Sweet Home by Carys Bray, abridged
by John Peacock. Dir. David Blount. Perf.
Emma Fielding. BBC Radio 4 Extra, 20-24 Jan. 2015. BBCiPlayer http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b04yf3dt/episodes/guide
to 23 Feb. 2015.
The principal thematic preoccupation of this
collection of five short stories could be summed up in the final tale, “Under
Covers,” in which the elderly Carol Evans’s husband Boris declares his enduring
love for her by reciting poetry. The act
of recitation seems outwardly absurd, but the sentiments have a powerful
affect, reminding us of the power of literature to transport us into
imaginative worlds that are completely different from the workaday lives we
This facility can sometimes be destructive as well as
beneficial. In “Sweet Home” we learn
about an old German woman who builds a house entirely of sweetmeats. Normally
we might expect such a move to be
greeted with delight (everyone loves sweets, don’t they?) but it represents a
threat to the stability of her community, as it departs from the expected
social and architectural norms.
Fantasies can be effective, but to many they should be private rather
Sometimes such fantasies might represent a yearning
for something impossible: “Scaling Never” tells of a youngster trying to
resurrect a dead bird by praying for a miracle.
After all, his father is a man of the church, so why shouldn’t that be
possible? Unfortunately painful reality
keeps intruding, especially when his mother tries to vacuum his bedroom, where
the bird’s remains have been concealed.
Television purports to tell us “the truth” about what’s
happening in the world, but sometimes it’s difficult to separate truth from
fantasy. Watching the minute-by-minute
rescue of a group of Chilean miners on a 24-hour news channel, Jacob dreams
that his addict sun might be similarly saved from a gruesome fate. Yet in the
story “Scaling Never,” we never
know whether this will happen or not; perhaps uncomfortable realities might get
in the way.
Bray explores similar issues in “Everything a Parent
Needs to Know,” where single mum Helen reads a lot of literature about how to
bring up her young daughter, but cannot seem to meet the expectations posed by
the books. Ideal mothers should observe
this, that or the other behavioral rituals; yet when Helen tries to follow
suit, she feels that her shortcomings will be exposed, especially when other
mothers make the kind of patronizing comments (disguised as kindness) on her
treatment of her daughter. In the end
she understands the importance of relying on instinct rather than instruction;
she might make mistakes, but at least she remains convinced that she is doing
things for the best. Such a course of
action might have helped to alleviate Jacob’s mental suffering in “Scaling
Read with considerable vocal élan by Emma Fielding, these five
stories dealt with everyday subjects in a sympathetic way, revealing Bray’s
ability to understand human nature. The
accompanying music – the Berceuse from Fauré’s Dolly Suite –
had a particular resonance for listeners old enough
to remember Listen with Mother, the
daily radio program for under-fives that ran from 1950 until 1982. The tune
conjures up a world of stability, of
enduring relationships – something that the protagonists of all five stories
were perpetually looking for.