Monday, August 12, 2013

Patrick Leigh Fermor at Weedon Bec

While in Shropshire I read Artemis Cooper's Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure. Cooper has clearly succumbed to the Paddy Fermor legend, but the biography is so good that it provides ample material for readers to form a less favourable view.

Because of one of my recent days out, I was struck by the opening sentences:
The village of Weedon Bec in Northamptonshire was an unlikely setting for paradise, but for Patrick Leigh Fermor the years he spent there as a small child were among the happiest in his life. The people he lived with were not his family. While surrounding him with love and warmth, they imposed no constraints and made no demands.
This is typical of the strange arrangements that Empire required of children and parents - often with less happy results. Artemis Cooper is unable to establish the relationship between the young Paddy's parents in India and the Martin family in Weedon with whom he stayed.

But she does provide a good picture of the complicated geography of Weedon Bec:
It was a big village divided into three parts. The cottages and smallholdings of Upper Weedon were sunk in green fields. The church and village school were in Lower Weedon, whilst busiest of all was Road Weedon, which straddled the old turnpike between Northampton and Daventy. This was where the Martins lived, on the main road ... with shops and pubs on either side.
And she writes about the Royal Ordnance Depot:
Road Weedon was dominated by Weedon Barracks and the huge complex of the Royal Ordnance Depot. Set up for the storage of arms and ammunition during the Napoleonic wars far from possible landing sites on the coast, t had its own well-defended branch of the Grand Union Canal to secure safe delivery of its stores. ... 
When the First World War ended in November 1918 Paddy-Mike was almost four and Margaret almost twelve. They stood in the road and saw the German prisoners in carts on their way back to Germany - they wore rough grey uniforms with big red diamonds on their backs, so they would be easily identified if they tried to escape.
And her (and Fermor's) last word on the village is this:
His memories of Weedon became greener and more rural as they receded into the past. The Royal Ordnance Stores faded, as did the parade ground and the shops, the pubs and traffic of the High Street. 
What was left was "a background of barns, ricks and teazles, clouded with spinneys and the undulation of ridge and furrow ... I spent these important years, which are said to be such formative ones, more or less as a small farmer's child run wild: they have left a memory of pure and unalloyed bliss."

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