The Soundtrack to life on the road
NEWLY ACQUIRED TAPES: The Swimming Pool Library (Alan Hollinghurst), Beowulf (Seamus Heaney), The Other Side of the Dale & Over Hill and Dale (Gervaise Phinn)
The Lady in the Van – Alan Bennett. The true tale of Miss Shepherd, an eccentric homeless woman, who persuades Alan Bennet to let her park her van on his driveway on a temporary basis, and ends up staying there for fifteen years. A challenging relationship to put it mildly, nevertheless, Bennett does become fond of her idiosynchrasies. After her death, he makes a discovery in the van which leads him to find the truth about the mysterious woman’s past. First broadcast on BBC Radio 4 in 1990, this edition includes an extra episode which deals with Miss Shepherd’s family history. A BBC film based on the story, The Lady in the Van, is in production now and due for release in November 2015. It will star Dame Maggie Smith as Miss Shepherd and Alex Jennings as the playwright. Bennett also reads another of his short stories, Uncle Clarence, about the quest for the uncle he never met who was killed in Flanders in 1917.
The Edible Woman – Margaret Atwood – read by Lorelei King. This is one of the early novels of one of my favourite authors. Marian seems to have little control over her life; stuck in a boring job, under close scrutiny by her landlady and attached to a self-obsessed man, she is seemingly taken along on whichever wind is blowing that day. A chance meeting with the mysterious Duncan triggers the beginning of strange and worrying behaviour. But there are stranger things going on all around her and Marian’s troubles are deemed invisible. It is only when she steps away from her normal day to day routine that Marian begins to live at all. This is a hefty collection of 12 cassettes, but thoroughly engrossing and with moments of laugh-out-loud comedy. Everyone needs a Marian in their life.
Fawlty Towers 3 – John Cleese and Connie Booth – performed by the aforementioned with Prunella Scales, Andrew Sachs and others. From the legendary cult 1970s TV series Fawlty Towers, of which only 12 episodes were ever made. Here are: “The Psychiatrist” in which Basil ‘s efforts to prove his normalcy to a pair of resident doctors have the opposite effect; “A Touch of Class” in which Basil, in his snobbery, is hoodwinked by a titled gentleman; “The Anniversary” in which Mrs Fawlty, believing her husband has forgotten their special day, storms out leaving Basil in the embarassing situation of having to cover up her absence when a party of their friends arrives to help celebrate; “The Wedding Party”, in which Basil imagines all kinds of licentiousness is going on under his roof. There is plenty of farce here, and the TV soundtrack is supplemented with some asides from waiter, Manuel, to make up for the absence of visual clues to scene changes etc. I challenge you not to laugh out loud.
The Lemon Table – Julian Barnes – read by Timothy West and Prunella Scales. Short stories bound together by a common theme, ageing. There are 11 stories here on a set of 6 cassettes and over 6 hours playing time. The characters include an 80-year-old man who leaves his wife for another woman, an elderly woman in a care home carrying on a correspondence with Julian Barnes himself, a man who eats bark in order to outlive his peers and a woman who keeps her husband calm by reading aloud from recipe books. In the final story, “Silence”, an elderly Sibelius is struggling with the composition of his 8th symphony. He explains that he and his contemporaries would sit and discuss mortality around a table they named the lemon table because the lemon is the Chinese symbol of death. This is a great collection, and worthy of another listen.
Summer Crossing – Truman Capote – read by Lorelei King. Teenage socialite, Grady McNeill, persuades her parents to leave her in New York while they take their annual European vacation. Waving her parents off at the port, Grady rushes at once to see her secret boyfriend, a carpark attendant, and the antithesis of what her parents would consider an appropriate beau. During the stifling heatwave of 1945, Lorelei plays house with her lover, eventually having to face up to the consequences of her ill thought out actions, ones which will have a wide reaching effect beyond her own family.
The Long Johns – John Bird and John Fortune. UK comedy favourites since the sixties, these two are masters of satire. This tape contains the very best of their mock interviews for the Rory Bremner series on Channel 4, featuring city movers and shakers, fat cats on fat salaries and gender reassignation at no. 10. It is very, very clever and very, very funny. My only complaint? It’s just a single cassette and over all too soon.
The Clothes They Stood Up In – Alan Bennett. Mr and Mrs Ransome arrive home after a night at the opera to find their house has been burgled. Every single thing, accumulated over a thirty year marriage, has been removed from their home, leaving them with only the clothes they stood up in.
The Tempest – William Shakespeare. The BBC Radio3 recording with the late Philip Madoc as Prospero and Nina Wadia as Ariel. Shakespeare is much more difficult without the visual element; the voices must be sufficiently different from each other to avoid confusion. This almost worked, but I’ll have to listen once more to be quite sure. The trouble with listening while driving is that some of the time your ears shut down to divert maximum energy to the eyes, which makes perfect sense when you are in charge of a car.
Diaries 1980-1990 – Alan Bennett. A random collection of observations by the wonderful Alan Bennett. Subjects touched upon include theatrical anecdotes, visits to his mother in a care home, British politics, international travel and characters in his community. Read by Bennett himself, I enjoyed it so much I listened twice.
A Dark Adapted Eye – Barbara Vine – read by Sophie Ward. Murder mystery from the queen of crime. Faith narrates the story of her Aunt Vera who was one of the last women to hang for murder in Britain. The family has systematically buried the whole saga, but when a biographer turns up with plans to write a book about Vera, a complete picture begins to fall into place, piece by piece. This is an excellent thriller which keeps the listener on tenterhooks until the very end.
The Queen and I – Sue Townsend – read by Miriam Margolyes. Humorous imagining of how the royals would fare in a Republic. When The Republican Party unexpectedly sweeps to power in the general election, the royal family are all removed from their homes and housed in council accommodation in the notorious Hell Close. Hilarity ensues.
Iris, a memoir of Iris Murdoch – John Bayley – read by Derek Jacobi. Delightful and touching memories of life with Iris, by her husband. Not a biography, but a collection of random memories of Iris and the life she shared with her husband, including their early meetings amongst Oxford acadaemia, househunting, holidays and domesticity, both before and during her descent into Alzheimer’s.
Not the End of the World – Kate Atkinson – read by Geraldine James. Short stories, all linked in various ways. This means that some characters appear in more than one story; some connections are quite inventive, but some seem rather forced. Atkinson’s first and only foray into the world of magical realism.
Talking Heads 2 – Alan Bennett – read by various REVIEW
Talking Heads – Alan Bennett – read by various REVIEW