John Humphrys doesn’t recommend building a house in Greece, particularly if you happen to live more than two thousand kilometres away.
The whole thing at times was almost surreal, and there were times when it felt like a bloody nightmare. – John Humphrys, author of ‘Blue Skies and Black Olives’
I’d called John on his way to a studio at the BBC. After forty years in broadcasting, John, aged 66, is still very much in demand.
Described in the UK as ‘a national treasure’, Humphrys is celebrated for his combative interviews with Britain’s most senior politicians.
He is hugely admired, as both a broadcaster and fervent upholder of making those in authority accountable.
John’s eldest son Christopher has lived in Athens since 1993, and it was on a weekend walking in the eastern Peloponnese, that father and son first experienced the ‘heartbreakingly beautiful’ view of the Argo Saronic Gulf that was the catalyst for John deciding on the spot, that he would build a house there.
But turning intention into reality would be the challenge.
The saga of its planning and construction would last four years and was complete by the summer of 2008.
Published this month, Blue Skies & Black Olives – A survivor’s tale of house building and peacock chasing in Greece relates the trials and tribulations they faced, as they dealt with the minutiae of buying the site and building what was to become Artemis Villa; from negotiating mind-numbing Hellenic bureaucracy to handling mercurially inclined builders, along with a cast of adversaries intent on thwarting their plans, from rats to recalcitrant neighbours.
But the book is much more than this. In following the process, it is a story of contemporary Greece – its glories and frustrations.
The sections written by Chris tell a tale of his own transformation in becoming, to all intents and purposes, Greek.
He has lived in Greece for 16 years and is married to a Greek lawyer.
The anecdote on how he had to undertake an Orthodox christening (with full immersion), in order to marry, is one of the book’s many gems, revealing the culture and living traditions of an adopted homeland.
John’s motivation for writing Blues Skies was twofold. “The whole thing at times was almost surreal, and there were times when it felt like a bloody nightmare,” John confides. “But it seemed too good to waste. Writing a book with my son had a certain horrific fascination – whether the relationship would survive such a dangerous enterprise.”
Happily the relationship survived intact, and no doubt deepened. John has been managing to get to Greece and his new home as much as commitments in the UK will allow, around three times a year. When not in situ, the villa is available for short-term lease.
The proceeds go directly to the Kitchen Table Trust, the charity founded by John to support schools for AIDS orphans in Tanzania.
What comes across most strongly in the book is the authors’ embrace of Greece; unbreakable and passionate.
Their experiences, shared with great humour and insight, make Blues Skies and Black Olives a highly entertaining read.
Few books make me laugh out loud, but this is one that did. Highly recommended.
Blue Skies and Black Olives – A survivor’s tale of house building and peacock chasing in Greece by John Humphrys and Christopher Humphrys is published by Hodder and Stoughton. ISBN 9780340978825.