All things must pass (by Fray Bentos)

There is a romantic pathos in all ruins. Once upon a time the scene was set and the footlights burned, but today the stage is mute and the actors departed, mostly, by now, to tread the boards of a playhouse beyond human reach, whence no narration comes to earthly ears. If one is to persist with the theatrical metaphor there is less here of the West End and the bright lights than of Samuel Beckett and provincial rep.
I see rows of bunks and huddled shapes under khaki blankets; snores, mutterings and farts; kit inspections (“Nobby in ‘ut 2 sez they’re ‘avin a blitz on water bottle cap sealin’ rings”); and disillusioned subalterns of the Pioneer Corps, in 1943, writing out triplicate indents (tyres, pair, Firestone 28x1¾”, airborne folding bicycle, for fitting to) at the Quatermaster’s Stores.
For me there is more poetry in this abandoned, apparently ex-military hut close to the site of a Second World War airfield, than in the prosaic, car park-surrounded, Department of the Environment-protected remains of Glastonbury Abbey or Warwick Castle. Here, where the interpretive notice board is unknown and paths, if any, are yet unwaymarked, the imagination can speculate and one may think one’s own thoughts. When was this place last occupied? Did that old metal basin in the grass, brimming with a winter’s rainwater and bottomed with brown leaves and dead spiders, belong to the hut’s adopted cat (“She’s a good mouser, Sarge”)? What were those rusting wheel-rims? Too small for a bicycle. An old-fashioned perambulator, possibly, or some piece of agricultural equipment, from when Needham, the farmer, used the place back in the late 50s. I peer through an empty window-frame. My old eyes accustom themselves to the dark. Nameless lumber, old chairs and what look like towels or doormats hanging across the interior on lengths of string. How long have they been there? Who? When? For what purpose?
Already, several of this group of half a dozen abandoned Nissen huts are so drowned in vegetation as to be unphotographable. The others moulder and crumble, their surfaces patterned with lichen and veined with tendrils of old ivy. Rust bleeds into the cement from metal-framed windows. Rain patters softly onto frost-rotted foliage and, from distant fields, the throb of a tractor reaches my ears. Snowdrops cluster under melancholy dripping boughs. Who am I? Who am I? Why am I here… ?

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