"...the iron ghosts of winters past sent clanking and blowing round the small, log-warmed bar."
"He belonged in that cupboard in the imagination of a man where the wooden swords, catapults and bent pins for fish hooks are stashed still ..."
'... I think Under the Apple Boughs should be required reading in every high school to introduce them to the finest in lyrical writing ... He sees with an inner eye what we cannot, and points it out with such delight, making you a witness to the glorious in the commonplace ... You know you have found genius when you find yourself reading it over and over.'
'For me, the touchstone comparison is Dylan Thomas’s elegiac A Child’s Christmas in Wales ... '
'Maughan truly typifies the Welsh meaning of the word Druid: seer. He sees, describes and enables us to see the magic too ...'
'Beautiful and often touching glimpses of life from the pen and the genius that is Peter Maughan.'
'A pastoral symphony ... Lyrical, descriptive, haunting at times, always beautiful. It's a religious experience reading Under the Apple Boughs, leaving one awed and blessed.'
Henrietta Bellows LaLa, (St Martinville, LA), USA, Amazon review.
'A song of seasons, a Medieval illuminated Book of Hours ... For me, the touchstone comparison is Dylan Thomas’s elegiac A Child’s Christmas in Wales, although Thomas’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog has a similar focus … But there are other names cited. Maughan specifically dedicates this book “to the memory of Laurie Lee”, Kenneth Grahame (who famously wrote The Wind in the Willows, but wrote other books of stories and essays that sing of the same loved countryside), T.H. White, Henry Williamson, Thomas Hardy, Rudyard Kipling, D.H. Lawrence, George Borrow, W.H. Hudson, Richard Jefferies, Maughan writes among hallowed company …'
Dr John Gough (Australia), Amazon review.
'... Peter Maughan paints literary landscapes with a Turner palette, all shimmery light, plays of shadows, chiaroscuro and startling detail.'
Angelica Bentley, (France), A Maze of Reviews blog. Top 500 Amazon reviewer.
'... Beautiful and often touching glimpses of life from the pen and the genius that is Peter Maughan.'
Ray Nicholson, CA, Top 1000 Amazon reviewer.
'... To experience the forces and beauty of nature such as Peter Maughan describes as he leads us along his journey through the seasons is like watching a maestro wave his baton and waiting for the magical notes to permeate the senses on the first down stroke ... And as I have said before of his lyrical prose, read it to those who cannot as yet read, and I will add now to read it to the elderly, for its music will give solace and comfort.'
JoyMarie, Lover of the Written Word, USA, Amazon review.
' ... Peter Maughan, a man for all seasons, a man whose works will endear him to the ages. All his writings are classics and have earned a place in world-wide libraries. They will never be old or outdated ... just enjoyed and very loved ... every word ... every nuance. Peter Maughan is a gift you give yourself and a gift for those you love.'
Joymarie, Lover of the Written Word, USA.
'... reminiscent of an old painting or ageing photograph that somehow has magically come to life for a few precious moments ... before returning to still life or crumbling to dust. Beautiful and often touching glimpses of life from the pen and the genius that is Peter Maughan.'
Ray Nicholson, CA, Top 1000 Reviewer.
Wassailing and Things
(Under the Apple Boughs)
The day had been dizzy with heat, a midsummer's day brought bellowing to its knees in fields where the cattle lay prostrate and the lee of walls were littered with sheep. And now, sun-sapped and taunted by a cuckoo beating its way across the back of the pub, we stood in the murmuring dimness of the Pike, the cider running from the tap as clear and as green as shallows.
The vicar, a truant figure in pressed jeans and an open-necked shirt of the sort of blue check that sighs for boyhood, lowered his dutiful pint of Five Jacks. ''Where was I?'' he asked.
''Something about that book you wur reading, Vicar,'' George Perry supplied. ''Wassailing and things.''
''Of course. Thank you, George.'' The vicar's smile fell on George like a halo.
Pleased and embarrassed, George squared his shoulders, his chest, after an afternoon spent in a deckchair in his coal yard, rearing out of his shirt and khaki braces like an inflamed bull's.
Jim Down looked at him with interest. ''What's that then, George? Wassailing?''
''Search I,'' George said with a touch of astringency. Jim Down, a forester, had a growing sideline in fire logs.
''Is it dancing round the cider tree and that, Vicar?'' Wilf Perkin, who'd been to grammar school, asked brightly.
The vicar beamed down at him from his pale height of six-foot three. ''Something of that sort, Wilf, yes,'' he said, as if sharing a joke. ''But terribly interesting, I thought,'' he added, and raised his glass with an air of conclusion.
A conscientious man, the vicar had applied himself assiduously to the living since arriving a few months before, each tentative approach made to the community like an exploring hand around a female waist.
''An old custom,'' George Perry said, filling the conversational gap.
''Ancient,'' Wilf said more specifically.
''Bound to be,'' Jim Down chipped in, and indicated to Stan the landlord that he wanted to buy a round. Stepping over one of the pub dogs simmering noisily on the cool stone of the floor, Stan bent to the cider barrel.
''Yes, it goes back apparently,'' the vicar said with the timing of a salesman, ''to the fifth century.''
Wilf nodded slowly, as if to say that he would have put it about there himself.
''Like a lot of these ancient customs independent of the church,'' the vicar went on, ''it's a propitiatory practice, of course. Appeasing the spirits of the fields and trees, et cetera.''
The syllables of 'et cetera' came out like a schoolmasterly rap across the knuckles. Then he smiled down at them, equals in enlightenment. ''But harmless enough,'' he added, almost mouthing the words, as if not wishing to spoil the fun.
''It's roots -'' He blinked with surprise at the fresh pint Stan had put in front of him, and with a flustered air finished the remains of his old one.
''It's roots of course go deep into history. Deep.'' The vicar paused and his eyebrows lifted. ''Rather good that, I thought. Roots, cider-tree…''
He laughed, a sudden high sound like a shout. One hand gliding in like a large speckled fish, he delicately parted both sides of his shirt collar from his neck, and frowned at the ceiling as if seeking a source of irritation.
''No, it occurred to me,'' he pressed on, ''that I that's to say, the village those interested might reinstate, as it were, some of those old customs…Well, wassailing for example.''
A few more customers drifted in through the open door, their figures turned to shadows for a moment against the parched light outside. Stan put down the copy of the local paper he was reading.
George looked up doubtfully at the vicar. ''What, dancing round a tree and all that, Vicar?''
''There was no dancing involved, George,'' the vicar said, sounding tired. ''Simply a cup, cider cup, filled with wine that's to say, apple-wine, cider. Then -''
''Laced with gin, Vicar,'' Stan put in.
He was checking one of the pints, holding it up to the naked bulb that burned in the bar day and night, the cider gleaming now a pale milky-gold under it.
The vicar stared at the draught with starched blue eyes.
''Laced with gin, Stan?'' Wilf Perkin said, and frowned, as if considering an unlikely chemical formula.
''Oh, yes. I remembered they at it. Buggers they wur.'' Stan smiled an apology at the vicar and bent to the barrel again. ''Then there was faggot burning.''
''Around the cider-tree?'' The vicar's head went back as if singed by the image.
''Noa. Different custom altogether, Vicar,'' Stan said kindly.
The sun was going down now, spinning down a wheat-coloured sky, burning itself out against the deep and ancient windows of the pub, the air oiled with the evening scent of honeysuckle from the hedge of it in the back yard.
Stan finished with the round and tossed the money into the cash drawer. ''They used to drink a pint of cider to each strip of wood binding the faggots, see. Well, could amount to fifteen pints or more sometimes.''
''All with a drop of gin in them?'' George Perry looked impressed.
''Noa, George, that wur wassailing,'' Stan said, the words falling like clotted cream. ''No, with the faggots they'd toast them, like, then throw 'em on the fire there.''
''Themselves as well, along with 'em, I shouldn't wonder. Fifteen pints of Five Jacks!'' John Down said, and winced.
The first of the haymakers piled in with their thirsts, spokes of light from the dying sun wheeling in after them, oil stains and the dust of hay on brown skins, their hair tangled and snarled with sweat.
Stan set a handful of empty pint pots up on the counter, the glasses polished with light in the gloom.
''But what about the actual ceremonies, Stan?'' the vicar asked plaintively, and as if Stan were much further away. The vicar's features had taken on a flushed and brittle animation.
''Well, it wur'nt the ceremonies as such, Vicar,'' Stan said. ''I don't remember much of they. No, 'twere more like well, the atmosphere, I suppose…''
The vicar stared almost wildly at Stan's back stooped over the cider barrel. And then at the glass in his hand, as if seeking an answer there, and lifting it to his mouth found it empty.
More of the field workers crowded in and a move was made to sit down, George with a proprietorial air escorting the vicar to one of the settles next to the fireplace, where the faggots had roared and the wassailing parties had stood with ritual and the iron smell of a January night on them. Filled now, in midsummer, with a large urn of foxgloves, honeysuckle and bracken.
From the press of bodies in the bar, the air crackled with energy. An energy which seemed to spark between the men like static, raw with the smell of the fields and fruitfulness.
And the vicar, with another empty glass in front of him, and his head resting on the high back of the settle, watched the shadows moving on the whitewashed walls of the pub like the reflection of flames, his eyes as gently amused now as a child's.