'Agree With Everything - Deny Nothing - Embellish All

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Call Me Man-Cub

A few nights ago I visited another lost domain of le Cumbria profond. The occasion, which need not trouble us, was an arts project with which I'm involved. So I drove north of the A66 into the unvisited landscape between Carrock Fell and the Eden Valley, and soon found myself approaching a place with a name that resonates with meaning for the followers of a certain strand of cinema, TV and pop culture. When you enter Greystoke you feel that the village is a place apart, as if the writ of the early 21st century does not run here so large as it should. There's a crossroads, a village pub, and flower-decked sandstone cottages looking just a bit too Cotswoldy for their own good. And opposite the pub, a gateway that leads to Greystoke Castle. I drove through it and across the parkland, caught a glimpse of a massive Gothic pile at a turn in the drive, and made my way round to the estate buildings beyond. The rendez-vous was a Puginesque apartment in a converted stable-block, walls three feet thick, arches everywhere. "So - are we in Edgar Rice Burroughs territory?" I asked my elegant hostess after the guided tour. She confirmed that we were - and added that Burroughs himself never visited Greystoke, having only heard about the place second-hand from an American couple he met in France who were effusive in their memories of a sojourn there. The family, she added, had ticked the box marked 'No Publicity'. It was only then that my slow brain made a connection which, really, it should have managed much earlier -
Tarzan Of The Apes was a Cumbrian!
Those of you familiar with the demonstrative chest-beating presentation behaviour that is Cockermouth Main Street at chucking-out time on a Friday night may be forgiven for thinking that this is a role-model the Cumbrian male does not need. But I was enchanted by the notion: the greatest of the pulp heroes, one of the most compelling imaginative figures of my childhood, and he was a local boy all along. Perhaps the thought appealed because of the way that Tarzan dramatises the ambiguity of the relationship with your true origins, the feeling of passion for, and the need to distance yourself from, your unmanageable native place. But perhaps only a Cumbrian who has left the county and returned, and found it quite different from the place he remembered and imagined, can read Tarzan in this way . . .


Anonymous Eleanor said...

hmm. The actor who played Tarzan in the early movies, Johnny Weismuller, grew up in my mom's neighborhood in a coal mining town outside Pittsburgh. It should be said that in his later years, spent in a Hollywood home for aged actors, that Johnny was known to let out a Tarzan yell every so often. That seems pretty Cumbrian to me.

3/7/05 11:09 pm  

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