We’ve been listening to cassette tapes in the car when we’ve been travelling. We usually tend to wait until we get to a stretch of road that several miles long because it isn’t easy to concentrate while we’re also trying to listen to instructions from our Sat Nav, or when we‘re looking for signposts and turn-offs and so on.
We’ve done this for years in New Zealand when we go on long trips. Because we know the roads there better, we don’t have to interrupt our listening pattern quite so much, and it certainly makes the trips go faster.
However, one of the disadvantages of listening to stories in the car is that you can miss vital bits, especially in mystery stories. We often have to ask: was that character the husband of some other character, or the father? When did that character come into it and why is he now being accused of murder? Is she married to him or the other bloke?
Overall, we manage to make sense of the stories - it can depend on the storyteller as to how clear things are. Most of them tell the stories at a listenable pace, but that’s fine when you’re not trying to drive at the same time. What’s listenable when you’re lying in bed trying to go to sleep is different altogether to what’s listenable in a car, especially when there’s a lot of other noise.
So far on this trip we’ve got through one of Dick Francis’ stories (To the Hilt) which neither of us remembered reading before, although we must have. And then it got to a point about three-quarters of the way through and it all came back to me. We listened to The Marketmaker by Michael Ridpath (not an author I was familiar with) and it turned out to be an exciting story, though complicated by the details of large scale wheeling and dealing. The latest story was Asta’s Book by Barbara Vine (Ruth Rendall’s alter ego). This seemed a slow-paced mystery, told partly through diary entries, but as it went on the complications increased and it needed careful listening. We listened to one of Rendall’s Inspector Wexford’s stories, A New Lease of Death, which was written way back in 1967 (the last time I came to England, in fact). This was a rather odd story, in which a man who committed a murder and was hung for it turned out to be the murderer all along, rather than someone else. But the murder was being investigated again by an amateur detective and his son, rather than Wexford, for the most part. We listened to C S Lewis’ Voyage of the Dawn Treader, which had the most delightful and evocative harp music scattered throughout. Michael Hordern was the reader, and the harpist and composer was Marisa Robles.
Finally, we began to listen to Clive James’ autobiography. But by the time he’d begun to describe his fifth or sixth masturbation episode, and the length of other boys’ penises, and the sexual behaviour of other boys he knew, we gave up. There’s only so much of that sort of stuff you can take. And did we really need it at all?