mechanised
[beneath the rule a country hides]

Sunday, December 21st, 2008

Time:3:44 pm.
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........#4 – Caravan - Woodland [Spring 2009]


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A few years ago, in dense woodland a few miles from my home, I discovered a caravan. Encircled by trees and undergrowth, and over a mile from the nearest road, its presence was utterly incongruous, with few clues as to how or why it had come to rest at this point. For almost a year, I kept my distance, fearful it was inhabited by a hermit and that I would be chased away if I ventured too close. Eventually, I investigated further and discovered that it was empty; its furnishings intact, but no sign of human inhabitants. Sadly, the door was locked, and so I gave it little thought for several months.

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As I became more adept at gaining entry to places (hospitals, houses, building sites) my sense of the possible changed; and I finally found a way inside last summer. Expecting damp and buckled floors, perhaps even a makeshift aviary, I was shocked by how habitable the caravan still seemed. The floors and worktops were littered with mouse droppings, but it was otherwise in remarkable condition. Cushions veiled with a fine layer of dust, the carpet faded yet coarse, it was only upon closer inspection of the veneers and window frames that any real damage was evident.

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The only objects on display were a fire extinguisher and a box of matches, and so I quickly started opening drawers and cupboards in the hope of finding something more personal. Though the majority were empty, I still unearthed several clues about the final inhabitant: a charcoal jacket (pockets full of nails), a pair of boots and, most interestingly of all, a diary from 1989 (unused, but it at least revealed how long the caravan had lain empty).

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Throughout that summer I would often return to the forest (sometimes with Renée) and would invariably spend an hour or two cocooned inside the caravan. Despite setting out with the high-minded intention to read or to write, I would usually just sit there (gazing out across woodland or listening to the spiral songs of linnets, cuckoos and skylarks).

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[A particularly pleasant side-effect of the moss-covered windows was the lambent light it would cast across the desk (lightshafts streaming through the canopy and then filtered through years’ worth of accreted dirt and grime)...]

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Somehow our plan to spend a night there – or to seek shelter during a storm (the roof spittooned with hailstones) – never came to anything, and as summer drew to a close we returned to Cambridge.

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After a break of nearly a year, we stayed here for a week in November – quickly settling into a pattern of two or three extended walks each day.. (answering to a need for more varied terrain after the planar drudge of Cambridge). On our final day, without any forethought or planning, we suddenly found ourselves in the vicinity of the caravan, and so decided to check on its condition (mindful of falling trees or the owner’s return).

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In the months since our last visit, the wood had become increasingly overgrown, and was now almost impossible to traverse – the few remaining pathways consumed by brambles, hawthorns and nettles. After much crawling and stamping, we finally found a way through (emerging covered in cobwebs, burrs, lacerations..) – and were confronted by the sight of a broken window, and the door swinging on its hinges.

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Peering inside, there was no obvious damage, though we were startled to see a piece of paper, weighted down with a pencil, on top of the writing desk. On a page torn from the diary, someone had written:

They call this “Sanctuary Wood” – for me it fulfils a dream. I’m sorry I trespass but if I had my dream somewhere like this would be my home and sanctuary.


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In the past, trampled bracken has led me to suspect other visitors; but given the caravan’s location, I’d simply assumed it was the landowner. The idea of another interloper initially caused much unease (even flickers of resentment) as I briefly imagined an ever-increasing flow of visitors and vandalism (as at Cane Hill or Severalls).

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I soon regained perspective, however, and realised how magical it was that we should both have found this place (and that this person should feel compelled to commit something to paper). In response I wrote of my own attachment to the caravan (lamenting the damage to the window) and asked this person who they were (disclosing something of myself in turn). At the end of my reply, I added that we’d be returning before Christmas, and hoped very much that they’d write back.

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And now it’s December, and we are in W----- again. On our third day here, we set out for the caravan – noticing, as we approached, that the window was covered in plastic and that the diary now lay open on the writing desk:

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22/11/05
I can remember this place years ago. There used to be sheep, then I lost touch with the area. Don’t know who broke the window but yes it is a great shame. Maybe someone couldn’t pick the lock. Hope you still work here. I just sit in peace.


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23/11/08
Been coming here for years. Lost my way for a while. I used to fish in the pond when I was younger. Don’t know where they [the people] all went but in a selfish way I am glad. I’m a support time recovery worker. Know what you mean about this place and comfort. Put a bit of poly at the window. Wish I could escape everyday – only weekends for me. Happy to meet another refugee from the world.

23/11/08
I don’t know who owns the land but I think it was divided. There used to be sheep up this end.


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29/11/08
Had a quick visit – dark, damp, safe. It looks like you will have this haven to yourself. This town is looking a bit expensive for this old boy. Looks like it’s time to move on. Couple of deer and plenty of pheasants for company. Hope plastic stays in place, keep a bit of rain out. Enjoy – will soon be Christmas.


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14/12/08
Quick walk over – stressed. Unless you walk over the field, looks like someone else visits. Window has held? Good job too. Hope you enjoy Christmas and the New Year brings all you want. Don’t know, but if I win the lottery think I might buy a wood – one with a small green caravan in it.


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