My sister Susan Elkin and I have mentioned before that at the heart of our musical background was our folk-fiddling father. In August 1966 he was invited to lead the band for a dance group to an international 10 day long festival in Greece. Mother danced and SuSan and I were included as musicians with our fiddles, guitar and recorder.
Our intrepid Father decided to make it a major family camping holiday and drive – to an unknown Greek island in the Ionian Sea. We could get by in French, but none of us had a word of Italian or Greek – unless you counted my three weeks of Ancient Greek in school the previous term. Holiday foreign travel was not the norm so it was an extraordinary and exciting adventure.
South east London/ Dover/Calais was straightforward and then our car was loaded onto the overnight sleeper to Milan. As the second hand clicked to 8.00 next morning the train glided to a stop. We admired this enormously – we were accustomed to British Rail. We drove that day across Italy to the Adriatic coast – Italy was way ahead of us in motorway building as well and we were enthralled by the fast roads with their immaculate and frequent service stations – stops were necessary because our wheels kept getting hot!
We set up our first camp on a seaside site near Rimini. Our parents had a gaily coloured frame tent, whilst we were in a grotty old ridge tent with no built in ground sheet. But it was all great fun and so different from our usual climate and surroundings. We made our progress down to Brindisi at the heel of Italy and without wanting to make us sound like the Von Trapp family, sometimes we would get our instruments and play outside in the balmy evenings amongst the olive trees.
From Brindisi we took the ferry over to Igoumenitsa on mainland Greece for the next leg of the journey. Topography demanded a route inland through the mountains and I doubt that this sparsely populated region saw many English vehicles and tourists. Our stop for lunch was interesting. We had no idea what the proprietor was telling us was available so with an enormous grin he ushered us all into the kitchen to see for ourselves. The final part of the journey was a chain ferry – the only vehicular access to Lefkas at the time – and thus we arrived at our destination.
The dance group, were, to me at least, quite elderly – although probably younger than I am now – and they were horrified on arrival to discover that the much anticipated accommodation was in fact a vast camp of old khaki army tents set up by the harbour into which the sewage was discharged – each one with a two bunk bedstead on bare earth. The temporary ablutions were not actually finished by the time the festival started and comprised open top wooden compartments. Several times we had to shoo away workmen who unashamedly sat on top of the female shower blocks. Each international group was assigned a local restaurant for meals and the offerings were not generally well received especially after my father told people with a perfectly straight face that they were donkey cutlets. A plea for egg and chips produced the chips – with a hard-boiled egg! Our family were better able to adapt since we were geared up for camping anyway and thought it all quite hilarious.
I recall very little of the actual performances but there were no disasters and all went as rehearsed. It was a big festival with dance and song teams from all over the world. Europe was well represented and I also remember an Israeli team and a clean-cut ever-smiling group of American Mormons from the Brigham Young University in Utah. Shows took place every evening on the temporary platform and there were lots of processions and parades. I suppose the ethos of these “Folklore Festivals” was to bring together post-war peoples through music and dance and to foster peace and goodwill. Did that happen? As a 13 year old it certainly made a great impression on me and I loved watching the various different nationalities performing.
It should not be too hard to spot us!
Our journey home was just as adventurous, but perhaps that should form another post!