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Bucklebury Ferry on Radio 4

Listen for yourself here.

On 21st September 1994, on a somewhat obscure afternoon show called Anderson Country, the following (warts and all) was broadcast:

(The background noises throughout are of a dozen or so people enjoying a summer barbecue in a back garden in the area of Leicester)

PAUL: (in big announcing voice) Ladies and gentlemen, would you please welcome the late arrivals at the Tolkien Ball. Mr and Mrs Faunt and their son, Ollie. (light smattering of chuckles). Mr and Mrs O'Lation of Smaug and their son, Des. (chuckles and groans) and from the Uttermost West, Theodore of Night. (just groans)
(in conversational being-interviewed tone) I'm Paul Cockburn. I'm here as a member of the Tolkien Society, one of the founder members of the local smial. There are smials up and down the country - named after the hobbit-holes where people used to live. It's where the name 'smial' comes from.
(announcing voice again) All the way from Spain, Mr and Mrs Ring-To-Rule-Them-All and their son, Juan. (polite laughter) And from Norway, Mr and Mrs For-The-Dwarf-Lords and their son, Sven.(pause then groans)

INTERVIEWER: The Lord of the Rings and the, er, Hobbit seems to me a little heathen. What's a Methodist minister doing involved in such a thing?

PAUL: Well, I wouldn't have said it was particularly heathen. Tolkien himself was a Christian - a Catholic. I don't, er, agree with the battles and the killing and so on. I don't think that ought to be how we behave in the real world. But I still think the noble causes, the, you know, fight against good and evil and so on is a kind of parallel of what you get in our world. And I get all kinds of sermon illustrations out of it. I've stopped using them now 'cause they're fed up of me at the churches 'cause I keep bringing it in. But, erm, I occasionally come across people who... erm... Somebody from the local Baptist Church recently sat next to me in a Chinese takeaway and said "I hear you're a member of the Tolkien Society" and we had a good chat about it.

INTERVIEWER: You say that Tolkien was something that you used in your sermons etc. Do you have children?

PAUL: Yes, we've got three children.

INTERVIEWER: Will you be er... Do you read them Tolkien...?

PAUL: Well, the youngest one's still too young to appreciate it, but the older two, er, who are now eleven and nine, I read the Hobbit to. I am trying, more ambitiously, to read the Lord of the Rings, and I tried to read it to the two eldest together... It didn't work because they were arguing with each other and not paying attention or it was difficult to find time when they were both together. But I've persevered with Hannah, who's our middle child, and, er, we're about a third of the way through at the moment. And if I'm absolutely honest, I couldn't really care less if she's listening. So really she's a bit of an excuse to sit down and enjoy myself reading but it's nice to have some audience listening.

PAUL: (background conversation) I've put all the bricks in the end. Do you think that's going to be too many or...?

SALLY: Errm, I think that's going to be fine for doing the mushrooms on and we can put it at the... We won't put the tray on this one...

PAUL: There goes another. I mean, it's all the paper... I can see it. I can see it. Got it!

SALLY: Right.

IAN: (being interviewed) I'm Ian Smalley. I'm an academic by inclination, so for two days a week I'm Professor of Applied Geomorphology in the University of Leicester. You know, study of landscapes, landforms. Landslides in fact is our, is our speciality. And loess, (background laughter, see footnote) loess soils, wind-blown, wind-blown soils. Sally and I have already demonstrated, I think fairly clearly, that the landscape that the hobbits live in is a loess landscape. In North China the entire landscape is covered by this yellow wind-blown soil, this so-called loess, and, erm, one of the most obvious manifestations of this is that the Yellow River is yellow. And it's yellow because of all the suspended material in it. Now, (cough), if you read volume one of Lord of the Rings, they talk a bit about the Brandywine River, which, as you know, flows through The Shire. And the thing about the Brandywine that they always point out is that it's a yellow river. Actually but you don't just have a yellow river by accident. I mean there has to be a cause for a yellow river in, in geomorphological terms. And the obvious answer is that it's it's it's it's carrying a suspended load of yellow silt. I mean (ironic snort) it seems so unreasonable that it should all be true but (cough) if you go to North China, erm the thing that people do in North China is that they actually live in caves. Now, what did the hobbits do? They lived in caves. Now, why did the Chinese live in caves? Well the point was that this loess soil stands in vertical slopes. It's very easy to tunnel into. It makes... it has the soil mechanical properties to make it perfect for living in as a cave-dweller.

INTERVIEWER: This smells absolutely delicious, Sally. What have, what have we got sizzling away here now?

SALLY: We've got, erm, what's known as the "Gollum's Nightmare" - cooked fish. Which is basically erm... fish fillets, lemon... with chopped lemon balm, herbs and, er, garlic.
(normal cheery not-being-interviewed voice) Hello, Ian

IAN: We're here. We're here.

SALLY: (continuing with interview) Errm, on the other one is Elladan and Elrohir's Barley Mushrooms, which is... erm ... the marinade's getting into the fire now... erm it's mushrooms marinaded in, is it olive oil, crushed garlic and chopped oregano ... and parsley.

INTERVIEWER: A hobbit's delight, so to speak.

SALLY: Yes, yeh

JASON: (being interviewed) My name's Jason Finch. I'm here as a guest of Bucklebury Ferry. I actually belong to this local smial called The Amari.

INTERVIEWER: I also understand that you're the, er, man in charge of the Hobbit golf taking place today.

JASON: (laughs) Yes, that is a strange story really. It's in The Hobbit. It's a wonderful story about orcs invading The Shire, and hobbits meet in a battle and one hobbit is riding a horse, has a club. And he knocks the chief orc's head off with a club. It goes flying through the air. Goes in a rabbit hole. And the wonderful idea is that, hey, hobbits win the battle at a stroke, at the same time invent the game of golf. And a few years ago, I think it's some American fans got drunk - a common pastime I'm afraid sometimes - but they said, 'Hold on a minute. Surely the hobbits have been playing the game of golf as we know it.' So they invented the game of, this game which involves knocking off a doll's head, painted up as an orc, against a stuffed rabbit. And you score points by how close you get to the rabbit, if you actually hit the rabbit, style, sheer audacity of the stroke - that sort of thing. It's a (incomprehensible burble which sounds a bit like 'mid-life-crisis') fun, but it's a very good laugh.

(general laughter) PAUL: Try again, right. (thunk, pause, cries of Whoa! Yes! Good goal! and ripple of applause)

ANNOUNCER: ...Andrew Shaw on the strange practices that bring smials to the Tolkien fan's face. (new breath) From Middle-Earth we're going back to earth, indeed six foot under in just a minute when we'll hear about the trends in tombstones......

FOOTNOTE: The background laughter during Ian's interview sounds as if it is just a group of people responding to some unrelated joke. In fact, what had just happened was this: Ian's daughter had noticed the interviewer starting off his recorder. She commented, "Oh, now it's my Dad's turn. What's the betting that before very long he mentions his pet theory about loess?" We all paused to listen and sure enough, the very next second, we heard Ian say, "...and loess." Hence the guffaws of mirth.
Incidentally, loess is pronounced to rhyme roughly with purse.

(Return to Ian's speech)

...and if you want to know what the above actually sounds like, you can listen this mp3 version of the recording. It lasts six and a half minutes.

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