Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Green Remembered Hills

Dennis Potter's play Blue Remembered Hills took its title from an A.E. Housman poem. Although Potter's play was based in the Forest of Dean, Housman's poem was A Shropshire Lad:

Into my heart an air that kills
From yon far country blows:
What are those blue remembered hills,
What spires, what farms are those?

That is the land of lost content,
I see it shining plain,
The happy highways where I went
And cannot come again.

It is many summers since I was last in England: twenty I calculate. The Forest of Dean melts into the Cotswolds, and they into the Mendips. From there, on the periphery of Bath Spa, I swapped its valley in travelling to the Chilterns, Ashridge Forest and the Golden Valley.

They had been lamenting the heat. It had been as hot as Mallorca the week before. On the flight, the pilot announced that it was 15C at Bristol Airport. Twenty degrees lower than the oppressive, Sahara aired atmosphere of the Mediterranean. There was a light drizzle. The sky was a grey. It was how one remembered it. The blue of eternal childhood summers was probably a myth. The blue remembered hills were green remembered hills. Those of an English summer, enlivened with precipitation, leavened by the nimbostratus cumulus that can so easily descend and thicken from the higher cirrostratus.

The sun would come out and would then disappear. The drizzle would create its olfaction of an English midsummer. A unique sense of smell. An elusive dampness of fern and rosemary. The green remembered hills carpeted in their orderliness, a neatness so evident from the air. The competing greens invaded by the occasional ochre with lines scored as though they were the elements at the back of a refrigerator. The French have some capacity for this, though theirs has a visual compactness that is more haphazard with dabs of intense darkness, as if army fatigues have been embedded into the countryside. The English have an organised landscape, the inheritance of centuries. Broad fields of green remembered hills.

Someone, more than just someone, asked what I missed. In a flash, I would say the landscape. The country lanes that are unlike Mallorca's. Here, the lanes are lined with dry stone or with nothing at all. They collapse into acres of sienna agriculture or into thin air. The English lanes are embankments of vegetation, of wild sweet pea. They are the aisles of churches passing through steeples of trees.

Returning to Mallorca, the sky was clear, the route's entrance was at the north of the Tramuntana. The whole of the coastline to Dragonera was visible. Dramatic, they will say. For it is. It is a different landscape, but it appeared suddenly alien. Left behind was a land of lost content, fleetingly remembered. England.

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