Tag Archives: Old Street Publishing

Year of the Drought by Roland Buti (transl. by Charlotte Mandell): Coming of age in 1976

Cover imageI have to admit it was nostalgia that drew me to Roland Buti’s Swiss novella set in 1976. Anyone who was alive and conscious in that year will remember the long hot summer which those of us not yet working luxuriated in throughout Europe. Rather more recently, H and I were walking in the Swiss Alps through a similar landscape to the one in which Buti has set his story of the Sutters who have farmed the same patch of land for many years but for whom the events of 1976 will prove momentous.

Thirteen-year-old Gus spends the summer holidays helping his father and his cousin Rudy who has Down’s Syndrome. He visits the family’s ancient horse with whom his grandfather sleeps in a nearby stable, preferring to bed down in hay than stay in his flat. When a young woman turns up, clad in a long patchwork dress and spouting hippie ideas, Rudy becomes besotted but it’s Gus’ mother who’s the object of Cécile’s attentions. His taciturn father becomes increasingly morose until village tittle-tattle proves too much. His wife moves out, his daughter throws herself into practicing for a school concert and Gus frets about what’s to become of them all. Meanwhile, the aged dog faints from the heat, the new chickens roast in their hen-house and the sun beats relentlessly down. The inevitable storm brings disaster with it.

Buti unfolds his story from Gus’ perspective as he looks back on the dramatic events of that summer. His language vividly summons up the deadening heat: ‘The yellow sky, the yellow fields, the car splitting the yellow air on the yellow road… They were all unreal’. Gus’ father is wedded to a way of life that’s fast passing, his plans for a future farming chickens blown apart by the cataclysmic weather. He’s left bereft, puzzled and angry by the behaviour of his wife, unaware of her long unhappiness: ‘Mum was always busy with a multitude of tasks that no doubt helped to keep her from feelings of despair’. There’s a nice thread of humour running through the novel lightening its tone, from the fainting dog to Rudy’s spit-polished red apple handed to Cécile as a token of his adoration. Altogether an enjoyable read and not just because of a double dose of nostalgia.

Speaking of which, Buti’s novel brought back memories of the farm where we stopped for the last lunch of our holiday. We had a cheese plate, looking out at a fabulous view then across to the open stable at the cows who’d produced what we were eating. Idyllic for us, hard work for the family that ran it.

A (Mostly Wet) Week in Herefordshire and One Book

Moonow River Cottage meadowIt started so well: a glorious summer’s evening, sipping chilled white wine and eating our supper on the lawn of our idyllic rented cottage in Longtown, followed by a lovely, warm Sunday walking through wildflower meadows. What could be better? Come Monday morning, those meadows were sodden. The rain continued on and off for the next four days, ranging from torrential downpours to the kind of irritating warmish drizzle for which neither a waterproof nor an umbrella seems to quite work. It was supposed to be a walking holiday, exploring the lovely wooded Herefordshire countryside, culminating in scaling the path over Bruce Chatwin’s famous Black Hill just above us and walking into Wales. Instead it turned into a ‘practising for Mr Big (1)retirement’ kind of week – pottering around, lunching out, spotting a nuthatch at the bird feeder and stroking the gorgeous, big, black, purry tomcat who adopted us. That photo really doesn’t do him justice but by our last day he was altogether too relaxed to sit upright for very long.

In between all that lounging about there were a few outings. I met my old Waterstones friend, R, for a coffee in Hereford while H went off to explore the town which, having already visited the Mappa Mundi and the chained library not so long ago, didn’t take him very long. Poor old Hereford’s suffered badly from the ravages of out-of-town shopping plus public spending cuts: I was shocked when R told me the library had closed. The lack of a reliable mobile phone signal and a decent broadband service hasn’t helped, I’m sure. Hay-on-Wye was in much better shape although there were fewer bookshops than I remembered. R had recommended the café at Richard Booth’s bookshop which turned out to Hampton Court borderbe excellent. Lovely shop, too.

By Friday we were so encouraged by the weather forecast that we decided to visit Hampton Court near Leominster. We could have put on our boots and gone for a walk, I suppose, but the prospect of waterlogged fields was distinctly off-putting and by this time we were both well into dawdling mode. We’d visited the gardens about a decade ago when they were freshly laid out and a little too new but now that they’ve matured they’re absolutely delightful: gorgeous herbaceous borders in full flower, a beautiful organic kitchen garden and a suitably jungly sunken area – all set against a grand, wooded riverside backdrop.Hampton Court poppies

And the book? I’d taken Ed Taylor’s Theo with me. It’s published by Old Street Publishing and I’d long assumed they were based in the hipster end of London but it turns out they’re in Brecon not a million miles from where we were staying. Theo is the ten-year-old son of a famous rock musician. Taylor’s novel covers two days in his life during which his mother disappears to ‘rest’ and his father turns up with an Theoentourage, planning to record his next album. Theo spends most of his time in the incapable hands of his grandfather and his father’s friend, running wild but desperate for some sort structure, someone to take responsibility. It’s a little too long, but Taylor captures the slightly panicky, constantly questioning voice of a little boy who seems altogether more mature than the self-obsessed adults who barely register his presence no matter how desperately he begs for their attention.

So, despite everything that the great British weather threw at us we enjoyed our week away. And I discovered a liking for perry, a lovely drink for a hot summer’s day should we ever get one. Back to books shortly…