Tuesday, 24 March 2009

The Watchers

By the ford at the town's edge / Horse and carter rest: / The carter smokes on the bridge / Watching the water press in swathes about his horse's chest.

I once regularly passed through the village of Eynsford in Kent, on the road you can just see here in front of the church. It's not a town, but it's this bridge and ford over the River Darent that always comes to mind when I read Edward Thomas's poem that was later called The Watchers. There's only one more verse after the one I quote here, and Thomas wrote it in 1916, the year before his untimely death just after the Battle of Arras. The picture stands out in a book entitled This England: An Appreciation by A.J.Cummings, the political editor of the News Chronicle. Cummings is writing in 1944, demonstrating to a population depressed by war that the country was still functioning, much as Thomas did in his poetry. The photographer is sadly anonymous, but there are many pleasures to be had from this image of a dull summer's afternoon. Perhaps there was also a distant roll of thunder. I leave it to the mechanically minded to identify the tractor, and perhaps someone will also know the rest of the name on the trailer. Is it a farm or the manufacturer? And what's that old boy got in his sack? Couple of rats for tea I expect.

20 comments:

Diplomat said...

David Brown Cropmaster

Peter Ashley said...

Thanks Diplo. It's that fairing behind the engine isn't it?

Affer said...

I thought you meant the one following.....an old Austin.

Diplomat said...

I used to have a VAK 1 Cropmaster about twenty five years ago, TVO runner from memory and a bastard to start. Rolled it backwards pulling some stumps 'cos I got the chain caught in a top link shackle which was higher than the axle centre - not quick enough to the clutch !

Peter Ashley said...

Ooh Affer, this really eerie. I hadn't noticed the Other Tractor. But the bloke standing up steering it is a dead ringer for me at sixteen. It wasn't me, honest. (Cue theme from the Twilight Zone.)

Sue said...

There's something definitely eerie about colour photos of this age. I was convinced it was a painting until I put it on zoom. What's with the young man on top of the straw? Why has his skin a greenish hue? How did he get up there? I can hear those thunderflies buzzing.

Diplomat said...

butcher's bicycle, surely

Bucks Retronaut said...

I don`t know what it is about Kent,but that county never fails to give me a right old attack of the heebie jeebies,especially in the village of Goudhurst: The weather vane on the church still has a couple of bullet holes which were collected when a couple of rounds went astray during an overhead dogfight in WW2. The neighbouring Star and Eagle Inn has a terrace with lovely views over The High Weald, upon which it`s not difficult to imagine Winston Churchill standing and growling "Get Your Tanks Off My Lawn!".The village is also home to one of the best restorers of classic Rolls Royce and Bentley motor cars that I know . Surely this is the spiritual home of Mrs Miniver?!

Affer said...

Definitely; an Austin butcher's bicycle........ ;-)

Peter Ashley said...

This is amazing, all this stuff I hadn't spotted. Thanks Sue for pointing out the Green Boy. And Bucks, I know what you mean about the Star & Eagle in Goudhurst (my preference was for the The Peacock down the road). It took me ten minutes to get served in there once.

Philip Wilkinson said...

So much in this shot, I agree. We need an Unmitigated history of colour photographs in books, starting with those atmospheric images in Batsford's The Coloured Counties and proceeding through various degrees of blur and discolouration to the rich hues of Evans and Ashley...

CMS said...

What an amzing photograph - I'm with Sue, I thought it was a painting. And the more I look at it the more I see. It's almost creepy.

Ron Combo said...

And the cones by the ford? The remains of the UFO landing gear when the aliens came and took over the minds of the locals with their ray guns? I mean, have you seen the look on the faces of the two blokes on the tractor? And as for him on top...either that or he's been on the skunk. Could explain the green tinge.

Peter Ashley said...

I'm now thinking more and more about this. My blog could have been twice, indeed thrice, the length. What is the bloke smoking in the 'passenger seat' of the tractor. What's his badge? Young Farmers? The UFO landing gear at the ford's edge looks like concrete tank / vehicle barricades that someone has moved. Much hurrumphing from the Home Guard down in Eynsford village hall. I feel a research visit to this part of Kent coming on.

Diplomat said...

tell you what - i reckon that photo's getting sharper, a sort of post digital exposure developing process. The tractor passenger's smoking ganja and the trailer says "contract binder". The reg on the VAK 1A is actually false, deployed as a wind-up for the local constabulary. The nearest girl on the bridge is 12 weeks "gone" and the straw-top passenger is desperately trying to avoid eye contact.

Jon Dudley said...

Lovely! Situated between the M25 and the M20 it seems impossible that Eynsford has survived at all...maybe it really is in a sort of Samuel Palmer Bermuda triangle? I was there last year with a couple of chums in vehicles even older than the David Brown and we visited the eccentrically run, tele-famous Lullingstone Castle. The highlight though was the return trip down that road where Gipsies were washing their 'painted' horses in the ford by the bridge...it could have been a scene from the 20's.

What a great job for the boy atop the load...all he has to do is shout "mind my head" when they come to a low bridge - but as there isn't one where they're going he can continue smoking the raw materials beneath him.

Peter Ashley said...

Looks like I'm going to have to find more like this.

Jon Dudley said...

Yes please! And will the boy at the back please stop smoking that strange smelling substance.

Thud said...

ok...everybody to the bridge...this needs sorting out...strange things are afoot.

Hen said...

From the inn one watches, too,
In the room for visitors
That has no fire, but a view
And many cases of stuffed fish, vermin, and kingfishers


there is a real sense of mystery and longing in the poem. who is the watcher at the inn, and why is he there? is it Edward waiting for someone - who and why? this poem haunts my dreams and my thoughts. thank you for the beautiful picture.