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A Little Englsih Countryside Story



Story,Barn,Brighton,John Constable,University of Sussex
Deepthy Menon

Being on the University during the breaks is like being in a Ghost town...the deathly silence unnerves you...makes you feel as if you are the last human being left on earth as Armageddon approaches...

So to ward off holiday blues....two strapping women from two parts of the globe...one from the Pacific Island of Tonga..and another from a coastal city in India set out to explore the boundaries of the campus we live on....The idea was to take a brisk walk and work out the excess lard that the winter insists on layering us up with....But little did we know, it would be turn out to be a story in itself....

Off we went, huffing and puffing our way up the uphill trail, past the gymnasium (nothing can make me enter one, I'd rather walk my calories off!!) when we spotted the vast expanse of meadows...Acres and acres of it ... stretching all the way yonder...

And just as we turned the corner, we came across one of those old English cottages....wait..it wasn't a cottage...but a corn barn...

Curiosity indeed got the better of us, and though somewhere, both of us knew that this can't be public thoroughfare, we decided to indulge our curiosity....walking along the old building, that did seem abandoned....We turned another corner and realized that there was indeed a very very old cottage nestled behind the barn...And that's where I met my story teller....An old English gentleman, clearly lonely...happy to have a conversation with two freezing but very inquisitive young women - who were clearly trespassing across his property....So we put on our best smiles and apologized for stumbling through his land...And when our politeness was returned with some cheery conversation, we pressed on...asking about the old barn that had caught our attention....

It was over a hundred years old...just like I'd imagined it would be..Our friend ( despite my asking him twice, he never told me his name..wonder if that was deliberate?) interrupted his afternoon walk long enough to tell us how the barn was very important to store the corn that was grown in the land by the meadows....

There were at least a couple of huge barn doors...one was still in great shape...the other had been replaced...and depending on the direction that the wind blew in, one was opened, so that the chaff could be beaten away from the corn and the husk could be blown away....And just outside the barn, there was enough space for the animals of the barn to be tethered....

Even more interesting was this hand pump...Now old and disused for at least half a century I imagine....

Just by the pipe was a broken cover to a well...and look closely, by the spout, you can see a hole...that's the opening to a tank that served water to the barn....So when it poured, water gathering in the tank could be let out through here into the well near the pump...and when the tank went dry, the hand pump would be used to draw water and fill the tanks so that the barn animals could drink their fill....

I closed my eyes for a moment, and I could picture the scene...straight out of a John Constable painting....like one of my all time favorites...The Hay Wain..

The English cottage, with its own barn and animals....and the men and women letting the barn doors open while storing the corn grown in the fields nearby inside...letting the wind help winnow the chaff from the grain...

But our friend was not done with his story yet....He had moved into this house about 60 years ago...just after the Second World War....and he spoke about how this countryside had been taken over by the Army during Wartime..

This tree, that now stands gnarled and old in the winter, he said had once been young...He remembered it in its glorious youth...His voice was robust, but you couldn't miss the nostalgia...He took pleasure in getting us to guess his age...We were off the mark by about a decade...

He was 83, and clearly enjoying reliving his memories of the War for us...He had served in the Army himself...talking about how the guns were lined up in rows by the trees near his land...pointing out where the young soldiers were asked to fire across the meadows for target practice...

Later apparently he had a chance to see a 'bit of the world too'...Egypt and Palestine, he said...much before you were born, he joked with me..

Then he smiled that wistful smile at us...as he spoke about how time seemed to have just flown by...He shared little about his life or family....but when we wished him Merry Xmas...he brushed it away saying the season wasn't special anymore...He was more like the Scrooge of Christmas...

Our hearts ached...It can't be fun to be old and lonely....living alone on a property as old as time itself....Though he repeated that he loved the isolation that his property offered, I doubt if I was convinced..

I don't know his name...I wonder if he will remember me if I look him up in a week or so...I don't even know if I will have anything to converse with him about.....But by giving us a peek into the history that lies sleeping in this land, he did give me a wonderful story....a wonderful memory.....

(P.S : I have discovered that my mobile phone camera gives me pretty decent picture resolution..So till the time that I hoard up for a new camera, my mobile phone shall be put to good use!)

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