interior all last week, getting me all spick and span for this, our first expedition. I heard him on the phone telling somebody we were heading west for a ninety mile proving run and overnight stop. It’s early December...it makes no difference to me, I stand outside through all winds and weathers, it’s just a change of location. Have they ever stayed overnight in a campervan when it’s below freezing outside? Unless drastic measures are taken, it won't be much different inside...I just hope they don’t blame me.
Before we leave the trees behind, at least the thought of them and Henry’s men converting a forest into heath-land, he is talking about an adventure he once had involving a single tree, when he wished he’d had a chainsaw; well, he isn’t telling me but the CC&BW and I overhear everything, even when they whisper.
It was all a very long time ago apparently when he said his sap was rising (whatever that means) and he had parked up one evening with a hopeful bridal candidate only to find at the witching hour that his old car would not go into reverse. With the optimism of youth, he had headed off down a narrow track in the hope that it would lead back to a proper road.
Right in the middle of the bridleway, he said, stood a sapling; whether this had grown from the rising sap he’d left there on a previous occasion, I don’t know, but apparently this sap thing stood more erect and provocative than anything seen earlier on the bridal way. CC&BW is laughing again suggesting that, unable to go back, he went from the bridal way to the bridleway...she has a weird sense of humour.
Despite valiant efforts, the little tree would not yield to his attempts to uproot it and in desperation he tried to drive his car around with his right wheels climbing the bank to the side when disaster struck. The car slid down and the edge of the roof lodged itself against the wooden impediment. He trudged off to a farm where a farmer brought a tractor to tow the car free but not free; just before he did this he freed my driver of two weeks wages because he said that unlike him, he recognised a ‘sap’ when he saw one.
I hope my driver doesn’t have too much of a problem with rising sap each time he takes me out, I had enough encounters with trees with my last owners and as he should know, the tree always wins. Luckily, in case we should get stranded he went out to get a red gas bottle, so he’s not as stupid as he looks. My last owner and his wife stayed overnight in frosty conditions and the blue bottle with butane froze so I had no heating and they were reluctant to drag themselves from a painfully cold bed to my even colder interior.
So, I know what will be in store this cold winter evening as we park up on a Somerset hillside at the end of our first epic journey. Luckily, I heard him telling his son that he had managed to buy and bring a red propane bottle instead of butane. His son, who might be more stupid than he looks, asked if it makes any difference. Any difference? It is the difference between life and death, my driver told him...the gas bottle colour is also symbolic...a true reminder of the slogan, ‘Better Red than Dead’. Oh well, he understands something, but he is still in for a shock. I hope he’s got a big one, ’cos a small one won’t last...I’ve seen it all before. Halfway through the night with the gas fire at full stretch, a small one will give up and all heat will disappear and they won’t even manage a warm cup of tea, let alone a hot one in the morning.
It is 07.00, I am still alive but there’s hardly a sound inside. He must have a big one because I can still hear the gas fire hissing its pitiful production of heat that goes straight through me. It’s minus 3ᴼC outside and the frost-laden grass cracks as some mad dog walker trudges by and his dog helps to thaw the ice around my front tyre.
The Sap (my new name for him) is now out of bed making the Chief (my new name for her) a welcoming cup of tea. Shivering, he sits opposite my fire determined that if they do this again he would be coming up with ways to keep the heat inside me. I am all for that, it means I will still be alive and kicking, albeit gently in these modern times. The frozen, but waking world she photographed at 08.00 when she could lay in bed no longer as nature called, looks hardly modern. Now framed, it takes pride of place on my wall as a constant reminder of ‘Sammy’s first outing’.
Sammy's Tales by Richard G. Stevens
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Hello, my name is Sammy and I am a campervan. My owners for the past ten years have given me the name Sammy, or more correctly ‘Sammy the Snail’. I first made my appearance in the world in 1984 when I left the Lunar factory in the UK where I was coach-built upon a Mercedes chassis.
At that time I was sheer luxury, with a double bed above the cab and two single berths down each side. My kitchen is at the end and I have a sink with hot and cold electric-pumped water, a cooker with oven and a fridge. Also at this end is a shower room with a ‘flushing’ toilet and fold up sink. By the standards of 1984 when VW Campers were offering their primitive facilities, I was like a palace on wheels.
I cannot remember my first owners, but I think they were somewhere in Sussex...I am thirty years old...very old for a campervan and my memory is fading. It is because of this that I asked my current owners, the fourth, if they would write down some of my adventures before they are forgotten.
You see, campervans don’t usually have adventures...they have outings where they carry their owners to campsites, both home and abroad, before they are stored away, unloved until needed again. If they are lucky they might get a couple of trips a year. I was like that with my previous owner because he was frightened of me—you see, I am tall and wide and he was forever bashing me into things that got in our way. In truth, I became frightened of him because on the rare occasions he took me anywhere, I would always come back with dents and scratches. By the time of my twentieth birthday I was looking quite sad.
I have just remembered my second owners; they were an old couple that used to load me up with their grandchildren and take them to the nearest seaside spot. It was always the same place, but there were other grandparents doing the same thing so I made quite a few friends in the campervan community. I wonder where they all are now after twenty years...most have probably ceased going anywhere...I am a dinosaur, a ‘Snailosaurus’, a relic of a bygone age.
I don’t know what campervans have inside them these days because I’ve never been close except when one overtakes me on a motorway. They look very posh and shiny and go like racing cars and now I understand why my owners call me Sammy the Snail.
I want to make it to my fortieth birthday because I understand I shall be a ‘classic vehicle’ and my owners won’t have to pay to take me on the road anymore. That’s if my driver makes another ten years himself! But now he tells me there is another threat to my existence, you see I have an old diesel engine which some people say should be scrapped. They say I make a lot of smoke, but how much do I make compared with a modern lorry that’s on the road every day?
I hope I live a bit longer, but before I shrug off my mortal coil, (in my case this should be ‘mortal leaf’ because I haven’t got coil springs) I want you to know something about my adventures. A friend of my owner has said he will open a blog (whatever that means) and put one of my stories on it every week, starting next weekend. I have had a lot of adventures and can’t wait to tell you all about them.
Thank you, Jeremy Crow, for nominating me for a Beautiful Bloggers' Award. I assume you collected yours from the White House, if that is what it is still called. I am hoping that I shall receive an invitation to The Palace to be invested with this marvellous accolade which is only just eclipsed by the last award I received from Her Majesty, namely the OBE, commemorating my ability to build upon Other Bloggers' Efforts. My nominations are below, but whether you get the magnificence of the White House, the opulence of The Palace or the lofty heights of the Crow's Nest, I cannot predict.
By the way, for those who are wondering about the dates on my blogs, I must tell you that Weebly have thrown a wobbler. Good job they don't run a dating agency.
Seven Random Fact:
My Nominees Are:
On the 9th June I went to a book signing at Eklektos Bookshop in Elounda, Crete. It wasn’t to sign my book Discrete Reversal, which is currently only available as an e-book. It was Kritsotopoula by Yvonne Payne, so it was her day anyway. It was great to chat with her, not least because both Harry volumes, the Louse and the Spouse should be available in paperback this year and I look forward to my own book-signing in the same bookshop, because Elounda is where Harry casts his spell.
Anyway, this blog is following on from The Ferryman theme and after Yvonne’s book-signing I went, for the first time, to see some of the film’s settings.
The Ferryman Tavern is now fronted by a waterside gallery, so the original character is lost, but as I went to climb the steps to look at the apartment that ‘Leandros’ (Jack Hedley) borrowed from Babis, his wartime friend, a voice rang out and I paused. I knew what was coming because no Cretan business can afford to let custom pass by, especially in these dire times. The man spoke to me in broken English, working his way up to inviting me to one of his tables. I listened to him politely then replied in my broken Greek, which was not quite so spasmena as his English, evidently, because we continued in his language.
I was no longer a potential customer, at least not with any overriding immediacy, I was a friend because I was speaking to him in something approximating to Cretan Greek.
I discovered that ‘Akis’, is the proprietor of The Ferryman Tavern and before long my new friend had discreetly edged me to a table where we sat over a karafaki raki and very excellent raki it was. I was late for an appointment, but I was confident that the Cretan I was meeting would be late as well, so I dwelt there talking about the film and the settings.
I have written somewhere else that I was saddened by the ending of the film, where Leandros’ newly discovered daughter, her husband and Leandros’ grandson, die in a vengeful car accident. I have been told that a Greek producer is hoping to film a new version and I mentioned the tragic ending and hope that the boy might be spared to be brought up by his grandfather and aunt who will marry.
Akis told me that little Alexis, though ‘killed’ in the film, is alive and well and not so little, living in Agios Nikolaos. My sentimentalism evaporated, as did that raki in the heat of the sun, or was it the warmth of the company? I am hoping Akis will locate the fifty year-old one-time film star and I will have the pleasure of entertaining him and his family (immediate that is, not extended or I will be bankrupt) at The Ferryman one evening.
You see, Akis is a wise restaurateur, there may have been no immediacy but the reward will far outweigh the lunch he hoped I would take when he first saw me. As always in Crete, it is not what you eat, it is whom you eat it with that counts.
We should have realised that the sun setting behind us would cast our shadows long. Worse still, they are amplified so that the slightest movement of my head moves my damned shadow temptingly across the path. Off to my left is the plain tall Christian cross casting its long shadow across the battlefield of the past. All our damned training and my brother is over there groaning in agony because we had not anticipated a reception committee hidden in the old graveyard. I heard the twang of the crossbow and instinctively hit the ground as my brother cried out. Through his pain, George recovers his self-control and tells me in a whisper, punctuated by muted gasps, that he’s been hit in the upper chest by a cross-bow bolt.
I want to go to him; all my medical knowledge tells me that if I am quick I might save him, but my military training tells me that all the while my shadow falls across the path I am a marked man. Heroics are only worth performing if there’s a good chance they’ll pay off, I tell myself. I keep repeating the maxim, as much to hold myself still and have my shadow merge anonymously with those cast by the trees, as to take my mind off the painful agonies George is suffering as his lifeblood drains away.
George and I had come to the German Cemetery at Maleme, Crete to avenge a family member who had been murdered in Berlin in 1987. Our uncle had been stabbed through the heart after he’d unearthed some truth about the death of Rudolf Hess in Spandau prison. He was a pathologist in the British Military Hospital in Berlin and had carried out a second opinion examination. He had been about to reveal his findings formally when he was found dead in his home. There was no trace of his report or the documents he had painstakingly put together, yet he had already given me the gist of his findings and they were dynamite. How, though, did we believe we could avenge his death here in a graveyard two thousand miles away, amongst men that had been dead for more than seventy years?
A poor partial set of prints had been found on the ribbed handle of the SAS dagger that killed him, but they never led to an arrest because forensic science was barely beyond infancy and every time the prints were re-examined, they became more obscure. Then last year partial prints on a similar dagger used in a murder in London had been clarified using a new infrared molecular-adhesion comparator. The clear set of prints led to an arrest and more importantly a conviction strongly reliant on the new equipment. Hearing about this from army colleagues, my brother George and I had our uncle’s murder weapon sent over from the cold-case vaults in Germany for evaluation. The new images were imprecise but worthy of feeding into an automatic search database. Astoundingly, because of a particular quirk in a forefinger loop, there were but two men whose prints were deemed to have identifiable matching points. Yet both were dead, one incontrovertibly laying in the Invaliden cemetery in Berlin, the other believed interred in the war cemetery on Hill 107, Crete next to the old Greek Orothodox cemetery. Hauptman Doktor Franz von Schumann had apparently died nearby from wounds sustained when he, parachuting to the ground, had been hit by rifle fire. He could have stayed safe in Magdeburg hospital, but had volunteered to join the Fallschirmjäger and was one of the first wave to parachute into Crete in May 1941.
George and I were here to use a remarkable piece of equipment that had been developed to test discreetly the areas around Sohbibor concentration camp claimed to hold the remains of thousands that died between 1942 and 1945. However, further traditional soil examination was being resisted after long-held beliefs had been challenged. The piece of kit used amplification technology to analyse sampled traces of human DNA that leaches out into the soil. Thousands of barely-intrusive readings had enabled conclusive results, which confirmed the German wartime records, held by the Russians, that would be beyond public scrutiny until 2015.
We were not involved in that initial confidential activity nor, for the moment, is it of interest to us. Yet the equipment had been so convincingly accurate that we hope to probe the area around Hauptman von Schumann’s grave covertly and without any hint of desecration. Despite only a handful of trusted people knowing we were coming here, my brother, who I can still hear breathing, lays in peril until that blasted sun casts its final shadow of the day.
What forces, I wonder, could be sufficiently worried to be here waiting for us? Now, even before the soil has been probed I am confident we are on to something big, perhaps so big that death reaches out from the archives to silence both of us.
Then, as it does in the Mediterranean, the sun calls time and everything goes black. I wait, briefly wondering if our attacker has set up his deathly contraption on a tripod aimed at my shadow before it merged with those of the trees. If so, when I make a move he has a good chance of hitting me, Zeus-like, with his waiting lightning bolt.
Silently I inch backwards until in the darkness I can shuffle across to George. I take his hand, “George, George I’m going to have to feel my way around your wound, I daren’t use a torch.” He squeezes my hand, he is steeling himself. The bolt has gone in high, just below his collar bone, which I can feel is shattered but as far as I can tell the flesh has closed around the shaft and the worst of the bleeding is staunched. I reach in his rucksack for the medipac and soon am injecting the pre-dosed morphine, enough to make pain tolerable but not render the wounded unable to walk...it should also buy me time. “That should sort the pain out.”
Then in the car-park well below us, I hear an engine start and wonder why our assailant believes he’s halted our mission. The obvious answer, he has stopped us in our tracks until nightfall and the prospect of reinforcements tomorrow. It makes me think he might not know about the piece of kit we are carrying, let alone the simplicity of it. “George, if you’re able to hang on a while, I’m going to the grave and do what we came here to do, there may not be another chance.”
“I can hardly feel a thing, you interrupted a wonderful dream, this gorgeous woman was just about to...” he starts snoring softly and it resonates reassuringly as I make my way to the Hauptman’s grave.
Quickly, I am there and back – job done. Okay, I don’t know if we have meaningful results, but the little box of electronic wizardry has flashed its detection of six different human DNA’s, two for von Schumann and his eternal companion in the two-man grave they share and four more from similar graves both sides of them.
“Can you walk, George, if I help you?”
We make our way back to our car, slowed by our equipment and a need to stop periodically to check we aren’t about to be ambushed. Taking George to hospital is impossible, the police will become involved, so we sneak into our nearby hotel pretending we are drunk. Once in the room I remove the bolt, fix a shoulder harness in place and set up a simple transfusion between us. While my blood flows to George, I download the information to London and the prospect of meaningful results.
Three days later we are home and sifting through some amazing information. Dr Franz von Schumann is not in the Maleme grave...so perhaps those fingerprints on the dagger that killed our uncle were indeed his. Now we have more things to find out. Had he chosen or been ordered not to go to Crete and how was our uncle’s death linked to this man? Had Dr von Schumann also been behind the suspicious, covered-up death of Hitler’s deputy because Hess knew too much? We know who we are looking for, the first thing now is to find out his substitute identity and whether the ninety-eight year-old is still alive. If not, more alarmingly, who is behind the attempt on our lives in Crete? One thing we are quite certain of...it is unlikely in 1941 Germany that von Schumann took the identity of the woman in the grave... To be continued
Part 03 by S. Bradley Stoner is amazing - read it quickly and volunteer for Part 04 before you are beaten to the draw
This ‘Tag Blog’ is my continuation of Jeremy Crow’s first part of Shadows Fall. http://creativitywhacko.blogspot.com/2015/06/shadows-fall-tag-blog-part-01.html
When you have finished reading this part and feel you would like to write the third part, you will find the instructions at the end.
I have just watched ‘Who Pays the Ferryman’, the 1977 TV series filmed in and around Elounda, Crete. Watching any story that is nearly forty years old can be poignant, especially if it’s a classic that we watched years ago and want to see again for our own nostalgic reasons. Often we make judgements about dress, accents, attitudes and moral values. Dress is seen as too formal, accents too posh, attitudes too affected or old-fashioned and morality
Yes, much of ‘Who Pays the Ferryman’ was like this. However, although told in the typical manner of the ‘70’s, the storyline could be just as compelling today. Boy meets girl during overseas conflict, boy returns home, girl discovers she is pregnant; boy writes, girl’s mother hides letters, local man takes on pregnant girl; gives birth to daughter later orphaned, marries and has a son of her own; much later boy returns to find he's a grandfather...Anyway, it would be just as plausible and topical these days.
Yet behind the ‘old-fashioned’ panoply, lies something that has not changed at all; in fact it goes back much further than forty years, beyond living memory.
When I decided to write the book that uses Crete as a backdrop, my initial thought for ‘Discrete Reversal’ was ‘Shirley Valentine for the older woman’. Shirley, as portrayed by Pauline Collins, is a woman ignored, a piece of ‘matrimonial furniture’ so desperate for interaction, she speaks to her wall...remember?
Okay, speaking to a wall sounds daft but it is figurative because many people speak to themselves or to some other focal object that cannot talk back. As a child I would go with my mother to tend her parents’ grave and thought that everybody spoke to their silent loved ones as if they could hear. People may not tend graves with such reverence anymore, but in times of trouble or distress may well speak to a photograph or something symbolic of a loved one. In some respects, while we may deride bygone times, within us all are those very emotions that connect with our roots.
After my first two years in Crete, I likened village life to how it was in my England fifty years ago. Only people that grew up in or around British villages would truly understand and maybe in some of our more remote settlements, many still do. We were brought up believing in our Christian heritage, we went to church...though I admit sometimes reluctantly, we respected our elders, did as we were told, helped our neighbours and we didn’t lock our doors. That is still the reality in much of Crete today.
While the British cast of The Ferryman may look jaded by today’s norms, the film depicts Cretans almost timelessly. Their clothes, particularly the black favoured by older ladies, can still be seen in many villages to this day. For people that come to Crete as tourists, there is little or no chance of being part of this reality; in fact tourists in All-Inclusives that switch on their televisions and catch a snippet of The Ferryman, could well believe that such life outside their hotels no longer existed, but it does.
Crete is an island with a chequered history, much like Britain’s. Settlement by outsiders and even invasion has been endured, including by Venetians and Turks in more recent history. Yet it is a remarkably homogenous society, whose people are warm and give their friendship long before it is returned, sometimes to the point that makes visitors wonder why. In Crete though, hospitality and generosity is the norm, undiluted by the foreigners that settle in their midst. The warmth transcends the barrier of language if the settler will cast off natural reserve and the typical ‘stiff upper lip’.
This friendliness to strangers or filloxenia is still alive and well in Crete just as portrayed in the 1977 film, but you won’t find it poolside or in the main resorts. You have to go out and track it down, often in the mountains. You are unlikely to experience anything like it yourself on a fortnight’s holiday, but you can witness it...you can be assured that filloxenia is still alive and well in modern-day Crete.
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