That is the story of how I found my little treasure and why and how I have embarked on this attempt at capturing on paper a few impressions about our lives and times since the world ended. Looking back over the previous pages I realise that there is a lot I have taken for granted and a lot which I have omitted all together. I will try to repair these faults and omissions as I carry on, but it was important, at least to me, to tell you how I came to have this opportunity. I have so far focussed almost entirely on myself: on my thoughts, my desires, my feelings, my experiences. Now, while to me this is a splendidly rational and understandable approach, to some degree inevitable in a memoir of this nature, I find that I have not given you any account or description of our community and its people. Let me, briefly, correct that omission now.
Warfield was a small village about twenty miles west of London, a once pretty place blighted by the desperate pursuit of residential development which plagued the whole of the South of England during the last twenty years of the twentieth century. One corner of the old village remained secluded and alone however. The old church and rectory was about a mile and a half from the main centre of the village. I have speculated that this unusual set-up might date from the years of the plague. It seems possible that the original village was based around the church, but was abandoned or entirely decimated by the plagues of the 15th and 16th centuries, and was re-established in cleaner air on a site a few miles away, at a cross roads on the main road between the ancient towns of Guildford and Oxford. Whether this theory is true or not, it means that there was a small group of houses and farm buildings around the old church, hidden away in a shallow valley, surrounded by the fields of the local farms and largely hidden from the main areas of habitation by trees and ancient hedgerows.
It is this degree of isolation which enabled Warfield, at least our part of it, to survive the murderous ravages of the desperate years immediately after The End. The land was not really defensible, but the trees and the river provided some degree of protection and a natural boundary upon which to base our defenses. Other factors in our survival through that time were that the little sub-community here was unsignposted, and approached by a narrow, single-track, high-hedged lane. Most importantly perhaps, we were surrounded by much more obvious, richer, easier targets. Most of the raiders who came our way did so accidentally and at random, usually ill-prepared, ill-trained, ill-equipped and just plain ill. We fought back. We were well equipped and, after a while, we became better trained and better prepared. Once we learned that you can’t defend open fields; that crops must be left to the vagaries of hostile forces, who may destroy, but won’t harvest; that animals and people must be protected within a defensible boundary, we became a harder nut to crack than the possible rewards merited. We managed to escape most of the worst of that time, but still we clung to survival by the narrowest and bleakest of margins.
Early in that black first year, after the food riots but before the human locusts pored over the land, killing and destroying for food and shelter and to escape the waking nightmare of the cities, we had set up our protective compound.
Within a few weeks of the start of the new holocaust, it became clear to the leaders of the small community which had lived around the nucleus of the Church, that doom was descending. It also seemed likely that with no power and no communications and no discernible government, we were on our own.
At that time the only thing more valuable than food was fuel. With no operating distribution mechanism and with no power to pump out the underground caches, liquid fuel all but vanished in a few months. Abandoned cars littered the highways and by-roads, blocking routes and causing chaos. This unholy nuisance, through a leap of imagination and improvisation, became the core of our defense. Sending out ill-assorted teams to likely local locations, we recovered two-hundred or more cars, brought them back, scavanged them, and built them into a wall. Using human muscle power and the last few gallons of diesel in a hi-jacked digger, we (Well they, I watched.) built the compound. A stockade of saloons, and coupe’s, and 4x4’s, and SUVs. (Sports Utility Vehicles, apparently.) A barricade of BMW’s, and Mercs and Fords and Alfa’s. And Porsches and Honda’s and Vauxhalls; and a Bentley, and an old black Beetle, and one little Mazda, and one ice-cream van.
Within the stockade we have five main buildings; the Farmhouse, the Church, the Rectory, the Cottage and the Bungalow. We also have numerous outbuildings (including the Shagging-Shed), pens for the animals and birds, and storage for our crops and equipment. We learned early that we couldn’t defend the fields, but we also learned to defend ourselves by defending the compound, using the piled up cars as a defensive barricade and as an elevated firing platform. It worked, and continues to work, and we continue to defend it, though the threats are now mostly dead and rotten. The Guitarist proved however that they are not all gone.
I have mentioned some of the people who are the key players in our little Rorke’s Drift. Most of them were here from the very beginning, original members of the local community who got together to defend their land and their lives. I and just a few of the Hands came from elsewhere, but the core of our community comes from the original residents of the Warfield enclave. These are the people who have enabled us to survive and who have forced us to survive by planning and enforcing, making the hard, hard decisions and making them stick. These are the true wealth of our community, the key to its existence and survival.
So let me count my treasures. Sure I have this paper and these pens; stolen, and all the sweeter for that. I have my books and CDs and videos, and the Guitarist’s songs. I have the Church and the privacy it gives me. I am foot-loose and fancy-free. (I have loose feet, and no-one fancies me.) And I have my children, for whom I am responsible, even though I am responsible for none of them.
But my greatest treasure, our greatest treasures, are the people who kept us alive and got us organised and still manage all of our affairs. These are our real treasures.
We have The Farmer; the boss, the planner, the overseer, the decider.
We have The Vet, who keeps us alive and tends our wounds and attends our births and selects our food. For all of us, human or animal. And inflicts misery with his terrible doctoring and terrible puns.
And we have the man who measures our lives and our times, who counts our assets and liabilities, decides what we can spend and what we must save, decides who can live and who must die. His lieutenant, the Inventory Clerk, was a pain and a nuisance and a pedantic prig, though his work was vital and demanding. The Clerk’s boss though is the key to our continued survival. It is he who maintains the checks and balances of our lives and makes sure our pendulum continues to swing.
He is perhaps our greatest treasure of all.
Copyright © Jock Howson 1999
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