Retired GP Dr Robert Strachan celebrated his 60th wedding anniversary by outshining a dazzling line-up of stars with his own international tribute to Lakeland poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge.
Actor Jeremy Irons and musician Iggy Pop were among 40 celebrities who each recited sections of Coleridge’s epic 18th century masterpiece The Rime of The Ancient Mariner to be released day-by-day on-line during the coronavirus lockdown
Among the other famous names who took part in the Ancient Mariner Big Read since the six-week project was launched in mid-April were comedian and author David Walliams and playwright Alan Bennett.
When it came to a finale though, organisers at the University of Plymouth turned to 86-year-old Dr Strachan, from Portinscale, and invited him to recite the biggest chunk of the marathon 650-line poem to bring the international project to a conclusion.
They had heard how the Lakeland resident had learnt to recite all seven parts of the Ancient Mariner from start to finish as a way of combating memory loss 10 years ago. So Dr Strachan was filmed reciting the first two parts in his back garden – without any prompts – on the day that he and his wife Muriel, also 86, celebrated their diamond wedding anniversary.
“The Ancient Mariner is my all-time favourite poem – but it is a long, long poem!” said Dr Strachan, now a great grandfather who retired to the Lake District in the 1990s after having been a GP in Leeds. “You could say I trumped all those celebrities but I’m not expecting to become famous overnight. I was just glad that the project helped cheer up some people during a difficult time. It took me a year to learn it all and by the time I had got to the end of the seventh part, I had forgotten the first!,” he added.
His special version of the classic poem is now online along with a 40-minute mosaic of voices by the project’s other talking heads from stage, screen and music, including Marianne Faithfull and David Gray, as well as literary figures and scientists. The website of the Ancient Mariner Big Read has been visited more than 1.5 million times by people from all over the UK and in the US, Australia and New Zealand.
The Rime Of The Ancient Mariner is one of English Literature’s most celebrated poems. Coleridge was just 25 when he wrote the science fiction piece which has prophetic messages for the natural world, climate breakdown and mental health globally relevant in the 21st century. He lived at Greta Hall in Keswick for several years.
Dr Strachan had first learned lines from it from his father George, a Peterhead trawlermen who was lost at sea in the 1940s. Besides his contribution to the Ancient Mariner Big Read, he celebrated his 60th wedding anniversary with an online chat with his family, including 22 grandchildren and one newly-arrived great grandchild.