Some time in 1987 I walked past the Penguin Bookshop in Camden. (Imagine that, a bookshop just for penguins.) I looked in the window and saw a man in his seventies with glasses talking to two or three people round a table. A bottle of golden liquid appeared to take centre stage. So this is how I came to drink cider with Laurie Lee and he signed two copies of the Jubilee Penguin edition of his classic Cider with Rosie for me.The second copy he dedicated to my girlfriend, and if I remember rightly wrote something typically flirtatious next to his fountain pen signature.
So once again I looked through my fingers last night at the last of the BBC English Classic series that have played out over the last four weeks.Gradually I settled down to enjoy it, until during a scene quite early on the camera tracked across a row of schoolchildren reciting the Lord's prayer in the classroom, and they morphed into their older selves. And not just older, but in most cases almost mature adults, still in the same junior school room, still with the same teacher. I almost expected to see the buttons popping off their coarse jackets and smocks as they expanded.This was made even stranger when they gambolled and frolicked like their previous six year olds down to a designer icy pond. But I needn't have worried, they quickly found their short trousers and little frocks again and shrunk back to their small selves.
Was it all bad? Certainly not, mostly because of Samantha Morton as the mother, Archie Cox as a very passable Laurie Lee becoming the pipe smoking violin playing author and Timothy Spall as a superb narrator. When the director bothered to use him that is. Again, I don't want to make unfair comparisons, but I couldn't help thinking all the while about watching Claude Whatham's Cider with Rosie on Christmas Day 1971. With a screenplay by Hugh Whitemore and Laurie Lee himself.
Anyway we don't have to worry now in Unmitigated England about such things and we can get back to grubby 1939 railway tickets and tins of cocoa. And the landmark milestone of this coming Thursday, as you will see.
I am a designer, writer and photographer who spends all his time looking at England, particularly buildings and the countryside. But I have a leaning towards the slightly odd and neglected, the unsung elements that make England such an interesting place to live in. I am the author and photographer of over 25 books, in particular Unmitigated England (Adelphi 2006), More from Unmitigated England (Adelphi 2007), Cross Country (Wiley 2011), The Cigarette Papers (Frances Lincoln 2012), Preposterous Erections (Frances Lincoln 2012) and English Allsorts (Adelphi 2015)
"Open this book with reverence. It is a hymn to England". Clive Aslet
"Enchanting...delightful". The Bookseller "Cheekily named" We Love This Book
The Cigarette Papers
"Unexpectedly pleasing and engrossing...beautifully illustrated". The Bookseller
"Until the happy advent of Peter Ashley's Cross Country it has, ironically, been foreigners who have been best at celebrating Englishness". Christina Hardyment / The Independent
More from Unmitigated England
"Give this book to someone you know- if not everyone you know." Simon Heffer, Country Life. "When it comes to spotting the small but telling details of Englishness, Peter Ashley has no equal." Michael Prodger, Sunday Telegraph