Jeremy Dennis is Jeremy Day (cleanskies) wrote,
Jeremy Dennis is Jeremy Day

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ghosts on Witney Green

Went into Witney for work this morning. Witney's a small market town near Oxford, where I usually work. As you leave town the houses shrink down, spread out, contract in on themselves and finally disappear. I hate that moment, staring out at the green, eyes scrabbing for purchase on the gentle, rolling hills, batting away ghost-memories of sweat-stuck strawdust on my neck and the stink of animal shit. Nothing. Just wheatfields and barns, sullen clumps of trees, isolated houses crouched behind forests of signs and six-bar gates, and mud, mud, mud as far as the eye can see.

Not that anywhere in Oxfordshire is especially rural. It's more like a large park. The bus goes through several theme villages and a quaint housing estate, at angry speeds, with much lurching and menace to wing mirrors -- A road scenery, a flat grey stripe through smeared green and brown fields, punctuated with dips into the suburban sprawl. Crows, pheasants, rabbits, rollerbladers; all the usuals in our country park.

Welcome to the Green Belt.

Witney grows up around the bus, a spattering of antiqueries, estate agents, café-bars and teddy bear shops embedded in a low, slumped, doughy mass of period prestige property. I escape the bus and step into market day in Witney. It's Farmer's market today and the smell of bacon yanks me off my allotted path and onto the Church Green.

It's half-way along the green that I notice something wrong about the grass. The ripple of the wind has a slight stutter to it, like a digital video running too fast to refresh, and though the morning is bright and sunny, the light on the grass is flat, uniform and grey. I squint at it, from where I am, walking alone (nobody's near) along the broad, gravel walk. I'm thinking I'm maybe getting a migraine when instead I feel people, or rather the sense of people, all around me, their presence tenuous as clearing mist. People walking from the church, sad people, just quietly walking and terribly sad. My immediate thought (I don't know why) is of a service for those killed in the war but that seems too long ago, too remote, not personal enough. This is individually felt grief, and I'm pulling towards the 50s, maybe even the early 60s; their clothes have the pliant sweaty roughness of early artificial fibres. But so many for a funeral? It seemed to me that the procession stretched all the way back to the church door.

Two more steps and I've cleared it and it's just me and the spring breeze, and an indefinable sense of sadness.

One more thing; people who grow tulip trees should be given prizes. That's all.

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