Brief Encounter: Ronald Blythe (2009)

I walked down soft lanes past the cars of my youth, abandoned in orchards and green lanes, to the house of the writer Ronald Blythe and his cat, Kitty. It was a very old house, with bendy walls. Ronald’s coffee was head-meltingly strong and as we drank it and talked about his classic work of Suffolkian oral history, Akenfield, I could see him weighing me up in the gentlest of ways. (Later, in his column for the Church Times, he would describe me as “tall, dark and thin… like a character from the denouement of a DH Lawrence story.”) He didn’t look eighty-seven, which is what he was. He said he had walked almost everywhere his entire life, and lamented the way that people all make themselves “unhealthy and fat” nowadays by buying too much food from the same shops. ‘People had much sharper features back when they worked in the fields,’ he told me. The house belonged to the painter John Nash before Ronald, and being enclosed by its twisty structure felt a bit like being inside a piece of subtly distorted art, or maybe even a tree. The valley where it nestled was in the heart of witchfinder country and Ronald talked about the ‘horribly sexual’ Matthew Hopkins, self-appointed Witchfinder General of the mid-1600s, as if he was, say, someone Ronald’s cousin had gone to school with, and his reign of terror had taken place just a few months ago.

7 thoughts on “Brief Encounter: Ronald Blythe (2009)

  1. thanks for this – one of my favourite writers. Would love to have met him, but unlikely living so far away in Glasgow. Knowing his advanced years, my heart gave a jolt when I saw your facebook post – relief it wasn’t what I’d feared. Lovely description of your meeting.

  2. Akenfield – a true classic I will always have on my shelves.

    I first came across Ronald Blythe when I was 16 and studying Eng Lit. We were reading Jane Austen’s Emma, and he had written the introduction to my Penguin edition. His analysis of the story, and of Austen’s method, was superb, and greatly added to my understanding of the book.

  3. The Peter Hall dramatisation for the BBC of Akenfield in the 70s with the superbly apt Michael Tippett music was a highlight of my youth, and I often refer to it when telling people about truly great broadcasting – they almost always look totally mystified, as if I had suddenly started speaking in Welsh. I went on to study Tippett for my A level Special Paper, for my BA and MA dissertations and put a lot of that down to the Akenfield introduction to his music.

  4. oooohhhh beautiful wordsculpting!!!!! i love this “brief encounter” – i can feel the space wrap around me!!! now i have to go and find some Blythe to sink into!!!!

  5. Fabulous thumbnail of the lovable legend that Blythe is. You’re so lucky to have met him & you’ve encapsulated his quirky essence brilliantly. More pliz!

  6. Lovely to find this window into your meeting with Ronald Blythe. It reminded me to pull out my “Going To Meet George and other outings” where he, in turn, had taken us on his own visits to other writers.

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