A former senior government adviser and communications consultant, Jim Claven is a trained historian who has been researching the Hellenic link to Anzac for many years now and many readers will be familiar with his writings in Neos Kosmos over the years. His partner Vicki Kyritsis works as a communications consultant in the health and community services fields, as well as serving on a number of community boards. Jim spoke to Neos Kosmos about his and Vicki’s lockdown experience.

What have you been reading?

Well I’ve certainly been giving reading a good wack! Apart from my staples on Anzac and Greek history (I’ve been reading more on the Greek Revolution), I’ve also been giving the surrealist masterpiece of Mikhail Bulgakov – The Master and Margarita – another go. I also love good biographies and can highly recommend Alison Light’s moving memoir of her life with the historian Raphael Samuel and Sheila Fitzpatrick’s memoir of growing up in Melbourne with her father Brian Fitzpatrick, the Australian post-war civil liberties activist.

What are you watching?

It’s been a great time to catch up with our favourite television dramas and movies. The Salisbury Poisonings and The Accident were excellent. Rosehaven and Hard Quiz always give us a laugh too. Love period dramas, I mean there’s no limit to how many times you can watch the BBC’s Pride and Prejudice is there? We recently started re-watching the West Wing, with he intelligent President Barlett a contrast to the current real incumbent. We also loved The Trip to Greece and Bettany Hughes’ Greek Odyssey. It’s also a good time to re-connect with the favourites, such as Costas Gavras’ masterpiece Z and Silkwood, important movies, well made with important social and political messages, influential on both of us. On a lighter note, we do recommend a recent Italian film – The Mid-August Lunch – a very funny, touching and true story about caring for your elderly parents. We highly recommend it.

READ MORE: Jim Claven’s ‘Lemnos and Gallipoli Revealed’ captures the ANZAC spirit

What music are you listening to?

We’ve both got pretty eclectic musical tastes – from classical to pop, from folk to blues and country. We love movie soundtracks like Chocolat, The Mission and The Family Belier – all great music to accompany one in the kitchen. And watching Ken Burns’ recent documentary on Country Music gave me a new appreciation of Kris Kristofferson and Dolly Parton as well as many other classic country artists.

What are you cooking?

Where do we start! We have always been keen and adventurous cooks and staying home has stimulated our creativity. We’ve prepared the simple staples – Lasagne, Moussaka and Fasoulada – as well as special treats like French Lobster Thermidor, Strawberry Flans and Apple Galettes.

READ MORE: Team Greece wins Plate of Origin proving Greek cuisine is the best in the world!

What is keeping you sane at the moment?

Apart from cooking, Vicki has got into knitting as a great way of relaxing and making beautiful gifts for friends. Well for me it’s reading, cooking and TV. We do love our daily walks. And we have weekly zoom sessions with family and friends. Vicki’s parents – George and Helen – have mastered Facetime, under the guidance of brother Con. We’ve also been spending more time in our garden. But one of my most enjoyable activities has been restoring a lovely old wooden table. The pleasure of sanding away old marks, re-discovering its beautiful golden grain, and giving it a good new coat of varnish was very fulfilling. It will be one of the positive legacies of our lockdown.

Knitting is keeping Vicki sane, and her friends are benefitting from the experience.

What is work like for you now?

We really feel for those whose working lives have been disrupted, especially those unemployed. But for us our work hasn’t really been affected. Vicki works remotely on both of her current contracts, one of which is for a research organisation concerned with improving indigenous health. My contract work is as a consultant too, so it is basically an online type of operation. Obviously zoom can be a bit of a drag when you’ve got lots of meetings in a day. But recently I organised a zoom commemorative service – a first for us – and people were able to participate from as far away as Greece.



Jim Claven at work.

What’s something positive you’ve witnessed or experienced since COVID-19 entered our lives?

A positive effect of our current situation has been the many expressions of kindness and consideration in the community we’ve witnessed. There’s also been amazing support for local small businesses nearby. We’re optimistic that these relationships will continue into the future. We are also very glad that we are in Australia and not experiencing the pandemic in the US or Europe.

What have you learned about yourself during COVID-19?

I think we’ve both realised that we are really calm, positive people. We’re also both people who are not distracted by the media noise which often seems geared at creating panic rather than understanding in the community. We all want to be over these restrictions as soon as we can. We miss catching up with friends and family, going out for meals, browsing in shops. These are natural frustrations. But the health of the community is our main focus. We don’t want to have another wave of infections, especially one affecting our elderly. If we all keep calm, focus on our own health and that of others, abide by the regulations and we’ll all get through this at the earliest opportunity.

Where’s the first place you’d like to visit in Greece once travel is allowed?

Well like many people who read Neos Kosmos we had our plans to be in Greece (and other destinations) in April-May earlier this year – going to Lemnos, Athens and the Peloponnese for a series of commemorative events – that have had to be deferred. We were hoping to make it to Vicki’s family’s home village of Monastiraki, near Nafpaktos. I am told it’s a lovely quiet spot, not too many people, not on the tourist trail, but with a beautiful village feel, quiet and accessible beaches and of course tavernas! We look forward to making the trip in the future.