“I have painted so many angels in my life. Soon, I will be one of them. You will see, this could be my last summer on Aegina...” Yiannis Moralis had a gentle and disarming way of talking about death. He was not actively awaiting it, but was fully aware that, until his departure, he would relish every breath. That was also his final piece of advice: “Life can never be constantly pleasant. You should see to it that you have a journey full of many, small happy moments. Be sure your suitcases are full before your departure.”I met him just once in Aegina in 1968. A kind genius and mentor.
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And so to the Highlands again - this time by train with Oscar; first leg on the London-Midland service to Liverpool, changing at Crewe - a station I like more than the town - for a Virgin train to Glasgow Central, then a short walk to Glasgow Queen Street to catch a Scotrail for the last leg to Inverness. At Perth we were delayed an hour, waiting for a delayed down train from Pitlochry to clear the single track. This long journey has run through my life, since a second steam engine was attached at Perth for the climb through Drumochter. In those days I would travel by the sleeper from London and see my dear Scotland in the morning; hearing the seagulls along the Moray shore as we ran into Inverness. The sleeper is dearer than going to Inverness by air - especially with the £40 charge to bring Oscar. I've come to enjoy the nine hour journey - breaking it up with conversations, films on my laptop, hot drinks and a picnic - made up by Lin, left in the fridge for me the night before with a reminder note on the table to set her alarm - and, at the moment, a good police procedural. What better than a Martin Beck, knowing I've got eight more to enjoy in this superb series, predecessor to grumpy Kurt Wallander, another Swedish mean streets man...
"In everything that can be called art there is a quality of redemption. It may be pure tragedy, if it is high tragedy, and it may be pity and irony, and it may be the raucous laughter of the strong man. But down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid. The detective in this kind of story must be such a man. He is the hero, he is everything. He must be a complete man and a common man and yet an unusual man. He must be, to use a rather weathered phrase, a man of honour -- by instinct, by inevitability, without thought of it, and certainly without saying it. He must be the best man in his world and a good enough man for any world. I do not care much about his private life; he is neither a eunuch nor a satyr; I think he might seduce a duchess and I am quite sure he would not spoil a virgin; if he is a man of honor in one thing, he is that in all things. (Raymond Chandler 1944) (see same in 1950),...both professionals. The train from Crewe was quite crowded. I treated myself to First Class and was never asked to pay the supplement. While enjoying its spacious emptiness I got into conversation with Alastair and Tom, on their way to the latter's mother's funeral near Glasgow. Alastair collects first editions. He showed me "a trifle" recently bought - a privately published, beautifully printed, copy of Lady Chatterley's Lover dated 1928 - the year Lawrence's novel came out. I suppose that now it might seem past its prime, but just after the famous 'not guilty' verdict at the Old Bailey in November 1960 I read the book, a Penguin paperback, quite enthralled. It led me - a sexual ingénu for another five years - from snickering embarrassment into guiltless anticipation of joys yet to be. Larkin expressed it, though he, born in 1922, claimed '1963' was '...just too late for me.'
Speeding north through CumbriaHaving left Birmingham just before 10 in the morning I came into Inverness, after an hour's delay while awaiting a downtrain from Pitlochry, just before 7.30pm. My taxi driver took the Culduthel Road, trees and hedges white blanketed, to Inverarnie, from where, with Oscar, we walked the last two hundred yards up the snowed-up lane to Brin Croft.