Love and Education is the Answer
1951 Charmian Clift and George Johnston left
ON DEBITS AND CREDITS - by Charmian Clift - November 1964
Since I have come back to
Because yes, of course,
there are disadvantages as well as advantages. But observing those same
children now—after two months in a land that is their homeland and yet
virtually a foreign country—tearing off in a last-minute spurt to catch
school buses, telephoning new friends, bickering about who is going to see
what television programme, making plans for weekends, practising Twist and
Shake until the house rocks, I realise that the debits and credits have
balanced out as nearly evenly as if they had spent the last ten years in a
more conventional way.
I remember with what doubts and misgivings I watched the two eldest (seven and five then, and the third one not even thought of) during our first few months of island living. Dislodged so suddenly from the familiar, comfortable and utterly secure London pattern of home and school and nursery tea, ordered outings in ordered parks, toys and treats and special family rituals, and thrown into what must have seemed to them to be a barbaric chaos of harsh landscape, strange unappetising food, uncomfortable housing, savage and bare-footed children who patently regarded them as interesting freaks, and without any means of communication whatever, they sickened, grew thin and nervous, and rather pathetically unconfident out of our presence for even a moment.
We hardened our hearts
and sent them to school. And an outlandish school it was too—called, for
a reason I have never been able to discover, The Black School—catering
for the minimal educational needs of the swarms of island children who
testified to the virility of their tough, sponge-diver fathers. It was
built on the ruins of an ancient
What was interesting was that within a month our pampered little darlings were spurning shoes, neglecting their toys (those they hadn't given away or used as bribes or paid out in blackmail), wolfing bread and oil and olives and goat cheese with every appearance of enjoyment, and jabbering away in Greek with a whole horde of shaven-headed snot-nosed little savages, with whom they raced away every afternoon to shin up ships' masts and rigging, to explore rocky mountain trails, to help with the goat-herding or to trample bales of sponges in the shallows, to fly kites from the high golden rocks that soared over the town. They were playing fivestones, they were fishing from the harbour mole, they were beating an octopus on the rocks, they were triumphantly swimming at last without touching the sand with their feet, they were in and out of houses, sponge-clipping rooms, warehouses, they were following wedding processions and funerals, they were awed spectators in the gruesome slaughterhouse, they were here there and everywhere— everywhere, that is, except home.
By the time we moved on to the island of Hydra, where we were to live for the next ten years, they had forgotten that any other way of life existed other than one of rather Spartan frugality in the way of comforts, and absolute physical freedom. They could sleep on the hardest planks, in shepherds' huts, on the decks of caiques(fishing boats), they could ride donkeys like cowboys, they could swim like fish and fight like tigers. They were beginning to be slightly ashamed of us for our distressing Greek and our foreignness, which they felt to be rather humiliating to them personally. We had to get down to serious maintenance work on their English.
But the new pattern was established, and was to be maintained for the next ten years.
The only break in it came
after we had been living in
And yes, of course, he
panicked, grew thin and nervous, unconfident, clinging, whiny; rallied,
and came back to
Now, on the debit side, I
think it has been trying for the children to have foreign parents.
Children are really conformists, and I think they found it quite hard work
to live down the fact that their mother wore pants and smoked and
frequented the waterfront taverns, and that both their parents spoke Greek
lamentably enough to make them targets for childish ridicule. They were
particularly vulnerable during the
There were religious
difficulties also, since there is only one religion in
On the debit side also,
from my own point of view, was the total lack of medical facilities, and
the ever-present nagging worry about accidents, emergencies, teeth and
tonsils and appendix, mule-kicks, mad dogs, and the fact that there was
only one steamer a day, which took three-and-a-half hours to make the
journey to Piraeus. We kept our fingers crossed and I learnt first aid and
kept a well-stocked medicine cabinet, and luckily nothing ever happened
that I couldn't cope with.
The credits are good.
Once the children got through primary school and entered gymnasium they
received as fine a classical education as one could wish anywhere in the
world. Old-fashioned certainly, terribly disciplined, without hobby or
play periods or consideration of their psyches, but very sound. Also they
have grown up with basic and real values, and probably for as long as they
live they will never quite take for granted water and food and warmth and
shelter, because they have lived for so long in a place where people have
been hungry sometimes, where water depends upon rainfall and is often
rationed, where the household roof is almost a sacred thing, where a shady
tree is precious, where life is lived to an ancient pattern of ritual that
grows out of man's constant and continuing battle with the earth and the
sea. They each have two languages, and a deeply ingrained knowledge of
another culture. They have standards of comparison which will be of value
to them as long as they live.
I am glad to have brought them home again, and they are glad to be here, in a world of modern marvels that is their own to evaluate and to make of what they can and will. Now it is up to them.
LEONARD COHEN ON HYDRA
Cohen, the Canadian singer/songwriter, He, with 'the
gift of a Golden Voice' emerged on
There are 3 types of men;