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Category: Literature



Once, many many years ago, two schoolboys, blazers, caps, ties and all, knocked on our front door and asked us eagerly whether our house was haunted and had we seen any ghosts. Ha ha! What tosh! We thought, only we failed to make up a story for them. We were only little school kids ourselves, at the time. Yes, it was that long ago. The house is still standing, I believe, or else hovering over West Heath Road in a chimera? and I dare say it is haunted now, even if it wasn?t then.

A grand piano. A very grand grand piano. A Bluthner. Authentic of course! Everything was authentic in those days or else it wasn?t. The sound of Chopin?s 9th Heroic Polonaise can still be discerned occasionally, in the middle of the night. Clear, crystal notes, not ringing out but chiming quietly in the dreams of the living. Of the current inhabitants.  The changing, different current inhabitants at any time. The beautiful Bluthner floated out of the house and away a very long time ago. There is no one alive now who has the remotest idea of where it went. But occasionally, on a clear spring night a shadow of a grand piano hovers over the house, the towers and then disappears suddenly.

The shadows appear through the flickering of the candle flames. Through clouds of cigarette smoke. Against the walls of the drawing room. Where the grand piano once stood proudly. The sound of laughter resonates eerily in the night. Joyous laughter of times long past tinkling quietly in the dark. A vivacious hostess welcoming her friends. A party. Music and dancing and more laughter. The drawing room fills with well dressed people. Light the candles! Light the candles to absorb the cigarette smoke threatening to fog up the room and there is fog outside so the windows being opened will not help!

By morning all signs of any party have disappeared. No music can be heard. Chopin?s Polonaise has wafted away into the stratosphere. A chink of milk bottles being left outside the front door. Or is that an indelible feature of times long gone as well? Those who were are no more. All gone. Flying off into the red night sky that glowed over Hampstead Heath. Yet the shadows remain. Long shadows in the night. A smile, a twinkle in a long gone eye. A puff of smoke. Tears and longings. Long forgotten. But in the dark of the night the house throbs. Imperceptibly perhaps. But it throbs. The shadows flicker on the walls when lightening strikes. A sudden flash and then the thunder. No one really notices, only the very discerning or the very highly strung.

Ghosts? What tosh! They don?t exist! Well no. Of course they don?t exist. By definition, if someone is dead s/he no longer exists. Nevertheless? the aura remains. The intensity of emotions, the mark one made. The intensity of joy, the laughter that filled the rooms, the music. The very walls are imbued with all this. And sometimes the current inhabitants are touched by a weird, inexplicable sense of something in the air.

The drawing room is no longer as grand as in times gone by. There is no piano to be played. There is no smoke and no candles left. Sometimes, even if only very vaguely, one can discern the form of a proud elderly lady[1] sitting in the entrance hall, enjoying a cup of coffee, with hot buttered toast, quietly smoking. There was a lot of smoke everywhere, Both inside and out.

On New Year?s Eve, if one listens very carefully with all antennae alert, one can almost hear Auld Lang Syne being sung by voices as the piano chimes out the tune. Should auld acquaintance be forgot?.  Till it becomes inaudible, as all those who sang it together are no longer there or anywhere any more. So many, says the poet, I had not thought death had undone so many?[2]

And yet. Their shadows still flicker on the walls, in the night, suddenly illuminated in a clap of thunder. Only in a brief flash. But the memory lingers on. As they also sang at the height of the party.


Kifissia (a long way from what was home, both in miles and time)

9th May 2021



[1] Elli Lambrides, the formidable Greek Teacher in whose papers this sketch was found.

[2] T.S. Eliot ?The Waste Land?

EUROPA (a short story)



They wouldn?t let her play with just anyone. Her friends had to be carefully selected. Above all, now that she was reaching womanhood, she had to be restricted to the exclusive company of girls, girls of high quality, approved by her parents, and companions fit for her. It wasn?t that she was ungrateful, and it wasn?t that she was disloyal or even lacking in her imposed sense of duty. It was just that she got so terribly bored in the company of these correct and specially vetted and selected companions. None of them seemed to have any imagination or even the remotest spontaneous flair for something crazy, something forbidden, something against the rules. Nothing too dangerous. She hardly expected that of them. But couldn?t one of them at least understand and condone her need to break away, if only for just a little? Couldn?t one of them at least sympathize with, if not encourage her thirst for the illusion of some adventure? Just the illusion, since she was herself very well aware that it could never be anything more than just that. Yet, no. they remained, to a girl, strictly bound by the confines of their duty and she couldn?t help disdaining them, all of them, for their arrant timidity.

Spring turned out to be the most terrible season she?d ever lived through that year. Or so it had seemed to her. Stupid, insipid ball games with her friends, gathering flowers and making garlands out of them, singing and dancing in circles holding hands? It was unendurable and she couldn?t help being amazed with herself over how she?d actually enjoyed such ridiculous pastimes before. At night she just couldn?t sleep for a strange persistent throbbing inside her and by day she was often afflicted by terrible headaches and fits when she was gripped by an overpowering urge to scream and shout and tear up those wretched flower garlands her companions had taken such pains to make. She was sorry afterwards. She always was. But when her blood began to boil over, for no apparent reason, she just couldn?t restrain herself from her wild vindictive actions. Could she help it if she vented her wrath on her friends? They, after all, had become the symbols as well as the instruments of her confinement whether they liked it or not, so it was they who, of necessity, had to bear the brunt of her wild if totally ineffectual bursts of momentary rebellion.

?Lets go for a swim!? She cried out in an impetuous impulse one morning, surprising them out of the dullness of their flower gathering.

?A swim??

The other girls looked at each other in astonishment. But it was such a hot day in late spring and the cool blue sea so inviting in its calmness.

?Yes, a swim!? She declared again, but then in the face of their timid hesitancy, added, ?I?ll go on my own if no one else wants to.?

The other girls exchanged looks anxiously again. It wasn?t exactly that they didn?t want to. And it wasn?t exactly as if the beach were forbidden. Only?

?Only what?? She snapped at them impatiently.

?Well, we really shouldn?t go swimming without our mothers to chaperone us.?

?Oh, nonsense! Did anyone ever actually tell you that??

?Well, no? not exactly, but??

?But? There?s no but! If something hasn?t specifically been forbidden then it?s allowed, isn?t it??

Her companions gaped at her. She wasn?t wrong of course, but each and every one of them knew that it had never been specifically forbidden because it had never been expected that the girls would ever think of doing such an audacious thing on their own. Most of them remained hesitant. They could sense they were about to do something dangerous even if not specifically forbidden, something they knew they really shouldn?t. On the other hand they were duty bound to follow her to keep her in check, if nothing else. This was, after all, their prime duty and what they had been entrusted to do. Besides, it was such a hot day, the sea so calm and beckoning? They exchanged looks again, their resolve beginning to waver. After all, it was surely not such a terrible thing to be doing, was it? And then one of them said in a panic,

?But we can?t! We?ll get our clothes wet! And then what? We?ll only get into trouble.?

?Wet?? She laughed at her scornfully. ?You fool! Why swim in our clothes when we?re alone and unchaperoned? We won?t get our clothes wet if we take them off! So no one need ever find out if we strip!? She declared, swiftly discarding her own light spring clothes, dropping them on the sand and jumping straight into the water.

?Oh, it?s divine!? She shrieked out in rapture, swimming out in a supple stroke then ducking her head under to savor the delight of the water all over her. ?Whoever doesn?t come in isn?t worth a worm eaten fig!? She cried out her taunt in a feeling of exhilaration.

The other girls grew restless on the beach, torn between wanting to join her and being afraid of the consequences if they did, till one of them said,

?Oh, why ever not??

And another,

?You can count me in too!?

And a third,

?Come on then! What are we waiting for??

And in a contagious thrilling, they threw off all their clothes, one after another, and jumped into the cool refreshing sea after her. Soon they were all splashing around and ducking each other playfully, shrieking and teasing and touching and embracing in sheer delight. Their nakedness in the water felt exquisite. They were gripped by feelings of elation as the sea caressed their firm young flesh warmly and sensually, rippling round their bodies as they clung to each other under the water, the cool currents weaving between their legs and tangled embraces. Intoxicated by the strong voluptuous feelings enveloping them, they laughed and they played in the water in total carefree abandon like babies. Their games and races eventually wore them out. After exerting themselves joyously in the water, one by one they crawled out of the sea and dropped onto the beach in delicious exhaustion. Sunning their naked bodies to dry before dressing again, some of them fell asleep, others felt drowsy in the heat of the sun, so it was only natural that they should think that this was a dream or some kind of strange hallucination before their eyes, dazzled and dimmed as they were by the strong midday sunlight.

The sea was calm and blue. There wasn?t a cloud overhead nor a sign of a change in the weather in sight. Yet far off in the distance, they thought they saw a wild frothing. Something like a large tidal wave. Or a boat. Some kind of galley. Something approaching, hidden in the foam it was kicking up around it so furiously. But it couldn?t be a boat because it was coming so fast. And it couldn?t be a dolphin because they usually swam by so graciously in packs. This was so strange. A wild torrent racing straight towards them. Racing over the sea in a frenzied foam. They shaded their eyes and looked out at it. Soon, curiosity was replaced by apprehension and as the white ball of froth sped even closer, by fear. Some of the girls jumped to their feet, grabbing their clothes, others ran off into the thickets before getting dressed. She was the only one not to panic at that moment. She shaded her eyes and watched the thing coming even closer, gripped not just by curiosity but by a strange throbbing in her body, like the throbbing that had been keeping her awake night after night throughout this long deadly spring.

Most of the girls had already hastily thrown their clothes back on, but none of them had run completely away. Even the ones who?d dashed off into the thickets had slowly trickled back to the beach. This was, after all, too strange a sight to miss and kept them there staring almost against their own will, as if they had been mesmerized by the terrible eyes of a snake. The frenzied missile seemed to slow down as it approached the shore and that was when they were sure the sun had been too harsh on their bare heads. Some of the girls rubbed their temples, others their eyes, just a few clapped their hands to their mouths to repress a scream. And they stared in stunned silence as a magnificent white bull swam powerfully out to them, climbed out of the water onto the beach and stood for a moment snorting and glistening in the sunlight. It just couldn?t be.

But it snorted again, pawed the sand with its hoof, then burst into a wild and hectic gallop along the shore. The girls broke out into shrieks and screams, clutched at each other and trembled, but remained rooted to the spot in absolute terror. The bull kept galloping in mad circles all around them, snorting and bellowing occasionally, in a crazy frenetic dance, captivating them by his motion. She was the only one who was still naked. She?d jumped to her feet and was watching the bull at its antics in a mesmerized trance, her mouth half open in something between wonder and shock. It circled round the girls wildly, again and again, occasionally approaching one or other of them, sometimes poking at them, gently however, with one of his horns. The girls began to scream hysterically, one of them fainted and soon they were all crying out in panic and fear. But the strange white bull, washed up onto their shore out of nowhere, didn?t harm them. He seemed to be playing games with the girls, having fun scaring them as he circled them or touched them with his horns or even snorted into their faces, causing them the wildest of panics.

She was the only one of all the girls who didn?t so much as blink at all this, let alone shriek. The bull hadn?t approached her, but it wasn?t just that. She couldn?t keep her eyes off him. Such compelling power in his body as he raced round the beach. Such beauty in his pure white coat as it glistened in the sunlight, wet from the sea he?d so strangely materialized from. She didn?t know bulls swam. Perhaps they didn?t. Perhaps it was just this magnificent creature, this strong wild crazy bull dancing round scaring and teasing her girl companions to extraction. She wasn?t afraid of him, however, though she knew she most certainly ought to be. And it wasn?t because he?d not harmed anyone yet either. Who could tell if he wasn?t about to charge them and impale them one by one on his sharp erect horns, disemboweling them as he ran off with their guts streaming down over his impeccable white face like garlands? The thought did occur to her. But she still felt no fear of him. Perhaps it was because he was too beautiful, too graceful even, in his powerful galloping to inspire fear. He inspired awe in her. Awe, and something more. A strange magnetism seemed to be pulling her towards him, a strong sense of attraction, a desire to touch him and stroke his pure white head between his horns.

While the other girls shrieked and screamed, running away from him in desperate circles when he playfully chased them about, she just stood there, on the beach, watching him, utterly oblivious of anything else, even her own nakedness at that moment. The sight of the bull had totally captivated her. And then the strangest of things happened. As if anything even stranger than what had already happened could occur. The bull finally galloped straight up to her. She didn?t flinch as he approached, she didn?t turn and run as the other girls did when he playfully charged at them and he? he didn?t snort in her face and circle her ominously, nor did he huff and poke at her with his horns. He just stopped still in front of her and looked into her eyes. As if such a thing could be. A bull looking into a girl?s eyes? Yet he did and it mesmerized her. Then he dropped to his knees on his forelegs in front of her and bowed his head, almost in a gesture of homage, homage to her youth and her beauty.

The other girls had stopped shrieking and just stood around staring in wonder at all this incredible behavior from a bull before a vulnerable naked girl, standing alone and exposed on the beach in front of him with no fear in her eyes. In a spontaneous impulse she didn?t even think of trying to control, she stretched out her hand and touched his head. Slowly. Cautiously. Timidly even, at first. But the bull didn?t move. He felt hot to her touch. After all that chasing about on the beach, he felt hot but deliciously pleasant as she stroked his face gently, then his thick neck, and he looked up at her. His enormous, tough, bull neck felt soft and inviting to her touch. A murmur of awe went up in unison from all the other girls watching. As she kept stroking him gently, he nuzzled his nose in between her breasts. His warm furry face against her nakedness caused a shock of excitement to shoot strangely through her body. Then he walked slowly round her and with remarkable gentleness pushed his dangerous horned head between her legs. With a toss of his head, she found herself astride his neck, gripping onto his horns for safety as he darted off on a renewed crazy gallop of triumph round the beach. This time she did shriek, but with excitement, in exhilaration as she clung onto him for dear life, squeezing her legs round his neck and enjoying the feel of his exquisite white coat against her skin as she rode him skillfully.

Her cries turned to laughter. Loud excited laughter at the joy of riding this impulsive wild animal dangerously round the beach, to the horror of her foolish, prim girlfriends watching her aghast. She clung onto him dearly and he galloped round and round, snorting ecstatically and thrilling her deeply with the power of his body as she rode him, and the pace of his gallop made her heart soar to the skies. The only thing that kept marring her joy and excitement in this was an inner conviction that it was only a dream, perhaps the result of sun stroke, and couldn?t be real for all the delight it was causing her. No doubt she was actually asleep on the sand under the sun and this illusion was no more than her innermost deepest desires expressing themselves in this crazy dream of a slick powerful bull racing round the beach madly, carrying her proudly and ecstatically on his pure white back. And indeed, when he?d had enough of circling round the beach in triumph, sporting her as his rider and he finally turned to gallop headlong back into the sea where he?d come from, she felt her eyelids growing heavy, as though she were falling asleep, and everything became confused and muddled for her again.

She could feel the cool welcome water splashing and spraying over her body, still hot from her frenzied hard riding, as he swam faster and faster out to sea. She was conscious of gripping tightly onto his horns and still being astride him, but then everything sank away into nothingness, a dream and the illusion of joy and excitement she?d been hungering for so, throughout this harsh wretched season of spring. She sank back into her heavy sleep and the crazy exciting wonderful dream faded away. She was no longer conscious of anything any more. Not even the beach she was sleeping on.

Her body ached all over and though she?d been sleeping, she felt very tired. Still in a daze, she drew herself up languidly, propped herself up on her elbow and looked around. She was lying on the sand and she was still naked as she?d been when she?d dropped onto the beach in exhaustion and stretched her limbs out under the burning sun to dry before getting dressed again. But though she was lying on the sand, the beach looked different. The hills up above, the mountains further inland, even the shoreline looked very different. She sat up with a start and rubbed her eyes, but still the strange unfamiliar scenery didn?t dissolve and change back into her beach, the one she?d been playing on with her friends. Her friends. What friends indeed! Her momentary quiver of apprehension of the unknown turned into anger. Not one of those stupid girls had thought of waking her up! They?d all gone, vanished, run home to Mummy with their tails between their legs, and worse! What can the fools have been thinking of? They?d even taken her own clothes away with them!

If she didn?t know better, she might have thought they were playing a joke on her. But none of them would dare do a thing like that to her, always assuming she?d had the imagination to think up a trick like that to play on her in the first place. Still, where did this leave her now? And how was she supposed to walk home like that, totally naked? Oh well, she really had no cause to worry. Soon enough they?d send out a party to come and look for her. Some joke when they found her lying on the sand like this wearing nothing! She didn?t know whether she should laugh at this, as she did feel inclined, or else smart at the humiliation those idiot companions of hers had subjected her to. And anyway, how come the scenery had managed to change so utterly? Even the sun seemed to be in quite the wrong place. But then how was she to know whether it was morning or evening? She did feel confused. Perhaps the sun had indeed beaten too strongly down on her head after all.

?Oh no?? She sighed, closing her eyes and rubbing her temples as she lay back again. Perhaps if she took a nap, everything would be back in place again when she woke up once more. Well, what else was there left for her to do, short of running around the place in a panic with no clothes on?

She may have dozed off a little again, she couldn?t quite tell, but the sound of hoofs beating on the beach in a vigorous gallop aroused her. She sat up abruptly, hoping and dreading it might be some kind of horseman sent by her father coming to find her and put her out of her predicament. But it wasn?t. It wasn?t a horseman. It was the bull. That strange white bull of her dream that had carried her off on his back and way out to sea. It seemed to be galloping towards her again, but all of a sudden she was deafened by a loud bang like a clap of thunder in her ears, though there?d not been a cloud in the sky, followed by a blinding flash that momentarily wiped out her vision in its brilliant light. Her whole body shook with terror and she began to feel cold. As the blinding glare softened and her vision began to focus properly again, she thought she saw a man approaching her from where the bull had ostensibly exploded into pure energy. She rubbed her eyes again and then realized she?d not been imagining things after all. It was indeed a man coming towards her. A tall strong man with a bronzed muscular body striding confidently, even eagerly towards her. Something inside her quivered. He had golden hair and eyes that flashed brighter than sunlight as he approached her. Her first reaction was to feel shame and exposure on being found like that on this strange deserted beach by this unknown nobleman, for he was no one from her father?s court, that much she was sure of. What would she say to him? How could she explain? How could she tell him who she was? She darted an anxious look around, hoping, even longing, for the white bull to come charging up to her and carry her away with him once more. But the animal was nowhere in sight and she was surprised by the momentary feeling of sorrow that caught her in the guts at his disappearance.

The man smiled as he came closer to her. She swiftly jumped up to her feet as he did so to be able to meet him on a more equal footing when he got to her, since there was no mistaking now that he was indeed coming deliberately for her and not just by chance. He stopped and looked into her eyes. A strange feeling came over her. A feeling like the one induced in her on her own beach when the bull had looked into her eyes before kneeling at her feet in homage to her youth and her beauty, just as this man was doing now. She frowned and then her body shook. She felt wild again, as she had when she?d been riding the bull in his frenetic taunting of her companions. Wild and excited by this encounter. But she had enough presence of mind also to feel fear, this time. Her eyes were ablaze with emotions and her lip trembled.

?Will a noble princess who had the courage to ride and tame a wild bull and subject him to her will be afraid of a mere man now?? He asked.

She frowned again in her confusion.

?How did you know? Were you there?? It surprised her, above all that it seemed to have actually happened and not been a dream. Unless she was still dreaming now. Though something told her she wasn?t.

?Oh yes.? He smiled. ?I was there.?

?But?? Her lip quivered again and from the intensity in his brilliant eyes and the way he was looking at her, she remembered, with a jolt, that she was standing before him in absolute nakedness. She lowered her eyes from his in shame and tried to cover herself as best she could with her arms.

?Don?t do that.? He said, gently taking hold of her wrists to draw her arms away again. ?Modesty is not becoming in one of such powerful beauty as you.?

She looked up at him and gaped. She?d certainly never held the virtue of modesty in much esteem before. It had always been imposed on her and had made her chafe and feel suppressed and imprisoned. But she?d never expected to hear an opinion like that from a grown man. He smiled at her with pleasure.

?Such beauty?? He murmured staring at her in aroused admiration. ?Such beauty, my love. It?s enough to make a man go to the craziest extremes.?

?But, I?? She stuttered again in total confusion. But then the strangest of things happened to her, as if things could get any stranger in this hallucination or dream or whatever else it might be.

He took her into his arms and she felt the same thrill of excitement shoot through her body as it had when the bull had nuzzled its face between her breasts and then again when he?d tossed his head up and she?d found herself straddling his thick neck. She felt the same joy and exhilaration as when she?d found herself in that wild bull ride on her beach at home where her companions had shrieked with terror as she?d galloped around them in triumph, laughing and rejoicing as she gripped at his horns and squeezed her legs round his neck tightly to keep herself perched high up on his back. Joy, delight, the deepest of thrills, an ecstatic flash, a powerful eruption of energy. And then, that strange drowsiness again. A feeling of utter exhaustion.


She could never remember just how long they stayed on that beach together, eating nothing but berries and fruit and never feeling hungry. It could have been a day, or a week, or a month, or a year. She never thought of home. She never thought of anything other than the endless torrent of pure joy they were living in. The ecstasy of their embracing, an ecstasy not confined to the body alone, but reflected in the soaring of her spirit to limitless heights. He told her he was a God and she laughed. Then he told her he was the King of the Gods and she laughed again.

?Don?t you believe me?? He seemed disappointed.

?Oh yes.? She?d smiled. ?Who but a God could make me feel like this and turn my body into pure palpitating energy every time we embrace??

He looked at her warily for a moment, but then smiled in satisfaction.

?You have such beauty? Such overwhelming beauty. I just had to make you mine. It wasn?t an easy decision. But then passion and desire got the better of the need for restraint and duty. Besides,? He added, ?your children will become the founders of a great continent that will dominate the world for eons. Its power and authority will create greatness in all things, from mind to matter and the most vicious destruction ever seen on earth in the ages to come.?

?Both greatness and destruction?? She said emphasizing the word ?and? in slight confusion at what he?d just said. He shrugged.

?Well, that?s the way it is.? He stated simply, sounding apologetic about it all the same.

Then she smiled again and lay back on the sand, far more caught up by the timeless unending moments of bliss in his arms than in her future, still less that of her children since, though pregnant, she still hadn?t had any yet. And then he told her a story about how, consumed by his unrequited passion and desire for her, he?d turned himself into the magnificent white bull that had carried her off. What else could he have done? What else indeed? She?d laughed caressing his cheek gently. He?d said he?d seen her and she?d told him the story of the bull herself so many times, it was perhaps not surprising he?d decided to appropriate it for himself. Though she laughed at the way he stole and embellished the story telling it as his own, she did find the idea flattering, even repeated it herself many years later. It enhanced her position, after all.

She may have been the First Queen of Crete and of princely stock, a fit mother for a King who was to found a dynasty and use the powerful horned bull as his symbol, but it certainly did no harm to her authority over her subjects to let it be known that she?d been singled out and courted elaborately by the King of the Gods himself, who?d sired her sons and her daughters in humble homage to the power of her beauty.

Everything was a question of how you presented it, after all. A hapless abduction was one thing and being divinely chosen, carried away over the sea on the back of a magnificent white bull, nothing other than the God of Gods himself in disguise, quite another.


The Alchemist’s Daughter

My father used to say that although, as scientists, we are loathe to admit it, deep down all of us hope that we shall be the one to find the secret. What secret? How to turn base metals into gold. That’s gold, isn’t it? Oh no my love! With a laugh. That is only bronze, and it tarnishes. It was a paper weight, in the shape of a crown and he had other things resulting from throwing the melted stuff into cold water. And what wonderful shapes emerged. My father was an Engineer. A Marine Engineer who had also studied Chemical Engineering before The War, sent by the state to do so in preparation for the feared Chemical warfare ahead. He was an Officer in the Navy at the time. He never did find the secret of turning base metals into gold literally. Or if he did, he never let on. But he had the rare knack in life of turning everything around him into gold. A rare gift. Something that came so naturally to him. Like breathing. I never really realized till the end of his life. When I also realized that had one been able to find the secret of turning base metals into gold, then gold would have lost its value, whereas the gift of symbolically turning life around you into gold could never lead to the debasement of the results.

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