The village history book moves on apace; our deadline is almost upon us and there are many loose ends to be tied up. D has written thousands of words and I am concentrating on things visual, but today we seek out those who have contributed to ask them to sign our form allowing us to use their words. Only two folk to see this morning and it's a good day for a mooch around the village. All is well with the world.
Our first contributor reads through his words, agrees with what he has said and signs the form. After a brief chat we're on the road again - we'll take the long way round to our next call. We climb up along the hillside, taking the lane which climbs from the flat Rea Valley onto the Long Mountain. We drive in a sunken lane, the sides of which rise up on either side of us and are hung with ferns and dainty grasses which cling onto life in clefts of the shaley rock. Dappled sunlight filters through the canopy of trees, a speckled play of light and shade. There is no way of knowing that this is the year 2009 - we could be traveling at any point in, perhaps, the last 300 years such is the timelessness of this place. I guess a pedant would point out that 3oo years ago the road would be an unmetaled, pot-holed, track and my sunken lane only an indentation as travel had not yet worn it away. Where's the romance in pedantry?
Eventually the slope levels off and we come out of the trees. To the left, the east, a fantastic panorama is revealed. Our village lies in the bottom the valley below us midst a patchwork of fields and woods on a barely discernable rise; beyond that, Housman's 'blue remembered hills' of Shropshire. I could see it a thousand times and still be moved by its breadth and beauty.
Still, time to move on, places to go, people to see.
Our elderly gentleman is at home. He is top 'n tailing a pan of gooseberries for lunch. Oh dear, we are early and I think he is a little distracted and needs to get this task out of the way before being confronted by two bossy ladies with files, pens and cameras. I top and tail a few gooseberries too, taking my berries out of what looks strangely like a cat's dish and then tossing them into a grubby pan. We then sit back around the kitchen table to discuss 'using his words'.
D. reads his words to him, he nods in agreement, adds a little here and there, expands a comment and goes off at a tangent. My eyes wander around the room - an overheated kitchen in a large stone-built Victorian vicarage. Perhaps it was once a morning room. I know there are two grander rooms through to the front, although talk of 'mice getting in amongst the papers' suggests that their glory days are over. There is a scullery too, just inside the back door through which we were admitted. The front door is closed. Firmly and probably finally.
I'm not complaining though. My wandering eye has plenty to take in. The old bells from 150 years ago lie silent about our heads, meat hooks dot the ceiling. A tap over the sink has a luggage label attached. Calendars - perhaps 20 of them, range across the mantelpiece - none of them this year's though. The largest calendar is for 2000, and hangs beside the sink. It is illustrated with pictures of the world's Kingfishers, their plumage is bright in this sepia toned room.
There's a splash of colour on the table too - in lieu of a cloth it's covered with copies of the Sun. Our host, I notice has set his place for lunch on a page which features a shapely ankle and a red stiletto. A bikini-clad lovely is in the centre of the table beneath the cruet. It doesn't seem quite right somehow. I take in crumbs, 3 pairs of spectacles, pills, correspondence and general debris. Odd garments are strewn over chair backs or hung on nails, each jacket in worse repair than the last. The air is hot and stale and heavy. A clock ticks and a pipe gurgles. A framed snap shot of Mother hangs at an angle over a redundant cooker. I feel my camera burning a hole in my pocket and, sitting on my hands, resist the temptation to record this place. It would not be right.
Our man is a fragile soul of great antiquity, still somewhat urbane and articulate but dishevelled in appearance, a little grubby too. His grand surroundings, his mother's home, crumble around him - its maintenance would challenge even the most fervent DIYer. Outside, this is the garden I visit in springtime, a place of ethereal beauty and home to primrose, polyanthus and bluebell - but now it has become a monstrous wilderness of nettles and briar which knot and cross paths and vines which tap on peeling window panes. He's living not quite in chaos, it's just come down to this.
We decline a cup of coffee and with the paper signed we may go. 'Yes, take a photograph of the house by all means', he offers, adding 'you may find it difficult now all the trees have grown up though'. Hmm - difficult in this case means impossible - short of flying over and getting an aerial shot. ' Do you have an old picture perhaps?' I ask, thinking that something taken in about 1950 when all was fresh and vital might show the place at its very best. There are mutterings about not finding one in a hurry and more darkly, 'mouse damage' so I am not holding my breath. I stop part way down the drive and take a photograph looking back at the house as suggested. It is invisible.
I've been here before and each time have left tinged with just a little sadness. There must be a word - something to describe the decline which has taken the place of order, gentile merriment and hearty laughter - but I don't know what it is.