Crete is not a new love, however. I first arrived here around forty years ago on the King Minos ferry travelling deck class. I travelled all over Crete – you can read about it if you go to the ‘Early Days’ links on the right hand side of the page where there is a lot about my Crete writing. Within a year I had settled down and I lived here for seven years or so, before, during and after the military coup of the colonels. Through the Turkish invasion of Cyprus and through the birth of my son in Heraklion.
I have been back here many times since then staying up to a month or two when possible, but I had a career to achieve, mountains to climb that in old age seem almost invisible back there in Britain.
When you are young everything is important. You may well love a remote island in the south of Europe but there is pressure to build the house of cards that life is. The cards collapse and then you build them again, and again. I worked hard, I built an entire career to senior support engineer status and then watched the position die. It makes you wonder what the purpose was, what those goals and ambitions really amounted to. But, I suppose, that’s another story.
I never lost my love of Crete for a minute. I probably possess every book about Crete that existed. I studied the recent history of Greece and Turkey, the unlikely death of King Alexander who, by being bitten by a barbary ape, died and changed the history of the world. The rise of Mustapha Kemal Attaturk, the exile of Venizelos, the changes and wars in Thrace and Anatolia and the exchange of populations. The two world wars and the pain and the changes they brought. But Crete survived all of this, one way or another. Did you know that Cretans volunteered to fight for the Greeks of Cyprus in the Turkish invasion of 1974. They took their planes and set off across the Agean for Cyprus. I visited their graves in Nicosia, they died, shot down by Greek Cypriots. I have heard so many stories told by shepherds and library books. Some are amazing, others are incredible. Nearly always they are true, at least as true as the storyteller’s art is true.
In so many ways Crete has changed, but in an equal number of ways it has not. People always came to Crete for so many reasons. From the Acheans to the Albanians, from Barbary pirates to Venetians, Ottomans, Germans and the British; and still they come. They always will.
Now I am back in Crete with my wife. We have retired and we have bought an Olive grove with 35 trees. Old trees, several hundred years old that produce good oil. We built a house in a busy village among our olive trees. Life goes on. I feel no culture shock because I lived here so long ago and in a sense Crete has always been part of me.
So that, at least, is a part of my story. To you who have come recently to this ancient island I say to you, love it. Love it with the same stresses and strains that any relationship brings. Learn its history, the pain and glory and you will grow with the island. This is a strong place with a great deal of heart and it has a great deal to offer to you. It will come to you as you settle here. Time has all and no meaning here. It is the place that matters, trust me.