Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Pigs Ears, Whitchetty Grubs And America

With the best will in the world, when you have been together for a long time you sometimes run out of things to say to each other. When you spend most of your waking hours together you occasionally find that conversation, like some semi-desert rivulet, dries up. During each week, there are a limited number of conversations you can have about the weather, the state of Middle East politics, and the sensory allure of deep fried pigs ears.

And so it is with me and Amy.  I have always thought that the sight of dog and owner walking together in muted misery is a sign of a dysfunctional relationship in training. As the great Mildred Henderson was apt to say, "Families that walk together should talk together".  And consequently, if you happen to spy Amy and I during one of our twice daily walks you are as likely as not to catch us deep in conversation about art, philosophy or the previous night's Bushtucker Trial on I'm A Celebrity ("What is the matter with them," she is prone to say, "whitchetty grubs are full of protein"). 

But all too often, by the time that we reach the Crematorium Gates (this is a geographical reference rather than some Miltonian aphorism), our conversational banks are in need of quantitative easing, and that is the time that we switch on whatever Podcast fate (and iTunes) has decided to download for us. There are, of course, our regulars, The Archers, Guardian Football Weekly, What The Papers Say: the staple diet that keep us going come rain or shine, feast or famine. And there are the Epicurean delights, those auditory morsels that make life worth living, walks worth walking.

And so it is with the BBC archives of the late Alistair Cooke's Letter From America. As if to prove that it doesn't always get things wrong, the BBC have decided to make available over 900 programmes from it's substantial archives of weekly broadcasts by the journalist Alistair Cooke, which cover the period 1946 to 2004. You can listen to them on-line, download the Podcasts, and in some cases read the actual scripts at the BBC Letter From America webpage. I am not sure how familiar people in the USA are with Cooke's work, but the truth is that most people in the UK, and many other parts of the world, saw America through his eyes for much of the second half of the Twentieth century. And even though the events he writes about and talks about have now long sunk under the dust of history, his words still retain the lyrical architecture and crafted economy of a great writer. Like so many of my favourite writers - Pepys, Dickens, Arnold Bennett - you get the feeling that Cooke would have been an enthusiastic blogger had the technology been available at the time. Whether you have a dog that needs walking or not, I would recommend that you give him a listen.

16 comments:

  1. He's been a favourite of mine for years. Thanks for the 'heads up' regarding his archived programmes. I'll be heading off over there asap.

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    1. It's what friends are for, Martin.

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  2. There's also a radio series by Alvin Hall on Alistair Cooke still available on iplayer. It gives a little more depth to this very special correspondent.

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    1. As Martin said above, thanks for the "heads up".

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  3. Just checked, the Alvin Hall series is still running: 9.30am on Tuesdays

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  4. Cooke was a great broadcaster with a voice made for the radio. You are right, Alan - he would have made a first rate blogger.
    Nice dog.

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  5. Hi Bill,

    It has been a while since I last posted anything, but now back in for a while or two.

    Your comments on the impact of long relationships on conversation brought back memories of an old couple, now long departed, that I knew. Bert and Lil were a quiet couple who seldom engage in conversation with each other, but willingly talked when engage with a third party. The interesting thing was that they spoke as one. Bert would start a sentance and Lil would finsh it. It was as if their long-term relationship had caused a mind meld. Having known them for some time I concluded that their silence together was not a sign of mutual resignation, but of harmony.

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    1. My husband and I maintain that we actually share one brain.

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    2. Charles Kuralt once did a show, probably 25 years ago now, on a couple named Ike and Pearl who did a similar thing. They would stop speaking at the same time, pause, and begin again as though in one voice. I've never forgotten that. To this day, I have a friend with whom if we start to speak at the same time, we call each other Ike and Pearl.

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  6. For a long time in the 70s and 80s, Cooke hosted MASTERPIECE THEATRE, our lifeline to your British television dramas. I have long had an affection for him and his marvelous introductions. He was an institution over here, and a fixture in my house, growing up.

    I think he would have admired your own intro and segue here, Alan.

    I will look into this.

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  7. I am also a great admirer of Alistair Cooke. Like Kat, I met him first on the PBS British series and then began listening to his radio essays on our NPR station. He was part of that generation of journalists, Walter Cronkeit, Eric Sevareid, Edward Murrow who were great writers of the big events of their times and the small things too. In a way they were the bloggers. Nothing like the pundits of today.

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  8. I wish Blogger had LIKE buttons for comments.

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  9. I never watched the television series, but I did read the book. I liked reading about the country I live in from a foreigner's perspective (unless it's Bernard-Henri Lévy)--and I really like Alistair Cooke.

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  10. I'm not familiar at all...with him or with the fried pigs ears! :)

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  11. Now that is a collection to listen to! I usually wander around with my camera to entertain myself whilst out with Chance..or I am too busy throwing the ball! :)

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  12. I vaguely remember listening to him years ago. You do a pretty good style of writing yourself. TOH (The Other Half) and I used to walk and talk every morning before work but now we are retired TOH has also retired from walking, so I walk with my thoughts now. I find when we go out for lunch we often run out of words but as we get older we don't need to share words to be comfortable in each other's company.

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