Novel Number Three: The cave men and women from the 1960’s
There are experiences in our young lives we look back upon with a fervent fondness that the passing of time does nothing to dampen. These experiences can last for mere days, perhaps several weeks, months or even years. I’m talking about those times normally before the responsibilities of children, mortgages and stable jobs. We often look back upon them with a large helping of rose-tinted nostalgia, but I don’t think that matters; these are irreplaceable memories, a time when we were young and free and life felt intensely lived.
For me, it was aged eighteen, working on a kibbutz in Israel with a good friend. Rising at dawn, picking avocados, drinking far more than was good for me and meeting other young people from the world over. Then sleeping on a night ferry to Piraeas in Greece and weaving slowly back to England across Europe’s rich and diverse landscapes. Sometimes I catch a scent of this time on the wind or a long forgotten memory is stirred and recollections come tumbling back at me through the years as though they took place only yesterday.
The time for my mother, Elizabeth, was when she was in her early twenties. After hitchhiking to Greece, she lived in Kifisia in the hills outside Athens looking after a young boy and teaching him English. After six months of this, she made her way to Matala, a small bay on the southern coast of Crete with an American girl she met in Kifisia and went on to live in some caves for a couple of months, along with a number of young travellers fleeing from conformity and seeking simple living.
There was next to nothing there – a tiny bakery run by ‘Mama’, a small shop selling provisions, the Mermaid Cafe and a number of fishermen and shepherds herding their flocks on the rugged Cretian terrain. This was uncomplicated, ‘hippy’ living: throwing a few tomatoes in a communal pot for dinner, sitting around a guitar on the beach in the evening, making necklaces from pieces of string and shell, putting the world to rights.
I am writing this from Matala. I have wanted to come here for a very long time, ever since I was a little girl and slowly turned the crisp pages of my mother’s old photograph albums. Finally I’ve made it here. Why? Because this is where my next novel is set.
Modren Matala Beach and the caves which were used as tombs in the neolithic period
From left to right, my mother Elizabeth, my auntie Susie and their friend Pam who came to the caves three summers running
In this photo taken in 1968 outside the caves, my mother is standing in the spotted bikini, Susie is seated in the centre with the cropped dark hair and Pam is seated to the right of her
What was this ‘time’ for you? Where were you and what were you doing? I’d love to hear about it.
(Click below to listen to Joni Mitchell’s beautiful song, Carey, inspired by her own spell living in Matala’s caves.)