Yesterday one of the younger women in the village knocked at the door – very sweetly, she’d bought three copies of The Diamond Thief as Christmas presents for her friends’ children and asked me if I’d sign them. I went along to drop them back this evening. On the way back, Major Jim was putting out his rubbish for tomorrow morning. He convinced me (all right, I’ll be honest: I didn’t need much convincing) to come in for a bit for what he described as a ‘warming’ whisky and ginger. As we chatted, among other things, he asked me what I was working on at the moment. Figuring that he wouldn’t be particularly interested in the YA supernatural Scandi-noir murder mystery I’m currently at second draft with, I described the novella I am planning that is loosely set in our village and even more loosely set around the plane crash that happened on the fell in 1957. (One of several, in fact: there is the lost wreckage of a handful of unrecovered aircraft still hidden in this pockmarked, expansive landscape).
“Ahh,” said Jim. “Yes, I headed the inquest into that. We held it in the village hall.”
This was news to me. He went on to tell me that it was very likely John Thirlwell (the farmer I see on the fell almost every day, and who always stops to say hello) who brought the bodies down on the back of his tractor and that there was someone connected to the village in the crash who is buried in the graveyard.
“But you’ll have to ask Gladys more about that,” he said. “She’ll remember better.”
Gladys is one of the oldest, and most sprightly, inhabitants of the village: I last saw her at the village book club outing on Saturday, in which we sat through a tediously paced yet beautifully staged production of Peter Pan. She’d just returned from an impromptu trip to the Isle of Bute. ‘Glad’, as she’s known, is in her 70s. Her mother is still alive and, at 95, is also still a resident of the village. Gladys has a memory like an elephant. I know from experience, for example, that she remembers the Hungarian family that came to live in the village after the revolution in 1956. There was a husband and wife and a little girl of about three who spoke no English who came out to play with the village children every once in a while. There was also an older teenage boy, who wasn’t of the family but who seemed to have come with them from Hungary in an attempt to escape whatever horrors his own family had experienced there. The two men worked in the coal mines above the village, but it was evident that even in this most rural, most silent corner of the Pennines this boy could not heal from his trauma, because one day he blew himself up with dynamite just to escape whatever demons had followed him from his home country.
For such a tiny, inaccessible place, this place has such stories. I can’t help but think that the older generation, who are fast approaching their final years, will be taking with them an entire library of them as one by one they take their place in our tiny graveyard. Which is why, as soon as I get back after Christmas, I’m going to start constructing an aural history of the village, starting with Gladys and Major Jim.