In Our Time: Mrs Dalloway

4 years ago

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Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss Virginia Woolf's novel Mrs Dalloway.


In Our Time: Culture

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I read with particular interest Mrs Dalloway's London crawl. She covers a part of the West End that I have managed to write about to death over the last few years in this newsletter. It is odd how the very names - Regent Street, for instance, or St James's Park - ring as resonantly (almost) as Skiddaw and Snowdon and even the Bristol Channel. City walks are more popular, partly because more people have time to do them and partly because of the decrease in pollution. We can now walk along canals that were once full of rusty bicycles and garbage. We can now go through streets that were once barred to all except policemen in groups. The air has cleared extraordinarily and the fumes of London have more or less evaporated. The Chinese come to study how we control pollution.
Dickens' Night Walks are a wonderful read and Iain Sinclair's walks around the circumference of London are in a category of their own. Will Self is a walker - I believe he is a sort of professor of walking at Brunel University. I do not seek to disparage this, but as I am up in Cumberland his precise title does not come to mind. Having just landed in Cumberland, it brings with it a welcome fog.
It was no sweat at all to leave what will be the hottest day of the year in London for the cool of Cumbria. I use cool in an old-fashioned way meaning not so hot. I use hot in an old-fashioned way meaning warm. It's an old-fashioned place, Cumberland. Up on Virgin Rail, one of the joys of which is to hear the announcement when you go to the lavatory that you must not put hopes and dreams, your ex's sweater, bills or goldfish into the bowl before it is flushed. It's a poem all of its own.
Up here - or do we say down? (After reading Virginia Woolf I think we'd better say down.) Down here in Cumbria for the tercentenary of the school which I went to. It started with a dozen or so boys in St Mary's Church and became a grammar school, and is now a comprehensive of 1,300 pupils drawn from one small town and stunningly, dazzlingly successful. A very model comprehensive. If these things can be compared - though that is quite difficult - it's far better in the field of opportunities and sympathies with varying skills and levels of achievement than ever it was in my day. Labs have outstripped Latin. Non-brutal sports have outstripped rugby. There's so much to do I wonder that they have time to spend in the classroom learning, but they do that as well and in force. From this one comprehensive, people stream into Oxford, Cambridge and many comparable universities throughout the British Isles.
The only drawback about the evening is that I've been asked to make a speech at the end of the dinner, which means that I'll be nervous throughout and even worse than usual company to those on my right and left. No drinking of course. The speech has to be short, I was told. As if this would help. Short speeches are the hardest. Lloyd George wrote all there was to be said on that particular subject.
Still - hey-ho. Off we go to this lovely sandstone building, which used to be all in awe as the school and is now surrounded by a plantation of laboratories, extra libraries, study rooms, sports rooms, etc, etc. Wigton is very lucky to have a place like this and I was lucky to go there at a time when there were three or four wonderful teachers.
So, down memory lane. Lashings of nostalgia. And at about twenty past ten, a glass of wine.
Best wishes
Melvyn Bragg



In Our Time

Melvyn Bragg presents In Our Time, a series where he and his expert guests discuss the history of ideas, and explore subjects in culture and science.
Read more about Melvyn Bragg
Melvyn Bragg on the Radio 4 Blog

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