Lambi's magic island
Picture
Me back in my hippy youth

  Let me introduce myself……


Picture
At my 60th birthday party


Writing these stories, I realise I haven’t really talked about myself & my background.  This played a large role in how I came to Ios & why I’m still there.

People often come up to me & tell me how lucky I am to be able to spend months of the year on this magical island. I reply, yes I am indeed lucky, but it’s also a matter of choice.

I was born to Greek parents in London – my father worked in shipping & my mother was a housewife. I have a sister who is a couple of years younger than me. My parents were moderately well-to-do, my father worked long hours & my mother was involved in a number of cultural activities & read voraciously. What was strange about our family was that my parents talked to us in English. My father had a deep love of England and wanted us to be fully integrated.

We moved from London when I was three, & I grew up in a sleepy Hertfordshire village called Bushey Heath. We were the only foreigners there & my mother caused great consternation in the village greengrocers by asking for items such as fresh lemons (unheard of, & what for??). She also arranged for a Frenchman to come twice a year & sell her onions and garlic, which came on ropes & were then hung in a dark cupboard. I remember the French man vividly as he arrived on a  bicycle, wearing a typical Breton striped sweat shirt & a black beret. The Frenchman’s visits became the talk of the village- what was my mum up to with this foreigner? Ah well, she’s foreign, too & doesn’t know any better……should somebody mention it to my dad? My parents had a good laugh about that.

Both my sister & I attended the local primary school & I never felt any different to the other children there. OK I had a strange name – I dreamed of being called Susan or Ann – and some of our customs were decidedly dodgy – we often celebrated Easter on a different day & ate strange food for a few weeks before this event. Strange over-made up women with loud voices would descend on us at the weekends & screech away with my parents in a secret language. They would pinch our cheeks, often scratching our faces with their blood red talons & make comments we could not understand. However I considered myself as English and the differences did not seem to matter. People were friendly & we took part in many rituals of village life – summer fairs, the vicar’s garden party, walks in the nearby woods, gymkhanas. Like a lot of our neighbours, we kept hens at the bottom of the garden (which, unfortunately were decimated by foxes from the neighbouring fields) and we had lots of friends we met at school. We were often invited to their homes & they came round to ours, too.

When we grew older, my dad used to drive us up (down geographically) to London to visit some of his Greek friends & relatives with children around our age. I hated these trips as my sister used to get massively car- sick & I used to be sitting next to her, so it was most unpleasant. Also I found that when we played with these children, they spoke English in a very strange fashion – a completely different accent & intonation to what we were used to. They all seemed to know this secret language, too.

I was becoming increasingly interested in this mysterious language & wanted to learn it, especially since my parents often used it to communicate between themselves when they didn’t want us to understand. Also we had gone over to Greece for the first time & our relatives all spoke this secret code as well as English. When I was 8, I started Greek lessons – although I had asked for them, I wasn’t sure that I wanted to give up my Saturday mornings for these lessons, nor do the homework they involved. We also started going up to London to attend the Greek Orthodox Church in Moscow Road. I hated it – we only went about 4 times a year, but I loathed the incense, which made me feel dizzy & nauseous & I hated the chants. So dreary & monotonous compared to the hymns we used to sing in the village chapel.

At this point in my life, our rather idyllic existence was disrupted. Increasingly my father began to travel to Greece for long stretches of time on business. My mother wanted to accompany him at times, so we were uprooted from our small school & despatched to a nearby school which had both boarding & day-girl facilities. Compared to our old school – this was a huge place – a primary school, a junior school & a senior school, housed in different buildings in what I suppose now, were pretty spectacular grounds. Again, we were the only foreigners, only this time it made a difference. Most of the children who attended this school came from Army backgrounds or had parents based in the ‘colonies’. Not only didn’t my name fit, but neither did my appearance – I was plump & Mediterranean looking with wild, curly hair. This was the first time I was made to feel like an alien. It was so confusing, I felt English, English was my mother tongue, but these kids treated me as if I was inferior & different.

I won’t dwell on my schooldays – I can’t say they were the best days of my life, but I did eventually make a few friends & learn the slang to make me accepted. However I have no regrets that I left at 16 – the earliest I could, clutching a cluster of O’ Levels in my hand, but with no idea what I wanted to do.

 My parents, by now thoroughly disorientated by my rebelliousness & teenage moods decided to send me to my aunt & uncle in Athens to learn Greek properly & to study French. I’m not good at languages – my talents lie elsewhere, but I loved French. The sound of the language, the pop songs, the art films & I was fascinated by Paris, having read all about it in my Angelique books, which my mother thought were trash. I enjoyed my stay in Greece, & being of an age began to take an interest in boys…….not that I had much opportunity to meet many. I had already in England started to go to rock concerts with my friends & was an avid follower of the Rolling Stones. Something my parents were aghast at. After a year, I had to return to the UK & decide what to do with my life.

I agreed to study for A’ levels as I thought a life in advertising might be nice & that needed qualifications. As my parents had moved back to London in the meantime, I went to a 6th form college there. It was a multicultural college with many students from Asia & Africa. I blossomed there. While at school the teachers had treated me as if I was a shilling or so short of a pound, here they encouraged me to apply for university. I had at the same time got a portfolio of my art together & showed them to a couple of art schools. In the end, with 3 A’s at A’ Level, I was offered a place at LSE – and also a place at St Martin’s School of Art.

 By this time, my relations with my father had deteriorated to a point of shouting matches every day. From being an easy-going, playful dad he had turned into a Greek despot. All my life I had listened to him spouting on about the equality of people & freedom & I had seen that my parents had many English, Jewish & Greek friends, so I thought nothing wrong when I found myself a boyfriend who was South African Indian. How wrong could I be!! Suddenly after making every attempt to integrate me into English society, I was supposed to be a little Greek girl, locked up until she married a nice Greek boy. Well I wasn’t having that!

I thought if I accepted the place at LSE, my father would be proud of me – it was his old university – and home life would be less fraught. So that’s what I did, even though I would have preferred to go to art school. However it was a good choice. LSE was my making – we were closed down for the first 5 months in the aftermath of student demonstrations, I became politicised, participated in demos against the war in Vietnam & Apartheid, went to numerous rock concerts, pretended that I was at college to my parents & spent the afternoons with my boyfriend. The second & third years involved more academic work, though I often got sidetracked before I reached the library & spent hours socialising with friends from all over the world.

 I laughed when it got back to me that the London Greeks called me the “black sheep of Greek society”, but I still spent holidays in Greece with my family during the summer vacation. I travelled round to different Greek islands, dragging my sister along. Our favourite island was Myconos, where we had a ball of a time. After visiting Myconos for a number of years, it started to become more expensive. I heard from a German guy that Ios was like Myconos had been 10 years before & was far cheaper. It was also a gathering place for hippies. Sounded ideal to me – so that’s how I came to visit Ios for the first time, but that happened later on.

After University, I tried for a year to get into publishing. I refused to go the route my careers officer had suggested: become a secretary & get in that way. You wouldn’t say that to a man I retorted & flounced out. I worked in bookshops for a year sending hundreds of application letters to various publishers, getting few replies & even fewer interviews - where I was told I was either too qualified or not the sort of person they were looking for. My boss in Hatchards bookshop got so incensed by the replies that he took to writing to publishers on my behalf. Peter Giddy was a lovely man & so kind to me. He helped me regain my self-confidence, which had been totally shattered by the interviews. Finally I got an interview at Jackdaw Publications – children’s historical folders – a branch of Jonathan Cape. I was accepted & spent 2 very happy years there.

Why did I leave? Well I was assistant editor & when my fabulous boss & Editor got pregnant, they offered me her job. Up till then, I’d had the fun part of the job – the editing, picture research, proof-reading, chatting to authors, while she had the organisational & financial side. They weren’t offering me much more money (our secretary got paid more than me) & they were taking away the fun part as well. More to the point, the holidays were abysmal – 2 weeks in summer – that was just not long enough. I’d applied for a place in a graduate teacher-training course – teachers get long holidays after all. After getting accepted by Goldsmith’s College, I left publishing behind & went to Ios for the first time. And the rest is history…………..