Fred* is inspired by the true story of the village of Tyneham on the Dorset coast. People lived at Tyneham for a thousand years, but during the last war the area was requistioned by the M.O.D. The villagers, some of whom had lived there for generations, were forced to leave. They left everything – even the vegetables in their gardens, convinced they’d be back after Christmas. That was in 1943.
They pinned this note to the church door:
‘Please treat the church and houses with care; we have given up our homes where many of us lived for generations to help win the war to keep men free. We shall return one day and thank you for treating the village kindly.’
But the people of Tyneham never came back. The army kept it for training and own it still; the cottages walls are pock marked by bullets and the roofs caved in after years of neglect and shell fire. The place is now the haunt of deer and ghosts.
Mr S and I visited at the weekend with our friends Peter and Shona, for a bit of Fred research, and Mr S took some rather melancholy photographs, which make me think of the Philip Larkin poem…
... Home is So Sad Philip Larkin Home is so sad. It stays as it was left, Shaped in the comfort of the last to go As if to win them back. Instead, bereft Of anyone to please, it withers so, Having no heart to put aside the theft. And turn again to what it started as, A joyous shot at how things ought to be, Long fallen wide. You can see how it was: Look at the pictures and the cutlery. The music in the piano stool. That vase.
Larkin is so different to Heaney, but his language shares the same precision. I love the way he addresses the reader directly in the second stanza, ‘You can see‘, and Larkin is right, I can. He evokes the stillness of the empty house so effectively – look at the physical isolation of the last two words, cut off from the rest of the line by the fullstop: ‘That vase’. Because the article he uses is specific, ‘that’, the reader believes once again that the vase is right in front of her; it’s not any vase, but that vase, and I can see it so clearly in my imagination.
Tyneham is like Larkin’s poem. It is so sad. It’s a place that has haunted me since my childhood, – a town of lost things, memories, vases, music in the piano stool. It’s a place that has no present or future, it merely holds the memories of things past. But, with the people gone and the houses falling down, even those are gone. I’ve always wanted to write about Tyneham, and through a novel try to hold onto some of those vanishing times. But, I write fiction and my version of Tyenham is the imaginary Tyneford, a looking glass village full of people who might have been.
*(book 2, for those of you baffled by the odd code word)