In 1991, I spent a lovely long weekend with my Welsh cousins in Pendoylan. One of the many tours we managed to fit into my brief visit, was an afternoon in Laugharne to wander around Dylan Thomas’ boathouse and writing shed perched on the side of a hill above the River Taf.
Growing up in Australia, with our broad expansive, open vista’s everywhere you look, I was struggling somewhat to appreciate the more compact, grey-green, misty views of England, Wales and Scotland. I spent a lot of time, in 1991, visiting famous sites and sights in the UK, thinking, ‘but where is the rest of it?’ My imagination had super-imposed Australia-sized space onto all those well-known, well-trod British places that I had read about all my (very young) life.
I had the same experience in Laugharne as my Welsh cousins raved about the beauty of the sea and sand at the estuary. All I could see was a muddy stream running out to sea, with more muddy sand in a tiny strip beside it. I wondered how on earth Thomas could wax so lyrical about this rather grey, dismal, wet view. I refrained from saying anything, but I think my cousins were disappointed with my lacklustre enthusiasm.
Back in Australia, in 2012, Mr Books and I saw a production of Under Milk Wood at the Opera House, starring Bruce Spence, Jack Thompson and Sandy Gore. I went into the show knowing next to nothing about the play, except that it was one of Mr Book’s favourites from school. It may not have been the best way to start my Milk Wood journey. I was bemused and confused by most of it. I remember a mad-cap, slightly manic stage romp with a group of actors clearly enjoying themselves. Mr Books was spell-bound though.
I bought him a copy of the 2015 definitive edition as a love-token.
As Dewithon 2020 loomed large, I went searching through our bookshelves for books by Welsh authors. Sadly, given my Welsh heritage, there were not very many options. So I plundered Mr Books shelves.
I felt a little daunted about reading the play after my experience with The Tempest earlier on this year, so I decided to listen to Richard Burton’s full cast BBC recording as I read along – the only way, I believe, to really appreciate the rhythm, pacing and beauty of the language used by Thomas Dylan in this, his play for voices.
It was a delicious rainy Sunday afternoon experience.
Time passes, Listen. Time passes.
As it turns out, I read/listened to Under Milk Wood during the early days of my One Hundred Years of Solitude readalong, and enjoyed the crossover of ideas between the two – dreams, ghosts, time, love and loss – in particular.
But I will leave it to those far more learned to discuss the merits of this play. I was enchanted by Burton’s retelling. His rolling r’s, his use of pauses and pacing that brought the narration to life and his inflections were spot on.
Mr Books’ career has been made on the back of his lifelong love of words. I can now appreciate one of his early influences. An influence he shares in common with Bernadine Evaristo (Girl, Woman, Other) who performed the part of Captain Cat in a school play.