Sore Fingers, Radio 4, Thursday
Lives in a Landscape, Radio 4, Tuesday
These dispatches from other worlds provoke sighs of envy
Sunday 05 June 2011
If, as Blur so succinctly put it, modern life is rubbish – and it sometimes feels difficult to argue otherwise – there are ways and means, some permanent, some temporary, of disappearing into another world.
Dispatches from two of those other worlds, Sore Fingers and the returning Lives in a Landscape, made me heave envious sighs.
The Sore Fingers Summer School is in Chipping Norton, meaning that for a week every year the Cotswolds become the Appalachians, bluegrass heaven. It's escapism, perhaps, but an escape into something challenging and wonderful: with bluegrass music "you can have a really intense connection with someone and not know a word of their language", according to the course organiser John Wirtz.
These exponents of fiddles and banjos and guitars and double basses often find that the effects last beyond a mere week. There was Malcolm, who used to be a sheet-metal worker, but now makes and repairs banjos – "I'm not going to be buying a boat yet, but it's going the right way" – and Heather, an American who experienced love at first sight at a Sore Fingers workshop 10 years ago: "Bluegrass brought us together."
And one man first went there for respite from caring for his dementia-suffering wife, and is now hooked: "I've known other sorts of joy – religious zeal, and I've smoked my bits of weed, but the rush you get from this is amazing."
At the end of the week, Wirtz said, it's always poignant as he closes up: "I've shed tears locking that door." There was no voiceover, which accentuated the sense of isolation in this artistic little enclave of escapees busy enriching their lives far from the giddy vortex. "It's like a nice, laidback sort of bubble," Wirtz added – which rather summed up the programme as well.
It might seem strange to locate the other little paradise in the shadow of Sellafield (which incidentally these days only deals with spent fuel), but in Lives in a Landscape Alan Dein found a community brought together by nuclear power. He hung out with members of Sasra, the Sellafield Area Sports and Recreation Association, on their weekly golf day. They're mostly retired, but the fantastic community that established itself from 1959, when the power station opened, is still as tight as it ever was, when it was them against the world.
Even with Sellafield looming large, it's clearly a beautiful place, and the residents' utter contentment was seductive. Dein asked them how they felt about Fukushima. "It'll never happen here," one said firmly.
They talked about the excitement of the old days – "you felt a bit of pioneer – it had a bright future," said former engineer Don. Now the future for nuclear power is much less certain, but, as he observed, those fuel rods will be around for a while, so Sellafield will continue to pull people into the Cumbrian idyll that surrounds it.
Dein sounded almost wistful: "So people will still come to the area and find themselves."
I wonder if there's a Sellafield bluegrass club?
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