Monday, March 30, 2009

Literature Meets Life

I had a strange experience last night, when I unexpectedly came across someone I once knew in the book I was reading.

Alison Uttley's A Year in the Country, published in 1957, is a month-by-month account of a year in the Buckinghamshire countryside. I assumed it would be based on the south of the county where she lived, but in parts it roams further afield. This is the passage that caught my attention:

A small paper-backed book has come today in cold December, and it gives me peculiar pleasure for it is the short history of a Buckinghamshire village written by two people who have lived all their lives in the place, whose roots are deep in country earth, whose memories go back to simple ways of living. The record has been compiled by them as a labour of love, a preservation of their local traditions, lest the village, like so many others, is swept into the grasp of a town. This seems unlikely at present, but they are taking no risks with an uncertain future when their country lore may be forgotten.

This small history of Stewkley is well-contrived, and the authors have used their intimate knowledge of life and work during the last seventy years, with links through the centuries. One of them, William Capp, a man of seventy-five, is a craftsman whose thatched cottage I visited some time ago to see the violins and violoncellos he had reconditioned and cured. He buys old broken instruments at village sales, and makes new parts, using the smooth white wood of box which grows on the Chilterns, and pine and pear wood; lengthening the tail-piece, making an inlay of box, and replacing the ivory tip of broken bows with the hard white box wood which resembles ivory. He is a clever joiner, and artist in his work, belonging to a family of joiners and carpenters. Around the wall of the tiny cottage hung the instruments, seven of them, which he had mended and prepared for sale.
When I was a child my parents bought me a violin from William Capp. I remember him and his cottage clearly - a strange and exotic room, the dark walls hung with violins, with others he was working on lying around in various stages of progress. William Capp himself was a very old man at the time, certainly in his late 80s, maybe over 90. I remember him as tall, but that could just be my child sized perspective playing tricks. It quite startled me to have a memory brought back so vividly and unexpectedly.

Stewkley was my father's village. It was swallowed up not by a town, but by modern life and a tide of newcomers. My dad's was the last generation to remember the old ways and traditions. The book Cherub was "reading" in this post was the book Alison Uttley describes.


Karen E. said...

That's amazing! How wonderful.

Theresa said...

What a neat experience that must have been!

Dorothy said...

Well, well!