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John Humphrys and Christopher Humphrys


A survivor's tale of housebuilding and peacock chasing in Greece

Book review by Anthony Campbell. The review is licensed under a Creative Commons Licence.
John Humphrys is a BBC radio and television presenter who is well knwon for his acerbic interviews with politicians on Today. His son Christopher is a professional cellist who lives in Greece and has a Greek wife. A few years ago John decided to build a house in Greece and the book, written in alternate sections by John and Christopher, describes what happened. There are plenty of quite lengthy asides, in which John talks about his earlier unsuccessful attempt to farm in Wales and Christopher narrates various encounters with Greek officialdom.

The site they settled on was in the Peloponnese, close to the sea and with magnificent mountains close by. There was already a cottage on the land and a larger building had been started but abandned nearby; the plan was to continue building this larger house. Doing so by remote control from London would have been impossible but Christopher was on the spot and spoke Greek, and his wife Peppy was a lawyer, so everything would presumably go off smoothly. It didn't, of course.

Buying the plot wasn't too difficult but then problems quickly arose on every level. Builders promised faithfully to turn up and didn't, or worked for a couple of days and then disappeared, presumably to other jobs, for days or weeks. When they did appear they fell out with one another. A neighbour turned up claiming to own the olive trees on John's land.

Difficult although all this was, it was less of a problem than coping with officials. All kinds of permits were needed and each time everything seemed to be in order a new snag would be found. Every Greek building project must be supervised by an engineer. The Humphrys wanted to use their own engineer from Athens, but another engineer who had worked on the house in earlier years now demanded to be paid for work that he had done for the previous owner. John refused, but the engineer was in a strong position, because he would be needed to sign the project off before electricity and water could be connected.

While the building was going on, John and Christopher (and Christopher's growing family) came to stay in the cottage from time to time. This first required the eviction of a large colony of aggressive rats. Later, the peacock alluded to in the subtitle of this book arrived unexpectedly and quickly settled in. After some time its owner tracked it down and came to reclaim it. The Humphrys had grown very fond of the bird and wanted to keep it, but its owner was adamant. However, the peacock had other ideas and kept outwitting him, until eventually he gave up and agreed to sell the bird to John.

This is a very funny book. I have myself had experience of building in Greece and much of what the authors describe is vividly familiar to me. At the end we see John residing in his (more or less) finished house and welcoming a group of visitors from England. Of course, the book was written just before the recent collapse of the Greek economy. I do hope he is still able to enjoy his holiday home.

20 December 2013

See also Attic in Greece, by Austen Kark

%T Blue Skies & Black Olives
%A Humphrys, John
%A Humphrys, Christopher
%S A survivor's tale of housebuilding and peacock chasing
%I Hodder
%C London
%D 2009
%G ISBN 0978340978849
%P 274pp
%K biography, travel
%O paperback edition

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