CHRISTMAS OFFER Subscribe to EADT Suffolk today CLICK HERE

Small place, faraway time

PUBLISHED: 13:13 10 February 2015 | UPDATED: 13:13 10 February 2015

014 Michael Orsler 4

014 Michael Orsler 4

Sheena Grant meets the ‘uncommon common people’ of Michael Orsler’s Suffolk childhood, retold in his book, Backalong

014 Michael Orsler 6014 Michael Orsler 6

He may have been only eight years old when the Second World War broke out, but Michael Orsler’s recollections of growing up in a Suffolk village in the 30s and 40s have a detail that belies that young age.

It’s taken him more than 70 years to commit those memories, so vivid and profound, to paper, but despite that they have lost none of their immediacy and power.

Backalong, his book of 16 short stories about bygone days in Beyton and the surrounding area, evokes another era, but one that is brought to life so perfectly that to immerse yourself in its pages is to travel back through time.

There we meet Michael’s father, John Orsler, landlord of the Bear in Beyton, his mother, assorted aunts, other relatives and local characters – “uncommon common people”, sadly now long gone.

014 Michael Orsler 7014 Michael Orsler 7

In those days, the old A45 went right through the village and past the pub, which was the hub of community life.

There are stories about bonfire night, when children would go to the village shop and buy fireworks to let off on the green, something that can now barely be imagined in our health and safety conscious times. There are tales of family outings, local accidents, working life, new roads and, of course, war. In one story the young Michael hears German bombers passing by overhead, and on a trip to Norwich to visit an aunt in hospital finds the city aflame. In another he details preparations at Rougham airfield for the arrival of the Americans in 1942.

Then there was the time he shot his own foot and ended up in hospital in Bury St Edmunds after a hair-raising car journey, which involved stopping to pick up an American soldier thumbing for a lift.

But the book is far from just a ramble down memory lane, through times of momentous upheaval, and change seen through the eyes of a boy. It is a serious piece of literature.

014 Michael Orsler 2014 Michael Orsler 2

Michael, who lived at the Bear (where his nephew is now landlord) until he went to university in 1949, is the author of three novels. The first – The Imperial Room – was published in 1967, when he returned from working in Hong Kong’s education service, and is a satire on the colony’s last days under British rule.

The novel won an Arts Council Bursary of £2,000 in 1968, and on the strength of it Michael, who also worked as a secondary school teacher in Bury and Sudbury, wrote two more novels – the Big Dig, about archeology, and Rhumb Line, about world travel on an ocean liner.

Backalong begins with the First Day of War and captures his child’s eye naivety about all that entails. It’s a beautiful summer’s morning and Michael is practising turns on his three-wheeler, but is struck by how sad and quiet everyone is. The women were in the kitchen “drinking black stout” and his dad had dug a shelter in the meadow.

Many of the stories are written in Suffolk dialect. They capture the easy familiarity and affection people had for one another, but also something of the harshness of daily life and the straight-talking pragmatism and down-to-earth humour this often involved.

014 Michael Orsler 3014 Michael Orsler 3

Michael, who moved to Devon after retirement, says he wrote most of the stories this year.

“I wanted to give back to those I grew up among in that small place in that faraway time, and the affection I felt and feel for them,” he says. “I have never been out of contact with Beyton, but living overseas and in the West Country it has become more distant.

“Nothing shakes my belief that small communities are the deepest, best way of life, and I consider myself privileged to have grown up in a pub, with a cherishable variety of locals. It was not a particularly comfortable life in many ways. It was harsh – no-one had any money to speak of – yet the life of a young person had a simplicity and pleasures now quite vanished.

“People had more time and space to be themselves and become themselves.

014 Michael Orsler 1014 Michael Orsler 1

“If today’s readers witness how things were, they will see what has been lost as well as what has been gained by ‘progress’.”

Backalong, by Michael Orsler, is only available from Aldeburgh Bookshop (www.aldeburghbookshop.co.uk, telephone 01728 452389).

0 comments

Welcome , please leave your message below.

Optional - JPG files only
Optional - MP3 files only
Optional - 3GP, AVI, MOV, MPG or WMV files
Comments

Please log in to leave a comment and share your views with other EADT Suffolk Magazine visitors.

We enable people to post comments with the aim of encouraging open debate.

Only people who register and sign up to our terms and conditions can post comments. These terms and conditions explain our house rules and legal guidelines.

Comments are not edited by EADT Suffolk Magazine staff prior to publication but may be automatically filtered.

If you have a complaint about a comment please contact us by clicking on the Report This Comment button next to the comment.

Not a member yet?

Register to create your own unique EADT Suffolk Magazine account for free.

Signing up is free, quick and easy and offers you the chance to add comments, personalise the site with local information picked just for you, and more.

Sign up now

More from People

Fri, 16:28

Spirit Yachts is a Suffolk success story. After 25 years of designing and building luxury vessels sailed all over the world, it has plenty to celebrate | Words: Ross Bentley

Read more
Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Private, intimate and unforgettable: here’s why you should consider a bespoke package wedding at a stately home

Read more
Friday, October 26, 2018

An exclusive charity sale at Bishop & Miller gives Ed Sheeran fans the chance to own some of the singer’s personal items

Read more
Tuesday, October 23, 2018

October . . . the month for the unusual and the unexplained. Pip Wright delves into Suffolk’s strange, bewildering history of witchcraft | Words: Pip Wright

Read more
Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Tessa Allingham sits down to dinner prepared by some of the county’s most talented chefs and their most promising protegés

Read more
Friday, October 5, 2018

John White has lived and worked at the tiny hamlet of Felixstowe Ferry for almost all of his 79 years | Words & Photos: Mike Trippitt

Read more
Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Thinking of boarding school for your child but have concerns? There might be a flexible boarding option to suit you at Royal Hospital School, Ipswich

Read more
Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Barrister Sarah Langford hopes her fictionalised accounts of some of the challenging cases she’s defended will give people a deeper understanding of the justice system | Words: Catherine Larner - Photo: Sophia Schorr-Kon

Read more
Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Tree sculptor John Williams has embarked on an ambitious storytelling project in the Ickworth House gardens | Words & Photos: Suzy Stennett

Read more
Friday, September 7, 2018

A couple moving from the UK to New Zealand have decided to use their journey to save threatened wildlife, by cycling 21,000 kilometres through 27 countries in 12 months, fundraising for Halesworth-based wildlife charity World Land Trust

Read more

Newsletter Sign Up

EADT Suffolk Magazine regular newsletter
Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Our Privacy Policy


Topics of Interest

Food and Drink Directory

Local Business Directory

Search For a Car In Your Area

Property Search