The Country Diaries

The book as titled above has a sub title of ‘A Year in the British Countryside’.

It has been edited by Alan Taylor and quotes on page 345 that ‘Various publishers and Estates have generously given permission to use extracts from the following works.’ There are 28 of those kind permissions.  The book was published by Canongate Books in 2009.  It’s ISBN number is 978 1 84767 323 7.  This first piece is by John Fowles who’s writing on 5th January 1950 at Leigh-on-Sea in Essex:  Over the weeks and months ahead I shall be including some of these kindly permissioned pieces.

‘A whim to go afar.  To Canvey Island, up the sea-wall to Shell Haven [an oil refinery and storage depot].  A pale, cold, half-fine day; obscure blueness and insistent clouds, general bright blue-greyness, making in the morning the grass very green and the water grey and ruffled, an aqueous brightness everywhere.  Later the weather settled into a cold, windy dullness.  This part of Canvey isolated, overrun by rabbits.  I meet a friendly man, with a red face, carrying an old sack bag with a bottle in it.  One of the few countrymen left.  Then on into a wasteland of rubble-dumps, with to-and-fro lorries, cranes, wharves, distant oil-tanks.  One or two houses deserted, forsaken; few birds.  A strange part of the world.  It seems so deserted in contrast with the oil-shipping atmosphere given by the tanks.  I don’t pass a soul.  The creek here is wide, bleak and impersonal, another world from Old Leigh.

Past the oil-tanks home, they seem without men; past a white house set in a few shrubby trees, with one room lit on the top floor, past and around a deserted army camp, full of huts, towers and desuetude, back into the myriad-housed centre of Canvey.  All bungalows and jerry-built, yet full of television aerials.  The people, this centre, seem to ignore the desolation and harshness of the rest of the island east, with its hundreds of acres of grassland and marshy drains.  Like the heart of the lettuce.’

As I transcribed this I could ‘see’ that whole environment.  I’ve never been there, to Canvey Island, but I can remember not dissimilar views and desolate places as I, as a youngster, wandered and played around a desolate airfield close to home.

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