Magazine article The Spectator

The Past as a Friend

Magazine article The Spectator

The Past as a Friend

Article excerpt

HE DANCED WITH A CHAIR

by Ted Walker

London Magazine Editions, 30 Thurloe Place, London SW7, tel: 0207 589 0618, L12.50, pp. 198

Edwin Muir, chiefly known as a poet, used to describe his prose-writing as `my left hand'. But in fact, as much at home in prose as in poetry, he was ambidextrous. The same is true of Ted Walker. Although his poetic output has dwindled recently, this fine collection of stories demonstrates that his creativity certainly has not done so.

In a book subtitled `Fictions and Factions', it is impossible to tell where fiction takes over from fact. All but four of the 18 stories have a first-person narrator; and that narrator always seems to be the same man, proceeding from maturity to late middle-age, with a wife to whom he is devoted, parents whose memory he cherishes, and children with whom he has a relationship compounded of transient exasperation and misunderstanding on the one hand and enduring love on the other.

When, as repeatedly happens, this man looks back to his south-coast childhood and adolescence during the second world war, his accounts often parallel those given by Walker's richly colourful autobiography The High Path. Thus the second story in the collection, `Cosher and the Sea', concludes with an account of how, the fear of invasion over, a stretch of beach long closed to the public is suddenly thrown open. Pell-mell, in clamorous ecstasy, the children of the village then race into the sea. The autobiography contains a similar passage, describing how hundreds of people take a stroll along the once banned beach, `their faces lit with pink delight'.

Whereas present-day writers all too often demonise their pasts, Walker sanctifies his. Usually, these backward views, though idyllic, strike one as totally authentic. But, from time to time, one suspects that gratitude for a happy, vivid childhood may have led to sentimentalisation. …

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