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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On Wheels

A new poem by Patrick Mackie

The hills swarm and soften towards the end of the day just as
flames do in a fireplace as the evening
loosens and breaks open and lets out night.
A nasty, grotesque, impatient year ended,
and the new one will be bitter,
tired, opaque. Words wrangle in every inch of air,
their mouths wide open in stupid shock
at what they have just heard every time they hear anything. Venus,
though, blazes with heavy wobbles of albeit frozen
light. Brecht, who I like to call my
brother just as he called Shelley his,
has a short late poem where he sits by a roadside, waiting
while someone changes the wheel on his car,
watching with impatience, despite not liking
either the place that he is coming from or
the place that he is going to. We call it
connectivity when in truth it is just aggression
and imitation writ ever larger. Poems, though,
are forms of infinite and wry but also briskly
impatient patience. Brecht’s poem seems to end,
for instance, almost before you
can read it. It wheels. The goddess is just a big, bright
wilderness but then soon enough she clothes
herself again in the openness of night and I lose her.

Patrick Mackie’s latest collection, The Further Adventures Of The Lives Of The Saints, is published by CB Editions.

This article first appeared in the 18 May 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Age of Lies

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