Ms Markontour has not been well in the New Year, but the one upside is that we have had lots of time to discover and catch up on Curious Under The Stars, a magical and uplifting BBC radio drama. Having the privilege of sitting listening to it while gazing out on to the ever-beautiful landscape of the Brecon Beacons has made it all the more enchanting.
Set in the coastal Welsh village of Glan Don, there is a lot about Curious Under The Stars that evokes the magical surrealism of Dylan Thomas’ Llareggub in Under Milkwood, or indeed the gentle quirkiness of Northern Exposure or Hamish MacBeth (some of the finest television of the 1980s and 1990s in markontour’s opinion). The village seems sleepy and unremarkable, but every resident harbours a hidden quirk, while the narrative moves seamlessly from the world driven by the laws of physics, chemistry and biology, to a parallel reality of sprites, curses and legends.
The plot revolves around the Druid’s Rest pub, taken on by Diane (“a city type”) and Gareth, our hapless hero, who fled Glan Don as a teenager, but hates urban teaching enough to follow his wife’s snap decision to make a return. They are joined at the Druid’s Return by Emlyn, a friendly alcoholic, ex-sailor, raconteur and on/off pot-man, along with Megan, a barmaid with a hyper-active mouth which specialises in always saying the wrong thing. Bethan is Gareth’s teenage love, now a teacher, hippie and daily skinny dipper. Mattie Evans – “cook, alchemist and the best shot in the valley” – according to Emlyn, completes the core group.
As Diane and Gareth gradually learn to be landlords, so they resolve a series of life problems, all of which either have parraellels with Welsh legends, or require understanding of ancient myth to resolve. Falling trees release tree sprites; a chair must not be moved or else risk invoking the ghost of Llewellyn and Gelert, his wrongly accused hound (Llewellyn, by the way, is the Welsh name for the constellation of Orion the Hunter, and Gelert is what we otherwise call the Dog Star, or Sirius); the way to win back a loved-one’s affection is to follow the example of a mythical Welsh prince and count every grain of sand on the beach etc.
Along the way we get a gentle education in the Mabinogion – the nineteenth century collection of ancient Welsh folk-tales, lots of gentle laughs (such as when Gareth’s questions Diane’s desire to turn the Druid’s Return into a gastro pub: “I don’t know think Glan Don’s ready – there was a petition against aubergines when they first appeared in the Spar”), and all all-pervading impression that things will be alright in the end.
Somehow we missed the first six series, but thanks to the wonders of BBC Sounds it’s all on t’interweb for catch up. I’m on a train back to Wales now, hoping to catch another instalment before bedtime.