Generation Gap

At the entrance K requests two tickets and the cashier asks if that’s one adult and one child. K, grey-haired, is obviously the adult. I am the one who looks like I might be under thirteen, though occasionally when I’m out with my father strangers assume he’s my husband. ‘No, no,’ K says, ‘two adults.’

We’ve spent the night in a church that dates back to the twelfth century, posing on our camp beds like the stone effigies topping the tombs of the notable dead, illuminated by fairy lights and battery-powered candles. Now it’s sunny, sweaty midday, and we are visiting a reconstructed motte-and-bailey castle near Stansted Airport. The lineage of the Norman conqueror whose seat this was has long since died out. For centuries the castle was a ruin. K and I are here because he was here as a child, soon after the reconstruction was opened to the public, learning about the history of his country, which is not my country.

K was born in Iran, to English parents, a year before the revolution. I was born in the US, some time after Bill Clinton took office. I watch The Day Today, I read Alan Clark’s diaries, and I question K about whether it was really like that, back then. He listens patiently as I tell him I’ve been learning about all the ways the Tories fucked things up in the eighties. ‘Yes, this is why we hate them,’ he says, and I say, ‘Yes, I know, but Jesus Christ.’

We meet at various points in the great swathes of the past that neither of us were alive to witness. We fell in love over discussions of The Charioteer, a 1953 novel about middle-class Englishmen convincing themselves they’re not the wrong kind of queer while their city is bombed in the Blitz. For the past few years we’ve been living in the late Middle Ages, as Richard II is usurped and Henry V conquers France. We ourselves are not kings, we are more like monks, humble little men with inky fingers who observe, record, judge and invent.

The castle is just like K remembers it, except that the life-sized wax villagers that had so unsettled him when he was a schoolboy have been darkened by thirty years of grime. The motion-activated speakers lag. You step into a thatched-roof outbuilding; you face the waxworks in silence. Suddenly a monologue delivered by some zealous voice-actor of the Thatcher era bellows out from a dusty corner. The children visiting with their families are more interested in the roaming chickens and peacocks. There are fallow deer, too, like those the lords of the manor would have kept, hunted and eaten. Here they are spoilt and insatiable. K and I buy little paper bags of feed, and the deer shove their moist snouts into our hands.


Image © Annie Spratt

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