Friday, December 13, 2013
I have just looked up the village in which I spent seven years, from 1947 to 1955, Shadforth. Now it has a small website and a sort of potted history which, if not directly contradicting my memories, at least allowing little place for them. ‘Potted’ here is a metaphor as in the reduction of a pig to Spam. The village green where Sir Lancelot and Gawain fought is now part of a conservation area. The houses around it, including the school I have recently described, are part of this embalming of the past by today’s well-meaning bureaucrats. The rough grass, overlooked by these dwellings, upon which wickets fell, a boy had an epileptic fit so massive we all ran away in fear of the Devil and where my compatriots skipped, bowled hoops, ran races and fought until blood was drawn and we were separated by minimally concerned adults, carries no scars or trophies of those days.
This insulated sphere of my childhood’s adventures has lost its unique otherworldliness on today’s internet. It is overshadowed by a village a mile away called Ludworth. Ludworth has Pele tower remains and a more historic lineage. Shadforth is only unique for one thing – its name. There are no other Shadforths (“shallow fords”) in England, according to the data on the site. In my early years there was a dome around Shadforth as palpable as The Zone in Tarkovsky’s Stalker. To venture beyond its security brought trepidation into the heart. Immediate unfamiliarity crowded in on the wanderer. Perhaps half way to Ludworth (a place where unspeakable roughnecks roamed) along a country path, was a big pond. The way to it was through this alien territory. To leave it could mean death. But here was where newts could be caught, in all their red livery, as exotic and mythic to us as Golden Salamanders. It took days of planning and hardening of the heart to make the trek, one which you never made alone.
I remember, though I was too young to take part, that a battle was to be fought between the Ludworth and the Shadforth boys. It was heralded for weeks, vying in our credulous minds with the battle of Bosworth Field. The stomach tightening fear and anticipation of the event has erased any knowledge of the result.
This blood-thickening nostalgia is more than a spurious, dewy-eyed tug at the heart strings. It is more than a Proustian episode. I want to reconquer, to reclaim the world that was Shadforth, to be an enfant sauvage, to enable childhood ghosts to walk again, to see the school spilling out at lunchtime, to regain the totality of life under the dome.