Gillian Bouras
An Australian
Living in Greece

October 2017

The beautiful autumn is continuing: morning glories blooming in mad profusion, trees bending under their loads of ripening pomegranates, all that. But the farmers have been complaining, as farmers everywhere have a habit of doing. (Who’d be a primary producer, after all?) They’ve been moaning about drought, as well they might, because rain is essential for the ripening and plumping of the olives, this area’s most important crop. But as is usual here, the weather has changed right on schedule, and we have now had good rains. So presumably the farmers are happy, at least for the time being. Expats are somewhat disappointed by the downturn in the weather, although some hardy souls among them keep on swimming regardless. Many know that there is still the Little Summer of Saint Dimitrios to look forward to. The saint’s feast day is on October the 26th, and it is at about that time that a run of softly sunny days favours us. And the chrysanthemums are a picture, all tawny russet and bright yellow.

I’ve been in Greece for so long that you’d think I’d be used to what I think of as Greek wilfulness. But every so often I succumb to a fit of necessarily silent righteous indignation. Picture the scene; I was in the Kalamata Post Office the other day, awaiting my turn. (The service was enormously improved by the introduction of ticket machines and the number system, before which time one had to battle one’s way through a general free-for-all in order merely to get to the counter.) Two young men were engaged in conducting their business, when the employee supposedly helping them, a youngish woman, suddenly got up and left the building. Mystified, I watched her disappear up a nearby street, and suddenly recalled the presence of a coffee shop there. Sure enough, after about five minutes she reappeared clutching a coffee-to-go. Thus fortified, she resumed the business of the day. Then her next-door neighbour disappeared: clearly the venture was catching. By the time I left said woman still had not returned, at which point I had a muttered session of what my mother used to call the ‘Wouldn’t you thinks?’

When it comes to the subject of books, I probably drive large numbers of people mad with my crusading zeal. Read this, read that, I order, and am not really deterred when few people listen. I’m a reader of newspapers, too, and note that in Britain there has been an outbreak of concern over the neglect of the classics of English literature. Interestingly, the leader of the campaign to return classic novels to the curricula of some of Britain’s most exclusive schools is Amanda Foreman, academic and historian/biographer, who lives in America, but has seen to it that her five children have been educated at top-notch private schools in Britain: average cost about $65000 per annum. Imagine her horror when she discovered that she was not getting much return on her investment: her 16-year-old daughter, attending one of the said posh schools, had not read a single 18th or 19th century novel. My sweet old-fashioned mind boggles at this shocking omission, and it seems my mind is not alone, even among younger ones.

Sunday Times journalist Roland White, pole-axed by his daughter’s dinner-table remark that she hadn’t really read any novels, decided to take action. The girl is 19, and I gather she has at least one sister, for White wrote: ‘Straight after dinner, I compiled a list for my daughters: 21 Books They Should Read Before They’re 21. No pressure, girls.’

It’s a good list, and includes works written in English, as distinct from English works: The Great Gatsby is on the list, for example, along with To Kill a Mockingbird. Chaucer, Shakespeare, Dickens, Hardy and Trollope predictably figure prominently, with Crime and Punishment in there as well. I’ve read most of the books on the list, but feel forced to confess that I have never been a Tolkien fan. I tried several times to read The Hobbit, and eventually gave up. As for Lord of the Rings, I agree with the friend who robustly announced that size is no recommendation.

Foreman alleges that leading schools such as Eton and Marlborough have been choosing easier options in order to boost results, while most state schools continue with a traditional curriculum.(Hooray for state education!) Foreman has also been told by people in charge of exclusive schools that today’s students are digital natives (!) rather than natives of the English language. I ask you.  Well, it’s the students’ loss. So what if they find Austen and Dickens difficult? Let them get over it and read on. Here endeth the lesson.

Gillian Bouras


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Gillian Bouras 2018