Saturday, 4 February 2012
COINCIDENCES GALORE - All Leading to Tyneham
In my last blog I promised to continue with the extraordinary coincidences galore that ensured the writing of OUT OF TIME: Tyneham Revisited. So let's get started, shall we?
There have been two versions of my novel – the first, entitled THE TYNEHAM GAP, written way back in 1976, with OUT OF TIME written in 1989 and updated in 1993. There was a very good reason why THE TYNEHAM GAP never saw daylight …
Despite my best efforts I had still never seen Tyneham House, so well hidden was it from the road and so determined were the army to stop people venturing anywhere near. Somehow, without seeing it, I couldn’t do justice to my story. While I have a vivid imagination, I did not – back then – have the confidence in my writing ability to put my fictional heroine in a house I wasn’t allowed to see. I think this was in large part because I had met Mark Bond, whose old home it was, and because at that stage it felt wrong to ‘intrude’ in that way.
So I eventually wrote THE TYNEHAM GAP with a heroine who lived in the village rather than in the big House – and this simply didn’t work. I couldn’t look at it dispassionately enough to understand this at that time, so when it failed to find a publisher I just put the manuscript away and later concentrated on writing other novels – the ‘biggest’ of these being THE FOREIGNER.
With the Tyneham project still in progress April suggested that, in order to see Tyneham from a new angle, we walk from Lulworth to Arish Mel. By then we had visited ‘my village’ in every kind of weather except a gale – and there seemed little hope of one on this lovely, calm day. But we wondered all the same whether our Guardian Angel might manage something. Between Lulworth and Little Bindon we experienced a bit of a breeze, which had worked itself up to quite a wind by the time we reached the cliffs above Mupe Bay.
Arrival on the Swine’s Back, overlooking Arish Mel, saw us clinging to a fence to avoid being blown over the cliff by a considerable gale!
Finding I needed some facts about Corfe Castle, I mentioned this much later to April who told me that only the previous day her mother-in-law had arrived with a book on the Castle’s history. April loaned me the book, together with a leaflet belonging to her son. Mention was made in the leaflet that Corfe is the old Anglo-Saxon word for gap and that the Castle is so named because it is situated in a gap between hills. It also stated that ‘Mr Bond of Tyneham’ had written a longer work about the Castle, available on request.
That same afternoon, as I drove near St Mary’s Convent, Branksome, I remembered reading in the local paper that Lilian Bond now lived there. So I trespassed, just wanting to see the building housing the author of the book that had started me on my journey. As I rounded the last bend, an elderly lady waved to me from a window on the top floor. She was not wearing a nun’s habit. As I waved back, I wondered … could she be Mrs. Bond? I’ll never know, but I’ll always believe that she was.
Next, I needed information about a Devonshire bull, and felt that ideally I’d like to set hands on a James Herriot novel giving such facts. His would be the kind of treatment I needed. Next morning, the post brought the October edition of ‘Reader’s Digest’, including an excerpt from a James Herriot book entitled ‘Danger – Beware of the Bull!’
April had rung me in fine fettle saying she had called in at her local baker’s to find the woman serving her in raptures over an amazing sunset she had seen the previous evening. Several times, describing this spectacle, the woman mentioned the word ‘gap’. Unable to contain herself, knowing that a sunset featured in my novel, April asked: “Did you by any chance see the sunset over Tyneham?”
The woman had, of course – and for me to do it justice on paper, I needed to see it too. We made two abortive attempts before the seemingly ludicrous thought came to me that, in THE TYNEHAM GAP, Edward did not take Adelaide to see the sunset until after Harvest Thanksgiving. As things turned out, the very next occasion when weather conditions indicated a likely sunset came on 4 October – the day after harvest!
I arrived ahead of April in the car park above Tyneham. There was just one other car in the vicinity and it was empty.
Then I saw a woman, walking with a stick. She approached me and in due course told me she had been an artist, but that since her husband’s death six months before all her artistry had been blocked. She had come here to Tyneham seeking inspiration. This was like coming face-to-face with my fictitious heroine – also an artist unable to paint since losing her husband! April could hardly believe her ears when I introduced Mollie Brodie to her and told of her reason for being there.
The curator of the Wareham museum put me in touch with Percy Best, a local inhabitant with a long memory, who wrote me a letter setting out some valuable information about the Telecommunications Research Establishment at Worth and stating that the man to help me with my fishing questions was Anthony Marshall of Gaulter Cottages, Kimmeridge.
On Monday 25 October April and I visited the Marshall home, where Mrs Marshall kindly provided all the information I needed, plus a bit more for good measure.
Well, as I’ve said, THE TYNEHAM GAP never found a publisher and languished on a shelf for a few years. While it was languishing, as I've said, I was writing other things and trying to become as proficient as I knew I would ultimately need to be.
Then, early in 1986, I was with another friend, Yvonne Rice, in Corfe when – in the National Trust shop – she spotted a newly published book LULWORTH AND TYNEHAM REVISITED by Rodney Legg. I had been in touch with Rodney (via Philip Draper) ten years earlier in the course of my research for THE TYNEHAM GAP and he had been very helpful. Now, through his book, he became instrumental in the birth of OUT OF TIME – for he showed me old photographs of Tyneham House that set me on the path of finally seeing the House for myself.
The bluebells were in bloom when I drove one Saturday with Yvonne to Tyneham. Driving down to the village, I experienced a profound sense of coming home and there was something magical about that morning. I started talking of trespassing, if necessary, and risking being blown up by a bomb, so great was my need to come home fully. Yvonne pointed out that if I were blown up the new book would never be written – which soon sobered me!
In the car park was an army Land Rover. I drove over to this like someone demented, leaped from my Mini and asked the startled driver – a range warden named Brian Morgan – how I could arrange to see Tyneham House. When, he queried, did I wish to see it? To my reply “as soon as possible”, he questioned mildly “would now be soon enough?”
No, my hearing hadn’t deceived me. He meant it … but did I mind if he finished his sandwich first?
Soon we were driving back up the hill we had just descended, in convoy with the Land Rover. Parking by a big gate that was securely padlocked, the warden unlocked it and told us that we were free to cross the field unaccompanied (he seemed to see that for me this was some deep experience) and to take our time. We should stay on the path for safety’s sake. He would wait, if necessary, indefinitely.
Sheep watched us as we crossed Cowleaze Knap. I could scarcely believe we were crossing it and that we would soon be seeing the sight I’d dreamed for so long of seeing. Then I was standing on Shoemaker’s Lane, at the gate to the House of my dreams.
A sea of blue greeted me, amidst all the tangles of green – and over there, by the old stone wall, was one scarlet bloom on the Smithii rhododendron. There used to be so many …
Ah … used to be!
Was I now seeing, or was I still dreaming? Rounding the last bend and not knowing quite what to expect, I had certainly not expected such a ruin. Lilian Bond’s old home had crumbled almost to dust … and yet … and yet there was still something left of the atmosphere that had for so long prevailed here. I soaked this up, wondering, marvelling, feeling at times like crying. I felt, for sure, a watchful presence there …
So Katharine was born and, with her birth and that visit came the confidence I needed to install my fictitious family in the Bond family’s cherished old home.
I wrote to Rodney Legg, thanking him for inspiring me to begin again – and he invited me along to see him in Wincanton. There, he had on his desk a letter from Miss Margaret Bond, Lilian’s sister. He had answered this, he said, and subsequently gave it to me. Lilian had died by this time, but Margaret was living in a home for retired gentlefolk at Winfrith (close to the Rectory where, in 1943, the Bond family’s books were stored in the new granary). I wrote to her and she telephoned by return asking me to pay her a visit. She was in her nineties by then, which I would never have known from the strength of her voice on the telephone.
I visited her twice altogether and she showed me old photographs and reminisced at length about the life that had been lived in Tyneham. During my second visit her nephew – Major-General Mark Bond – arrived and it was at this time that they both gave their blessing to my using Lilian’s poem. I also received Lilian’s publisher’s permission to use it.
Margaret mentioned having lived, post-Tyneham, at The Hermitage, in Parkstone. On the morning after my first visit to her, I received from an estate agent whose books I was on, having a vague notion of moving away from Bournemouth, details of a maisonette in a newly converted Parkstone property … The Hermitage!
I went with all speed to see it and there was immediately no doubt but that this was where Margaret had once lived. Hidden away in its own grounds from the main thoroughfare and hurly burly, it stood imperiously with turrets and with a character vaguely reminiscent of another house, in another time. I looked over the maisonette, which was lovely but impractical for me. Then I closed the door on another of the Bonds’ old homes.
Needing some more information about the Telecommunications Research Establishment, I couldn’t quite remember where I had acquired this before. Then, in a place where it had no business to be, I found a scrap of paper bearing the name and address of Percy Best.
I wrote to him and was soon on my way for a visit. Yvonne was with me and we had no map of Wareham, but by this time felt we had no need of such material things. Sure enough, using just instinct, I drove straight to Percy’s home with no false turnings.
And he was, of course, able to supply the facts I needed.
I had just introduced the character of Jeremiah to OUT OF TIME when Yvonne and I visited Tyneham again. We made first for St Mary’s church, which had by now long been open to the public and contained all kinds of data about Tyneham past and present. Yvonne’s feet took her for some reason to the pulpit, where she glanced down at the big, open Bible. Upon glancing, she gasped, for – quite differently from our previous visits – the Bible lay open at the Book of Jeremiah!
Having by now ceased to be overly surprised by the various things that kept happening, we headed for Ocean Seat to have our picnic. Seated up there, looking across to Long Ebb, we became aware of a lone figure striding purposefully in our direction. Upon reaching us, he introduced himself and enquired whether we knew it was Ocean Seat that we were sitting on. Before long, he and I were engaged in earnest conversation and had virtually forgotten Yvonne. When, some while later, he had gone Yvonne and I stared at each other, disbelieving and yet believing …
You see, Chapter Two started with Jeremy striding up from Long Ebb to Ocean Seat and engaging in earnest conversation with his future (but hitherto unknown) wife, Catherine. Life was emulating fiction!
After a chance meeting at the end of August 1993 with an old schoolmistress of my daughters, whom we hadn’t seen for donkey’s years, things suddenly started happening. For Miss Nightingale asked the question: “What’s the news of the book, fifty years on?”
Yes – of course – we were fast approaching the fiftieth anniversary of the Tyneham evacuation. Now, without doubt, was the moment to publish OUT OF TIME (assuming a publisher could be found).
Instinctively, I rang Rodney Legg at Wincanton Press to ask him if he would be interested in publishing it to mark this historic anniversary. He had, after all, already written my book’s last few words (which I had taken, as part of my factual after-word, from his book TYNEHAM: DORSET’S GHOST VILLAGE). Rodney’s reply? Yes, he would certainly be interested – subject to reading and approving it first!
The rest, as they say, is history - for OUT OF TIME: Tyneham Revisited was finally born, thanks entirely to all these coincidences galore!