Somerset and Dorset

My journey to West England began with a taxi driver who wasn’t up to speed with the road closures around Waterloo. We orbited round the station for a while before making a successful landing (decently, he reduced the price). Then our train had to make a lengthy detour because of a broken rail at Winchester. We became so late that the next train caught up with us and they turfed me off the train before my final stop so that they could send it back to London. Sensible in normal times but a dubious step during a pandemic. I managed to avoid the crowds and the unmasked but at the expense of sitting close to a family with a young child offering a broad range of turbulence services. Having had four children, I’m tolerant towards them in trains but on this occasion, I hoped fervently at every stop that they would get off but, of course, they accompanied me all the way to the seaside at Weymouth, where I missed the connection to my final stop, Yeovil in Somerset. But these tribulations were only a minor dent in the good mood, almost dreamy euphoria, that I always feel when returning to the area that is home for at least 30 per cent of me.

My original plan was to stay in Dorchester to use the libraries there and continue with my Dorset church project. But this year, the English, barred from everywhere else except South Georgia, Tristan da Cunha, Ascension Island and Dubai, are flocking to the traditional seaside resorts and the coastal strip was fully booked. But it’s not bad to be inland, close to where I lived as a teenager in a town full of memories; standing in a telephone kiosk with my mother wondering at the ancientness of the place as she dialled the operator to be connected with an aunt in a village not 10 miles away. That aunt worked from home stitching parts of gloves together for local firms. And sitting on the fine old green Southern National double decker to Martock, seeing another bus to the village of Tintinhull in front of us and associating it with the word tintinabulations, the ringing of bells that I’d picked up somewhere. It was a wonderful place for a boy from the more mainstream, almost suburban Sussex coast. And later, after we’d moved to the west on my father’s retirement, as a teenager in a Yeovil cinema in my pyjama jacket which I’d persuaded myself looked chic, disturbed at my companion’s reasonable reaction that I was wearing a pyjama jacket. I didn’t repeat this sartorial experiment. The past is a strange place – they (and me) do weird stuff there.

Yeovil is also a fine name, “the vil” probably being misunderstood by the Normans as being like “ville” which they would have been familiar with. In fact, it probably comes from a Celtic word meaning a fork in a river. The Anglo-Saxons seem to have taken the word over and “gaffel” today means “fork” in Swedish. It’s interesting that the Anglo-Saxons took over so few Brythonic Celtic words but they did use a lot of Celtic river names and here even a word associated with rivers.

I’ve mostly worked translating a contract since I got here and tomorrow I have a company’s interim report to do. But after that I’m free for the rest of the week. Thoughts about restoring old buildings have been floating through my mind. I must get hold of some material about the restoration of Notre Dame in Paris. It’s interesting because some of the parts destroyed in the fire were not ancient but the nineteenth century work of Viollet-le-Duc (the spire). I wonder how or whether they will replace these, as well as how they will deal with the really ancient wood trusses that were destroyed and played a part in the ease with which the fire spread. They will presumably be replaced by something more modern and safer, but how will they (or have they) put that on top of ancient masonry not built to bear greater loads. There are differences in French approaches and attitudes to restoration/extension of old buildings. According to my prejudices, the French are less sentimental, more prone to making an elegant modern statement attractive by contrast. I shall be interested to see where they have landed and will search for articles when I get back to base in ten days or so.

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