Inspiring Older Readers
From Roald Dahl to Alan Garner
The other evening I spent time with Michael Peach, an elderly retired architect who lives in a splendid Hobbit- like house that he designed himself. This is only ten minutes away from my considerably less imposing home in Malvern. So what was I doing there? He had left an urgent phone message asking me to pop round to show me a booklet about the famous children's author, Alan Garner. It had arrived earlier in the post sent to him by the author's wife, Griselda along with a picture postcard of a sixteenth century Old Medicine House. I phoned him back and agreed to meet him right away. So what piqued my interest and why am I writing about it here?
I first met Michael when I did a recent Letterpress event with patients to celebrate the Roald Dahl centenary at St Richards Day Hospice, Worcester a few Saturdays ago. At the end he had been very keen to tell me about his long connection with Alan Garner as he had done some professional work for him in the 1970s and had kept in touch with him ever since. I have always been a big fan of this author who has written many evocative magical stories based around his local area of Alderney in Cheshire where his family has apparently lived since at least 1592. Whilst chatting about him, the two of us realised that we lived near one another and that we had both been in the audience at the Cheltenham Literary Festival a few years ago when this very famous author had talked about Boneland, the long awaited third novel in the fantasy series that started with The Weirdstone of Brinsangaman ( 1960) followed by The Moon of Gomrath (1963). We agreed that it had been a fabulous performance from a quiet man who does not often appear in public.
It was fascinating to hear about how he had commissioned Michael with the meticulous relocation of The Medicine House in 1970 in order to save it from decay, dereliction and possible demolition. He had been desperate to buy it along with another ancient local property known as Toad Hall.
Doing some further research I learnt that this special building was painstakingly dismantled and rebuilt and faithfully documented by Griselda Garner. Originally owned by the Garners it has more recently been bequeathed to The Blackden Trust which has an informative website that includes access to some of the records of the move.
Back to Malvern. The scene that unfolded was worthy of a piece from Alan Garner's fictional world. In the distance I spotted Michael waiting for me at his garden gate leaning for support on two sticks silhouetted under the cloudy night sky that allowed some glimpses of the especially large full moon. Bundled up warmly in an ample patched fur waistcoat he urged me to join him in what he described as his 'man cave' where we then settled down cozily to look at the promised booklet together. It was published by Historic England as part of their prestigious Angel Awards, for which The Medicine House had been a strong contender, although sadly did not win. The booklet included lots of interesting background information about the restoration project and also plenty about Alan Garner the author, originally published as an online article at www.telegraph.co.uk on 7th October 2016. It explained how the importance of the place in shaping him as a writer became clear ' we are the guardians and interpreters of a place that is nurturing us for our lifetimes. It has nurtured others before us and it must be protected to nurture others after us'
It also includes a tribute to Michaels special expertise: ' It took us a year to find an architect with experience in restoring timber frame buildings, who would also incorporate some concessions to 20th century living. Michael Peach was the man; he was young and creative'
And so the much older Michael entrusted me with the precious booklet to read and I promised to return it this evening having had time to read, digest and write all about it. I never would have guessed that Roald Dahl could have led to such an interesting encounter with an unusually talented craftsman who had worked for an equally talented storyteller all those years ago.