Monday, 9 January 2012

The way we were: Greek girl in London (Όπως ήμασταν παλιά: Ελληνίδα στο Λονδίνο)

On reflection, I find that my ideas concerning food, travel and identity have remained quite stable over the years. So has my sense of humour. Some of the places mentioned below don't exist any more. As for the people (all names have been changed), I don't know where they are these days or what they're up to.

Thursday, 13/6/91 - 7.00am The flight from Bangkok to Amsterdam was OK, but Amsterdam-London was rather turbulent. Q met me at the airport, right after I passed through all the Zone B shit. God help those without EEC passports. Lovely vegetarian meal at an Indian restaurant. The tube was eventful - at one point, I realised that no one else was speaking except for me. Q looked relieved when I shut up. Brixton is colourful, to use Q's description, but if I had a choice, this isn't where I'd set up home in the long-term. Q says she's tired of it. She initially came to the area because it felt cool.

The bathroom in this house is on the top floor. No shower, just a bath. It's got huge windows with no curtains. Felt like the whole of London could see me naked. There's a windowless WC on the lower floor.

Friday, 14/6/91 - 8.50pm Went to a karaoke bar last night with Q. Disgusting. Q lost her purse there. Got home zonked*.

Had my first encounter with London Greeks, except that they weren't Greeks. They made it quite clear they were Cypriots. Took the tube to Haringey. Walked a fair bit because my travelcard doesnt extend to Zone 3. Strolled through Greek Cypriot territory. Greek shop signs, kafeneia, food stores, music, the lot! Talked to Barbara and another two Greek Cypriots in a bakery where I bought a flaouna (80p). Kept walking along Green Lanes. Not the most inspiring of places. Just as I was about to return up the road and leave the area, I saw a house with Greek Orthodox icons on the window. Out of curiosity, I approached it to check out the sign. At that point, somebody opened the door. He asked me if I was looking for anything in particular. Turned out to be a Romanian, and there was also a Greek priest in the room. The place was a bookstore selling Greek religious material (nothing in English, interestingly enough). They served me coffee with a kourmabie over a short chat. 

haringay june 1991I must have been day-dreaming after I left the bookshop - I got lost in the maze of streets with similar-looking houses. At one point, I decided to take a photo of all those narrow little boxes resembling toy soldiers lined up on the road in a straight line. As I put away my camera, to my horror, I saw a whole lot of Greek men staring at me - I was standing right outside a kafeneio window! Yuk!

Attended Taize prayer group with Q. Very new-age. Shut your eyes, sway to the rhythm, peace be with you,  we are all one. Groovy. It's probably more sensual to be in a group and meditate together with others than it is to stay at home and try to do this on your own. I much prefer the latter.

Saturday, 15/6/91 - 9.30am Got up this morning to find Evan in the kitchen, making his boyfriend's breakfast. Evan's a theology student. Had a chat about the Greek Orthodox church. A few minutes later, James walks in and sits at the table. Evan brought him scrambled eggs on a plate and sat it right before him. John then joined into the religion discussion. (Q told me this one's not gay.) Says he's really well versed on the Greek church. I never expected I'd be sharing a flat in London with English men who know as much about the Greek Orthodox church as I do - I haven't even been here for a week. I thought about inviting them all to come with me to a Greek Orthodox church service tomorrow, but decided against it for fear of sounding too bold. I'm supposed to be a transit flatmate. 

london june 1991Everyone here seems to do their own thing. They come in and out of the house as they please. They stay in their rooms unless they come to the living room to watch TV. They label their food in the fridge and cupboards. I bought some bread and cheese from the supermarket, but I can't bring myself to start labelling it. I just hid the cheese behind a jar that looked as though it hadn't been used in a long time. The jam had congealed around the rim. 

File:Chana masala.jpg
Saturday, 15/6/91 - 7.25pm Took a bus out to Covent Garden with Q. She wanted to go to a church fair. Browsed through a lot of bric-a-brac, as well as a nice array of food. Had some chickpea chana masala, and bought a sponge scrubber for the flat. I really don't think that brush they use gets rid of everything. The fair was held near a YHA office where there were some camper shops. Want to buy an immersion heater before I set off for Europe. 

Went to Campion House at Osterley in the afternoon. Had lunch there (very filling) and a coffee in the common room. Met up with Q's friends, Giovanni and Victor. Q seems to have a lot of gay friends. She probably thinks they're exotic. Spent the rest of the day with them at the Butterfly House in Syon Park.

Sunday, 16/6/91 - 9.00pm Had originally planned to go to the Greek Cathedral, but decided to go instead to the church in Leyton. Attended Orthos, then Liturgy, and had a cup of coffee after the service. I was given directions for the monastery near Colchester, a telephone number and contact person. Before I left, the priest gave me a loaf of prosforo. Headed back to the tube where I came across Garfunkel's. Decided to have a meal there - £4.95 (service NOT included - what a laugh!!) for the salad bar. Sounds cheap, but not if you have to pay this kind of money for each meal. It's eat all you want - I made sure to eat enough for lunch and dinner. It all tasted quite good, but it was all cold. I hate cold food on a cold day. It's rained nearly every day I've been here. Middle of June and still winter. P tells me it's definitely summer in Greece now.
Got home and did a thorough cleaning of the dishes. No one ever scrubs the inside of a mug here - they're all stained with brown rings. Don't they know about sponge scrubbers??

Monday, 17/6/91 - 8.30pm Left the house with Q. Took the tube and got off at Covent Garden. Decided to walk around the city. Ended up at St James Park, bought some sandwiches and picnicked with the pigeons. Visited Harrods - wanted to buy something from there as a souvenir, but the prices shocked me to the grave. Had a coffee in their cafe just to get a feel for the atmosphere (I miss Espressoholic's cappuccinos). 

Saw a man peeing against the wall as I walked to the house after getting off at Brixton. He smiled at me as I passed him and said 'Sorry' in a sing-song accent (I guess he was Carribean). Q says this sort of thing happens all the time. 

oxford june 1991
Tuesday, 18/6/91 - 6.30pm Q's asked me to go out with her tonight. Just a quick note to remind myself of the places I visited today at Oxford: museum, St Mary's church, botanical gardens, Christ Church, Bodleian library. Liked the college grounds most of all. Students wear gowns to classes! Must be quite an achievement getting into one of the university's colleges in the first place. They need to stick out above the rest.

Wednesday, 19/6/91 - 11.15am Last night was a really late one - spent the morning sleeping it off. Eddie is coming back home tomorrow to his room, so I cleaned it up and then moved into Q's room. Did a bit of washing. Then went out with Q to her friend's house for a Twin Peaks evening. I had this idea that we'd be visiting an English person's house, but they turned out to be Australian lesbians and Cypriot bisexuals. I'm sure now that she thinks gays are exotic. I suppose it's image-boosting: "Many of my friends are gay." Having said this, Evan and James are a nice couple. They seem to be much easier to talk to than this lot. They're all gay in their own way, but the English ones appear to be more down to earth, less confused about who they are.

Wednesday, 19/6/91 - 6.40pm Decided to do my food shopping at Tony's today instead of Tesco's. The shop assistant gave me the mint for free because it was on its last legs. Also found some fennel. Brixton's shops sell nearly any food you want. The vine leaves were a little pricey. Made dolmades with cabbage for everyone. They all seem to love food with exotic names. 
  I probably didn't make lahanodolmades as good as this back then...

trafalgar square june 1991
Thursday, 20/6/91 - 11.45pm Packed day today. Visited a number of tourist sites. Walked around Trafalgar Square, visited St Paul's. You have to PAY here to see churches!?! Museum of London (free) - very interesting. Museum of Mankind - the Palestinian costumes were more appealing than the human shrunken skulls. Tower of London - outrageously expensive, something like $20NZ to enter. We've just come back from the Phoenix Theatre: Dancing with Lughnasa.

Friday, 21/6/91 - 7.15pm Decided to be Greek for the day and visited the Archbishop. He sounded only too pleased to have me as a guest in his office. Told me not many Greeks come to see him just out of interest. I tried to explain the make-up of the Greek Community in Wellington, but I think I lost him a bit there. He couldn't understand what I meant by Greek-Romanians. I was invited to the dance held by St Sophia's church at the end of the month. The Archbishop said he'll pass on my name and number to one of the organisers.

Just as I was leaving the Archbishopric, a Greek priest from K______ came to the office. Apparently, he's in London for an eye operation and comes to the Archbishopric every day to be fed. I couldn't work out if he was begging, or just genuinely poor. The way he spoke sounded a little melodramatic, like I was watching an old black and white Greek film. Stopped off at McDonalds for a meal. Don't remember McDonalds salads in Wellingon tasting so revolting. 

Q's off this evening. Thinks she's got something going with Paolo (all her boyfriends have foreign-sounding names), so she doesn't want to waste any chances. I won't see her until after the weekend. James suggested a walk in Brockwell Park to celebrate Solstice Day, the longest day of the year. It made me a little homesick - Mum and Dad just experienced the shortest night of the year, all alone. Must remember to give them a call very soon. James was at Eton, he's visited Mt Athos, and dabbled with Orthodoxy when he got back to the UK, which is how he met Evan. He's been around a lot of men most of his life. Weird that they don't live together. Something to do with wanting to be independent from what I understood. He really liked my exotic-sounding dolmades - he ate all the leftovers when we got back to the house. It's a nice feeling knowing your food's been appreciated. 

Saturday 22/6/91 - 7.30pm Visited Greenwich today. Docklands was supposed to be on the agenda too, but the monorail wasn't working - no trains at the weekend. Had to take the bus. I prefer them because they're slower than trains and you see more from a bus window. Even the way people walk on the street looks different to me. Greenwich market is fascinating: so many goods, colours, people. Bought a pair of cullotes, even though I constantly worry about my financial s
ituation. I don't want to overspend, but I don't want to feel like I'm bludging either.

I feel so alone today. The gays are away, but John and Eddie are both in the house. Eddie keeps to his room, John moves from his room to the TV room. I feel like I'm intruding, so I just stayed in Q's room. Maybe a youth hostel would provide more solace than this. Packing a day bag to go to the monastery tomorrow.

monastery essex june 1991Sunday 23/6/91 Arrived at the monastery - not without problems! Underground was slow, missed the 8am train to K______, couldn't find a taxi at T______, couldn't even make a public phone call from the one and only phone box. A grocery was open so I asked the nice looking blond shop assistant if he could help me out. He told me the monastery wasn't really within walking distance, so he called up a taxi for me. I asked him how much the call cost but he didn't ask for money. And they say the Brits save up their coppers! Love the English countryside - so different to urban London.  It looks like a much simpler place to live in. Most people are trapped in their urban routine though.

The service was long, the church was full. Quite a few converts - Sister X told me there's an equal ratio of converts to Orthodox-born. Some people overdid the religious routines here. Reminded me of Kiria D______; they make her look benign. Also some glamour girls coming in the latest fashion - a little inappropriate for a monastery. When I told them I was from NZ, they asked me 'Are there other Greeks there?' Attending Greek church is definitely an identity thing, sticking to your own kind. They reminded me of Mum's intermarriage fears. Cyprus is only four hours away if they wanted to find spouses for their sons and  daughters, so I can't understand what their problem is. Interestingly, I found more Greeks here rather than Cypriots. The meal afterwards was completely lenten. I was allowed to stay overnight, and shared a room with two other girls, one Cypriot (English accent), the other Greek (Greek accent). They wanted to keep their conversations private, and treated me like I wasn't in the room. Apparently, they come here often, so they're used to treating stranger-visitors like myself as invisible. I was exhausted anyway, so I had a lie-down, but I couldn't help overhearing them. Caught on that the Cypriot was recently divorced from an Englishman and has a sister who's a nun in Greece. He probably got tired of too much religious mumbo-jumbo. They thought I couldn't understand their conversation in Greek because I told them I was from New Zealand. The Cypriot girl asked me what language we speak there!?! The Greek girl wasn't even interested. I think they think I'm a New Zealander, not a Greek. 

Was in for a treat - first decent shower I've had since I arrived in the UK.  

monastery essex januray 1991
Monday 24/6/91 Today's much quieter, with all the picnickers and bride- or groom-seekers gone. Apart from church services, the nuns and monks go about duties like cooking, gardening, cleaning, reading. After breakfast, I took a walk with one of the nuns in the fields. She's a convert. Told me she lived a totally unholy life before coming here and finding inner peace. We spoke about a lot of things, all basically to do with making life choices. I kept thinking of Maslow's needs theory as I talked to her: when you've got most of the basic problems in life sorted out for you, you've got plenty of time to think about sorting out your priorities. The monks and nuns seem to like to do the talking here. I think they're trying to pass on messages, and maybe their words are more important then mine. She gave me a book as a present. It's got some nice ideas in it for Sunday School. 

Also met J, a very young-looking Greek girl who wants to be accepted as a nun and is currently undergoing training of some sort. She was due to start a PhD when she decided to come here instead. I can't believe she's doing this to herself; she still wears drainpipe jeans under her tunic.

Tuesday 25/6/91 - 7.00pm Arrived back at the house with a feeling of fullfilment which I didn't have before I went to the monastery. Everything looks strange and distant outside the Greek environment. Would like to return for a second visit. Wellington Greeks need this kind of group because it gives them a more coherent identity. 

Nikos (Cypriot) called me about the dance, church service and bible class. Interestingly, he said he was at the monastery the day before I arrived. These people are regular followers, but something drives them back to London. In or out?

Never going to those Taize groups again. The Jesus Prayer works so much better. 

swansea? june 1991
Wednesday 26/6/91 - 1pm It's pouring today. Feeling like a drowned rat. Tried the Jesus prayer last night. Managed to make it last ten minutes before I got distracted. It was much easier to read the nun's book. Just about to board the bus to Swansea. 

Thursday 27/6/91 - 3.30pm Recognized G's parents immediately. They picked me up from the station and had a lunch ready for me: lasagne, salad, jelly and peaches. Feels like home! Then G's friends took me out to the Rock and Fountain where G used to work. Met up with their mates there and I had two bacardi-and-cokes. Not that I wanted the bacardi - I just felt I had to drink it, because they expected me to do so! TG they all go home early - all I wanted was to be vertical for a few hours.  

G's father showed me the office he keeps in the attic. A bit precarious allowing him to climb up that ladder at his age! Caught a glimpse of the morning paper - the headline was about a Thai butler and a dead family in Athens. OMG. Went out to Roshili, then Oxwich in the Gower peninsula. G's parents treated me to the best meal I've had out so far: a pub lunch! We came home with the rain. J and S have invited me to Mumbles on Friday night. More alcohol, I suppose.

Friday 28/6/91 - 8.10pm Too many distractions for prayers. I've only just remembered them, now that I look back on my diary notes. G's mum cooked up a large lunch today for G's cousin's arrival. Then G's cousin took me out for a drive to Mumbles - the romance of a summertime beach holiday is somewhat drenched out by the drizzle! Passed by a grocer's - intriguing array of fruit and veg. G's cousin picked up a lettuce for G's mum. As she was paying for it, I noticed the price: 5p. Back home for dinner. I do feel sorry for G's mum: she prepared another meal for us, her husband was drunk and her niece buys her a 5p present.

Monday 1/7/91 - 1.00am Can't sleep, so I'll just fill in the last few days' events. Friday night: Mumbles pub with J and S - more bacardi cokes. Felt a bit like Coronoation St coming alive. G's friends love a good gossip - they weren't surprised at all about the 5p lettuce! Saturday: took a leisurely stroll around G's village. What a delightful place. She must love coming back here. I can understand why she needed to leave in the first place. It's just too small. Took the bus back to London in the afternoon. Sunday morning: St Sophia's - very Anglo-Orthodox feeling in that church. The choir chants Byzantine verses using Anglican organ tunes! Nikos found me after the service (how on earth did he recognise me?) and suggested I stay for bible class - that went on until the early afternoon. Not even any mention of lunch! Then off to a fete in Wood Green; got a peek into a Cypriot-English wedding, and finally The Dance. Sat at a table with Andrew and his parents, who were obviously hawking around innocent young Greek girls in the churches to save their son from intermarriage. Dances finish early here so everyone can catch a train before midnight. No one even asked to chaperone me back to the station! Changed carriages to avoid a nutter in the one I got into first. Felt a little scary walking back home on my own at midnight. This is London, after all.

Monday 1/7/91 - 10.45pm Thinking of leaving London for Europe. Everyone goes to Paris, so I suppose I'll go there. Just returned from another young people's bible class that Nikos' friends had invited me to. Except that there was no bible class = it was more of a complaints session. They have similar church/priests/parish problems as we do back home. One group is obviously more educated than the other; each group sticks to their own kind. They don't see eye to eye. While there, I met up with Father D, KP's uncle - small world! He asked how she was doing. I didn't divulge what I knew about her, but he spilled the beans anyway. Apparently, he knows all about KP's problems with Dirty Den, who was supposedly a VIP during his time in London. He gets by purely on charm. 

Had a heart-to-heart chat with the priest. He told me straight out that he was angry with the youth group about hiring a Greek band to play at a concert for £350, all for just a 40-person turnout. Bad organisation all round. The way they explained it to me, I felt that they'd done nothing to promote the concert, hence the bad ticket sales. I wanted to tell them all about how we planned Wellington's Greek Week, but I was waiting for the bible class to start. Hung around for at least an hour, but nothing. Decided to head back home. Good example of their organisational skills - they run on Greek time!

Bought some chips on the way home at a shop run by Greek Cypriots. These guys looked really shady - ponytails and dark eyes. The Egyptian assistant was more approachable. Q's due home tomorrow.

oxford st june 1991
Tuesday 2/7/91 - 10.45pm Charing Cross Road has great bookshops - particularly liked Sister Moon. Spent the morning reading - feels nice to get back into this habit. But I can't buy anything, because it will really be too much to carry in a backpack round Europe.

Went to see Where Angels Fear to Tread in the evening with Q - £5.50 for the cheap seats. Now I know what John Lennon meant by 'rattle your jewellery'. After the film, we decided on dinner at a Chinese restaurant. Went to Wong Kei's where we were abused, so we left and went to another Chinese restaurant in the same area. The waiter asked Q for her name, address and number. She didn't oblige, so he then asked me. I didn't oblige either. Think I'll stick to Indian restaurants from now on. TG they're all gay or attached at the house. I've never seen John and Eddie's girlfriends, but supposedly, they do have one.

Captain Peacock: Mr. Humphries, are you free?
Mr. Humphries: I'm just pricing my ties, Captain Peacock.
Captain Peacock: The gentleman wishes to try on a dress.
Mr. Wilberforce Clayborne Humphries: I'm free!
Customer: It's for a fancy dress party.
Mr. Humphries: Oh yes. Thats what they all say.
Are you being served? Excerpt (12:00) from Season 3, Episode 3 

brixton june 1991Wednesday 3/7/91 Was excited to get a postcard from Richard. It's a good feeling to know that I now have some direction in my travels with a fixed destination in mind. Will make my way to Nurnberg. Prepared a meal for all the housemates. Q and I are at the point of clashing. It's true what they say: best friends should never live together. Making plans to leave asap. 

Thursday 4/7/91 - 10.15am Left Brixton (hooray) for Paris. On train to Dover. Got a Scot and a Russian for company.  (to be continued)

*** *** ***

In June 1991, I left my home of 25 years to do my big OE, the customary work-and-leisure travel that most New Zealanders undertake at some point in their lives to experience life beyond their country's borders. In those days, most Kiwis headed for Europe via London, and often ended up in Asia before (if indeed) returning home. I bought a one-way ticket to London where I stayed for three weeks, before embarking on my continental travels through Europe over a period of two months, eventually arriving in Athens in September. I had thought about travelling through Asia on my return to NZ, but that never ended up happening because, as most followers of this blog know, I ended up staying in Europe. Maybe (probably) I ended up in Greece through a process of self-discovery - the above-mentioned 'more coherent identity' - which I found here.

Although I had kept a diary before that (albeit at irregular intervals), this was the first time I felt the need to keep one systematically. For this reason, that particular diary was the only one I ever kept. The diary sat, for many years, on the bookshelf of whichever house I was living in at the time. The notes I kept show my first glimpses of London as I saw it 21 years ago. All the excerpts above have been taken from this diary, in a slightly edited form. My photographs were taken between June 1991 and January 1992. The youtube video reveals some background to my informal education on London life and homosexuality.

*Honest to God, I don't remember ANY of this.  

Thank you to all those who read this before I posted it.

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