Fillets Of Plaice – Gerald Durrell
The Birth of a Title
THE day was one of those breathless, clear, blue days that only Greece, of all countries in the world, can provide. The cicadas were zithering in the olive trees and the sea was a deeper blue, moving reflection of the sky. We had just finished a large and leisurely lunch under the twisted, pitted olives that grew almost down to the edge of the sea on one of the most beautiful beaches in Corfu. The female members of the party had gone down to bathe and left Larry and myself alone. We slouched there indolently, ferrying a giant, wicker-covered bottle of turpentine-like retsina between us. We drank and mused in silence. Anyone who thinks that when authors meet they indulge in witty exchanges and saucy badinage is sadly mistaken.
“This is a nice retsina,” said Larry at last, thoughtfully filling his glass. “Where did you get it?”
“From a little man who has a shop in one of those alleyways leading off St Spiridion Square. It’s nice, isn’t it?”
“Very,” said Larry, holding the glass up to the light so that it glowed a pale old gold. “The last bottle I got from town tasted and looked like a urine sample from a mule. It probably was.”
“I’m coming this way to-morrow,” I said. “I’ll bring you a flagon if you like.”
“Hmmm,” said Larry. “Bring me a couple.”
Exhausted by the intellectual exchange, we filled our glasses and lapsed into silence again. The ants were foraging over the remains of our food. Tiny, black, busy ones, large, leggy, red ones, with their behinds cocked up like anti-aircraft guns. On the bark of the olive against which I was leaning there were flocks of curious larvae moving. Minute, fluffy creatures that looked like misshapen and rather dirty polar bears.
“What are you working on now?” Larry inquired.
I looked at him in surprise. We had an unspoken and unwritten law that we never discussed what we called Our Art with each other, lest it lead to dissension and vulgar abuse.
“I’m not working on anything at the moment, but I’ve got a sort of vague idea of something. As a matter of fact, I got the idea from reading Spirit of Place.”
Larry snorted derisively. Spirit of Place was a compilation of his letters to his friends, painstakingly amassed and edited by our old friend Alan Thomas.
“I’m surprised that it gave you any ideas at all,” said Larry.
“Well, it did. I thought of doing a kind of compilation thing. I’ve got a lot of material that I haven’t been able to use in a book. I thought of putting it all together and making a book out of it.”
“Good idea,” said Larry, pouring himself out another glass of retsina. “Never waste good material.”
He held his glass up to the light and admired the colour. Then he looked at me and his eyes twinkled mischievously.
“I tell you what,” he said. “You could call it Fillets of Plaice.”
And that is exactly what I have done.