How now: cows in the Cotswold Hills. Photo: Getty
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Through my Window with Laurie Lee

A 1981 archive recording of the Cider With Rosie author looking at the view from his study in Slad, Gloucestershire.

Through My Window
Radio 4 Extra

An archive recording of Laurie Lee casually considering the view from his study across his hallowed Gloucestershire valley of Slad (21 June, 7.20am), said more about the working of the writer’s mind than the full week of readings from As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning, also programmed to mark the centenary of Lee’s birth.

Recorded in 1981 (Lee was 67) the nine-minute, unscripted monologue began with Lee’s delicately West Country-accented voice sounding supremely relaxed – here was someone used to being considered interesting, even when talking in an off-the-cuff, minor way (Lee had years of practice in cheap, postwar restaurants around the BBC, and later at the Chelsea Arts Club). “The view dominates my comfort,” Lee insisted, gazing out of his window, “it’s like looking at the sea; as far as I’m concerned it’s never the same.” When Lee described the “voluptuous claustrophobia” of living in a green valley as one might “inside a bean pod”, all his lush-pretty observations were nicely undercut with his slightly laboured, pipe-smoker’s breathing.

After a while, now and again his voice altered entirely, becoming far more self-consciously expressive and dulcet. This shift always came about when he was casting himself in the light of his own personal legend: the corn-haired country teenager who in 1934 took his violin and walked to London (he could just have easily jumped on a bus). “I was in exile for 20 years,” mused Lee, in this new, liquid voice, “I was wandering the world.” It was fascinating to hear Lee enchanting himself like this.

Back and forth he went between these two distinct vocal melodies, one moment a prose writer simply giving information, the next a prose writer talking like an actor playing a poet. “Who are the wild men living there?” he asked at one point, firmly in enchanted mode, nodding towards the direction of Wales. “As a child I’d see distant plumes of smoke and hear terrible tales . . .” Did those living in the Cotswold hills really fear the Welsh in the 1920s, or was Lee rapturously, romantically muddling his centuries? Does it matter? On radio, these shifts in tone had the quality of a kind of slow motion – waves of strange resonance expanding.

Antonia Quirke is an author and journalist. She is a presenter on The Film Programme and Pick of the Week (Radio 4) and Film 2015 and The One Show (BBC 1). She writes a column on radio for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 18 June 2014 issue of the New Statesman, Islam tears itself apart

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Poem: "When the Americans came"

“Do you have vampires around here?”

When the Americans came,

they didn’t take to our gardens:

the apple orchard smelling of wild garlic,

foxgloves growing among the runner beans.


“Do you have vampires around here?”

a visitor from Carolina asked me.

It was a shambles, Wilfred knew that,

nodding wisely as though apologising


for the ill manners of King George,

the clematis purple in the thatched roofing.

But come the softe sonne,

there are oxlips in Fry’s woods,


forget-me-nots in the shallow stream,

lettuce and spring onions for a salad.

It’s certain that fine women eat

A crazy salad with their meat*


I tried to tell them. But they weren’t women,

and didn’t care to listen to a boy.

They preferred the red rosehips

we used for making wine.


Danced outside the village church

round the maypole Jack Parnham made.

Now they’re gone,

the wild garlic has returned.


* W B Yeats, “A Prayer for My Daughter”


William Bedford is a novelist, children’s author and poet. His eighth collection of verse, The Bread Horse, is published by Red Squirrel Press.

This article first appeared in the 20 October 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Brothers in blood