With Bring Me Sunshine about to be launched onto an unsuspecting public – and muscling its way into the nation’s homes via Radio 4’s Book Of The Week this week read by Stephen Mangan – I’m perhaps appropriately holed up in a seaside town on the English south coast for the foreseeable future.
It’s where one of my all-time heroes Spike Milligan was stationed in the army between 1940 and 1942 and he wrote extensively about his time here in Hitler: My Part In His Downfall (a book I pulled off my parents’ shelf as a kid and read so many times it fell apart).
The pillbox he occupied during that time is apparently still there, a couple of hundred yards along the seafront and up the hill from where I’m writing this, and it was only yesterday that jam-for-brains here twigged that the pub I’ve been frequenting since I got here, Milligan’s, is named after him (the framed photos of Spike all over the wall were apparently too subtle a hint).
Anyway, earlier today I found an old copy of Puckoon in a second-hand bookshop and sat down by the sea to read it.
Bring Me Sunshine doesn’t have a specific chapter on good weather, something the Radio Times apparently mentions in its preview this week. The reason for this is simple – bad weather has all the best stories – but as I read the opening paragraph of Puckoon I realised that even if I had put in a specific good weather chapter I would never have come close to Spike’s brilliant description of a hot day in Puckoon.
You can read that first paragraph here. It’s absolutely perfect, an astonishing piece of writing, a passage of which James Joyce and Dylan Thomas would have been rightly proud. It’s vivid, evocative and even the rhythm of the words is perfect. When you read that passage you can feel the soupy heat of the air in your lungs and the drowsing heat of the sun on your skin.
It’s now supplanted Edward Thomas’s Adlestrop as my favourite piece of writing about good weather. And that took some doing.