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About

About the title

In the introduction to Between the Woods and the Water Paddy Leigh Fermor notes that his friend, Andrew, Duke of Devonshire, suggested the title of ‘Shank’s Europe’ for the trilogy, which he found ‘almost irresistible’; Shank’s Mare, or Shank’s Pony, being an euphemism for walking. And since he declined to use the title, I have taken it for this project.

Contact

shankseurope@gmail.com

About the author

Kristopher Radford lives in Vancouver, Canada.

For much of the fall and winter of 2011 I was entombed, monk-like, in a tiny cell on the tenth floor of the Robarts Library at the University of Toronto. The amenities afforded by this little office included a desk, chair, bookshelf, and internet access, all behind a locked door. Strictly speaking it also contained an arrowslit of a window, but this was so completely covered in grime and black mould that is no longer functioned as a window. Of course this was no great loss as it looked out at a different part of the Robarts complex, and anyone who has ever seen this mighty library at the heart of the finest university in Canada will know, it’s best not to look directly at it.

I wasn’t really supposed to be here at all. ‘My’ little cell actually belonged to a friend (who I subsequently married). I wasn’t even a student at U of T, and so, every week I had to make my way to the ends of the earth and teach a class of undergraduates at my home institution, York University, in the bleak wilderness of suburban Toronto. And what’s worse, the friend whose office I was squatting in had recently come to her senses, quit working on her doctorate, left me her office keys, and moved to the limpid shores of the Pacific to start law school. So here I sat alone, reading and writing. Occasionally I would shuffle in sock feet to the adjacent stacks and pick another book about Zanzibar or Bengal or Whitehall.

The year before had been rather different. In 2010 we had toured around the Balkans; we scrambled in the Julian Alps, we awoke to the Muezzins chanting the adhan in Sarajevo, and we lived like the lotus-eaters for glorious weeks in sun-blasted Dalmatia. Following this I made my way back to the libraries and archives in London and Oxford where I was amassing a vast and unwieldy collection of documents which I was now inelegantly assembling into that ugliest of literary forms: the PhD thesis.

It was sometime in the fall of 2011, in my office at Robarts, no doubt daydreaming about swimming in the Adriatic again, when I stumbled upon an obituary written by Christopher Hitchens: The Last of the Scholar Warriors: Farewell to Patrick Leigh Fermor and his extraordinary generation. I think I must have seen Leigh Fermor’s name before this, as when I wasn’t reading for my thesis, I enjoyed the travel writing of Eric Newby, Wilfred Thesiger, Robert Byron, Peter Fleming, Freya Stark, and Fitzroy Maclean; and Paddy was often mentioned as a member of this set. However, as I was then an historian of the Muslim world I tended to be more interested in writers who travelled in Asia and Africa, not continental Europe – and hence only came to read the works of Leigh Fermor after being struck by Hitchens’ delighted enthusiasm for him.

Shortly thereafter I got my hands on a copy of A Time of Gifts, and demolished it in one or two sittings. Since then I have defended my thesis, moved back to British Columbia, and read and re-read everything by and about Paddy I could get my hands on, all thanks to Hitchens’ article.

KDR, 6 November 2018, Vancouver.