“for better or for worse, utterly changed by my travels”


In death, as in life, Leigh Fermor was a master of bringing together different worlds that one would normally have imagined to be opposed, if not incompatible. A one-man compendium of contradictions, Paddy (as he was known to everyone) was a genuine war hero. He abducted the German commandant of Crete, and in the movie of the exploit, Ill Met By Moonlight, Paddy was played by Dirk Bogarde. Yet this man of action, with the speech patterns, polished brogues and perfect manners of a prewar British major, was also one of the great masters of English prose. Paddy was equally at home with both high and low living. His masterpiece, A Time of Gifts, the first volume of a trilogy, tells of his walk from the Hook of Holland to Constantinople in the last days of prewar Europe, “like a tramp, a pilgrim, or a wandering scholar”, as he moved from dosshouses to Danubian ducal fortresses: “There is much to recommend moving straight from straw to a four-poster,” he wrote, “and then back again.” On the wet afternoon of 9 December 1933, the year Hitler came to power, as “a thousand glistening umbrellas were tilted over a thousand bowler hats”, Paddy left London, boarding a Dutch steamer at Irongate wharf.

more from William Dalrymple at The Guardian here.