How can I be most ‘in’ a place, a territory, to feel and understand the ‘it’ fully?
What evokes a sense of place in an environment and how can the ‘it’ be conveyed?
How might an individual’s personality and experience influence their perception and understanding of place?
How does the migrant evolve in a new location to become part of it, to be accepted, and to feel free within it, to feel natural
To answer these questions I am writing one page semi-fictional vignettes of the 750 odd people, as per the last census, living in the Parish of West Meon. West Meon is a parish in rural Hampshire, and a place I have lived since 2019.
By composing the vignettes I feel that I am able to capture the spirit, personality and history of the area through individual snapshots of the community. By letting them flow naturally, writing them when inspired by interactions, knowledge finding, observations etc. within the parish so they hold as much weight as possible to the community. Anchoring them to a semi-fictional narrative gives gravitas to the pieces, something pure fiction would not.
It’s a mammoth task, and I can envisage a 10 year project unfolding, or at least until we move from the area – but that’s part of the work, and the process – is this method an informative way to connect with an environment, and transferable from location to location?
Part historical, part character study, part morphing of my own personality and experiences with the local community, both human and non-human.
So far so good. The process makes it impossible to ignore history; ensures observation beyond the peripheral vision; and opens up conversation to become one of quiet intrigue and of a genuinely interested nature. Having started to thread some of my own story within the pieces I can see isn’t proving to be as much of a leap of location and environment as I perhaps thought it might – how do I fit in here? Where of my own threads weave into this place?
In fact, what happens is, we look for the connections to person and place – the man wearing the Nepalese topi hat, the old coal yard, the butcher, the American pop-artist etc. Only to find that
we partially exist here already.
1 / Martin was a horse hand. He rose at 6am each morning unless it was mid-summer, in which case he was up around 4.30 as the birds started to wake. By the time the crows cawed he had washed and sat on the stoop in day clothes drinking hot tea from a thick walled clay mug. The local kiln had given it to him, left behind by a potter who had lived for a short while down in the village. The horses stirred the same time each day regardless of sun up and were led out at the same time each morning, Martin just had more time to sit when rising earlier. Sometimes a horse kicked the stable wall during the night but he always slept through in his cabin behind the wooden hall. It’s painful work being a horse hand, shovelling shit and hay day-in day-out, leading skittish stallions, mares and even foals out to the field no matter what the seasons give you in weather. Some-times they don’t want move and you reed to almost drag then along, which is tough when a horse is 17 hands high and wide as it’s cart.
2 / Frederick Francis and his wife Beatrice Francis had journeyed from Black Forest in Germany over thirty years ago. The villagers of what they still considered to be their new home called them Fred and Betty. Though if the truth be known, they disliked this abbreviation. Frederick saw it as a flippant disregard for culture. Instead it concocted a separation from his homeland that he did not appreciate nor want to endure. At the piano concert held in the stone village church they sat on in the oak pews listening intently, yet peacefully. Their heads angling towards each others ears as if helping one another funnel the sound into each of their heads. On occasion they trained on the pianist’s fingers. Fredericks feet gently rising as part of the performance, perhaps acknowledging a feeling inside of him. An ever so slight smile forming before hands coming together, slapping in glee. He was never outwardly consious of this gesticulation despite the extravegance of the movements and sound in such an environment and setting. A rapture stirred taking him back to their old home in the forest, where each weekend morning Frederick would rise, make himself some tea, take a biscuit and place himself comfortably in his listening chair to weave the music of Mozart with his rested soul, forming a tapestry of skin, bone, blood and sound amongst the trees, deer and flitting birds outside.
3 / Beatrice Francis’ garden was one of two halves. Below the hedge line the greens were almost blue from November shadow. Above, sun swathed the branches as they dripped from the latest downpour. In the oven an apple crumble made from the harvest left by the side of the lane in baskets for passers-by. She really loved the community aspects of the village. People were generally very friendly, not without the odd prejudice of course, but nothing she couldn’t ignore and bracket as ignorance rather than anything more sinister.
The house was quiet and still, with occasional music coming from the lounge like low mist drifting through the valley. An extensive collection of classical music stood catalogued on shelves in the wall towards the far corner of the room. She never touched them herself, leaving this to her husband of 50 years. Beatrice knew they were there though, she could feel the notes and melodies through the cardboard and paper sleeves as if the air was able to vibrate from the idea alone.
4 / Suzie Meadows walked the lanes and paths during the day.
You saw her often and could guess where she lived. She was quiet, almost serene. Suzie had left Holland a handful of years ago with a small carry bag and a calling - at the moment the calling seemed to circle her around the upper reaches of the parish away from the village reaches, but not as far north as the blackbird’s head.
Suzie could still remember the past, her mum and dad, her mother’s debilitating paranoia and her dads indifference and timidness. Her mother had suffered a series of aliments, serious ones, an a result. In the end Suzie had experienced enough and the shell she retreated into wasn’t spacious enough to hide her growing stresses. So, one went. She told her family, mother, father and brother Tobias that she had a new job in England and that she would be leaving. She liked the idea of an island, for although there was plane travel, she felt protected somewhat by the surrounding belt of water. “I’ll be touch when I’m settled,” she said. That was three years ago now and not one correspondence had been instigated or arranged. Instead, Suzie just walked.