Caught by the River


1st July 2013


Tim Dee’s book Four Fields comes out in August and truly, it’s something worth looking forward to. Tim will be joining us later in the summer at Festival No 6… for now though there’s this – five of his current inspirational antidotes to indifference.

• A nip or more of homemade plum palinka (clocking in at around 52% proof), delivered in an old plastic pop bottle and bought from its maker, a granny in a pinafore leaning from her window, in Torocko, the miraculous Hungarian village that lies in the greenest valley I know beneath the humping whale-back of a limestone mountain in the heart of Transylvania.

• The fog clearing of Camille O’Sullivan speaking and singing Shakespeare’s The Rape of Lucrece for the RSC and for The Echo Chamber on BBC Radio 4. Making an old, worn story, a child predeceasing her father, as actively heartbreaking now as (of course, had we been able to hear it afresh, as here) it has always been.

• Taking delivery of Birds and People, the new global encyclopaedia by Mark Cocker with photographs by David Tipling. The title, alone, my two favourite things. The text is to be sipped, family by family, the contents being as sustaining as any distilled plum. The entry on the 12 billion chickens living at any one time amongst our 7 billion souls is as good as anything ever written on birds anywhere by anyone.

• Transports listening to Away with the Birds: the collaboration of Hanna Tuulikki and singing friends who have been learning old Gaelic tunes that mimic birds and working with master channeller of the song of the earth, the sound man Geoff Sample. The women sing the Hebridean shore and it makes you weep salt tears and more. Seen on stage at the excellent New Networks for Nature gathering, where the singers were all in black but for oystercatcher orange legs, and heard later on Radio 4, but surely making more and wider noises soon.

• Watching cranes mating and the rebirth of a fen a mile from my own bed. The sex lasted seconds: a scene from an industrial documentary of a set of lead sheets brought together. It was as short as most good things are but bodes well
for a new landscape, wet once again, that with luck will live here on in as it once did for more than a thousand years.

• A snip in a second-hand bookshop: £12 for one of the volumes of Kathleen Coburn’s brilliant edition of Coleridge’s notebooks. The myriad-minded man (he used the phrase of Shakespeare) is in abundance on every page. His kit list for his trip to Sicily my current favourite entry for drowned days: ‘A Jacket & Hood to fit on my green Bag to sleep in. Umbrella. Pencils for presents. Portable Soup. Mustard.’

Tim Dee is the author of The Running Sky and co-editor of The Poetry of Birds. His new book Four Fields will appear in August. This year is also his 25th as a radio producer at the BBC.