Tag Archives: waiting

The Imaginary Village

Lacock Red Lion We’re in the Wiltshire village of Lacock, owned and preserved, sort of, by the National Trust. Well, no visible tv aerials or satellite dishes are allowed. The village has been the location for many films and tv series set in earlier times.

They shot the exteriors for Pride and Prejudice in the High Street here. You remember the scene where the sisters go to buy their ribbons at the milliner’s? That’s the shop over there. Then it was dressed with fashionable nineteenth-century items – and they encounter the officers coming down the street looking very smart in their scarlet uniforms: Mr. Denny and his friend, Mr. Wickham. What you don’t see is any tarmac – that was all covered with sand and wood chippings. It takes a lot of work getting back to Jane Austen’s time. People would complain if there were anachronistic trappings visible. So they cover the double yellow lines with dirt or something, or keep them carefully out of shot.

Nor do you see the dozens of technicians, crew, electricians, make-up artists, all off camera, ready to do their bit to make the make-believe believable. It’s a weird sanitized reality. But that’s not the point. It’s the story that matters, the loves and hates, the gossip, the truths of the human heart. Much easier to get sucked into the world of the film, just as long as it doesn’t jar.

When they were making Emma, the Kate Beckinsale version, they closed off Church Street. There was a scene where they hoisted a piano into an upstairs room. Well, not a real piano, just a box. You imagined that there was a bunch of people hauling it up on a rope and pulley, but in reality they used a crane – which of course you didn’t see.

With film-making, things go wrong or have to be reset for another take. Sometimes you’re waiting for someone to turn up, or they need a rehearsal. There seems to be far too much hanging about in real life. I prefer my reality edited. Given how long it takes to make a film, it’s a blessing that it can be cut down to two hours or less.

Oh, in front of the Red Lion, there are some people hanging about like a bunch of extras. It looks like their tourist coach has broken down and they’ve been herded off the bus, and are having to wait while it gets fixed.

Just like the time when my bus home from school – it was a trolley-bus – they had these two arms on the top connected to a pair of overhead electric wires. Trouble was, they were frequently coming off. One day the trolleybus went round the Beehive pub corner and lost contact when crossing the ‘points’. So we had to get off and wait while the conductor used this great long bamboo pole with a hook on the end for re-engaging the arm, so that we could continue our journey.

But no overhead wires here – and no triple-decker buses either. Remember that crazy bus in the Harry Potter movies? Hogwarts school was here – well, part of it. In the Abbey cloisters, that room with the huge cauldron. I was quite young when the Harry Potter books appeared, year after year. I used to queue up in the street until midnight, waiting for the book to go on sale. There was quite a cameradie with those queuing – well, we all had a similar interest in the goings on at Hogwarts, so we were talking to each other, speculating about what the next book would be about – and of course, we were way off – none of us could imagine the story the way JK Rowling did.

Lacock Abbey Cauldron

Oh, I think the coach is mended now, they’re all getting on board. I wonder what they made of Lacock. It’s just an ordinary village, a place where people live. It’s not magical, nor is it the nineteenth century here. No one is wearing crinolines or pointed hats, or driving a barouche-landau.

I suppose each visitor makes sense of their visit in their own way – connecting with a fictional past, or a fantasy reality, an escape from their everyday lives. They leave with their memories, connections made, scenes identified and ticked off. When they see Lacock in another movie, they’ll have a sense of recognition: “I’ve been there.” Or maybe there were simply here on a guided tour and knew nothing of its literary connections; it’s just “that place where the coach broke down and we had to wait.”

© 2017 Peter Young


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A Flash of Blue

This short story was written as an exercise for my Creative Writing group with the topic: All good things come to those who wait. Unlike Jack in the story, I’ve never managed to photograph a kingfisher. But I do have a picture of a heron …


I saw Jack again today. He was in his usual place, which kind of surprised me – for some stupid reason I thought he would have moved on. And this time, when I waved, he smiled and gave me a thumbs up. Which was a great advance on the usual slight nod of the head.

Let me tell you the story. I used to see Jack as I went to work down the road past the bend in the river. That’s where he always was. I go early, but he must get up at the crack of dawn. But not every day. Bad weather, he doesn’t turn up, and I can’t blame him. Well, there wouldn’t be much point really.

I knew he was called Jack, because other people talked about him. They thought he was … a bit peculiar. But I gradually came to respect him. It’s good to have a hobby, though it’s not one I particularly fancy. Too much hanging about; not enough control. You’ve only to turn briefly, or scratch your nose, and … you’ve missed it.

I wanted to say Hello to Jack, but the first time I tried, he anticipated my greeting and immediately put his finger up to the lips. An economy of communication. I did think about saying “Hi Jack” but then considered that it was too old a joke, and unworthy, so I just thought it instead. But it made me smile, and a smile is what matters, and Jack responded with a slight muscle movement around the mouth. So for a long time, that was how we interacted. You might say that we had a relationship, but you wouldn’t say it was deep.

Then one day, I bumped into him in town. He was dressed more conventionally – not the camouflage jacket he usually wore. He was observing the pigeons in the square through his viewfinder. He recognised me straight away. And for the first time we spoke. “How are you getting on?” “Oh, got a few good ones.” “Really?” “Oh yes, I’m thinking of entering one in the competition.” “Which one …?” “Oh, the Kingfisher, naturally.” “Well, good luck.” And with that we parted.

Now, people talked about seeing kingfishers along the river, but I’d never seen one. They mention the flash of blue – most times that’s all you see. But this simple piece of information changed my early morning walk, because now I kept my eyes peeled, looking sideways towards the river, in the hope – the distant hope – of seeing a kingfisher. The fact that Jack had seen one, indeed, had taken a photograph of one, encouraged me. It certainly made my otherwise boring trip to the station more interesting; I had a purpose – even though it was not of earth-shattering importance.

And I understand the fascination and the dedication that this could bring to someone like Jack. Although I’m not prepared to spend thousands on equipment – like he obviously does – nor willing to hang around in the damp early-morning air, with a chill mist rising from the river, and waiting – just watching and waiting – on the off-chance of some small bird has decided to go looking for breakfast. No. I’ll keep a look out for the flash of blue, but I’ll not deviate far from my usual ritual. I suppose that Jack’s the same – only his is a very different kind of ritual – what I would call an obsession. But whenever I see him, he always looks happy? Is that the right word? I know we’re all supposed to seeking happiness these days – but does standing by the river bank with a thousand pound lens pointing into the reeds make you happy? It’s the anticipation. Having something to look forward to.

So over the weeks, months we developed a respect for each other. I kept quiet in case I disturbed some avian chancer, and Jack twitched a muscle or two. A subtle acknowledgment – I was ok with that. And I went on hoping and wishing that one day… and would you believe it, it happened. Three seconds of dazzling blue brilliance. My spirits were lifted. I spent the rest of the day in some sort of trance. My colleagues in the office thought I was on something. I was, but I didn’t tell them what it was. Then, at lunch-time, while I was walking through the arcade I noticed a display in one of the windows. Exhibits from the Photographic Club. And right in the middle, there was a picture of a kingfisher – with a note saying that Jack had one first prize in the wild-life section.

And now Jack was back in his old spot on the river-bank. Why, I wonder. Perhaps that’s something I’ll never understand. But I’ll keep on trying.

© 2016 Peter Young

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