26 Fruits

Sonnet with hops

1 Talking to Neil, he asked me where The Good Messenger was set. Near where you live, I said.

2 The first part of the book is set in a house in Kent. A big house lived in by a rich family, wealth made from banking, a family that wishes but fails to be aristocratic.

3 The house is a bit like Hawkwood, I told him. It looks grand but appearances can be deceptive. The house is surrounded by woods, with trees of many kinds, most of which I could not identify by name.

4 Tommy is the name of the nine-year-old boy who is sent from London to stay for two weeks at this house. A charity project for the family.

5 The boy Tommy would rather not be there. It’s not his kind of place. He’s puzzled anyway – why is he there?

6 I wanted to find a place that could be the role model for this fictional setting. I was looking for a house with many rooms set in Kentish woods.

7 I enjoy holidays that involve research. My wife Linda is happy to indulge this kind of research if each day of sometimes frustrating exploration leads to the satisfaction of an evening meal with red wine.

8 We started at the 100-acre wood, near Hartfield in Kent. The real wood where AA Milne set his Christopher Robin stories. The woods were too thin. Pooh, Tigger and Eeyore were nowhere to be seen.

9 We travelled on. Towns and houses I cannot remember, their names have gone. Perhaps Tenterden was one.

10 Prompted by thoughts of childhood reading I remembered The Wind in the Willows, that important book that had started me reading. A late reader, aged nine; the first book I read, given to me by my mother on my birthday.

11 The idea came to me to use The Wind in the Willows as part of the narrative structure of the book.

12 We were driving through the back roads of Kent. Oast houses all around. Decades ago these fields were for growing hops, to flavour beer.

13 “It’s here,” said Linda, a Proustian memory coming to her as I drove. “This is the lane leading to the farm.” In her East End childhood her family used to come hopping every September – which meant picking the hops, camping on the farm, enjoying a free holiday. The year’s only holiday.

14 The farm is now like an industrial factory, a giant shed for processing crops other than hops. But Linda’s eyes are misty as she sees the scene through the memory of herself as a child. As sometimes we all do.


One Response

  1. Jamie Jauncey says:

    Lovely, John – your old friend serendipity. Just can’t get away from her, can we?

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