The title comes from A Month In The Country by J L Carr. I have read this slim novel twice now. I also recently found the film on Prime – one of the free ones, of course. It was so old I didn’t recognise Kenneth Branagh as one of the lead actors till half way through it. I kept thinking Why does that chap look familiar?
The quote comes from the last page and I am going to type it out in full, partly because it chimes with what seems to be happening in my country right now, but mostly because it’s great writing:
We can ask and ask but we can’t have again what once seemed ours for ever – the way things looked, that church alone in the fields, a bed on a belfry floor, a remembered voice, the touch of a hand, a loved face. They’ve gone and you can only wait for the pain to pass.
Having recently been accused of Nostalgia – which in the course of the three years since the Referendum has become seriously politically incorrect, or at any rate a laughable aberration – I gave myself over to a few thoughts on the matter. I wondered what it was that made me able to re-read the lyrical, romantic, A Month In The Country with great pleasure, and yet suddenly find myself unable to stomach a non-fiction work of 1968/70 – John Hillaby’s Journey Through Britain.
Journey Through Britain is about the long walk from Land’s End, Cornwall, to John O’Groats at the top of Scotland. Completing this trek by whatever means – walking, cycling – even naked-cycling once – I saw the photo – is one of the challenges foolhardy and/or energetic Brits have traditionally set themselves, like swimming the Channel, climbing all the ‘Wainwrights’, ie all of the 214 peaks (‘fells’) listed in Alfred Wainwright’s seven volume Pictorial Guide to the Lakeland Fells, and the 182 mile Coast To Coast walk (also devised by Wainwright).
Was it something about the book itself? Partly. Grubby and second-hand to begin with, it has an unattractive cover and has not aged well; too many house moves, too many winters stored in a damp garage have done for it. Though I only read it once, and treat my paperbacks with care, the spine was broken and its crumbly, brown-tinged pages were beginning to fall out, as too was a dull but prolific interleaving of black-and-white photo illustrations.
So, Journey Through Britain had become an uninviting object, but that wasn’t it. “It” was Brexit. Somehow, as the ghastly process grinds on (and on) I have entirely lost any hankering for either our geography or our rural past, and particularly the wandering-hippie 1970s kind.
And yet I had no problem reading A Month In The Country for the second time, or sitting through a film of the same with the ubiquitous, and miscast, Kenneth Branagh in it. I came to the conclusion that A Month In The Country is not really a love song to rural England, though the county of Yorkshire, still largely unspoiled in the 1920s is so ever-present it is essentially another character in the book. It could in fact have been set anywhere quiet and remote, in any summer month, anywhere in the world. A Month In The Country is about youth and memory, healing and loss, and the speaking of one artist to another over the centuries.
It is as if – and this is hard to explain – a whole swathe of my country’s past has now ceased to be accessible to me. It is as if I can no longer allow myself to escape in that direction. The Past never really seemed Another Country to me before, but now it does.
I was trying to write it down last night, if only to get it out of my head so that I could get to sleep. But I couldn’t really capture it, this post-Referendum, pre- (possibly) Brexit sense of desolation and dissolution and the sheer numbing tedium of it all. At this point MacArthur Park sidles back into my brain again – someone left the cake out in the rain, all the sweet green icing – etc., etc. When will that dirge go away?
Maybe in the next post I will type out a few of the more comprehensible of my midnight Brexit Angst jottings. That done, perhaps it will leave me in peace for a bit. I might even write something about Poor Wet Dogs In The Middle Of The Road, or The Coming of Autumn, which I recently had to explain to a computer helpdesk operator in, if I remember correctly, the Philippines.
Yes, it’s the one when all the leaves fall off the trees. No it happens before the Winter but after the Spring… He said they only had two seasons in his country and was fascinated by the idea of four. I suggested maybe he could come over and live in my country for a year, and then he would experience all of our many seasons at first-hand. Yes he said wistfully. But very expensive to live.
My Kindle Fire is still un-helped, woefully un-fixed by Mr Philippines although he did his best. Irretrievably and infuriatingly dead, it is. All now rests on this giant, clunky old desktop and a mobile phone with a dodgy battery and a superiority complex.