This one is more ‘On the Dashboard’ rather than bedside table. For I have been listening to some of my favourite authors, and what a difference it makes.
I guess we all read ‘as ourselves’, so to speak. But the authorial voice makes the experience very different indeed. It’s what makes the success of Test Match Special. Whilst we all might read like Michael Vaughan, there’s only one who delivers like Henry Blofeld, and that of course is old Blowers himself. Though what I’ve been listening to is far from news from Sri Lanka, it does take me back to those days of John Arlott, and dear old Johnners, and chocolate cake; back to the days when the bowler was Holding, the batsman’s Willey, slips waiting for a tickle, leg overs and all the rest. And it’s the authorial voice that does it.
Many of my favourite authors are no longer with us, their time is in the past and they are of the past. But their work lives on, because quality always will. I have read many of the works of Eric Newby, Wilfred Thesiger and Laurie Lee, to name just a few, but I have probably read them in the style of Michael Vaughan, or more correctly Alex Salmond to name a Scot whose spoken word most will recognise, one distinct from Mr Connolly for example.
The BBC have a vast archive of recorded material, and have dumped much that would have been valued had it remained. I came across a CD, with two and a half hours of previously unreleased recordings; extracts from talks and lectures, interviews. They go back a bit, the earliest from 1943 and the latest 2001. The list of names takes me back to much that I have read, but other than one, the redoubtable Jan Morris, the voices themselves were but strangers to me. I had to listen.
So whilst I have been out in the car of late, alone, I have switched off the radio. And I have listened to tones that were made to be defined as mellifluous. The earliest is from a member of Shackleton’s party, one of his later trips. It is joined by luminaries such as Freya Stark and Sacheverell Sitwell, with tales to tell and tones to take you straight to the Dome of the Rock or Anatolia. Ella Mailart is there too, and Laurens van der Post. They are joined by Peter Fleming, whose wee brother made fame with Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and some wee tale about a spy. Marvellous.
And like all good events we get to the main course. Served up, in order, are Thesiger, Lee and Newby, with Morris and Geoffrey Moorhouse as the living dessert. The delivery and the speech is of days long gone, for even old Etonians and Oxbridge dons these days cannot keep that standard up. When next I pick up a volume of Laurie Lee, or Eric Newby, I’ll need to think about every word in front of me, to enunciate, and to reach for the authorial voice. I’ve long decided that for works of that magnitude I need to be reading the writing rather than the story. Hearing the voice, preserved on disk, might just help that quest.
And it is a BBC production, praise be. Just as they are bringing an end to Excess Baggage, of all things. Saturday mornings will not be the same again, unless we can register a protest though that is unlikely to alter minds focussed by beancounters. May as well try though, and there’s a wee petition organised by my friends at Wanderlust. Join in please, we can’t just dump EB. And while we’re at it, if there’s a protest around to try and save Newsweek Scotland do let me know.
And before EB disappears altogether I’d better preserve this link to a certain weekend in Marrakech. I know, as I was there, as someone once said.
So I’m going to listen again to Eric Newby today, on board the last grain clipper, heading for the Hindu Kush, and travelling in womens’ gowns. And I’ll hear Laurie Lee and his little Spanish bull. Then I’m going to read some more Philip Marsden, no doubt with the wrong accent, a flawed delivery, a googlie even, which takes me back to TMS. Wonder what’s happening in Colombo this morning?