Book review – Left for Dead

303 yachts left Cowes on 11th August 1979, at the start of the famous annual Fastnet Race.

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Two days later the fleet was confronted by the deadliest storm in the history of modern sailing. By the time the race was over, 15 yachtsmen had perished, 24 crews had abandoned ship, 5 yachts had sunk, 136 sailors had been rescued and only 85 boats managed to finish the race.

Nick Ward was one of the crew on the Grimalkin, a 30-foot boat owned and skippered by David Sheahan. There were 4 other crew members, including Gerry Winks and Matthew Sheahan, the skipper’s 17 year-old son.

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Written by Nick more than 20 years later and first published in 2007, Left for Dead is the absorbing account of what happened to the Grimaldi and its crew over that fateful 48 hours in 1979, after which David and Gerry were dead, and Nick was left wondering why the others had abandoned him and Gerry, both unconscious but alive on the storm-tossed boat, in favour of the life-raft.

Nick acknowledges his debt of gratitude to journalist and documentary film-maker Sinead O’Brien, without whom he says he would not have written the book, and certainly not so graphically. Indeed, it is a testament to their joint contributions that the reader is enthralled for over 200 pages in which Nick struggles to survive, badly injured and with only the stricken Gerry for company.

In the same genre as Touching The Void, Left for Dead is a gripping first-hand survival story, with a touch of moral jeopardy. I would love to hear the version of events from the other 3 crew members of Grimalkin in an effort to resolve that jeopardy, but I fear that won’t happen now.

Left for Dead as an intriguing account of a terrible few days at sea, with fatal consequences for some, but an astonishing story of survival for one man.

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Theatre review – You Give Me Fever

You Give Me fever – review for Essential Surrey website.

5 STARS, May 23-27. “What an intelligent antidote to the Jukebox Musical gravy train Jack Lynch has written”, says Andrew Morris

Was the huge success of Mamma Mia! responsible for the deluge of so-called “Jukebox Musicals” invading our theatres over the last 20 years, do you think? We Will Rock You, Our House, Jersey Boys, Thriller… the list of musicals with contrived plots woven loosely around artists’ songbooks goes on and on.

I guess it’s all about the Money, Money, Money, so how refreshing to see a more thought-provoking, entertaining and intellectually challenging work from that over-extended genre, performed on a much more intimate stage.

Head down to The Back Room of the Star Inn, Guildford to see You Give Me Fever – “the Phaedra Cabaret”, an innovative production from LynchPin for the Guildford Fringe. I bet you didn’t know that the tragic heroine of Greek mythology loved the jazz and blues classics, did you? Or that she mixed a mean Aegean Fizz cocktail?

Sultry siren Pippa Winslow is Phaedra (“Fey”), luring us into her tangled mythological web of Greek gods, bull-headed Minotaurs and doomed love affairs as she mixes drinks and sings us jazzy standards. Mad About The Boy, Let’s Face the Music and Dance, One For My Baby, Crazy…. Fey seduces her enthralled cabaret audience in perfect harmony with the sad narrative of her life story.

Thwarting her sister Ariadne in pursuit of Theseus, falling in love with Hippolytus – son of Theseus by another woman – Fey warns us from the outset that her story will not have a happy ending. But along the way, thanks to brilliantly synchronised song choices and some crazy cocktails, the mythological minx serves up a whole lot of fun.

Pippa delivers a seductive performance as Fey in this one-woman show, equally adept at singing, acting and mixology. No wonder Theseus and Hippolytus fell for her significant charms.

Also on stage throughout is James Shannon, a jazz guitarist recently graduated from Guildford’s very own ACM, and whose moody finger-style arrangements breathe even more life into Fey’s songs. Watch out for James’s brief – but perfectly pitched – acting cameo….

You Give Me Fever – “the Phaedra Cabaret” – is written and directed by Jack Lynch, co-founder of LynchPin Productions Theatre Company. What an intelligent antidote to the Jukebox Musical gravy train Jack has written.

And thank you to the Guildford Fringe for another 5* piece of stimulating and entertaining theatre.

The Big 60th birthday marathon

I wrote recently about some memorable big birthday celebrations I’ve been lucky enough to enjoy over the years. A 29-and-holding party in Bermuda, a surprise 40th party at home whilst working in Germany, a wild weekend in Soho for my 50th after an earlier fund-raising trek for World Vision up Kilimanjaro….

Well, I’ve come through the other side of my 60th and I reckon it may just have been the best yet. It all ended up being completely over the top, more like the so-called world series of baseball. Or the Queen. I’m exhausted, grateful, blessed….and officially old.

Round 1: Gill, my lovely missus, had said she was whisking me away somewhere for a long pre-birthday weekend. It turned out to be Cheltenham. For the last jump meeting of the season at the beautiful racecourse on Friday, and a spectacular Indian meal at Prithvi on Saturday….with old friends of various vintages arriving throughout a glorious weekend of surprises.

Round 2: 10th May, 60 years after my arrival in this often troubled but always amazing world. A low-key Italian-themed evening at home with family, friends and neighbours. Why Italian? Because I’m learning the language, because we love the country, people and food…and because I cracked open a few bottles of the rather special Sassicaia given to me as a leaving present from ex-colleagues.

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Well, it started off low-key, but escalated into something dangerously resembling a party. I definitely felt 60 on the morning of 11th May…

Round 3: on 12th May, a group of 14 headed over to Greece for 5 days, as a belated celebration but also to show the natural beauty of hidden Zagori to family and friends.

(images below courtesy of Mark Melling, with the obviously less professional ones from my humble Samsung)

Collaborator and friend Mark and I have made the villages and people of Zagori the first project for our travel publishing venture Great Escapations. I had discovered it last July, Mark and I had researched and interviewed people there last October.

I hope old age hasn’t addled my senses, but I think everyone else fell in love with this magical area too, with its friendly people, healthy food…and tsipouro.

Too many adventures to list fully, but here are a few selected highlights:

  • the Papaevangelou Hotel in Papigo…..Giorgos and his family have created a very special place to stay. If the natural surroundings don’t astound you, the level of service and quality of the breakfast surely will. Read about Giorgos’s story and meet him here 
  • a memorable evening at Anemi with lovely Lila and Pavlos serving up a feast for the senses, using food foraged from the landscape near Kato Pedina and cooked with love. The wine and tsipouro flowed, we shuffled around to Leonard Cohen’s Dance Me To The End Of Love, Pavlos whipped out his bouzouki and nephew Steve sampled Pavlos’s pipe collection. Read about Anemi, Lila & Pavlos and meet them here  
  • a walk down into the majestic Vikos Gorge on a glorious spring day. It’s a measure of how beautiful, calm and cooling the Voidomatis spring is that I was almost forgiven for underestimating how far it was from Papigo. Almost….
  • the 3 hour hike up from Papigo to the 2,000 metre high Astraka refuge, sitting below the jagged peaks of Astraka and Gamila. Some went back to the village after this ascent, others ventured on, through a flower-strewn high Alpine valley to the mythical Drakolimni – Dragon Lake – still edged by snow and a mere appetiser for the even more breathtaking and expletive-inducing (thanks, Genovefa) main course….the yawning chasm towards Konitsa. Words really are not enough to describe the views that made our legs wobble and our hearts pound 
  • 5 brave souls swapped the luxury of cosy hotel rooms for a night in the mountain refuge. Nephews Steve & Dave, Dave’s girlfriend Lissy, Gill and I hunkered down in a dormitory – with a Bulgarian couple – after hearty bowls of spaghetti bolognese, tin jugs of local wine and a couple of games of cards, warmed by the stove as a hailstorm raged outside 
  • while others loved the rafting trip through the icy water of the Voidomatis river, Gill and I dropped in to see Lena at the agritourism venture Rokka. Despite being very busy running the Guest House and organising the first Wool Festival in Greece, Lena dropped everything to share some tsipouro and home-made meze with us, and to show Gill her 3 weaving looms. Such warmth and hospitality is an integral part of life in Zagori. Read about Lena, Kostas, Rokka and meet them here 

And that was my hyper-extended 60th birthday. Well, almost….

Gill and I swapped the mountains for coast, and spent a glorious couple of days chilling in Lefkada, one of the Ionian islands, off the west coast of mainland Greece. The others were unable to catch a ferry back from Igoumenitsa to Corfu, because of national strike action…and ended up chartering a boat to get them across the Ionian, under cover of darkness and in fear of being found by the coastguard or striking ferrymen.

A fitting finale…..just sorry we weren’t there to share the refugees’ fun.